Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Game 455: Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos (1993)

 
Apropos of our recent subtitle discussion, this game has at least one throne, but so far it doesn't seem to be chaotic.
         
Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos
United States
Westwood Studios (developer and publisher)
Released 1993 for DOS, 1995 for FM Towns and PC-98
Date Started: 2 April 2022
   
Playing Lands of Lore alongside Ultima Underworld II is an interesting experience--the apex of one style of game next to the birth of another. Writing from nearly 30 years down the road, I certainly appreciate Underworld more, but it's possible that I'll actually enjoy it less. Lore may be a derivative game, but it's a slick one. For the first time (and this is based on only a couple of hours of gameplay), I think that we might have a Dungeon Master clone that outperforms Dungeon Master (1987).
   
Dungeon Master is Lore's grandfather, but its father is Eye of the Beholder (1992), also created by Westwood (then Westwood Associates) under a sub-license from Strategic Simulations, Inc. Westwood was bought by Virgin Interactive Entertainment in 1992, and either because of the purchase or simply coincident to it, SSI stopped using the developer for D&D games. Left with the Eye of the Beholder engine but no more Beholder, Westwood decided to create its own game universe. The result is impressive: a game that maintains the puzzle-solving and real-time combat of Dungeon Master but without the D&D rules that didn't work so well in Beholder.
        
The opening moments of the game impress.
     
I bought the game from GOG, which sells the 1994 CD-ROM re-release with voice acting by Patrick Stewart. Westwood did not waste Patrick Stewart. Moments after you type in LOLCD, his voice booms from the speakers: "Virgin Interactive Entertainment presents . . . the Westwood Studios production of . . . Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos!"
   
Stewart also voices King Richard in the excellent animated cinematic that follows the title screen. It is perhaps the best that we've seen so far in RPG history. It begins with a horse galloping at breakneck speed towards a castle. The castle's portcullis raises, and the rider enters, dismounts, and rushes to the throne room, where he hands a scroll to the king's chamberlain. The chamberlain reads it and reports to the king: "My liege, it is as we feared: Scotia has uncovered the temple, and will have the Nether Mask soon."
     
A rider brings a desperate message to the king.
   
"We must be ready for her," Richard replies. "She will come here first."

"But Richard, what worry have we here at Gladstone? Surely we can arrange a defense against any charade."

"The Mask is not a toy!" Richard yells. "The time has come, and I have no choice. I must destroy her now." Sir Patrick really puts his talent into the delivery of lines he must only have barely understood. His performance, particularly in contrast to the wooden one by the advisor, really goes to show why professional actors are enlisted for these kinds of projects. Origin could have taken a lesson from Westwood on that point.
      
Captain Picard debates a block of wood.
     
The cinematic switches its perspective to a cliffside cave surrounded by scaffolding. Victorious cackling comes from within the cave, and a little goblin-like minion comes running out, giggling about how "she will be so pleased!" Inside a tent, the ugly crone Scotia demands to know, "What can be taking so long! I want it now!" When her minion appears bearing a ring with an enormous blue gem, she is not pleased; she destroys the creature with a wave of her hand. "You will not me wait again!"
   
"Ah, it's a pretty little package," she purrs. "At last: Richard and his puny forces have met their match!" She uses the artifact to turn herself into a beautiful young woman and then a crow. "Yes! This mask will serve me well. Beware, King Richard. You will pay for your lack of vision!"
      
Scotia admires the Nether Mask, which looks nothing like a mask.
    
The cinematic goes right into character selection. Yes, as with many DM clones, you don't "create" a character but rather choose him from several fixed options. Here, we have Ak'shel, Michael, Kieran, and Conrad, who specialize in magic, brute strength, agility, and balance in that order. Each has different statistics for magic, protection, and might. Michael and Conrad are both human, Kieran is a feline "Huline," and Ak'shel is a saurian "Dracoid." All are male. Each offers a (voiced) introductory paragraph if you click on him. If you take more than a few seconds, Patrick Stewart keeps asking, "Well, have you decided?"
     
The four characters make their pitches.
      
I went with Conrad, as I like the idea of a well-rounded character. He also has the highest point total (though some attributes, like speed, are clearly not represented). The game then begins with the character standing outside the throne room.
   
Before I get into gameplay, I must move on to an option that only appears after you've created a character. When you first start the game, if it senses no save file, it goes right into the introductory cinematic. On subsequent reloads, you get a main menu with a "Lore of the Lands" option.  Clicking this takes you to a three-minute slide show, again narrated by Stewart, in which we learn about the history of the setting.
   
You can read the full narrative here, but the short version is that a godlike race called the Ancients once presided over an epoch of peace and prosperity. This Golden Age ended with the War of the Heretics, which saw the Ancients completely wiped out. The surviving races descended into a dark age. They slowly recovered and began exploring the world, encountering each other and touching off a series of racial wars until, finally, the four "ascendant races" ushered in a new era of peace. These were the three character races plus "Thomgogs"--huge, four-armed, scaly creatures with Creature from the Black Lagoon heads and elephantine feet.
      
The history of the land in pictures.
       
Gladstone Castle became the center for education and magic, and thus the target of the Dark One, leader of the Dark Army. I'm frankly not sure whether Scotia is the Dark One or one of his minions. Maybe that becomes clear later. There's also no word in the backstory about what the world, continent, or kingdom of the game is called.
   
The game begins outside King Richard's throne room. I explored the small outer area before talking to Richard. The interface is loosely adapted from Beholder. The view window is widened and moved to the right. Character portraits are at the bottom of the screen, along with a shared inventory bar beneath them. It looks like there is space for two other people to join the party. There's a GTFO cluster in the lower left. The upper left seems somewhat wasted. The manual doesn't show anything happening there, and nothing happened there during my first session. I'm not sure what it will eventually be used for.
  
I am a bit disappointed in the lack of keyboard redundancy for commands. The numberpad adequately moves, turns, and strafes, but aside from the "R" key resting, I don't think the keyboard is used at all. Maybe when I have more than one character, the number keys will do something. I would have liked key commands to open the character sheet; instead, you have to do that by clicking on the character portrait. 
 
F1 activates the main character's attack. I assume F2 and F3 will do the same for the other two characters once they join. While I appreciate a keyboard option for attacking, these are a bit awkward. Screen elements like levers and buttons have to be clicked to activate them, which is a more acceptable use of the mouse because you're actually targeting something.
        
The character sheet.
   
Conrad starts with a salve, a sprig of aloe, a sprig of ginseng, 41 silver crowns, a shirt, a dagger, and sandals. Items add directly to "Might" and "Protection" statistics. He starts at Level 1 as a fighter, rogue, and mage. For this game, Westwood eschewed D&D's experience-based leveling and went back to a Dungeon Master model in which leveling is based on specific actions. Fighting and magic are obvious; characters gain rogue levels by picking locks and using ranged weapons.
    
The options menu offers a few features I want to highlight. This is a rare early game to offer the option to subtitle all narrated text. I've got to the point years ago where I want subtitles with everything, even television shows and films. Turning it on for video games is one of the first things I do as soon as the game gives me control. It annoys me how you often can't turn on subtitles (not to mention turn off music) before the introductory cinematic. The second feature is a difficulty level; monsters can be made "Wimpy," "Normal," or "Ferocious." I decided to try "Ferocious" and see how hard it actually is. The final option is the ability to turn on or off "smooth scrolling," which simply adds a subtle transition animation as you move between squares, probably a last-minute addition to make it seem more like a true 3D game. I find that I can move faster without it, and I turn it off.
     
Some of the game options.
      
One thing I like immediately about the game is that clicking on most things gives you a textual description, much like an adventure game. This description is also narrated by the character. He has comments on almost all objects that aren't simply part of the background texture, including paintings, decorative swords, and views through windows. One thing I don't like is that you sometimes can't move while the voice narration is going. This is inconsistent, though.
      
Conrad comments on a painting.
      
The small castle has a couple of shops, one selling salves and herbs and the other selling weapons. Items are expensive enough that I assume I'll be able to return here; otherwise, my 41 silver crowns don't buy much.
   
Guards part as I approach the throne room, and a button opens the door. I enter to find King Richard arguing with Geron Arbroath (the chamberlain) and a young woman whose identity I don't know. The king wants to march immediately, but Arbroath is cautioning him to wait for the army mustered by an "Eric." Both Arbroath and the woman are confident that the castle's magic and martial protections are enough to protect against Scotia, but the king isn't so sure: "Scotia is not an adversary to be taken lightly." Again, the difference in the quality of voice acting between Stewart and the other actors is stark. You'd forgive him for phoning it in for this kind of project--just his name alone would have been enough to sell boxes--but he reads every line with gusto.
       
Patrick Stewart: "A paycheck is a paycheck."
        
Richard turns to me and tells me that as a first quest, I must retrieve the Ruby of Truth from "Roland's estate in the Southland." He gives me a key to his private library and tells me that in it, I'll find a magic atlas. Arbroath invites me to stop by his office for an official writ.
   
I head to the library, which has four books on four pedestals. One of them is the "magic atlas," which adds an automap to the interface. It's a nice one. Graphically, it looks a bit like Ultima Underworld's, although without the ability to mark your own annotations. It does annotate buttons and other map features. I just wish you could call it with a key.
         
The automap of Castle Gladstone.
      
The other four books fill in a bit of the lore and history of the setting. Each time you click on one, you get a different message (again, all narrated by Stewart), so I spend some time making sure I read everything. Among them, I learn:
   
  • Gladstone was the first major civilization to come out of the dark ages. Its power grew when its people discovered how to use magic.
  • King Andrew, the "13th heir to the throne of Gladstone," found the Shard of Truth in the Urbish highlands. 
  • In the 60th generation after the fall of the Golden Age, Sir Michel Robard found the Ruby of Truth and gave it to the heir of Gladstone.
  • The combination of the Ruby and the Shard created a powerful magic effect. "All known forms of deceit were unveiled," and evil creatures retreated to the nether world. This event ushered in the modern era of peace.
  • An emerald blade can help against undead.
  • It is rumored that something called Vaelan's Cubes can drain magic from people.
  • The Gorkha are fierce warriors but also fair traders.
      
Thanks for the advice.
    
  • There's some advice to never drink from underground waters.
  • One of the books has various things to say about the pubs and inns you can encounter the land.
    
The chamberlain gives me a Writ of Passage as promised, but he's kind of a jerk about it, and I wonder if he's going to turn out to be traitorous or villainous later on. A crow (maybe a raven) flew up to his window as I entered his office. He tried to play it off as, "Look, even the beasts seek shelter," but for all I know it was Scotia.
      
And if you asked me to touch something of yours, I wouldn't. I guess we're at a stalemate.
       
With nothing left to do, I leave the castle and head into the forest. Like Eye of the Beholder II, the game doesn't so much have "outdoor" maps as regular dungeon maps with outdoor textures. It isn't long before I find my first battle against a wild boar. Its animation and grunting are both superb. He dies in a couple of hits without wounding me. Combat is just as you'd expect in a Dungeon Master clone, with a "cool down" period of a few seconds in between attacks.
      
It's too bad there's no food system.
     
I find some items as I continue to explore: a weathered dagger, a stick, and something called a "swarm" that I understand by neither name nor icon. 

As I turn down a forest path, a mugger appears and announces he's taking my money. I have options to give, bluff, and fight. I try bluffing, but he doesn't buy it, so I find myself in combat. I try casting a spell. Apparently, I'll eventually find a spellbook, but the character starts with a "Spark" spell. When you cast a spell, you specify the level. I could only choose 1 or 2 for my one spell. I cast it at Level 2, which took all my mana points. It plus one physical attack killed the mugger. My mana regenerated relatively quickly, about one bar segment every 20 seconds for a full refresh in about 3 minutes.
      
I hit the mugger with a spell.
    
I soon came to a cave with two thugs guarding it. I had options to attack, sneak, or leave. It's nice to see these types of encounter options. Eye of the Beholder II had them, too, so it's not like this is the first time, but they're still not common in Dungeon Master clones.
      
An interesting way to offer a "sneak" mechanic in an interface that wouldn't otherwise support it.
     
I tried sneaking, but they caught me and attacked at the same time a boar started attacking me from my flank. I thus suffered my first death on my third combat. On a reload, I took care of the boar first and then rested to heal and restore mana. The game doesn't seem to have a food system, so I'm not sure if there's any downside to resting or otherwise taking one's sweet time.
      
Not much of a death screen.
    
I've explored a bit further, but I think I'll wrap up here because I want to get your opinions about the different character classes (I don't really like Conrad's voice actor) before I go too far. In its opening hours, at least, Lore looks, sounds, and plays great, and I'm really looking forward to continuing with it.
    
Time so far: 1 hour
  

103 comments:

  1. I played as Kieran because I usually like the rogue/stealth characters in games. I thought his voice actor was ... ok but almost all his comments when you click on items were sarcastic, which was more annoying than funny. I didn't try any of the other heroes, so I can't really tell you which I liked best...

    I enjoyed this game quite a bit but there's a couple of parts at the end that were very very frustrating, and I ended up having to consult a walkthrough to finish. There's also a couple places, if I recall, where you have to choose path A or path B and you can't do both, which bugs the heck out of me as a completionist.

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    1. Kieran is the canonical hero in the sequels, for whatever reason.

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  2. Ahh, Westwood had some of the most gorgeous visuals in that era! I often wondered who was responsible for helping them hit so far above the average, and turns out it was most likely an artist named Rick Parks, may he rest in peace.

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    1. He was the lead artist for Lands of Lore and also for the Legend of Kyrandia games, which I think look equally amazing. Guardians of Destiny had a dedication video for him which can be found on Youtube.

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    2. Kyrandia 1 & 2 and LoL 1 not only had this amazing visual style that I would still thoroughly enjoy today, but they also had Frank Klepacki, later of Command and Conquer fame, doing the music.

      I've generally been someone who enjoys games primarily for mechanics, but, man, I was so enamored of these aesthetics. Still am, I guess.

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  3. Here is my Lands of Lore story:

    In 1994 I was 14 years old and had a job working at a pharmacy doing odd tasks and delivering medicine on my bicycle around my town which was a satellite town of a larger city. I would try and save up my earnings and every couple of months would make the 30 kilometer round trip on my bike into the middle of the city to an amazing second hand computer game store. One such time I went in without much of a clue what to buy but saw this game, "Lands of Lore", that the box made look so amazing that I got it immediately and rode home. Mum didn't let me play it until the next day so I spent all evening scouring the manual, and then next day installed it. I watched the amazing intro sequence which just blew my mind and CRASH!

    I tried it again. CRASH!

    The game wouldn't get past the intro movie and I learnt a very valuable lesson that day: always make sure your computer meets the "minimum system requirements" on the side of the box :(

    Consequently I never have played the game, so am very keen to read Chet's take on it nearly 30 years later!

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    1. I had to learn that lesson twice, once with Fallout 3 and once with GTA 4.

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    2. GTA 4 was unplayable for me too until some hardware upgrades.
      Oddly enough I had problems years before with Arena --not *that* arena but an obscure c64 version of "Chaos"
      It wouldn't run on my c64 but would on my friends (which was a slightly older model). Annoying since I wanted to play it more often than sometimes while at my friends house :S

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    3. Ultima 8 for me! I guess it was a bit of a step up technologically from U7!

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    4. Heh, I had to jump through a lot of hoops to get Serpent Isle to run (and when it did, it took over a minute to save or restore the game). Talk about pushing the envelope!

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    5. For me the first experience with a game not running on my PC was Cossacks 2. I loved the original Cossacks and American Conquest and was really looking forward to it, only to realize that my GPU wasn't good enough.

      Bought a new GPU then, which lasted me a couple years.

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    6. U7 for me. I could not for the life of me get it to work on any of my computers until the era of Exult.

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    7. Geeze, I did this a bunch of times. Those were the heady days of "cross your fingers and hope it works"... These days my FrankenPC can handle just about anything, although Elden Ring randomly crashes every once in a while. That may not be my computer's fault, though...

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    8. Happened to me with Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine. Video card ... What the hell is a video card.

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  4. I think the common wisdom is to go with Ak'shel because magic is powerful and versatile, but they're all viable options. Magic-users were strong in Dungeon Master too so it's following in that tradition.

    I've played Throne of Chaos a few times over the decades and it's always held up well between its quality-of-life mechanics and its visuals. Shares Dungeon Master's penchant of being very accessible, even if it isn't always easy.

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  5. Game is winnable with all the characters. With Akshel it is probably easiest, Kieran is bit challangeing for new players. Certain peculiarities of the system reportedly allows strange things, like to make a super strong magic user from Michael. ... Don't forget to train rogue levels for at least one character, you will need them. ... Swarm item is useful - it attracts bees and you probably know what these little critters can do.

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    1. Is it like Dungeon Master 2, where characters with no magic (or the least magic) would be the best spellcasters by the end?

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    2. It's more asvis mentioned below - spell power is based on Might so if you build Michael's mana pool he is not only strong fighter but magic user as well. On the other hand Akshel kind of compensate that with largest mana pool which is good for healing.

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  6. Seems like you're going for some serious palate cleansing here: from a series of bare-bones, visually limited and overall lackluster RPG experiences straight to two of the visually most impressive and critically acclaimed CRPGs of 1993! I sincerely hope you'll enjoy it!

    I got Lands of Lore as a magazine coverdisc game with a magazine in... 95 or 96, I believe, not exactly sure about the exact year. I was playing tabletop Rpgs at the time, and I remember that I desperately wanted to like the game... It had received great reviews in the magazines I read, and it was a computer rendition of my favorite pastime, so it seemed like this would be a great entry point to the world of CRPGs ... And yet, I didn't enjoy it. Never managed to stick with the game even beyond the first dungeon. Maybe it's the bobber style that turned me off, idk (I later tried played the EoB games and didn't like them much either). I guess at the time I was still firmly a fan of point & click adventure games for their ability to convey a story. And while Lands of Lore also attempts that, in my eyes out didn't quite get there yet.

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  7. I'm not sure I'd call LoL the apex of DM-style games. It has the bells and whilstles, but Westwood's level designs were never particularly good, and the character system is rather shallow. Case in point: I don't think the initial character choice makes much of a difference. Because of the lack of main attributes, you can eventually train them all in any class you want, so the effects of the choice are largely limited to early game.

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    1. (but I'm sure it'll rate much higher on Gimlet than DM because of NPCs and roleplaying choices ;-P)

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    2. I also think that the apex of DM games is DM. Lands of Lore is better or equal in everything - but gameplay.

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    3. I'm still a fan of the sheer nonlinearity of the first Eye of the Beholder - that's very much a rarity among blobbers.

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  8. If I remember correctly, Kieran has the problem of not having "footgear" inventory slot, I never checked whether he made it up in another way. I personally went with Conrad, and I don't replay games so cannot compare. I SUSPECT that who is your character mostly changes the result of the "sneak" options and similar you see when playing the game.

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  9. I went with Ak'shel as other commenters have pointed out. I like a strong magic character and this choice will make the party well-rounded. But it is also very much playable with Conrad.
    I'm really looking forward to this playthrough as LoL is one of my favorite games from that era.

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  10. My recollection of LOL is that it's visually extremely impressive (which IS Westwood's trademark, after all) and remains so throughtout the game.

    Downsides of the game include vgf yriry qrfvta naq chmmyr qrfvta vf cerggl oynaq; gur onpxtebhaq yber naq uhznabvq enprf ner n senzvat fgbel naq arire zragvbarq ntnva; vg unf n irel fubeg fcryy yvfg naq cerggl zhpu nyy bs gurz ner whfg qrnyvat qnzntr jvgu n snapl ivfhny; naq gurer'f arire ernyyl na vagrerfgvat pubvpr nf gb juvpu vgrzf gb hfr. Gur raq erfhyg vf gung vgf tnzrcynl riraghnyyl obtf qbja gb n zbabgbabhf tevaq.


    It's worth noting that the first game of Westwood's adventure series, Legend of Kyrandia, has comparable issues (e.g. in its infamous berry maze). Both series do manage overcome their flaws in later installments.

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    1. I suppose that LOL is one of those games which will score very high in some characteristics (like Graphics) and very low in others (like Economy). It can be considered an extremely streamlined RPG.

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    2. Yeah, I played and enjoyed LoL when it came out - and replayed once or twice since — but found the first half a lot more fun than the second. The great production values, adventure-game style puzzles, accessible system, and more plot and NPC interaction than EOB make it really easy to get into — but the ultimately shallow gameplay and overlong, repetitive dungeons in the back half always made finishing a bit of a chore (makes for an apt juxtaposition with Angband, I suppose, since the first third to half there can be a slog but the gameplay starts firing on all cylinders in the latter part)

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  11. I also took Ak'shel, as kid I always took the wizard/magican in games they offerd it

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  12. "... and something called a "swarm" that I understand by neither name nor icon."
    I remember having the same experience. I would guess that you have not found out yet, that items can be used by right-clicking on the character's portrait. At least I realized this only some time later in the game.

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    1. I think it should depict either a beehive or a wasps nest. It's summon them when used

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    2. looking at a pic of it, with muuuch imigination it could be a flock of swarming bees when they are resting

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    3. Yes, I think so. I'd very much like to see Conrad stuffing a bee hive in his bag...

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  13. Lands of Lore is one of the games i keep in high res memory. Every now and then I watch the intro on YouTube for a nostalgia hit. I remember playing it until i was stuck near the end, but I didn't mind replaying it again a few years later. It doesn't lose its charm. It's beautiful, like Legend of Kyrandia 2. Switching from black DOS screen to this games always felt like magic.

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  14. I did like this game back when. Interesting one. Nice enough to grab the attention. Kind of rpg lite, and/or enhanced adventure.

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    1. I know this site encourages it but people should really start thinking of adventure games as a distinct genre, and not as a "lesser" form of game that doesn't make it to the quality levels of an RPG. No, an RPG is not an "enhanced adventure".

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    2. Does this site encourage thinking of adventure as lesser? I can't recall Chester ever having said as much, regardless of his own preferences/addiction. The impression was more that they're related lineages with somewhat different goals and occasionally we find them overlapping in a hybrid game. What makes for a good adventure doesn't necessarily rate all that highly on a Gimlet scale that really isn't meant to rate it, but that's not a knock on the genre on its own terms.

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    3. Hm, it used to be right in the side bar (where it talks about the advgamer blog) but it looks like Chet removed that. Good :)

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    4. Adventure games have similar roots to RPGs, as the original Colossal Cave Adventure and Zork feel very much like an attempt at translating the tabletop D&D experience to the computer, but focusing on the puzzle aspect rather than the combat and character building.

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    5. Yeah -- Adventure in fact was directly inspired by Will Crowther's experience of playing D&D for the first time and wanting to share something like it with his daughters (well, D&D plus his spelunking hobby, of course). Much of what he was responding to I think was how to communicate exploration, though save for the odd maze that quickly dropped off from most IF as well as most tabletop RPGs.

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    6. Yes, and so? Having similar roots doesn't mean it's the same genre.

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    7. They're not the same genre, just like how RPGs and JRPGs aren't despite their common roots :p

      But it means you can compare them in some ways, and it explains their common elements and why some people conflate them.

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    8. Anonymous is correct that my status bar used to say something like "games that did not achieve RPG status." It was a joking nudge, but probably obnoxious.

      The fact that I (and others) recognize some games as "adventure/RPG hybrids" means that we don't consider RPGs "enhanced adventure games." If we did, we wouldn't call games like Quest for Glory "hybrids"; we'd just call them "RPGs."

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  15. Doing my little victory dance... okay done!

    'Lands of Lore' finally, I'll spare the rest of you the fond memories and anecdotes I'd have about this game, and proceed with some useful tips (no spoilers):

    - The upper left of the interface will gradually be filled with your spellbook, a compass etc. as soon as you find them
    - With monsters on 'ferocious' you want to remember that you can throw stuff (like rocks) at monsters during the weapon and spell cooldown phase
    - Use the left-click to investigate your surroundings often and you'll find lots of useful stuff (like swarms)

    Nothing else, enjoy the game, man, you deserved it. I'm firing my version up tonight and try to play along...

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  16. I bought this last year, in order to give it a whirl before you did.

    I gave it a whirl. It's got aesthetic appeal, and there's more narrative and worldbuilding than in your usual blobber, but I wasn't compelled to keep playing after finishing the first quest - the gameplay just wasnt quite there.

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  17. A word of caution (I'm not seeing it mentioned anyhwhere); If I'm not misremembering, the amount of Health Points and Magic Point which you receive when you level up are random, so you can gain very small amounts of HP or MP if you're unlucky, and conversely, you can "save-scum" just before levelling up to try to reach the highest amount possible.

    I finisehd the game with Conrad (which was also my first option as the best well-rounded character) and Michael. It seems that Kieran is faster than the other characters to compensate for his unability to use boots.

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  18. One interface tip that was never obvious to me: the arrows at the bottom scroll your inventory one space left and right, of course, but (I think) right-clicking on them acts as a page-left/page-right command. Your inventory is infinite, so this can be helpful later in the game.

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    1. Inventory is fairly large, but limited. I learned about it pretty fast, as I tried to lug around everything found in the first locations to sell it at one shop or another.

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  19. I played Ak'Shel because I like his voice. Figured that any predefined character would be viable.

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  20. According to walkthroughs, difference in attack strength between the three are not noticeable in gameplay. Akshel is great because he has more MP; Kieran is great because he attacks fasted; Conrad is average; Michael sucks because he has less MP.

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    1. Minor mechanics spoiler.

      While Michael initially has an extremely small mana pool, he has high Might. The game scales spell damage based on Might stat.

      You can pick Michael and suffer through early game by continually casting Spark or using magic items, e.g. Swarm, to level up his Magic skill. Keep him casting spells to become a powerful Mage.

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    2. There's a great thread discussing mechanics and items from 2005, starting approximately on page 25 of the comments.

      http://www.abandonia.com/vbullet/showthread.php?t=4308&page=25

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    3. Wasn't there a similar levelling exploit in Dungeon Master 2? Those that started with lower magic, eventually would become the best casters, because they would "level more"

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  21. Ah, a warning. There are two ways to soft lock yourself in the first large plotpoint cave (gur Qenenpyr Pnir). Znxr fher gb unir n punenpgre pnyyrq Yben orsber frrvat gur Qenenpyr (gurer vf na havaghvgvir jnl gb ABG unir ure jura zrrgvat gur Qenenpyr, gura svaq ure, gura pneel ba gur nqiragher jvgu ure - vs gung'f gur pnfr gung'f n ceboyrz) naq V oryvrir gurer vf nabgure pbzcyvpngrq jnl gb fbsgybpx lbhefrys, ol qebccvat gur jebat vgrz ng gur jebat cynpr (fubhyq abg unccra gb lbh vs lbh ner abg orunivat yvxr 12-lrnef byq zr).

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  22. Wow, LoL together with UU2. You're going for some serious heavy hitters suddenly after a long stretch of obscure games... (!) Looking forward to both coverages. I think that I've always played Lands of Lore with Conrad as a balanced char. It's like in Dungeon Master however, it's important to train skills, especially magic. I use to always throw a spark or something even at smaller enemies that melee weapons would kill more surely and quickly. Mana regens and it gives you magic XP "for free". Later you'll be glad you have leveled up!

    Visuals and animation are oustanding for this one compared to the competition of the times.

    As others have said, keep saves regularly as there are unfortunately multiple places where you can put yourself in a walking dead scenario. Don't throw away anything in a place where you can't find it back, there's a LOT of item-based puzzles.

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  23. One of the best dungeon crawler.

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  24. It's funny, though not surprising, that you turned off the smooth animations. As far as such features go, I think LoL had the best implementation. It stayed out of your way pretty well — the animations were pretty short. So often game devs get precious about their effects and let them intrude on the gameplay...

    I was obsessed at one point trying to figure out how they did it, particularly the rotation. I thought at first they just slid the facing-right view on from the right when you turned right. But then I implemented it, and that didn't look right at all.

    Much later, I used my phone to take high frame rate video of the animation, and there is some kind of motion blur fudgery happening. I still haven't sussed out exactly what they are doing to make it look so slick.

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    1. I agree, the smooth movement and turning animations in Lands of Lore are great. They're lightning fast, so it's fun to run around with quick taps on the keyboard.

      LoL's turning animation seems to be not that complicated. I made a video recording of my desktop at 60 FPS, then stepped through the frames to make screenshots of the animation frames:

      https://imgur.com/a/twwwUTI

      Generally, moving stepwise with WASD, plus QE for turning 90 degrees left/right, feels great and leaves the mouse free to be used for a mouse cursor with which the player can control the party members and interact with the world.

      This is one of the reasons why this genre of games didn't become obsolete for me when RPGs with FPS controls appeared (Deus Ex, Morrowind, etc.), where the mouse (or the second analog stick of a gamepad) is used for looking around. Nobody wants to use that control scheme for controlling a whole party of adventurers.

      Delete
    2. Wow, that is a very good analysis for the transition which i wondered for a long time.
      "Nobody wants to use that control scheme for controlling a whole party of adventurers."
      I love controlling a whole party in Might and Magic 6 with real time fps controls btw.

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    3. "I love controlling a whole party in Might and Magic 6 with real time fps controls btw."

      Oh, that is interesting. I watched a Youtube video how players use mouselook in Might and Magic 6. It seems to work alright. But do I understand correctly that players using mouselook use preselected abilities of their characters and need to switch to a normal mouse cursor in order to change the ability selection?

      I'd prefer to take advantage of a free mouse cursor that enables selecting different abilities and spells on the fly. A mouse cursor also allows targeting the abilities on the party members themselves, who are only shown in the UI (so they couldn't be targeted by a FPS crosshair). And a magic system like that of Dungeon Master or Ultima Underworld, where a spell is assembled with multiple runes, would be rather contrary to a mouselook / FPS crosshair UI.

      I examined LoL's movement animations because I'm toying with the thought to program a little prototype game with this kind of fake 3D pixel graphics style, which I love. But regarding gameplay and combat, I'd try to maximize the potential of stepwise movement and a free mouse cursor.

      Imagine the final combat against Lord Chaos in Dungeon Master I, where you have to surround him in Flux Cages, with more area of effect spells such as poison clouds or walls of fire which spread over several tiles, which need to be counteracted with the appropriate spells; for example, using a water spell to create a gap in the wall of fire in order to pass through.

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    4. I also think the system works okay in MM6, but that's about the limit. Once the game worlds start getting more realistic, they become too realistic for the abstract idea of blobbed party moving together. I'm sure that's why modern games that allow multiple characters force you to see the world through the eyes of one, with the others tagging along as NPCs that you don't directly control.

      Delete
  25. Wow, I'm mostly reading your blog on mobile or Kindle, without seeing the upcoming games list. What a pleasant surprise, UU2 and LoL started in the same week! I'm really looking forward for these series of articles. Thank you for the great content.

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  26. I played the CD version of LoL back then and I too was very pleasently surprised by the voice acting. Though I have to admit by the time I played it I was already beginning to be a Patrick Stewart fan, am definitely now. And another one I didn't finish although I enjoyed it pretty much and never returned to, damn younger me.

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  27. This was the game - this was the game that made me love RPGs. It's beautiful, atmospheric, eminently playable and seemed like a long and diverse adventure back when I was 13-14.

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  28. Is there a series that has such drastic changes between installments more than LoL? I mean, it completely changed gametypes between 1, 2, and 3.

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    Replies
    1. Did it? I only played the first two, but they're both first-person RPGs with substantial action elements. The visuals and gameplay definitely changed (IMO for the worse) when going from tile-based to free-scrolling movement, but compared to, I dunno, how GTA changed between the first two games and GTA3, that doesn't seem like a big gametype/genre shift so much as it's just adapting the gameplay to new technological affordances.

      Delete
    2. I think going from pseudo-3D blobber to a single-character fully-3D game changes quite a lot. As you said, it's not just aesthetics, which were hurt in the transition, but also the gameplay. What else is there?

      Delete
    3. Sure, it changes things a fair bit, but not radically so given the large range of potential experiences a video game can afford - I was responding to the conjecture that no series has ever had more drastic changes than LoL, which seems patently untrue. As I mentioned, GTA went from top-down score-chasing arcade games to full-3D, narratively-driven simulations! Zork went from text adventures to FMV graphic adventures to a first-person Myst-alike! Castlevania started as a simple 2d level based action game and has some sequels that are full-3D brawlers and others that are sprawling, exploration-focused RPGs!

      I’m that context, going from one sub genre of first-person real time action rpg to another doesn’t seem like that big a deal - especially since this time period largely saw the death of tile-based games and a move to free-scrolling 3D across the industry, making it arguable whether the developers were radically shifting what they were doing, vs trying to update their gameplay experience by adapting it to the latest technology.

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    4. "I was responding to the conjecture that no series has ever had more drastic changes than LoL, which seems patently untrue."

      Ah, I wouldn't defend such a conjecture literally. Not only is it a hugely broad claim, but it's essentially undefined without first defining and agreeing upon a precise quantifiable measure of "change" in games.

      And agreement upon other terms, as well — for example I wouldn't count anything after Zork Zero as the same series. RTZ and such were made by a completely different team that just had the rights. Anyone can ruin a franchise by acquiring the rights.

      But I would say that LoL 2 changed quite a lot from the first one, and somewhat unnecessarily so. One could imagine something like Legend of Grimrock being more suitable as a successor that took new technology into account. I get that they probably felt they had to adapt with the times, but the result was, to me, really disappointing.

      Delete
    5. Fallout 2 to 3 is one of the starkest changes in consecutive titles of the same series I can think of, even if of course they were ages apart.

      Outside of RPGs, Gabriel Knight 1 was a classic hand-drawn pixel art point and click adventure, 2 became a FMV game with live actors and digitized graphics, 3 was a full 3D game with textured polygonal models and controllable camera.

      Delete
    6. Realms of Arkania 2 --> 3 went from blob based to free movement and the game still looked pretty. LoL 2 was so fugly...

      Delete
  29. Ah, Lands of Lore! A treat of a game, despite the irritating inventory system. Would it have killed the UI designer to put at least a second item row instead of a meager one? Spending so much time clicking through the inventory to find a free slot gets old fast... I never realized right-clicking was a shortcut!

    That annoyance apart, the graphics are gorgeous, (some of) the voice acting is solid, and I love the music! Beautiful pixel art will always beat 3D in my heart.

    Enjoy this one, Chet!

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  30. In early development, fitting for its name coming from a text MUD, Westwood's first Legend of Kyrandia game was apparently going to be a Quest for Glory-style RPG hybrid rather than a pure adventure, with magic spells, a money system, and apparently random combat encounters planned as well as the ability to buy healing from Zanthia.

    It looks like the icon for silver coins in this game (which came out a year or so later) was reworked from the icon for gold coins seen in magazine previews of that early version of Kyrandia 1. The entrance to Gladstone Keep with its portcullis and drawbridge is also based heavily on the entrance to Castle Kyrandia, though the first two Kyrandia games used 2D art rather than the 3D-rendered background seen in the Lands of Lore intro. (Malcolm's Revenge uses 3D backgrounds but has a different design for the art that matches the 2D games more precisely.)

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    1. There are some item graphics that are the same between this game, Eye of the Beholder, and/or Kyrandia.

      And reading up on what you said, I find it interesting that some game elements from the Kyrandia adventure game come straight from the old Kyrandia mud, most notably the (much maligned) gemstone quest in the forest; https://muds.fandom.com/wiki/Kyrandia

      It's also interesting that both the Kyrandia and the Lands of Lore lines were killed by... Electronic Arts.

      Delete
    2. I have not been able to find any mention of either the Kyrandia MUD or the Westwood game having character stats or random encounters, though. If you have more info, that would be appreciated.

      Delete
    3. Most of what I have comes from French and German gaming magazines - things like Génération 4 #41 (February 1992), Tilt #101 (April 1992), Akuteller Software Markt vol. 7 #5 (May 1992). You should be able to find them on archive.org.

      I also know about some later previews (such as Génération 4 #46, from summer 1992) that look much closer to the final version as a pure adventure game, but with an amulet in the GUI that has six stones instead of four.

      Delete
  31. A very minor spoiler which might not even matter with Chester's colorblindness.

    Scotia has a color associated with her. Even if she uses Nether Mask, the game still gives you a subtle hint. If you pay attention you can tell that it's the witch in disguise.

    The beauty (or the truth) is in the eye of the beholder, so to speak.

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    Replies
    1. That's a pretty big spoiler (rkprcg gurl chyyrq gur fnzr gevpx va gur frpbaq orubyqre tnzr, naq purg qvqa'g snyy sbe gung rvgure).

      Delete
    2. Is it a spoiler? It’s been a long time since I’ve replayed this but I recall the graphical hint as being anything but subtle, and established in the very first scene with Scotia. Even though the characters aren’t meant to be able to see through the shape changing, I thought this was a way to build narrative tension by giving the player knowledge the characters aren’t privy to — Westwood had good enough artists to tone things down if they wanted to.

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    3. Is it a spoiler? It’s been a long time since I’ve replayed this but I recall the graphical hint as being anything but subtle, and established in the very first scene with Scotia. Even though the characters aren’t meant to be able to see through the shape changing, I thought this was a way to build narrative tension by giving the player knowledge the characters aren’t privy to — Westwood had good enough artists to tone things down if they wanted to.

      Delete
    4. Ugh, sorry for the double post.

      Delete
  32. " Again, the difference in the quality of voice acting between Stewart and the other actors is stark. You'd forgive him for phoning it in for this kind of project--just his name alone would have been enough to sell boxes--but he reads every line with gusto."

    One of the reasons Patrick Stewart is one of the most respected actors around is that he approaches every new project with the respect and determination that you would expect from the biggest role on the planet.

    He just plain doesn't DO "phone it in".

    He's also famously considerate toward fans - he initially refused to see Galaxy Quest because he thought it was mocking Star Trek fandom.

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  33. Yeah pretty good game though I never have been able to replay it: there are difficulty spikes caused by respawning enemies (and they can respawn behind you) that caused some rage quitting from me.

    As for the rest, all has been mentioned: the awesome style from Rick Parks, the jazzy and playful music from Klepacki, that it's not that different from the kyrandia games and that it keeps things moving through a variety of dungeons of all kind and many conversational encounters that EOB2 promised but didn't deliver.

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    1. I wonder how the linearity with sit with you though

      Delete
  34. Compared to Ultima Underworld, I found some of the puzzles and fights in this impossible without a guide. There are some SUPER esoteric aspects to this game.

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    Replies
    1. I agree... even if also Ultima Underworld 2 is a challenging game without a guide.

      Delete
    2. Interesting, I finished this one with no hints back in the day. I do remember I had a friend sitting next to me at the very last dungeon level, so at the very last puzzle he, who had never played the game, gave a suggestion that ended up being the right one

      Delete
    3. Yeah I never had an issue with Lands of Lore either - at the time it was considered a very easy game puzzle wise, mostly from seasoned players of Bard's Tale, Bloodwych or Dark Heart of Uukrul. There is backtracking though.

      Delete
  35. Being able to inspect items for more information would definitely have helped. The thing that also sticks out to me is how n Inryna’f Phor jvyy qrsrng tubfgf va gur Vibel Gbjre, ohg guvf vfa’g abgrq naljurer va-tnzr.

    Someone said it trivializes that part of the game when I noted that on a posting a long time ago, but I don't see how it's even completable otherwise.

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    Replies
    1. Some walkthroughs note that as the only way to proceed, but I'm very sure I've completed the game without figuring that one out.

      Delete
    2. I've completed it repeatedly without knowing about this. The hint you really need is found in the library in castle Gladstone.

      Delete
  36. "His performance, particularly in contrast to the wooden one by the advisor, really goes to show why professional actors are enlisted for these kinds of projects. Origin could have taken a lesson from Westwood on that point."

    About Patrick Stewart, he did a lot of VA work for videogames over the years.
    He puts a bit too much emphasis,IMHO, when doing fantasy roles, but it might be just me.

    About Origin, it's funny how they could splurge to have the likes of Mark Hamill and Malcolm McDowell as live actors for their Wing Commander series, but Ultima has always has sub-par VA.

    Ultima Underworld intro is famously bad, but Ultima 8 and 9 will also be kind of painful...

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    1. The two could easily be connected, it's very possible they couldn't afford good VAs because of the money going into Wing Commander.

      Delete
    2. UU's intro was bad, but I don't think I've ever heard voice acting as bad as Richard Garriott playing himself at the beginning of U7P2.

      Delete
  37. If anyone wants to play along, LoL 1&2 is on offer now (until Sunday) on gog.

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  38. The best character is btw Baccata, so your choice isn't too critical. With ferocious monsters, the healing power of Ak'Shel is probably most helpful. Just take Kieran if you can stand his sarcasm, I think he is the most interesting and unique. A good implementation of a rogue is rare enough, so...

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  39. I remember playing the disc version of this game and it didnt' have the intro with the history of the Lands. IIRC none of that backstory about the ancients and the war has anything to do with anything in the game itself.

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  40. I've only recently stumbled across this blog, and was delighted to see that you had just started playing Lands of Lore. This was a game from my childhood that's near and dear to my heart. I think it was my introduction to RPGs, and it was so welcoming and streamlined.

    I also appreciated how the story was placed front and centre. It took time to give your companion's personalities (loved Baccata), and the environments were often so interactive. The short cutscenes interspersed throughout always felt like rewards for making progress. The voice acting added so much too.

    The thing about Westwood's games in this era that always caught my attention was the art style. It's just so lush and evocative. I was mostly an adventure game fan back then (still am) and the Kyrandia games felt like being transported to another world.

    As I recall, the game's combat, mazes and difficulty got a bit much for me as I progressed and I was only ever to reach the end of the game by following a walkthrough published in PC Format magazine. I'm probably remembering the game through rose tinted glasses, but it had a big impact on me. I think I enjoyed the sequel more later, though.

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  41. The surprising thing is that the Dungeon Master engine is still superior to all its successive clones. I think that we need to wait for the 2010's to find something equivalent (Legend of Grimrock).
    Having a better game engine obviously doesn't mean that the game is automatically better.

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    Replies
    1. It's probably sacrilege on this blog, but I find Dungeon Master inaccessible because the interface is so unintuitive and the spell system is hard to grasp - as opposed to, say, Eye of the Beholder which is the well-known D&D standard, or Lands of Lore which is designed to be easy on beginners.

      Delete
    2. I absolutely agree with Nifft, as I think is clear from my ratings on many series in which I rated the first game higher than later games in the same series that had engine improvements. Pool of Radiance and Might and Magic are two examples.

      So sacrilege here, Anonymous. Just preferences.

      Delete
  42. Lands of Lore was the first RPG I ever played when I was a kid, still on my brothers computer I think. I was so young that I did not know anything about "genres" and just played everything I came across. Even though I barely made it out of the castle, I was so enarmored with this game that I got myself a copy years later, still not quite in my teens. I managed to make it to the cave of the Draracle, but just couldn´t reach it, no matter how long I tried.

    I gave up then and forgot about this kind of games for many years. It wasn´t up until the release of Final Fantasy 7 that I really became enarmored with this genre in my teens. But I never forgot about Lands of Lore. A Walkthrough on Youtube shows me that I apparently was only steps away from the Draracle. Quite impressive when I think about my young age. But seeing the rest of the game I realize I would have never been able to beat it, given there was no Internet to search for informations.

    On a sidenote, there is a copy of Lands of Lore 2 floating around in my local charity shop for many years. Although I could probably get it for 50 cents, I still remember the bad reviews it got when it was released (at least in the german magazines I was reading at the time) and therefore never thought about giving it a shot.

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