Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Lands of Lore: Won! (with Summary and Rating)

Conrad, moments after Baccata confusedly asked him what is meant by the term "s@#$-eating grin."
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
Date Ended: 20 May 2022
Total Hours: 40
Difficulty: Moderate (3.0/5)
Final Rating: 39
Ranking at Time of Posting: 376/460 (82%)

A slick take on Dungeon Master-style gameplay from the team that created the first two Eye of the Beholder games, Lore benefits from high production values in graphics, sound, and voice acting and tells a story of more coherence and depth than the traditional DM clone (though not more than some other RPGs of the period). Freed from the restrictions imposed by their D&D license, Westwood regrettably chooses to simplify RPG mechanics, making for a less satisfying game in terms of character development, combat, and equipment. But even these reduced categories have a few things worth recommending, and playing Lore today is a perfectly pleasant experience.

Castle Cimmeria was only three levels, and I had explored one of them, so the rest of the game was only two levels--but wow, did Lands of Lore manage to stretch them out. I can't remember the last time I faced so many obscure buttons, so much backtracking, and so many dead-ends. It seemed like every other corridor was designed to send me on a one-way pit journey back to the first level, or sometimes the basement. Altogether, the final two levels took me about seven hours--and there are hardly any enemies on the third level.
Level 2 did have some tough foes. There were first these giant snake-spiders (multi-legged but with a snake-like neck and head). The second were like living buzz-saw blades with giant eyes. Both were capable of killing a character in three hits. Both could be killed with melee attacks, but they were hard to hit, so I generally had to blend physical attacks with magic attacks and, as usual, lots of resting. The damned things respawned like crazy. The buzz-saw eyes also had some kind of acid attack that destroyed armor. For a while, I kept taking it off when I encountered them, but eventually I just let them destroy it. What was I saving it for?
One of the more creative enemies in the game.
Level 3's only foes were giant frog-like things that appeared sparingly, usually when I hit a button to open a wall, and the frog turned out to be behind the wall. They died in a couple of castings of "Spark," but they had that annoying special attack that causes you to drop all your weapons. I came to really hate that by the end of the game. 
It would be nice if the game's enemies made any ecological sense. There's no water around here!
The puzzles on the levels weren't very challenging--nothing like the floor puzzle from my last entry. Most of them were of the "find a key here to open a door there" variety, only the keys and doors were in far-flung locations and required a lot of marching back and forth. There were also a lot of barely-visible buttons to press, but the game's flawless annotation of its automap ensured that I didn't miss any of these.
Despite the length and business of the levels, there were also some signs of cut content or perhaps a hasty development schedule. Large portions of the levels had nothing in them. There were long passages and doors that lead to absolutely nothing, button puzzles that opened and closed walls that didn't need to be opened or closed.
Finding the fourth figurine.
The other oddity of the levels was the sheer number of squares that caused projectiles to launch at us, including a section in the south of Level 3 where a constant stream of spikes and fireballs comes whooshing across several of the bottom rows. The problem is that these "traps" hardly do any damage, and since there are no monsters on the level, it's a trivial matter to rest and heal once they hit you.
To complete the game, I had to rescue and heal King Richard and defeat Scotia. The order was important. I had the pyramid "keys" and potions necessary to heal Richard once I found him, but Scotia had put a protective barrier around his container, and this had to be dispelled with four figurines. I believe I had three when I started the final two levels. Richard was on Level 2, but the final figurine was on Level 3. It was in a room to the southwest that couldn't be opened on first encounter. A sign read "the sum must be correct."

The sign refers to an "equation" spelled out in the wall patterns in the southern area of Level 3. By default, it reads: "1 + 1 = 3." You've got to hit a button a couple of times on one of the wall squares in the "3" to move it west and ultimately make the pattern say "1 + 1 = 2," which opens the southeastern area. The problem is that this area is the one swarming with those fireball traps, so you're not terribly incentivized to map out the wall patterns. I suspect most players find the button and hit it, opening the hidden area, without ever understanding what the "sum" is talking about.
It is correct, for certain values of "1."
Forcing the player to go to Level 3 before healing Richard on Level 2 increases the likelihood that he's going to encounter Scotia before he's ready. This, of course, happened to me. You have to find two keys to Scotia's lair in the center of the level. Once you pass through it, it closes behind you and offers no way to get back out. Thankfully, I had saved the game before entering the area and didn't lose much progress. 
You can look like anything, and this is what you choose?
Once we had the four figurines, we went to Richard's room on Level 2. Both Richard's and Scotia's rooms are small, single squares, which seems odd until I reflect that every cut scene in the game has taken place in a single square approachable from only one direction. I'm guessing it's a limitation of the engine. Anyway, you have to place the figurines on various pedestals around the room to reflect light in a particular way. None of this is obvious when you start the "puzzle," but there are only four pedestals and four figurines, and the game alerts you when you've chosen one correctly, so it didn't take long.
If you say so.
Once the business with the figurines was done, we then placed the four "keys" (again, they're pyramids) on the magic coffin. It wasn't obvious where to put them, but it didn't take much clicking around to determine that the game wanted me to put them in the corners.
If they don't unlock the coffin, they'll at least weigh it down.
The blue encasement fell away after the final pyramid was placed.
And Conrad starts speaking in tongues.
Finally, we administered the potion. Richard awoke and asked what was happening. He gave us his ring--apparently the Shard of Truth--and said it would help defeat the Nether Mask. He said he was too weak to accompany us but asked for a weapon to defend himself. I gave him a spare trident.
The annoying thing is that this is almost iambic meter. "Reveal" messes everything up.
Again, I have to praise the voice acting by Patrick Stewart here. He probably doesn't even faintly remember the gig, and I doubt he spent a lot of time learning his character's backstory and motivations before reading the lines. And yet he completely commits himself to dialogue like, "Legend says that only Truth can reveal the Nether Mask and foil the hag." I had been eagerly anticipating hearing from Sir Patrick again, and it occurred to me that this is probably the first time I've regarded voiced dialogue as a real "reward." It goes to show how important the voice actor is. No one else in this game even comes close, although with his thick speech and faux British accent, Baccata's voice actor is at least somewhat successful in creating a friendly character.
Fortunately, I had recently re-read the lore from the beginning of the game, and I knew that the Ruby of Truth had to be combined with the Shard of Truth to foil the Nether Mask. (Yes, it does occasionally occur to me that I'm a grown man of nearly 50 and I spend a lot of my time typing sentences like that.) I put them together in my inventory, and they made some kind of ball called The Whole Truth.
This now must be combined with yet another artifact called And Nothing But the Truth.
It was time to take on Scotia. We returned to Level 3 and opened her door. "So! You worthless dogs have come to your deaths!" she snarled. She scoffed at the "old tale" that the Whole Truth could defeat her Nether Mask and attacked.
Scotia uses the Nether Mask to take several forms in the final battle, starting with the same kind of giant frog that you find elsewhere on the level. After you defeat that, she turns into a giant, furry, one-eyed snake. Upon the demise of that form, she morphs into an indescribable four-limbed monster with claws, jaws, and tentacles with their own mouths and jaws. Apparently, she is completely indestructible in this final form, so to defeat her, you have to use the "The Whole Truth" earlier in the fight, during one of her transitions. Of course, if you don't have the artifact, there's no way to stop her from that final form, and thus you can end up in a situation where there's no way to win the battle and no way to escape her part of the dungeon. This happened to me the first time.
Scotia is indestructible in this form.
With the artifact, you just have to use it as she makes a transition. It dispels her chosen form, and you end up fighting her in her normal human form. The battle is still pretty hard--her attacks include that obnoxious "spectral snake" spell from the White Tower, plus she constantly shrieks during the battle, making it extra unpleasant for the player. Nonetheless, I had hoarded a ton of artifacts for this battle, including just about every magic playing card, several of those "Guardian" globes, at least eight potions that fully restore mana, and at least six uses of the "bezel cups" that fully restore health. I just spammed these items until she died.
CRPGs have featured plenty of devastating spells, but I think this is probably the most disrespectful spell.
She collapsed against some piece of furniture, shouting, "Fool! My death will not save you from our wrath!" I don't know what she was talking about, as I didn't face any "wrath" after that. Instead, an endgame cinematic commenced showing Richard's army triumphantly returning to Gladstone, Richard bestowing a medal upon Conrad, and the Draracle ominously watching the proceedings in silence. A credits sequence rolls for a while, with each of the game's enemies coming out of a pair of double doors and taking a bow.
Uh . . . maybe I'll pass.
Those ending credits are a good encapsulation of Lands of Lore. Not many games of this era have scrolling end credits, particularly not with extra content like a rotating parade of the foes you've faced. In the end, Lore didn't break much new ground in terms of game mechanics. There are even several ways in which it regressed. But it did kick the genre forward in production values. Although I have suggested otherwise at times, I am not completely immune to the appeal of nice graphics and professional-quality sound, and I've done my best to highlight those elements in my coverage. Indeed, they left such a positive first impression that I may have been a bit hyperbolic in my initial entry. In the end, however, I am an RPG fan for RPG mechanics, and in this area Lore did a few things that I suspect will collectively hurt the GIMLET and put the game a bit below the Eye of the Beholder series in the Dungeon Master-clone pecking order.
Those flying worm bastards come out and dance at the end of the game.
As for that GIMLET, I give the game:
  • 4 points for the game world. I wish I could give it more, but Lore really doesn't make effective use of its backstory, most of which is derivative anyway. The different races aren't well-explained and don't make much of an appearance except in choice of player character. People and monsters are seeded throughout the game with little thought as to whether they make any thematic sense.
  • 3 points for character creation and development. I was most disappointed with this category. I've read accounts that the Westwood development team felt straight-jacketed by TSR's rules when creating the Beholder games. Freed of those constraints, they created an extremely simplistic character system in which development doesn't make you feel especially more powerful, there are no choices along the way, and one-third of the class system (the "rogue") is horribly under-utilized. It occurred to me late in gameplay that the lack of traditional attributes makes Lore almost a non-RPG by my definitions.
  • 4 points for NPCs. NPCs are important to the game, and a few of them are memorable, but almost all of your interaction is one-way. There are no dialogue options or role-playing opportunities. I particularly don't like that your choice of NPC companions is so scripted and linear. I do like the way they make comments and asides throughout the game.
Voice acting creates more memorable characters, which in turn gives greater poignancy to moments like this.
  • 6 points for encounters and foes. Here, Lore does well by its Dungeon Master roots, creating an original slate of enemies with a variety of special abilities and defenses, a challenging set of puzzles (to me, these perhaps exceed Beholder but not Dungeon Master), and even a few basic role-playing options during cut scenes. I would have appreciated more of the latter.
I would have liked to see more choices like this, with more nuanced options.
  • 4 points for magic and combat. As with character development, Westwood did little with its freedom in this area. The lack of any length or complexity in the spell system is particularly vexing (no protective spells!), although I appreciate that the different levels of each spell do slightly different things.
  • 4 points for equipment. I have the same complaints here that I have with most Dungeon Master clones: it's too hard to determine exactly what various items do except their raw offensive and defensive scores. Looking through the cluebook later, I see that there was an axe that conferred a 5% chance to kill with each attack, a staff that has a 5% chance of inflicting triple damage, and a sword that has a chance of striking the wielder with every 7th blow. I'm not interested in doing all the testing and observation necessary to record these things. Even worse are the endless parade of single-use magic items, like the cards, whose use isn't possible to discern until you've already used them, at which point they're wasted. Interface oddities, meanwhile, made bows and throwing items mostly useless in my opinion; you cannot really play this as a "ranged" game. And why does the distribution of equipment in Dungeon Master clones always have to be so fixed?
You always find the exact same equipment in every location. Why not mix it up a little?
  • 2 points for the economy. It has one. There was hardly ever anything useful to buy, and I ended the game with over 5,000 gold. In a replay, I'd know to spend more on potions and not be so protective of them.
  • 3 points for quests. There's a main quest with multiple stages, but no choices, role-playing options, or side quests.
  • 6 points for graphics, sound, and interface. Graphics are top-notch. Some of the voice acting is very good; almost all of it is at least adequate. Sound effects are fine. Where I can't give a lot of points is in the interface. While the automap deserves a lot of credit, the scrolling inventory window is a horror show. There isn't nearly enough keyboard redundancy, and what little there is is mapped to uncomfortable keys. 
Even random textures were pretty cool throughout the game.
  • 3 points for the miscellaneous gameplay category. It suffers here in being far, far too linear, not very replayable, and a little bit too long. I challenged myself with the higher difficulty setting, but I would otherwise rate the default challenge level as just about perfect.
That gives us a final score of 39. That's where I thought it would fall. I put the Beholder games at 41 and 40. While Lore clearly improves on them in some ways, it doesn't give enough attention to its RPG roots to exceed those previous efforts.
"Throne of Chaos" just seems like political mudslinging. Like, give her a chance.
In the November 1993 Computer Gaming World, Scorpia offers a review that presages my own. She's a bit too in love with simplicity for its own sake, as when she says, "You do not, in fact ever see any experience points at all, which is a pleasant change from most CRPGs." What makes it pleasant? Why is knowing how much I'm earning from specific actions a bad thing? She similarly praises the lack of traditional attributes. I think she forgets that CRPG players like CRPGs because of those types of statistics. Aside from that, however, she hits on many of my points: praise for the automap, disappointment in the combat system, disdain for the whole Xeob/Knowles section, criticism for not being able to tell what items of equipment do. She doesn't have much to say about graphics and sound, which surprises me, but then again, my understanding is that the voice acting wasn't present in the initial release. 
MobyGames's summary of reviews shows the average (contemporary) score in the 80s, with most reviewers comparing it favorably to the first two Beholder games and extremely favorably to Eye of the Beholder III, released the same year. As positively as it was reviewed at the time, it seems to do even better in memory: It's not hard to find any number of retro sites, blogs, and YouTube channels offering exhaustive coverage and glowing praise. 
Detailed coverage of the development of the Lore series comes from the August 2009 issue of Retro Gamer. In summary, Westwood's 1993 project would normally have been Eye of the Beholder III, but the studio had just merged with Virgin Interactive Entertainment and was looking to create its own property. Comments from producer Rick Gush indicate that what I've called "dumbing down" was a deliberate choice on Westwood's part to make the game more "accessible." For instance, in terms of character creation, he says:
Imagine someone who'd never played AD&D getting tossed all those things along with some esoteric dice-rolling number system. They'd be lost and afraid of creating a gimped character that wouldn't be capable of completing the game and wouldn't be fun. Brett [Sperry] has us put in simple character creation: you picked one of four pre-made characters and that was it.
I'm not sure I understand why such a stark choice was necessary. Since the 1980s, games had been shipping with default characters while still allowing players the freedom to create their own, indulging both casual players and those (like me) interested in getting involved in all the statistics. This seems not to have occurred to Westwood.

The article goes on to address the elephant-in-the-industry that was Ultima Underworld. It came out during mid-development of Lore and caused a brief discussion about whether they should try for a new 3D engine. Ultimately, they decided to introduce a "blurred step and turn" approach (which I turned off and promptly forgot about) but otherwise spent money and time on improved production values. Chief among these was hiring Patrick Stewart for $30,000 for three hours of recording time. "I was concerned that the context of the lines would not always be clear," Gush said, "but once he started reading, it was obvious that he'd give us some wonderful stuff."
Still, the team went with proper continuous 3D movement for the sequel, Guardians of Destiny, which wouldn't be released until 1997. I had a look at some gameplay on YouTube, and I would compare it favorably to the Might and Magic games from the same period.

Let me tell you what surprises me the most: Geron didn't turn out to be a traitor. I thought for sure that an early scene, in which a crow flies up to his windowsill, was setting up the eventual revelation that he had been working for Scotia. Instead, he's there at the end of the game, praising you while King Richard hangs a medal around your neck. I wonder if there was some cut content there. If ever get Rick Gush or Brett Sperry on the line, that's what I'll be asking about.


  1. The comment from Rick Gush explains a lot. Both this game and Kyrandia have a vibe that they just didn't know what makes an RPG (resp. adventure game) tick; e.g. the lack of statistics in LOL, and some really bad puzzles in Kyrandia. Both excel at storytelling and production value, but suffer in core gameplay.

    But these games are made by experienced people, so this design is unlikely to have been the result of ignorance. What I get from Rick is that it's indeed not ignorance, but deliberate rejection of certain gameplay standards.

    To be fair, the studio only started out like this and eventually got much better at it.

    1. Another parallel between this and Kyrandia 1 would be the rushed feeling of the final area. I really loved that game up until the final, mostly-empty castle with its red herring items that felt like they should be part of an additional puzzle or two, but weren't.

    2. While simplifying the gameplay isn't what everyone wished for, it's a fair decision. And with so few stats available, the premade characters seem to pretty much cover all the approaches one could take. I'm not sure how much would a custom character add to the gameplay, beyond a bit of a role-playing feel. With more elaborate stats - sure. But in their current form, not so much.

    3. Fun fact: most locations and puzzles from Kyrandia are taken straight from the Kyrandia MUD (including highly specific things, like using a potion to transform into a pegasus to cross a lagoon)... except the final castle. So I think it's not that they were rushed, but they ran out of source material and didn't really know how to deal with that.

    4. Oh wow, great info, Radiant! I had no idea there was a Kyrandia MUD.

    5. For all that the problem Gush worried about wasn't much of an actual problem in the era in which *Lands of Lore* came out - either with CRPGs in general or even really with 2nd-edition *AD&D* - I do feel like this comment was perhaps more prophetic than Gush realized, as the late 1990s evolution of tabletop RPGs definitely moved in the direction of more and more complexity, spearheaded perhaps most of all by the 3rd edition of *D&D*, and the runaway popularity of that edition and its descendants (e.g. *Pathfinder*) continues to be a major influence even now in 2022.

      *D&D* 3rd Edition was perhaps one of the first mass-market tabletop RPGs I can think of to consciously make the act of character creation an actual quantifiable gameplay skill that one could be better or worse at, and reward the player for being better at it by giving them a more powerful character to play; this influence carries through to *Pathfinder*, and is still very much in play in the CRPGs based upon it, *Kingmaker* and *Wrath of the Righteous*.

      In some respects I find it interesting that the tabletop RPG market is picking up on largely this same trend, although more in the independent space than the mass-market space with the increasing popularity of tabletop games that are more oriented toward *collaborative storytelling* than the classical role-playing game DNA, spearheaded by games like *Apocalypse World* and its ever-increasing number of derivatives (if you're not familiar, AW-derivative games can be easily identified by having a very small number of actual stats and basically everything in the game being resolved with 2d6 rolls that have threshold ranges for failing outright, succeeding with complications, or succeeding outright).

    6. Bleh, I was hoping markdown for italics worked in comments but I guess not :P

    7. Note that HTML does work, but boy is it a pain.

    8. I think D&D 3.X definitely did usher in an era of higher-complexity rules in the tabletop, though it's also possible to overstate that -- looking at the arc from the 80's and 90's, AD&D 1e was fiendishly complex too, largely from having a ton of different bespoke systems, but Basic D&D and AD&D 2e helped simplify things. And of course there were always quite complex tabletop systems all throughout that era -- Rolemaster certainly had that reputation though I haven't played it, and GURPS and Champions had chargen optimization similar to D&D 3.X.

      It does feel like the tabletop space has settled into a more diverse approach, where there are a lot of options along the crunch spectrum, and I wish modern CRPGs were in the same boat -- it feels like most of the major ones these days are all quite crunchy, with a range from the char-op hell of the Pathfinder games to the over-fiddly abilities of Pillars of Eternity to the terrain-focused Original Sin series. I like some of these games (well, not Kingmaker, and I haven't played Wrath of the Righteous) but it'd be nice to have something that isn't an action-RPG but also doesn't require so much spreadsheetery to enjoy.

    9. The main difference is that 1E's complexity is about adjudicating situations in play, whereas D&D 3.X has higher complexity (i.e. a ton more options) for character building.

    10. Yes, Champions was doing the D&D3 character optimisation sub-game long before D&D3 was a gleam in Monte Cook's eye.

    11. Shadowrun has very complex character creation and development (in terms of options and necessary steps), and that's 1989. It's hardly the first system that has this, but it's one that's widely played.

  2. Great review. It's also rather satisfying to see my own feelings about the game confirmed - in my teenage years, most of my friends were all bedazzled by the LoL presentation, while I found the game severely lacking, but couldn't quite point out why. Made for some annoying discussions. Only much later, when I started to build games myself, I realized that it was the total lack of freedom that made the game much less enjoyable for me. As Sid Meier says, "a good game is a series of interesting decisions", and in LoL you have just about zero decisions on the party roster, character development, where to travel next, how to treat NPCs etc., so you may have an exciting journey, but not an interesting game. I will always come back to the Might & Magic games or the very first Realms of Arkania. This one, not so much.

    1. I didn't play it back in the day, but checked it out in the 00s due to its reputation as a beloved classic. I found it very shallow compared to its contemporaries and didn't understand why it has such a glowing reputation. No character creation, underwhelming RPG elements, simplistic combat, overly linear structure. Meh.

  3. Clearly Scorpia doesn´t see RPGs by definition in the same light as you, Chet. This problem will never go away.

    1. I don't think there's a "problem". I imagine Chet often reports Scorpia's view as the most recognizable and well documented figure of the era in the world of CRPGs reviews, as well as someone with undoubtable experience and knowledge on the matter.

      As objective a review can be, personal preferences will always have an impact.

    2. It kinda will, as Scorpia stopped reviewing games at some point.

    3. This was a weird comment. Vince is right in his assessment. I hope most readers don't see my comments about Scorpia and think . . . whatever it is that 12oclock is thinking.

  4. I admit I'm a bit surprised by the score, which from the tone of your earlier entries I would have expected to be higher at least than that of the Beholder games (although the difference is minimal).

    But I have no issue with the final reasoning and grading; in a way it is kind of disappointing that with all technological progress of the era, we are not seeing so many standout games able to top the earlier classics.

    As of now, it is quite likely that Dungeon Master will remain as the most successful example of its genre, just like Pool of Radiance was the first and best of the Goldbox games.

    1. EotB's D&D mechanics are not ideal for a blobber, but at least they give a wide variety in classes, spells, and items; a mechanical diversity that LOL lacks. And EotB1 has a nonlinearity that is rare among blobbers.

      Overall I think it's fair to say that LOL has better graphics but EotB has better gameplay.

    2. Yeah, agreed -- I remember being really impressed by LoL when it came out and thought it was head and shoulders above the EoB games, but when I went back and replayed them all a few years ago, I found even EoB3 was more engaging than LoL (albeit I played the EoB games with an automap hack -- that really did make a major difference!)

    3. I tend to prefer games with complex character development, but if EoB had replaced its mechanics with those of Lands of Lore, I would not have missed them. I never found D&D character creation and development particularty satisfying, but in a blobber it seemed worse. Maybe because I never warmed up to the spellbook interface, and pretty much played with my two front row fighters.

    4. Yeah, but if a game implements some 50 spells (as EotB does) and you choose to use NONE of them, that's entirely on you.

    5. Sure, but I wouldn't be surprised if most people played it the same way. EOB1 was pretty easy as far as combat is concerned, so buffing seemed not to be worth the hassle (and the benefits of a "bless" aren't that tangible, either). I think for most players what Lands of Lore did worked just fine.

  5. "It occurred to me late in gameplay that the lack of traditional attributes makes Lore almost a non-RPG by my definitions."

    Now that would have been a bit harsh, don't you think? I expected the gimlet to be a little higher as well, but what gives...

    1. I don't know. I generally don't regard games as "RPGs" if the only form of character development is hit points. In this game, the most visible consequence of increasing your levels is that you get more hit points and mana points. To the extent that increasing levels as a fighter makes you hit harder or more accurately, the effects aren't obvious--not nearly as obvious as the weapon you're using.

    2. Many people don't consider LoL2 and 3 RPGs for precisely this reason (plus you cannot even select your MC).

    3. You could also just say that RPGs without attributes or other advanced character development are RPGs that you don't enjoy very much. It's hard to imagine this game belonging to any other genre.

    4. The Role in RPG stands for the different roles characters play in an adventuring party. The fighter engages in physical combat and brings his strength to bear, the thief is stealthy and deals with traps, the magic-user uses spells to support the party and disable enemies, and the cleric heals and supports the party with buffs.

      That is the original idea behind a role-playing game. Players create characters that are customizable to some degree, amd their choices determine what the characters are capable of. If you create a fighter, you're gonna be very good at combat but you can't disarm traps and you can't cast spells. The choice you made at character creation determines what you can and cannot do.

      Some RPG systems after D&D use classless systems where the initial choices are less important, but instead you get to make choices after each levelup. Do you buy a new skill with your earned character points, or do you improve your existing ones?

      If there is neither character creation at the beginning of the game, nor character customization during the course of the game, it doesn't really fit into the original idea of the genre, does it? If every player starts with the same character, and leveling up only gives you a pre-determined bonus (like +5 hitpoints and +1 strength each level), then the original intention of a role-playing game is not met. It can only be a role-playing game if there is more than one role available to be chosen by the player.

    5. He may be ruminating on the change he recently made to RPGs as defined within this blog, and the degree to which this game manages to minimally edge over one of the requirements. To be fair, the subjective nature is expressed by the design of the GIMLET. LoL still rated, but rated far lower than it would have if it took the crunchier aspects of RPGs, the aspects that stoke his addiction, more seriously.

    6. @JarlFrank I think that's one very common aspect of role-playing games, but it's not everything. There's also the experience of playing the game, what kind of information you're presented with, what kind of decisions you can make, etc. Genres are made of multiple factors, and innovation allows for some factors to be downplayed in any given instance.

      I think you could make a case that games adding or lacking some important factor is worth defining as a sub-genre. But I think it's a mistake to take your personal preferences as definition and exclude games that clearly deliver a common experience.

    7. I'm not entirely sure, but there must have been quite a few RPGs where the character stats are fixed throughout the game, and the progression is mainly through weapons and hit/mana points.

    8. The thing is that there are other mechanics associated with leveling, they are just not exposed to the user. Your to-hit improves, at least. Lockpick chance improves with leveling, though I recognize it's only possibly used in a small number of fixed locations.

      I don't really like how obfuscated it all is, but it's not non-existent.

    9. Oh, I should have made a better point of how it is up to the player to determine which of the three class levels improve, and that those levels have different effects — like lockpick and ranged with Rogue, melee with Fighter, magic with Mage.

      So, simplified? Yes, no question. But it's an RPG.

    10. @Nest This is pretty much the crux of the eternal argument as to whether the Legend of Zelda game are/aren't RPGs, as it were (or, for more extreme purists, whether most Japanese-style console RPGs e.g. Final Fantasy should qualify).

    11. If my comments were unclear, I apologize. I never meant for people to have to debate whether Lands of Lore is an RPG. Clearly, I think it is, as I played it to the end and rated it as such. I just meant to say that it had simplified the character development elements so much that it brought it close to the line. It did not cross the line.

  6. The giant frogs on level three of the castle look like the Lovecraftian entity Tsathoggua, which wasn't his own invention but got brought in the fold by his fellow Mythos writer C.A. Smith, and it makes an appearance in one of R.E. Howard's stories too, if I remember correctly.

    Sorry guys, I'm a huge Lovecraft nerd.

    1. Interesting... I've read most of the original Lovecraft stories, not much of the companion world written by others.

    2. The story in question is called 'The Seven Geases' and you can read it right here:

      Some of his contemporaries really added to the overall Mythos in a beneficial way, while other contributions vary wildly in quality (August Derleth, cough). But please judge for yourself...

    3. As a huge C. A. Smith fan I appreciate the shoutout to the best of the "big three" Weird Tales authors ;)

    4. Considering all the creatures in that final castle sort of fit the idea of 'eldritch abomination' or maybe 'mad scientist/wizard creation', I think it obviates some of the concern about them being out of their environment. They are defined by the fact that they don't belong in *any* environment, an affront to the very idea of natural environment even.

  7. I figured the simplified mechanics/character progression wouldn't be to your taste, and no amount of pretty visuals were likely to convince you otherwise. Still, though, it's rare to find a DM clone with an economy; even the newer reboots like Vaporum and Grimrock don't bother with cash drops. I wondered if that was going to be the edge that would've pushed its GIMLET past the other DM-likes, but you're right that they undercooked it a bit.

    It does make me curious how the upcoming EotB III and Dungeon Master II (and to a lesser extent Ishar 2 and Dungeon Hack) will fare against LoL - that's really the battle royale for 1993.

    1. I can imagine that Dungeon Master 2 has good cards to actually win the dungeon crawler/DM-clone genre. It improved on DM in many points and most negative feedback it got was because it was released too late and was technically a bit behind by then. Also it was basically impossible to not disappoint DM/CSB fans. Not as fancy as LoL (or even Stonekeep), but more substance.
      We will see.

    2. Let's not forget about Ravenloft games and Anvil of Dawn - both of which have NPCs, stories and exciting visuals, while retaining more mechanical complexity than LoL.

    3. With all those high-profile blobbers coming up, I already suggested a 'state of the dungeon crawler in '93' special posting, it would make sense.

    4. Yeah, DM2 got a lot more negative statements on it because the game got released in the west in '95, unless you owned a Sega CD for some reason. Chet's kind of playing it out of order by playing it with its original Japanese release date.

  8. > I'm not sure I understand why such a stark choice was
    > necessary. Since the 1980s, games had been shipping
    > with default characters while still allowing players the
    > freedom to create their own, indulging both casual players
    > and those (like me) interested in getting involved in all the
    > statistics. This seems not to have occurred to Westwood.

    The argument, I think, goes like this - if presented with an opportunity, most players would avoid pregens/default characters, simply because the option is there and they're overconfident about their abilities. This is not entirely false: it's a well-known phenomenon that players often will not lower difficulty level, even though the game is too hard for them, but will complain loudly about difficulty and post negative reviews.

    Which is why "Normal" difficulty level became easier over the years for most RPGs, and higher difficulty level now often bear more dangerous-sounding names than just "Hard".

    Also, if most of your intended audience will not use anything, but default characters, why bother providing more complex mechanics? Sure, more hard-core players may find your game lacking, but they're a minority, and they might still like the game for the story, or production values, or whatever, while a casual player stumped by complex mechanics and difficulty will just drop it and wander off to write an angry review. Which is why games targeted at a wider player base (read this "anything, but niche old-school RPGs" in 2020s) will not offer complexity even as an option - it makes no economic sense.

    1. "Which is why games targeted at a wider player base (read this "anything, but niche old-school RPGs" in 2020s) will not offer complexity even as an option - it makes no economic sense."

      I mean, just as an example, Elden Ring is apparently outselling Call of Duty so I think this take is incorrect? Unless you're describing the subjective thinking of developers, but given the complexity of super-successful stuff like Destiny 2 (which I haven't played, but every once in a while I see a news story about it which I can only dimly understand) I don't think "everything has to be dumbed down to be popular" is a credible stance these days.

    2. Elden Ring (and Souls games in general) seem to be an exception, but generally the rule "the higher the budget, the simpler the mechanics, the easier the game" still holds true, at least in RPG developers' minds. E.g. something like Knights of the Chalice 2 can afford a very complex D&D rules implementation, but even Baldur's Gate 3 is simplifying rules (and is already based on a less complex D&D 5e ruleset compared to D&D 3.5e-derivative used in KoTC2). And even that is seen by many as a risky move - an AAA budget is seen as better spent on something like Mass Effect maybe.

    3. Complex games with mechanics that are easy to grasp are highly popular, and low budget indie productions manage to achieve millions of sales.

      Some examples: Rimworld, a Dwarf Fortress clone in space. Very complex mechanics but the interface is a lot easier to use than Dwarf Fortress's.

      Factorio,va turboautistic factory management game where you optimize production chains to expand your base and defend it from enemies.

      Kenshi, a complex sandbox RPG with optional base building and a simulationist combat system where your characters can lose limbs and replace them with prosthetics.

      People love complex games as long as they're fun and the complexity leads to interesting gameplay results.

    4. @tetrapod Soulslikes' difficulty typically derives from their action elements rather than their RPG mechanics, though (in fact, to a very skilled player, most of the Soulslike games' RPG mechanics are practically vestigial).

    5. "Action" =/= "Not Complex"

      Mastering those action elements involves mastering a weapon (every weapon in the franchise has at least six different attacks), usually more than one, learning enemy patterns, mastering the dodge/block/parry mechanics, etc. It isn't simple, and the RPG portions allow you to substitute leveling for a lot of it.

    6. I've never played a Soulsalike, I must confess, but my understanding matches Gnoman's, plus I believe the navigation and level design are quite complex, as is the story and lore.

    7. I might have failed to state it clearly, but I didn't mean to imply that Soulslikes mechanics aren't complex (they very much are) - just that their complexity is (at least from my own experience) more rooted in executing the action well (the skills you mentioned) rather than the more math-and-spreadsheets sort of character building that was more typical of the early-to-mid-90s CRPGs.

  9. It's interesting reading your description of Lands of Lore, especially going back into the history, because like you say I was dazzled by this game as a kid. I absolutely loved it, and I'm sure a large part of it _was_ the simplicity, it was hard to screw things up enough.

    I'd say you're underselling the extent of development because I think gaining new abilities (and Mage level is necessary to use them, even if the scrolls are found) is a facet of improving yourself. Also, while I realize your definition of an RPG is strict, the 'Role' part is important and LoL 1 does start to actually offer choices which you did praise.

    However, when I went back to this game a few years back in my mid thirties, I still really enjoyed it. I wasn't looking for it as a 'pinnacle of the RPG genre' but just a game I thought was a lot of fun, and the voice acting was a new charm I hadn't gotten the first go around. I think expectations do a lot to really damage games, and I'm not specifically pointing this at you, Chet. When I try to play games I've never played before which are labeled as 'classics' or 'amazing' I'm often finding ways to be let down, whereas if I'd gone in completely blind I might have enjoyed them more.

    Your score fell about where I'd expect for somebody looking for a more strict CRPG experience, and it was clear that some sections aside you had a lot of fun, so I still loved this trip down memory lane even if I'd played the game within the last few years.

  10. Wow, $90,000 for 3 hours work is like $185,000 in today's money! Nice haul!

    1. It says $30,000 for three hours, not per hour... .

    2. Still, it's 10 000 "old-$" or 60 000 $ per hour, while the average income in West Europe and North America is around 10€ or 10$ per hour. Nice haul indeed !

    3. Yeah and it is totally meaningful to compare it this way as everyone knows Patrick Stewart was doing this work as a 9 to 5 job....

    4. Well then, let us say that Patrick Steward earned in 3 hours what an average "West World person" earns in 3 years or more.

  11. "Still, the team went with proper continuous 3D movement for the sequel, Guardians of Destiny, which wouldn't be released until 1997. I had a look at some gameplay on YouTube, and I would compare it favorably to the Might and Magic games from the same period."

    I'm curious whether this impression holds up, though of course there's a while to go before we get there! I remember LoL2 being really hard to navigate, with muddy textures and over-complicated maps, combined with annoying action and platforming gameplay the engine couldn't deliver on -- despite very much looking forward to it based on enjoying LoL1, I bounced off it hard back in the day. MMVI et al felt like much smoother, more pleasant experiences in terms of their tech, as well as having much more classic RPG gameplay, though of course they didn't start coming out until 1998.

    1. I may feel different when I actually play it. Judging from videos often gives me the wrong impression.

  12. Hey Chet - been reading you for a long time but never commented until today. I really enjoyed reading this playthrough - thank you for your great blog :)

    I absolutely loved this game as a teenager - I wasn't a hardcore RPG player by any means and to me the gorgeous visuals and the fantastic Midi soundtrack (by Frank Klepacki) were enough on their own. I never finished it though, as with no walkthrough at hand I got stuck against Scotia and couldn't beat her due to not knowing I had to find King Richard first. I had the floppy version which didn't have any voiceover as it didn't allow multiple soundcards (the sound effects were played through the Midi device)

    I revisited the game a few months ago: I still think the visuals are among the best 320x200 VGA graphics I've seen in a game, and I still love the Midi soundtrack after all these years. But I found it quite frustrating and not as enjoyable as I remember. The puzzles can be a drag, the combat is tedious and the whole game feels too linear.

    OTOH I also replayed Might & Magic 3, 4 and 5 recently and found these games as good as I remember them. In my memory I always ranked LoL1 on the same level, but replaying it really made me change my mind.

    I think LoL1 "classic" status might be due to the fact that when it came out, it looked so good that we all got swayed by the fancy graphics and were more forgiving about the gameplay issues. Replaying it helps putting it in perspective. Funny how some games stand the test of time and others, not so well...

  13. Freeze at level 4 creates a wall of ice, which you can kind of use as a protective spell. Stronger monsters will break through it, but freezing weaker monsters and then shattering them is extremely satisfying.

    I'm pretty sure Geron just being a prick instead of a traitor was intentionally set up as a misdirection. The most likely "cut" candidate for me is the herbalist - you find his key in the "alien" dungeon, but never find out what happened to him and how it got there.

  14. LOL, I just noticed the Glossary says that anything scoring 75 or more is the cream of the crop... and the highest-ranking game on the blog scores only 69!

    1. This is almost certainly not an accident, since Chet designed the scoring system he uses to leave room for titles we haven't reached yet.

      I expect to start seeing numbers actually break into the 70s once we start hitting titles like Fallout and Baldur's Gate, and almost certainly not before then.

    2. Maybe. As I've pointed out before, by the late 1980s, games certainly COULD have broken 75 on the GIMLET. Ultima V with a better approach to character development and more varied combat could have done it. Pool of Radiance with the expanded inventory options and interface improvements of later Gold Box games. Take Disciples of Steel and give it the road encounters of Darklands and NPCs to be found in those huge, empty cities, and you've got an 80-point game.

    3. Yeah, it does logically follow that by now we've seen all the individual parts for a game that scores that high, just not the game that lands them all at once.

    4. I'm just saying Ultima V and VI should be considered "the cream of the crop", at least for the decade-and-then-some covered by this blog.

    5. @Chet: If TSR had allowed POR some departure from their sacrosanct rules to achieve an economy on par with e.g. U5 in the same year, it would already have hit 70 just with that change.

      I know I've just said further down not to overemphasize the importance of a couple points up or down in the GIMLET, but only to illustrate what Chet and Reiska write: if you take the Highest Rankings by Category so far (on the right in the desktop view) and add the respective years and values, this is the result:
      Game World: Starflight (1986) -> 9
      Characters: Wizardry VII (1992) -> 7
      NPCs: Ultima V (1988) -> 8
      Encounters: Pool of Radiance (1988) -> 8
      Magic/Combat: Pool of Radiance (1988) -> 8
      Equipment: NetHack 3.0 series (1989 - 1991 [1990 version]) -> 9
      Economy: Ultima V (1988) -> 8
      Quests: Might & Magic I (1986) -> 8
      G/S/I: Ultima VI (1990) -> 7
      Gameplay: Ultima VI (1990) -> 9
      (@Chet: Maybe it's worth adding these dates and numbers there?)

      If a single game had united all of these "best examples" (not all of them singular), you'd have 81 points (give or take a point up or down for special aspects).

      For "Characters", instead of Wiz VII you could also refer to e.g Dungeon Master (1987), Omega (1988) or Wasteland (1988), among others, all with a 7 in that category as well. So, by 1990 an '80 point game' could indeed have been made.

    6. Scores aren't (supposed to be) relative to the era, though, and the blog is eventually supposed to reach those later years.

      Ultima VI may have the second highest gimlet score to date (I'm disregarding V for this purpose because Chet has said pre-2012 scores may not be fully accurate anymore and V was a 2011 score), but Chet had plenty of criticisms for the game. The game world was hurt by sloppy consistency of the Ultima canon and the game's general failure of NPCs to react to your actions in the game world; character creation and game mechanics were bare-bones; there still aren't true role-playing dialogue options (which I don't think we'll see until Fallout?); combat was disappointingly rote and a notable step down from V, which also held back the appeal of the otherwise great equipment system (because the combat wasn't difficult enough to incentivize equipment optimization); the game lacked sidequests entirely (and Chet explicitly noted he overrated Ultima V in the quests category).

      Ultima VI would have needed more difficulty, more lore consistency and world reactivity, and actual presence of sidequests to break into the 'cream of the crop' scores. It's a clearly good game, but it's clearly also not the best game.

  15. "Those ending credits are a good encapsulation of Lands of Lore. Not many games of this era have scrolling end credits, particularly not with extra content like a rotating parade of the foes you've faced."

    I'm sure Westwood had clear memories of the uproar at Eye of the Beholder's original "Thanks, drop to DOS!" ending and made sure there would be no repeat.

    "But it did kick the genre forward in production values."

    Westwood set the high water mark for production values in nearly all of their work, so this was just to be assumed. The high water mark from which they were kicking it forward was likely previously established by their earlier work 8)

    1. Rather, EOB1 "You win, drop to DOS" fiasco, rather than ending. It was never the INTENTION to have "You win, drop to DOS" as an ending, I've heard - the Amiga version had a proper version that was planned to be used in EOB1 for PC MS-DOS, but, sadly, some kind of bug made the game fail to load the ending sequence, and there was no time and resources to fix that; so the bug was covered up by an outrageous move by giving you a little text and then dropping to DOS. But this was not THE ending, it was a cover-up over inability of game to deliver the true ending that EXISTED.

    2. Even the DOS version didn't simply "drop to DOS." I'm not sure where that idea took hold.

    3. Lori, do you have a source for that? Given how programming works, I find that highly implausible; a more likely reason would be that the game had to fit on a single 720-kb disk and they ran out of space (as full-screen graphics take rather a lot of disk space, by 1991 standards).

    4. The Amiga version of EOTB1 came in 3 low density floppies and the DOS in 2 HD ones.

      It was normal for high-profile games to come in multiple disks, I had PC games coming in 8 disks and Amiga ones with up to 11(!). The price for a floppy in bulk was likely well below 1 dollar.

      On top of that, on DOS it was pretty normal to compress the files and decompress them at installation time on the HD, so the idea that somehow they had run out of space on DOS and not on the Amiga is even more implausible.

    5. There are no sources listed, but Wikipedia and Mobygames claim that the Amiga version has a graphical ending because it came out after the DOS one and SSI added the ending in response to player complaints (Mobygames claims it was originally cut from the DOS version to reduce the number of floppies, then re-added). There are no citations I can see, but unlike the other theories it at least makes sense - the DOS ending is clearly working as intended given the text that displays, and if it was technically possible to include the graphical ending on the Amiga it likewise would have been plausible to do so on DOS.

    6. It's makes a lot of sense that after the game was already a success on DOS *and* there were complaints about the ending, there was more budget available for including an extra floppy in the Amiga release.

    7. To complicate things further, I've just realized that the Sega CD version has an ending that uses the text from the PC ending but adds graphics, whereas the Amiga version has a different graphical ending where the party confronts the Lords of Waterdeep. I suppose these two were made by different departments?

  16. I still remember the reviews of back then. It was exactly the time when the Amiga fell definitely behind the PC and Lands of Lore was one of the main examples.
    I expected it to do better in your rating but can understand why. Maybe we'll see some other examples of simplified but more beautiful games making worse RPGs, like the eternal question what's better, Morrowind or Skyrim. And maybe you'll rate Mass Effect 1 better than 3...

    1. Morrowind vs Daggerfall is a more interesting comparison because both are complex RPGs with interesting systems, but a completely different approach to game design.

      Skyrim has a similar approach to design as Morrowind (broadly speaking) but is extremely dumbed down in every single way. It's the inferior RPG by far.

    2. I was a dev on Morrowind, and at the time, our fans felt that Morrowind was unforgivably “dumbed down.” It depends a lot on your position in history.

    3. That’s sad to hear - I eagerly anticipated Daggerfall and played the heck out of it once it arrived, but more for the emergent gameplay (buffing the acrobatics skill and jumping around on rooftops! Abusing the spell maker! Catching lycanthropy!) than for the RPGish gameplay (wandering around 1,000 interchangeable, incomprehensible labyrinthine dungeons to solve even the simplest quest! Exploring a town where everything is exactly the same as 1,000 other towns!). Then I waited even longer for Morrowind and played even more of it - beyond the lovely, alien world, y’all managed to strike a great balance between scale and customized design. I’m sure there was some loud backlash from folks who bemoaned Daggerfall’s lost features but I have to imagine the number of folks who were happy with the new game was much bigger.

    4. *cough* the exact same thing can be said for Oblivion, or Skyrim...

    5. Skyrim's mechanics are so much better than Morrowinds it's ridiculous. The only dumbing down is in the writing and world-building... which is why I prefer Morrowind.

    6. Eh, the Skyrim mechanics are definitely streamlined - no attributes, much-condensed skill list, elimination of stuff like spell customization. There are new systems too, though - shield usage, more fleshed-out crafting, the whole perks system. I agree that it’s overly facile to say Skyrim is just dumbed down, but there’s clearly a design ethos that prioritized simplicity and consistency above the more baroque sensibility of Morrowind.

    7. I love Morrowind, but I feel like praise of its writing needs to have a heavy asterisk. The lore is great. There are certain NPCs who are very well done. The vast majority of dialogue in the game, however, is clunky at best. A lot of the unique dialogue is written very similarly. In a brusque style. Lots of short sentences. Like this.

      I have my issues with Skyrim, but it is the first TES game that manages to have a decent number of NPCs who talk like actual people with identifiable personalities.

    8. @ Anonymous:
      Ha, that's a funny but good point.

  17. If there's something to be said about Lands of Lore, it's that it set out to be a spectacle, and that it succeeded, with some casualties on the way.

  18. Scotia's epitaph - "In retrospect, I should have led with 'become invincible'"

  19. I feel like this one was greater than the sum of its parts. They took the DM/EoB formula and gave it good graphics and music, characters and a story, a great automap and simplified the mechanics. All those were plusses in my book and made for a better game than if they just did another EoB sequel.

    1. I share the same sentiment about the game. This blog analyzes game from a purely RPG game perspective. with strict rating system also - but Lands of Lore do not exist in vacuum, it can be considered a hybrid adventure game, it shares some of its staff with Kyrandia, it has some things in its favor that get just unfortunately discarded when it is pigeonboxed into "just one more RPG game" and compared to others on these grounds. Such a comparison does not do game a justice.

      Still, Chet is in his right for treating games this way on his blog.

    2. I would have preferred that they take the DM/EoB formula, give it good graphics and music, characters and a story, a great automap, and retained or improved the mechanics. That would have been a 55-point game at least.

    3. I've never heard of LOL referred to as a "hybrid adventure" before; I wonder what the advgamer blog would think of that? They've reviewed Kyrandia before, it scores high on graphics but low on gameplay (it has poor puzzles, in particular). And by adventure game standards, I don't think LOL's puzzles are better than Kyrandia's.

    4. I find the simplified mechanics and somewhat arbitrary enemies to be big weaknesses. While the story was longer, I dont think it resulted in more payoff; it didnt convey a sense of progression, and was fairly cookie cutter.

      The characters were an improvement but it sacrificed a degree of personalisation to achieve that.

  20. Personally, my experience with this game told me I just don't like DM style games. The combat's too simple for me to get any real enjoyment while also being too involved for me to just autopilot my way through it, the automap's the only reason I didn't quit as soon as the game made me pixel hunt for a hidden button, and even then I had to look up the more complex puzzles because thinking outside the box isn't something that comes easy to me. That being said I don't think they're bad, just very much not to my tastes.

  21. To me it feels like the Gimlet isn't working very well anymore. I thought it was supposed to be as objective as possible to figure our the best RPG no matter how old/new the game is.

    I'll start by saying that I'm an uter Dungeon Master fan - this is my favorite game ever. But if I compare the Gimlet between LoL and DM, a few things strike me as wrong:

    1. Game world (6 for DM, 4 for LoL). It is pretty crazy to me that you gave such a high score for DM (or low one for LoL, if you look at it the other way) just due to its manual. There isn't much going in-game in terms of story until the ending, and even there it's pretty simple. LoL has a much more complex world / structure and the story elements keep coming back during the whole game, so it's a real surprise to me that you'd consider LoL significantly weaker than DM in this area.

    2. Quests (3 points for both games). I agree there are no side quests for both games, but the main quest in LoL is far more advanced than DM's (which is basically.. reach the last level). Its architecture is more complex, involving multiple sub-steps and requiring solving different mysteries/problems along the way. Again I'm surprised that you'd rate the main quest the same as DM's.

    3. Graphics, sounds, inputs (6 points for both). Well, that's another area which I find surprising. You kept saying how much you appreciated the graphics, advanced spell animations and voice overs. DM in comparison has a single, monochrome tileset for the entire game. At the very least, if there was one category where I thought LoL would rate significantly higher than DM, it would have been this one.

    4. Gameplay. That one is more subjective so it's not as shocking to me as the previous ones, but saying that LoL was too linear, a bit too long and not replayable and giving it a 3.. while DM's gameplay comment is exactly the same (worse in reality, it is more linear than LoL and less replayable IMO) and got a 6.. ?

    So those are just a few examples where for me the Gimlet isn't coherent. Now I'm sure you can twist a point or two here and there, but in the end it makes a huge difference in areas where it shouldn't. If you think about it, LoL is more simplistic than DM mostly in terms of character development, puzzles and spells, but fares better than DM in mostly everything else.. so points cancelling each other out, you'd expect the Gimlet to have a much closer rating.. ?

    1. This might not be a Gimlet issue so much as a time issue; Chet played Dungeon Master all the way back in 2010, and I think he’s said that in the early days of the blog he was still feeling out several issues, including how to rate things consistently.

    2. DM is clearly ahead when it comes to gameplay, for example because it has way more different spells. And I think you (Nyast) are thinking that LOL should score better on graphics because it uses newer technology (VGA instead of EGA), but that's not how the graphics score works.

    3. @Anonymous No, nothing to do with technology. LoL graphics are miles ahead of DM's, and it's actually one of the things most people (especially at the time) liked about the game. I'm not just talking about graphics quality on a technical level here, but just graphical style. In fact even today, you'll often hear in the RPG communities that LoL is one of these games that have "aged well" and "still look nice today". There must be a reason for that, don't you think ? Plus as I said, it's not just purely the graphics - it's that the tilesets are very varfied (unlike DM's), the little animations everywhere (first DM-like game to have animated portraits reflecting the character's status), it was one of the first games (or the first ?) with smooth-step animations. It was the one of the first (the first?) DM-like games with fully animated spells taking the full screen, not just floating sprites. Plus, as I said it's not just graphics. Hell, pretty much every of Chet's update mentions the nice visuals, animations or sounds/voice. Yet this isn't reflected in the score, at all.

    4. I'm sure Chet will address this if he wants to, but I really wonder how often the same arguments and discussions will still come up again and again after twelve years.

      @Nyast: Did you check out the post in which Chet defines and explains his GIMLET (@Chet: Maybe you should go back to linking it every time)?

      My understanding is:

      It's not "supposed to be as objective as possible to figure out the best RPG". Any such assessment will always have subjective elements and Chet made it clear from the start the GIMLET reflects his personal taste and preferences when it comes to RPGs. Quote: "The things I like about CRPGs may not be the same things you like. For instance, I don't care much about graphics. All I ask is that, as I put in my list, they're not distractingly bad."

      Which leads to your complaint in that regard. The category is called "Graphics, Sound and Interface". Ten points maximum are distributed among these three elements and the criteria are in the GIMLET post, I won't quote them here again. Where in DM Chet found "all of them ... quite good", here he complained about several interface elements. You might find the LoL graphics ten times better, for the GIMLET that doesn't matter that much as long as they are good enough in each case. So I don't find it at all surprising the end result is the same.

      Regarding the "Quests" category, same thing. There are four elements, both games have one, but not the other three. Whether the main quest is more "visible" during the game or not will not double this score.

      Of course there can be some inconsistencies over twelve years and hundreds of games. But the bottom line is: This is Chet's score and a point or two more or less in the GIMLET are not as relevant as the playing experience and its description. As he has said numerous times: if you weigh certain factors differently, then make the respective adjustments for your own benefit and move on with your life.

    5. Setting aside everything except the point-by-point, it seems to me that Nyast provides a fair critique of the scores here. I'm a fan of the game, so of course, I'm biased, but I recognize that Chet and I aren't looking for exactly the same thing. I also think Chet has fair criticism of the game.

      But the Game World score seems especially incongruous. Yes, not everything was fleshed out, but there was a lot of implied world to be explored in sequels. The gaggle of kingdoms, regions, non-traditional races, etc...

    6. Glad to see that at least some of you see my point. From all the games in the same genre, if I had to pick one which had the most developed world / story, it would have been LoL. In comparison, DM has none (beyond intro/ending), Black Crypt same, etc.. Sure, I get that Chet's criticism about the "lack of coherency" and NPC placement has some merit, but consider that most other games in the same genre don't even have NPCs, or are more linear, or that the story is "static" (in contrast with LoL where... things happen *during* the game).

      If I had to put a word of it, my feeling is that Chet has been particularly hard on the game on its negative sides, while not acknowledging (at least not in terms of score) its positive ones. While at the same time, a lot of other games (in the same genre) feel like he's been more complacent.

      But yeah, I get it, his Gimlet, his rating, his blog. Just pointing out that to me, and for this game in particular, it seems like the score does not feel coherent compared to other games in the same genre.

    7. First of all, I have no horse in this race -- I'm indifferent to this genre and haven't played LoL.

      I think DM is rated too high on Game World. If you read the DM GIMLET:

      The explanation for its score of 6 is pretty similar to LoL: interesting backstory in the manual, not used effectively in the game. Other games that have received 6: Wasteland, Might & Magic 1-3, Magic Candle 2 and 3, Ultima Underworld, etc. Other games that have received 4: Fallthru, Empire 2: Interstellar Sharks, Eye of the Beholder. I don't think it's too controversial to argue that DM should probably score closer to Eye of the Beholder than Ultima Underworld.

    8. The purpose of the Gimlet, as I understand it, is to measure the things Chet values in an RPG, and thus to measure HIS total enjoyment of a game. It actually seems to have done a good job of that so far.

    9. In the time that I've gotten here, most of my commenters have made the points that I would have made. There are a few things going on here. First, people forget all the time that the "graphics, sound, and interface" category has three elements. I might praise graphics occasionally, but I don't consider them a major part of the gameplay experience until they get so good that they truly immerse you in the game world. What some commenters see as a major evolution in graphics between Dungeon Master and Lands of Lore, I just see as slightly improved textures and animations. On a 1-4 point scale where 1 is the simple iconography of the first Ultima and 4 is the gorgeous interactive landscapes of modern games, there just isn't a lot of room to get excited about slightly more detailed tiles.

      Second, I rated a lot of stuff that first year too high. "Game World" for DM would not be a 6 today. On the other hand, I can justify the higher "gameplay" score: DM didn't drag at the end, it had a fun alternate ending, and I consider it far more replayable than LoL because of the different party compositions and ways of building the characters.

      To be honest, even I'm not all that excited about the GIMLET anymore, which is why I tend to include it in the "won!" posting instead of a separate entry. But even absent a 100-point system, if you asked me to rank Dungeon Master, Eye of the Beholder, and Lands of Lore, I'd rank them exactly as they came out on the GIMLET. I'd be happy to point out some things that LoL does better than the other two, but in terms of whether I'd play them again, there's no question that the existing ranking works.

      I may retire the GIMLET someday, but for any reader there need be no delay in simply ignoring the GIMLET.

    10. Allright, thank you for expliciting your thought about the Gimlet. The game world category was for me the biggest shock, so it really didn't feel coherent with DM's score.

      Just by curiosity, do you feel there's been an "inflation" of the scores into other categories too ? Is this a general problem with the Gimlet over the years ?

      Also if you have time could you elaborate a bit more on the main quest ? Is it also a case of Gimlet inflation ? The main quest in LoL sounds far more advanced than DM or Black crypt's yet it scored the same. Your updates on LoL made it sound like you liked what the game was doing (like, NPCs that aren't all mandatory, the staged resolution of the quest elements, the multiple ways you can enter/exit some areas, the dynamics of the story like when Scotia appears to block access to the forest, the constant change of the goalpost, the city of Yevl that's initially empty but later gets besieged, etc.. ) but this isn't reflected in the score at all.. was it not supposed to be ?

    11. The problem is that you're not considering the scale on which the GIMLET exists. On the subject of a game world, I might give a 10 to, say, Fallout: New Vegas. Consider all the things that it does to earn that 10: a lush backstory told in thousands of recordings, computer logs, and journals; multiple factions that you can join or fight, with the game responding to your choices; a hyper-realistic geography based on actual places. I have to leave room for all of that. So in between two games that feature very similar framing stories and gameplay, but one has a few additional features, how much do you expect that to reflect on a 10-point scale? All that stuff makes the difference of maybe a 5 to a 5.2. That's why what I write, which is more temporally-based and offers more comparisons to games immediately around the titles I play, is always more important than the GIMLET.

      It's probably impossible for a rating system like this not to "drift" over 10 years, but the big break is when I quit my blog briefly in early 2012. I tightened the rating system as part of my return. Even accounting for drift, what I'm rating in 2022 is more consistent with 2012 than 2012 is with 2010.

    12. So, if I understand well, DM's scoring must be discarded because it was too "early" in the blog and the Gimlet got re-adjusted since then. Gotcha.

      But if we take a more recent game like Black Crypt - which shouldn't suffer from that Gimlet inflation problem - do you think LoL's rating is coherent with BC's ? For example according to the ratings, BC has a better game world and a better main quest. I personally haven't played BC but I'm familiar with it, and it doesn't strike me as a game with a particularly rich game world / main quest, so I'm just wondering if that's a fair comparison ?

    13. Ratings are a trap, the sooner we get past the idea of evaluating a work on a numerical basis the better. It's ridiculous how long people spend arguing about scores instead of actually engaging in interesting discussions about what a game/book/film set out to do.

    14. I quite like the Gimlet still. All ratings systems have their issues but it usually cleaves to Chet's expectations, which implies it's pretty consistent.

      As Brent says, ratings are a bit of a trap, but here's what Chet had to say about LoL vs BC:

      LoL (4): "People and monsters are seeded throughout the game with little thought as to whether they make any thematic sense."

      BC (5): "...both textures and puzzles [are] organized around themes specific to individual levels or small groups of levels."

      Given that most of a player's exposure to world-building comes from a game's level design, rather than scattered narratives, the scores appear appropriate to me.

      People weight things differently though, so you'd only expect your relative scores to match Chet's if you tend to feel the same way about game elements as he.

    15. A weakness of rating systems like the Gimlet is that if being objective the rating would indicate that LoL is a superior game to DM because LoL has an economy, NPCs and better graphics. But to me DM is clearly the superior game. I don't care much about economics in a CRPG and NPCs don't always add much. But things like much better level design, better puzzles, the light/darkness system (which to me more than compensates for having only one tileset), the physics engine (of which DM/CSB are the only old real time blobbers to have, even if very basic), the much larger selection of heroes; these are the things which make DM great. But which categories do they all go into?

    16. No, a strength of the Gimlet is that all those other things that you vaguely assume don't go in any category actually DO, and thereby objectively (or as objectively as possible) indicate that DM is superior to LOL.

      You know, exactly why DM scores higher than LOL on the Gimlet on this very blog. Just go read the review!

    17. It's very hard to compare DM and LoL on a scale. DM is a far more polished game because it had to work with limitations and was cut to fit exactly on a single disc. LoL has added seemingly random stuff to stretch the game, at least that's how it feels. You wouldn't have blinked if Scotia would have played one more trick and teleported you in another 8 story dungeon, which you hated every second minute of.

    18. I believe Chet has acknowledged in the past that one theoretical weakness of the GIMLET is that a jack-of-all-trades game that is mediocre in all categories will score relatively well versus a good game that participates in fewer categories. A good example of this is how MegaTraveller 2 has a slightly better rating (41) than Wizardry (37) almost entirely because MT2 has NPCs and sidequests. They're not even very good NPCs/sidequests, and they completely cancel out the fact that MT2 scored a 1 in Combat.

      All this said, I genuinely enjoy and look forward to the GIMLET ratings. I think they're interesting to think about and they provide a good structure to the game summary postings. I think it results in a justifiable overall ranking of games, even if some of the individual game-vs-game rankings are iffy. There's no way to have a truly objective way of rating a game, but I appreciate that Chet is willing to stick with his system without gaming it to appeal to anybody's assumptions (including his own!).

    19. Lands of Lore might be a better game overall, but as this blog has demonstrated, Dungeon Master was an absolutely revolutionary game, years ahead of its time, and already very refined, so that the initial formula could only rarely and with much difficulty be improved upon.
      Now, the GIMLET doesn't treat the dungeon crawlers very well, but that's because of Chet's taste for the more eclectic world-buidling RPGs. But that's what it is - take it or leave it.

    20. It makes sense to deemphasize the GIMLET, but I'd be sad to see it retired. It's a useful perspective to add to the mix in the summary posts. And that data is fun to have around even if it's not completely perfect. There's potential for some interesting analysis to be made off of it.

    21. One theory goes that we Humans are not intuitively good at evaluating things individually, but we are intuitively very good at comparing two things. This is the basis for some Agile practices like Planning Poker and Story Points. The idea is that you shouldn't try to estimate the time taken to do something, or how valuable a task would be to complete, because you will most likely be wrong. So instead of trying to assign days or weeks — or revenue — to a task, you assign Story Points, which is an arbitrary indicator of complexity that only means anything compared to other Story Points assigned by the same group of people. You have to arbitrarily assign the first item or two, but then you are sorting the rest relative to those. I'm not a huge methodology guy, but I have found that this works better than people attempting to evaluate items in isolation on a fixed scale.

      For example, despite the valid criticisms, it feels fairly wrong to me that DM is 2/10 points higher in Game World. But I don't know that I have a problem with it scoring less than EoB overall, particularly using Chet's criteria. Reconciling that discrepancy might expose some holes in the GIMLET, where perhaps some category is weighted too highly.

      Some challenges with the GIMLET:

      a. It has a hard limit at 10 for each category. "What a 10 means" both isn't exactly known, and is actually moving as time goes on and games are released, but the scores can't change retroactively. I suspect this leads to scale compression with a nonlinear distribution. e.g. 7 is much harder to get compared to 6. 2 is easy to get compared to 1.

      b. It's coarse relative to the number of things being rated. Fitting 400+ items into a 10 point scale for any criterion is going to have significant precision loss due to rounding. Two games that have a clear winner in a category could end up with the same score. As Chet points out, 0.2 better doesn't change the score.

      c. The categories are a bit coarse, too. Graphics, Sound, and Interface is a combined category to represent the lower weighting applied to those criteria. But, that's a blunt instrument for weighting. A game with a neuralink interface, photorealistic graphics, and absolutely tedious gameplay could get an overall score that isn't commensurate with its overall ranking.

      Some good things about the GIMLET:

      I. Avoids false precision. Coarse ratings mean you aren't worrying about 0.2 points difference that might vary based on your mood. This is an inherently imprecise endeavor, so pretending you can evaluate games on a 1000-point scale is just fooling yourself.

      II. Simple and easy to understand. The cost of weighting everything exactly the way you might want it is that you wouldn't be able to explain the scoring without using a complicated formula with a bunch of tuned magic numbers.

      Uh, this got long, sorry. And I am getting deja-vu, like maybe I've said all this before. If so, I apologize. Even if not, I still apologize.

    22. So I just have the Lands of Lore cluebook open, and it has this to say on the matter of Gimlets:

      "Gimlets are irritating subterranean creatures
      who have the annoying habit of poking their poisoned daggers at innocent passers-by. They are
      very difficult to hit, but just one or two good hits
      is enough to get rid of them." (p. 94)

      I assume that this professional and totally relevant opinion resolves the discussion.

  22. Only 39? Hmm, Lands of Lore is one of the best RPG/Dungeon Crawler for me. My rating for the game is 100% :-)

  23. I loved LOL in the nineties. It's a superb gateway RPG, you just launch it and start enjoying it from the first minute of gameplay, no need to figure out complex interface, obscure systems etc. And graphics is just soo beautiful, even today there are not many better looking RPGs. It has some weaknesses, but still a great game.

    1. I grant you that it's a great introductory dungeon crawler.

    2. I agree with that. I loved it back then for its easy accessibility and good graphics. I replayed it some years ago and didn't really like it. Too much railroading, the far too simplified character development. I also don't like if cannot see the special abilities of magic items... granted that is also a problem in the EOB series, but i have much more fun with it today.

  24. The first time I played Lands of Lore was probably a decade ago, whenever it was first released on GOG. It was my very first blobber, and I really enjoyed it despite having some of the same grievances you had. The simplicity of the RPG mechanics didn’t hinder my enjoyment much, but the lack of item descriptions and some obtuse puzzles later on certainly did. I think it’s fair to say that your mileage will vary greatly depending on how much you get out of the game’s presentation. I think LoL has some of the best pixel art I’ve ever seen, and the music and overall atmosphere really helped suck me into the game’s world. It’s probably not as replayable as EotB, but I personally found it more enjoyable as a game, if not an RPG.

    I finally got around to playing Lands of Lore: Guardians of Destiny just this year actually. I think it’s earned its status as a “love it or hate it” affair, but I was surprised by a few things. For one, while the RPG mechanics are even more streamlined than the first game’s, there are arguably more opportunities for actual roleplaying in Guardians of Destiny, leading to multiple solutions and even game endings. It’s a very bizarre title though, with some very questionable design decisions. I enjoyed it, but I tend to like “weird” games.

    Anyways, great review as always. Looking forward to seeing you wrap up Ultima Underworld 2.

  25. Apparently at some stage it was foreseen that Dawn could join your party, since some unused character portraits of hers can be found in the code - same as several locations (some with items) which aren't normally accessible in the game, but can be visited through hex editing, see and a video here:

  26. For all those who want to play LoL, EoB, EoB II and other old CRPGs on different platforms without having to bother with an emulator, it might be worth pointing out (again) that SCUMMVM now covers some of them, too. Besides those mentioned above ("Excellent" compatibility), the list of "good" compatibility currently also includes Ultima IV, VI, VIII; Elvira, Elvira II & Waxworks and the MM Xeen games:

    Of course, for the latter it is worth checking out what exactly makes the compatibility less than "Excellent" in each case, as e.g. pointed out for Xeen here:

  27. I tend to primarily play console games, but I chose Lands of Lore because it was regarded as a pretty user-friendly DOS game to try out. I've played and beaten a few first person dungeon crawlers over the years. I really dug the animation quality and the soundtrack. Westwood did a great job with the presentation.

    I liked the streamlined combat and character creation at first. The linearity did not bother me much, either. The automap was well made and I did not miss using spreadsheets or graph paper. I was enjoying the game a lot until about halfway through. At that point, the difficulty ramps way up and you face hordes of enemies. It makes the simple combat get really repetitive. The puzzles mostly get more obtuse, although it was actually neat that one of the later puzzles in the game
    ROT 13: gbbx njnl gur nhgbznc naq erdhverq lbh gb znxr lbhe bja znc ntnva yvxr va gur byqre qnlf.

    Also, a lot of the later dungeons are full of traps and enemies that can easily kill the party. The inventory management becomes a real pain, and there are barely any stores with useful items. I think they simply made the game too long for something that does not have much depth. I finished the game because I really wanted to beat a DOS dungeon crawler for once.


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