Sunday, March 10, 2024

Shadow of Yserbius: Summary and Rating

I solve one quest.
The Shadow of Yserbius
United States
Ybarra Productions (developer); Sierra Online (publisher)
Multiplayer online version released 1992 for DOS on the Sierra Network (later the ImagiNation Network)
Solo offline version released 1993 for DOS
Taken offline in 1996
Date Started: 9 February 2024 
Date Ended: 7 March 2024
Total Hours: 24
Difficulty: Medium-Hard (3.5/5)
Final Rating: 37
Ranking at time of posting: 400/508 (79%)
Yserbius is a relatively pointless offline version of a popular online RPG in which you explore the ruins of a fallen kingdom and try to defeat the evil that caused it to collapse. The interface, combat mechanics, and enemy difficulty are clearly meant to be faced by multiple characters at once. The single-player version involves a lot of grinding and a persistent feeling that you're not going to get very far. It seems likely that Sierra intended it not for authentic offline play but to whet the player's appetite for an online account.
Aside from the well-composed graphics, the game mechanics are about 8 years old for the era, offering not much greater complexity than Wizardry or The Bard's Tale. You navigate a series of 16 x 16 dungeon levels in 3D view and meet monster parties of different sizes, which you engage in turn-based combat. The interface is acceptable, particularly the automap, but it requires too much mouse work. Combat mechanics, equipment, NPC interaction, and character leveling are all acceptable but nothing special.
Well, I solved a quest of sorts before the end. I gathered King Cleowyn's scepter, robe, and crown from the Secret Area level (which turned out to be three sections of one small map, not three separate maps) and brought them to the Mausoleum. I found slots in the walls that accepted the items, and visited them (as an NPC had suggested) in the order of crown, robe, scepter. I was briefly stymied when I repeatedly couldn't get past a pack of "hell wolves" without dying, but I took an alternate route and managed to make it to a final chamber. There, I had to fight a battle with three ghouls and two liches, but fortunately they die to "Poison Cloud" like everyone else; I just had to keep myself alive long enough for it to work.
I thought I killed the spirit of King Cleowyn in an earlier session.
The "reward" was a couple hundred thousand experience points plus four items of equipment: the Sword of the Crypt, the Mourning Star, the Bow of Sorrow, and Galabryan Chainmail.
It was the equipment that made me quit. I was probably going to quit anyway, but there's an element of ragequitting in my quitting. None of those items is clearly better than any of the items I already had, and they sell for a lot less. I don't know if that means anything or not. One of the things I'm heartily sick of hearing on this blog, no matter what the game, is that "an item's sale price doesn't necessarily reflect its utility," especially when there's no other goddamned way to tell what items do. Don't tell me to look at statistics. The statistics barely change. And what I need--protection against petrification, primarily--isn't reflected in the statistics. If the developers were so bone-headed as to make more useful items sell for less money, and there's no other way to tell their relative rankings, and you can't point to any source online that offers any help, then please just leave me to my ignorance. Otherwise, I'll be too busy fantasizing about what I'm going to do to the developers when I meet them in hell to concentrate on the game.
Before I solved the quest of Cleowyn's artifacts, I did a few other things:
  • I finally killed the king hobgoblin in the basement. He had a Ring of Warding--one of many things that there's no way to tell what it does.
  • I finished mapping most of the Great Corridor. There were a few places with fixed battles I couldn't pass. I got a blessing for Knights and Dwarves, whatever that does, and found the battle that gives me the King's Pass.
If I hadn't received this blessing, when would it have been a problem?
  • I used the pass to get to the King's Domicile, although the guard takes it from you, so you have to go find a new one every time you want to enter. I mapped a part of the domicile, but trap doors kept dropping me down to the Lava Cellar.
Why don't you just give me that one back?
  • The King's Domicile, incidentally, introduces spinners for the first time in the game. This is absolutely not the way to do spinners. They beep when you step into them, and then there's like a five second pause while you spin. The whole point of spinners is to mess up navigation; they lose that point when you alert the player that they've been spun.
  • Banshees remained my bĂȘtes noires until the end of the game. I couldn't last a single round with even one of them.
I never stand a chance against them.
I'm quitting on Level 18, so I'll never know what's behind those Level 20 doors. Please tell me if you know. Are they just shortcuts to deeper parts of the dungeon? I can tell from online sources that I barely scratched the surface when it comes to dungeon maps. I gather they go down to Level 12 and there are about 60 of them. There's a main quest to kill En-Li-Kil, the out-of-control "time elemental," though I don't know if it's possible with only one party member.
In a GIMLET, the game earns: 
  • 4 points for the game world, offering a perfectly fine, if derivative story about a fallen kingdom, a wizard, and a demon. The game does a decent job referencing this backstory through dungeon encounters and NPCs.
  • 5 points for character creation and development. The choice of classes and the rewards offered by leveling up are relatively standard for a competent commercial RPG. I felt that each new level brought me significant power, even into the teens. Different character choices would create a significantly different combat experience, if nothing else.
As far as I went.
  • 5 points for NPCs. There are a lot of them, and they impart a lot of lore, which is really all it takes to get halfway up the scale. There are no dialogue options or role-playing options with them.
  • 4 points for encounters and foes.The monsters offered by the game are varied enough, with an appropriate number of special attacks and other strengths. The non-combat encounters include wall messages, keyed doors, and other light puzzles. They might have gotten more interesting later.
  • 4 points for magic and combat. What would be an adequate-but-not-particularly special combat system for a party becomes less interesting for a single character. There are a few tactics worth exploring and maybe a few that I didn't find.
This was the last battle I fought in this session.
  • 3 points for equipment. A reasonably good selection with reasonably good randomization, undone by making it impossible to tell what most things do
  • 2 points for the economy. It's fun for the first 10 character levels. Then you've bought everything there is to buy and the money won't stop. There are a million things that the developers could have done to make it more interesting for a single player, including more equipment, an item identification system, a hireling system, or paying for fast travel.
I think the Sword of Destruction was the best sword that I found.
  • 4 points for quests. The game has what appears to be a main quest and a number of side quests.
  • 3 points for graphics, sound, and interface. It gets most of that for graphics, which are both pleasant and functional. The sound is too sparse to be worth any points, and the interface lacks enough keyboard support, particularly in combat. I give a little credit for the automap.
  • 3 points for gameplay. I give it some credit for a little nonlinearity and a little replayability, but it's a little too grindy and hard for one character.
That gives us a final score of 37, which frankly isn't a great score by 1993. I know I'm rating a multiplayer game on a single-player rating scale, but I'd still expect a 1993 game to be at least as good as Might and Magic or The Bard's Tale or Dungeon Master. There's something about Yserbius that feels . . . "basic," I guess. I'm using that word the way the kids do these days: adequate, unremarkable, nothing that really stands out. I could see how it would be fun as a multiplayer experience, chatting with folks in the tavern and so forth, but I don't see how it offers anything unique as a multiplayer experience. It's like meeting your friends in, I don't know, Albuquerque. You're bound to have a good time because it's a city and they're your friends--but why didn't we pick New Orleans or Seattle or something?
This cover works for me.
But there wasn't much else around in terms of online RPGs--basically this and AOL's Neverwinter Nights (1991)--so I can see how it may have scratched that multiplayer itch that I've never experienced. By the time the offline version of Yserbius was published, its sequel, The Fates of Twinion, was already up and running and getting more accolades than the base game. Twinion was packaged with Yserbius in the offline version. I fired it up for a few minutes. I didn't notice anything different in terms of mechanics, but there were some minor graphical improvements. Its story begins after the defeat of the demon En-Li-Kil, with Cleowyn's daughter, Aeowyn, suddenly arriving, declaring herself queen, and building her own palace in the depths of Yserbius. She then sends out a call for adventurers to venture even deeper into the mountain to find a mysterious Portal of Time. Yserbius's second sequel, Ruins of Cawdor (1995) never got an offline version. According to online sources, it did not take place in the realm of Twinion but instead offered a plot based on Macbeth
Twinion has some texture improvements but is mostly the same style of game.
That goddamned Spear of Destiny ad greets me again as I open the February 1994 Computer Gaming World to read reviewer Bernie Yee's reaction to the offline Yserbius. "A hollow shell of its vibrant on-line self," he declares. "Playing Yserbius without fellow on-line gamers is like being in an amusement park after hours, one in which the rides aren't all that fun to begin with." That's an interesting statement. He's basically agreeing with me that the only attraction to the regular Yserbius is the novelty of online play, and that stripped of that novelty, the base game is just blah: "Yserbius is no technological achievement in game design." He offers some praise for the auto-map but notes that the tactics of combat pale in comparison to the Gold Box series and contemporary games like Darklands. He recommends it as an introduction to the mechanics, so that players can prepare themselves for online play, but "there is no way that in the age of Lands of Lore, Riftwar, and Ultima VIII: Pagan, you can take . . . Yserbius seriously as a stand-alone game." Damn. Where has CGW been hiding this Bernie Yee? I may have met my soulmate.
I feel like my "difficulty" rating, which I rarely explain, deserves a little more discussion. Fundamentally, Yserbius is "easy," since getting killed just means getting kicked out of the dungeon. The "hard" part is the tedium associated with going back into the dungeon, finding your way to where you died, and probably getting killed again. Surviving many of its combats, particularly as a solo character, is hard. But it's easy in the sense that if you're willing to grind, the game will give you plenty of leash to do it. The rating I landed on was a combination of the two.
Twinion also has a new main menu. I think this is supposed to be the same place, though.
I watched some online play, as I was curious if the NPCs and encounters were the same as in the offline version. It appears they were. I hope it goes without saying that the game is much more tactical in its online incarnation, where cooperation among players allows for timely combinations of skills and spells that I could not experience. The videos also confirmed that at upper levels, all classes get essentially all skills and all spells, making class differences less important than in the first 10-15 levels. It appears that I didn't invest enough in "Sovereign" scrolls, which allow you to grab an enemy party and turn them to your side. That could have come in handy. Finally, it appears that if I had made it to Level 20, I would have had to decide whether I wanted to keep the character fully offline or transition him to online play.
The Shadow of Yserbius remained online until 1996. AT&T purchased the ImagiNation Network from Sierra in 1994 and kept the game going, but they sold the network to AOL in 1996. Multiple sites say that AOL killed the game because it competed with Neverwinter Nights, but that doesn't make a lot of sense to me. How could it "compete" if AOL now owned it? There were reportedly lines of people waiting to get in to Neverwinter each night; why couldn't the service support a second online RPG? I suspect that the game was just horribly outdated by then. Nonetheless, one should never underestimate the power of nostalgic fans. From 2007-2015, a fan-sponsored ImagiNation Revival Project put the games online for a new generation of players. I'm not sure there was ever an explanation for why that server went offline, but for whatever reason, a new fan named Zane W. decided to step up. He re-coded both Yserbius and Twinion from scratch, making some additions and adjustments, and opened it as MedievaLands.
Character creation in MedievaLands offers more information about the variables.
The game has some slick improvements, including upgraded graphics, an interface that keeps the map on the screen at all times, much better sound effects, and quality of life improvements like the ability to see how many doses a potion has left and--hell, yeah--actual weapon and armor statistics. It also adds quests and achievements that the original game doesn't have. The changes are enough that I would probably consider MedievaLands a fundamentally different game, even if I were interested in trying to experience online gameplay. In any event, the few times I logged in, there was no one else online to adventure with.
The post-combat loot screen in MedievaLands.
Yserbius creator Joe Ybarra is still in the industry, or was as of a few years ago, with credits on some Age of Empires titles. He moved to a producer role in the 1990s. I don't think we'll see him again unless I get the MMO bug at some point and want to try Shadowbane (2003), if it's still even possible to do so. That's the key problem with preserving the history of MMOs. Wizardry and Ultima will last forever, but an MMO is only around as long as its community is active and paying subscription fees.
A final question: What should I call this in the "Won?" column? Would it have been possible for a solo player to defeat En-Li-Kil and complete the final quest? Or should I call it an "N/A"?


  1. For a second there, I thought you were rage quitting over the groanworthy pun in "Mourning Star".

    After the various PLATO/mainframe games, I'd be interested in seeing a BRIEF of one of the MUDs that would have been available around 1992; according to Wikipedia, several of the older MUDs are still available. Well frankly I expect them to do rather poorly on the Gimlet (those that I've played have not much of a story, little tactics beyond "spam your best spell", and not much of an interface); but equipment lists are pretty diverse, and an interesting part of character creation is that you can select more (tons of!) abilities but at an increasing cost of XP-to-level.

    Anyway, it sounds reasonable that most online games in the 90s spent so much effort on being online that they underinvested in making the gameplay actually good.

    1. Being someone who still plays a MUD called Newmoon (although it's no longer updated and only had a very small number of players these days) I reckon the gimlet would get good marks in most of the categories. The game world is vast, covering multiple species and races, characters can have dozens of skills or spells depending on your guild. 100s of NPC's who could interact with you. Dozens of weapons with different attributes and I could go on. Unfortunately you are almost correct on the spam your best weapon although there can be a little bit more tactics involved. Also there's no big quest to do, although hundreds of small ones. And yes, it's a mud, so the graphics are in your mind

  2. Sovereign scrolls helped me a lot with difficult fights. Control is the last spell you get and the scrolls cast it at level 11. Maybe they were too good, because Medievalands removed them from the store.

    Maybe the idea of not showing stats was that players would experiment and share their experiences with each other. Though it's more likely just due to the old school nature of the game. Making the stats visible is the best addition in Medievalands.

    You picked a good spot to quit, solving the first of the major quests. The level 20 door pretty much cuts the game into two halves, below that is the labyrith which is all over four levels. Combat gets really deadly here, and a single player character would have to do quite some grinding, certainly not worth your time.

    From what I've read people have soloed the game. XP requirements don't increase after level 25, so you can get to really high levels with grinding, giving you enough hit points to combat larger groups of tough opponents.

    1. Not worth the time, but it sounds like I'd better just take it as a flat loss.

    2. In this thread Richard Aronson (creator of The Ruins of Cawdor) writes on TSoY:
      "At least one puzzle could not be solved without another player not in your party. I argued against this one but, at the time, I was still just a guy at Sierra Online, not yet in charge of RPGs for TSN.  So playing alone, you will eventually hit a wall."

      However, this Yserbius site states:
      "Also, differences in game play exist between the online and offline versions. For instance, players of the offline version were never required to use teamwork to accomplish the goals of their quests."

      Plus, the main walkthrough by Sue Medley (which can be found at different places online) seems to be written from a solo perspective and at first sight I did not see any indication here or in other guides that you need (to create) a second character or a full party or cheat to complete the game.

      It indeed appears to require a lot of grinding, though (she mentions spending several evenings repeating fixed fights over and over to gain XP when she was stuck due to hard opponents), probably for the reason Hadean mentions below. After the experiences so far with NWN and this one here we'll see up to which point you consider other games primarily designed for multiplayer, but with a single player version / option will be worth your time.

    3. You can see the difference already with the Great Corridor on level 2. Solo/offline, you can open all the doors with the right key. Online on Medievalands you need the right class/race for each door (even when going solo), requiring a mixed party. I doubt this change was introduced for Medievalands. You can still solo it on Medievalands, though, as there are many crosslinks between levels.

      I've also come across a place in the labyrinth that obviously requires you to leave one party member on a certain square. I couldn't test it offline as it's behind a part that would require quite some grinding. Online I used the two account trick to team up with myself, and with 2 characters the labyrinth already became doable.

  3. There's something about Yserbius that feels . . . "basic," I guess. I'm using that word the way the kids do these days: adequate, unremarkable, nothing that really stands out. I could see how it would be fun as a multiplayer experience, chatting with folks in the tavern and so forth, but I don't see how it offers anything unique as a multiplayer experience.

    I'd argue that perhaps this is part of the point--or if not intended, at least part of what makes the game fondly remembered. The Sierra Network / ImagiNation was about as casual-friendly as one can imagine--it started off emphasizing games like Hearts and Backgammon, only gradually adding more "hardcore" projects like Yserbius and Red Baron. It was about socialization as much as gaming, and the gamers it did target included a lot of folk more used to Sierra's adventure games than Bard's Tale or Ultima. Yserbius was a place to go chat with your friends in the tavern and then have a casual, aesthetically appealing dungeon-diving experience without too much distracting complexity.

    Of course, that results in a subpar experience offline! The CGW "amusement park after dark" description sounds pretty apt, and it leads one to question the decision to release an offline version at all. But during the day, you want your amusement park games to be simple and flashy, because they're really about having something to do and talk about while you're hanging out with your buddies.

    Again, whether this was intentional or not I can't say. I'm speaking as someone who enjoyed the online game at the time, though... while spending 90% of my time in the tavern chat room.

    1. I agree with the above opinion. TSN was all about socialization in games. The various concepts around successful graphical MMORPGs were still percolating in various ways through games like NWN (which is generally accepted as having really kickstarted the genre). They had a long way to go for that level of play, but TSN did a decent job on the "get people together to play graphical(ish) games while doing a lot of chatting." As for AOL cancelling Yserbius as a competitor to NWN, I don't buy it. After all, why would they put out the cash for the games in the first place just to shut it down? Yserbius/Twinion were never serious competitors to NWN. As I mentioned - totally different gaming concepts involved. I'd say it was just a cost/income decision, same as with not funding necessary upgrades to NWN and shutting that game down in 1997.

  4. According to a Yserbius speedrunner, the trick to getting a solo win as soon as possible is to grind to level 70+ then make a plunge for it. I'll note that apparently he's able to pull that off in about 5 hours of play (in the Medievalands version), through knowing the best grinding spots and ignoring most of the quests. From what I saw of the youtube coverage (mostly speedrunning with a group), the most useful spells seem to be (at low levels) fuvryq, unvy, qvfvagrtengr and (at high levels) qrngu qnegf, pbageby, oynfg. Those spells play into a 'best defense is offense' strategy for ending fights before taking much if any damage.

  5. "...unless I get the MMO bug at some point [...]"

    Let's not get ahead of ourselves here ;)

  6. I feel like the logic behind this being shut down as a competitor is less that this game specifically was a Neverwinter Nights competitor and more the whole Imagination Network was an AOL competitor. I wouldn't be surprised if this game was just a casuality of AOL buying up a competitor for it's customer base before throwing out the parts they'd actually have to maintain

  7. "But there wasn't much else around in terms of online RPGs--basically this and AOL's Neverwinter Nights (1991)"

    As Radiant and Twin note, left unsaid is "and also basically every text-based MUD ever made, many of which are still running, albeit in a semi neglected form, today."

    Heck, like Island of Kesmai (playable via CompuServe starting in 1985), these games attached to top-tier OIS (online information services) were just distracting multimedia novelties for the rich clientele of said services... my impoverished generation still had CRPG experiences online in the early '90s, for 30 minutes at a time playing Legend of the Red Dragon on free-to-call bulletin board services. It's absolutely an inferior option, but the vast gulf between what you get and what you pay for it is radically corrected.

    1. LORD may not have been the best online RPG (though fun) but LOD (Land of Devastation) with Super VGA support (using GTERM) was great though had its share of issues

  8. What an interesting relic! I never had a chance to connect to these networks without massive long distance charges (which I did once for CompuServe, and boy was the phone bill not worth it).

    As for the Won? column, I agree that it feels like the game was meant to be ridiculously hard for single players in order to eventually force them online to play with others. Not only did they not let you have hirelings/pets/etc. to fill those player spots but they didn't even change NPC text to make sense to single players. I'd go with N/A.

    1. I appreciate the opinion, but given what Buck says above, I think I have to suck it up and take it as a loss.

    2. Sometimes you just gotta let those hard to get cups go. I wouldn’t have given it half the time you have…simply too many other, more worthwhile games to play!

  9. Some weird spam is trespassing the pre approved comments for some reason.

    Cannot wait for the entries of Dungeon Hack, which is as simple as a cheese sandwich.

  10. It's like meeting your friends in, I don't know, Albuquerque. You're bound to have a good time because it's a city and they're your friends--but why didn't we pick New Orleans or Seattle or something?
    "Hey, let's go to New Orleans."
    "Nah, there are too many homeless people and there's so much crime."
    "How about Seattle?"
    "It's wall-to-wall hobos there!"
    "Fine, how about Albuquerque."
    "Sure, no homeless people there."

    In seriousness, I'm sure Albuquerque has some old west stuff there that's going to be interesting. Not everyone's going to like a night of drunken debauchery in NOLA or whatever it is people do in Seattle.

    1. "Or whatever it is people do in Seattle."

      I had to laugh at that one! Mostly what people do, according to the law of the 'Seattle Freeze' is flake out on their hang-out plans and instead stay home where it's nice and cozy. Or go hiking if the weather's nice enough.

    2. Or everybody play/listen to grunge.

    3. Where the shriners and the lepers play their ukuleles all day long, and anyone on the street will gladly shave your back for a nickel!

      Wacka wacka doo-doo yeah!

    4. Albuquerque is up to its ears in homeless at the moment, unfortunately.

    5. That was supposed to be the joke, but I guess knowledge about Albuquerque is too esoteric for it to be an obvious one.

    6. I had originally written "Cleveland" in the paragraph, but I figured Cleveland gets picked on enough. Replace Albuquerque with whatever you consider the most "basic" American city. Some place whose biggest claim to fame is that it's there. Newark, maybe?

    7. My vote's for Nacogdoches. I once spent ten there on a studies-related trip. When I asked after a few days what people actually do for fun around here, he grabbed a six-pack, drove me to the outskirts of town, and took pot shots at traffic signs with a shotgun. I wish I was joking...

    8. With *he* I meant the father of the host family I stayed at during the trip btw...

    9. Not quite enough of a cultural touchstone. 50% of Americans and 90% of foreigners have never heard of it. And the ones that have are probably mixing it up with Natchez or Natchitoches.

  11. "Finally, it appears that if I had made it to Level 20, I would have had to decide whether I wanted to keep the character fully offline or transition him to online play."

    This is just insulting. We've seen some pretty bold sequel hooks and "reserved for the sequel" mechanics (such as Knights of Legend's "you can't train in these weapons until the sequel") but it's just stupid to sell an advertisement as full-price, and I have no idea how in a post-DOOM world Sierra thought they could get away with it.

    Also, dang, a review comparing Pagan favorably to this game.

    1. The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. Internet gaming was a major novelty back then, and people were willing to pay a lot for the opportunity (note that you couldn't actually play Doom on the internet in 1993). Yserbius was actually reasonably affordable by those standards. INN had a flat charge of about $20 a month -- with the boxed copy of Yserbius giving you a free month -- whereas if you wanted to play Neverwinter Nights on AOL in 1993, $10 would get you 5 hours of play but each additional hour would run you another $4. So even if you just played the game for 20-30 hours over two months, you'd be coming out ahead with Yserbius -- and way more than that if you played more.

      Beyond that, in those days physical visibility in a store was a major factor in a game's ability to sell, so having a boxed product to make it easy for internet-curious gamers to get started was probably a smart business decisions too. And in fact I believe the game was at least modestly successful -- if anything, my sense is that they had so many players that the flat-pricing system became an issue.

  12. Many years ago, I tried to rate my World of Warcraft experience according to your system. And while it received a score in the low 80s, I concluded that the multiplayer games just have a too different approach.
    A good MMO will always focus on a good economy. Buying rare stuff is one of the main things that keep players going.
    The NPCs (and often quests), are rather simple. There's much less complexity, because other humans replace NPCs. The setting is usually great, you want to put a lot of content in, to the point that there's more quantity than quality. Graphics and sounds have to be doable for the mass market, i.e. a bit behind the times, the interface has to be very good though.
    So the offline version of an online game keeps the weaknesses, but loses most of the strengths.

  13. Finally finished this with a two-player party on Medievalands.

    The lower parts consisted of a four-level labyrinth with many interconnected areas, where you fight several winds and solve a few quests. The labyrinth levels has side areas, most notably the wizards castle where you fight the ghost of Arnakkian, the second major goal of the game.

    Below that start the elves villages, where you can find the bones of the King and repeat the mausoleum puzzle for a better reward (still not worth it), the dwarven and giant lands where you can get a mystic boat and a sword needed against the final enemy. You also recover four coloured gems which you use to create a rainbow bridge that you can sail across with your mystic boat. This leads to the final area where you face a series of fights and then face the wind elemental En-Li-Kil, the final boss. One you defeat him, you reach the fountain of life and win the game (it doesn't end though).

    Dragons remained the toughest bosses, and leveling up was frequent, grinding was mostly unneccesary with a two-player party. The puzzles were mostly fair, especially with the hints given, with two exceptions.

    At one point it dawned me how much the setting reminded me of Ultima Underworld. You descend deeper into a volcano, meeting different factions from a now failed society. UU with its 3D environment and NPCs you could converse with was a bit more immersive, of course. Yserbius does it mostly by displaying messages.

    1. Finally managed to beat the original solo with a dwarf knight. Level 51 was enough, though one fight with 6 dragons in the back row was a close call. The final fight turned out to be very easy, as I killed the boss with a single 13.000 damage hit, and his entourage wasn't too difficult.

      The River of Eternity is the worst part, as the river squares drain 1/4 of your health. You have to find and unlock paths so that you reach a safe square every fourth step - which is fine once, but if you get killed and you have to backtrack all the way to the final area, you have about 10 of these gaps to cross, which amounts to having to cast heal ~180 times. And I only just realized Medievalands has a recast key. Grrr.

      Medievalands gives your character a halo and greets you as a hero every time you enter once you've won. The original doesn't do this, but it does have an outro (showing two people killing En-li-Kil - I did it alone dammit!).

  14. I appreciate your deep dive into Yserbius and your honest reflections on the limitations of its story, mechanics, and the overall gaming experience. As other commenters on your blog have pointed out, 1993 was a different era, and the novelty of online play introduced exciting dimensions to role-playing games. The absence of complex NPC interactions and related the dynamic world state were, I think, concessions made to accommodate a game where players could group together regardless of how far they had progressed through the game. Playing the game alone - admittedly a valid approach given the retail release and the fact that there are few other players online today - misses the constraints under which its designers were working, and the appeal of playing live with other people, which most of the players of Yserbius were experiencing for the very first time.

    As Samuel Baker wrote in his contemporaneous review: "The game can be entertaining, but what made this an experience to be savored are the many good people with which I ventured forth. There is no substitute for the companionship of others and Yserbius gives one all the tools one would wish for the interaction that is the core of this game. I now have a number of people whom I consider good friends, and I will be playing long after this article is submitted." CGW, Issue 106.

    Thank you for your thoughtful critique and for engaging so deeply with this game. I believe that, even given its imperfections, this game holds a special place in the history of RPGs and in the memories of those who experienced it firsthand.

    1. Thanks, Zane! I really appreciate the comments. I hope I steered a little MedievaLands traffic your way.


I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. If you don't want to log in to Google to comment, either a) choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank, or b) sign your anonymous comment with a preferred user name in the text of the comment itself.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.