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August 11, 2011

Dragon Wars - Review

Since I´ve decided to pause this game - with the risk of never returning again to complete it - I thought it best to review it. I should be able to be quite fair since I´ve played for 15-20 hours and my characters are in level 6 right now.

Gameworld & Story
The gameworld when counting the overland squares is not very big. Actually it consists of a few islands which are very small. Perhaps not more than 100 squares or so. At each island there are several cities and other places to visit. But that´s about it. You do not get very much information about the background but that is also intentional and part of the story. The problem is that it takes very long time for you to build up knowledge about the world around you. It comes from rumours or from the paragraphs in the manual. Sure they are well written but most of them don´t add anything to the background or mainplots. The rumours however seems to be very important. I never got the patience or grip of what to actually do or what to pursue next. It is a great thing this game is non-linear. You could take on almost any place as long as you can survive to get there. But the lack of direction also is frustrating and helps to diminish the gameplay value in a time where you have to get out the most of your invested spare time into CRPGs. Of the story that I have gathered though, it seems to be interesting but very classical.
Rating: 2

Economy
You sure need money in this game. Even though there are not many weapons, armour or other things to buy you need it to buy dragon stones to restore mana or heal the party. I have never accumulated more than 4.000 gold and still a plate mail would cost me 3.100 gold. So money never run out of being unimportant. But the places to use them is far between. Only in a few places did I find use for them. I have not found a place to buy any magical equipment whatsoever, except for some spells.

What I don´t like is that there is no way to know which weapon do the best kind of damage. You never see any statistics. Neither if they effect your attack or defense values. I switched from a handaxe to a battleaxe (with no skill in either) and the battleaxe gave me -2 in attack. Why ? I don´t know and you don´t get that information from the weapons even if you pay for 100 gold for examination. With armour you see if your Armour Class improves and how much very easily.
Rating: 2

NPC and Interactions
The few important NPC you meet are mostly shopkeepers. I haven´t met a single NPC yet who is not a foe and that I can interact with in any way or that give me advice or instructions. There are no interaction to be found.
Rating: 1

Monsters and Tactics
There are a lot of different monsters and most of the have their own images. Spiders, Goblins, Beggars, thieves, robbers, wraiths, magicians etc. Since this is the unofficial Bard´s Tale IV that is nothing new. In combat you have very limited tactics to use. Sure you can move behind weak characters or move forward newly healed ones. But that´s about it. You could with your magicians and characters with long-range weapons start attacking from a distance or even hurl your opponents back in line.  But that´s about it. You cannot specifically attack a single enemy. You always attacks a single group. You could run and most of the time you could do that before initiating combat and that is very good but sometimes the enemies start at 10 feet from you and you can´t get away until they have had a free attack against you. Some foes use the same tactics against you. There were some magicians that hurled me backwards every round at the same time I was moving forward, resulting in me not moving closer. The only way of winning this fight was to use my magicians against the foes and use up my valuable mana pool. Tactics was better used in Demon's Winter.
Rating: 2

Map Design
Almost every map is fixed as squares like 16x16 or 32x32. The overland maps are a little more different but there is not very much variations. Within those squares there are some variety though but overall the maps are not the strength of this game.  
Rating: 2

Graphics, sound and interface
The interface is keyboard driven (in dosbox) and it works quite well. But in combat it is very cumbersome to repeat casting certain spells. There should have been a command that makes you repeat last turns action. After combat it is very cumbersome to heal or bandage the group . But apart from that the interface works quite ok. The graphics is very simple and not many colors are used. Most of the places look the same. The sound is almost non-existent and very poor.

The PC version is far behind the Amiga version in terms of graphics and especially sound. The music in the Amiga version is excellent and I still listen to it occasionally.
Rating: 2

Gameplay
If I would have umlimited time I would still be playing this game. It is rewarding in its own ways. You always want to explore more. You could stumble over locked chests anywhere or new merchants with valuable equpment. The problem is that the weapons you find does hardly any difference in damage. The fights are too common and too random in its difficulty. I frequently had to reload since I got killed and there is no way known so far to ressurrect characters. But most of all, the lack of feeling progress either in character levels or in the main plot makes you loose interests after 15 hours if you still don´t know what you´re doing. The fights are quite good because they are fast resolved but cumbersome repetions make them tedious in the long run. I did have more feeling for the world and better atmosphere in Demon's Winter though I know that this game should be able to supercede it in almost every aspect. If it would have been a little bit more streamlined of where to go I could feel some sort of completeness of the areas I´ve visited. But as it is now, I just run around everywhere hoping to find something to lead me further into it.
Rating: 2.5

2 comments:

  1. I just finished this game (Amiga version) myself. Only used 6-7 days to complete it, which is about 1/3 of the time I used to complete games like Ultima 5 and Might&Magic 2.
    Apart from the final 2-3 areas the game is relatively light on combat, especially compared to the Bard's Tale games.


    I wrote kind of a review on the RPG Codex and repeat it here:

    It went quicker than I thought. But I think the lack of endless random encounters is mostly to thank for that. But the frequency of encounters, and lack of variation, at the end made me get tired of the game, so I rushed the last part. I skipped the Royal Game Preserve, didn't explore the entire Dragon Valley and only explored about half the Depths of Nisir before I tracked down Namtar. Killing him again and again and again and again and again was also rather tireing.

    All in all a good game, but not the pinnacle of awsomeness.

    Graphics are very good, at least the Amiga version.
    Automap is very good, probably the best one in a CRPG at the time the game was released. Too bad the game doesn't track all the encounters. Killing the same group of enemies at the same place several times is not so fun.
    Only discovered one bug, with suddenly having billions of gold.
    Good atmosphere and a more original world than most fantasy games.
    Writing is very good, and sometimes humourous. But some things are more goofy than funny, like fighting "beach bums" and "gobbos in speedos".
    The unlinearity is both good and bad. The good thing is more freedom, but the bad thing is that the game feels more disjointed.
    Some heavy C&C, especially the part where saving a poor guy from being fed to a dragon leads to the obliteration of a city from the map (what I really wanted to do was to feed the feeder to the dragon).

    Combat is fast and usually fun, but both the Bard's Tale and old Might&Magic games had better combat engines, with more variety and options, IMO.
    Hardly any randomization is also a negative in my book. All loot is hand placed, enemies never carry anything but gold, and you tend to meet the same groups of enemies over again.
    Breathing monsters were annoying, especially the snakes (I wonder if Burger Heineman was afraid of snakes, since there are so many of them?). And it was too easy to just run from an encounter if you met annoying enemies, and then step back on the same square and fight some less annoying enemies instead.

    I didn't like that there is no in game way to tell what items do, except by trying them out.
    The game sometimes felt too much like an Adventure game, where you had to use a certain attribute, skill or item to progress. The whole thing with securing the aid of the Queen Dragon felt very forced.
    There should have been a "fix" option so you could Bandage the whole party after each battle, instead of bandaging each party member separately.

    I'd rate it as better than Wasteland, but not quite as good as Ultima V.

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  2. Thanks for sharing the review. Interesting read. The random encounters in the PC-version was less frequent than in Bards Tale III which I played later on, but still it was annoying to have to fight the exactly same combat in the same hex everytime you entered Purgatory for example.

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