Background !? what background !? I didn´t care less than to read 12 pages or so of background information in a hack´n slash dungeon crawler game like this. I am sure I will understand who my opponent is in the end. Anyway, you start out with a character named Torham and you start by choosing three more party members to accompany you on your quest.
I have to choose three characters out of around 16 in a chamber. Each one could be examined before I elect to choose it. There are three main attributes for each character, seen in the colored bars in the first picture. They are hitpoints, stamina and mana. They are quite self-explanatory. Stamina decreases when you are attacking, hitpoints when wounded and mana when using magic.
Apart from those three main attributes there are some statistics like strength, dexterity, wisdom, vitality, anti-magic and anti-fire. They increase when your level increases. But there are no ordinary levels in the game attained by experience points. There are four major skill classes. Fighter, Ninja, Priest and Wizard. Training and using each of everyone increases your proficiency and after a while you gain a level. It´s like Morrowind in that respect. So if you´re constantly throwing or shooting items at an opponent you will eventually increase your ninja level. The higher level you are the harder it is too increase. So it will be easy to increase a few levels at the beginning. Each time your level increase one of your statistics also increase. I am not sure of the relation though.
For my starting group I choose the ones who where specialised in one field. Two who had the rank Journeyman in Wizardry, Fighter and Priest. When you get out from the small area in which are are starting you find yourself into a rainstorm in the middle of a small village. There is only a fountain in the centre surrounded with different paths leading to shops that sells either armour, weapons or food.
The outdoor area is filled with some sort of slime creatures. They are not very hard to kill but given time could inflict serious damage if not dealt with. There are a few items lying around otherwhise it is empty. I found a key at the bar which where used to unlock the gate to the next area. There the opposition stiffed considerably. And now I really had to combat myself through.
|The resurrection altar could be seen at the left|
The first task is to get inte the Skullkeep. It required four different clankeys and each must be obtained at each area specifically.
And now it was time for my first frustration. It is very hard to both navigate and combat enemies. Harder than in Crystal Dragon. Not only can you not move sidewise easily. But you must keep the mouse - and your eyes - on your two front characters weapons and frantically click on them. That reveals a submenu with specific choices of attack like slash, thrust, jab etc depending on the weapon type. This clicking around in the midst of combat is slow, you often misplace the mouse and it keeps you from looking at the monster. Like in Crystal Dragon you don´t know how many hitpoints are left before a monster dies. The different sub-attack alternatives is good thought though. It seems they both relate to the recovering speed (fast attacks inflict much lesser damage) and also to different skills. For example when using one type of attack I increased my ninja skill and for the others often the Fighter skill. I don´t know which is which though.It might also be so that different monsters is more vulnerable to different types of attack as well, but I have not got that confirmed yet.
The magic system is a real pain. You don´t know any spells in the beginning. Ok, so far so good. The problem is that you have to invent them yourself by trying different combinations of runes. You don´t just have the four elements. You have a power rating, the elementals and a lot of other runes that symbolise the type of effect it will have etc. The number of combinations is enourmous. And even if you find a combination that works, you never got to "learn" the spell by its name that you can quickly repeat. No, no, you have to repeat the rune combination everytime you want to cast the spell again.
How do you learn the spells ? Well, apart from trying different combinations and see what will happen you often find potions or other magic items with certain magical abilities. They often have the rune combination listed on them so you will quite quickly learn healing and cure poison for example.
If you ask me, I think it is an idiotic system which takes too much time. I suppose they thought it would be a fun system but for me it is only a cumbersome and slow try-and-repeat pattern that distracts from the game. I decided to print out all spells from the cluebook. I have no time to discover them on my own. The game is hard enough as it is. You will still fail a lot in the beginning and must successfully and gradually learn to cast minor spells in order to progress to the more powerful ones.
|Inventory of the main character|
|In front of my first dungeon door|
|The shopkeeper waits for you to place an item on the table to sell|
|Here you select the wares to buy. Price when you buy above and you sell below|
|Clawing beasts that rips me apart|
|Before the mist area|
|Non-material beings demands special treatment to defeat|
Another thing which puzzled me for awhile is that you have no idea how much protection a piece of armour gives or how much damage could be dealt by a certain type of weapon. You cannot determine it in any other way than to try them out. That makes it unneccessary harder than it should be. You have a lot of items in the game. The only way to guess is to look at the price of the item and conclude that the more expensive, the better. But not all items you find could be bought and so you are stuck with guessing.
|The entrance to Skullkeep|
Since the beginning I have to do some re-reflections of the magic- and combat system. So far my magic users are very passive. They are not part of the combats. The only function of my priest (Ritenne) for example, is to brew healing potions which she do well. The mage, Merill, is only helpful once in awhile to hurl a fireball which you don´t know how much it hurts anyway. Weapons at least show the amount of damage done, but not magic missiles. His only other use is to use the automap.
Ah, regarding the automap. It is a small device that comes with several versions. The most simple one just shows your surroundings and the most advanced also shows enemies, hidden wallspits and objects. It also contains some magic use of a recon orb that you can send forward on the map to scan. You will not see what the recon orb see in the mainwindows. You will just see what is discovered ahead of the mini-map. It has only been useful once to try to determine the pattern of moving pits. I´ll return with more reflections on the use of the automap later on.When using any additional abilities of the magic map it constantly drains your mana.
Well, now it´s time to enter Skullkeep. Though i´ve had my share of wondering about certain aspects of the game, I do enjoy it and intend to continue as things look right now. Watch out for my next report somewhere within the Skullkeep dungeons....
On final comment. The music in the beginning of the game is quite a fine piece done by the famous Allister Brimble. Enjoy these variations of the original them.