Currently playing: Nox Archaist

May 22, 2012

Anvil of Dawn - Review

Anvil of Dawn has finally been completed. When I was young I kept track of how many hours I´ve played a certain game. I don´t know why but I´ve always liked statistics. In fact, I have a list with all books that i´ve read since 1989, full with ratings, number of pages, average reading pages a year etc. Today I still keep the list updated but more as a fun thing. I don´t wan´t to break my system.

Anyway, I would guess I´ve played for around 25-30 hours. Here comes the review and in the end I will compare it with similar games.

Gameworld & Story
The story is straight on and set in the opening sequence of the game. An evil warlord with the help of seemingly unlimited magical energy has begun to conquer the peaceful land of Tempest. He is brutal, cruel and very efficient and lead his minions to victory after victory. Nothing seem to be able to stop him. The last attempt is made by a group of selected adventurers that might succeed where so many others have failed: To find a weak spot in the Warlord to exploit. Something might just have been discovered regarding this and your are sent by the court magician behind the lines to get more information from the mage at Dark Lantern.

The game then begins and you are on your own. From then on the story is simple and the game very linear. You never need to know what you are actually doing. There are no choices you have to make. No dilemmas, morale decision or grayzones regarding your loyalties along the way. Everything is black & white.

The only thing I really miss is the lack of narratives, texts or interactions with more NPCs that give more flesh to the background and what is happening. As it is now, only a very few mission critical NPC:s might tell you something and here and there you can find some parchements that add to the story. If they would just put some more efforts into that part the game would feel more immersive and story driven.  As it is now, they are all too few to keep you thinking of what you are actually doing. You just go from one complex to the other and clears them out. If you are lucky you stumble upon a parchment that adds some background information of what has happened.
The game could - and should - have elaborated more on this part.

Rating: 2

This one is easy. There are no currency and no shops in the game so the economy doesn´t exist at all.
In the beginning I missed a shop to trade in for better weapons and armours but then I recognised there where no currency so....

Rating: 1

NPC & Interactions
NPC:s are very rare in this game. They appear here and there. Sometimes even in the overland map.

The dialogues are often short and quite frankly, a little bit naive. One thing which is a bit disappointing is that you will never, ever in the game (except for the endscene) have any choice in answering. You just click on words popping up that leads the dialogue forward. That is somewhat boring when you keep in mind that this game is made in 1995. If you think you can roleplay your character in any way. Forget it. To its defense though, that goes for most other dungeon crawlers.
Anyway, the meeting of any NPC is a highlight since they have digitized voices and add to the atmosphere. The voice acting - however - is not much to write home about. I can´t give it 1 since a game without any NPC interactions should get 1 (like Crystal Dragon).

Rating : 1.5

Monsters & Tactics
There are a lot of different monsters in the game and most of them are depicted in the manual together with descriptions. They are, for the most part, well designed and original. So far so good.

The problem is the lack of tactics used. Monsters never follow you around unless you are within a few hexes away. You could therefore always run away from your enemies if you wish.

Though you might be outnumbered, monsters does not try to surround you. It is more of a coincidence - like a lack of space for them to move - that makes you surrounded.

They never, ever retreats. Ok, this is very seldom in other games as well. They are quite slow so they are easily outrunned or outmanouvered. There are some that are a bit faster and more agile but the standard tactic of rushing forward, slash and retreat before they retaliates usually works for any monster.

The only exception if for those that hurl spells or other mundane objects. Other than that, all monsters attack at first sight when you come within a few hexes. They never try to circumvent you.

In the end you cannot compare the difficulty in battling monsters in Anvil of Dawn with Dungeon Master, Black Crypt, Crystal Dragon, Eye of the Beholder or Legend of Grimrock. The latter games are much harder.

The summary of all this is that combat quickly gets very repetitive and quite frankly...boring. There are no major bosses or end fights in Anvil of Dawn that makes up for this.

Having said all that, the game still delivers true hack´n slash combat without much thought. It works but is not very delicate. The only reason for you to actually kill them is that some of them drops keys that you must have in order to proceed. They don´t carry any loot.

Rating: 2

Map Design
The maps varies in size. Most new complexes are of normal size with a few reaching large sizes. With large I mean at least 75*75 squares but maps are not always squareformed. I just wanted to indicate the size. They also span several levels up or down. There are frequent use of teleporters to connect different parts of maps in a single level as to make convenient shortcuts for you to use. I have yet to find any useless preassure plate or red herring that does nothing. I am quite satisfied with the maps as they are.

They are not random. There are certain areas clearly representing barracks, court halls and similar things.  But since the graphical layout and variance is so small most rooms and places just looks the same. You never get any verbal or audible descriptions of rooms or areas that might compensate for this and that would add to the atmosphere of the game.

The automap in the game is probably the best one I´ve ever seen. It shows everything you would ever want to know and even updates in realtime if you press a preassure plate and hear a door opening. Just check the automap to see which door was affected. You could also traverse previously visited places in the map and make notes of your own.

Rating: 2.5

Character generation and development
One of the most fun and important parts of a true RPG is the character generation and development. In the beginning you choose from four different characters with pre-allocated attribute points. There is nothing else that differs from them. If you are not satisfied you could create your own character as I did and put the attribute points where you want them instead. The attributes are strength, agility, power and stamina. There are no skills in the game except weapons and magic.

Each time you use a weapon or cast magic spells counts toward your next skill increase. You can see on red bars how far you are to reach the next level. At each new level you have the choice of putting one point into either a melee skill group like slash, thrust, hack or ranged. Or if it was an increase in your magical prowess it allows you to put one point in any of the magical schools. You will never be able to choose spells. You must find all somewhere in the game. Increasing you skillpoints is very satisfying but skill increases only triggers when you get above ground to the overland map.

You never get more hitpoints or magic points since there are no levels in this game. You have to find certain items to use for that. You also never increase your attributes unless you find the right items like amulets.

In summary. Character development in this game is weak even compared to similar games. 

[Rating: 1.5 - does not count towards end score]

The manual of the game is very good. It explaines everything in a pedagogic way and in a fun manner. It that kind of manual that draws you to the game when you read it and which is very lacking in todays games. It contains drawings of many beasts and description of all spells. Check the manual here.

[Rating: 4 - does not count towards end score]

Graphics, Sound and Interface
Graphics in the game is simple but functional. Monster are well drawn although the animations suffer some. That is very common in this era though. All new complexes looks different but there are not much variation between them. For example. There are always the same kind of doors and chests used. Miscellaneous items and furniture are very rare to see. You never find loose items laying around. Most rooms and places are empty 99 % of the time. Everything worthwile lies in chests or containers.

The graphics in the overland map was impressive in 1995, pre-rendered as it was. It hasn´t aged well though. It works but adds nothing when going back to the game today.

The music in this game is made up of midi sound. The main theme is quite good albeit simple in my dosbox version. The rest of the themes is nothing to write home about. Perhaps it is my DosBox setup that makes it so. I am not impressed. I even like the music in Ultima Underworld better. The voice sound is quite good though. Every monster has some sound or voice attached to it. Most of them adds to the atmosphere quite well. There are no ambient sounds in the dungeons whatsoever. The only sound effects is from your weapons and spells and monsters dying.

The Interface in the game are good and easy to use and understand.  Everything is accessible through your character sheet. It is simple and elegant and I give it above average rating. When attacking you could either click on the monster or on the weaponhand itself (which I prefer). All spells are visible on the mainscreen with their symbols and you just click on them to cast them.

Rating: 3

Now to the most important part. If gameplay isn´t any good, nothing can help a game regardless of perfect character generation, story, graphics or sound.

So is Anvil of Dawn worth playing today ? Yes, definetely. Especially if you wan´t a more casual dungeon crawler with focus more on hack´n slash and loot gathering and less about pure survival and optimising your character. I enjoyed it for what it is.
From the start I got hooked by the simple, straightforward story. You start out with nothing. There is no need to read the manual. Just move on and you will be told what to do. You begin by gathering better weapons and armours. Building up your supplies of healing potions and mana leaves. You will find ample supplies of those and of special items that are preloaded with single spells. I had huge amounts of them in the end of the game. As a RPG veteran I knew I had to save them for when they are really needed. They never where... 
The game is quite easy. The tricky part is to solve some of the puzzles in the later levels. But other than that it is just to search through every place. Almost all puzzles are logical. I have to give credits for that. This game is a perfect casual introduction into the genre to people not used to number crunching and statistics. That being said, I had to check in a walkthrough a few times to solve my particular problem but far from as often as its more hardcore competitors.
There is some layer of sadnes over the story which adds to the atmosphere of the game. It feels quite epic at times but most times you spend in separate dungeons that have no connections with each other. You could go back to previously visited areas if you have forgot something. Ah, by the way. Monsters never spawn in this game.

The most crucial part is that it seems you might reach the end without having gathered all the ingredients. You will then probably have no idea of where to look but at least you could go back. And a good thing is that you could use your automap and go back through all maps in the game to look for areas you haven´t explored or overlooked.

The game is very linear. Not until midgame you are given the opportunity to choose between which places to go. From midgame somewhere the game begun to feel very repetitive. You practically repeat every pattern again in every new place. There is no variation to speak of. The only difference is the monsters or puzzles to solve. It the end I only wanted to finish it. Still, when this game arrived it competed with Stonekeep, another excellent game which will win the comparison in my view because of a much stronger story and narrative. Anvil of Dawns strength lies in the simplicity and linearity of the game. You wan´t to proceed in order to find better items and move on to new complexes to explore.

This game was released the same year as Dungeon Master II (DM2). DM2 is harder and more unforgiving. Although DM2 it is a smaller game in size it has harder puzzles. But it also has much worse interface. Graphics wise DM2 has more attention to details and ambient sound. I would say that as a pure dungeon crawler DM2 is the better game. It lacks the smooth gameplay which makes it so easy to throw away hour after hour into Anvil of Dawn though.

Crystal Dragon is much harder both in puzzles and combat than this game. You also need to keep track of your food in that game. You don´t need to worry about it here.

Rating: 3

Total rating: 20.5

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  1. Nice review... I've enjoyed your playthrough of Anvil. I may have to go back and try to play it all the way through some day.

    By the way... I looked but couldn't find it (probably just missed it). What is your rating scale (maximum rating, each category out of 5? 10? etc)? Just wondering so I will know how good a 15 is...

    1. Thanks for your input. The rating goes from 1-5 with 0.5 increments.

      In the table to the right I list all games reviewed with their total score. But remember that it is just an indicator. The Gameplay rating is the single most important rating so to be truthwill it should be weighed more than the other but I wouldn´t want it to be too complicated. Is it worth double or triple points for example ?

    2. Thanks for the info... that helps. I've never even noticed the sidebar with the best rated games, so that helps as well :)

      So, 15 isn't too bad... not great... not terrible. About what I expected.

      Keep playing 'em.

    3. I stopped reading when you said the enemies don't carry loot.

      They drop loot frequently. Mostly just potions or mana plants but armour, weapons, and other items drop too. I've only played 3 hours so far so I don't see how you've even beaten the game.
      It personally sounds like to me you just don't like the game.

  2. I've started playing this game a few days back and I'm pretty sure you're wrong about the currency. In one of the early NPC encounters I was giving gold coins. I'm not sure where to use it yet, but currency is definitely included and I don't see why it would be included if it couldn't be used.

    1. There is a NPC hidden in a ruins that sell a few items, that's all. The rest of the coins are used to open doors.

    2. I must have missed that NPC. The only one in the game.

  3. I read this review from the beginning to end, and i'm not really sure that you really know this game very well. you said a lot of false informations about this game. maybe you just don't like it, but just be honest and say it, instead of lie about it. or maybe it was just some mistakes, but in this case, you didn't play a long time, because 5or6hours are more than enough to be sure to don't do these mistakes. anvil of dawn is a very good dungeon crawler, with a very good background compared to a dungeon master with only the wall textures who really changes in the game. it s not really linear as you said, because you can choice your path, and explore the dungeon the way you want for most of them. and enemy drops stuff very often. sometimes quest items, or importants keys. so you can't miss them to finish the game. how is it possible you play the game, and didn't noticed that???
    well, it s review so subjective. but really the next time, please be honest about a game whe you write a review.