Currently playing: 7 mages, Drive to Moscow, Ravenloft: Stone Prophet

December 2, 2012

Devil Whiskey - Review

For the last couple of weeks I have been playing Devils Whiskey, a modernized version in the same style as Bard´s Tale or Dragon Wars. With style I mean that the game mechanism works in a similar way but it is its own game with its own world and story to tell. The game is party-based, turn-based and grid-mapped. A remake of a true CRPG from the 80s.

It was released in 2003 and I was able to buy it cheap from Gamersgate. Is it any good and is it worth its money ? I´ll help you decide with this stand-alone revisit and review.

The adventure begins in the city of Rennibister. The manual supplies a map of the city and the world in which it resides. You begin your adventure in an inn (how original) in which you have to recruit your party. You could have up to 8 party members. Your own, NPC:s or wandering monsters.

You could choose between 9 races including some original ones like beggens, saurians (reptilian) and senrats (half-ratman). Then you will have access to 11 classes, each with its own prerequisites. The odd unique one for this game being a PSI-Knight or Sauran Red Claw. The rest of the races and classes is from what you could normally expect.

If you like spellcasters you won´t be disappointed. You have arcanists and then you have elementalists which allows you to choose your elemental spell-category. Each spellcasting class have 7 level of spells, each with up to four spells. When you reach level 13 you are allowed to change path to another spellcasting category. New options are then magician, warlock, summoner, illusionist and several others. So all in all there are several hundred spells in the game.

I choosed to have 7 party members and leaving the last one for any NPC:s or wandering monsters. I rolled up one warrior, ranger, rogue, bard, arcanist, hydromancer and pyromancer.

Your starting town
The game begins with the party standing outside the Inn where the party was recruited. A man approaches and asks for help on the towns behalf. Strange things are occuring. He mentions a name I should seek out. I soon forget about that person and instead tries to survive the first couple of hours. You are almost constantly attacked by random monsters. After a few levels increase I begin to explore more and more of the city. There are a lot of different weapon stores, general stores, taverns, temples and guilds spread out all of the city.

Gold is essential because you need it to pay for your healing in the temples and to aquire new spells. And most important of all, to raise in levels. The only way to get gold is to fight enemies and plunder them to sell their loot.
The automap works ok but lacks identifiers like exits or stairs
I was surprised of how fast you level up in this game. I think I managed one level each half hour or so. Levelling up is this games happy hour. When you level up you are awarded a random number of hitpoints and/or spellpoints. The dices used are not listed in the manual but you can be sure that they are very similar to games of this type i.e. the warrior gains the most hitpoints and the sorcerer the lowest and everyone inbetween. Your attributes like constitution also helps out with bonuses to these parts.

Pretty soon I find a man in house that wishes me to retrieve a special cloak hidden in an underground dungeon accessible through a trapdoor in another house. I soon learn that this dungeon is a labyrinth that three previous adventurers has fallen to its perils.

By finding the adventurers, one after the other and learn about their fate you will not only understand what motivated them but also get rings that are part of the key to get the cloak itself. By answering their motives as a key you could finally get access to the cloak and return it to the man for a hefty reward in gold and 100.000 xp. This complex took several hours to complete with encounters almost every five steps or so. Here it helps to let the bard play "Walking song" to reduce the amount of encounters. It is also very convenient if you have a magician that could cast the Teleport spell for quick movement.

This is the last obstacle before obtaining the cloak

After awhile I learn that the guards are out after me without any apparent reason. No wonder that they often harass me in random encounters. But by plunder them I occasionally find notes that unveil more information about why they are looking for us. My group are described as criminals. My investigation in the town later leads to clues that this is part of a greater plot to hide some devilish scheme.

After having cleared out a cellar of tainted whisky we returned to the old man that now wished us to get down to the catacombs to find an amulet for him. It is in this catacombs I am right now with my group writing this.

The game relies heavily of requesting certain words to advance the plot. You either have to find the motivation behind the fallen adventurers in the starter dungeon (courage, greed etc) or know the haircolor of the innkeepers first wife to proceed or even know the name of the person you seek when knocking on a door. If you fail in any of these you will get stuck and there are no walkthrough online that I have found. I haven´t found any clues in the game for the haircolor and was lucky to find it in a forum thread somewhere.

I am outside the mages guild

The dungeons are squarelike and so far quite randomised in their structure and design. The graphics are very plain and don´t show anything except corridors and doors. The few NPC:s in the game advances the plot and my only choices so far has been to accept or deny a mission.

Combat is done exactly like in bard´s tale. You may flee but have slim chances in succeeding. The opponents could start out at different ranges and it could be difficult if they are powerful spellcasters and you have to advance in on them to get in melee contact. When you level up you are given the chance to strike extra attacks but that also depends on the weapon wielded. It took me over 10 hours into the game until I found out that you can see the damage dealt by a weapon by examining it. There are standard weapons and also of different qualities like elven, dwarven etc. After combat you get experience points for the whole group and you could loot the enemies of gold and items. If you are lucky there might be a chest that you could unlock, but beware of traps!

So far in the game I have not encountered any description of places that have not been crucial in advancing the plot. The dungeons are very empty in that respect and you must step on each square to be sure you are not triggering an important event or miss out a key location. Even fixed encounters that often hides a chest does not yield any descriptive information before combat.

Enchantresses are quite tough
The music in the game when travelling the town are very irritating and does definetely not add to the atmosphere. The sound effects are better but there are no sounds from the monsters, only from weapons that clashes. Nothing special in other words.

The manual of 100 pages describes the races, classes, skills and spells pretty well. The only thing I lack is tables of experience points, hitpoints and spellpoints and levels for any bonuses on the attributes.

Equipment wise, you have to equip single items to use them just like in Bard´s Tale. You could use two sets of weapons and shift between them in combat, which allows for easy access to ranged weapons I guess. There is a limit of how much a character can carry though and you will soon learn to only pick the most valuable loot from your vanquished monsters. I found the management of the inventory works quite ok. You could easy shift between the characters with the F1-F8 keys while at the same character screen. The only thing that bothered me was that you had to equip notes before you where allowed to read them, not by examining them but by using them.

What I did like about the game was that it allowed for quick level gains. I never felt I was grinding or struggling to gain the XP needed. In my short time with the game my group are around level 20. But that also means that the difficulty in the game is never about single fights but hordes of encounters you have to force your way through to get back to the dungeon level in which you returned from last time. They constantly harass you of hitpoints (easily replaced by a full-party-healing spell) but more importantly your spellpoints that are needed to keep reserves to be able to use teleport, heal and cast Heimdall's Perception - which allows you to see in the dark and reveals secret doors - or Ball of bearing to enable a compass.

My warrior snarly

I am a little dissappointed about my bard. I don´t think the bard has any special songs that are worth using compared to the mages so far. The walking song is said to reduce random encounters but they are so frequent anyway so I am not sure I notice the difference. Besides there are a lot of anti-magic zones that destorys all your spells in effect so you have to recast them.

What it comes down to actually is that combat is too easy to bother with despite all the seemingly different spells and bard songs. If they have been fewer but stronger I would actually bother to try out different types of spells. But now I am doing so well with all direct attack spells that sleeping-, blinding- and holding spells feels meaningless. And the idiotic system of having to type in manually the spells' shortened names everytime you are to cast anything makes it very frustrating. But when you are to buy a spells or list which spells a character knows, then they are listed as their full names. This crazy design alone reduces 0.5 points of my gameplay value. There is one thing if memoryspace limitations in the 80s used this approach to save some space but there is no excuses to include it in a game from 2003.

At last i found the cellar to clean the bad brew

If at least they could list the five most recently cast spells to choose from everytime it would have been a great improvement. Ok, enough complaining about that.

Right now at level 20 I feel I have more gold than what I can spend currently. I have no idea if there is any level cap in the game or if the adventures continues outside of the town (I hope so!).

This endbattle in the cellars did not impress me

This yoda like man gave me my current mission



If I am to summarise my reflections about this game I would say:

Pros:
  • Automap that is easy to access and gives a general idea of where you are
  • Quick and responsive keyboard driven user interface
  • Good still images and adequate outdoor graphics
  • The same good feeling we all love when levelling up
  • A lot of races, classes and spells to choose from
  • Ability to craft your own items
  • Quick movement by keyboad and short loading times makes it hasslefree
  • More elaborate story and texts from major NPCs than in previous bard´s tale series.
Cons:
  • Still too many random encounters that could drive one crazy if you are not a patient person. But less so than in Bard´s Tale 3.
  • The majority of spells is just duplications of others with different names.
  • Must manually type in shortcut spellnames when casting
  • Combat generally does not require any tactical efforts on your part and are quite easy. Which leads to...
  • ...one is not encouraged or forced to use tactical spells, ranged weapons or magic items to advance.
  • Cumbersome user interface in shops when selling/buying things for different characters.
  • Boring dungeon graphics and map designs.
  • Very few special areas or atmospheric descriptions in dungeons
  • Not able to make notes on automap or clearly see where there are stairs/exits
  • Crashes all too often in version 2.0 (save often and make backups of the savegame directory!)
  • Only allows for one save game slot
For the 5 dollars I gave this is a bargain but 25 dollars is a bit expensive for the game in my opinion. Be sure to download and try out the demo first. As a comparison Legend of Grimrock is a much better and polished game not only because it was done almost ten years after. But even then, the lust for exploration, advancing the plot and the hunt for the next spell levels or items found will keep me playing this game a little bit more before moving on to the next.

And finally....If you still like to play the Bard´s Tale series today, I think you will like this game. It shares the same charm and problems with the former, albeit heavily improved in graphics and with some other minor improvements.

My final rating of this game would be 3 out of 5.

Section
Rating
Gameworld & Story
1.5
Economy
2
NPC & Interactions
1
Monsters, tactics & combat system
2
Magic system
2
Character generation & development
3
Map design
2
Manual
3
Graphics, Sound and Interface
3
Summary CRPG value
19.5


Gameplay
3



8 comments:

  1. It does sound pretty interesting, though. Thanks for the review.

    ReplyDelete
  2. So, how long would you say it takes until repetition sets in?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hmm. About around five hours I would say.

      Delete
  3. Just one minor inaccuracy in the review regarding spells:
    You don't have to type in the code, but rather can choose to use the arrow keys to quickly select your chosen spell. Obviously knowing the code will help though as your spell-book becomes bigger. :) I'm playing the game at the moment, so it's great to read something about it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 2 Inaccuracies. You can have multiple savegames, you just need to start a new game with a different name and you can load between them at will.

      Delete
  4. ehy, 2014 comments, thnx for your feedback guys... might play it too.... old Bard's Tale fan out here ^^
    Cheers
    Blacky75

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi, what was the answer to the cloak question? I don't know the fourth trait.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Mercy is the 4th trait, right?

    ReplyDelete