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September 15, 2013

Dark Disciples 2 - Review





Game reviewed: Dark Disciples
Designed by: DodgySoft
Created byLaurens Lafebre
Released: 2008
Formats: Pc
Difficulty: 7/10
Est. Playing time: 40 hours
Freeware


Gameworld & Story
The story begins with you on your way to visit your brother in the capital Durwich. During the voyage you are captured by pirates and put on an island to work as a slave in a salt mine. From there you have to escape and the rest of the game is a long challenge to try to find your brother. In order to succeed you have to overcome a lot of obstacles and do a lot of favours to allow you to progress towards your goal.

The gameworld is much bigger than in the previous game. There are at least 3 major cities and a lot of smaller settlements, villages and areas to explore. There are a lot of sidequests and minor tasks that could be undertaken to get gold and experience points. Something which is necessary in order to get powerful enough to take on your major opponents along the way.

There are also more variety in both the regions and in the lands you will have to traverse with more detailed graphics. It is as populated as in the first game so there are not huge empty lands to traverse through. You have deserts, swamps, dense forests, underground lakes, mountains, caves and rivers to just name a few typical areas where your adventures will take you.

Even though the mainstory might not be very original, the major subquests and modules mostly are. Or at least very varied. But I have to admit that it is not easy to foresee how the mainstory will evolve either.

Rating: 2.5

Economy
Economy is relatively well balanced in the game. Note that these words are written with consideration. The first installment had more balanced economy. I think that since the first third of this game I was never worried about economy. Perhaps it was because I was not a magician that had to buy stones or scrolls to use. I don´t know. But as warrior you pretty early in the game find that there is no better armour or weapons to buy than what you can find during your adventure even if you have a lot of money. The only exception is the smith that requires gold scales. But you could be as rich as you want and still have no means to buy better protection in any town. That is a problem I think and does degrade the rating.

It is true that the towns you visit will have a little better equipment than the first ones but only slightly and after awhile you can travel by portal to any city anyway so what does it matter ? To the plus side must be mentioned that there are a lot more different weapons, armours and other types of equipment found than in the first game.

You are still given only a 10th of the value when selling something but an improvement from the first game is that you can sell any item in any shop. You don´t need to find a weapon smith to sell your weapons for example.

Rating: 2.5

NPC & Interactions
All NPCs are stationary. They never walk around like monsters do for example. You initiate dialogue by going into them. You mostly have several dialogue options and the scripts are well written and mostly logial and realistic. What and how you say something could either be solved by reinitiating dialouge or does not have any longrun effect.

It is said however that some decisions affect the outcome later on. I can only remember a very few places where this might be true but they are of the types like choosing side rather than anything more subtle. All dialogues and NPCs are as well scripted and written as ever. With many clever dialogues to choose from.

Rating: 2

Monster, tactics & combat system

There are quite a number of different monsters and foes in this game. Each region has its own fauna. Most monsters take up one square just as yourself but there are some that are 2, 4  squares or bigger as well. You could use that to your advantage by fleeing through small corridors or using the furniture to navigate away from them. When they spot you (as soon as you spot them) they will move towards you in the shortest possible way. It is possible to run from them even  if they are only one square from you if you navigate around some objects. The pathfinding is said to have improved and I can agree that it is noticeable but it is good you still could outrun them if you are patient.

Monsters don´t have any morale and so fights to the death. This time around however there is support for ranged weapons. The game supports different types of bows and crossbows. Even some monsters have ranged attacks but they are very few and most with ranged attacks are mages.

Monsters still have special attacks that could cause fire, acid, cold or electical damage though, as well as poisoning and disease.

The combat system is simple but effective and rather fun. Your attributes and weapons totally decides your chances to hit and what damage are inflicted. During fights you could always use items like potions from your pack without loosing your turn. That is very important to make use of since you can only rest and heal yourself back in a town or in a safe haven - oftan far away from where you are.

A change from the first game apart from ranged attacks is that monsters regain their health if you reenter the complex. The hit-and-run tactics don´t work as well anymore.

There are no random encounters at all in the game but some areas do repopulate foes if you reenter them for another cause or trigger some event. Once you´ve cleared an area it is cleared. That is mostly a good  thing but it also means you don´t have any place in which you can grind and get more experience. And when talking about experience points.

There is one major drawback with the second installment. The ranged attacks are way too powerful. There are no monsters that are immune to ranged attacks but vulnerable to melee attacks so there is really no reason no to go for a bow the full game. I did that and almost never had any hard combats. There is also a bug that lets you shoot through closed doors, gratings etc and you never need line of sight. Also, some bigger foes could be shot at from afar and not react to it so you could take them down easily.

Combat is turn based. Tougher opponents could easily be taken out by standing beside them and save the game and reload every time they hit and save when you hit. In that way you don´t need the tiresome retreats back to heal yourself up which is always possible but only costs time.

Overall, I like the combat system but the first game was harder in a positive sense. My suggestion is let the bow do lesser damage because now there is not much difference from melee damage.

Rating: 2.5

Magic System

The magic system has been improved. Like before, you don´t actually choose any class in the beginning. What specialization you go for depends on where you put your skill points and the proficiency in these are capped by your attribute limits in that field. That means you could cast both mage and priest spells but you would probably never be able to use the most powerful spells of either class.

You do have mana but in order to cast a mage spell you need different kind of stones. They are often found and don´t take up valuable inventory but are added to a certain pouch. They could also be bought in magical shops. That is mainly the limiting factor of using magic apart from the mana points.

The most powerful spells are teleport (within your line of sight), water walking and beacon. The last one allows you to quickly between regions but I have never used it. If you don´t put any points in magic at all you could still use scrolls and wands. That is very good.

There are some obstacles in the game which could only be solved using wands or magic.

Rating: 2.5

Character generation & development
When you first create your character you have a pool of attribute points you can distribute as you wish. You also pick your alignment but I have never found any use of it.

In this sequel you don´t have to go to a trainer to increase a level. You gain levels anywhere and could immediately level up (your decision) and increase one attribute of your selection. You need trainers to increase the different kind of skills in the game though. And these trainers are only capable of taking you to a certain level before you have to find another one. I have never found a trainer that could increase a skill to above 15.

As in the first game it could be wise to save your level upgrades until you either need to increase a certain attribute to solve a problem (strength for bashing for example) or until you have found a trainer that could increase your skills. You are given skillpoints at every level upgrade and I had a lot of unused points at the end of the game because I didn´t found trainers to increase my critical hits skill above 15.

The skill system in the game works very well. I really like them and many of the skills are essential for different stages of the game. There are a few skill that I found was mandatory to solve certain quests (or even main quests) and theese are gemlore (for magic) and stealth (certain places require you to get pass guards unseen),

Perception is still a good skill but it is limited in the way that there are certain hidden doors that won´t show up regardless of your skill but on the other hand you get automatically monster info which means that you can rightclick on an enemy and get a popup with detailed monster information including hitpoints, resilience statistics etc. That is gradually more detailed the higher perception you have. I like this feature even though I have never had any use of it.

Rating: 3

Map design
The maps are all very well drawn and implemented. Now there are labyrinths and mazes and the size of the maps are not so easily detected as in the first game where you could sense if you have missed something because there was still large black areas on the automap. Here maps could be small without you having to worry about missing a secret door.

Dark Disciples have never dissappointed me in map design. There are no dead space or vast areas that must be traversed just to slow your progress. Everything is there for a purpose and hidden items and stash could be find almost anywhere.

Rating: 3.5

Manual
The manual is not one large document but several smaller detailing different parts of the game like character generation, afflictions etc. It is as well written as in the first game.

Rating: 3

Graphics, sound and interface
The graphics are almost identical to the first game. The first thing you notice is that there are more details in it in the environements both outdoor and indoor. Pools of blood are left after you have slain enemies and so forth. Monster have facings in both directions now and not only in one as before. Small things overall. It is very functional and clear in what it shows even though the graphics reminds me of Ultima V.

There are more soundeffects than before. The music are still done by Bjorn Lynne. I think the first game had more catchy tunes but I have at least found one favourite (in the pyramids) in this game also. Different maps and modules have different soundtracks.

The interface is clear, fast, functional and more user friendly now. You could rightclick to get popup help for the buttons for example.

Rating: 2

Gameplay
Even though I had just finished Dark Disciple 1, I was eager to try out the sequel. It is so simple to get into and with no fuss or anything. This is accessibility is perhaps its strongest area. You never feel lost. Most things are straightforward and you don´t have to keep track of things that have happened long ago in the game in order to succeed now. There is no grinding or boring midgame phases either. Each part feels fresh and stands on its own merits.

So while the game is very good there is of course rooms for improvements. The difficulty balance is set off when you are using ranged weapons. There are few places in the game where you must rely on melee combat since you can shoot without line-of-sight and many monsters do not attack if being shot from long range. Apart from that all challenges in this sequel was from the puzzles. There are a lot of minor puzzles and obstacles I have left behind. Fortunately there are often several ways in overcoming them.

The game is almost a little too big. The problem is that the feeling is that it starts over on each part. Each of the major cities doesn´t offer anything new or special if comparing them from the first town. Equipment are not more advanced even though they have more culture context weapons like katana etc. It would be nice if things got more expensive but also better since you find equipment which is much better than any town could offer for any money. This reason alone is one that tells me the game is too long.

The first game offered more even balance in difficulty, even though it was much more simpler. In the first game I really had to hit-and-run enemies in melee and then walk through several maps only to find a place to heal myself for free since gold was sparse. Here it is easier and you can always save in the middle of a fight. That is a thing that could be removed also. As long as you are detected by enemies you should not be allowed to save.

The replayability is much better in this sequel since you could build several different charactes. I chan think of at least three distinct types which are the warrior, the thief and a spellcaster. Each would have its own problems during the adventure but at different places. I think the warrior has it easier though.

My greatest fear playing this game is the lack of information about the game. The included walkthrough which is not complete is the only source to any solution except a very rarely visited forum at dodgysoft.com. At least three times I thought I was stuck forever. At one place I used the editor to summon the item I had to get in order to progress and in the other two I finally found a way to continue after much struggle.

But that is also one of its strongpoints because without these obstacles it would be a hack´n slash game. The world in this sequel is more open. You can practically return to any previously visited place in the game. Perhaps not immediately but you will get access later on. That is good. The variety of missions is perfectly executed and you could take on major modules in any order even though they have recommended levels for you. Some of them are optional but some are mandatory in order to complet your main goal of finding your brother.

Lastly, I can really recommend this game to veterans of CRPGs. Personally I was more hooked with this than with spidersofts Avadon - the black fortress even though the last game is much more advanced. If you read this and know of other similar games you could always drop a line in the comments window.

Rating: 4



Section
Rating
Gameworld & Story
2.5
Economy
2.5
NPC & Interactions
2
Monsters, tactics & combat system
2.5
Magic system
2.5
Character generation & development
3
Map design
3.5
Manual
2.5
Graphics, Sound and Interface
2
Summary CRPG value
23


Gameplay
4


6 comments:

  1. Good review. I've started this several times, but never gotten very far. I've enjoyed it but something else always takes my attention away. I hope to play and finish this one some time soon.

    I Can't remember if you've written about this one, but try Knight of the Chalice, if you haven't already. They are working on a sequel now.. KotC is a pretty good game, a bit like this one... http://www.heroicfantasygames.com/

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    Replies
    1. Hmmm, looks interesting. Although the most interesting part is how many pockets of creativity are out there - one day I should try to catalogue them.

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  2. Real jewels in our CRPG treasury :-) Both of them.. I spent dozens of hours on DD2 (and DD1 back in 2004), still not finished the Pyramid module - I have it open and not able to solve.

    Knights of the Chalice should be basically no prob for anyone patient enough to go through couple of the very difficult combats. I'm speaking about Normal mode of course..

    I'm having great time with games like these and I'm grateful to the authors - they devote lots of their free time to create something really unique and entertaining for us, old-school players. THANK YOU!!! Quido

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  3. Could someone help me with lagging DD2?

    Game suppose to be quick, with instant movement (like roguelikes), but when I play everything is with 0,5-1 sec. delay. Its a big hindrance and make me unable to enjoy the game.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What if you run the game in compatibility mode with an older OS ? Otherewise update your graphics drivers. I have no clue and never experienced such delay.

      Delete
    2. I try 3 mode (95,7,xp) with 2 versions of DD2 (dodgy soft dont have download page?).

      I have delay response even for clicking menu buttons. While similar recent game Swords of Exile works like a charm. http://www.swordsofexile.net78.net/

      Damm, game rules seems good, and gameplay is fastpaced, I will try maybe DHo Uukrul instead.

      Delete