Currently playing: Icewind Dale 2, Demonicum

November 27, 2013

Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore needs more support to be realised

The new roleplaying game Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore is still on kickstarter and the campaign lasts until the 4th of december. To be realised it needs a lot more support to reach its targeting figures. The company has just released a new video detailing some aspects of the game and how they have thought about implementing certain game mechanics. I really recommend watching this video. Guido Henkel - the main person behind the project - has a long range of very good games in his credits, amongst them  Shadows over Riva that scored very high when I revisited it in 2011.

Personally I have just backed this project for $30 to receive the digital edition together with the games soundtrack.




November 20, 2013

Aethra Chronicles - Review


Game reviewed: Aethra Chronicles
Version: 1.0b
Created byMichael W. Lawrence
Released: 1994
Formats: Pc
Difficulty: 6/10
Est. Playing time: 15-20 hours
Shareware


My interest in this game got colder for each new week passing this autumn. The last hours put into the game has only been to play it in order to finish it, not for its own enjoyment. The feeling of repetetive combat has drained me and even though I hate to leave games unfinished I must abide to the limited time I have available. The few hours I have for myself every week must be spent very carefully on something that gives me great pleasure all the time. 

Aethra of Chronicles is not a bad game. Not at all. And under other circumstance I would probably try to finish it. But I have left great games behind like Dark hearts of Uukrul and Swords and Sorcery Underworld so it would be unfair to them if I spent more hours into this game. I have played the game enough to give it a fair review to readers out there that wonders if this game is worth playing and that is enough for me. My goal of having revisited an old CRPG to present to todays readers have been fulfilled.

Gameworld & Story
The games background is shortly that your father has been blamed for the kidnapping of the new kings child. The reason is that your father and his ancestors has been the kings main paladin for generations and therefore are seen as partly responsible for the security breach. The only way to let your father out of prison is to find the truth about the kidnapping. You cannot save him unless you can find proof of his innocence. With two trusted friends you set out to follow the few clues you can about the kidnapping. Apparantly some rumour goes about a cult and a great evil that is beyond all this, but without proof you cannot do anything.  It shortly turns into a hunt for the book of prophecies that is said to contain valuable information.

The story is ok and the hunt for the book and its understanding seems to be the main objective of the game. The game builds on the story with rumours and main quest leads but otherwhise don´t add much sidequests. Until you come to the point where you actually know how the book can be translated, each step in the mainquest is linear. After that you will have more freedom of where to go next.

The gameworld seems to be of moderate size with a few dozen fullscreen maps that connects to each other through forests, mountains, rivers, swamps and deserts. Scattered about are a dozen or more cities of varied sizes filled with shops, inns, temples and guilds. Here and there are caves not easily seen but you are directed to search in specific directions when you are given quests.
Rating: 2.5

Economy
The shops are filled with many different weapons and armours and have specialised shops for magic, ranged weapons and so on. The problem is that you can never see how much damage a weapon does. Not in the shop, in your inventory and not even when hitting the enemy. The only way to guide you is the price of the item. I hate that system but it is unfortunately not unique. Games like Dungeon Master II, Dark hearts of Uukrul and Dragon Wars all employs the same system in this respect even though some of them actually displays the damage when an enemy is hit to give you a small hint of its powers.

I have circumvented this limitation by using an items list from the Aethras unofficial page (listed below) that lists every item and its properties. Only those that I have found tough.

You start out with quite some gold and you could outfit your starting party of three quite well with these coins but if you start hiring people to fill out your party to the maximum six at the beginning you will see that the money will quickly drain away. Also when levelling you have to pay higher and higher prices.

When I opted to stop playing the game, I had around 13.000 gold and was not worried about it. Even though there are magical shops it is not easy to come by magical weapons other than finding them during your adventure. Most magical shops sell scrolls or wands preloaded with certain spells but I never bought them since you will find quite a lot of potions and some wands during your adventure.

One way to boost economy is to sell all the gems you find. I have not found any other use for them than to bring in more money. I am not sure if prices differs between different cities. That would be a nice feature. What is clear though is that it is well worth investing a lot in the skill trading and do all tradings through that character.

Most items must be identified when you find them because you never know if they are ordinary, mundane items or if they are of exceptional quality (+ or ++ suffixed). They will then be both more valuable and add bonuses. If you fail your identification you run the risk of destroying the item in the process. Nice!

In general I find the economy quite balanced but lacks more variety between cities, stocks and prices. What I lack is the ability to spend the money on magical weapons and armours. There are none as far as I remember.
Rating: 2.5

NPC & Interactions
There are no NPCs in the game other than those that are part of the mainquest or the few sidequests.
You have no dynamic dialogues to use at all. The answers are fixed and if you are to proceed in any way you have to take them one at a time. Actually, there are no dialogues just information coming from the NPC. That is unfortunate but I am not at all surprised. Even in 1994 this was beginning to change with games like Legends of Valour, Blade of Destiny and a long range of other games. So this was old-school gaming when it was released.

To the games defense I have to say that there are nothing wrong with the dialogues that do exists. They fill their function well and this is a shareware game after all.

The interactions you have with the environment is limited to lighting dark places by lanterns or found torches on the walls, opening locked chests and search for traps etc. There are no other interactions worth mentioning.

I have yet to figure out how to camp in the wilderness.
Rating: 1.5

Monster, tactics & combat system
The combat system is quite peculiar in this game. There are no visible hexes or squares so you cannot be sure if you can form a solid defense line or not to protect your weak mages. There is no information whatsoever in combat regarding damage dealt or received. The same goes for magical spells. You are informed what type of spell are being cast by the enemy but it is not obvious what effects they have unless it is a direct-damage spell.

The good thing is that combat takes place on a tactical zoomed in view of your surroundings which allows at least some perceived tactics to be used by blocking doorways or standing behind tables. But most often, combat is done in dungeons that looks very much alike without any furniture at all. Combat at least implements line of sight. So you have to position your characters for ranged weapons.

The enemies are so small and the graphical resolution so low that you hardly can distinguish humanoids from eachother except their colors. The only way for you to stay informed of the enemies status is to use the skill monster info to try to discover information about them like hitpoints, damage dealt, special abilities and so on. Good idea, but I found it too cumbersome to use during fights except for very tough opponents.

Each character have a limited number of movement points based on their attribute scores. At the beginning they could only attack or cast spells once a round but certain classes gets more attacks at higher levels, allowing you to use your group much more effective. Especially together with the group hasting spell. Slow characters (like my mages) have low movement points and could not retreat as fast as I would to the back. It is hard to protect them because it is not clear if you could block enemies which also most of the time have ranged capabilities and could attack your mages from distance which is very common.

Monsters could also retreat when their losses has been substantial. But other than that I don´t see any tactics used by the A.I. Most enemies just rush forward to enter melee with you. But they do tend to strike my weak mages if they can so I guess that gives it some credit.

The combat system could have been better implemented. The basic foundations are in place but the major drawback now is that you cannot use any tactical disposition to your advantage.
Rating: 2.5

Magic System
The magic system is based on mana that drains when you cast spells. Just like in almost any other game. You could restore mana by resting at an inn or drinking potions. There are at least half a dozen spell schools and you spend points into a skill called spell list to increase you chances of learning a new spell school at every level raise. This means you are not guaranteed to get to a certain spell school at a certain level but eventually - if you invest into the skill - your chances to succeed will be close to 100 %.

There are many different types of spells from protection, boosting, summoning, teleporting and direct attacking spells. Unfortunately I seldom saw the need to explore these more. Probably because my basic tactics of hasting the group was enough for most combats. I do think however, that there are good potential here.

Almost all spells are only valuable in combat.
Rating: 3

Character generation & development
Characters level up when they have gained enough experience points and you pay for their training into the next level at the right place depending on the class. You are then randomly given a number of skill points that you could put freely into any skill. Certain races have different innate bonuses. These are not listed in the standard manual but I found other resources on the internet that have this information.

When you put skillpoints into fortitude you raise your hitpoints by a random number. You also raise your spellpoints in the same way but at a fixed value that probably are based on your basic attributes. Certain attributes gives skill bonuses. The higher the more. The system works pretty well and it is fun to level up. An important thing to remember is to specialise your group so you don´t have to have several characters investing into trading, mountaineering etc.
Rating: 3

Map design
I like the overland map which is shown when you travel between the cities. It is varied and interestingly laid out. You don´t know how large the world is beforehand until you discover you cannot exit from the edge into the next.

Map design of caves and dungeons are very similar to each other and frankly, quite boring. There are furniture, paintings, tables and such things in noncave complexes but the caves only contains irregular corridors that connects to each other or ends up in a larger room, often with an encounter waiting for you.
Rating: 2

Manual
The manual consists of a textfile and is accessible from within the game. It provides you with basic information of how to create the characters and how the user interface works but  no details of how the game mechanics works, if there are any race/class modifiers and so on and no description of any spells. Fortunately complete spell lists could be found online and I have referenced them in the end of this review.
Rating: 1.5

Graphics, sound and interface
I found the interface rather clumsy and slow in this game. The fastest way is to learn shortcut commands on the keyboard but you don´t know which they are unless you bring out the ingame help manual. Everything reacts pretty slowly so I cranked up the cycles in dosbox to at least 12.000 when I played.

To navigate through your party members is also more clumsy that needs to be. Few things could easily be done with the mouse. Often you spend considerable time trading items between your party members and trying to get enough space in the inventory as well as trying to see whoever is best in certain skills etc. The interface feels very old fashioned to be released in 1994.

The graphics is standard VGA with very low resolution. In combats, each combatant is very small and it doesn´t take long until everyone clashes together and you can´t make out the slain enemies from the living ones. The towns consists of many small buildings but you never know which are actually shops or not unless you try to bump into them. To make that part less cumbersome I have used the city maps I have found online to quickly find the shops - At least in cities I have already visited before.

Sound is scarce in the game. The introduction music sounds worse than from a Spectrum 48 game and the sound effects are nothing to take note on. Fortunately a game like this can get away with both good graphics and sound.
Rating: 2

Gameplay
Despite the poor interface, graphics and sound, the game is actually quite ok. It takes some time to get used to the controls but they work.. I was quite enthusiastic about the game in my first hours as I explored the different game mechanics and explored the first dungeon and the world around. But after some hours into the game you notice that the cities don´t differ much between themselves. You need to keep track of where the guilds and temples are so you can train your characters at their correct places and you have to know where you could sell off all types of items. But apart from shops there is only a very few places that is quest related. Either you are given a sidequest or you follow on the mainquest to look for certain persons to give you hints on where to go next.

The combat system leaves much to be desired in terms of allowing you to use any form of tactics. I liked the system used in Dark heart of Uukrul much more. The more experienced you get the more flexibility could be used in the combat through spells and magic items and that makes it a little bit more interesting.

The combats are pretty well balanced and quite hard in the beginning. When I stopped playing I felt I could win almost any fight as long as I was rested and had full stocks of mana. You could wander into places that are way too hard for your group and that is good.

Raising in levels both gives you more hitpoints and attacks per round as well as better spells. The spells are crucial in order to win. I would not have been as lucky without the group haste spell for example. Unfortunately that was almost the only spell I used and the game has quite a number of different spells I haven´t felt the need to try out yet.

Overall, I found the game quite pleasant but after the first initial 10 hours it feels like it repeats itself and it stopped surprise me. If you have the time and are looking for something different this might be worth taking a look into.
Rating: 3



Section
Rating
Gameworld & Story
2
Economy
2.5
NPC & Interactions
1.5
Monsters, tactics & combat system
2.5
Magic system
3
Character generation & development
3
Map design
2
Manual
1.5
Graphics, Sound and Interface
2
Summary CRPG value
20


Gameplay
3


Resources: