Created by: Michael W. Lawrence
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.
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.
There are no NPCs in the game other than those that are part of the mainquest or the few sidequests.
I have yet to figure out how to camp in the wilderness.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gameworld & Story
NPC & Interactions
Monsters, tactics & combat system
Character generation & development
Graphics, Sound and Interface
Summary CRPG value
- The unofficial Aethra Pages Contains complete list of items, races, maps etc.