It's been quite some time since I last walked the Lands of Lore and the Thrones of Chaos. Yet, all of that changed this week (with the help of DOSBox 0.72 and a hunt for my old 3.5 inch floppy discs!). I donned the boots of Conrad, and headed off for a trip down memory lane - to assist King Richard:
To be honest, I had expected the game to seem somewhat dated. The graphics are not in the same league as today's games, the 3d world is essentially tile based (where you move around using cursor keys), and ... You know what, I just don't give a dam! The storyline is amazing!! I found myself thinking about Quests and Adventures that seem as real now, as they did back then. Within the Draracle Caves, I was soon asking myself a question: what was the gift that the Draracle wanted? With some head scratching, I knew it when I saw it - a golden knife with red jewels in it. Then did the Draracle give me some riddles for an Elixir - that will save King Richard (albeit much later in the game). Still, I'm getting ahead of myself ... I love the fact that everything seems to fall into place in this game. When your Quest starts, you receive a Magic Atlas (which you need - as it's easy to get lost within the mazes of each location/level). Then do you receive a Compass (which you use with your Magic Atlas). Then do your receive a Spell Book (which holds your various magical spells - such as Spark, Heal, Freeze, Fireball and Lightening). Then do you receive a Lantern (when you first visit the Caves - which with enough Oil, helps Lighten the Dark). Your an adventurer (either Ak'Shel, Kieran, Micheal or Conrad) who has companions along the way (such as Timothy, Baccata and Lora). Prepare to have both your combat and magical skills tested - whilst at the same time, having a really good work out for your memory! It's easy to forget where you are in the mazes of these Lands ... Now, even though this game is (at least) two decades old - it does one thing that many modern games don't seem to do: it has the ability to make you laugh! For me, this always occurs in two places: the pits you find in various Mines and the sink holes (in the Gorkha Swamp). In both cases, it always goes something like this for me: fwd, fwd, left, left, fwd, fwd, left, AUGH! I've fallen down a hole! AUGH! Laugh, Laugh, Laugh. Then just for fun, I do it again! (Not quite so funny now!). Laugh, Laugh. As I say, this game's storyline pulls you in - especially when you feel like you've achieved something. It's great fun when you fix the Water Pump within the Urbish Mines (so that's what the lumps of coal and the gear/cog are for!). Although, the Urbish Mines themselves is a place that I've always found testing (both the getting lost, and those Avian Worms!). There's plenty of other challenges to - such as Scotia's Barrier(s)! These caused me nothing but grief a few years back, but this time - I remembered Vaelan's Cube! This game has more monsters/mythical creatures than you can shake a stick at. Some of my favourites are: Bandits, Cave Dwellers, Gimlets, Gorkha, Giant Lizards, Orcs and Great Orcs - as once you have some decent weapons (such as Great Swords and Great Axes), then these tend to die fairly easily in hand-to-hand combat. Some of my least favourite monsters/mythical creatures are: the Larkhon (a big worm - throw your sword at it), Magic Mirrors (walking jelly fish - they don't like Lightening), Rocklings (made of rock - dam, you blunted my sword!) and Wraiths (run, no really - run!). Overall: this is an amazing adventure/role playing game whose storyline seems to have stood the test of time. I'm amazed that it's challenges seem just as hard now, as they did back in the day (when I first got those 3.5 inch floppy discs home!). This may not be a game that you want to play full-screen now, but it can certainly play/run perfectly well in a window on your desktop (even perhaps whilst your doing other things!). One question I found myself asking was: where am I? I seem to be lost in these Urbish Mines! Let alone being lost in the White Tower ... Finally: it's been sometime since I've seen Scotia, but I do remember Dawn - was that a Cuckoo? Tip: for DOSBox 0.72, I used mount c c: (slash) OLDGAMES (slash) westwood (slash) lands, c:, lands. If you don't fancy that, then there's a newer version (see relevant link below).
When it comes to a Role Playing Game (RPG) that allows me to masquerade as a modern Vampire, you might just-be-able to get me to admit (with the twist of an arm), that this is indeed my favourite:
I like the fact that this game starts with the asking of a question that's on the mind of many a Vampire fan: What race of Vampire would you like to be? Whilst there is the option of answering some personality-style questions (to determine the answer), I decided to choose my characters Vampire race directly: Clan Brujah - as I liked the idea of my character being a rebel, who specialised in hand-to-hand combat, and who had some residual traits (from his human days), as a Special Forces operative! When it came to allocating my Vampires initial skills/abilities (upon the Character Sheet), I managed to get confused - as I failed to realise that I had to click the black dots/circles (to advance that particular skill/attribute to the next level). I then made another mistake - as I'd managed to select Skip Intro (which left me wondering how-on-earth my character had become a Vampire in the first place). Any way, once I made it through to the game play, I found myself getting lost again! So lost in fact, that I took a break from the game (for around six months), and it was only my desire to conquer it (that made me play it again). I am now so glad that I did, as I have experienced one of the best Quests (in a game) that I have ever played/seen: the Ocean House Hotel - which is in fact haunted! So haunted, that I found myself jumping out of my skin when: various objects were thrown at me, several doors opened by themselves and a Lady in White simply ran out in-front of my Vampire (which really made me jump!). There were also some spooky voices, and creepy Piano music, both of which, helped suggest the idea of a Poltergeist (and the thought that I wanted to play this Quest/Level several times). Unfortunately, my love of this level is matched equally by two control issues that I really don't like! The first: The elevator within Club Asylum - which has often made me feel like crying. How many times have I selected floor two only to have it open the elevator at floor one? No, no, no! The second: The constant flick between first and third person cameras. I usually play the game in third, then suddenly realise it's in first (changed by the game), then I'm having to press keyboard Z (to get back to third), then I'm having to press Z again (because I need to shoot). The camera controls in other games, just don't seem to be as annoying (as they are in this one). Despite this, the game goes a long way to making up with the way that it handles character conversations: the character (your chatting with) is usually centred on the screen, providing you with various numeric key-press options (to select your desired question/response). I like the fact that the game allows me to turn subtitles on (no more wondering what a particular character said) and that you can select/use certain seductive lines (assuming you have a high enough seduction skill/attribute). My favourite character conversations have to revolve around the two feuding sisters: Therese and Jeanette. With Jeanette being my personal favourite (as Therese tried to have my Vampire killed). Saying that, I also quite like the interactions with the character VV (as she makes me laugh!). Yet even this (conversation system) has some differences in consistency - the most noticeable being the fact that some conversations feature a high-quality (3d) character model, that's been rendered over a low-quality background texture! I have also encountered two major variations in frame-rate. The first being when my Vampire runs around outside in the rain, and the second being when my Vampire suffers a Final Death (although I suspect that both of these can be solved by dropping the particles slider-value). My second favourite Quest has to be Grout's Mansion - as it's another location that proves to be sufficiently spooky! On the Mansion side there's: Marble Floors with Grandfather Clocks, and Winding Staircases with Hidden Passages. On the game play side there's: several Puzzles (the Candlestick Holders that you have to flick in the correct order - to open Hidden Doors), numerous Ghouls (that can attack you five or six at a time - although they are also a good source of Blood) and getting lost (how many times have I seen this red/green Hall before?). Yet the Mansion does not want to let you go, as there's also: fun with electricity (until you notice the switches and learn how to crouch) and fun with fire (perhaps a Vampires worst enemy) - as you struggle to find your way out! Another part of the game that I really like is it's ability to surprise you - especially in terms of it's Characters. First: there is the Doom Sayer - a Female Fire Brandishing Zealot who appears when your taking a quick stroll down an alley in Santa Monica (not hard to kill, but try doing it without attracting the authorities!). Second: there is the Character called Chastity - a Female Vampire Hunter who caused my Vampire lots of grief (ironically, after I had spent a fair amount of time within the Character Sheet, spending Experience Points, ensuring that I had matched levels of Strength, Dexterity, Stamina, Brawl and Dodge - all of which, made no difference at all, as she was still hard to kill!). Third: there is the Character called Vick - a Gun Totting Bishop who really did test my patience! The fact that my Vampire had a lower humanity level (too much feeding on passer-bys) meant that he constantly wanted to Frenzy (meaning I kept loosing control of my Vampire, whilst the Bishop Vick fired another volley!). It felt great when I finally managed to dispatch Vick (to read his own Sermon!). Overall: this is a game that has caused me to experience both amazement and frustration. The amazement stems from it's fantasy locations (some are very pretty with great story-lines), together with it's variety of supernatural beings (some have personalities that just seem to engage you). The frustration stems from certain elements of it's control system (the first/third person camera battle mixed with elevator fun), together with the feeling that I kept getting lost (where to next? - my Quest Log seems to have much more in it, than I've solved!). When the amazement and frustration are taken together - you end up with a game that has you wanting to replay certain levels, whilst Hammering a Stake into others!
When it comes to a Role Playing Game (RPG) that allows me to masquerade as a Vampire, I'd be hard-pressed to name one better than this:
I like the fact that this game starts with a twist - as it's a while before you become a Vampire! The games storyline sees you take control of the character Christof, a Medieval Holy Knight, whose been injured on the battlefield (by an enemy arrow). Almost mortally wounded, it's only with the caring of the Nun Anezka, that Christof eventually recovers. Yet in doing so, Christof falls for Anezka, and the games storyline gains an important sub-plot: a wound for which there is often no cure - the Power of Love! I like the fact that this game strives to contrast the differences between Christof as a Human, and Christof as a Vampire, yet at the same time - it also fights to highlight the similarities! Whilst Christof is still Human, you undertake a Quest within the Bonn Silver Mines - to rid them of whatever Evil lies within. It is hear that you learn the basics of control: left-click to attack an enemy, left-click plus hold to powerfully attack an enemy. It is here that I first appreciated the quality of the graphics: as various flames/torches light your way, whilst leaving the shadows to themselves. It is also here that you shall encounter your first challenges: Just how do I drain the water from the Crossing? Just how do I kill the War Ghoul? And just how do I kill the first Vampire Boss? The answer to all three is essentially the same: left-click, left-click, left-click! Yet, as Christof is a character of strong Faith, perhaps some Holy Water shall save the day? The games storyline then gains another important sub-plot: as Christof fights to retain his Soul. His Desire for Anezka places it in Peril, yet it is the attentions of a Vampire that truly tests his Character ... I was excited when Christof becomes a Vampire - as this is when the game comes truly alive! I'm also a fan of the Vampire Mythology that's found within this game. First: there is the fact that there are several races of Vampire (such as Cappadocian, Gangrel and Nosferatu - each with their own particular traits, skills and appearance). Second: there is the idea that Vampires have their own beliefs and traditions (Christof is recruited by the Philosophers of Caine - the Brujah, whose primary aim is the collection of Knowledge). Third: there is the concept of Vampire Lore (that the Brujah only take from Humans the Blood that they actually need - not a drop more). Fourth: there is the suggestion that not all Vampires are the same (that the Brujah actually see themselves as Guardians of Humanity, and as such, are less interested in the Blood Lust that's often associated with Creatures of the Night). I was impressed by the games use of animation and narration to highlight several of these ideas (especially the part where Christof views the Scrolling Tapestry). Playing as a Vampire is much more exciting than playing as a Human! There's plenty to learn (as a Vampire) - and you shall earn your Fangs (so to speak) at Petrin Hill Monastery. Lesson One: Looks can be Deceptive - as the Monastery looks all Quite and Peaceful, yet open that Wooden Door, and you shall soon have plenty of opponents to fight - as there's Vampires and Skeletons (usually armed with Swords and Arrows). Lesson Two: Vampires require Blood. When Christof (and his friend Wilhelm) become low on Blood, they shall start to Rampage (possibly even feeding off each other). To counteract this - you need to learn the Art of Feeding! There's plenty of Monks around the Monastery for you to feed on (and slaying an enemy this way does not affect your Humanity levels - which comes in handy). Lesson Three: Sometimes the ability to fight is not enough - you have to use your brain as well, together with switches and keys. Many an Evening did I fight Mercuio (the Vampire Boss of the Monastery), and many an Evening did both Christof and Wilhelm die (to his Green Gas). Yet it was, when searching around, did I find my first special weapon: a Femur (bone) that introduces Mercuio to the Grave! The games more than just about fighting though. One part I really like is managing the equipment that my Vampires wear. Once you've found enough Gold/Jewellery/Jewels, I like to equip my Vampires (via the Blacksmith) with: Studded Leather Armour, Gauntlets and a Light Helm - which helps improve their combat/defence capabilities. Another part I really like is the Character Advancement screen: with each Quest you complete, you earn Experience Points, which you spend to make your Vampires stronger. When I have enough points, I like to increase (in this order): Strength, Dexterity and Stamina (as I feel that these help to establish the central core of my Vampires abilities). When it comes to Spells and Magic, it's a must to upgrade Blood Healing (as it quickly heals your Vampires, usually for less blood), and in the case of Wilhelm, his Feral Claws (a favourite of mine - as he's often at the fore-front of an assault). I also like to equip each of my characters with: two Scrolls of Awaken (so that they may wake fallen comrades) and a Scroll of Walk the Abyss (so that a doorway can be opened between the current Quest and your safe haven - a great way to save travel time, which also allows you stock up on valuable supplies!). Overall: I have spent many an evening playing this game! I found that I became fully immersed in the storyline (especially with the twists regarding Faith, Love and Souls). Yes, there are some frustrations (such as when you accidentally tell Christof to feed off Wilhelm), but there's also a great amount of fun (such as when you destroy the rampaging Golem). I was stunned by the beauty of many scenes (especially those that reflect a decorated ceiling of a Castle/Palace unto the floor). The most draw-dropping part of the storyline (for me), was when the Time-line changed (as I wanted to remain in the Medieval), and felt totally lost (at first) running around in the Modern Age. Even so, this is still my favourite Vampire game to play!