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Summary"Blood soaked rags collected at the boy's feet..."
The GoodReviewing this game is a challenge for me, as it is one of those games that completely took me by storm while at a young age. For that reason, I thought it might be difficult to give it a fair review, and thus decided to do yet another play-through with a critical glance.
I remember my first experience with this game, sitting with friends on a rainy autumn afternoon in '93 or '94, I can still remember our screams of joy and awe as we walked into a shop in Questor's View and first beheld the Keshian Tapir. I brought the game home with me, and played it for hours and hours and days and (especially) nights.
The thing that most made this such a unique experience for me was the amazing freedom you had to run around and explore. It felt like a proper dice-and-paper-and-gamemaster-RPG. This freedom I had never experienced before in a game, and coupled with an enthralling main story, it created a hold over me very few games before or since has been able to do.
There are an incredible number of sub-quests, lots of areas of the beaten track to explore; lots of weapons to try out and aspire to get your hands on (like the aforementioned Tapir).
The view of the game, the combat system and the character development are all adequate. The graphics are good enough, but doesn't matter that much to me anyway. The music is absolutely fantastic, and creates a good atmosphere.
The world is based on the books of Raymond E. Feist (in my case, the game brought me to the books, rather than the other way around), and is a rich fantasy setting that feels as much as a second home as does Hyrule and Middle Earth.
A special mention must be made of the word-chests. These are chests that require you to solve a riddle in order to get at the treasure inside. In the dark pre-www-days of the nineties, I remember sitting into the early mornings of many a school night, my dictionary in my lap, trying to solve that riddle because you HAD to know what was in the chest.
The BadThere are of course a few drawbacks:
-A quest log or similar would be very nice. Often, people will not repeat information they have already given you, so if you forget some piece of information, tough. This is mainly concerning the sub quests. When it comes to the main quest though, the game is a bit more helpful.
-Sometimes the perspective makes it very difficult or impossible to access certain objects when two or more objects overlap. After combat, it is sometimes necessary to run around the fallen enemy in circles in order to get the correct perspective that allows you to search all bodies. Other times, if an enemy is dead within a corn-field, attempts to search the body will be interpreted as attempts to harvest the corn, with a resulting "the corn is not ripe and cannot be eaten".
-Sometimes the outcome of a combat is determined by the choices made by the AI. If, for example, you encounter several spellcasters in an ambush, they may have the opportunity to incapacitate your entire party before you are able to act. When this happens, you have no other option than to load the game and try over until the enemy for some reason decides to cast different types of spells. This feels a bit unsatisfactory: you know that the enemy can destroy you if he wants, it feels sort of as if he "let's you win" when you finally succeed.
-The "rest" button in combat has a somewhat strange function when compared to the "camp" button on the map. Resting for a round in combat will restore a couple of hit points, while recovering on the map takes hours of camping and the consumption of rations.
-There is some friction in the flavour between the two great aspects of the game: freedom and story. In the first chapter for example, you are told by the leader of your company to rush to Krondor. But the freedom of the game allows you to run around and doing all sorts of things, like for example spending a fortnight learning to play the lute. The time you spend on sub-quests has no bearing on the main quest, so a bit of "double-think" is required on the part of the player.
-While there is a great array of spells available, in reality there are not that many that are useful, and only a handful will actually be used in most situations. A more even power-level between spells would have made combat more interesting as it would not be so obvious what spell to use. -The player could have better control of movement in combat. You can only choose the enemy you wish to attack for example, not the square you wish to attack him from. This means that you cannot position yourself tactically between two enemies in order to prevent them from using spells or missile weapons for example.
-Patrus. This magician, joining your party in chapter 5(?), is so incredibly weak you'd actually be better off without him. He is so slow that he will never be able to move until an enemy has closed him down, making it impossible for him to cast spells. His combat stats are also so poor that he often gets himself injured or killed, forcing you to spend time and money healing him. His stealth is also so poor that it is important to ambush enemies and get the initiative. It sort of fits with him being an old man, but it is very annoying. It also feels strange from a story-perspective: Why on earth would the other members of the party go into combat with this old man? Just leave him safe behind a tree or something and call upon him when you need him to translate runes.
The Bottom LineDespite the few drawbacks (and remember that this time I played actively looking for drawbacks, and that the game is an early example of its kind), this is an absolutely amazing game.
The world is great both in terms of size and quality, the story is good, the freedom to explore fantastic.
It will be on the top 10 list of games, all-time all-formats. I return to the game time and time again, and have done for twenty(!) years. If you enjoy adventuring and exploring in a rich world with a captivating story, this is for you. And be strong: try and solve the puzzle chests without cheating!