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Challenge of the Five Realms (DOS)

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Written by  :  Jeremy Johnson (638)
Written on  :  Mar 26, 2007
Rating  :  3.8 Stars3.8 Stars3.8 Stars3.8 Stars3.8 Stars

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Summary

A sleeper hit.

The Good

I started playing COTFR not expecting too much. For all intents and purposes, it looked like it was going to be an early 90s RPG with a lot of hack & slash and boring dungeon crawls. Boy was I wrong. There is infact a very nice little game here, with a decent amount of challenge to boot.

First, I have to say that the character generator was outstanding. Not quite as good as the ones in the Elder Scrolls series, but it comes closer to matching them than many other games. Between the method of character generation used (answer some questions to generate a set of attribute and skill values that suit your character) and the excellent face creation program, you can really make a very streamlined and detailed PC for you to play around with. The only thing you can't do is create a female character, but that’s a comparatively minor gripe considering the time period when this game was made.

The thing that really hits you is the game's story. Once you scratch the surface of the game, it reveals a very detailed game universe and a very entertaining story. The narrative is also given a real full court press, being told through interactions with NPCs, off-hand comments from the various people in your party and detailed cutscenes and cinematics.

I just want to briefly mention the amount of work the designers put into the NPCs, especially the ones that join your party. This latter group of characters are almost as memorable as the ones in Baldur's Gate. I really have to give the designers a "big up" on this particular aspect of the game.

Speaking of detail, the game world is quite large with a significant amount of hand-crafting. And then there are a lot of fun little things the programmers added into the game. For example, if you cast a 'Friendship' spell on an unimportant NPC, that character starts to hero-worship and follow you around for a time. And if you leave town, the afflicted NPC eventually catches up with you and continues fawning over you elsewhere! After the spell ends, the NPC returns home. Great writing and programming in many instances here.

The work on the audio of the game is quite good. Plenty of voice acting (none of it particularly good, but it is an early 90s game after all), and the sounds are pretty appropriate to the events they are pegged to. The music alternates from pretty good to annoying, and it is a distinct possibility that one may wish to turn it off after awhile.

Combat is sort of like Baldur's Gate I & II in that you can pause the battle to issue commands, of which there are many options to utilize while in a melee. However, there are some problems with the system (see below).

The Bad

The story at the start of the game is a little slow and clichéd. Bear with it, though, as it really speeds up once you leave the starting town. As an aside, it’s a bit too preachy in a couple of parts, but not to the extent that it is a serious detriment to the game.

COTFR also gets a bit boring after awhile, mainly because the game isn't designed to do that good of a job at helping the player focus on his or her goals. In fact, one must keep notes in a journal or have access to a walkthrough to keep the game on track. While this is par-for-the-course for most RPGs of the period or earlier, the scope of the game would make a Daggerfall/Morrowind-style log very useful indeed.

The worst problem with this game, however, is combat. The interface for the combat system is not immediately intuitive, though it isn't a game-breaker. The worst part, however, is that whenever you issue commands you must pause the game. Now since that is actually how I prefer issuing orders in other games with a similar systems I don't usually complain about it. However, pausing combat has the (perhaps unintended) side effect of resetting the Combat Turn and thus the initiative of everyone in the battle. This means that when you go to issue new orders, the people who act fastest will go first again (usually the enemy or your top-tier fighters). This means that the enemy usually garners noticeable benefits from you ordering people around. But above and beyond that, it also means that your lower-grade fighters and mages don't really get an opportunity to improve themselves unless they are in a crazy-big melee, and that doesn't happen all the time in COTFR.

The inventory system is also a little odd and unwieldy, and takes awhile to get into the swing of it. But it is quite useable after some practice.

The Bottom Line

If you can find a copy of COTFR and don't mind typing in some a few lines in DOSBox, then try it out if you're into RPGs. There's a couple of days of game time waiting for you here if take the time to get into the swing of the system.