Written by  :  Ray Soderlund (3609)
Written on  :  Apr 11, 2000
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  3.33 Stars3.33 Stars3.33 Stars3.33 Stars3.33 Stars

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The proud progenitor of the infamous AD&D Gold Box series

The Good

Pool of Radiance was the first game in the long-running 'gold box' series by SSI, the first successful attempt to truly bring the rules and worlds of AD&D to the PC. It was close enough to the rules system to be familar to those who played the AD&D paper and pencil role-playing games and did most of the number crunching behind the scenes, like any good conversion should.

Pool of Radiance allowed players to create most of the basic AD&D race/class combinations, which, once you start talking split classes for demi-humans, does add to a considerable amount of variety in the party. Because SSI wanted people to be able to import their paper and pencil characters, there are options to modify a recently created character, altering the stats. While this can be used for its intended purpose (or to cheat and make every stat an 18), it also allowed one to create a character exactly like you wish, saving the time re-rolling one's character over and over. As a finishing touch, you could even design how your character looks in combat by playing with various color settings and body/weapon types. These levels of personalization not only made it easier to pick what character was which in combat, but made the characters much more personal and the player's 'property' than simply pixels on the screen.

The game engine established in this game was done so well that it survived years with only minor tweaking. Similar to games like Might and Magic and Bard's Tale, you have a small first-person view in the upper left corner of the screen, a party status along the bottom, and a menu/descriptive box on the right. The design of the walls and other physical structure in the first person view are often well done, despite the necessary 'flat' appearance of the time and this window would switch to show you the creatures you encounter/people you are talking with. The fact that you only switched out of this particular setup for combat kept the pace smooth and even.

The combat mode was very innovative for its time. Instead of the standard text messages sweeping by as character abstractly move and attack, you are presented with a full tactical engine which included missile weapons, magic, facing, and morale. Your chosen-designed characters could flank, setup a defensive line behind a choke-point, and generally do whatever you'd want your characters to do in a paper and pencil game. The freedom, detail, and creativity put into this part of the engine is part of what made the Gold Box games what they are.

The story was rich enough to keep one entertained and the meat of the game was non-linear, as you were presented with 'bounties' for doing certain deeds in and around Phlan. You could choose the missions as you saw fit and return to incomplete quests at your leisure. While there was a basic structure to follow if you wanted to progress from easy to difficult missions, there was no stopping you from risking life and limb on something too difficult.

The Bad

Being a game of the period of infamous copy protection schemes, everytime you played the game you had to enter a code word from a code wheel. Though not the most annoying of set schemes, it became a tedious excercise none-the-less.

To conserve disk space (remember the days when text was a major consideration in disk space?) and further increase the copy protection, this game, like Wasteland and others, incorporated a hardcopy journal from which one read most of the major scenes and conversations. This occassionally upsets the pace a bit (you're talking to an elven lady, suddenly it tells you that 'you record the rest of the conversation as journal entry #43', sending you flipping through a book rather than being immersed in the game), and also makes re-playing the game a little difficult if you can't find the journal. On the plus side, instead of a whole notebook of jotted notes, you can simply write down the journal entries you've read and refer to them if you ever need a password, etc.

The engine couldn't always do what the AD&D universe wanted. A perfect example is a fairly early encounter with Trolls. As most AD&D players know, trolls regenerate if not burned. Unfortunately, there's no way to burn the trolls' corpses, so one finds themselves in a frustrating battle with constantly resurrecting trolls until one realizes that one needs to stand on their corpes to prevent resurrection. A little goofy and not entirely logical. Such things happen few times in the game, but one can easily chalk it up to the limitations of the engine and the computers they ran on.

The Bottom Line

A true classic CRPG that set the standard for many years. It's wonderful customization, adherence to AD&D rules, and story make it a game worth playing by serious RPG fans. Lead a party of six adventurers on a quest to restore the glory of the fallen town.