Death Gate

Moby ID: 175

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Critic Reviews add missing review

Average score: 80% (based on 25 ratings)

Player Reviews

Average score: 4.2 out of 5 (based on 51 ratings with 7 reviews)

Interactive fiction at its peak

The Good
Death Gate appeared during a tumultuous epoch of game-making - the beginning of the so-called "multimedia revolution". It was also the last great era for the adventure genre. Sierra was wrapping up its famous comedy series and moving onto more mature experiments; Access Software created Under A Killing Moon; Myst conquered the masses and began to radically change the development of adventure games, for good or for (mostly) bad.

At that time, Legend had already firmly established its reputation as the leading developer of what could be considered the older sister genre of graphical adventures - interactive fiction with graphics. This sub-genre began its life as a logical descendant of text adventures. At first, some still pictures were added to the text. Then the old text input was replaced by a more user-friendly context-sensitive verb selection. This way interactive fiction became almost the same as graphical adventure; but true to the tradition, the graphics in those games were still restricted to pictures (sometimes sparsely animated) viewed from first-person perspective. And of course, text interaction was still the priority.

Text interaction is one of the strongest aspects of Death Gate. The game immerses you through the sheer wealth of interaction. Every action evokes a response from the game. You can easily lose yourself in this gameplay depth. I was amazed to see how many different responses they have written for different actions. Trying to do things was exciting; experimentation was rewarded and encouraged. Even if there were some generic messages, they were so well-written that you didn't notice they were generic. Many other adventure games of the time lazily rewarded your attempts with pitiful remarks such as "you can't do that". Well, in Death Gate, you certainly can do that. Trying different actions is so fun when you know that the game reacts to them. I don't even want to mention adventure games of later times with their lack of text and terrible "smart cursor".

Oh yes, there is plenty of text in Death Gate. That alone wouldn't count as a compliment - there is also a lot of text in Metal Gear Solid. But the text in Death Gate is good. It feels like salve on the wounds caused by the text of Japanese RPGs. From time to time you just need quality writing in games, and this one delivers. It's a pleasure to read the text descriptions. It's a pleasure to read (and hear, since they are well-voiced) the dialogues. There are emotions, there is rich vocabulary, there is humor. It's excellent writing, and it makes Death Gate similar to a book.

But it's not a book. It's an adventure game, and it shines as one. Death Gate has some of the best puzzles I've ever encountered in an adventure game, period. There is only one puzzle in the game that I found frustrating and unnecessary (rotating arrows) - but the game gives you hints for it, and even offers to solve it for you if you're stuck for too long. The rest of the puzzles follow crystal-clear logic, are given proper clues, require imagination to solve, and are perfect in difficulty. Some of the puzzles are simply brilliant and so imaginative, like for example manipulating an undead nanny who keeps reading the same children's rhyme and an undead worker who obeys every order.

One of the coolest features of Death Gate are magic spells, which you'll use to solve many of the game's puzzles. You'll usually learn those spells when somebody else uses them in front of you for his own reasons. Those spells are fascinating and guarantee a gameplay experience unlike any other adventure game around. Turning a portrait into reality, switching bodies with a dog, setting statues in motion - those are just a few examples of the interesting, creative magic of the game.

So far we have a great adventure game, but Death Gate also has something I value very much in games - it is set in a believable, rich, detailed world. In this way it reminded me of an RPG. The story comes with much background: there is plenty of historical, political, social information that you learn from dialogues with characters and from books you find in the game. I know that the world of Death Gate wasn't invented by the creators of the game (it was based on a series of novels I've never read), but the way it is shown in the game is impeccable, it's a joy to explore a world so interesting and so believable, in its own way.

The story has a certain shade of fairy tale, and is wonderful. Without any melodrama the game touches upon serious issues such as war and peace, tolerance and racism, freedom and control, and draws philosophical conclusions from them. But it never does it with annoying moralizing or overblown emotionality; it keeps the plot simple and puts all the depth into the dialogues and interaction with the characters.

The Bad
Not much. Can't say I loved the static first-person perspective. I'd certainly prefer real movement. The screens themselves are still, save for some sparse animations (like a bartender continuously wiping a glass). The graphics are good but not really "state of the art".

You can use a lot of magic spells in the game to solve its puzzles, but most of them need to be used only once or twice. Most of the time you'll have to use a spell shortly after you've learned it. The game conveniently puts you into rough spots in which the newly acquired spell is the only solution, but after the problem is eliminated, the spell in question will usually become neglected. I'd love to see more spell-based puzzles, with more creative use of those spells.

The Bottom Line
Death Gate is an exquisite game. You can fall in love with its wonderful story and its rich, detailed world, and its gameplay will intoxicate you if you like adventure games. It has marvelous interaction and some of the most delightful puzzles around. Undeniably one of the very best offerings of interactive fiction genre, Death Gate is to be savored, like a wine that only gets better with age.

DOS · by Unicorn Lynx (181769) · 2014

An excellent adventure game

The Good
Unlike other adventure game (the classic quests, especially those from the house of Sierra) this game is not so "heavy". Dying is very difficult, and you'll have to do something completely absurd to die. Most of the riddles are straight forward and require logical thinking, and you'll manage to solve them without having to resort to walkthroughs. There are a couple of nice puzzles in the game, and they're challenging, yet not too difficult.
Two things caught my attention most. One, the voice acting. All of the dialogues in the game are voice acted, and it adds a new level of depth to the game- the player actually wants to hear all of the dialogues, rather than scrolling further.
The second thing is the magic system. Although you have a list of the spells, it's fun to build them yourself from the "runes" your character can use.

The Bad
The fans of the series will be disappointed from the transition. While the original characters remained, they have completely different roles, including the main character...
Somewhere in the middle of the game, one of the characters will reveal the entire plot to you. It's not very difficult to figure it out yourself, but silly to see the designers unfold the complete story in a couple of minutes.

The Bottom Line
Get it, play it. It's fun, easy and not frustrating like other adventure games.

DOS · by El-ad Amir (116) · 2001

One of the best games ever

The Good
The story with its many twist is great even for someone who does not like fantasy in general (like me). The puzzles are hard but logical. It is very important that every place you come to only consists of a few pictures. That means that you do not have to walk through useless locations like it is in so many adventures. Every screen is full of puzzles and every single one is fun! The engine used in this game is one of the best (maybe the best) ever designed. If you click on something on the picture, possible verbs are displayed so that you do not have to try an unlimited number of words but you also have very specific choice of what to do. Graphics and sound are very good, too.

The Bad
There isn't anything negative.

The Bottom Line
Death Gate is made in classical IF-style. There is a lot of reading but on the other hand it is mouse controlled and has beautiful graphics. This game proves that adventure games are the best of all if they are designed well.

DOS · by Mr Creosote (366) · 1999

Very clever and immensely enjoyable, a must try!

The Good
Let's start with a small confession - this is a Legend fanatic here. I played all of their games, no stretch, and adore almost each and every one of them. They are true gems in the history of adventure games, the successors to Infocom, that were slightly overshadowed by Lucas Arts and Sierra in the early 90s. At any rate, Death Gate is no exception in a legacy of great narratives implemented into even greater AGs.

Let's continue with yet another confession - I'm not an avid fan of the standard, run of the mill, dwarves/elves/dragons fantasy genre. By this I mean that I'm not very excited with such a setting, simply because in my mind it's been done way too many times. But every so often I'm pleasantly surprised when I find something, in any medium, that rises above the banal.

And Death Gate is exactly such an example.

True to its place in the category of fantasy, the game is epic. It involves events of cosmic proportion; race wars and conflicts, racial superiority, evil, clandestine guilds and societies. It also features the obligatory comic reliefs, the chance companions, the casual love story and of course - a copious amount of magic and deceit. All of this is presented in lush, colourful artwork, depicting detailed and varied locations and crisp environments. There's a myriad of characters to talk to and interact with in different ways and attitudes, all rendered in large, richly detailed portraits, all voiced expertly. You get to experience first-hand a literally sundered world, as you voyage through the different lands and realms. In each of these you will encounter various denizens and monsters, and learn more and more of your quest. Huge sources of info are also books scattered throughout the game. One thing can be said for sure - nothing is as it seems, and there are many shades of black and white here. So be prepared for lots of twists and turns.

Despite all this, the story isn't the game's strongest point. That would be the puzzles. You see, in DG you have two kinds of puzzles: One, the good old inventory puzzles. The other is puzzles which are solved utilising the magic/rune system. There's a very piquant explanation to how magic works in the game's universe, relying on the possibility that everything is possible, and so the magic-user bends reality in this fashion in order to cast magic, to put it succinctly. Spells are obtained by watching others performing them, a very straightforward and comfortable approach. This is an AG remember, so no leveling up nonsense (no offence to RPG players :P). Of course, there's actually a third kind of puzzle - the combination of the first two types.The spells have very specific definitions to them, which you must follow in order to succeed. This makes it very interesting - you run into different situations and obstacles you must solve through careful engineering of a magic strategy. There's lots of good ol' fantastical logic here, and each and every puzzle relates to a specific situations in the game. So no random sliders appearing out of thin air. Gameplay is done via a simple PNP interface, with verbs used to construct sentences with hotspots on the screen. Many of these verbs are contextual.

As a final note, DG is free of any redundant combat sessions (which plagued the otherwise wonderful Shannara) - it's pure adventure, no hybrid symptoms.

The Bad
As much as I love rich dialogues and texts, the case here is a bit extreme - Death Gate is simply too verbose. Yes, it's interesting, yes it's engaging, yes it's done well - but it's too much nonetheless. If you're going to try it, expect volumes of reading material and hopelessly loquacious characters.

While the backdrops are indeed good looking, they felt a bit too static at times.

The music, while adequate and mostly fitting, is a bit repetitive at times.

The Bottom Line
All in all, an outstanding result of a great endeavour. Death Gate certainly ranks high amongst those Legend classics, a place it most undoubtedly deserves.

DOS · by Tal Cohen (31) · 2008

A wonderful literature-inspired game that translated well.

The Good
We hear it all the time: "The book was better than the movie." Some works of fiction don't cross mediums very well, as in the case of video game inspired movies, or novelizations of video games. Not so with Death Gate which has a great story featuring vivid, likable characters. Considering the source material spans 7 full length novels, the developers of Legend Entertainment did a good job of presenting it on the PC platform.

There are many reasons that Death Gate succeeds as a classic piece of interactive fiction; competent voice acting, beautiful music, and hand-painted scenery are just a few. I really miss the days of lovingly handcrafted graphics like that which can be found during the early to middle 1990's. Maybe it's just a perception of increased effort that's impressing me, but I am impressed by the painted scenes found in Death Gate. It reminds of the same kind of effort that went into the Indie game King of Dragon Pass.

One thing I really appreciated about Death Gate was to discover that reading the novels is not required to enjoy or understand the game. I've resisted playing other titles such as Companions of Xanth, and Shannara for this reason.

What a great story this game tells. You play Haplo, an apprentice called by your master Xar to investigate four worlds (realms of air, fire, earth, and water), and retrieve their respective world seal piece. You are given a magical ship that transports you between the Nexus and the other four worlds. As things progress you learn about the history of the worlds, and why they're in the state they are. One thing that was clear to me as I journeyed was a definite sense of tension about my role as a Patryn envoy in relation to the many people encountered. Between the races of Sartan, Patryn, Elf and Dwarf there is a social order and you must make unusual friends in order to progress. This allows the story to become real and nearly personal in a way I've not experienced with adventures like Space Quest, even if they're equally fun.

You'll acquire plenty of objects as you explore the four worlds. You'll learn magic and casts spells to survive. The characters, objects, and magic spells all work together to make coherent and sensible puzzles. The puzzles are not overly difficult and you probably won't need a walkthrough. In fact I recommend against using a walkthrough; if I can complete the game without one, so can most everyone else. Games like this are always worth that extra effort because when you figure out the tougher spots it makes you smile.

The game developers didn't take cheap shots; you never walk onto a screen and just die suddenly. Every death was anticipated because I knew I was trying a stupid, dangerous move. "Of course I can't pick up that snake". Reload. When a game has a save/restore system as perfect as Death Gate's one tends to feel free to experiment more.

The Bad
How fortunate it is that there is almost nothing to complain about in Death Gate. Not surprising since the game mechanics are simple enough with it's point and click interface, but a few things did occur to me while playing.

A screen resolution of 640x480 is used through out most of the game, but switches to a VGA resolution of 320x200 for the spell creation screen and some animations. I found that very strange. The game looks nice in SVGA, but the switch to a lower resolution made the blockiness of its graphics stand out. Presumably this was to ease the code developed for animation. Not really a big deal, I was able to get used it.

Also, but only occasionally, it was possible to trigger a GUI glitch by clicking too soon near the bottom of the screen while waiting for a book to flip open. In this state the game seems unresponsive, but was easily escaped by right-clicking the mouse. The obvious work around being, don't click anywhere until the mouse cursor is showing, and preferably in the correct context.

The Bottom Line
Overall the game had a nice pace to it, one that allowed me to play as I felt without having a ridiculously gripping addictiveness to it, but being far from boring at any point. Even if you don't care much for interactive fiction, don't miss this game, it's worth playing just for the story.

DOS · by jlebel (2190) · 2009

A surpisingly exceptional spin-off of the Death Gate Cycle books

The Good
*Though the story-line was greatly altered from the books (there being seven of them, they had little choice but to trunicate) the writers managed to preserve the basic plot and even gave the game some new interesting twists. I half expected the game story to seem choppy and inadaquate compared to the books, but I was presently surprised to see that it flowed quite nicely, even if gameplay seemed a bit short.

The game designers also came up with an extraordinary idea: spell creation. Instead of the typical 'find spell scroll - read spell scroll - know spell' play, in Death Gate you discover spell runes* through various means. The runes can then be placed into certain patterns that allow spells to be cast. Another great idea that never caught on.

The art work is quite nice by '94 standards, I recall being quite impressed the first time I played through. Though most scenes are static, there are a few cinematic cut-scenes through the game.

The Bad
The static scenery is kind of drab, though I think the exceptional art work helped keep it from being monotonous.

*Unfortunately, despite being great, spell casting was not developed as much as I would have liked to see it. Your character's entire spell repitoir is limited to just a few spell runes and patterns. It would have been nice if there were a wider range of combinations and more opportunities for spell creation.

Gameplay was a little short, but perhaps I only feel this way because I was a dedicated reader of the books.

The Bottom Line*
If you have read the Death Gate Cycle, I would greatly encourage you to try out the game. The story is much more simple, but fun nevertheless. The gameplay is very similiar to many Sierra games of the time, being static and puzzle based. I recommend this game to anyone else who enjoyes interesting games with intricate plots and puzzles.

DOS · by Gutter Snipe (21) · 2003

Were this game a spiky club, I'd take up masochism

The Good
This game should be considered a classic. In fact, it's one of the most impeccably crafted games ever released, in any genre, in any decade, on any platform. The way it all comes together can just make you wonder sometimes why you even bother playing any other games - this game simply keeps on coming up with original scenes, with stunning plot revelations, with nearly metaphorical settings and with superb puzzles that are so deeply interwoven with the plot and the game world that you might not even realize that they are, in fact, puzzles. The game is quite lengthy yet there is hardly a single scene that could be classified as "filler" (to borrow a term from rock music criticism); there are so many different places, on several different worlds and "continents", yet at no point do you feel like a tourist being escorted through an art gallery at a rate of 5 paintings per minute just so you could say you've seen it all. On every world you arrive, within a couple of minutes you're immersed in the alternate, often somewhat surreal reality, fascinated by the rich imaginative atmosphere and puzzled by the complex of problems that gradually is revealed to you.

There's something fairy-tale about it all that charms and lends an easy-going air, yet almost at every step this lightness is matched by an undercurrent of graveness, sadness, despair, tragedy, and an epic struggle between some vague possibility of light and goodness and an overwhelming reality of evil and misery prevalent. This duplicity originates in the larger structure of the game itself: your grand quest to reunite the world and face the ultimate evil is given a "human dimension" by several excursions into the seperate parts of the sundered world, inhabited by races that have long lost sight of the "big picture" that is YOUR ultimate concern, and instead are occupied by their own internal struggles and conflicts. The effect of discovering such a self-contained universe with its own rules and power structures is surreal and fascinating; yet it is even more fascinating when you realize that their problems in fact have their roots in this same "big picture" that they all seem so painfully unaware of. It is indeed a rather philosophical metaphore, and it gives the game unprecedented depth.

You see, most plot-led games (yes, even "Grim Fandango") have just one single "context", or "plane" (in terms of plot construction only) - this game has THREE, namely the context of your quest to restore the world and battle the "ultimate evil" (the fire-breathing dragon thingie on the cover), the context of the lives and struggles of the races living in the 3 populated sundered "worlds", and the context of your own identity in the racial struggle between your race, the Patryns, and the race that imprisoned you 2000 years ago, the Sartan.

This last context is particularly interesting from a "literary" point of view, as it involves things like loyalty, forgiveness, moral decisions and betrayal, all brought to life without the usual excesses of soap opera a la Final Fantasy and suchlike Japanese cartoon crap. The literary qualities of the game are indeed high in all possible aspects - the conception of the world itself is quite individual and in fact originates from "philosophical circles" (however dubious they may be, this still sets the game apart from practically every single game out there), the language is vivid and precise and the plot is constructed with skill and imagination, using all the attention-grabbing and gasp-inducing mechanisms out there.

But the literary aspects aside, where the game shines most is the actual puzzle-solving element. That's right - a game with one of the greatest stories in computer gaming actually puts the focus on the gameplay. And what gameplay. Forget stupid use broom-stick with mouse-hole to awaken the cat to get the book he's lying on puzzles (gee, I should get LucasArts to employ me). In this game,

1) puzzles are there to achieve something important;

2) puzzles are logical and involve rational thinking, ie, thinking about what you NEED and how to get it, rather than about what CAN be done and what the designers could've expected you to do;

3) puzzles are fun and user-friendly.

I haven't read the book, and don't know anything about the authors' style of writing, but I have to tell you that I don't see how this sort of a story could've remotely worked in a book. Either the designer has totally done everything from virtually scratch, or the book is, er, "something else". This is perfect for an adventure game: people use spells on you, you learn them, use them yourself; people leave objects lying around, you pick them up and use them; people throw obstacles at you, you invent ways to surmount them. This does not make for extremely exciting reading but it makes for a very satisfying game, the sense of accomplishment and participation continually accompanying you. It's not much fun, however, to read about the accomplishments and survival/adaptation/development of others. But, then again, most fantasy novels are crap exactly because they talk on and on about the ingeniousness and accomplishments of others, so that might very well be the case with this game's origins.

And yeah, I did mention using spells. They kick ass. Check this out: possess the body of a dog, bring paintings to life, compete in magic with your mirror image, manipulate servile zombies, unravel magical illusions, pretend to be the death god of a bunch of tiger people, use magic to make statues walk, etc. Did Simon the "sorceror" ever do stuff like that? Pah.

The Bad
"Mensch"? No kidding. The "philosophical circles" I mentioned are in fact the circles of people like Ayn Rand and Nietzsche at his worst. The "mensch" races of humans, elves and dwarves are continuously referred to as some sort of lower beings, and the "moral attitude" towards them consists in being "nice" and "sympathetic" to them rather than enslaving them or "letting them kill each other". And you obviously belong to the higher, noble race of sorcerors and "leaders". What kind of escapist, megalomaniac bullshit is that.

As to the practical problems with the game, there are very few. The static first-person image on your screen, virtually devoid of any movement, does not help in creating an illusion of a living world. And the literary talents of the writer seem to have stopped at the point of diversifying the speech and writing styles of the many characters - they all talk the same, and even supposedly "scholarly" books (which are supposed to be "dry") occasionally start sounding like some fellow on the Usenet wrote them. There are also some minor issues with some spells just too obviously being provided to you just a couple of screens before you suddenly need them, and some people being jailed and given slow-acting poison literally hours before the same thing happens to you. That's forgivable. (As would be the occasionally confusing directions of the navigating compass, if I'd understand WHY - why does the arrow point left if I have to go straight forward? That's stupid.)

The Bottom Line
Come on. It's based on a best-selling fantasy novel written by two highly-regarded female authors. It's designed by a fellow who co-designed StarControl 3. It's developed by the same company that released Shannara only a year later. And given all this, it still manages to be awesomely good! What are the odds against that?

DOS · by Alex Man (31) · 2003

Contributors to this Entry

Critic reviews added by Mr Creosote, Ascovel, Jeanne, kelmer44, Wizo, shphhd, Sun King, Crawly, Patrick Bregger, Alaedrain, Big John WV, mailmanppa, Apogee IV, Scaryfun, Tim Janssen, Parf, WONDERなパン.