Written by  :  Oleg Roschin (181737)
Written on  :  Jun 05, 2018
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  4.71 Stars4.71 Stars4.71 Stars4.71 Stars4.71 Stars

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Colossus of classic role-playing

The Good

World of Xeen is Clouds of Xeen and Darkside of Xeen combined into a single game. The latter, incorporated into the former, feels like a large add-on, which you can access from a very early location of Clouds of Xeen. The two games are identical in terms of gameplay and visuals, and largely follow the footsteps of Might and Magic III.

What is great about this game? Well, there's this thing that I call "generous and meaningful exploration": my favorite type of role-playing games (which are my favorite type of video games!) is open-ended, free-roaming Western RPG that is rooted, first and foremost, in exploration and discovery. In other words, I prefer games which don't tell me what to do, where to go, and how to win them easily, but which make me want to figure that out on my own. To do that, the game needs to keep the delicate balance between urging the player to explore and at the same time offering incentives for the exploration. It should be full of things to discover, but they shouldn't be too readily available. It should make the player work hard, yet enjoy the process.

World of Xeen is such a game. It's fairly easy to start: instead of crushing your self-esteem with a complex and confusing character creation screen, it conveniently offers a perfectly capable default party (which, of course, you can readily disassemble and mold your own intrepid heroes) and puts you in the middle of a relatively safe town. You make a few steps forward and easily dispatch a greenish overgrown insect with one swift shot from your ranged weapon. You visit the tavern and drool over the nice, yet expensive weapons displayed in the local blacksmith's shop. You hurt yourself trying to open a weird door and kill yourself outright by falling prey to ogres patrolling the country road. You begin to enjoy your life upon resurrection, promising to be more careful in the future.

And then you realize that you're just beginning to scratch the surface of a vast game world with several huge cities, sprawling wilderness, forests, mountains, rivers, ominous caves and macabre towers populated by fearsome creatures. You wander off to an area where a fierce red dragon incinerates your entire party in one turn, showing you too plainly that level 5 is not a very high level indeed, and that leather gauntlets might not be the best piece of armor the game has to offer. You swear to unleash your wrath on the impudent reptile once you return from your other adventures, clad in plate and wielding weapons forged specifically to deal with that taxonomic order. You cast a longing glance at the huge pile of treasure barely visible in the distance. And you get sucked into the game.

Sounds like a typical RPG? That's right: World of Xeen is just that. It's a typical RPG offering everything we love in this genre. It is built in such a way that it constantly makes you to want more. You want to beat this game, not because it annoys you, but because it is enticing; you want to conquer it, to understand it, to become familiar with it on a deeper level. Every gameplay element here serves this purpose. Wonder what's hidden beyond that mountain range? Search for the mountaineering skill, and you'll be able to find out! But who can teach you this skill? Maybe somebody in a town you've heard someone mention, but which you haven't yet visited. You decide to visit that town, but see an orc outpost on the way. You get experience for eliminating it and begin to look for others, but stumble upon a ruined castle someone wants to sell you for a very high price. You begin to think about gold, but then see a strange flooded cave and wish you could swim...

In short, the game never holds your hand, but always shows you interesting things. It's very hard to put down, because you want to - and can - do so many things at the same time. You're never bored, because the game never puts you in a position where you are able to work only on one or two tasks. You can theoretically visit any area in the game right off the bat. In fact, once you have learned the names of other locations, you can input them into a teleporter easily accessible in the very first town, and see what happens. You can try and tackle areas that are way too hard for your party, with the skillful use of the intriguing Teleport spell, which carries you over any obstacle, but requires extreme precision and knowledge of the area. You can sneak your way into a secret pool that temporarily adds two hundred spell points to all your characters, and then set a Lloyd's Beacon there, ensuring that you won't have to run away from scary giants the next time. This is what the game is about: getting to know it, and doing it with joy and satisfaction.

Then there are the simpler, yet essential joys of building and maintaining a diverse six-people party, dealing with their strengths and weaknesses, learning to distinguish the indispensable spells from the nearly useless, searching the game world for permanent attribute improvement, gaining levels and money, exploring excellently designed dungeons with all their enemies, traps, secrets, and treasure, and so on. This is what RPGs are about, and this is what you get in this game.

The game's world is charming, with its goofy monsters, occasionally amusing quest-givers, atmospheric dungeons, and wilderness that actually feels like one - scary, disorienting, yet full of various features and details, and coming with an auto-map that makes sure that you won't get lost just because you confused two identical corridors. The only visual letdown are the towns, with their nonexistent architecture and barren room interiors. The enemies, however, steal the show - almost each foe looks great and is splendidly animated.

The Bad

World of Xeen is a difficult game, especially the first time through. The feeling of reward, which overtakes you when you begin to "tame" the game, gradually making things smoother for yourself, is sweeping; yet at first it might appear disorienting and frustrating. It takes quite a while to understand what you're supposed to do, how to grow strong, to find the essential locations and tactics that will ensure that you have the upper hand - and that process is a big part of the overall enjoyment. Which means that I probably shouldn't have put this paragraph in the Bad section in the first place.

I was somewhat bothered by the lack of numerical feedback during combat (you are hitting monsters with either "small blood splashes" or "big blood splashes") combined with the lack of precise evaluation of weapons and armor. You'll need to study the manual and do some esoteric mathematical research to be able to comprehend the ungodly benefits of a seething diamond cyclops-crushing bardiche as opposed to an obsidian beast-bopper leprechaun flamberge.

I suppose the game's only real weakness is lack of innovation. It feels and plays very similarly to the third game, which was a significant breakthrough for the series. It adds no new features except a few improvements in the interface. For that reason some hardcore Might and Magic fans consider it inferior to the third outing.

The Bottom Line

World of Xeen is, essentially, the golden mean of traditional RPG design: it is vast, open-ended, deep, challenging, and full of things to discover; yet it is also accessible, reasonably user-friendly, and not too complex to handle. Full of that particular creative vigor that distinguished many games of the early 1990's, World of Xeen is a great classic of the genre.