I'm done with Swords and Sorcery, which I ended up playing for much longer than I thought I would. There's a simple reason for that: I was enjoying it. But while some games remain enjoyable for a long time, there are others where you eventually hit a wall, and they stop being fun. In that regard, Swords and Sorcery has one of the sharpest declines that I've ever experienced.
As of my last post, I had around 130,000 experience points, and the missions I was getting from the king involved killing Demons. These were not too hard; in a head-to-head battle, I would generally earn just enough XP from killing a demon to offset the damage taken. Using maneuverability, ranged attacks, and the protection of the magic circles, I was able to beat them without taking much damage at all, gradually increasing my XP (which double as hit points).
Soon I was getting missions to kill Invisible Demons, which were about twice as tough as regular Demons. Their invisibility could definitely be a problem; it was easy to get into a rhythm while clearing out weaker foes and not realise that an Invisible Demon was attacking me repeatedly, draining 1,500 XP with every attack. The best way to beat them is by using the Magic Lantern, which reveals their location. The duration of the lantern is limited, but generally long enough to last a whole mission.
After that came Goblin Kings, which looked like regular Goblins but were a whole lot tougher. Each one had around 20,000 hit points, and it was taking me around a dozen hits to kill just one. Luckily they're weak to arrows. Especially effective were the magic arrows that fire three shots at once. With those, as well as the ever-useful magic circles, I was soon beating them and earning even higher rewards. I'm pretty sure that your XP reward for killing a monster is equal to its hit points, so the Goblin Kings were granting me some hefty rewards.
Finally, the king started giving me missions to kill Men. This is where the game really took a turn. Each man had over 200,000 hit points, and on a successful strike would deal a like amount of damage. I had around 1 million XP by this point, but even so just a few hits from a Man would be enough to wipe out hours of progress. My return strikes were only doing about 2,000 damage, and my arrows were even less effective. I was able to kill them from the safety of a magic circle, which was a lengthy process that usually involved breaking a number of swords. This would have been fine, because my regular readers will be aware that I have a lot of patience and persistence, but not every section of the forest has a magic circle. Eventually it's necessary to kill a Man without that protection. I was able to do it, by staying out of range and peppering him with arrows, but that took me over an hour. It was lucky for me that I'd acquired a quiver with an infinite amount of arrows; without that I surely would have run out first. Regardless, at that point I realised that I had four more Men to kill to complete the mission, all without the aid of a magic circle, and that's when I gave up. The time-to-fun ratio had definitely dried up.
That said, it now occurs to me that I could have switched to playing in 1x1 forest maps, which would guarantee the use of a magic circle against all foes. I'm tempted to keep playing now to see if there are any enemies beyond Men. There was a weird jellyfish icon on the opening screen that I haven't encountered yet.
|Fighting a Man from a magic circle. His icon is the same as mine.|
You can see in the bracketed text below how many hit points he has left.
Still, I'm done with Sword and Sorcery at least as far as the blog is concerned. Time for a Final Rating.
Story & Setting: The story is simply that a king keeps sending you into a forest to kill increasingly stronger monsters, with no end-point in sight. That's fine for a game set-up but it's not going to score a lot of points. The forest is a novel setting in what has been a dungeon-heavy genre thus far, but it's not a particularly interesting one. Rating: 1 out of 7.
NPCs & Monsters: This game has a solid number and variety of monsters, but as is usual at this time they're differentiated only by icon and number of hit points. The Goblin King had a noticeable weakness to arrows, so it's possible that there were other weaknesses and immunities that I didn't catch onto. The Invisible Demons also added an extra challenge. Rating: 2 out of 7.
Aesthetics: The graphics were clean and functional, and I've always marked the PLATO games up a little for that warm, cozy orange glow. Rating: 2 out of 7.
Mechanics: This is a tight, well-designed game, at least up to a point. The combat is tactical in a way that I haven't seen in any other games on the blog, relying more on maneuverability and ranged attacks than items and spells. The advancement system is rudimentary, but I appreciate the way that it cuts out the middleman by using XP directly as health. I have to mark it down a little for the very steep rise in difficulty, though. I'm also not super keen on the way the movement controls work, but they were fine once I got used to them. Rating: 4 out of 7.
Challenge: Right up until I started getting missions against Men, I was prepared to rate this game pretty highly in this category. Before then, it maintains a really good balance, with the monsters ramping up in difficulty just as things start getting a little easy. It's possible that I missed a weakness that might have made killing Men easier, but they really did make the game stop being fun very quickly. Rating: 4 out of 7.
Innovation & Influence: The influence of this game seems to me to be negligible, but as far as RPGs go it represents a play-style that I haven't seen in the blog so far: the tactical RPG. That's probably to do with its roots as a Star Trek variant. The only other game I've played so far that felt at all similar was Richard Garriot's DND1, and there was definitely no mutual influence there. So it gets some points for originality. Rating: 3 out of 7.
Fun: As I mentioned in the last post, this game was dominating my thoughts but I did get sucked into it whenever I found the time to play. When the challenge was still there, it remained enjoyable, and I'm a little disappointed that it stopped being fun with such abruptness. Rating: 3 out of 7.
I'll give this game the coveted bonus point, because I wasn't done wanting to play it when I had to stop. The above scores total 20, which doubled gives a Final Rating of 40. That's a very respectable score, placing it 10th out of 27 games overall, and 6th out of 11 CRPGs. It's not quite up there with the games I would genuinely recommend, but it's a solid, very playable game that would have scored even higher without such a steep rise in difficulty.
Also, the Final Rating is a boring name. The CRPG Addict has his GIMLET. The Adventure Gamers have their PISSED rating. Data Driven Gamer has his harpoons. So I'm ditching the generic name and calling my new system the RADNESS Index: the Righteous Admirability Designation, Numerically Estimating Seven Scores. It's a pretentious mouthful, but I'm going with it.
Combat: Combat on its own is pretty simple, but using your mobility gives it some extra tactics, as does using missile weapons and magic items. Rating: 2 out of 7.
Bonus Points: 0. This game is unlike any others on PLATO, but it had no influence at all on the CRPG genre. I'm not entirely sure it qualifies as a CRPG at all, so I'm going to refrain from givign it a bonus.
Swords and Sorcery gets an impressive RADNESS Index of 36. It's a tight game, and although it may not really a CRPG I enjoyed my time with it. It ends up equal 9th on the list, and equal 4th out of twelve CRPGs. It's equal with Oubliette and The Dungeon (pedit5).
NEXT: If I can't get Daniel Lawrence's DND up and running (and it looks like I probably won't be able to), I'm done with 1978. I'll do a wrap-up for that year, hand out some awards, and then it's time to start with 1979. Looking at some of the highlights for that year I see Adventure for the Atari 2600, Akalabeth, Temple of Apshai, and The Count (which I've heard is Scott Adams' best game). I'll probably kick off the year with Akalabeth, because I'm a total stan for Ultima, but I haven't decided for sure.