Betrayal at Krondor
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Let there be no doubt, the Riftwar is truly a saga of epic proportions. Raymond E. Feist already has five novels relating to the Riftwar in the bag as well as a good few other connected pieces. But now for fantasy frazzle heads everywhere, it seems the saga is set to run and run, not on the page but on the PC Feist and the Dynamix team have worked on an entirely new story for Betrayal at Krondor, one that continues where the last of the Riftwar books, A Darkness at Sethanon, left off. Feist is a self-confessed computer Rpcer. so his interest in collaborating with Dynamix is obvious. It's a stranger choice, however, for Dynamix, best known for its flight sims, to indulge itself in a fantasy game. But its debut has created a compelling game that incorporates its 3Space technology (originally developed for the aforementioned flight sims) to give wrap-a-rama 3D visuals, and the estimable literary ability of one Mr Feist.
Get your money's worth
The first thing to say about Betrayal at Krondor is 'whoa, it's so big, it's scary'. 1.000.000 steps (depending on the size of your steps) covering 224.000.000 square feet (depending on the size of your feet I suppose): that's 12 cities. 21 villages, a myriad of assorted isolated houses, farms and temples, a dirty great big forest, mountains, sewers, mines, caves, you name 'em. You can go outside, inside, underground, upside-down (not really), by day by night, under a beating sun in the snow. Basically, this all adds up to about 10Mb of hard disk, a lot of gameplay and a hell of a lot of walking around.
Ah ha, just like a book
The gameplay is split into nine chapters; each chapter presents your three-man exploring party with a new mission that is a part of the whole scheme of things. The whole scheme of things is to help thwart the Moredhal forces, led by the evil Delkhan, from taking over the Kingdom of Midkemia... or so you think. I can't say that is definitely, too percent, honest-to-God the ultimate scheme of things because that would be telling. Or it might be because I haven't got that far in the game yet. I can't quite remember.
Of course there is not only one aim to the game. As with most of the hulking rpgs of late, en route through Midkemia you unfurl sub-plots on top of super-sub-plots, getting to know the complex characters of Midkemia and their many troubles - for instance, why is the town of Eggley deserted, why are the people of Lyton so depressed about their taxes, how do you rid Silden of the seaweedy girl ghosts, and so on ad infinitum. If you want to detour from your main plan for a bit you could solve these mysteries and help a few people out along the way. If you are a bastard, leave them to it. But it's worth the effort to meet the locals: it is in peeling back the layers of the storyline that brings out the depth of this game.
Krondor's greatest asset is this totally non-linear format -- as the nature of your quest unfolds progressively you can follow it to the letter or think: 'Nah!, I'll go off and fight some witches in the forest for a laugh.' Naturally, you will come across gangs of rogues, ghosts and monsters that you are not strong enough to kill early in the game but you can at least try to go anywhere and everywhere. There's no need to be a seasoned Rpcer to get your texture maps rolling - just explore, see what you find, and if you come unstuck, take another route.
The non-digitised graphics are good but life on the road can get a bit samey after a while. The houses look boxy and a village is a village is a village (it's like being stuck on a road that keeps taking you to Brookside Close). Before you know it. you can find yourself running around the road map in the hope of happening upon somewhere a bit more interesting soon. But (philospophical bit) that's life I suppose. The first person perspective seems to work far better in the underground sections, where the claustrophobic nature of the mazes creates a tenser atmosphere.
I've got a problem with digitised characters
This is not just directed at Krondor, but any game that uses digitised characters. Why? Do they make the game more realistic and give the feel that you are playing in an interactive movie? Not likely. Take a look at the characters in Krondor - the first time these popped up I thought it was the same bloke in every shot with different comedy wigs on. Then I read that they were real actors. I know there has to be some way that actors who are 'in between jobs' can make a living but whatever happened to good, old fashioned, fringe theatre.
What else do you need to know
With the amount of gameplay, digitised speech and characters involved in Krondor, the 10Mb of disk space it takes from your hard drive is quite a let off in these troubled times of million terabyte monsters - Ultima VII now sits in a hefty wad of 23Mb. And on a 386SX, disk access was just the right side of tiresome. So. verily the programmers have done well.
Betrayal at Krondor is one of the best thought out games of this kind that I have seen. If an rpg is going to keep you fretting for over 100 hours about elves, runes, glyphs and all those brown corduroy-trousered things, it needs to stand tall on atmosphere and spin a good yarn. Betrayal at Krondor fits this bill perfectly. And I haven't even mentioned the interface yet which is so simple I think it was developed by Fisher Price.
Forget the poncey RPG stuff for a minute - no more wanderinging around asking frightfully polite questions. You've just been attacked by a gang of Ninjas. What do you do? Duff 'em-up. Battles are fought on a grid basis, with characters' speed, stamina and health ratings dictating how far they can move and how hard they can hit.
Duff 'Em Up
Character sphere: combat is turn-based, so this highlights the character currently fighting.
Damage that can be inflicted and the accuracy.
Arrow: where the arrow icon would be if this character was more than two steps away from all opponents.
Retreat: always a good option but the game hardly ever allows you to run away.
Defend: parry a blow for one of your turns.
Assess the enemy: lose one attacking turn but suss out the abilities of one of your opponents. O Rest during combat: fatal move this. In the middle of a broadsword rumble, you wouldn't say, 'Leave me out while I have my packed lunch'. It's just silly.
Automatic combat: use this if you're bored.