This article originally appeared in Pyramid #6

Pyramid Pick


Published by Sir Tech Software
Designed by attic Entertainment
Retail Price $59.95; available for Amiga and IBM PC

This is the new computer RPG from the folks who brought you the classic Wizardry series. Realms of Arkania is the name of the series, Blade of Destiny is this particular scenario. The Realms of Arkania computer games are based on a popular German pen-and-paper FRPG called Das Schwarze Auge (The Dark Eye).

Blade of Destiny was originally released in German, and I suspect that German gamers found it a double value -- in addition to the game scenario, it could also serve as a character generator for Das Schwarze Auge. The character generation system is very involved, and includes a number of skills and spells that I suspect would never come up in the computer game. It's an interesting exercise to play the computer game and try to reverse-engineer the pen-and-paper game. Das Schwarze Auge seems to be a detailed system emphasizing historical realism over sword-and-sorcery hyperbole. Character advancement is a mixture of class and skill-based (whenever your character goes up a level he gets points to distribute among his skills). Character classes are somewhat unconventional -- my personal favorite is the Jester class. The biggest problem I think that Americans would have with the system is that it includes traits like Courage, Avarice and Superstition as randomly-rolled stats, rather than roleplaying options. None of this, however, really effects the play of Blade of Destiny.

The game has several aspects that make it worth checking out. The graphics are detailed and beautiful, the story is interesting and far more coherent and logical than most computer RPG plots, and the background is detailed and fascinating.

I think it's the last trait that impresses me the most. Realms of Arkania is set in a fantasy world based upon central Europe in the so-called Dark Ages. Realms of Arkania shows that they weren't dark at all -- although they weren't big on record-keeping or centralized government, the cultures portrayed in the game are sophisticated, organized and vital. There are bustling towns, active trade routes and a thriving sea trade -- not just a bunch of inarticulate barbarians huddled in mud huts.

This is, however, a fantasy game. Magic works (though it is quite limited), and there are many non-human races around. The only PC races are humans, dwarves and a couple different types of elves, but these dwarves and elves have less to do with The Lord of the Rings then they do with real Teutonic myth and legend. There are also the standard nasty races -- goblins, orcs, etc. -- which provide the main villains in the scenario. In fact, your quest is to find a magical artifact that can halt the coming orcish invasion.

The game is not, however, flawless. I am quite dissatisfied with the combat interface. In non-combat mode you get a player's eye view a la Wizardry, but during combat you switch to an overhead, 3-dimensional view a la Battle Chess. The graphic quality and animation of the combat scenes is excellent, but tactically the game leaves a lot to be desired. The main problem is that combat is laid out on a square grid, and attacks can only be made along the ranks and files, not along any diagonal. This is no big deal in close combat, but is a major pain for ranged attacks. For example, if you're shooting an arrow at somebody seven squares away, and there's an obstacle between you and them, you can't just move a couple of squares over and shoot around the obstacle, because then you'd no longer be on the same rank or file as your target. Obviously you should be able to launch a ranged attack at anybody in range with a clear line of sight, but instead you have to go through this complex ballet to line your archers up on the same exact file as their targets. This one problem makes combat unrealistic and frustrating, as well as limiting the utility of archers and spell-casters in a totally arbitrary way. It's especially annoying when you consider that without this problem the nifty combat animation could have been one of the game's most outstanding features, rather than a near-fatal flaw.

Still, I have no hesitancy about recommending Realms of Arkania for what it does well -- graphics, story and background. And I remain optimistic about the combat problems as well. After all, Blade of Destiny is only the first game in the Realms of Arkania series. If subsequent games correct the unrealistic aspects of ranged combat, Realms of Arkania could easily be a state-of-the art game for mature, discerning computer gamers.

- Chris McCubbin

Article publication date: April 1, 1994

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