Thalion's latest and utterly ginormous role-playing outing Amberstar plonks you into yet another variation on the fantasy-fiction theme - an ancient evil threatens to escape its prison and plunge the world of Lyramion into all manner of bother. That means magicians, heroies, orks (sic), oh, all the usual malarkey that drives fantasists into frenzies of dodgy novella writing.
And yes, you get a novella and a very nice map with the game, both of which add a welcome distraction to the tedious business of installing this three-disker. Handily, Amberstar cannot be played from the original disks and must be installed either to hard disk or to three formatted floppies. It therefore renders impossible the silly practice of playing from the original disks and possibly running the risk of corrupting them.
So what have we? A character who, once firtled to your taste via the comprehensive 18-attribute character editor, is immediately informed that his parents were slaughtered by a bunch of orks and that he's a bit miffed really. Having handily disposed of meddling relatives, and given our chappie a damned good reason to have a downer on the forces of evil, darkness and particular unpleasantness, he's all set up for a trash through a billed 150 maps covering the wider world and its numerous dungeons and cities.
Things that go bump
The idea is to find the 13 pieces of the Amberstar - a magical jewel used a fair while back to banish the evil demon chap, Tarbos, from Lyramion - and assemble them in a special place, the location of which is a mystery until, presumably, the game figures you've got far enough through to tell you where it is. That little exercise should stop Tarbos in his tracks.
Along the way you acquire extra peeps to help you out and, through bashing monsters and solving puzzles, develop your character's abilities in true fantasy role-playing style.
First off, we find ourselves looking at a plan view of the graveyard without the walls of Twinlake city with our hero, who for the sake of convenience we'll call Biff, represented as scalp and shoulders. Moving him about is simple enough - either guide him with the mouse or use the direction keys - but it's a tad annoying in that he's all too inclined to bump into things and go 'ouch'. At least he doesn't lose hit points when he walks into a tree.
Moving into the city, the view switches to 3D in the style of Eye of the Beholder, but with more 'ouches' as Biff continues to walk into walls - the control system is a tad on the twitchy side. It's here that all manner of clues can be found; in particular, the incompetent nature of Twinlake's architect.
You'd expect, what with it being a city and in the open air, that there would be a certain amount of graphical finery on show; buildings, palaces, parks and the like. No, it's largely anonymous-looking stone walls with doors in them, very much like you'd get with an underground dungeon.
A very useful feature, considering the sameness of the city's design, is automapping. Clicking on an icon brings up a map of the ground you've covered which, if there was telling you where north is, would be exceedingly useful when trying to avoid getting lost. Certain buildings bring up the top-down view once more, while others put you into trading mode - levels can be gained it you've sufficient experience points and gold to spend at a number of guilds, and all manner of handy knick knacks are on sale from traders.
Out in the streets you'll chance on individuals with whom you can hold limited conversations - the pares works on a 'key word' basis; clicking on a word (you'll acquire rucks of them as time goes on) elicits either an instruction for you to go on a quick quest or the response "hmm, I can't say anything about that".
More attention to the plot could have made it immediately spicy and intriguing
My word, we're 650 words into this review and I haven't mentioned the fighting sequences - the screen switches to a face-on view of the animated attackers and you can get jolly tactical by arranging the positions of your party to best effect - or the music - continuous, situation specific and somewhat tedious - or the extensive spell system - white, grey and black magic, offering spells from the benign to the decidedly offensive.
There's no doubt that this is a big and complex game. There are numerous cities and dungeons to explore in the quest for the Amberstar, and many nasties to despatch. What the game fails to do is leap straight in there and grab you. For all the scene setting in the accompanying novella, it's hard to get straight into the experience of Amberstar. More attention to the plot could have made it immediately spicy and intriguing - finding components of quest items with which to foils demons is common fare these days.
Couple that with the numerous disk swaps when playing from floppy and you've got an RPG that demands a good deal of your commitment to get the full effect - anyone serious about it should install to hard drive.
This is all fair enough for the RPG enthusiasts, but I can't help getting the feeling that when developers create such huge fantasy games they often lose sight of casual players or beginners who need an initial 'pow' factor - be it stunning action sequences or an initially rapid development of the plot - to draw them in. But for those who enjoy the scale of such outings as EOTB2, and are prepared to put in the time and effort it will take to complete the game, Amberstar offers a pretty good deal.
In short, if you're the kind of hero who walks most quests and swats dark lords as flies, abid to salvage the Amberstar will doubtless make you break into a sweat.