When I first heard that Legend were making a game based on the Shannara books by Terry Brooks I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. The early screen shots I saw looked excellent and Legend's games are usually intelligent and engrossing -- I particularly enjoyed Death Gate and, more recently, Mission Critical. Shannara is designed by Corey and Lori Cole who were responsible for Sierra's Quest for Glory series and their influence is very much in evidence.
The plot is thoroughly absorbing and once again it is not necessary for you to read the books in order to understand what is going on. (Though the American package does include a copy of The Sword of Shannara, the first book in the series. The Australian release, however, does not.) Fans of Terry Brooks' Shannara series will, no doubt, be delighted to catch up with old friends such as Allanon, Menion Leah and Panamon Creel.
The story begins some years after the events portrayed in The Sword of Shannara and the crucial parts of that background are filled in as the game progresses. Your character is Jak Ohmsford, son of Shea (hero of the novel). The introduction shows the resurrection of Brona, the evil Warlock King who was defeated by your father years ago wielding the famed sword of Shannara. Now it falls to you to seek the sword and emulate your father's deeds. On this quest you will be aided by other characters who will join your party at various times and you must overcome the many obstacles and monsters that Brona will place in your path.
I won't go into details about the plot as it is an important element in the game and to reveal too much here will only spoil your enjoyment. Your journey will be long and arduous not least because potential allies will revive old hatreds and view you, your companions and your quest with suspicion and mistrust.
Shannara is a first person perspective adventure game with only slight elements borrowed from the role-playing genre. The Super VGA graphics are excellent -- as we have come to expect from Legend -- though the screens are static, apart from the 'dream' sequences, and don't allow for scrolling or 360 degree movement. The interface allows you to build up commands by pointing to objects on the screen then clicking on a suitable verb from the list provided. If you have played any of Legend's previous games all this will be instantly familiar. If this is your first Legend adventure then an on-line tutorial is provided to help you get started, though the interface is very easy to use.
A rather neat role-playing feature, I thought, was having access to the inventories of all the characters in your party and by using their items you were effectively getting them to do things that you cannot do for yourself. For example, if you want Shella to shoot an arrow at something you need only open her inventory and click on an arrow then select the object you wish her to shoot at on the main screen.
Your journal allows you to keep track of the story as it automatically records where you have been and what you have done. It's also very useful for keeping track of what you need to do and you can use it to check on the wording of a riddle that may have been told to you instead of restoring your game and playing the scene again. Everything you really need to know is recorded for you, but there is an option for you to add your own notes if you feel the need.
As with Death Gate there are a lot of conversations to get through, but in this game your character has no actor's voice and so does not speak the words you select. This speeds up the dialogue considerably and is, I think, an improvement since it actually feels more natural. Also, the text of other characters' speech appears on screen and, as you can read it quicker than they can say it, it is quite simple to speed up the conversations even more by quickly clicking through them. Unfortunately, though, I thought there tended to be too much talking and not enough 'doing' and the conversations sometimes broke up the problem solving aspects of the game.
Another way to interact with characters in this game is in combat and I suspect that this feature may well annoy many adventure players. The combat sequences seemed to me to be largely superfluous in that you can run away and avoid most of them and the manual actually advises you to do this. Those fights you can't avoid tend to be fairly tedious, particularly as you can't restore from the combat screen without quitting the game entirely. Thankfully, quick reflexes are not required, but the combat strategies you can employ are too simplistic for this to add any meaningful role-playing element to the game and your characters don't gain experience levels which might have made the combat more interesting.
Solving the puzzles is a lot of fun and they proceed quite logically from the clues in the story, though, on the whole I found many of them to be fairly easy compared to earlier Legend games. There are lots of things to look at, many items to pick up and use and plenty to do -- this is by no means a short game. Still, I was hoping for the problems to become progressively more difficult. I dearly wanted to reach that point where I was absolutely stuck and have a complex puzzle to mull over, but I'm afraid this didn't happen.
This was a little disappointing as I was anticipating another Death Gate and the start of the game at the fishing hole outside Shady Vale held out so much promise. To a certain extent the game provided too much unsought help and at times it tended to spoil my sense of personal achievement. For instance, at Leah, quite early on, I read about a secret passage and knew that I would need to find it to leave that way. Having Shella tell me about it was redundant as I already had the clue. Later, other members of your party will also tell you what you need to do even though you may already know. Similarly, too many potential puzzles were solved by simply talking to other characters when I really wanted to be able to work them out for myself. It almost seemed as though members of your party provided an on-line hint system, especially during the riddle contest.
Perhaps I am being too harsh. Other players may well disagree with my assessment of the puzzles, and there are many components that make up a good game. Shannara does have wonderful graphics, an involving and absorbing story which I enjoyed, and it even provides a significant moral dilemma, which I enjoyed less -- you will have to play the game if you want to know why. And, despite my feeling a little let down by some aspects of the puzzles, which I am prepared to concede might be partly due to my expectations being too high, I still found it to be an entertaining game and well worth playing.
See the metzomagic.com Shannara walkthrough.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1996.
All rights reserved.
486/33 or higher, 4MB RAM, CD-ROM, SVGA (VESA compatible) DOS 5.0 or Win 95, mouse