Anyone who has been reading the 'Reflections' reviews in Quandary will have probably noticed by now that the games generally get a good review. This is because we select most of them from our personal game library that has built up over the years and, of course, we have mostly kept the games that we deem to be 'good'.
Our first 'Reflections' review for 1997, then, is another of our old favourites. Over the holidays I installed the original Dungeon Master to try to identify just what it was that captured the allegiance of so many roleplaying enthusiasts (me included), and to determine just how well a game that is now at least 10 years old, shapes up against the 'new kids on the block'. Of course, roleplaying games have marched on since the mid 80s, and in many respects Dungeon Master shows its age, but, regardless, it is still an entertaining game, and it surely retains some of that power to ensnare.
As roleplaying games go Dungeon Master has a fairly simple story with minimal plot development that is generally in line with other games of its time. You start at ground level and make your way down through the dungeons to the deepest darkest level to rid the labyrinth of the evil sorcerer. In the process you must fight an array of successively more ferocious monsters, and negotiate more and more devious obstacles of the open pit, locked door and flying fireball variety. Many of these are still a lot of fun and very careful observation is called for.
So there is plenty of searching for keys, and plenty of button pressing and lever pulling as you progress. With a bit of luck there are also many, many 'treasures' to find such as fantastic armour and better and better weapons. Also, to cast spells in this game you must learn the correct symbols, so you must also be on the look out for scrolls to increase your magic repertoire.
After zipping around in the more modern role playing games some of you may be surprised by the 'stepping' movement of Dungeon Master, but you soon get used to it. Probably the most painful thing to get used to is the lack of auto mapping. Though a little frustrating (maybe a lot frustrating for some), the lack of this feature adds an extra challenge to the game. Honestly, doing your own mapping can be fun.
The gameworld of Dungeon Master is quite large, even by today's standards, though, of course, it doesn't match some of the massive later roleplaying epics. Still, it is very easy to get lost and, if anything, the likelihood of starving to death will be your main concern at the beginning of the game, rather than striving to perfect fighting or spellcasting skills. But you will eventually need to improve your characters' statistics as there are a lot of tough battles to win later on.
Characters in this game are pre-determined but there is a huge choice. You must take four adventurers and they can be male or female, human or non-human; a fighter, a ninja, a priest or a healer (or a combination of any of these 'professions'). Whatever the profession of your characters, as they gain experience in differing skills they will be awarded additional professions so that eventually, if you practice enough with a specific weapon or spell type, the healer that you set out with might become an experienced ninja, or vice versa. The only hitch here is that you can't practice magic very well if you begin with zero mana.
There are a lot of interesting items to collect and inventories can be accessed by selecting character portraits. Then you must select the eye icon to display statistics. These statistics are not extensive, but are worthy of attention to be sure that you lead with the strongest fighters and follow with characters who use ranged weapons or magic. The eye icon can also be used to get more information about various items so that you know what you have found.
All in all the game came through very well, although I will admit my glasses might have a slight rose-coloured tint. Still, it was fun getting lost in mazes and searching diligently for secret rooms and treasures. On the whole, it is not an overly complex game but it does take some dedication to learn the spellcasting system and to develop ways and means to overcome some of the dungeon dwellers. The combat is very simple and doesn't require precision mouse or keyboard control and your bested foes don't leave messy bloodstains everywhere on their demise.
I enjoyed playing Dungeon Master, but then I have played it before and thoroughly enjoyed it. It may be that it won't appeal to people who have not played this older type of game and who are used to more sophisticated graphics and the free scrolling games such as Ultima Underworld. But if you like mazes and treasure hunting (with a good serving of fighting, puzzle solving, and map making thrown in) then take a look at this game if ever you get the opportunity. It's worth it if only to see what early graphical roleplaying games were like, though I could name a few 'modern' games that haven't progressed too far from this one.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 1997.
All rights reserved.
Atari 1040 ST :-) Also available on PC and will easily run on 386 or better.