Based on the popular novels by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, Death Gate from Legend was released late last year with very little fanfare which is quite surprising considering that it is such a good fantasy adventure game.
Your character is a young male named Haplo, one of the despised Patryn race, and at the start of the game you have barely escaped with your life from the dreaded Labyrinth which was your home and prison. Working for your master, Lord Xar who is single minded in his efforts to avenge your people, you must recover all the scattered pieces of the World Seal which was broken by the hated Sartans as they sundered the world into five realms. Of course, as you travel to the various realms on your quest you discover that all is not as it seems and thus the story unfolds.
The game itself is divided up into a series of mini quests which take place on the four worlds you must visit (Arianus, Pryan, Abarrach and Chelestra). The different worlds provide substantial sub-plots with challenging obstacles to be overcome before you can recover each piece of World Seal. Along the way you must help the people you meet and in so doing you learn a little more of the history of the realms and gain a useful insight into the Sartans' motives. Needless to say you must also face the dreaded world of the Labyrinth once more in order to complete your quest.
Death Gate comes with a useful on-line tutorial to help get you started and introduce you to the interface and the new spellcasting feature which had great potential but was sadly under-utilised in the game. I was looking forward to concocting my own spells but was not really given the chance, except at the very end and then only in a limited way. However, the spells you learned to cast were eminently suitable to the non-combative nature of the story.
The interface is quite simple to use, just click on an object on the screen then click on a verb at the side such as look, take, etc, and the action will be carried out. Those of you familiar with Legend's other games such as Eric the Unready and more recently The Companions of Xanth and that gentle parody of the Role-Playing genre Superhero League of Hoboken, will know what to expect. You will be instantly at home with the interface which, starting with Xanth, has been made more streamlined and much less text driven, allowing for more of the screen area to be taken up by the graphics.
That is not to say that there is no text in Death Gate. There is - lots of it! This is no doubt a function of the game being a book tie-in and while it contributes greatly to the depth of storyline the seemingly endless conversations and volumes of reading can get a little tedious at times, even for an avid reader such as myself. I found that some conversations intruded too much and broke up the flow of the game which otherwise provided a very good combination of puzzles to solve, places to visit and things to do.
The problem with the conversations is that you can't really control the flow and direction as in most cases it is necessary to click on every question or response to see if it will lead to a new conversation and a possible clue - as sometimes it does! Fortunately, you can read the conversations on screen faster than the characters can deliver their lines so you can click through them very quickly especially if you turn the speech off. Alternatively, you can relax and listen to the characters and simply immerse yourself in the story as it unfolds.
Another difficulty with this story-telling approach is that most people will have worked out the plot quite early on in the piece but Haplo, your character, is much slower on the uptake and continues with his appointed tasks far beyond the point where he should be seriously questioning his master. This is a little annoying and results in the feeling that you are being led by the nose at times, as indeed you are, though this is obviously dictated by the requirements of the story.
Come to think of it, this very same problem often occurs in fantasy novels when you cotton onto the fact that the clumsy young hero with the silver streak in his hair and the tendency to have confused but meaningful dreams of epic proportions, is going to be the only one who can wield that awesome sword of 'light' long, long before he has any inkling of his destiny. So any translation of a novel into a computer game is likely to suffer the same malady.
Some puzzles in Death Gate are a little too easy such as - and I am giving nothing away here - finding the single shear right where you need to use it to open the shutter. And I couldn't help but feel that the game writers at times missed the opportunity to increase the complexity of the game. In one part in particular you become trapped in the cell of a captured Elven Wizard but instead of having to make your own escape you are simply released, no questions asked.
On the other hand, many of the game's puzzles are wonderfully inventive and complex enough to keep you guessing for some time, especially in the latter part when you must return to your home world of the Labyrinth, and I suppose it is simply nit-picking on my part to ask them to sustain that level throughout the entire game.
Death Gate offers marvellous Super VGA graphics but plays just fine in VGA. To be honest, it was so much fun that I would have gladly played it in EGA.
Legend seem to be creating a niche for themselves converting books to games and all criticism of this process aside, Death Gate is perhaps the best of them so far. All in all a very enjoyable fantasy adventure game that made me want to keep playing it from the moment I installed it on my machine.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1995.
All rights reserved.
System Requirements (min):
CD-ROM, 386/33, 4MB RAM, VGA, mouse.