Battlespire has finally been released in Australia some ten months since its US release. I believe it has only just been released in the UK as well. I wonder if this delay was because the game was originally promoted as supporting 3dfx cards but upon release didn't causing quite a backlash on the newsgroups. Or maybe because the game's unaccelerated SVGA performance is quite sluggish and it is generally recognised most gamers in the UK and Australia have lower 'specced' machines. Perhaps someone was waiting for our machines to catch up.
Battlespire is a first person, action oriented CRPG and is not the third in the Elder Scrolls trilogy. That honour falls to Morrowind which is still some time off. It is however set in the same gaming universe and uses an updated SVGA version of the Daggerfall engine. The game has seven quite large levels to complete. This still makes it much smaller than the sprawling world of Daggerfall, but does allow more attention to detail.
Character generation is not as complicated as, say, the Star Trail series but has reasonable depth. You get to choose skills and can increase or decrease them using the number of build points you are given. You can also choose from a number of classes or create your own. There is a child lock feature for those offended by the, initially, completely unequipped characters. (If I was to take a cheap, tacky shot I'd say the male and female characters were very well equipped.) The child lock can also reduce the amount of gore in the game. May I suggest you equip your character with a heal spell as you cannot rest on this journey. Also, the speed attribute affects the speed you actually move in the game rather than in combat and, as I could find no 'running' option, setting speed at a low figure can be frustrating.
The game starts as your character wanders in to the Battlespire which is basically a training ground. Unfortunately, it has been overtaken by some rather unpleasant characters. Your goal is to escape and, hopefully, send the bad guys packing.
There are no shops and therefore no gold. However, there is plenty of equipment scattered around and, as with all good CRPGs, the fun is in discovering items better than the ones you are currently using. Items do wear out and you have no repair skills. Rather than just lying around in untidy piles the developers have put them in chests or sacks. If you kill a monster it will often drop a sack of goodies. All too often its another pair of iron boots. I was surprised the spider daedra's only dropped one pair!
As I mentioned before you cannot rest to heal although you do eventually find restore and heal potions. A heal spell was invaluable to my character as I waded into battle, healing myself as I went. You will also eventually find blue crystals that hang in mid air. Walk into these and your spell or life points will be restored. They disappear, but reappear soon after (not like the rest points in Descent to Undermountain that apparently got so bored they just left).
As the gameworld is so much smaller than Daggerfall the different NPCs and monsters have a bit more to say. Some take a comical approach by insulting you and sometimes they did manage to elicit a chuckle from me. Your responses are selected from a list and the voice acting for the NPCs is reasonably well realised. I did enjoy these interactions more than in most games I've played lately and they do embellish the story. Gameplay can be changed by your responses as you can befriend some monsters.
The graphics have been a point of much discussion and many people have not been impressed. If you can imagine what Daggerfall would look like with SVGA graphics you'd be close to the mark. On my P2-300 the game is not silky smooth, but it doesn't shudder along either. I suspect the engine would not perform much better on a faster machine. I did enjoy the detail put into the levels and the lighting effects are used effectively. The monsters are adequate but pixellate badly when you get close. I run a Voodoo 2 in my machine and obviously compared to games that use 3dfx the graphics look ordinary, but for this type of game they are adequate.
The music spools off the CD and is very good. Sound effects are also excellent but I'm sure I still heard a few monsters growling menacingly after I'd cleared the dungeon.
The keys can bet set up to your own liking and you can use mouse view or cursor movement with the mouse. The inventory screen involves a long scrolling column of items which can be annoying, but it is easy to equip and use items. There are ten save game slots which is only just enough if, like me, you like to have a few key saves at starts of dungeons etc; but they are very easy to back up onto your hard drive or a floppy. ( I do this a LOT these days after my last hard drive crash).
Combat is the same as in Daggerfall ... real-time with different mouse movements for different weapon movements. Spells can be assigned hot keys and a key press toggles between long and short range weapons. Monsters occasionally get stuck in certain spots making it easier to do away with them. This was fine with me as the game was tough in parts. The lack of resting contributes towards this toughness and it does make some areas quite difficult when inhabited by multiple monsters. However, as the game is not huge that is probably a good thing. Game balance was quite well done. Often I found the healing gems just after I used my last restore potion.
Sadly, Battlespire was a little buggy when Bethesda released it and the latest patch is 1.5. I found it to be reasonably stable but I did have occasional crashes on later levels and the game would throw me out into windows. I found that some saved games seemed to be the cause and using a different save solved the problems. I was playing under Win 98 and it didn't take long to reboot the game. When you die there is the obligatory death scene and then the games drops to DOS and reboots which takes much longer than just reloading a saved game. When I was in trouble my finger would hover over the escape key to bring up the load game button before dying to avoid the extra wait.
Many people have dismissed this game as buggy, unattractive and messy. I actually found it to be fun, atmospheric and challenging. Some of the later levels become very difficult due to combat intensity rather than any sort of puzzle solving. However I've enjoyed all the games in the Elder Scrolls series and I'll play CRPGs if the graphics and sound are out of date as long as the atmosphere and gameplay are good enough. The game has its faults but Bethesda has worked hard to flesh out an alternative world for us to enjoy. It's a shame they still haven't worked out all their technical problems as their game ideas are sound.
Copyright © Clint Mullins 1998.
All rights reserved.
Pentium 133 MHz required, 16 MB RAM minimum, 4xCD ROM, 150 MB Hard Drive Space for minimum install, SVGA, VESA 2.0 compliant, Soundcard, Mouse. DOS 5.0 or greater.