Dungeon Master II: The Legend of Skullkeep
As I write this review I wonder how many of you are like me and took your first faltering steps into the realms of computer role playing when you picked up a copy of the legendary Dungeon Master, this game's predecessor. For me that moment was the start of a great adventure and I know that there will be at least one or two of you who will feel the same way.
Many of us Dungeon Master connoisseurs have travelled those endless dungeons over and over, taking different teams and building our novices into invincible masters. Dungeon Master, the original, has a special spot in our hearts and because of this Skullkeep was always likely to suffer in the comparison.
For me at least, this latest journey into lands strange and very dark just didn't topple the original from its perch, and this is doubly unfortunate because it hasn't really presented us with anything different such as greatly improved graphics, interaction with non-playing characters or smooth scrolling. So it is unlikely to win over and collect hoards of new Dungeon Master fans. Not that I believe that gee-whiz graphics are an absolute must for any game to excel, they're not, but Skullkeep just doesn't have the sophistication and developing storyline that more recent RPGs have tempted us with.
Having said that Skullkeep is still a passable and, at times, quite enjoyable game, even with its shortcomings. On reading the brief introductory story in your manual you learn that you are Torham, nephew of the ancient and wise Mylius. Your uncle has sent you to this forsaken outpost with a mission to save your world from an evil invasion. The imposing Skullkeep is central to the plot. Somewhere within it lies a broken machine that you must repair so that you can open a portal to the Void and attack the evil one before he enters your world and begins wreaking havoc.
At the outset DM2 is much like its predecessor. You must first chose your party from portraits set into a wall, but almost immediately you emerge from the depths of the earth into the outside gloom. Clouds fill the sky and a vicious storm quickly brews, and if you stay exposed too long, as I did, you are likely to be struck down by lightning and your adventure ends even before it has begun.
Your party consists of 4 members whose portraits appear across the top of the screen and the game interface is very simple and straightforward. Just left click on a face and the character's inventory appears. The direction arrows for movement are at the right/bottom of the screen and above these is the action field where you can swap characters around, select and use weapons and create and cast magic spells. Just as in the first game you must learn various symbol combinations to create spells, but in this latest offering the process is a little more creative. Instead of just collecting scrolls to learn spells you must discover their secrets for yourself by finding or purchasing magical items and invoking them. The spell symbols then appear in the action screen and experimentation is the way to learn what does what. This I thought was fun although I imagine it will frustrate some people and, I must confess, I did have the advantage of remembering a number of the spells from the first game.
Another new addition to this game (as opposed to the first Dungeon Master) is the inclusion of area maps to help you find your way around. They come in several colours and have differing features to activate. Once again experimentation is the key to using them effectively and, amongst other things, you can leave markers on your trail, locate hidden items and secret rooms. as well as conjure up 'scout minions' to aid you on your travels.
Also, instead of just finding your weapons and armour strewn around the landscape there are shops where you can purchase your essential adventuring equipment and supplies. Although this latter feature was useful, and provided some entertainment value in that you get to haggle with the shop owners to get the most for your hard fought for cash, for me this feature also limited the game. Unfortunately it meant that there weren't so many 'treasures' to be on the look out for. It was fun to indulge in a spot of haggling once or twice, but it rapidly lost its charm. And, I for one, would be willing any time to exchange the joys of shopping for the joys of discovering long lost chests and other useful items behind secret walls or beyond deviously set traps.
Essentially this game is divided into two broad sections. First, the outside area where you will be wandering about in the driving rain, fending off all manner of vicious creatures whilst searching for the four Keys of Destiny to gain access to the keep. Then you must contend with a new batch of foes and an assortment of puzzles as you search the Keep itself, repair the machine and, all going well, fulfil your destiny.
Outside the sky is always heavy with clouds and the rain relentless. It's dreary -- and dark -- and although it builds up an oppressive atmosphere it ultimately becomes just too oppressive. Much of the time everything is smudgy and indistinct through the lashing rain and regular cups of coffee or strolls/sprints around the block are an absolute necessity to preserve your eyesight. Disappointingly this initial part of the game is mostly hack and slash with very few puzzles or problems to overcome apart from finding the odd key.
The latter part of the game is much more interesting. Here there are traps to spring, secret ways to discover and objects to manipulate as you sort out how to open the portal. And there are more monsters too to test your combat skills. In fact, throughout this game there are very few places of refuge where you won't get attacked and it would have been nice to have been able to sleep soundly or ponder over a puzzle occasionally without being continually harassed. But those enemy minions (spiky mechanical balls that pack quite a punch with their firepower) are forever after you. Your enemy sends them endlessly through flashing blue time portals into your world, and although you can temporarily close these portals and even create your own guard minions and attack minions to give you some respite, this is no substitute for having some portion of the game where you can relax and simply concentrate on the story and problem solving.
I had some fun playing Skullkeep and especially in the latter part, but on the whole it was disappointing. It was a bit on the short side and, I am sorry to say, quite outdated. Maybe I have been spoiled, but I do like to step into an evolving and involving story and see it through to its end, but the story of Skullkeep was mapped out from the very beginning. It didn't grow at all in the telling and there just weren't enough puzzles to keep me totally entertained. I strongly suspect that if I ever want another fix of Dungeon Master I am much more likely to return to the original or even to its lesser known sequel, Chaos Strikes Back.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 1995.
All rights reserved.
386DX/25 or higher (486DX/25 or better recommended), 256 colour VGA or MCGA, 4MB RAM, DOS 5.0 or higher, 23 MB Hard drive space required, CD-ROM drive, Keyboard and Mouse required