Return to Krondor
Return to Krondor is the second computer game title to be released based on Raymond E Feist's well known fantasy novels. Like Betrayal at Krondor, it is an 'official' episode that comes with the blessing of Mr Feist (who rates a mention as a 'Consultant' in the game credits). However, Return to Krondor is a quite different experience to its popular predecessor.
Now, by this I don't mean to infer that it is a poor relation as it has many similarities to Betrayal at Krondor, but it also has its differences. For instance, it has some gameplay involving conversational clues and searching carefully for items and hotspots in order to move the story along, as well as a single, more abstract problem, which will surely invite accusations that it is more of an adventure game. Personally, as an adventure game player, I feel it has too much combat and other roleplaying features to move it over into the adventure category. I didn't mind these brief 'deviations' and it still felt very much like a roleplaying game to me, and a very enjoyable one at that. Return to Krondor is highly combat oriented and, if anything, is even more story driven than Betrayal at Krondor with fewer side quests, thus making it much more focused and a much shorter game.
The quest on this journey is to find a powerful artefact that has been lost at sea along with a sunken ship. The ultimate fiend is a mean critter named Bear, who is out to stop you and claim the artefact for himself. It is divided into 10 chapters plus an introductory segment which can be as short or as long as you want it to be because combat is both random and regenerative ... you can wander in and out of locations and find more enemies to dispense with, thus building up your expertise for the journey to come.
After the initial segment which is set in Krondor, it's off to greener pastures although Return to Krondor doesn't offer great expanses of 'pastures' to explore. Instead navigation is via a map on which you must select various discrete destinations where enemy encounters are random. Other chapters entail visiting a not-so-tranquil village, a temple and a sodden ship; and a couple are very short and sweet, consisting of a single battle.
As is usual for this series the characters are pre-set for each chapter with their own individual personalities and expertise, you have no choice in this respect. There are, of course, a number of non-playing characters to engage in conversation and numerous chests scattered around which are once again random and filled with all sorts of goodies. I do have a minor complaint here as I often seemed to find that brilliant weapon or piece of armour secreted away in a chapter featuring characters that couldn't use them, so, despite my compulsive hoarding, I couldn't make good use of these items. And the same goes for the alchemy apparatus which I diligently collected but hardly used at all as there were so many potions available from the bodies of defeated enemies and in the numerous chests.
As for the treasure chests, in this game they are not sealed with a riddle or a bead puzzle but are more manipulative requiring you to determine which implement in your thief's kit will best suit the job. Much simpler and more realistic (or more in keeping with using lock-picking skills) although I have to admit that I did miss the riddles.
Unlike its predecessors, this game presents a third-person perspective with automatically changing camera angles as you manoeuvre your characters and explore winding streets and passageways. Although this perspective generally works well the changing camera angles can cause confusion during exploration. Very often I didn't know which way I was facing after an abrupt camera change and ended up retracing my steps unintentionally. During combat, however, the ability to manually change angles works very well and adds to the experience.
As for the combat itself, it is turn-based and in the familiar third-person. But in this game there is no grid on which to move, instead the base of each character is circled when their turn arises and the positions to which they can move are highlighted by the mouse pointer. Once more this change (the absence of a grid) is more realistic, but occasionally there are problems in positioning characters during combat. There are three difficulty levels to choose from and plenty of healing potions and combat aids such as strength and armour enhancers or poison blade potions strewn around to help you out. Again I have to complain here because potions can only be used during combat and this means forfeiting a turn. Apply that poison blade potion and you may well be history before you have a chance to even use it!
During the course of the game you will be guiding around a selection of characters including James the Thief, William the Warrior, Solon the Priest and the Mages Jazhara and Kendaric. As they join the story their statistics and levels are fixed and you have the opportunity to develop various skills by distributing points when their levels increase.
There are six schools of magic with four relating to your mages and the remaining two for the priest. Magic is only ever used in combat and each spell spins off some colourful effect so you can be sure that it hasn't fizzled.
The game is both mouse and keyboard controlled. Of course you have a cursor for searching locations and for picking up items, etc., but you can also use it for movement along with the keyboard arrow keys. In fact, if you use the mouse for navigation it is advisable to supplement mouse control with keyboard control because some areas do not appear to be easily accessible using mouse navigation. The manual makes note of this and, just as a warning, it also notes that you can't cast spells with a weapon in hand. Remember this and you won't be cursing like me when your mage refuses to work her magic during combat.
Although it isn't such an epic journey as Betrayal at Krondor, this journey is nevertheless very engrossing. Because there are few side quests the focus is mostly on the story and it is most enjoyable to follow through and to finally send the bad guy packing. The graphics are 3D but I can't comment on this aspect because I don't have a 3D card. Still, I was very happy with the graphics and the characterisations as the voice acting is generally very good. The dialogue itself would get top marks from me except that it isn't subtitled.
Return to Krondor comes highly recommended for roleplaying fans who aren't averse to strong stories with not a lot of extraneous quests going on. Titles like this that are based on very popular novels should have the power to draw in a lot more game players from the reading fraternity. Will this one, I wonder? Interestingly, the box cover here in Australia doesn't say much about swords and sorcery and fantastic lands. It just features the mean-looking 'Bear' who is a cross between Conan the Barbarian and The Incredible Hulk ...Yuk! Mr Feist's books don't trade on such aggressive imagery and I suspect there must be a very good reason. So why do games publicists aim at a very different audience?
Copyright © Rosemary Young 1999.
All rights reserved.
Minimum: Pentium 166+, 24 MB RAM, 4x CD-ROM, 250 Meg Hard Disk Space, 32 Meg swap space available on Windows swap drive, 16 Bit DirectSound compatible sound card, 2 meg Video Ram, SVGA, high-color (16 bit) Mouse, Keyboard.
Recommended: Pentium 200 +, 32 MB RAM, 8x CD ROM, 3D accelerator card