Ravenloft: Strahd's Possession
Well thus far 2005 hasn't exactly been the year of copious adventure or fantasy roleplaying game releases for the PC. Even though there's always plenty to do around here, there's always that urge to go on an adventure. So this time of relative calm has encouraged me to go back and test out some of the old games that for some reason I never got around to playing or finishing. Ravenloft: Strahd's Possession was one such game. I have played (and reviewed) Ravenloft: Stone Prophet but this one slipped by.
Actually it was lucky I had a bit of time on my hands and didn't wait too much longer, because my small party of adventurers arrived at the grand abode of Lord Dhelt in the nick of time. Too late to stop the theft of the Amulet (the Holy Symbol of Helm), but just in time to catch up with the thief before he escaped. A couple of blows and he succumbed and left behind the precious Amulet. We grabbed it and an eerie fog closed in and transported us into that cursed land.
As with Ravenloft: Stone Prophet, you can begin this adventure with a ready-made party of 2 (in this case a Fighter/Mage and a Fighter/Cleric), or you can create your own adventurers. Just visit the fortuneteller and she will play the cards and 'foresee' all the details of your two starting characters... with a little help from you of course. It's a simple one step at a time process, pick a card as they are dealt according to your preferences, and finally when you get to roll the die you can juggle the stats a bit to improve them, or take your chances and take them as they come.
On offer are six races: Human, Half-elf, Halfling, Gnome, Dwarf and Elf; six classes: Fighter, Paladin, Ranger Cleric, Mage and Thief, as well as six alignments from Lawful to Chaotic. It's a fairly basic and conventional mix here, although you can multi-class some characters.
The land beyond (or within) the fog is ruled over by the Tyrant, Strahd. It's your quest to get rid of him, of course, and you can add two more characters to your party (making a maximum of 4) from the 8 or 9 willing souls who offer to join you. Dispense with Strahd and you have the means to escape that tortured land and deliver it from his blood-curdling clutches.
To help you with this task you'll meet some friendly characters with good advice, and there is an assortment of invaluable parchments and books to guide you, and tell you what happened, and what needs to be done to break the curse. There are several forests to explore, and maze like dungeons to traverse; a church, a graveyard, a tomb, and, finally, Strahd's castle itself. You'll need to watch out for buttons to press and chains to pull as you follow winding tunnels, and test out transporters to see where they take you. There are secret doors as well so be diligent, you don't want to miss hidden areas along the way because missing one of the vital items to break the curse could be fatal. There are also sundry other items to collect including numerous keys, weapons, armour, and, most importantly, potions which you might need to survive. The very best weapons, however, are earned by completing quests.
And speaking of quests, there aren't many side quests in Ravenloft: Strahd's Possession, as most of the time you'll be on the path mapped out for you in the various journals. There are many dark denizens that live in such terrible, cursed places and you'll meet them all: Vampires and Wights, Zombies, Werewolves, Ghouls, Spirits, Ghosts and the like. There are Living Walls too, the only place of relative safety is the village of Barovia and even there there are thieves in the night.
Ravenloft: Strahd's Possession has real-time combat, which can be quite frantic at times. Running away is often a good option, and you can trap creatures at the 'end of their leash' so to speak, or behind furniture and pick them off. Their AI isn't all that good. Also, there's an excellent quick save/load feature, plus plenty of healing potions for the taking which make the journey not too harrowing.
If you read everything you find the story plays out nicely, and there's always a pointer as to where to go next. There isn't a single way through to the end as you can do some quests at any time, but a warning: you can stymie your progress too, so save often!
Although the interface was streamlined more in Ravenloft: Stone Prophet, Strahd's Possession stands up pretty well in this respect. Buttons that appear in a bar at the top of the screen give access to spell lists, maps, game options and saving and loading, and selecting your characters will open their inventories. Just right click to close most secondary screens. There is no diary to keep track of events but there is an excellent map that shows open and closed doors and secret entrances once you find them. You can write to the map so you don't forget locations that you might want to return to, and even leave yourself notes to jog your memory about events.
Of course, the graphics are basic by today's standards, definitely nothing to write home about, but they are serviceable nonetheless. It's easy to spot buttons and items around the place even if the characters and monsters are pretty monstrous when you get too close. Day turns to night in the land and there are plenty of spell and sound effects. The yowls and growls that follow you around can take you by surprise sometimes. The dialogue is maybe a bit too stylised but it's crystal clear so you can understand every word, and read every one in subtitles too.
It might be a few years old but Ravenloft: Strahd's Possession is still a good bit of fun. In many respects it doesn't match the intricacies of todays rpgs, but the button hunting and secret room searching bring back a lot of memories. Because some things are well hidden in jumbles of rooms and passageways you may find yourself backtracking to locate missing items, but moving around is quick and easy. You can navigate with the mouse or keyboard (although you can't remap the keys) and literally zoom along if you plant your finger on the forward arrow. Or you can be more deliberating and play in step mode if that's how your prefer. It's not an epic journey but it's still a trip worth taking to look back into the past, and the game behaves perfectly in DOSBox in Win XP.
Copyright © Rosemary Young 2005.
All rights reserved.
386/33, 4MB RAM (8MB recommended), Dos 5.0 or higher, CD-ROM, VGA.