Betrayal at Krondor

Developer:  Dynamix
Publisher:  Sierra
Year Released:  1993

Review by Rosemary Young (June, 1996)
bak.jpgBetrayal at Krondor has been around for three or four years now and has had a re-release on CD ROM with a digitally mastered soundtrack. It's one of those games that slipped by me when it was first released and I am wondering now just why. Very likely because I heard so much about its 'strategy' component I somehow got the impression it was a war strategy game in which the gameplay consisted of building armies and fighting heroic battles. Well it isn't. It's a roleplaying game through and through, albeit a roleplaying game with a difference.

Most of you will be well aware that this title is based on Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar Saga. The author himself had a hand in its writing. So if you have read any of these books the game world will be instantly familiar. If you haven't, there's an overview of the story at the back of the game manual.

The adventure begins
You begin with control of three characters, one of whom is, mysteriously, a compliant captive, and your first task is to escort him to the city of Krondor. A brief introductory spiel sets the scene and then you are on your own.

The road to Krondor is rocky and liberally sprinkled with roaming enemy spies and warriors, but if you take heed of advice you can make it there relatively unscathed. On delivering your charge you will then collect a new character, begin to learn something about the troubles that are besetting the land, and set out on another critical mission to the town of Romney. So the story continues and, controlling different characters, you must follow numerous leads as you are swept along with the various political intrigues.

Heaps of detail
In this game you will have to be sure that your stocks of rations are maintained so that you don't starve; kit yourself out with serviceable armour and weapons (and keep them maintained) as well as make use of numerous items that will enhance your statistics or give you the edge in the battles you're bound to face. And, of course, all this costs money, more than you can accumulate by robbing your defeated foes. So there are lots of minor quests you can attend to along the way to increase your wealth.

As you progress and gain more experience your statistics (accessed by clicking on the portraits of characters) will increase. There are quite a few to keep your eye on such as your characters' ability with weapons and combat, spell casting, barding, scouting, haggling, lock picking, etc. etc. As well as relying on experience to increase these stats you might also pay various characters for lessons, or you may come across books to study to better yourself, or find or buy items that will help in this respect.

Along with weapons and scrolls and books there are dozens of other useful items including poisons and healing agents and plants and potions to enhance the effectiveness of your weapons and armour. The game is quite complex in this respect, and if you immerse yourself in the gameworld you will soon learn lots of tidbits to make life easier -- the best stores to buy weapons, or potions, or best and cheapest armourer in the land.

Finding your way
The way to play this game is to listen carefully to conversations with the various characters you will meet. The minor quests are optional but you need to be attentive to learn information to negotiate your way through the main story. Several of the major quests may be solved in different ways and, of course, taking different approaches will reveal different side quests.

There are 9 chapters in all and they will take you from one end of the land to the other and into a labyrinth of underground mines and tunnels. There is a mapping system for both the outside terrain identifying various towns and the underground caverns, although there is, unfortunately, no provision for making your own notes. The options for saving your game seem almost limitless, you can create multiple directories and each can accommodate around 20 games. It has a point and click interface but also allows for keyboard control and all speech is via on-screen text.

Out of the ordinary
As mentioned earlier, Betrayal at Krondor is no ordinary roleplaying game. You are not the alien adventurer doing your good deeds in an alien environment, you really are one of the locals and you do need to get the feel of the place. And it differs in other respects as well. Firstly, much of the 'action' is outdoors. Here you will be wandering around up hill and down dale making your way through the story and searching for fairy chests, many of which are sealed with a riddle. There are dozens of these riddles and working them out will keep you busy. You will also step into numerous traps comprising deadly beams and fire balls that can take some time to negotiate.

In Betrayal at Krondor this kind of puzzling replaces the usual pits and levers and rolling rocks that are more common in roleplaying dungeons. Here the dungeons are relatively 'painless' except, of course, for the marauding foes who await you at every second turn.

Finally, the combat is turn based and this is where the strategy component comes into play in selecting your weapons and modes of combat. It takes place on a grid which you can superimpose on the screen to help you with your moves and presents an isometric perspective. Each character must be manoeuvred into position to attack (or defend), taking care that obstacles don't get in the way of your arrows or targeted spells. It takes a little getting used to, but is ultimately very satisfying.

If you are looking for something different in roleplaying games then Krondor just might be it. Here you can lose yourself in the story, really 'live' in the land, drink, gamble, and socialise with the locals and learn how best to survive. The graphics are a little 'old fashioned' these days but the engrossing gameplay easily makes up for this. I'd certainly be in line for playing any sequel, but I'd hope that there was at least one female adventurer -- surely this isn't too much to ask.

Betrayal at Krondor hints and tips. rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 1996. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
386SX or higher, 4MB RAM. (Mouse and 15MB hard drive space recommended). (Also published in floppy version).