Dragon Lore II (Second Opinion)

Developer/Publisher:  Cryo Interactive Entertainment
Year Released:  1996

Review by Steve Metzler (May, 1998)
Dragon Bore, Too
Dragon Lore II screenshot*Sigh* I'm fairly certain this is the most horrible game I have ever played. It had me searching frantically for a walkthrough shortly after the opening scene. Please try to understand - I wanted this experience to be over as quickly and mercifully as possible. However, very few games, no matter how abysmal in concept and/or execution, don't have at least some redeeming features. I'll try to make some up as we go along, but first...

I suppose I should tell you something about the plot, which is ostensibly the reason for playing this load of codswallop in the first place. Very well, then. You are Werner von Wallenrod, son of Axel, who was treacherously murdered by one of his knightly peers, Diakonov. Eventually, you were able to claim your rightful inheritance and Diakonov was banished for his cowardly crime. I could go on, but suffice it to say: that you are a Dragon Knight who's lost his dragon, Maraach. You must find him, and together do battle with the other Dragon Knights and their dragon familiars. The victor becomes the new Dragon Prince, a title currently held by one Arthus, who is getting on a bit and wants out. After that, it's off to the Obsidian Gates to repel a hoard of orcs ... but that task, fortunately, is left for the next installment in the series, which hopefully will never see the light of day.

Le Dialogue
Cryo Interactive is a French company, but no one had to tell me that. Bits of the game are still in French, even though this is supposed to be the English version of the game I'm playing. For instance, when you're typing in the name of a saved game, you have to cope with an AZERTY keyboard layout! The message informing me that I had to insert CD1 and press the space bar, which I saw more times than I care to remember, was in French. And then, the dialogue itself ... all very "m'lord" and "m'lady" and overly twee to boot. At least what was being spoken was replicated as fairly accurate subtitles on the bottom of my screen, else I wouldn't have had a clue what the characters were saying. The voice quality was, um, not the best.

Next we come to the main reason for Dragon Lore II's record time to the bargain bin... the scripting. We're talking trucks here. Yup. Entire fleets of articulated lorries could be driven through the holes in this script. When you've completed a mini-quest, the NPC you're dealing with is still spouting the same gibberish as when you took the quest in the first place! Hmm. Did I do what I was supposed to do there? Of course I did! Then why do you keep asking me the same things over and over again? Please turn the dead dialogue paths off, Cryo.

Going, Going... Gone!
The classic 'long dead-end' crops up here too, and is the second rather large nail in Dragon Lore II's coffin. Early on in the game, when you're actually being pushed forward by the flow of the game, you're expected to turn around - for no good reason whatsoever - and encounter an NPC who gives you an object which is essential to the completion of this game. If you don't turn around (i.e., if you're not following a walkthrough) you'll find yourself wandering around aimlessly about 2 weeks later, in real time, wondering what the hell is going on. Game over. Start again. I thought only Sierra were allowed to do this to you (Copyright held by King's Quest series).

Win Some, Lose Some
Dragon Lore II screenshotThe graphics are simultaneously the best, and the worst, Dragon Lore II has to offer. The sights encountered by night in the city of Draconia are spectacular (hey, that's a redeeming feature). Contrast it with this: that amorphous mass by the hand cursor in the screenshot over there to your right is actually an important object! A pixel hunting nightmare. Most objects do not stand out from the background at all. You have to move the 'hand' cursor all over the screen until text appears informing you that some non-descript blob is actually a manipulable object!

A Moving Experience
Movement is from node to node (90 degree turns only) with smooth transitions in between, rather like in Zork Nemesis. Fortunately, you can hit the space bar at any time to 'fast forward' to the next spot. You'll be doing this a lot. There were real peculiarities with this system, in that some places were almost impossible to get to logically. For instance, to enter one particular shop in Draconia, you had to turn 270 degrees to the left in 3 separate moves to line up for it, because the interface would not allow you to turn 90 degrees to the right instead!

A real bummer with this game is that trigger events are spaced quite far apart in time. The game takes place over 24 days, and you'll spend most of that time wandering around the streets of Draconia, waitng for day to turn into night, or vice versa. You can occupy yourself during these endless walks (time doesn't pass unless you walk around!) by eating constantly to keep up your strength. Role-playing, you know.

Combat... with the Interface
Dragon Lore II features real-time combat that could have been very good (combat graphics are quite nice. Another redeeming feature). Unfortunately, the lack of any aural feedback makes it very difficult to gauge your success (or failure) against a particular foe. As soon as you engage an enemy, the 'fighting' soundtrack kicks in. That's it. No sounds of battle. If you manage to land an effective blow on your opponent, he/she/it flinches slightly. If you are struck, the screen flashes red for an instant (gee, wonder where they got that idea from). And worst of all... it's simply a click-fest. That's all there is to it. Just point your weapon and click as fast as you can. There are different types of swings/thrusts you can execute (a la Daggerfall), but if you take the time to execute these, or try to block your opponent's blows with your shield, you will lose. Oh, you can cast a Weakness spell on your opponent, and a Protection spell on yourself, but there's no feedback (visual or aural) indicating that the spells have any effect. You just have to take the walkthrough's word for it that you should use these spells during combat.

During the course of the game, there are two occasions where you must participate in a jousting tournament. Nice idea, terrible execution. Here the graphics are very pixellated. But that's not the worst aspect of the jousting. No, you have to go through the whole rigamarole of selecting the order of your opponents, your lance, and your mount (9 times going through the same repetitive motions) only to find that the whole thing is rigged! There's always one opponent that's nigh impossible to beat, and even if you defeat a certain character, that character wins the tournament regardless!? Give me a break, Cryo. You're just wasting my time. A fart in your general direction is in order here, me'thinks.

End of the Road
I've saved the worst part of all for last. The game comes on 3 CDs. When you die in combat, which is often (see explanation above), you have to:

  1. Insert CD 1, and start the game all over again. No, I'm not kidding.
  2. Skip over the opening sequence using Esc, and fast forward through another bit using the space bar. Then, you can click on an icon to get to the inventory screen, which also has the save/restore functions on it.
  3. Load your previously saved game, which is invariably on a CD other than CD 1.
  4. Multiply the frustration factor by 4 because I have one of those new-fangled 32x drives which take at least 15 seconds to spin up each time.
  5. Kill yourself. It's easier. If you get bored out of your skull while going through this restore process and happen to hit the space bar before the CD spins up, you have to close down the whole DOS box and start over! You don't get a second chance to hit the space bar. I think I'm gonna kill somebody! rating:  

Copyright © Steve Metzler 1998. All rights reserved.