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Origin Systems Inc
Adventure: RPG
ZX Spectrum 48K

Matt Bielby
Chris Bourne

They don't get much bigger than this (fnar). Or harder (phwooargh). But enough of this innuendo, 'cos this is perhaps one of the longest, most absorbing games you can get for your Speccy. If you like your game playing in short, sweet bursts (like me) it mightn't be quite your cup of tea, but otherwise read on.

The story - and this is a very sawn-down version because it takes up many, many screens to explain - involves you as a lone warrior trying to whip your decadent kingdom back into shape. It's a bit of a problem 'cos barbarians are attacking from one side, various dangerous monsters on the other and there's plenty of internal feuding going on between the local nobles. You play one of three characters (a valiant Knight, powerful Barbarian or nimble Valkyrie) though it seemed to make precious little difference which one you chose.

The games takes place on a huge four way scrolling map, of around 5,000 screens by 8,000. So it's big. But amazingly enough it all works on a single load - no drive access needed even on the cassette versions!

So, off you go. You begin in the bedroom of an inn and must run around (with your feet making a nice little slapping sound on the flagstone floor and the four way scrolling working very smoothly) until you find the stairs, at which point you descend into a sort of bar. Here you'll find a few characters spread around eating and drinking, and can begin a conversation (or a fight) with any one of them. Depending upon who you talk to, you will end up with one of a few possible sub-quests which make up the game, such as recovering an important lost artifact or defeating a powerful villain. A candle on the right of the screen shows your power slowly dying down, but it can be replenished with a good night's sleep.

Graphically the game is very nice with its massive play area, tiny (but clearly defined) sprites, smooth scrolling, and nice little touches (like the roofs of buildings disappearing as you enter them). It would take weeks - perhaps longer - of pretty intensive playing to complete it, which puts me in the rather weird position of having to review a game when I've only really scratched the surface.

What I can say is that what I've seen has been fascinating, and lacks much of the aimlessness that I've felt about some similar games. It's still possible to walk off into nowhere, get lost and simply run out of energy, but if you keep whatever subquest you're involved in at the front of your mind you shouldn't go too far wrong. Not a cheap game, but if you've the time and the inclination, I doubt you'll be disappointed.

Gigantic fantasy role playing extravaganza with a neat control system and sound graphics. Brill.


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Conversation : This fighting lark is all well and good, but what if one of the punters wants to embark upon a little more sophisticated interaction (that's talk to you)?

To do this - which you should do at every opportunity - you must use the icon menu at the bottom of the screen. The space bar accesses this, and you get the option to examine your surroundings, pick up or drop objects, use them, give them away or talk. Choose one and a window opens up offering you any of the possible options. For instance, should you choose to talk, you go to the mouth icon, and chose between 'chit-chat' and 'asking a question'.

The computer gives you options on what you can discuss, and what your appropriate response might be. For instance, you may start a 'chit-chat', in which case the computer will choose a suitably vague opening gambit and a serf may respond by saying "it's not like the old days". You can then ask about 'the old days' at which point he may reply "In the old days we were ruled by King Whatsisface, but he died". You can then ask about King Whatsisface and so on.

A gong goes off when an important item of info is given (in case you missed it). Keywords go on a menu and you can ask anyone you subsequently meet to tell you what they know about any one of them.

Combat : Some people you talk to react pretty badly (yup, they attack you) which means you'll have to fight back - a simple but effective process that involves facing them and jabbing the fire button until their energy runs out, at which point a nice little graphic of a skeleton and then a gravestone appears before they fade away.

Outside the buildings you'll find a whole host of monsters, lurking around, some of which are rather tough. These include cloaked archers (the only ones who can damage you at a distance) and brutishly strong orcs, both of which will drop things when killed, like gold (useful for buying things), food or magic potions (usually safe to try though they may have odd effects). Neither sort of monster is recognised by the computer as 'existing' in so much as it claims there is no-one near if you try to talk with them. Which brings us to...