Review: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain28 Feb 2017 3
Review: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain
Released 21 Feb 2017
In 1982 Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone wrote a single-player adventure gamebook titled, "The Warlock of Firetop Mountain." It was a book meant to evoke the fun and adventure of tabletop role-playing games. The reader plays as an adventurer delving deep into Firetop Mountain in search of the treasure of a powerful warlock. The story played out much like a choose-your-own-adventure book. There are monsters to slay, traps to avoid, and other dangers to face, or avoid, in search for that ever-alluring treasure.
This book was the start of something big. Not only did it launch the Fighting Fantasy series of gamebooks but two sequels, five novels, a board game, and several video game adaptations. The latest such adaptation was funded by a super successful Kickstarter back in October of 2015. Tin Man Games, known for interactive video game titles, got the go ahead to bring Firetop Mountain to life once more. First up were the Mac and Windows versions, which were released on Steam last summer. Now, mobile gets a turn, with a launch for iOS last week.
The Warlock of Firetop Mountain starts by welcoming you to the world of Titan and it's notorious land of Allansia. A small tribute is paid to the adventure's decades-long legacy and the many heroes who have taken the plunge into the mountain. As the next to give it a go you're asked to choose one of four different Allansian heroes—Lunika Ekaadi, Dekion Strom, Alexandra of Blacksand, and Arran Gottspeed. Each has their own different quest, motivations, and of course choices to be made. Each will view what comes differently based on their skills and capabilities. Arran Gottspeed, for example, is a mighty brute but can't read a word…so signs and scrolls mean little to him.
One of the first things you'll note is the aesthetic of the game. It is meant to evoke not only a tabletop role-playing game, but also the pages of the original 1982 book, and Tin Man Games succeeds on both levels. The heroes take the form of a miniature in full-pose mode and are really well recreated in the game. The same goes for the many and varied monsters you'll face in the game. The miniatures were all made by Otherworld Miniatures—a small shop dedicated to making minis for old-school role-players, wargamers, and collectors—and then digitally scanned into the game. The attention to detail really shines through and the same visual style has been applied to the game's scenery which looks it was lovingly hand-crafted in preparation for game night. The story itself is delivered via black text printed on an old-parchment background and is accompanied by many of the illustrations from the original book. As your hero moves about the scenery appears in front of you on demand, as if through the handiwork of a very able Dungeon Master.
The game itself plays out a lot like other interactive-fiction titles. You are offered all kinds of decisions to make—which direction to go, whether to use stealth or brawn, to be guided by greed or honor, or whether to fight or flee. Each decision brings you deeper and deeper into the mountain and toward a final confrontation with the Warlock. The story is simple and prone to cliché, which is to be expected by anybody familiar with the source material, but may turn off gamers used to more modern storylines.
Whatever decisions you make, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is full of fighting. Combat takes place on a square grid representing the surrounding terrain and occurs in "WEGO" turn-based format, meaning both you and the monsters decide what to do and the actions are carried out at the same time. This builds in a bit more tactical decision making as you have to anticipate what your foes will do. If you're right, it could mean one or more of them walking right into your swinging blade. If you're wrong, however, you could take a big swing at an empty space and waste a big opportunity to take out a monster. Each creature has an attack pattern and tells you can try to pick up on in order to identify and exploit it. This makes each combat encounter a bit of a puzzle to figure out these patterns and plan your own moves accordingly. If you don't figure out a monster's pattern it's not a deal breaker, however, you can still certainly succeed in combat though you may emerge a bit more banged up.
Speaking of getting banged up, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain—like many tabletop RPGs—is all about attrition. Each character has a pool of Stamina and when you take damage in combat, or face a more text-based setback throughout the story, you lose Stamina. If you run out of Stamina you perish. There are benches on which you can rest to regain Stamina throughout the adventure and you can gain more if you consume provisions while resting. These also serve as save points for your game. When you perish later you can choose to restart at your last bench so long as you still have one of your three resurrection stones handy.
On the first play through, you never know if a bench is around the corner or quite some distance ahead, so there's always a bit of a calculation about how aggressively you can play. Many combat encounters represent a survival threat all on their own, but most are more about winning and taking as small a hit to Stamina as you can because you never know how many more scuffles you'll get into before you can rest. That's very reminiscent of several different editions of D&D, not to mention other tabletop games.
Tin Man Games has done a great job bringing The Warlock of Firetop Mountain to digital life. The game's aesthetic is top notch and it is quite obvious they spent a lot of time making sure it felt right and did proper homage to the original gamebook. The story flows well and the combat system is easy to play yet challenging enough to represent a real risk to your hero, especially over the course of many encounters.
The game is replayable with new characters, as each hero's quest is different. It should be noted, however, that much of the dungeon is the same regardless of hero and at some point you'll know to avoid certain areas because the risk isn't necessarily worth the reward. Side encounters is where things are the most different and much of the freshness comes from the different clues each character observes in their surroundings.
If you’re a fan of interactive-fiction titles like the Sorcery series you'll likely enjoy The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, although the story is not nearly as deep as similar titles in the genre. Fans of tabletop RPG modules will also find a lot to like in this game's single-player narrative and frequent combat action. Finally, if you're a fan of the old-school original book you'll enjoy diving into this recreation.