Review: Sorcery! 206 Nov 2013 0
Kharé is the Lankhmar of the Fighting Fantasy world. It’s Marlowe’s Los Angeles or Batman’s Gotham. It’s a place rife with ruthless slavers, corrupt noblemen, dishonest merchants, murderous thieves, and some rather unusual undead for good measure. All that happens even before you head into the sewers, and I won’t try to describe what you meet down there.
Unfortunately, Kharé is the only crossing of the mighty Jabaji River so you don’t have much of a choice if you want to recover the Crown of Kings in faraway Mampang Fortress. And you do. So enter Kharé you must.
You’ll be pretty damn happy you did.
If you’ve played the first Sorcery!, you may think you know what to expect from this sequel. Sure, the gameplay is pretty much the same. The beautiful, pseudo-3D map is still here. Combat involves the same tricky guessing game, and you can rewind to any earlier position in the game whenever you’d like. Kharé, however, is twice as big as the Shamutanti hills. Seriously, my first trek through the city took several hours. In Kharé, you can enter buildings and the map will zoom in to show you the building’s interior. More importantly, Kharé has an objective that’s so much more intriguing than Sorcery! 1’s “get to the end”.
The plot of Sorcery! 2 involves trying to cross the city and leave through its northern gate so that you can continue your quest for the Crown of Kings. In that sense, it’s similar to Sorcery! 1. The twist, however, is that the city’s northern gate has been closed and magically locked. To leave, you’ll need to track down the 4 lines of the spell that open the gates, each one held by a different noble in the city. Which nobles? Who knows. You’ll need to find that out, too. Oh, and don’t think the nobles are all sitting in their manors waiting for your arrival. They are scattered around the city, and simply finding them is half of the fun. Getting them to give up their secret is the other half. I had to retreat and redo my encounters with 2 of the nobles, as I wasn’t prepared to deal with either of them the first time we met.
Besides the overall mystery of the northern gate, Kharé sprinkles smaller puzzles and clues throughout that really make the city rewarding to explore. Strange idols that become important later. Offhand sayings from people you meet that turn out to be important later. Objects you find that, you guessed it, will be important later. Sorcery! 2 has a definite adventure game feel to it.
It's also huge. I've gone through the game twice now and there are several encounters I remember from the classic book that I haven't stumbled upon yet. There are encounters that I remember that have been rewritten for the digital app. I was fully expecting to know the answer to a puzzle when I met one certain gentleman. I didn't. It had been rewritten to use information that only exists in the digital app, and not in the gamebook. It was a brilliant choice, and one that took me by surprise.
I still have my reservations about the combat system which survives unchanged from Sorcery! 1. In nutshell, I can choose how strong of an attack to make each turn, and if my attack's power exceeds that of my opponent, I'll do some damage. It’s an entertaining system, but I continue to find it rather opaque. Why would I attack with a low power if I have no insight into what my opponent is doing? The text gives some clues into their thought process, but not enough to offer any tactical tells. I find it to be a little frustrating, like playing a board game without fully knowing the rules. I certainly don’t hate the system (it’s better than just rolling dice) but I can’t seem to wrap my head around it. Every combat can go either way…I can lose 10 hit points or 0 hit points, and I’m not sure what I did wrong in the former or what I did right in the latter. I did, however, find the enemies in Kharé to be far more interesting than the plain vanilla bandits in the Shamutanti Hills. I’ll take my lumps against dismembered undead, an angry bronze golem, or screeching harpies any day.
Sorcery! 2 implements the same bookmark system that was present in Sorcery! 1. That is, every single area you go to is bookmarked. I understand that this replicates being able to bookmark the physical book and go back to previous areas, but I don’t think they’re the same. With the physical book you could bookmark maybe 2-3 areas ahead before you lost track. In the digital version every place you’ve been is bookmarked along with your inventory, hit points, gold, etc. I find that much of the tension --and the search for the 4 lines is loaded with it-- is removed by being able to rewind at any point. Now, I know I can simply ignore the bookmarks and begin the book again on my own after I fail, but I wish the game gave me a hardcore option so I didn’t even have to worry about it. I’m not good at rolling Will saves, you see. This is one area that I feel Tin Man Games succeeds with their Gamebook Adventures series; you are given the option when you begin to have unlimited bookmarks or a limited number. I just don’t see the point of unlimited bookmarks unless you really need to get a review out the door fast. Ahem.
The threat of failure is also somewhat dismantled by the new ending. Yes, the digital version and physical version have different endings. I’ll leave it there as I don’t want to spoil it. It’s clever in keeping the story going even if you fail to find the spell, but not having it end with mind-crushing failure like the physical version seemed like a cop-out. Apparently, getting angry at your gamebooks was an 80’s thing.
In the end, I love this app. It brings Kharé alive, turning it from a series of somewhat disjointed scenes into a living, breathing place. Your quest for the 4 spell lines will take you into deserted mansions, hidden rooms, dark crypts, and a towering ziggurat. There are markets where you can buy items both magical and not. You can play Swindlestones, a bluffing dice game, with many other characters to win a little money…or not get killed. Want to use a bow in combat? I did. Want to change your diety? You can do that, too. So, while Kharé may have its nasty underbelly, I would definitely recommend that you take a little trip there. Hell, take several.
This game was reviewed on an iPad Air.