When hell freezes over

Demon's Winter logo

PEOPLE who like playing Dungeons and Dragons but don't fancy spending their time collecting multi-sided dice generally progress on to computers, which have their own set of dice and are less likely to accidentally misread them at a critical moment - an understandable excuse in the semi-darkened hovels such people tend to frequent.

Software houses, although perhaps a bit slow on the uptake, now knock out D&D type games by the basketfull - they know a good thing when they see one (Oh yeah?) and they also know a good thing when they see a bad one.

Most of these games have a section for character generation followed by the main part of the game, an adventure of some sort, usually some quest randomly punctuated by sending lots of happy-go-lucky monsters which frolic across your path to wherever it is they go when they have been dismembered and trounced upon. Demon's Winter, unfortunately, is no exception.

To start with, you must create a party with five members. If your name's David Owen you already have one. The party can be made up of any of the usual character classes - paladin, ranger, barbarian, monk, wizard, thief, cleric and so on.

Each character must also choose his race, but unfortunately no indication is made of which race is suited to which type of persona.
Characters may be added to or removed from this list at any time but there must always be five members of the party before you can enter the adventure, even if some of them are dead. Once again, a bit like the SDP.

Death is but a mild inconvenience, a slight malady that can easily be cured for around 90 gold pieces, no questions asked, no money back, no guarantee. Healers skilled in the art of resurrection abound, which is just as well, 'cos the Reaper is outside and he's in his working clothes.

You begin in some ruins. It is a good idea to visit the nearby village and buy some fearsome weapons before you run into anything nasty.

Monks can be quite good at karate, but anyone else without a weapon would best spend their attack period looking for something big and solid to hide behind - like the monk.

Wizards are pretty good guys to got to know, too. They may be rather weak, but even the lowest novice can unleash horribly destructive power with a softly spoken magic spell.

Once suitably equipped you are prepared for, well, exploring and things I suppose, or whatever else it is that archetypal heroes do. When you enter a village a series of gadgets appears with all the possible moves you can make. You can visit the pub. Go to church, have a kip in the in...

Similar gadgets appear when you make camp. You can go hunting, pray, go to sleep, along with a whole host of other options. It is annoying that you have to make camp to examine the characteristics of your characters or to equip them with weapons.

There are objectives, things to obtain, places to explore and a small number of puzzles to solve, but most of your time will be spent beating off random assortments of sad guys who are out to spoil your day.

The fight scenes are the most disappointing part of the game. The graphics could have been done better on a Spectrum, the sound effects are easily surpassed by those of the Oric. Basically you are left with a program that would run more happily on an 8 bit machine.

Demon's Winter logo


You will never complain about the English weather again. For soon all the land will be covered with snow and the oceans will turn to blood, unless - can you guess? - a band of valiant adventurers can save the world from its terrible fate.

The demon god Malifon (what is in a name?) lies trapped in the heart of a volcano where even now his power is growing. Minions of Malifon travel the world causing death and destruction as they work on the task of releasing their god.

Before you begin on your quest to save the world you need to create a party of adventurers. Up to five can begin the quest and you can choose any one of five races: dwarf, elf, dark elf, troll or human, and 10 character classes: ranger, paladin, barbarian, monk, cleric, thief, wizard, sorcerer, visionary and scholar.

After you have chosen the race and class of the character you can choose two skills for it. Make sure that at least one character has the Spirit Runes spells, because they can be used to heal your characters. A priest is useful too as he can destroy undead using the power of his deity to strike them down, saving you from having to go in and fight them hand to bony hand.

Now that you have your band of adventurers it is time to explore the world and seek the means to bind Malifon in the volcano for all eternity. The world is filled with dangerous foes to fight and as you explore you will gain in experience which will enable you to improve in combat and magical skills. Eventually you will be able to buy a ship and then explore the ocean and reach far off lands. Malifon and his minions await your band, and they will stop at nothing to defeat you.

The less said about the graphics the better really, they are colourful alright, but small, poorly animated and lacking in detail. The world graphics are very simple, in fact the whole game looks extremely eight-bit and the sound is just as bad with ineffective effects and an absolutely diabolically awful signature tune on the title screen.


The label of role playing game has been applied to many games in the past, and the majority are just hack and slay games with no thought involved at all. Dungeon Master was called a role playing game, but was just a hack-em-up with pretty graphics. The Bard's Tale is closer to role playing with more than just simple puzzles to solve, there was some plot and more challenging mental conundrums to deal with.

Demon's Winter takes a step forward along the role playing lines with the multitude of options available to you and the more realistic combat in which you have much more control. Tactics can be used properly for a change. Unfortunately so much has been done to make the game play well that the appearance has fallen by the wayside, it looks and sounds awful which is a terrible shame, because Demon's Winter is one of the best computer role playing games to date. SSI are still on the head of the field when it comes to computer role playing and they look likely to stay there.

Demon's Winter logo

SSI, C64 £19.99; Amiga £24.99

Well knock me down with a heavy sledgehammer (trust me, I know what I'm doing), it's another of them role-playing doobries. You create and control five characters whose mission is to search the large world of Ymros for the spells needed to see off a particularly evil demon, Malifon. He's currently trapped in a volcano, but this hasn't prevented him from casting a whopper of a spell to change the world climate (I blame it on the depletion of the ozone layer myself). Now it's permanently winter and the seas have turned into blood (the water's not quite up to European safety standards, but good enough for Britain!).

Creating a character is achieved by first choosing its race (Human, Elf, Dwarf, Dark Elf or Troll), each type having positive and negative modifiers for some of the nine character traits. Non-human races also get a bonus skill, e.g. dwarves can see in the dark. Five character traits (Speed, Strength, Intellect, Endurance, Skill) are determined by simulated die rolls - you get two chances to reroll any low values.

The other four traits are Hit Points, Spell Points, Level and Experience, the last two increasing as progress is made in the game. Finally, the character's class must be chosen from ten: Ranger, Paladin, Barbarian, Monk, Cleric, Thief, Wizard, Sorcerer, Visionary, and Scholar. After choosing one you're presented with a list of possible skills (relevant to the chosen class) from which two can be selected.

When you have a party of five it's time to go adventuring. The extensive world of Ymros is shown from overhead with your entire party represented by a single, simply animated character. A list of adventuring commands appears to the right of the graphics window with another window below for text messages.

On the Amiga, movement is achieved by pointing the mouse in the desired direction; commands are also selected using the mouse. 64 owners use keys for commands (selected by initial letters) and can also use a joystick to control all movement. General commands include Look For Traps (one of the party must have the 'Detect Traps' skill), Take/Drop items and Inspect surroundings of items.

While exploring the lands, dungeons and seas (by buying a boat), enemies are often encountered. Combat takes place as soon as you are spotted by hostile creatures. The display switches to that of the combat 'arena' with the characters this time portrayed separately. For each combat round, every character gets a certain number of action points (equal to his Speed) to use for movement and attack.

To attack an enemy the character must be adjacent to it - there are no missile-firing weapons. Characters may also Dodge enemy attacks, making themselves harder to hit. Wizards may cast a variety of useful spells during combat although powerful mass destruction spells (such as Fire Storm which covers a 5x5 block area) cannot be used in the round of combat.

If your party is outnumbered you can always make a quick escape by running to the edge of the arena, although all characters must leave at the same point. Alternatively, if you successfully kill all enemies you are rewarded with their possessions and money (even rats carry gold pieces!).

Scattered around the landscape are lots of towns. It's a good idea to enter one of these at the start of your quest to buy weapons and provisions from merchants - a bit of shrewd haggling can get you a lower price. However, merely buying a powerful weapons does not entitle a character to use it, he must have the relevant skill and enough strength.

For some reason characters must also equip themselves with weapons and armour before they can be used. This option is only accessible when in Camp: fortunately the party can Camp at any time bringing another set of options into play including Hunt for food, Sleep (this restores lost spell points), and Worship.

The latter involves a character with Priest or Shaman skills praying to his deity - there are ten different gods who can each come to your aid (if they hear you) in combat or camp. Each one can only help in one way such as resurrecting a character, lifting your party our of dander, and avoiding foes. However, each character can only worship one god and becoming a priest costs valuable intellect points. Gods also need to be kept happy by praying to them and making donations when you find a relevant temple (each town has a single temple devoted to one of the gods).

As you'll already have gathered, Demon's Winter is an RPG that owes much to Dungeons and Dragons in both scenario and game mechanics, although the gameplay is nowhere near as deep as in the superior official D&D game, Curse Of The Azure Bonds (reviewed here, in case you're blind!). Still, the world of Ymros is massive (32 times larger than SSI's Shard Of Spring) and will take weeks if not months of play to fully explore.

The game is easy enough to get into with its easy-to-use command system and simple combat routines, although the latter are not as satisfying as in Curse. The game's main flaw is undoubtedly its dull appearance, especially on the Amiga; the graphics are very simple and largely unanimated even in combat, and sound is virtually non-existent. Actual gameplay is reasonable, but not as interesting as Curse