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Mysticism, magic and the mighty forces of darkness. A realm of enchantment or clichés? System sorcerer takes a look at Core Design's latest RPG.


Calling all potential dragon-slayers, budding sorcerers and muscle-bound warriors! Those with a penchant for all things wizard and wonderful can try their hand at Core Design's latest adventure, Dragonstone.

If slaying Orcs, talking to wizened old women and finding strange objects in return for even stranger objects is your bag, then don your best RPG trousers and follow me to a faraway land.


Unlike most of these sword and sorcery adventures, this doesn't have a long background tale to go with it. So far, all you know is that your spirit has been cast down from some unspecified location for no particular reason and as yet your mission is unknown. How's that for motivation?

Oh well, story or not, it all results in much the same thing: Wandering around in some 'time past' scenario, killing club-wielding Orcs and solving the puzzles. But as the game progresses the story is revealed.

First of all you find yourself in a forest and it soon becomes apparent that monsters must be slayed, characters talked to and strange objects collected in order to keep them happy. Then it's off to face the real bad guys and to find out how your soul has got in this terrible mess.



Dragonstone has more than a passing resemblence to Darkmere. This is Core Design's previous RPG, a 3D isometric adventure which employs a similar graphical style. However, Darkmere is far more detailed, less dated in appearance and has a great deal more to it than Dragonstone.

Gremlin's Legacy of Sorasil is another title in this genre but again it seems to offer a good deal more both in terms of graphics and playability. It also had atmosphere - something Dragonstone lacks.

There just doesn't seem to be a lot of depth to Dragonstone compared to other games of a similar nature. Gameplay needs to be a lot more varied to hold lasting appeal.
Compared to some of the other traditional adventure titles we've seen recently this looks very quaint and the puzzles are just too few and far between.


Never laugh at live dragons
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit



In the main, the sound is quite reasonable. A moody, dark tune works well as an introduction to the game and sets up an eerie theme. Background atmospheric sounds such as the peaceful forest are created by the use of bird song, or the howling wind and rippling water used in the Temple of Water.

However, the main character sounds rather unconvincing to say the least. He/she yelps and wails pathetically at every opportunity, all in a rather feeble, 70-a-day sounding grumble. This becomes irritating and you end up turning the volume down which is a shame because you then lose some of the good atmospheric effects.

Sword swipes, monster-yelps and pitiful dying noises didn't do a great deal to help matters either. Yes, there was a good background atmosphere present but I've heard a lot more stronger and convincing attempts.




Viewed from a 3D, top-down perspective, Dragonstone does look rather dated. Some of the scenes are quite pretty but you get the feeling that you've seen the settings before - many times before - in fact, ten years before!

Also, the game view means it is far from practical in some places. Say, for instance, you're walking along close to a hedgerow and an enemy attacks. You are then cornered and you can't see the baddy to strike him back! It's not entirely bad though. Some of the graphics portray the scenes well, the forest for example, or the dwellings of the mysterious characters. Small touches like roaring fires or even the flickering of torches work nicely in evoking a rich atmosphere.

However, some of the other scenes are just far too clich éd. For instance, the burning pits of lava scene, shown as a bubbling red pool with splodges. Convincing? Hardly!

And as for the monsters - they're quite laughable. The white mud-monsters squelch at you, looking like extras from a Scooby Doo cartoon, fire-spitting plants extend their 'menacing' tentacles out of the water, and the missile-launching gargoyles add to this motley collection of ridiculous looking baddies.




Traditional RPG adventures aren't everyone's cup-of-tea, but a good one can sell in abundance, bringing in an audience that would normally be disinterested in the genre. Dragonstone, however, just doesn't have the elusive qualities to make it stand out.

Graphically, it's pleasant enough, as is the sound, but unfortunately the game lacks any real depth because the gameplay mainly revolves around enemy-slaying and avoiding obstacles. The fight sequences become so unbelievably tedious and turn it into more of a hack 'n' slash game than a brain-teasing puzzler.

Every corner you turn you seem to be battling continually with monster after monster and without any warning they seem to corner you from all angles until, inevitably, you die. More puzzles and less of the hit-and-miss battles would have improved things greatly.

In its favour though, the game does have a Password System - although the words are just so ridiculously long they defy belief - and it does have a user-friendly interface, making the actions easy to carry out.

I suspect this game would be more suited to those new to adventures. It doesn't have the usual thick accompanying manual (a mere three pages, in fact), there are no taxing magic spells to work out and the puzzles are fairly logical. If you take the game at face value you can derive some fun from it. It was quite addictive for a while but memories of all the tedious monsters put me off returning for another go - the reappearing enemies would drive even those with saintly patience up the wall.

Those that class themselves as die-hard adventure fans might want to give this a try, especially if it's a slightly old-fashioned, straightforward RPG adventure they want.

However, I don't see that this will attract much more than a casual glance from a generation of gamesplayers that have come to expect high-tech graphics ad up-to-the-minute playability.

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Armed only with his trusty mouse and a keen sense of adventure, Steve McGill oints and clicks his way through Core Design's latest role-playing escapade.

Core have an outstanding reputation for top-quality, lush, arcade-graphic RPGs - Heimdall, Heimdall 2 and Darkmere to name but a few.

But things seem to have gone horribly wrong with their gameplay strategy lately. Take Universe as a prime example. It looked absolutely fantastic, the plot was engaging, but the game mechanics were horrible and unnecessarily awkward. Even the Core rep who brought it in to show us took several attempts at picking up objects and various other things.

And this pedantic tediousness has been carried on, although in a different form, with Dragonstone. This time round though, there were no reps to give us a demo or suggest the best tactics and strategies. This time, we were left to our own devices.

Stone me
In fact, it's just as we'd gone to the shop, bought ourselves a copy, rushed home, read the minimal instructions, thrown the disks into the drive and... and... and. And we felt totally ripped off.

Dragonstone looks great. Just what you'd expect from Core. But it feels and plays a bit like Sabre Wulf on the ZX Spectrum. Now, in our book that's a good thing. Sabre Wulf was a landmark in the history of computer games. But, unlike Sabre Wulf, the game doesn't contain enough to keep you interested.

In a vain attempt at injecting some interest, the crude mechanism of having irritating creatures such as hobglobins and orcs chase you all over the place has been implemented.

Sure, the monsters are easy enough to kill, but it's inevitable that they'll hit you at some point and eventually drain you of enough energy to kill you. This quickly tests your patience and leaves you ruefully staring at the box wondering: "Why the hell did I buy this?" Or not, in our case.

That's right, if you haven't paid attention to us and have gone out and bought the game, you're going to feel mighty ripped off. Because unless you're a perverse stoic this game is quickly going to bore you to tears.

Dragonstone rapidly becomes an exercise in robotic joystick mechanics. The only reason we stuck at it for as long as we did was to make sure that it didn't suddenly hot up and become a lot more interesting. Alack and alas, it didn't. What a dreadful, dreadful waste of disk space.

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Was gibt es auf den Konsolen nicht für tolle Actionadventures, allen voran die berühmte "Zelda"-Saga von Nintendo. So was wollte Core Design dem Amiga nun auch gönnen - doch es blieb beim guten Vorsatz.

Das actionreiche Japan-Adventure aus England stolpert bereits über die Sprachhürde, denn hierzulande kommt man nun mal nicht ohne Umlaute aus - es sei denn, man möchte mit solchen Wortmonstern wie "Glack" und "Kipfchen" konfrontiert werden.

Und auch bei der Grafik war den Designern das Glück nicht hold, denn zwar darf man wahlweise mit einem männlichen oder weiblichen Helden durch umfangreiche Draufsicht-Landschaften dackeln, doch sind die Animationen durchgehend mäßig geraten - zudem ruckelt das multidirektionale Scrolling zum Steinerweichen. Konsolentypische Effekte wie das zugegeben tolle Zerpixeln des Screens beim Teleportieren sind da nur ein schwacher Trost...

Immerhin weiß die dramatische Titelmelodie zu gefallen, und die Sound-FX sind sogar richtig atmosphärisch. Begleitet von Vogelgezwitscher und Grillenzirpen marschiert man also durch Wälder, erforscht Höhlen oder unterhält sich am knisternden Kaminfeuer mit den (wenigen) freundlich gesonnenen Bewohnern des hiesigen Fantasy-Reichs.

Dabei ist zu erfahren, daß man dazu auserkoren wurde, die Welt von üblen Barbarenhorden zu befreien und den Frieden wiederherzustellen. Kein leichtes Unterfangen, denn die anfänglich vier Leben sind gegen schier unerschöpfliche Monsterscharen zu verteidigen.

Auf Stick oder Pad ist der Feuerknopf dabei normalerweise für das Schwert zuständig, doch bei längerem Gedrückhalten erscheint ein Energiebalken, der sich nach dem Loslassen in einem Blitz entlädt; zudem kann der Wirkungsgrad beider Waffen im Spielverlauf noch gesteigert werden.

Dumm nur, daß immer wieder gleich mehrere Schurken die Lebensenergie aus dem umzingelten Helden prügeln, ohne daß er auch nur mit dem Schwert ausholen kann. Bei soviel Unfairneß hilft es herzlich wenig, daß manch gefallener Feind energiespendende Nahrung oder Gold, mit dem man z.B. eines der raren Extraleben erstehen kann, hinterläßt.

Sehr viel einfacher ist dagegen das Lösen der nicht allzu anspruchsvollen Rätsel oder das Erledigen kleinerer Aufträge. Aktionen wie das Untersuchen bzw. Benutzen von Gegenständen sowie Gespräche werden dabei über einen eigenen Screen durchgeführt, der sich mit der Leertaste oder einem zweiten Feuerknopf aufrufen läßt.

So weit, so erträglich, und selbst die fehlende HD-Unterstützung hätten wir aufgrund der kurzen Nachladezeiten noch weggesteckt. Aber daß man nicht speichern, sondern nur zu Beginn jedes Levels ein 20stelliges(!) Paßwort mühsam per Stick eingeben kann, das war uns dann doch zuviel der Japan-Anleihen.

Nö, für derart frustrierendes Gameplay und ein solch schauerliches Handling braucht man nun wahrhaft nicht nach Fernost zu schweifen, so was gibt es hier schon zur Genüge! (st)

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A great darkness has once more descended upon the land. Wake us at 8am.

Time's a fairly abstract concept in Magazine Land, you know. For instance, even though this is the February issue, it comes out in the middle of January, and I'm actually writing this a few days before Christmas, this game being the last thing I've got to do on this issue before heading home to Wigan. And it being Christmas, I've decided to devote a little peace and goodwill to my treatment of this game. Believe me, it needs it.

Be left in no doubt though, even though I'm going to try and be fair and impartial and all that, I hate this game totally. I'm playing it in the last week before a big holiday, when I should be playing Gravity Force 2 or our Skidmarks 2 coverdisk demo and having a good time, but in fact am shouting at the screen, throwing my joypad at the floor and calling it a ("Melon fudding, chicken socket fridge" - Ed) of a game, while the menopausal lady who periodically sanitizes our telephones looks in shocked silence.

It's a time of peace and goodwill though, so nice things first.

The game does indeed recognise a second disk drive, and is handily arranged on the disk to cut down accessing. The game's split up into different locations, and you only have to change disks when you move from one location to the other, rather than fiddling around mid-level. That's good.

There's no tedious 18 page novella to lough through, or stupid animated opening sequence to explain the tired, worn out old fantasy setting. Instead of all that tosh, there's the slightly cryptic message 'torn from limbo' and then bam, that's it, you're in the game as either a scantily clad butch female warrior or a completely dressed and less butch male equivalent. That's good too.

The game looks a lot like The Chaos Engine, with the same forced-perspective almost-but-not-quite-Looking-directly-down view that means you can alk behind objects and be obscured only slightly.

It works well, and combined with objects casting shadows, gives a real depth to the playing area. What with this and the graphics changing every so often as you progress through forests, villages, mountains and various temples, there's plenty of varied a nice graphics to look at. This is also good.

Even with all the peace and goodwill on Earth, that's pretty much it for nice things to say about Dragonstone, so we'll move neatly on to bland, middle-of-the-road aspects of the game. Such as the setting, for instance.

Now, regular readers of AMIGA POWER, and Kangaroo Court in particular, will know that we're no great fans of settings that include elves, pixies and goblins, and Dragonstone's got more taverns, beards, rogues, Raxinfraxins and Saxinraxins than most. How hard can it be to set an adventure game in an alternate past where the Roman Empire never fell, or where the petrol engine was developed during the Dark Ages?

Not hard at all, so why this repetition of a world inveted by JRR Tolkien toe entertain his trench-bound son during WW1? If you like this kind of thoughtless mush, then take heart that since this is the season of peace and goodwill, I've not penalised the game for being set in a whole world of cliches. But be aware that you're a very unpromising individual.

Bad things next:
* The combat system sucks. You face your enemy and have to swipe the word at exactly the right moment so the baddie walks into your swipe. A few hits like this and they're toast. However, mistime the swipe, and the baddie closes on you, josties you and injures you.

To stop being hit, you need to run away to get some space and repeat the process, but if you're backed up against a wall, hedge or another baddie, you'll keep on getting jostled, hit and damaged. Sure, there's a psychic missile attack, but you have to stand still for five seconds while it charges up, and can't move until you've released it. Pathetic.

* Further compounding the agony of combat, baddies constantly regenerated in all the levels I played, meaning that after wading through a pack of bad boys and taking the arbitrary damage that this involved. I had to do the same again on the way back. Terrible.

* After searching all the visible areas fruitlessly for hours, I discovered a secret room accidentally, and was horrified to learn that they're an integral part of the game. Aaarghh! I've already witnessed the tedium-filled horror of having to search something like 60 floor tiles in Valhalla And The Lord Of Infinity to find out which one the scroll's under, and now I've had to push my character along all of the edges of the maze until he walked through the hidden doorways. This isn't entertaining, or clever, or taxing. It's a heap of clapped-out, rusty old offal.

* Talks with wizards. Exchanging herbs for scrolls and blokes gasping out half messages with their dying breaths. Yawn.

* Bugs. I've been playing a boxed copy and it'll consistently crash out when I try and examine a certain object in a certain location. Also, I can find my way into (but not out of) a secret room beneath the foliage that I can't get out of and that kills me slowly while I'm in it. That can't be right.

* There's a password system from hell. Not only is each password 20 characters long, not only are there numbers, capital letters AND lower case (causing immense frustration when it comes to the difference between, 9, O and o) characters, but to add to all the frustration, YOU CAN'T USE THE KEYBOARD! Incredibly, you've got to twiddle the cursor round the screen rather than simply just typing it in. Unbelievable.

* You encounter a broken bridge with a two foot gap in it, but you can't jump over. A mushroom blocks your path and you can't go round. Tiny streams and clumps of grass blcok your path, even though a real person could clearly step over or go round, and buildings are much bigger inside than out.

What's the point of having a realistic-looking setting if you're confined to the route chosen by the programmer and enforced by on-screen obstacles that a two year old could navigate?

Oh sure, there's loads of it, but so what? Ive only played through the first three levels and half-heartedly used level codes to get pictures of some of the others, as nothing in the first third of the game encouraged me to play on or explore further as it's entirely devoid of atmosphere, interest or appeal.

So do I want a dull sub-Zelda-esque arcade RPG with niggly problems, a dot-to-dot plot and terrible combat system?
No thanks.

If there's one thing guaranteed to really annoy you while you're playing an adventure game, it's being told that you can't do something even though you clearly should be able to do it. You want examples? Dragonstone has plenty.

A few small mushrooms block your path, and you can't hop over them or simply step through that gap to the left of them. Hmmph.

For a game that depends on secret rooms whose entraces are completely hidden, there's an awful lot of bits that look like paths, but are in fact completely impassable.
Also, how come a stream no more than two feet across blocks the path of our hero?

The barman's chatty, but if you try to talk to the driners, you're told 'There is nothing here'. But there is. Bah.

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Price: £29.99 Publisher: Core Design 0332 297797

Core Design have finally finished their Zelda-style adventure game. Tony Dillon has always been a bit of a 'game boy' so we let him play it.

For years Nintendo owners have had the RPG edge with Zelda. In case you aren't familiar with this series of games, they are absolutely superb arcade adventures, viewed from above, that are so full of character and style that they have become world wide hits.

The Amiga has never really had this kind of game before, and it has to be said that the market has been somewhat starved of it. So when Core Design stood up and announced that they were to release a game called Darkstone originally thought to be the sequel to Darkmere, the Amiga world got ready for it.

Then came the exclusive coverdisk on CU Amiga Magazine and the game looked every bit as good as we had hoped. It had large, bright graphics, smooth scrolling, a simple but effective combat segment and puzzles galore. Nothing could go wrong.

Or could it? I'm afraid to say that Dragonstone has not turned out to be the digital prodigy we all hoped it would be. Sure, a high fifties score doesn't make it an awful game, but nowhere near what was expected. But before I launch into a full scale assault, let me talk you through what the game actually is.

You begin as a complete nobody; the classic Man With No Name. Stood in the forest with only your sword and an itchy head, you puzzle at the world around you. In no time at all you discover that you do have a quest - you are the one without memory of what has been before, who has to head off to a distant island and slay a bunch of dragons who are taking over the land. It all sounds easy enough, but there is always more than meets the eye.

The game is viewed from above and behind the main character, almost exactly the same viewpoint as is seen in The Chaos Engine. In this view you run in all eight directions, around a huge scrolling map, occasionally changing to a different map when you enter a building.

All of the puzzles in the game are scattered around the map, so you spend quite a long time running from one spot to another, and then back again, ferrying items all the way. That is, of course, until you press the space bar.

Interaction mode
Then you enter into Interaction Mode, and this is where the heart of the puzzle solving happens. A window on screen will show you one of three things: a character, specific item or a general location shot. If it's a character, you have the choice of talking to them, or trying to use an object on them. If it's a specific item, you can use something else on it, like a rope on a hole, and as it's a general location shot, there's isn't really much you can do. That's about it.

The only other part of the game to mention is the combat. As you can see from the screenshots, your sword is drawn at all times, and all you need to do is to tap on the fire button to swing it in the direction you are facing.

Holding down the fire button results in a harder hit. Holding it down until the power bar reaches the end leaves you firing a psychic bolt of energy in the direction you are facing. You have plenty of opportunity to upgrade your weapon as you go through the game, which simply speeds up the time it takes for the power bar to fill.

The game looks great, it must be said. The animation is smooth and flawless, and you are never left guessing as to where you can and can't walk or what the objects are.

Too hard, too easy
The problem with the game, however, is the gameplay itself. It is both far too easy and far too difficult to be playable, and in the end you walk away feeling frustrated. The puzzles, for the first part, are far too easy. Most of them seem dependent on you having visited all the important locations on the map, so you end up knowing that if Character A wants an item that Character B has, all you need to do is see Character C and everything will be sorted out. The one time I did get stuck, trial and error sorted me out in no time at all.

The combat is far too tough, and that isn't because I'm crap with a joystick. The problem first arose on section 3 of the game - Mountain Impossible, where sand monsters rise out of the ground in front of you. The collision detection is very inaccurate, and I found it impossible to score a blow on anything that my sword connected with. If, however, I swung too early, leaving a five or six pixel gap between the end of my sword and the thing I was trying to hit, I won the battle.

This also worked the other way around, which meant I ended up getting the stuffing knocked out of me because, for some reason, you can't move your sword when you're being attacked.

That said, it is quite an engaging game, and parts of it I really enjoyed. However, those parts were far outweighed by the number of times I slammed the joystick down in frustration, and with that in mind I really can't recommend it.