Dungeons & Dragons just doesn't cut the ice if you're a German role player. Apparently, everyone is playing Das Schwarze Auge, which roughly translates as 'The Black Eye' (that's black as in evil, not black as in after a punch-up). The game is built around the world of Arkania, where Dragons are disgruntled, Elves are elevated and Orcs are 'orrible. Actually, it's more medieval fantasy, although there wasn't as much magic in medieval times as there is in Blade of Destiny.
The story behind the game takes place in the peaceful land of Arkania which is under threat from a band of Orcs. You control a band of adventurers whose mission is to recover the nine parts of a map showing the location of the lost blade of destiny, which you should then proceed to bury in the Orc chief's head.
Unfortunately, the previous owner of the blade got rather tied up with a bunch of Orcs who chopped off bits of his anatomy and confiscated his sword.
You've not only got to find bits of the map, but you build up a group of adventurers who aren't afraid to travel into the snowy wasted of Orcland and fight with all the unpleasant beasties. So, fearlessly, you travel through the various realms of Arkania, righting wrongs, drinking beer, and saving helpless dragons from terrifying maidens...
It's the way I tell 'em
All right, so there's nothing stunningly original about the concept or the background in this game. It's not a storyline that's likely to win any prizes for originality, but because it can be approached from many ways, and the solutions also vary, it keeps you interested every time you start a new game. The storyline also provides a good background, and the places you move through have a 'real' feeling to them.
Your first stop in this game should be the manual, because you're not going to be able to get into it within five minutes. The manual gives you all the information that you're likely to need on the towns, cities, gods and countries of the realms of Arkania. It also explains the complex character creation system.
To create a group is a rather involved process - you have a series of the usual characteristics such as strength, wisdom, intuition and dexterity - as well as attributes such as superstition (fear of magic), avarice (greed) and necrophobia (fear the dead).
Each will have a different effect - a character with high necrophobia is more likely to run away if confronted with an army of 'dead' Orcs, than an army of living Orcs. There's no such thing as a free lunch with characters, so if you set a character's strength attribute high, he, she or it, is likely to turn out to be somewhat lacking in the brains department.
Character creation is performed in a separate program, which also sets up a disk for saving games if you're running off floppy disk. To set up characters you can either start from scratch and roll a set of virtual dice for the various attributes, or you can pick an Archetype - such as Warrior, Dwarf, Rouge or Druid.
From this basis,you increase certain attributes, although this will also lead to other ones being reduced. It's a good idea to get a range of different characters, as you will need many skills to get on in the game. Once you've created your group, you save them to disk and go into the main part of the game.
A night out on the town
You and your happy band start out in Ragnar, one of the more cosmopolitan cities in the realm of Arkania. Here, you can move around the city familiarising yourself with the controls, and checking out what's going on. A good place to start is a tavern - they're full of locals gossiping. There's also a dungeon in which you can practice the combat system.
Once you've had a look around town and equipped your team, it's time to go out into the big wide world. But first you need to find one of the signposts on the edge of town. When you walk into a signpost, the map screen appears and you decide where to send your band and keep track of their progress. If they come across anything, or are attacked, you are moved on to the relevant screen. Even if your adventurers are tough, they will need to sleep sometimes, but if you set up camp for the night, put some guards on watch - you never know what sort of nasties are around.
In to battle
Combat takes a completely different approach from that used use by most other RPGs. Instead of using the normal player point of view, you are presented with a pseudo 3D view not dissimilar to that of Battlechess.
Each of the players and nasties take turns to carry out their actions, which are controlled bya system of points. For instance, if you've got five points, you can either move five squares or attack the enemy, but not both at the same time. Your actions can be move, attack, cast spell, switch weapon or wait. If you've got any archers in your party, it is best to keep out of the fray and shoot baddies from a distance, as they're less likely to get chopped up here. The players have their own little animation and accompanying sounds, and these work well to give a realistic feel to the combat section.
If the fighting all gets a bit too much, you can run away by moving off the edge of the board, but if you're blocked in you have to fight it out. This means that fights last longer and are more involved, requiring real thought instead of the usual button pressing frenzy,
If you survive a fight, each of your players is given a number of experience points, based on how nasty the opposition was and if you encountered any new monsters. Collecting enough of these means your character can advance a level, where they can improve their characteristics. Magicians can also use this to learn new and better spells.
As you move through the various areas, you pick up rumours and carry out a series of tasks. This will eventually lead to obtaining all of the bits of the map, which will lead you to the last resting place of the blade of destiny. To get anywhere near the blade, you will need to have some pretty tough adventurers, so don't expect to complete this game in a few hours - it will be more like a few weeks.
It does run on a standard 1Mb A500, but you have to lose either the complex bitmapped graphics or the in-game music, if you're running on a machine with only 512K Chip RAM. Playing on a floppy drive only system is possible, but prepared to spend a lot of time waiting for the program to load data, even if you have a lot of memory. It does take advantage of any extra drives, but there's still a lot of disk swapping involved. This is a brilliant excuse for buying a hard disk - it's almost unplayable on a floppy drive only system.
The whole approach of the game is based on games such as Dungeons and Dragons than other RPGS like Eye of the Beholder. This works in its favour, because you're working withing a better designed and more established system. For instance, there's more variety of magic in Blade of Destiny and it is well thought out.
It's certainly a game that will take a long time to solve, and it's challenging enough to make it worth coming back to. This game is the first in a trilogy, and the future for the realms of Arkania looks extremely bright.