Shadow Sorcerer logo

If you've been a big fantasy fan since you were knee-high to a hobbit then this game may appeal to you. If you're into swords and sorcery, Conan the Schwarzenegger and so on, you may as well skip the next paragraph.

Shadow Sorcerer is set on the world of Krynn, home of the Dragonlance saga. The whole story is contained in an immense set of books, which was cleverly designed by TSR (owners of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons game) to be the cornerstone of a marketing era. Put it another way - the background is Tolkienesque with a few twists.

The good guys in the game are the Companions. The game starts just after said crew have feed the slave population of a city called Pax Tharkas and imprisoned the former master race (the Draconians).

The situation isn't as rose as it seems. The ex-slave refugees have nowhere to to and nothing to eat. The Draconians are not going to stay walled-up forever - they'll break out in a day or two, and they'll hunt you down.

You've got to find food ans shelter for the refugees and get them to a permanent sanctuary. Blocking your goal are a varied assortment of monsters, several mountain ranges, and a democratically elected group of refugee leaders who bicker all the time.

Thoughtful mayhem
Shadow Sorcerer is played on two different levels. The game starts on the strategic map. It's composed of hexagons and only shows the main mountain ranges. The objective is to get from the top end of the map to the southern part, where you understand a lost band of dwarves live, who might help you out with refugee resettlement.

You don't have the mundane task of moving the refugees around the map. Instead, you control a small scouting partyof up to four characters, drawn from the larger group of Companions. You can also mix and match your small team.

There's a wide range of talent in the group, from a dark horse magus called Raistlin to a sweet old cleric named Elistan. The usual ensemble of heroes, cut throats and warrior maidens fills the gap in the middle.

The main body will follow your party, gradually. As you move through the terrain, detail gets filled in on the main map. The terrain varies from old roads to lakes (which are totally impassable).

When you find something of interest - whether it's a small group of monsters or a whole underground labyrinth - the view changes to an isometric close up of your group and any surrounding nasties.

There are magic items and weapons to collect which can help later on. Gradually you pick up the plot threads. Without giving much away, the manual gives plenty of clues (assuming that you read it).

Hit and miss
It may sound wonderful, but I've got more reservations than a tribe of Red Indians. It's not so much the way you play the game - the method of controlling your heroes is simple to learn, and the tactics are straightforward (run away unless you know you can win easily).

No, it's the way the game behaves. The larger cave networks are teeming with monsters. It makes sense to send in your fighters through the door first. On the other side, your puny magic user/thief gets beaten to death, as the fighters migrate to the rear for no reason.

When a character 'dies', they mysteriously reappear at the main body of refugees, ready to be healed and sent into the fray. How illogical.

These are the tip of the iceberg. The game has no sense of humour at all, yet I cannot take it seriously. It looks great, plays all right, but keeps tripping you up with its bizarre logic. No long-term fun at all.

Shadow Sorcerer has a simple command system: click on a figure and tell them what to do. Here's a full rundown of all the possible actions that you can command your troops to follow.
Shadow Sorcerer: Explanation user interface
  1. Hand-to-hand
  2. Examine
  3. Walk to
  4. Middle, from top: Ranged Weapon, Pick Up, Everyone walk to
  5. Magic
  6. Talk
  7. Computer control

Fluchthilfte à la AD&D

Shadow Sorcerer logo

Unter den Dragonlance-Action-Rollis ist dieses Game, was "Eye of the Beholder" unter SSI's ernsthafteren Dungeon-Wanderungen war: Der erste Vertreter des New Look!

Tja, langsam aber sicher kann man die Unterscheidung zwischen "seriösen" AD&D-Umsetzungen und eher oberflächlichen Rollenspiel-Geplänkeln wohl ad acta legen - die Gemeinsamkeiten zu "Dragons of Flame" beschränken sich hier praktisch auf die Story und das verfügbare Helden-Personal.

Doch wo sich die Flammendrachen mit gehobener Joystick-Action begnügten, setzt der Schatten-zauberer auf komplexe Kopfarbeit...

Die Geschichte knüpft nahtlos an den Vorgänger an, wo ja die Einwohner des Städtchens Pax Tharkas aus den Klauen der Draconier befreit wurden.

Nun sind die Leutchen also auf der Flucht gen Süden, und haben ganze Horden der erbosten Ex-Sklaventreiber auf den Fersen. Eine vierköpfige Party soll de Flüchtenden Begleitschutz geben, daher sucht man sich erstmal seine Lieblinge aus einem Angebot von 16 (teilweise altbekannten) Helden aus, um so-dann das vor dem Treck liegende Gelände zu erkunden und monsterfrei zu halten, sowie für Nahrungsnachschub zu sorgen.

Die vorgefertigten, mit den gewohnten Berufen und Spells ausgestatteten Charaktere (selber stricken ist hier nicht möglich) verfügen zwar über einen gewissen Einfluß auf die nachfolgenden Flüchtlinge, doch neigen diese in kritischen Situationen dazu, sind in kleine Gruppen mit unterschiedlicher Marschrichtung zu zersplittern.

Das macht die Aufgabe natürlich nicht eben leichter, zumal der Erfolg daran gemessen wird, wieviel der Vertriebenen man letztlich in Sicherheit bringen konnte.

Die Hilfsaktion wird auf einer scrollbaren Wabenkarte überwacht, die erst nach und nach Gestalt annimmt - nur das tatsächlich erkundete Gelände ist detailliert zu erkennen. Nicht minder motivationsfördernd sind die übrigen grafischen Verbesserungen gegenüber den zwei-dimensionalen Vorgängern:

Auf dem Nah-Screen sind unsere vier Recken samt ihrer unmittelbaren Umgebung (Landschaft, Gebäude oder Dungeons) nun in isometrischem 3D zu bewundern, saubere Animationen gibt's obendrein. Jede(r) der Mannen und Frauen kann hier per Maus und Icons einzeln gesteuert werden, was sowohl für Gelände-Inspizierung als auch für Kämpfe gilt.

Letztere beeinflußt man nur noch mit prinzipiellen Befehlen, also nicht mehr direkt per Stick, man kann sie auch völlig dem rechner überlassen. Im Karten-Modus wird das in Echtzeit ablaufende Drama mittels drei bequemer Pull-down-Menüs dirigiert; unter anderem ist es hier auch möglich, einzelne Helden oder gleich die ganze Party auszuwechseln.

Und sogar der Sound (verschiedene Melodien plus FX) liegt nun deutlich über dem AD&D-Durchschnitt.

Tja, negativ fiel eigentlich nur auf, daß es keine vernünftige Möglichkeit gibt, Items auf Sinn und Zweck zu untersuchen. Aber man ist ja nicht kleinlich... (jn)

Shadow Sorcerer logo

SSI takes a sideways step with the D&D game, go icon crazy, and get all graphic and hexagonal on us.

Bob Malin, US Gold's D&D man, told us back in issue six, "With Shadow Sorcerer, we've tried to make things more accessible to the average gamesplayer." Mmmm."

The problem with producing any computer version of D&D is that its just such a huge concept, everything is open-ended, and so the possibilities are limitless. SSI know this, and so what they generally try to do with all their various D&D licences is select various elements from the concept, mix them together in differing amounts, and with different forms of presentation.

Remember Eye of the Beholder? Of course you do. Well, that was a Dungeons & Dragons game which concentrated very much on the maze and combat aspects of D&D.

Something like the forthcoming Ultima VI (although its not actually a D&D licence) leans far more heavily on wargame-style combat, subtle puzzles, and large scale exploration, using, as it does, an entire world as its playground. Then we come to Shadow Sorcerer, which is a different kettle of fish entirely (and will somebody please tell me what fish are doing in a kettle?)

Anybody vaguely familiar with D&D will know that some players utilise painted lead miniatures when playing. This helps when combat is being played out, as everybody is given a clear representation of just where their characters are at any particular point.

This is the aspect which Shadow Sorcerer concentrates on, offering 'computer-assisted' control over four fully animated characters in close-quarters situations. In addition to this 3D isometric representation of the play area, Shadow Sorcerer also uses a large-scale hex-map to depit the less interesting bits.

The basic gist of the game, then, is something like this. Four characters are selected from a roster of sixteen. These characters can then be moved from cell to cell on the hex map, with a band of refugees following (usually, anyway), somewhere behind.

If a new location is remotely interesting, the game will pop up a brief description, the switch to the close-up 3D isometric view. This is the screen where all fighting, spellcasting, objects manipulation and puzzle solving takes place. Occasional animated cameos also crop up from time to time, usually when the refugees hold a conference, a dwarven king gives an audience or another such occasion.

If this all sounds just a little disjointed to you, then you understand my problem with this game. That's not to say I didn't enjoy it. It does have some good points. The graphics are up to par (except for the map screen), the plot is a nice change from the usual hack-and-slay fare, and it's possible to get quite attached to the characters (particularly if the Dragonlance scenario is your kind of scene).

Even the control system offers a nice change, making quite a range of commands accessible from the mouse. SSI have taken great care to offer something very different from their usual stuff. But...

When compared to the simple but nonetheless enjoyable Hero Quest, Shadow Sorcerer just comes across as trying to be too many things to too many people. Hero Quest sticks to the 3D view to give coherence, and although the fighting is a bit naff, the exploration and puzzle solving aspects really get with the easy-to-get-into approach.

Much as I like the combat (the opportunity to pre-plan each character's strategy or do everything by mouse clicks is novel, and actually works well), and much as I appreciate the chance to have some nifty 3D graphics, the phrase 'just doesn't gel' keeping ringing in my mind.

Constantly swapping between map and action levels ruins the flow of gameplay. I can't help feeling that Shadow Sorcerer would have been in the Eye of the Beholder league if only they'd used the 3D view at all times, reduced the size of the play area, added a scrolling routine, put more variation in locations and monsters (particularly wen they're all of a similar graphic size), and added a message bar to explain the use of icons and describe events without holding things up.

As it stands though, it's nowhere near as good as Beholder, which is a shame - these changes wouldn't have been to hard to implement, now would they?

Forget mastering sorcery - it's the icons which need to be studied.
Shadow Sorcerer: Explanation user interface
  1. This little meter shows the relative health of a character. Of course perfect health for a warrior is better than a sorcerer's.
  2. Dragging items over this little icon places the objects in the character's backpack.
  3. The killer bees, while not the worst of nasties, are a mean bunch. Having already wiped out three quarters of my party it looks like it's almost the end for my hero.
  4. It's very unlikely that this rock serves any purpose whatsoever.
  5. Oh boy. It looks like our sorcerer's days are somewhat numbered. Thsoe bees sure do sting.
  6. If all else fails then walking off the edge of the play area (i.e. running away) should do the trick.
  7. If Mr Caine over there ever gets past the killer bees, then this her cave is well worth checking out.
  8. The cameo box simply shows a face. If it's empty, then he or she is a bit on the deceased side.

Shadow Sorcerer logo

Following the success of their Dungeons and Dragons games, SSI have released Shadow Sorcerer as the spearhead for a new game design, which they claim is simplicity itself to use.

Set in the Dragonlance milieu, the story follows the heroes of the novels (Caramon, Tanis, etc.) who are leading a host of refugees to safety.

Initially, the action is viewed on a map, with icons representing the party and refugees as they move around the hexagonal grid. Whenever the party discovers something interesting, such as treasure or monsters to duff up, the action switches to an isometric angle with all the combatants represented by fully-animated sprites.

As combat takes place in real-time, characters can either be given specific instructions to respond to onscreen events, or can carry out preselected orders - for example, setting the magic user to cast a spell when enemies approach.

The time element is crucial to the game, as the group is pursued by Draconians and dragons which catch up and devour the refugees if the player dawdles too long. Using animated graphics in this manner is a vast improvement over the Champions of Krynn school of presentation.

The sound is suitably dramatic, but hearing the same old 'ta-daa'daa' every encounter becomes wince-inducing within a few minutes.

Shadow Sorcerer is very playable, with plenty of little touches to keep you coming back even after your party's been wiped out for the eight time. There's little actual role-playing - you're never really forced to make the ethical or even practical decisions that are the essence of RPGs.

Also, I'd dispute that this is a kiddies game, as while the system's more straightforward than the old, I can't visualise, say, a ten year-old enjoying or understanding this. Still, for AD&D junkies this is an amusing diversion with a novel outlook on the genre.