Times of Lore
Chaos reigns in Albareth: Its ruler has been assassinated; the country's most important magical artifacts are missing; and evil creatures roam unhampered, preying on the helpless inhabitants. It's up to you, as a knight, Valkyrie, or barbarian, to set things right in Origin Systems' newest fantasy role-playing game, Times of Lore.
In many ways, Times of Lore resembles the classic Ultima series. You trek through landscapes, search for objects, accumulate wealth, encounter friends and foes, engage in conversations and conflicts, and survive by being smarter and more skillful in the use of weapons, potions, and spells than your adversaries. But where Ultima is a masterpiece of complexity, Times of Lore is simplicity itself. Albareth is of manageable size, with six small villages, two forests, one desert, several lakes and rivers, a few small dungeons, a number of landmarks (many hidden), an impenetrable mountain range, and access to the ocean. Also, there are fewer weapons, potions, spells, treasures, and tasks than in a game like Ultima.
Friends and foes are limited in number and, for the most part, are distinguished by type rather than by individual traits. Innkeepers, for example, normally prove helpful and talkative; ores, rogues, and skeletons are always dangerous and uncommunicative.
Though simplified, Times of Lore is more than a scaled-down Ultima. On one level, it's a novice-level fantasy role-playing game. On another, it resembles fantasy arcade contests like Gauntlet and Barbarian. When you encounter enemies, you may avoid or engage them as in most role-playing games. But conflicts are resolved in arcade fashion: one part strategy and one part eye-hand coordination. As you kill more creatures and your score increases, more numerous and more deadly opponents appear.
Controlling your character's movements and issuing commands couldn't be easier. Use the joystick to manipulate your adventurer's comings and goings (pictured in the top half of the game screen), and wield weapons with the fire button. To enter the control mode, push the space bar, which accesses a series of icons displayed on the lower half of the screen. Move the joystick-controlled cursor over any of the choices. You may talk, examine an object, take inventory, drop an object, use an item, offer something to someone, or select game options.
The game's designers have created graceful and fluid graphics that bring real life to the game. Because you see Albareth, its people, creatures, and objects from above, you get simulated three-dimensional representations - not two-dimensional, flattened drawings. Characters and landscapes are distinctly rendered: You won't confuse an orc with a serf or mistake a bridge for a pathway. And each character type moves uniquely (for example, innkeepers wipe their bars with cloths; the Valkyrie wiggles when she walks).
The game's sound effects are firstrate, from the clump-clump of the adventurer's boots to the birds chirping in the forest. Equally impressive is the musical score that accompanies the opening screens. Each of these panels contains a lovely drawing of some place and/or event from Albareth's history, a written narrative, and a distinctive piece of music in harmony with the painting and the text.
On the downside, it's sometimes difficult to see treasures, particularly in the woods where the green of some of the items blends in with the trees and grass. Also, the command cursor slides so easily that in the heat of battle it's occasionally difficult to select the appropriate icon. A third, more serious drawback has to do with the game-saving feature. Checking into one of many inns for a night's rest saves your character's current position and game score to the game disk. If you start a new game (rather than restore an old one), the saved game will be erased. I inadvertently erased one nearly completed adventure.
The fact that the Times of Lore authors have created such a complex world on only one side of a single disk, with no disk access required after the opening screens, is a testimony to their programming excellence. I do wish they had anticipated that users might want to start a new game and keep an older version on disk. Still, for the beginning adventurer or the arcade player looking for a somewhat different challenge, Times of Lore has much to offer.
- Len Poggiali
|Times of Lore
IBM PC and compatibles-$39.95
136 Harvey Rd.
Londonderry, NH 03053
Amiga and Atari ST versions for $39.95 are scheduled for March release.