Heimdall. (computer game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Peter Olafson
I can't remember ever having this much fun just creating a character. In many role-playing games, character creation involves the numbing task of rolling and rerolling (and re-rerolling) a set of stats until optimal numbers come up--if you don't fall asleep with your face in your hand. Core Design seems to have recognized this aspect of role-playing games as an ill-used opportunity for some fun. And so, instead of stat juggling, Heimdall, Core's massive Norse action role-playing game, graces us with three delightful little arcade sequences--axe throwing, pig catching, and baddie beating--whose results are then reflected in your character's stats.
Axe-throwing takes center stage and involves cutting eight braids radiating from a young lass's head, or . . .ulp! Sorry! You OK? (The scene has been softened from the prerelease version, which showed exactly what happens when your aim goes awry.) Some folks break out in a rash at just the thought of arcade sequences in role-playing games, and they can skip Heimdall's if they wish. Personally, I consider such arcade sequences simply a more intimate form of role-playing, in which your real-life skills extend into your character's. I just wish I had the option to practice without rebooting.
As Heimdall, you'll enlist a crew of motley, cartoonish companions (warriors, wizards, rangers, thieves, druids, shipwrights, and navigators) and row your boat across three sets of about ten islands on a quest to find the three Weapons of the Gods. Sea travel is handled abstractly--the old dotted-line-on-the-map trick--but once you're ashore, the game switches to a closeup, isometric view (the same perspective adopted by games such as Populous, The Immortal, and Cadaver). Here, detailed rooms occupy most of the screen, and the joystick-driven character is a substantial fellow with honey-hued locks and some of the smoothest scrolling and animation east of West Chester.
You'll roam halls, towns, and the great outdoors while performing minor quests, opening chests, looking for secret doors, avoiding omnipresent pits, and picking up everything that isn't nailed down. The pleasant, uncomplicated logic puzzles won't give you much trouble, and you can frequently avoid altercations--but what's adventure without fighting? Combat takes place after the action-oriented character-creation routine and is rather like the combat in Elvira: Mistress of the Dark--it occurs in realtime and emphasizes good timing to get in your licks.
All of this is so nice and so generally classy that you might not notice immediately that Heimdall is, in some respects, simply more of the Same Old RPG Thing: experience-through-bloodshed, the-quest-as-shopping-expedition, the-conversation-as-monologue. That's understandable, however, in a hybrid action game of this sort, and forgivable once you see what you're getting. A bigger problem is that you can't back up Heimdall's five disks, you can't put the game on a hard drive, and you can't load it into extra RAM. You can put the disks in up to two extra disk drives to reduce swapping, but there's still a lot of it on a two-drive system--a read/write error nightmare waiting to happen. Also, it won't run on accelerated Amigas. (Editor's note: The U.S. release of Heimdall may solve some of these problems; check with your dealer.)
However, I understand from Core that a new version--available from the publisher with the exchange of your original disks--is not only hard disk installable but uses extra memory. Why didn't these guys think of this before they sent Heimdall to the duplicators? Oh, for a Viking ship to England and a star to sail her by! I'll settle for just seeing these tweaks in the U.S. edition, due here soon courtesy of Core's deal with Virgin Games.