Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 87 / AUGUST 1987 / PAGE 59


Realms Of Darkness

James V. Trunzo

Requirements: Apple II-series computer (48K minimum), including IIGS; Commodore 64.

There was a time when any computer fantasy game became an immediate bestseller due to the genre's popularity and the scarcity of such products. That is no longer the case—computer fantasy games now compete in a buyer's market where they must meet certain standards if they hope to sell.

Sir Tech's landmark game Wizardry demonstrated the depth that could be achieved in a computer fantasy game. Products like Electronic Arts' The Bard's Tale and, recently, New World Computing's Might and Magic have elevated computerized role-playing fantasy games to new and exciting heights.

Strategic Simulations, which gained prominence as a pioneer in the field of simulated war games, has become an important player in the fantasy game field with the release of award-winning computer games including Phantasie and Wizard's Crown. Now, S.S.I. has released Realms of Darkness, a new role-playing fantasy game that equals the challenge and enjoyment of their previous games and, in some ways, advances the art of the adventure game.

Spells and Swords

Realms of Darkness contains the staples of all role-playing fantasy computer games. The game's environment encompasses a huge world in which to venture, one consisting of wilderness, shops, cities, and dungeons. Players assemble a party of adventurers comprised of various classes and races. Magic in the form of spells and talismans plays an important role and is a must if the expedition is to be a success. And there is enough swordplay and confrontation to satisfy even even experienced fantasy gamers. Each of these elements is done well in Realms of Darkness; each contains certain unique nuances that should interest even jaded adventurers.

What makes this new fantasy game special, however, are elements not previously found in games of this type. For one thing, your party can be split into smaller groups to explore separately any given area. Whether or not this is an advantage must be determined by the individual player; it's obvious that while no real "time" is saved, two groups can cover much more territory than one. The program handles the split group option clearly and easily, but the player may have more difficulty.

Another interesting feature is the merging of certain text adventure techniques with standard role playing techniques. For example, in addition to the standard practice of selecting a character's action from a predetermined and limited menu, dialogue boxes can be opened to allow any of the characters to converse with the inhabitants encountered during the course of play. Actual discussions, most of them divulging needed information, can take place. Furthermore, the success of such endeavors can often depend on your selection of which character to use as the negotiator or diplomat. High scores in skill areas such as wisdom and luck can often lead to better results.

Realms of Darkness offers fans of role-playing games a heroic fantasy adventure in a strange and mysterious land.

Sophisticated Parsing

In the same vein, the dialogue box can be used to issue orders to characters beyond the scope of the typical FIGHT, RUN, TALK, and SURRENDER commands. Like text adventures, Realms of Darkness provides excellent flexibility and removes many of the artificial limitations of straight role playing games simply because its parser understands commands like CLIMB, SWIM, INSERT, BUILD, and so on. Realms of Darkness expects you to use your intelligence as well as your brawn; it demands that you recognize that there are times when you need to SHOUT AT instead of TALK TO. Variety like this adds to players' enjoyment and enlarges the scope of the game.

Exemplifying a recent trend in role-playing fantasy games, elaborate puzzles occur throughout the adventure. Seven scenarios must be completed in order to win the game. Sometimes solving a puzzle completes the scenario; other times solving a puzzle merely advances you to a previously unattainable area.

Realms of Darkness is an elaborate production. The estimated 150 hours needed to play the game in its entirety speaks for the depth of the game. Playing through even the easiest of the scenarios demonstrates the sophistication of the program. While it can't be said that the game is only for experienced players, beginning players might be wise to read the excellent manual carefully and to follow the beginning tutorial to get a feel for the game. S.S.I. rates Realms of Darkness Intermediate Level (as a point of reference, Phantasie and Phantasie II were rated Introductory).

Graphics are good, though not spectacular, and they usually are presented in a ¾-screen format. There is no animation, nor are the dungeon walls and floor detailed to the degree found in, say, The Bard's Tale. On the other hand, the wilderness scenes and the interiors of buildings and so forth benefit greatly from the near full-screen technique employed.

One discordant note must be sounded, incidentally, though this may only bother fantasy purists (of which I am one). Certain science fiction elements have slipped into Realms of Darkness as have various contemporary sayings and modern-day items. For example, one scenario centers around an indestructable robot; elsewhere a sign appears stating "Kilroy was here!" And you may need to use a lawnmower to solve part of a puzzle. Hard-core fantasy devotees may find these occurrences irksome. They don't appear all that frequently, but they're hard to ignore when they do show up.

Beyond that, Realms of Darkness is a well-planned product with several interesting features not previously implemented in a fantasy game. Most fantasy gamers will want to take a look.

Realms of Darkness

Strategic Simulations

1046 N. Rengstorff Ave.

Mountain View, CA 94043