By ahoodedfigure 9 Comments
OK, now that I got the first impressions out of my system... Ishar is a very free-form and imaginative role-playing game that does its best to alienate the modern player.
I LIKE it when saving can't be used as a crutch, but in a game this unforgiving it would be nice if saving was easier. Saving costs money (1000 gold) which you can afford to do all of once before exploring or getting into some combat.
Combat comes quickly, and because it's realtime, you can be ambushed from behind because you have to turn at 90 degrees, and while you're wheeling around you can be attacked. Attacking itself involves you clicking repeatedly on attack buttons for characters or hitting even-numbered function keys. Spells are cast by actually going into the spell menu, which means your other people can't be told to attack (I mean, just attack, why do I need to tell you to do it?).
There's no resurrection, which I don't mind, but it means that the margin for error is slight. When you get wounded, you get one chance to apply first aid (which I like) but without the ability to heal easily otherwise, you will be carrying wounds a long time. Sleeping in an inn is potentially more expensive than saving, costing a fair bit per party member you have, and the bitch of it is that the health you heal while sleeping is minuscule. What you really regain are psy points (mana) and I guess some form of endurance (it's not exactly a transparent system) which might be used to make you more effective in combat. I haven't experimented with food, maybe food helps you heal better.
All these things sound kind of neat to me as an amateur designer, but when you combine them with unforgiving difficulty and saves that cost dearly, it makes for a... well, read my first impressions.
Not so neat: Guy with a burro who has a bunch of potions but won't tell you how much they cost. I spent thousands of coins before I realized he was actually taking my bids, and when I tried to murder him to get my hard-won coin back (so I could save my game, and eat, and sleep), he wouldn't die. He just sat there and ignored me. RELOAD.
AND WHAT IS IT WITH OLDER RPGs AND SPREADING GOLD OUT AMONG PARTY MEMBERS? It adds an unnecessary step for something which seems to have little impact. Granted the party system in this one actually allows party members to betray you and take stuff, so it makes a bit more sense here, but especially in games where there are no traitors, spreading out gold is plainly a waste of time.
It's painful to see what is seems like a fun game, with a lot of effort put into it, shackled by these strange obstacles that serve only to alienate the new player.
BUT, I absolutely love the design philosophy of the late, lamented Silmarils. They never held back, and I can immediately tell this was made by them: the visual style is great, especially for an ostensibly 2D engine; the forests and the graphics of trees in those forests are nice and varied (a welcome relief from the cardboard-cutout forests of Might and Magic); the ambient sounds are much more interesting than an incessant music track; the tone is NOT your standard pseudo-medieval fare even if a lot of the old tropes are in evidence; the party system is really cool, with recruits not being immediately obvious apart from the people you find in inns (you can hire quite a few of the people you run into). The prequel game Crystals of Arborea is actually heavily referenced in this one, which is really neat, even if the prior game's blicky controls made it too frustrating for me to play.
An interesting side-effect of paying to save is that I actually go back to my old saves if I feel I've spent too much or not played well enough. I've rarely felt the need to do this in a free-save RPG unless there was a bug or other serious problem, so it's at least different, if a pain in the ass. If the cost was lower for this, and for sleeping at an inn (why can't you let me camp, game?), and for stuff in general, maybe it wouldn't be such a bear to play, and I'd actually enjoy this part more. I wonder if I should hex-edit it to try a game with lower costs to start. Not even sure that's possible, though.
And yet, for all that, I'm probably going to play it some more quite soon. There's a lot of cool stuff out there-- I'm near a tough dungeon in the middle of a forest, and I want to go back and buy a few spells, assuming I can afford them, to make my monk guy more useful (now that I finally understand how to use spells). The game itself is a bit of an adventure to play, if by using the term adventure you mean to include the bad stuff with the good.