The Mending of a Broken World: Lands of Lore on GOG.COM

A lot of people seem to want their fantasy RPGs to be dark and rather gritty. While that approach can certainly work in some cases, it seems there's always a considerable risk that game writers - being the slightly pretentious, semi-adolescent male bunch that they are - confuse "maturity" with crude cynicism or childish misantrophy and churn out end products which are far more tedious and ill-humored than they are engrossing and profound. For a long time now, I've been more drawn to games which attempt to straddle the fuzzy fantasy/fairy tale boundary and produce something colorful (both literally and figuratively) with a healthy dose of escapism - which I guess partly explains my enduring affection for Lionhead's well-intentioned but flawed Fable series. An even better example of what I'd like to see more of in PC fantasy games is the fondly remembered first installment in Westwood's Lands of Lore series, which has now finally been released on Good Old Games (in an absurdly generous pack with both Throne of Chaos and Guardians of Destiny for just $6).

I've only ever played the first 5-10 hours or so of the first entry in the series (which is one of the few pre-1995 PC classics I actually own a retail copy of), but the game's appealing combination of top-notch art direction, an admirably clean interface and surprisingly challenging combat and exploration all make it abundantly clear that LoL is no laughing matter (sorry) but rather a true classic among dungeon crawlers (even though it's also quite rightly seen as a more accessible "mainstream" continuation of the realtime formula established by Eye of the Beholder and Dungeon Master). Also, Westwood's departure from the grittiness of the (comparatively) dark fantasy which characterized so many RPGs even back in the mid-90s does in no way entail a wholesale rejection of real tension and drama. In spite of the colorbook aesthetics, charmingly stereotypical characters and frequently goofy dialogue the game still manages to weave a rather compelling little fantasy tale of a kingdom in turmoil and the ragtag band of adventurers fighting to restore the peace and order that was taken from them The voice acting is perhaps not up to modern levels of professionalism, but there's a wide range of suitably hammy performances (including a particularly good one by Patrick Stewart) which make the cutscenes and humorous party banter well worth looking forward to.

Because of the obvious care and attention that went into designing the game's various systems and interface, for just about anyone not immediately put off by the lack of seamless 3D movement in games like this Lands of Lore: Throne of Chaos should be one of the most accessible 15+ year old PC games available: with a "pick up and play" potential that easily rivals big budget RPGs today but with a degree of challenge to the combat, puzzle solving and exploration which few mainstream games of any genre attempt these days. Overall, that sounds like the description of a timeless classic if you ask me...

16 Comments
16 Comments
Posted by Egge

A lot of people seem to want their fantasy RPGs to be dark and rather gritty. While that approach can certainly work in some cases, it seems there's always a considerable risk that game writers - being the slightly pretentious, semi-adolescent male bunch that they are - confuse "maturity" with crude cynicism or childish misantrophy and churn out end products which are far more tedious and ill-humored than they are engrossing and profound. For a long time now, I've been more drawn to games which attempt to straddle the fuzzy fantasy/fairy tale boundary and produce something colorful (both literally and figuratively) with a healthy dose of escapism - which I guess partly explains my enduring affection for Lionhead's well-intentioned but flawed Fable series. An even better example of what I'd like to see more of in PC fantasy games is the fondly remembered first installment in Westwood's Lands of Lore series, which has now finally been released on Good Old Games (in an absurdly generous pack with both Throne of Chaos and Guardians of Destiny for just $6).

I've only ever played the first 5-10 hours or so of the first entry in the series (which is one of the few pre-1995 PC classics I actually own a retail copy of), but the game's appealing combination of top-notch art direction, an admirably clean interface and surprisingly challenging combat and exploration all make it abundantly clear that LoL is no laughing matter (sorry) but rather a true classic among dungeon crawlers (even though it's also quite rightly seen as a more accessible "mainstream" continuation of the realtime formula established by Eye of the Beholder and Dungeon Master). Also, Westwood's departure from the grittiness of the (comparatively) dark fantasy which characterized so many RPGs even back in the mid-90s does in no way entail a wholesale rejection of real tension and drama. In spite of the colorbook aesthetics, charmingly stereotypical characters and frequently goofy dialogue the game still manages to weave a rather compelling little fantasy tale of a kingdom in turmoil and the ragtag band of adventurers fighting to restore the peace and order that was taken from them The voice acting is perhaps not up to modern levels of professionalism, but there's a wide range of suitably hammy performances (including a particularly good one by Patrick Stewart) which make the cutscenes and humorous party banter well worth looking forward to.

Because of the obvious care and attention that went into designing the game's various systems and interface, for just about anyone not immediately put off by the lack of seamless 3D movement in games like this Lands of Lore: Throne of Chaos should be one of the most accessible 15+ year old PC games available: with a "pick up and play" potential that easily rivals big budget RPGs today but with a degree of challenge to the combat, puzzle solving and exploration which few mainstream games of any genre attempt these days. Overall, that sounds like the description of a timeless classic if you ask me...

Posted by FancySoapsMan

I noticed GOG released it today but I think I'll keep it in my wishlist.
 
I have way too many other games I need to finish right now (including about 90% of my gog library >_>)

Posted by ArbitraryWater

Didn't Westwood also make the Eye of the Beholder games? Man, those guys have some surprising RPG cred, as the company best known for making Command and Conquer. Obviously, a certain open-world RPG is currently devouring my time, but your claims of accessibility and non-byzantine interfaces has piqued my interest. If they're anything like the older DOS era Might and Magic games, I may have to give them a go at some point.

Posted by lockwoodx

One of the first games I saved up for and spent my own money on. It was like eye of the beholder in many ways but with a richer story and beautiful graphics. The intro was especially eye popping, looking way ahead of anything of its time. Then with Legends of Kyrandia, Westwood took a direct stab at Sierra with a strong female lead and Malcomb the evil jester who was a surprisingly good villain. I got to meet Westwood's crew at the 96, and 97 Gencons when they were clashing head to head with Blizzard over the RTS crown. Hanging around the Sierra booth while playing a build of Half-Life, and drinking in the golden era of PC gaming. It was a really great time to be a gamer then, and I still hold a small grudge in my gaming soul for what EA did to westwood studios. All that talent wasted....

Posted by lockwoodx

@ArbitraryWater: Eye of the Beholder was SSI/TSR.

Posted by Egge

@FancySoapsMan: Everyone says they have too many GOG games...and, objectively speaking, they're probably right. At the same time, I see every GOG purchase as a nice way of paying tribute to the classics, atone for youthful piracy transgressions and also send a clear message to publishers that there's money to be had in producing games like they used to make 'em. Strictly speaking, none of this requires having to actually, y'know, play any of the GOG games one buys - although sometimes that's a lot of fun, too (and in this case LoL1 has already taken a lot of precious free time away from my Skyrim playthrough...).

Posted by Egge

@ArbitraryWater: I remembered LoL1 as very accessible, but upon returning to the game I was surprised by just how accessible it actually is, without skimping unnecessarily on the difficulty (the careless and unobservant player will quickly get into trouble). The level of complexity obviously can't compete with turn-based M&Ms, but as far as realtime EotB-style dungeon crawlers go (and, yes, Westwood did develop EoTB 1-2 for SSI) this is a damn fine game.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

@Buzzkill said:

@ArbitraryWater: Eye of the Beholder was SSI/TSR.

SSI was the publisher, and TSR was the previous owner of the D&D license before Wizards of the Coast bought them out. Yep, on the wiki page it says that EotB was developed by Westwood Associates.

Posted by BulletproofMonk

I'm interested. Thanks for the heads up!

Posted by lockwoodx

Cool that would explain why Lands of Lore was so polished then.

Posted by Mento

The first Lands of Lore was pretty much the pinnacle of those four-directional dungeon crawlers with that sort of older pixel art style. I always screw up and choose the fighter though, when you really need a mage to get anywhere. The later ones if I recall were the then ubiquitous Elder Scrolls type panoramic first-person experience, with some slightly dubious FMV work. Such was the fate of most CD-ROM titles of the era, for better or worse. It's a good double pack though.

Someone needs to tell Dave and Vinny about this. I'd love to see a Random PC Game stream of either LoL.

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Edited by DonPixel

Yup I remember playing those looong ago, Good games.

@Egge said:

A lot of people seem to want their fantasy RPGs to be dark and rather gritty. While that approach can certainly work in some cases, it seems there's always a considerable risk that game writers - being the slightly pretentious, semi-adolescent male bunch that they are - confuse "maturity" with crude cynicism or childish misantrophy and produce something that's far more tedious and ill-humored than engrossing and profound. For a long time now, I've been more drawn to games which attempt to straddle the fuzzy fantasy/fairy tale boundary and produce something colorful (both literally and figuratively) with a healthy dose of escapism - which I guess partly explains my enduring affection for Lionhead's well-intentioned but flawed Fable series. An even better example of what I'd like to see more of in PC fantasy games is the fondly remembered first installment in Westwood's Lands of Lore series, which has now finally been released on Good Old Games (in an absurdly generous pack with both Throne of Chaos and Guardians of Destiny for just $6).

I wouldn't limit your comment fantasy in video games, I'll say video games as a whole specially old or early video games were wrote by people not really suited for writing, a bunch of engineers or coders.

While I enjoy colorful escapism (as you name it) such as the Fable series or the Cartoony Blizzard style I also like variety. Having a dark grind, mature Fantasy game with attemps to an hyper real art style is also gratifying, Yet I consider a more challenging endeavour as the writing as a whole do need to be on par with the nature of the game to not be disjointed.

Posted by GreggD

Bought it today, really digging the first game. Haven't played the second, but from what I hear, it's nowhere near as good.

Posted by kalmis

Thought that you were talking about Demon's Souls first. "Let strength be granted so the world might be mended" These LoL games seem to be another classic RPGs I've missed. Wishlisted for now.

Posted by ahoodedfigure

I think I gave up on the game too early, but I remember the combat almost feeling railroady. Usually I was intimidated by RPG depth but I'd felt like there wasn't enough in what I played. Maybe I should have stuck with it?
 
And yes, while I like my share of gritty, gritty only works if there's something less dire to compare it to. If everything is gritty it all comes off as pointlessly tired and bitter. Color (and escapism) is a good thing, damn it! :)

Posted by Mento

@ahoodedfigure: Best point to decide if the game's for you is the Draracle's Cave. You'll either get completely lost or start to really dig the game's puzzles.

This is opposed to Dungeon Master 2, where I just felt lost almost all the time.

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