By Egge 15 Comments
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...