The Wheel of Dubious RPGs Episode 024-025: Thunderscape and Game of Thrones

World of Aden: Thunderscape

Pros: Very Good Menu
Pros: Very Good Menu

Developer: Strategic Simulations Inc.

Release Date: August 30, 1995

Time Played: About 90 minutes

Dubiosity: 3 out of 5

Soundtrack: ROCKIN

Would I play more? Just a reminder that I’ve put more time into some of the games featured in this blog series than I have on actual beloved RPGs like Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky (which I swear I’ll get around to one day, really.)

Cons: Looks like this for the rest of the game
Cons: Looks like this for the rest of the game

When I think of the storied history of SSI I think of roughly two things: 1. Panzer General 2. Pre-Baldur’s Gate D&D. Do you like military strategy games and hardcore RPGs? They had you covered in the 80s and 90s. After losing the Dungeons and Dragons license to Interplay, however, things weren’t so hot for them, which led to the creation of the World of Aden. The World of Aden is a vaguely steampunk-ish, horror-ish fantasy setting that was going to be the new foundation for a line of products, including a (short-lived) Pen and Paper RPG setting and two video games released in 1995. One of them is Entomorph, which is an overhead adventure/action game with bug wizards (which seems like it occupies the same vaguely action-RPGish space as the D&D Al-Qadim game,) and the other is Thunderscape.

Now, given that we’re not all watching Critical Role play games of Thunderscape, nor is this game especially well remembered (the Giant Bomb wiki doesn’t even have the box art) it’s fair to say that The World of Aden was something of a flop (although it does live on as a third-party supplement for several RPG systems, so clearly it has its fans) What’s left is an… interesting(?) game from what I’d describe as “The awkward mid-90s” era of CRPG design, being a first-person, free-roaming blobber in a similar style to something like Ravenloft: Strahd’s Possession, but more focused. To be perfectly honest this game seems entirely competent and entirely middling as far as dungeon-crawling blobbers go, but I think there's a reason why this isn't brought up when people talk about the best RPGs of the DOS era. While it’s got a neat classless skill system and already started throwing hidden stuff even as early as the first area, it's weirdly basic and vanilla when it comes to the actual RPG mechanics and combat. I sure did mostly order my characters to swing their swords and only occasionally cast a spell. Moreover, Thunderscape’s visuals are particularly ugly, even for games of this era, with a constant level of darkness, low-draw distance, and goofy-looking enemy sprites.

It would be entirely unmemorable… if not for its extremely 90s, extremely CD-ROM TECHNOLOGY soundtrack that alternates between sick guitar riffs and techno dance floor beats. It doesn’t exactly fit the tone of the game, but on the other hand it’s very rad and way better than anything else happening in it. Now, I’d love to say more about this game, but the fact that I played only 90 minutes should clue you in that it lost my attention fairly quickly once I realized behind the music there was a totally stock dungeon crawler. Eh.

Game of Thrones

Ah yes my favorite television show that definitely didn't collapse upon itself on its last season, thus further reminding me that Prestige TV is for suckers and you should just watch garbage anime instead
Ah yes my favorite television show that definitely didn't collapse upon itself on its last season, thus further reminding me that Prestige TV is for suckers and you should just watch garbage anime instead

Developer: Cyanide Studio

Release Date: May 15, 2012

Time Played: A little more than two hours

Dubiosity: 2 out of 5

Giant Bomb review score: 2 out of 5

Would I play more? If there was a line graph of “Playability versus dislike” this game would be the top right. It’s entirely playable and not at all enjoyable.

Game of Thrones is probably one of the single most boring games I’ve played for this feature, equal parts technically adequate and profoundly dull. Not to be confused with the (also bad) Telltale game that could actually afford the more than two side characters from the HBO series’ cast, it’s instead an RPG that draws heavy influence from BioWare’s various games; Dragon Age most directly (which is a weird recursive Wasteland -> Fallout -> Wasteland 2 sort of thing, given A Song of Ice and Fire’s blatant influence on Dragon Age.) It’s hardly the only game imitating Bioware from this era, but it might be the most middling. Yeah, it seems like it has storytelling, “meaningful choices” and a semblance of mechanical complexity, but it’s also a mid-budget licensed affair that has more than a slight whiff of Eurojank to it. Makes sense, given that Cyanide is also more recently responsible for the inexplicable Styx: Master of Shadows and 2018's Call of Cthulhu, so you know. A pedigree.

Pictured: Mors still waiting for The Winds of Winter to come out, almost a decade after the last book.
Pictured: Mors still waiting for The Winds of Winter to come out, almost a decade after the last book.

It’s probably worth mentioning that while I’ve read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice And Fire, I’ve never bothered to watch HBO’s Game of Thrones, nor do I really want to after seeing how it ended. Luckily, Game of Thrones came early enough in the show’s lifespan that it draws as much influence from Martin’s books and lore as it does the HBO show. (it does, however, use the theme song, which hilariously enough led to 5 minutes of my stream archive getting muted) so I'm sure there's plenty of, uh, lore or something for people who still remember specific things. As new original characters Mors Westford and Alester Sarwyck, the story bounces between a Night’s Watchman who is more-or-less the human embodiment of frozen gravel and a disgraced noble-turned Red Priest who will probably have to endure some Games of Thronesian plotting and humiliation at some point. I have to assume their stories will eventually intersect, but given that I spent both of their introductory chapters bored out of my skull from the dry, overly-expositive dialogue. There's plenty of compelling stuff about the world of Westeros, and and plenty of stuff that could make for good RPG fodder, especially from a "ground level" perspective below the Starks and Lannisters of the world. I mean, shit, HBO tricked millions of people into getting invested in the world of bunch of nerdo books written by a nerd man because they put a bunch of naked people in it. Alas this game doesn't quite manage to emulate much of the appealing aspects of its source material beyond a general sense of unpleasantness, which I think I'm kinda done with at this point? Yeah. The world itself is unpleasant enough these days.

The combat is ersatz Dragon Age, if Dragon Age's abilities were all boring and you could only use them *while* pausing. Certainly, there seemed to be some level of tacticality to it; moreso than Thunderscape at any rate, but this is a reminder that the mere semblance of depth doesn't exactly correlate to being enjoyable. I'd have more to say if I played more, but that would've required me to play more and that's the last thing I wanted to do by the end of my two hours on stream. For a game that is otherwise pretty bog-standard and seems like it reaches a basic level of competence, I cannot emphasize enough how bored I was during my entire time with it. So I guess it's on the short-list of any sort of punishment-based charity stream, huh? I haven't decided if I'm going to participate in GB Extra Life this year or not, but it's something to consider if I feel like slowly torturing myself for The Kids.

The good news is that there are only two games left, and they're both ones whose dubiosity is mostly in regards to their circumstances, rather than me hating them and wanting to die. Look forward to the finale streams of me playing Might and Magic IX this week by following me on Twitch. I'm usually on during late afternoons and evenings during the week, but I try to do things a little earlier if I stream on Saturday. If you'd like to join me constantly yelling "IT'S NOT THAT BAD, REALLY!" as you stare along in disbelief, why not come by?

What will I do when the wheel is done? I have some ideas, don't worry. First of all, I guess it's time to hunker down and play more Dragon Age II. Because the scariest thing of all, outside of literally everything happening outside all the time, is me spending my time being reminded that I still kinda like DA II. Until then, stay safe.

Septerra Core and DrakensangTHE FINALE OF WHEEL VOL 1: Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir and Might and Magic IX