From The CRPG Addict
|A literal treasure hunt in a game that plays a lot like a treasure hunt.
I started Challenge of the Five Realms over again for a few reasons. First, after I finished Farinor for the first time, I realized I probably had left Ballytogue too quickly, failing to stock up on weapons, armor, spells, and other items first. But when I went back to Ballytogue, I found everyone slaughtered and the shops therefore closed. That was no fun. Also, I read the manual more carefully and found out about the portrait editor that I could have used during character creation. It supposedly allows you to import pictures while also editing the default portraits and constructing new portraits.
|Playing with the portrait editor did me no good.
Unfortunately, none of it really worked. The import button did nothing, and none of the bizarre and frankly alarming changes I made to the default portraits seemed to save. But the exercise did make me realize there was a choice of portraits at the beginning. I ended up choosing the black portrait, partly because I think black character options are under-represented in CRPGs of the time, and partly because it amused me to think that my jackass father had been cuckolded (although, admittedly, we know nothing about what Queen Feya looked like). It would have explained the king’s treatment of his son in the backstory.
As I explored Ballytogue for the second time, I decided to see what would happen if I returned the brooch to Ms. Frazetti. She was very grateful and my courage, leadership, and morality all went up. But I was then unable to enlist Sir John Oldcastle. I debated for a long time whether to move forward without him (a commenter opined that it would have left me walking dead). I finally decided to reload and give the brooch to Sir John, even though it annoyed me that the game would punish the player for making a role-playing choice. Later, when I met Cagliostra, she didn’t have any special dialogue involving Oldcastle, and I suspect I would have been able to recruit her without him, and thus the game is winnable even if you return the brooch to its rightful owners. On the other hand, without Oldcastle’s direction, I wouldn’t have known to go next to Farinor.
|And yet I then reloaded and gave it to someone else instead.
|Every adventurer without a shovel eventually wishes he had a shovel.
I also ran into an NPC I’d missed the first time, Spiro the Clairvoyant. He warned me that Grimnoth’s “plague of darkness” was approaching from the south, and that if I planned to journey south (which I did), I should do so quickly. He also warned against a violent clash with Duke Gormond, the usurper looking to take control of Alonia. “Gormond must understand that this is not the time for struggles of power and vanity.”
|The overworld map.
|Something is going on with this guy.
|My cousin commits treason.
|Innocence is lost.
The NPCs were all rude to the prince, arguing that it doesn’t matter who your ruler is if you live in squalor. Plus, apparently Cagliostra had been popular, and the people resented my father for banishing her.
|Typical attitude for a Farinor resident.
|You’re walking on thin ice.
Finally, a couple of NPCs alerted me to a growing rebellion in the town. They pointed me to Thurias Foolkiller (awesome last name), who knows the leader. Thurias at first refused to say anything, and I couldn’t get the “Truth” spell to work on him. But he responded to threatening and told me to check out a hut to the north. The hut turned out to be full of traps, one of which damaged my party severely.
|That wasn’t cool.
I returned to Thurias and threatened him again, and he finally told me that the rebellion was led by Cynna Bane, an NPC who had previously insulted me when I entered her house. I returned to her and she confessed to leading the rebels. “I support your goals,” the game had the Prince say without my input. “I had no idea life was so hard in Farinor.” Cynna said that I should take action. “Kill that terrible mayor and bring me his seal. Appoint me mayor, and I’ll rebuild this town.”
|That was pretty easy.
After our previous spat, I was happy to remove the mayor. He didn’t last long against the three of us. On his body, I found a treasure map that led me to a corner of his garden. Fortunately, I had the shovel. (Disclosure: failure to purchase the shovel on my previous trip is one of the reasons I re-started.) I dug up a treasure chest with a lot of gems and gold; the game has not been very tight with its economy so far. Now with plenty of wealth, I bought horses and a wagon for my party at the town’s stables. You don’t see the horses in the game, but they speed up trips between maps.
|Sounds like just what we need in a game with a time limit.
Instead of remaining in town as mayor, Cynna joined the party. I noted that she has stronger magic skills than anyone else so far.
In the southwest corner of the village, an old man was looking for medicine for his ill granddaughter. I gave him a Potion of Healing and he told me that I’d be able to find Cagliostra in Southfrost, a village at the southeast edge of the world. I don’t know what happens if you don’t save the one Potion of Healing you find in Ballytogue for this occasion. I guess you have to explore the world and fine or buy another one.
Southfrost turned out to be a snow-covered village on the edge of a sea. It was occupied by “Eskimos” living in igloos and a group of priests of the Cult of Lamsha, guardian of the sun. The priests were freaked out by the approaching pall of darkness from the south; they insisted that it heralded the return of “the evil one, the reptile King Vendret.” One of them suggested that “Grimnoth” might be an alternate name for Vendret.
|Arriving in Southfrost.
The Eskimos–whom, I note, the Prince addressed in far less respectful language than the priests–were concerned about the darkness but also had more mundane worries. A group of yeti-like creatures called “reyals” had recently attacked the village, killing a family, and there were more out there. One of them told me that he’d help us find Cagliostra if we killed the remaining reyals.
|This entry is now the only Google result for “Hold your tongue, Eskimo.”
We found the creatures to the northeast, and it took me several tries to kill them without suffering a party loss myself. Spells, which I’ll discuss more in a bit, turned out to make a big difference. The real-time-with-pause-and-commands system is quite a bit like Darklands (also a MicroProse title) from the same year, and we can only assume that the two development teams shared some code and resources. I am relatively fond of it so far.
|Combat with the two reyals.
The Eskimo rewarded me with a magic orb that absorbs damage from traps. This was necessary because Cagliostra’s caverns were full of traps, and I don’t think I would have been able to cast enough “Disarm” spells to remove them all even if I had successfully found them all with the “Search” command. It would be nice if the globe continued to serve this purpose throughout the game.
|This message came up about 50 times as we explored the caves.
We found Cagliostra in the caves, living with a bunch of other witches. They were aware of my father’s recent demise. At first, they threatened me, assuming that I shared my father’s hatred of magic. When I assured them otherwise and reminded Cagliostra of her friendship with my mother, she relented and gave me a chance to “prove [my] worth by traveling into the darkness” along with a “sphere of impenetrable light.”
I thought I would have to journey to the darkness, but the game dealt with it via a cut scene. The encroaching “darkness” isn’t just darkness but something along the lines of The Mist in the Stephen King story–a deadly miasma populated by demons.
|This was freaky.
When I returned to Cagliostra’s lair, I found that she had been transformed into a beautiful younger woman, which she said was her true form. She said that to defeat the darkness, I would have to find the five legendary crowns, which would first involve finding the portals that connect the realms, for which I would need a “Revisibility” spell. Obviously, I would have to find a way to get my own crown back from Duke Gormond. To weaken Grimnoth himself, I will need a “Spell of Restoration” (I’m not really sure why), whose components I might be able to get from a powerful mystic at Thornkeep. Cagliostra said that I would need a second spell (“Slay Evil”) to destroy Grimnoth after weakening him, but she’d need to do some more delving to figure out that spell. Finally, she also said that my mother’s spirit was not at rest and I’d have to consult her for one of the “Slay Evil” spell components. “Our search should begin in Fremont,” she concluded. “The greatest sorcerers in the land once lived there.”
She idly wondered if “the noble and just Sir Valakor still lives.” At my prompting, she mentioned that Valakor was my mother’s “true love,” but their relationship had been platonic. Nonetheless, that wasn’t enough for old Clesodor, who had banished Valakor.
|“And…uh…what did he look like?”
Cagliostra didn’t join my party in a conventional way, saying she had to work with the other witches to discover more about Grimnoth, but she gave me a mirror that I can use to communicate with her, and in which she will occasionally pop up with advice.
|Cagliostra has some advice as we enter Fremont.
Fremont was in the far southwest of the map, and I figured it made sense to go there next, as it would soon fall to the darkness. There, we found another squalid and dilapidated city, its economy devastated when King Clesodor banished magic. As in Farinor, I was insulted by many of the villagers and even attacked a few times.
|These five-on-one combats are starting to feel unfair.
The townspeople wanted me to restore their right to practice sorcery, but I couldn’t figure out a mechanism to do that. The mayor, meanwhile, wanted my help in destroying the leaders of the hidden mages’ guild.
A sorcerer named Deostrus offered to assist me if I would travel to the city of Pendar and bring back his lost love, Marinda, whose father–the harbormaster of Pendar–is forcing to marry the odious son of the mayor of Greenberry. Deostrus gave me a letter to bring to Marinda. Meanwhile, a sorceress named Helfura offered to join the party and I accepted.
Pendar was a harbor village with all the buildings elevated on a massive wharf. It had the first full set of services–spells, weapons, armor, healing, lodging, stables, pawn–since Ballytogue, and I bought everything that was worth buying, but that didn’t put a scratch in my money.
|Most of my party lacked shields, which I rectified here.
There was a bit of a bug here. When I spoke to the harbormaster, a random NPC walking around the docks, he mocked me, said “so you found my ledger,” and attacked me. This was the first I’d heard of the ledger. I was forced to kill him. Later, an NPC named Horric Fairlost asked me to break into the harbormaster’s office and find his ledger to prove his illegal dealings. To open the safe, I first had to find Marinda, who happily joined the party (and gave us the safe key) once she learned we were sent by Deostrus. The safe held the ledger and a lot more gold and gems, which we didn’t really need. I’m not sure why we even get to keep it instead of redistributing it to the town.
|I hope there’s a better opportunity to spend this wealth coming up.
A few other NPCs talked about the mer-creatures that live off the shore, and a shop sold passage to some nearby islands. I suspect I’ll have to come back at some point to visit the underwater realm, but it seemed too soon for that now.
|It’s not really that much of a risk when the world is going to be destroyed anyway.
At this point, I spent a lot of time with spells. Characters can learn spells as soon as you have all the components necessary to cast the spells. Components consist of things like candles, conch shells, dragon scales, various plants, gems, and even some mundane items like shoes. When you buy “spells” from shops, you aren’t really buying the spells themselves but the components. Some of the components are amusing. To cast “Open Lock,” you need mineral oil and a skeleton key, which sounds a lot like you’re just opening the lock conventionally. “Create Food” requires yeast and seeds; if it took several months to work, you’d think maybe it wasn’t really a “spell,” either. “Explode” uses sulfur, flint, a ruby, and a firefly. I’d been picking up components across the various maps, and some of the NPCs came with them.
|Some of the spell components I carry.
There are 33 spells in the game, organized in three difficultly levels. Whether a character can learn a spell (or just waste the components trying) is governed by the “Learn Spell” ability. Helfura came with a skill of 100 and Cynna with about 70, so slowly I had these two learn each of the spells that were available to them. I still haven’t had a reason to cast most of them, except for “Cure” and a couple of offensive spells in combat. Effectiveness of cast spells is governed by the “Spell Casting” skill. You can also apparently bind spells to rings and other jewelry with the “Spell Binding” skill.
|Deostrus gives me some advice.
- Occasionally, NPCs have something to say about the events going on around us. I like their interjections. There haven’t been many games so far in my chronology that give true personalities to the NPCs.
|Cynna prizes strength and self-reliance.
- Although I haven’t found a lot of inventory items like helms, belts, and boots, the inventory screen promises them to come. I did find a few rings in this session, including a Ring of Protection and two Rings of Curing. The multiple inventory screens–including individual pouches and backpacks but a shared chest–remain needlessly confusing.
|Slowly acquiring inventory items.
- I really like the title cards as we enter each new city. They do a good job setting the stage for the encounters there.
|Arriving at Pendar.
- The game has very good graphics in general. As I mentioned in my review of Prophecy of the Shadow, I like that graphics have become good enough to establish a sense of atmosphere.
|A kayak, an igloo, and footsteps in the snow help establish the harsh and frozen land.
If it’s not clear by now, this is a very text-heavy and plot-heavy game, punctuated with occasional combats and inventory puzzles. I haven’t put up anywhere near the total number of dialogue-based screenshots. The good news is that the text is well-written and I like the complexity of the plot: I not only have to assemble the crowns but also deal with a would-be usurper, fix the problems created by my father, and apparently address some lingering issues related to my mother.
On the other hand, the game has a certain “treasure hunt” nature as you go from one plot point to the next. This linear approach undermines some of the traditional RPG mechanics, like combat and inventory, which I otherwise like. My perception at this point is that the developers should have done away with the “encroaching darkness,” and let the player explore in a nonlinear manner to assemble the items and knowledge he needs to defeat Grimnoth. Then again, it’s possible that the game is less linear than I believe it is, and that the “obvious” path is only a suggested one. I’ll know more as I experience more.
Time so far: 8 hours