Game 348: Realms of Arkania: Blade of Destiny

From The CRPG Addict


             

Realms of Arkania: Blade of Destiny

Germany

Released in Germany as Das Schwarze Auge: Die Schicksalsklinge
attic Entertainment Software (developer); Fantasy Productions (German publisher); Sir-Tech (U.S. Publisher)
Released 1992 for DOS, 1993 for Amiga
Date Started: 13 November 2019
              
Where Britain and France mostly created their own styles of RPGs, and largely failed at it, German developers found more success analyzing and modifying the mechanics of the most popular U.S. releases. In the few years after Germany’s RPG industry really got started in 1988, we saw games inspired by Ultima (Nippon, Die Dunkle Dimension), The Bard’s Tale (Legend of Faerghail, Antares, Spirit of Adventure), Alternate Reality (Fate: Gates of Dawn), Dungeon Master (Dungeons of Avalon), and Demon’s Winter (Sandor). Each of these games introduced its own innovations, to be sure; there are plenty of times, as in Fate and any of the Bard’s Tale-inspired games, when the German adaptation exceeded the original.
           

Starting out in Arkania. The screen is nearly identical to Might and Magic III, although none of the gameplay is.

           
Realms of Arkania strikes me as the apex of this process of adaptation, drawing not from just one source (like most of the German titles) or two sources (as Faerghail did with both The Bard’s Tale and Phantasie) but rather at least four. Building on the engine previously used in Spirit of Adventure (1991), attic has combined the basic exploration of The Bard’s Tale with the main screen arrangement of Might and Magic III, the inventory interface of Dungeon Master (or perhaps, more directly, Eye of the Beholder), and a combat system inspired by the Gold Box while looking more graphically advanced.
         

The inventory interface recalls SSI’s Eye of the Beholder.

         

Arkania is a licensed adaptation of the best-selling German tabletop RPG Das Schwarze Auge (“The Dark Eye,” although I always have to remind myself that it’s not “The Dark Age”). It started as a relatively obvious adaptation of Dungeons and Dragons (the developer, Schmidt Spiel & Freizeit, had first tried to get a license to publish D&D in German), but it got more innovative as the editions moved forward. In particular, I find that the inclusion of “negative traits” (introduced in the third edition) creates more memorable characters.
Arkania followed the by-now common 1990s tradition of telling one backstory in the game manual and another one–complementary but usually not identical–in the animated opening scenes. The opening is set in Thorwal, an ancient free settlement “populated with indomitable warriors and seafarers, rich in treasures from innumerable forays.” Thorwal is surrounded by plains in which orc tribes roam freely and occasionally semi-organize into a threatening confederacy. This is currently the case, with a “great chief” gathering orcs on the steppes, planning “the utter conquest of Thorwal.”
          

Evocative graphics introduce the setting.

        
Somehow this threat is going to involve a certain captain named Hetman Hyggelik who lived a couple centuries ago. He made a fortune pillaging the “hated slave trader towns of the south.” After a particularly successful expedition, he had a magic sword forged in the Cyclops Islands, then took it with him into the orcish lands, where he and his band were slaughtered. I suspect that his sword is the titular Blade of Destiny, and that it will be needed to fend off the invasion.
           

If it was just left sticking out of a dirt mound, someone’s probably taken it by now.

         

Either way, very little background is given regarding the party. Your group of six simply arrives in Thorwal seeking fortune and glory.
             

Character creation offers some good graphics for each of the classes.

         

Character creation is complex enough to tie in knots even an experienced CRPG player. There are 12 classes, which the system calls “archetypes”: jester, hunter, warrior, rogue, Thorwalian, dwarf, warlock, druid, magician, green elf, ice elf, and sylvan elf. (Female versions have slightly different names in the manual, even when spectacularly unnecessary, as in “she-jester,” “she-rogue,” “dwarvess,” and “magicienne.”) Among them are five different magic systems. There are seven positive attributes (courage, wisdom, charisma, dexterity, agility, intuition) rolled on a scale of 8 to 13, seven negative attributes (superstition, acrophobia, claustrophobia, avarice, necrophobia, curiosity, and violent temper) rolled on a scale of 2 to 7.
           

Allocating numbers to attributes as they’re rolled.

          
There are 52 skills, arranged into seven categories: combat, body, social, lore, craftsmanship, nature, and intuition. I have been jaded by a long string of Paragon games into suspecting that a lot of them will turn out to be useless. My money is on “Dance” and “Carouse,” but I’m also suspicious of “Self Control,” “Streetwise,” “Human Nature,” and “Tactics.” “Ancient Tongues” sounds like a skill that will come in handy exactly once, but on that one occasion it will be pivotal.
            

Selecting skills to increase during character creation.

            
When creating a character, you can choose the class you want, but if you do, you only get the minimum attributes necessary for that class. The other method, which generally results in higher attributes, is to let the game roll the numbers and you allocate them to the attributes as they arrive. You could get unlucky and end up with worse than minimum statistics, but you can always start over. One positive of the character creation process is that you can take its steps in any order. You can wait until you see what kind of character you have before assigning name and sex, or you can start with those answers and then take whatever you roll.
      
After spending far too long studying the materials, I went with:
             

  • Female Thorwalian
  • Male dwarf
  • Male druid
  • Female green elf
  • Female magicienne
  • Male ice elf

             
My analysis was that if Realms is like similar fantasy games, spells will be more important than physical skills, and this configuration gives me the most spell options. I lack only the warlock/witch. I thought they had the smallest selection of spells, many of them sounding more like solutions to puzzles than typical RPG magic (“Witch’s Eye,” “Heal Animal,” “Camouflage,” “Fire’s Bane”). It may turn out that I’ll miss the position for just this reason.
              

Choosing my green elf’s starting spell skills.

           
My primary angst is over the first two characters. I felt that for role-playing reasons, I ought to have a Thorwalian given the setting. I felt that the second character would need to be more of a rogue, but I didn’t want to leave the party too weak in physical combat, as a rogue would be, and dwarves seem a bit like warrior/rogues. I’m happy to take recommendations, though, since I haven’t gone very far into the game.
          

The city of Thorwal.

        
Gameplay begins at the Temple of Travia in Thorwal. In Arkania, it is at temples rather than inns where you can manage your party members. Thorwal is a 16 x 32 map with ocean to the south and west and rivers and ponds taking up some of the inner space. The buildings create irregular patterns in a way that goes back to the original Bard’s Tale. Also adapted from that game is a tradition by which nearly every square of building can be entered, although many are houses occupied by offended Thorwalians who immediately tell you to leave. Sometimes, the residents give you a hint. Sometimes, the houses are locked and you have the option to break in.
           

This manual conditioned me to expect something else when I encountered a “Thorwalian.”

         
There are numerous taverns, inns, inn/tavern combinations, armories, banks, supply shops, temples, and healers. (I bought some standard items like torches and rope at the supply shop.) These seem redundant, but each has its own unique name, and I suspect there will later be quests that require me to visit a particular location. I enjoy some of the location names, including the taverns “Drunken Emperor,” “Boisterous Welsher,” and “Red Morrow.” There’s also a temple called the “Temple of Tsa,” which in the game’s all-caps font makes it sound like it was founded by the one person who respects American airport security. The temples are all named after the names of their gods, which also seem to be the names of the setting’s months.
        

I don’t know how well I’m going to sleep tonight.

              
The taverns are quite odd. When you enter, you have options to order drinks or talk, but whatever you choose, events have a way of unfolding on their own. For instance, if you order drinks, you’ll probably end up with a clue anyway, but if you choose to just start talking, some bartender will say, “Aren’t you going to order anything?” Anyway, the “leave tavern” option seems to disappear a lot, so you get trapped in a loop of ordering round after round until your party members get drunk. (I guess this is governed by the “Carouse” statistic.) Also, if you have any talent in music, dancing, or acrobatics, you have options to engage in those activities for the amusement of the patrons, and thus have a little money thrown your way.
           

I don’t want to know what kind of dancing Bramble was doing.

         
There are no combats on the game map, which distinguishes Arkania from most of its predecessors, including Spirit of Adventure. There are occasional random encounters in the street, such as traveling merchants, beggars who ask for a ducat, and a weird repeating encounter where a “small fellow” dances around a “table containing a mass of floral arrangements” and then falls down dead.
            

A random event. No, that is totally not “OK.”

            
There are a number of unique buildings and oddities among the doorways on the map. These include:
            

  • Three estates with multiple entrances, all blocked by guards who refuse entry. Two are called “otttaskins” and are owned by groups named the Stormriders and the Windrunners. I don’t know what “ottaskin” means; a Google search suggests the game may have invented it.

           

Can you just tell me what it is?

           

  • A large monolith at the end of the street that seems to have no entrance.
  • A post office called the “Beilunk Riders.” It was closed.
  • Two “embassies,” one from the “Central Empire,” one from the “New Empire,” both closed.
  • A couple of closed towers.

           

Maybe this will become important later.

         

  • A shipbuilder’s where you can have your own ship made for way more money than I have.
  • An academy of magic where you can purchase potions and get artifacts identified.

                 

I thought this harbor scene was particularly well-drawn.

          
There are four exits from the city, oddly placed. Only one is at an obvious point at the end of a road at the edge of the map. Two others are found in the harbor and a fourth in a random building in the northwest. Each exit seems to take you to a different option for moving forward on the overland map.
              

Each exit takes you to the outdoor map, but to different destinations on it.

           
As I mentioned, some of the random denizens offer a bit of intelligence when you open their doors. Everyone seems to be talking about the gathering orcs, and it’s rumored that they’ve sacked a city called Phexcaer, but we also heard a little about other people and locations in the town.

Unfortunately, Arkania seems to have dropped Spirit of Adventure‘s keyword-based dialogue for more traditional dialogue options, some of which are either poorly translated or deliberately nonsensical.
           

Dialogue options allow us to insult the innkeeper for no reason.

            
During one visit to a tavern, a guard entered to announce that Hetman Tronde Torbensson, ruler of the city, is looking for heroes to take on a dangerous quest. We found our way to the Hetman’s house at the west edge of town. There, Torbensson reiterated the danger posed by the orcs, united under a single chief, amassing in the Upper Bodir Valley.
            

The party learns of the main quest.

            
Noting that orcs are a superstitious lot, Torbensson suggested that their federation might collapse if a hero showed up wielding Hetman Hygellik’s lost sword, called Grimring. “It is said that the sword put the fear of the gods into the orcs and their shamans or whatever they call their religious leaders,” the Hetman recounted.

The sword is probably buried in Hygellik’s tomb, and the Hetman suggested we start by visiting Hygellik’s last surviving descendant, Isleif Olgardsson, in the city of Felsteyn. He gave us a writ allowing us to take a certain number of weapons from the city’s armory. I always like it when a game has an answer to the common and obvious objection of forcing characters to fund their own adventures when the fate of the world is at stake.
            

The Hetman lays on the main quest. I love how my characters can say they have “just one question” when I have no idea what the question is.

           

There is one dungeon–the lower levels of an old fortress–accessible from Thorwal. The captain of the guard (or something like that) asked us to investigate the lower levels because someone keeps stealing supplies stored on the upper levels.
             
It took me a while to figure out how to light a torch. You can’t just “use” the torch, nor can you use the tinder box. You have to pick up the torch, then right click on the tinder box and “use” it. This is annoyingly undocumented. 
            
Coming across a chest.
         
Anyway, the first dungeon level had a couple of combats and one chest. I’ll write more about combats in the future, but for now suffice to say that it blends several systems. The screen uses the axonometric 45-degree rotation that feature heavily in British adventure games (Knightlore, Cadaver) and RPGs (HeroQuest, Legend) of the period. Characters move on discrete floor tiles, and action is turn-based, with the player selecting both movement and attack options from a menu. There’s an auto-combat option called “Computer Fight” that puts your players under computer control, with or without magic. Overall, it plays a lot like the Gold Box games, and a “Guard” command (the player stands still until an enemy comes in range, then gets a free attack) particularly points to a Gold Box origin.
          
The combat interface.

         

I would finally note that the game has a decent automap, with walls, corridors, and doors clearly annotated by color. This helps make up for the fact that it’s hard to see some doors when they’re to the party’s side rather than directly in front of you.
         
The automap alerts me to a couple of doors that I missed on my first loop.
         
Realms of Arkania is a thick game, meaning it has a lot of little elements that I may forget to talk about if they don’t play a big role in my experience. When starting, it offers basic and advanced modes of gameplay; the primary difference seems to be that the computer controls your skill and spell leveling (and character creation) in basic mode. I’ve been playing on “advanced.” Money is in gold ducats, silver crowns, and copper bits at a 1:10:10 ratio. At temples, you can donate and pray for miracles. There’s a food and drink system by which you “feed” characters by picking up items and clicking on their mouths. You can split the team into two or more groups. An adventurer’s log keeps track of major plot points. When camping, you assign various characters to guard duty for the hours of the day. Wounds, sickness, and poison can be treated with skills as well as spells. Armor and weapons degrade and must occasionally be repaired. You can pocket-pick shopkeepers. If I never mention any of these elements again, it means they weren’t really important.
I thought Spirit of Adventure had a lot of promise, so I’m going to remain optimistic about Realms even though the first few hours have covered a lot of well-trod ground.
Time so far: 5 hours



Original URL: http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2019/11/game-348-realms-of-arkania-blade-of.html