From The CRPG Addict
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)
|Entering The Catacombs. I didn’t last long here.|
A few things happened after that to sap my interest in continuing. First, the difficulty curve returned in a big way. Once I finished the four towers, the only two major places left to explore were the Catacombs, accessible from the magic shop, and the Great Tower at the center of the map. In both cases, enemy parties encountered on the first level so far outclassed my own party that I would have had to grind for hours to defeat them.
I started to grind anyway, but it was getting a lot longer. Some of the enemy parties in the Great Tower serve up significant experience rewards, but the combats are long. For instance, there’s a fixed combat with 80 bats in one hallway, and it reliably delivers about 1,000 experience points. The bats hardly ever hit, so it’s easy enough to restore what little damage they cause. But I can only reliably kill 2 or 3 per combat round, so it takes over 30 rounds–and almost as many minutes–to defeat this one party.
|The beginning of a long, boring session.|
|One of the Great Tower groups I had no chance against.|
But even then, I was prepared to give it a shot. Unfortunately, I ran into my third problem: the emulator keeps crashing. Sometimes it crashes while I’m just walking down the hallway, which is bad enough, but sometimes it crashes after I’ve saved and quit the game, after I’ve selected “Shut Down.” That’s worse. And in those cases, when I restart, even though I saved and quit the game, because the Mac didn’t “shut down” properly, everything reverts to the way it was before the previous session. Is this really how a Mac worked? You’d save stuff but it wouldn’t really save unless you held its precious little hand and read it a story when it was time to go to bed? What kind of sadistic machine was this?
I don’t know whether to blame the emulator for in-game crashes or not. They usually happen right after I notice that the game’s fixed encounters have stopped appearing, so that sounds more like a game problem. Either way, getting anywhere in this game is hard enough without having to flip a coin at the end of a multi-hour session and hope your progress is saved. The last crash came just after I’d done enough grinding to level up and change my thief to a ninja. Losing that progress deflated me enough that I decided to throw in the towel. I slept on it for a couple of days just to be sure.
|Ninjas in the Great Tower often attack “from behind,” screwing up the character order and imperiling spellcasters.|
I couldn’t find any walkthroughs for the game, but someone did take the time to make a wiki. It shows that the Catacombs would have been two levels, the first another maze of holes for which I would have needed to find a bunch more 50-foot rope. The Catacombs would have led to three other areas of one level each: the Goblin Galleries, the Troll Tunnels, and The Lair. Each would have delivered items or clues necessary for various Great Tower levels.
The Great Tower is 11 levels. The first level–the only one I explored–is broken into four sections, each accessible from a different entrance on the town level. Each “approach” requires the party to defeat a guardian (samurai, mountain giant, enchanter, and high wizard), and each requires a different object from the four corner towers to be in the party’s possession.
|Whoops. I never found the ring, so I need to enter a different way.|
The other levels promise a maze of staircases, teleporters, and various navigation obstacles. The map puzzle would have come into play on Level 7, which is largely open and requires the party to walk a particular path. I had the pieces assembled slightly wrong, but I think that would have become clear when I actually got to the level, partly because I would have known the starting point, and partly because there is a small walled area that would have rendered some configurations impossible.
The game apparently culminates with a fight against a dragon on Level 11, after which the party finds the Staff of Life. The endgame screen–and boy, would this have been disappointing–suggests sequel material that never arrived.
|The entire game is basically just a test to prove your worthiness.|
Altogether, I imagine it would have taken me another 40-50 hours to finish the game, and I would have still been blogging about it in February. That just wasn’t in the cards this holiday season.
If there’s one thing I’m disappointed not to have experienced, it’s the specialty classes. Only towards the end of my last session did I finally start getting upgrade options; specifically, my shaman could change to a healer and my thief could change to a monk or ninja. My fighters would have received the options to change to barbarian, blademaster, or samurai at Level 9, and my magician could have become a witch, wizard, or enchanter (and possibly a sorcerer; this class is mentioned on the spell cards but not in the manual or on the “change class” screen).
Around this time, I would have started to regret keeping “Pete,” who at some point I rechristened “Gideon.” The game allows you to dual-class or move to a specialty class but not both. As a fighter/mage, Pete would have started to lose some of his utility, and I’d definitely be wishing for a new pure spellcaster. I probably would have changed my thief to a monk or ninja, moved him to the front rank, dumped Pete, and created a new magician, hoping to grind him quickly to higher levels.
|My thief can switch to a more useful class.|
The specialty classes are done better here than in most games that offer them. First, the characters retain the skills of their previous classes when they switch, so you don’t necessarily want to jump to a specialty class right away. Perhaps you want to ensure that the shaman gets the full suite of shaman spells before he becomes a healer. Second, the specialists really specialize. The healer is good only at healing, for instance. Every single spell on his list either heals or cures a condition. The blademaster is all about the blade: he can reforge it, identify it, even sharpen other party members’ blades, but don’t put anything else in his hand.
Choosing among the mage specialists would have tied me in knots, which is why I would have wanted a second one. The raw magician is mostly about exploration-based magic. His compass, light, detection, and auto map spells get more powerful but that’s about it. He has mass-effect spells that are supposed to weaken enemy parties (e.g., “Impede,” “Sap Strength,” “Slow”), but I never really saw much effect from them. For any mass-damage spells, you need a witch or wizard. The wizard particularly specializes in elemental magic (“Fire Protection,” “Storm Winds,” “Summon a Fire Elemental”), but the witch is what you want against undead. The enchanter specializes in summoning as well as spells that enchant items. The sorcerer (if it exists) doesn’t come with any spells: he writes his own, based on the effects, strengths, and targets of the other classes’ spells. But you can’t turn him into an omnipotent juggernaut because each spell he creates subtracts from his maximum spell points. That’s clever.
I suspect that in the end, I would have concluded that all of this specialization is mostly wasted in a game where the enemies aren’t very memorable and the combat system isn’t very good. I also suspect that the system was scaled for the many planned expansions (see below), and that in a normal first-game campaign, characters would have a tough time hitting the cap of even a single class. Still, Legends deserves high marks in the “character creation and development” category.
While we’re talking about marks, here’s my best-guess GIMLET:
- 2 points for the game world. The boilerplate evil-wizard framing story hardly gets referenced in-game. You don’t even get to defeat the evil wizard; you just get one step closer.
|Alas, you only get to get 1/7 of the way to assembling the equipment you need to “cleanse the land of the evil of Malokor.” Not quite as epic.|
- 5 points for character creation and development. There isn’t much to the creation process, and as we’ve seen, rewards are uneven. But the dual- and specialty class systems coupled with with class skills offer a rare level of customization and class-specific role-playing.
- 0 points for no NPC interactions. Anything that technically might count as an “NPC” is really more of an “encounter,” and even if I were to give 1 point for these quasi-NPCs, I would immediately subtract it for the tax man.
- 3 points for encounters and foes. The monsters are nothing special, but they do have the standard set of special actions and defenses. Other “encounters” are mostly puzzles, and mostly of the navigation sort, which are my least favorite. People who like those puzzles and use terms like “level design” will perhaps add a couple of points here.
- 4 points for magic and combat. The Wizardry base basically works, but the game is a bit too stingy with its spells to offer the tactical depth of Wizardry.
|I still never figured out what this was about.|
- 4 points for equipment. Speaking of stingy. On the positive side, the game offers a lot of equipment slots. On the negative, in 32 hours I basically finished with the equipment I bought in the first three hours. You find a baffling variety of items that seem to have no use, and the characters’ backpacks are far too small. I’m giving it an extra point, though, because screenshots from the wiki suggest there was better stuff to come.
- 3 points for the economy. The system is more complex at the beginning, when you’re trying to outfit the party and pay for character deaths and retrievals. By the 20th hour, however, most of my money was getting stolen by thieves and otherwise simply going to resurrections and healing. It would have been nice if there had been some high-value items in the shops.
- 2 points for a main quest but no side quests, alternate endings, or role-playing decisions.
- 2 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The black and white textures are fine, but they’re just textures. By 1989, I should be seeing useful things in the environment. There are a sparse and unremarkable number of sound effects. I never got used to the interface. Like most Mac games, it involved too much clicking. There are some keyboard backups, but they mostly involving having to hold down multiple keys, which reduces the convenience of the keyboard. There are far too many poorly-documented or undocumented commands.
- 2 points for gameplay. It gets some credit for mild nonlinearity and replayability (with different classes), but overall it’s too unbalanced, too difficult, and too long. The food, drink, and sleep system is particularly obnoxious.
That give us a final score of 27. I note that the best elements are mechanical (except for the interface); the worst are thematic. The creators, who bragged in the manual that the game represents “the most complete and accurate fantasy role-playing game ever written,” made a better engine than they did a game.
Dennis Owens reviewed Legends in the June 1990 Computer Gaming World. Like me, he criticized the sparse graphics, early-game difficulty, and some poorly-documented controls. Unlike me, he was in love with little touches like the ability to create arrows from sticks and feathers (you have to have a samurai to do this, and anyway it’s really not that hard or expensive to just buy arrows). Given a lack of any information in the manual about the quest, the encounters, the puzzles, and so forth, I would suspect that Owens didn’t get very far, though I thought it was CGW’s policy to require reviewers to finish the game.
The CGW review is the only one I’ve been able to find so far, suggesting the game didn’t make much of a splash. The “sequel” from the same year, subtitled The Wilderlands, is really just an expansion pack that lets the party exit the Catacombs into a wilderness area, where they can try to find a second piece of the staff. The manual suggests that future installments would have been called The Necropolis, The Ocean of Dreams, Malakor, and Black Sorcerers, and like The Wilderlands, they would have allowed adventuring directly from the castle hub. One wonders if the developers were inspired by Alternate Reality (given the dedication to food, fatique, and environmental factors, probably). But not only did Avalon Hill drop the series after 1989, they never published another RPG again.
|The “Wilderlands” used the same box and just added a sticker.|
Lead design on Legends is credited to David Cooke and Charles Collins, neither of whom have any prior or subsequent video game credits that I can find. It’s possible that they developed the game independently and then shopped it to Avalon Hill, as both the RPG-only and Mac-only genres are rare for the publisher and Cooke and Collins aren’t credited on any other Avalon Hill games (some of the other staff are). Unless we hear from someone involved, we’ll never know. The developers’ names are both quite common, and I couldn’t find any obvious candidates to contact.
A year or two ago, when I started calling my final entries “Summary and Rating” instead of just “final rating,” I did so because I intended to put a single-paragraph game summary after the header information. My idea was that people who didn’t want to read an entire series of entries on a game could get a quick snapshot from the final entry. Unfortunately, I forgot about the “summary” part almost immediately, until now. You can see my first attempt in this entry, and eventually I’m going to try to go back and add summaries to other multi-post games. Single-entry games will remain as they are.