As I’ve said before, the longer the Gold Box series of games have gone on, the weaker they seem to have become. They certainly started well enough with Pool of Radiance and Curse of the Azure Bonds, but none of the subsequent games have managed to match them. Maybe the developers got lazy (it certainly seems so with Secret of the Silver Blades). Maybe it’s more rewarding finding your first +1 sword, being able to afford your first set of plate mail, or casting your first fireball than it is to start a game with god-like warriors. Whatever the reason, my initial interest in the series has certainly gone off the boil. This culminated in Pools of Darkness which I could not bring myself to finish. Combat was eminently frustrating and mainly decided on which side cast the first spell. As my mages had a dexterity of less than 18, I lost out on initiative most of the time. Having to get rid of your best weapons to cross the planes was the final straw. I knocked that game on the head.
With the Forgotten Realms games out of the way it’s time to return to the Dragonlance setting for the final game in the Krynn series. In The Dark Queen of Krynn the combat is still challenging but a lot fairer than Pools. Your characters will be turned to stone, disintegrated and level drained on a regular basis. They will often be sliced and diced by blade barriers and barbecued by a barrage of delayed blast fireballs. Even so, the enemy still feels beatable in fights where you are not first off the mark. And you can keep your good gear.
In a change of format I am playing this game on the PC. Where there is not much to choose between the sound (what little there is), the PC graphics are displayed in 256 colour VGA. The Amiga is stuck with 16 colour graphics.
|You can show me your wares anytime, love.|
To this end I recreated my party from the last game using the modify function to replicate their stats. For the first time in a Gold Box game you do not have the option to create a custom avatar. Instead you are given a selection of 49 pre-drawn characters to choose from.
The manual starts with a letter from General Lauralanthalasa summoning you to the city of Palanthas. This is a menu town where you can go straight to the palace or visit the temple, training hall, shop, inn or bar.
At the palace the General says there have been reports of Draconians gathering in the south. She urges you to travel to Caergoth to see if the reports are true (won’t be much of a game if they’re not).
You arrive to find Caergoth a smouldering pile of rubble. Evidence points to the attack being carried out by draconians and blue dragons. Indeed, the first encounter is with two blue and one green dragon. The draconians have already departed taking Crysia, the sister of a sea captain, with them. You set sail with Captain Daenor in hot pursuit. I don’t remember there being an option to return to Palanthas to report your findings to the General.
I will note my thoughts below…..
- While chasing the draconians and Crysia your ship is wrecked in a storm. You wind up in a city of Sea Elves as it is under attack from various sea monsters. This offers an interesting twist in combats as your movement is slowed, missile weapons are unusable and some spells (such as fireballs) won’t work. The most reliable spell is magic missile which doesn’t always affect Sea Dragons.
|Underwater combat requires a change of tactics|
- As with all Gold Box games the economy is broken. From the outset you can pick up pocketfuls of coins, gems and jewellery but there is simply nowhere to spend it. Inns are free, training is free, and most shops sell items no better than those you start with.
|There is more treasure in this one haul than I spent in the entire game.|
- I don’t know why they bothered to include the Area command. It only worked in a few places at the beginning of the game.
- I had to consult a map a couple of times. The first was after I spent hours fighting gorgons, beholders, iron golems and countless giant spiders to get to the top of the Luminari Lighthouse. Once there I was confronted with a dead end. The map showed a teleporter deviously hidden behind a false wall at the bottom of the tower. I’m not even sure the Lighthouse was necessary to complete the main quest anyway, even though the plot pointed you in that direction.
- The 3D window contains more detailed graphics than ever before. However, mapping takes longer as it’s not always clear which way passages go from a distance.
- I encountered an annoying situation/bug in Hawkbluff Tower. I got into a random battle with enemies behind a wall with no way to reach them. Grunschka, an NPC that I can mostly control, was played automatically so it took ages for the battle to resolve itself even after I had made the rest of the party flee.
- Go to spells in this game were Delayed Blast Fireballs and Haste. Haste ages your characters by a year each time it is cast. By the end of the game Crockett and Lumley were 64 years old, while Carraway and Hazel were 383. It didn’t seem to hamper them in combat.
- Another strange thing happened when exploring Hawkbluff Tower. While mapping the maze-like levels the game displayed an unexpected message after finding book…
- There is a large overworld map covering two screens. Two places you need to visit are not marked (one I stumbled across, the other I had to look up). Another location I couldn’t get to as I was beaten back by hidden bowmen.
- I would have needed a dictionary to play this back in the day. Lissome? Fule? Immolate?
- Invisibility doesn’t seem to work. Casting Mass Invisibility on your party seems to have no effect. Even characters wearing a Ring of Invisibility are targeted as if they were in full sight.
- As mentioned, combat is a lot more difficult in this game (although not as bad as Pools of Darkness). The Draconians have been made much more powerful since Champions of Krynn. For example, below is the start of one of the tougher fights.
The Dark Queen of Krynn has been criticised for being buggy and a combat-centric hack n’ slash affair. Personally I didn’t encounter any game breaking bugs and the turn-based combat is one of the series strong points. There is a varied array of enemies from Black Puddings to Zombie Mintotaurs and whole bunch in between. Having underwater combat and fights with no magic helps mix things up. Some fights were difficult (especially towards the end), but the outcome didn’t necessarily rely on who had the initiative which was the main issue I had with Pools of Darkness. The plot is pretty mundane and there is some padding (eg. Luminari Lighthouse, Hulderfolk Wood, consecutive battles) but overall I liked this game a lot. A fitting climax to the Krynn series.