In this fantasy role-playing game, an army of evil extra-dimensional creatures is building above the Gandolan mountains, threatening the civilized regions to the south. There is no army to defend the lands, but if a few hardy adventurers can find a magical staff in the castle of a long-dead mage named Grelminar, the gate can be closed and the invasion averted.
The player controls a party of four characters, each with some standard-issue attributes: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Piety, Body Points and Magic Points. The game also features three of the usual character classes (fighters, mages and priests), and there are different spell lists for each of the spell-casting classes. Players can create their own characters or use the ones provided by the game; either way, progress is automatically saved from time to time (though there is a reset button which allows the player to start over from the beginning).
The game starts out in a town (which is portrayed simply by a text-based menu system) and then proceeds into a multi-level dungeon. While exploring the dungeon, different areas of the screen display different information. There is a first-person, ninety-degree-turning view, an automap and, in some areas, a textual description. These are supplemented by random third-person, turn-based combat encounters which take place in the window that normally shows the 3-D dungeon view. In typical role-playing style, combat yields rewards of gold and experience (and sometimes equipment), and characters gain in abilities as they increase in experience.
Dark Designs I - Grelminar's Staff is first-person four characters RPG in the style of the Wizardry games.
The story isn't a whole lot to talk about. An evil warlord (are there any other kind) has made an evil portal where all kinds of Generally Nasty Creatures come from, who proceed to do Generally Nasty Things.
If you want to stop this mess, and while you're at it, Save The World, you'll need four guys to raid the dead wizard Gremlinar's ruined tower and get his staff from his laboratory on the third floor, the only thing that can close the gate, stop the Generally Nasty Creatures from appearing and win you the admiration of the wenches and the adoration of the peasants. (Or was it the other way around?)
The game is in CGA, with a light blue, pink, and black color scheme. The action is seen from a little 3D window with an auto-map on the right side of the screen. In combat, your characters and monsters are seen from an overhead view as stick figures.
You start out in a town (read: menu), where you can create and manage characters and equip said characters with weapons, armor, and spells from the shops, and heal and resurrect them from the temple.
You can either create a Fighter, a Wizard, or a Priest. Characters are assigned five stats: Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Piety. On character creation, you get five random numbers each roll and can choose which number goes to each stat.
The ultimate goal of the game is to find the wizard's staff on the third floor, while on the way, fighting many monsters and getting lots of cash. Armor, weapons, spells, and items, such as rings or healing potions can be purchased to increase your chances of survival. You always have an automap with you, which always make the game a lot less needlessly frustrating.
The battles start out easy, with your usual goblins and kobolds. Survival becomes more difficult to achieve, however, when you begin to face fairies and unicorns. (Yes, fairies and unicorns are dangerous. Do not question this.)
A good strategy to use in the beginning of the game when you are close to the tower's exit to town is to use your priest spells to heal everybody, and go to town, where your spell points will be restored, and then repeat if needed.
Overall, Dark Designs isn't the most complex RPG ever made, nor is it the prettiest (especially in 1990.), but it's a solid RPG for those who like dungeon crawlers such as Wizardry. And may you not be claimed yet another victim by the vicious unicorns!
Dark Designs I and II are decent dungeon romp RPGs similar to early Wizardry and Ultima games: multi-character party, and first-person perspective that shifts to top-down view in combat. In and of themselves, both Dark Designs have nothing special-- typical fantasy plot, monsters, and a user interface that Ultima fans will be familiar with. Rather, the games' strongest appeal -- and the fact which assures their place in gaming history-- is the fact that they were both designed by now-famous John Carmack, back when he was employed by SoftDisk, months before he formed id Software with his brother Adrian and John Romero. The games were included on 2 issues of "Big Blue Disk"-- monthly shareware that came on 3.5" floppy disks by subscription.
Although they are by no means revolutionary, Dark Designs games exhibit the same care and polish that become the hallmark of later John Carmack games. They are fun to play, and even sport some nice features not commonly seen in early RPGs. For example, during character creation, you can assign each number you got to any stats, and secret areas abound. The games will also automatically save your game in progress once in a while-- a welcome feature that should be used more often in today's games.
In short, fans of classic commercial RPGs such as Ultima will probably find the games too simplistic and somewhat repetitive. As shareware titles, though, they are definitely some of the best ever made in that period, and one of the best Big Blue Disk games. And as some of the earliest games by John Carmack, they are definitely priceless to his fans and id Software historians :)
People who downloaded Dark Designs I: Grelminar's Staff have also downloaded:
Dark Designs II: Closing The Gate, Dark Heart of Uukrul, Daemonsgate, Crusaders of Might and Magic, Conan The Cimmerian, Dark Ages, Dark Disciples, Companions of Xanth
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