'Tolkizen slowly approached the town. Mounted on his sweating, panting steed, his shoulders were heavy and his sword clanked painfully against his thigh. Thoughts of a night of hearty drinking with his cousin Sven filled his mind, as he rode through the town gates.'
Sounds kind of clichéd doesn't it? And it is not just because I am terrible at fiction either - the whole fantasy genre has been done to death - in fiction and in computer games. These days it takes some really fresh ideas and either a total belief in, or a healthy disrespect for, the subject matter to lift fantasy material out of the doldrums. So where, you ask, in typical reader fashion, does Legends of Valour fit into this homespun theory? Kind of almost in the fresh ideas and healthy disrespect department to be honest, but more of that later. First, I ought to tell you a little bit about the game itself, complex beast that it is. Nearly two years in development, Valour is only the second Amiga game to utilize texture-mapped graphics (Wing Commander being the first). Offering the player total freedom in a 3D environment, every wall is patterned, people and other creatures walk around, buildings rise into the air, and details abound. Even windows are a staple of the Valour world, giving glimpses inside buildings, and even onto other streets. It is all a far cry from the block cell movement of Eye Of The Beholder, Dungeon Master and Black Crypt.
Valour offers three 3D window sizes. Remember, however, that the largest is only half a screen big, and the two smaller sizes - although offering huge improvements in speed - become less attractive propositions. Do bear in mind however, that even the slowest 3D movement is preferable to the blocky movement of Beholder and the like. Having a real, fleshed-out 3D world to move around in is a great improvement even if (like most miracles) it does take a little longer. The only real downside to the 3D system is a lack of upwards and downwards movement. It is possible to up and down with the use of stairs, but the actual movement only really occurs in two planes. - it is not possible to jump, for instance. It is a minor niggle, but it leaves the game somewhat flat.
But even the most advanced 3D techniques amount to little without decent scenarios, a well-mapped environment, a good control system, and a feeling og excitement. Valour starts off on the right foot, with the plot basing the entire game in, and below the town of Mittledorf. Bard's Tale featured towns, but in Valour it actually looks and feels like a town. Every building serves a purpose, people go about their lives, different groups occupy different areas, and they all treat the player in different ways.
The King's guards are probably the most important group - with the power to imprison you for any crimes you have committed, or to frame you for ones you have not. They serve the new king of Mittledorf, though followers of the deposed king, or even the king of the far-off mainland can be found in the town.
Temples and guilds are the other main organizations to take note of. It is possible to join up to four guilds at once - though some guilds do not get along with others, so the choice is not an entirely arbitrary one. Some guilds, such as the Men-At-Arms Guild, will teach the player fighting abilities. The Thieves' Guild (which is hidden, incidentally) teaches lock-picking skills, while other guilds teach the use of spells and suchlike. All the factions really do serve to flesh out the town, as well as help the player progress. Temples do likewise, with allegiance to a particular deity opening up a different route of progress through the game.
And while you are considering which faction to join, there is always rented accommodation to worry about, and a means to earn enough to pay for it. Reading notices in taverns is invariably a good way of picking up odd jobs, though trading is another way to raise capital. As to actual missions, there are far too many to mention here. Some are simply errands as posted on the notice boards, others are challenges set by a particular guild.
There is no set route through the game, with a choice of hundreds of challenges to take up at any one time. And of course completing one task will more often than not give way to another. All this to-ing and fro-ing around the town serves to help the player map it out and to gain in experience. But things are never quite that simple. Loiter around doing nothing for too long and you just could get thrown into an underground jail. This can lead to all sorts of underground adventures, where all kinds of monster await. And this is where the fighting comes in...
The reason I have not mentioned combat is because a) it is not actually the most important element of the game, and b) it is not very good. A fight consists of throwing a weapon or swinging, slicing, jabbing a sword, axe or whatever using a couple of icons. It is not the most inspiring of events, and the lackluster sound effects do not really serve to heighten the tension either.
But fighting is not really what the game is all about. Interacting and exploring are where it is at, and it is in that area that Valour really makes the grade. The programmers have obviously realized this, because they have given an option to leave fighting to the computer, and they have really emphasized the exploration-of-the-town aspect. The game comes with a mostly unlabelled map. A key at the side lists the major locations, but not where they are. By talking to other characters in the game, the player gradually becomes more familiar with location names, gets directions to them, finds them, marks them on his map, and so on. An on-screen map is also available to help clarify things, and a mock newspaper which also comes with the game, points the player in the right direction to a number of useful and key locations. Now this is the way to do a role-playing game - you can leave your graph paper and endless hack-and-slash behind.
The Valour programmers are no slackers when it comes to control methods and presentation either. Just about any function can be performed with the mouse and a bunch of icons, and three different movement options are available. Whether you prefer moving a compass, clicking on icons or having direct mouse control, Valour can help out. And - hey! - remember all those nasty things like hit points and other statistics? Well, you can forget all about them, because Legends Of Valour does.
But wait, in typical Ramshaw style, I have just remembered a whole bunch of stuff, and space is running out. There is the character creation bit where you get to change the face and kit out your new character, and you even get a background on his/her father and family profession. And there is the gambling element of the game, the digitized pictures of shop, guild, temple and pub characters. There is the gambling, the food. The underground stuff with all the different races of creatures. There is the way different characters have different heights, or the way choosing to play a dwarf gives a different eye level during the game. There is the layout of the town - with its docks, its dwarven district and other surprises. There is the way shops close on Sundays and day turns to night. And there is the presence of werewolves and vampires - and the great way in which both afflications affect the player. There is the big mission at the end of the game, the animation sequences, the clever way in which everyone in the game has their own beliefs, rather than there being any clear band of good guys or bad guys. And I really must tell you about...
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