In the beginning there was Dungeons And Dragons. The original rules were packaged in a handy, simple booklet that imparted all the necessary guidelines needed for a few imaginative (pre)adolescents to get together around a table, throw innumerable oddly shaped dice and consult multitudes of seemingly esoteric tables based on the results of the dice throwing.
To help in the imagination stakes, the gamers would invariably buy themselves little metal figures, paint them up, and then project the alter ego of their role playing character on to said metal figure.
The idea was a raging success, albeit coltishly at first, and the game soon expanded into Advanced Dungeons And Dragons which required the minimum of three books - The Dungeon Master's Guide, The Player's Handbook and The Monster Manual. Despite this expansion in scope imagination, the game stayed intrinsically the same. Players found that when they had become proficient at the rules, the most important element in making the game enjoyable was the plot driving the action.
Many Dungeon Masters just did not catch on to this fundamental premise for making their scenarios fun. Instead, they preferred to labor over the mechanical of the rules and inflict tedious dice rolling on players to accomplish the most mundane actions such as opening locked chests and finding secret doors. As such, only about 10 per cent of campaigns and dungeons were worth playing. The rest were, quite frankly, crap in the extreme and against the grain and spirit of the role playing genre.
So why I am telling you about all of this? Well, put simply, Tower Of Souls captures the essence of everything that was wrong with, and still is wrong with, role playing games in general and role playing computer games specifically.
To make any headway in the game you have to repeatedly and mechanically search and check just about every piece of dungeon or tower furnishing that you see on-screen. It leaves you feeling completely detached from the plot which, in this instance, is probably a good thing because Tower Of Souls is to eb brutally honest, the most tediously clichéd tale of wretchedness I have ever had the misfortune to read.
It is like the progeny of an Edwar Lear pem and a Tolkienesque tale that has had nonsense added to the fantasy and fantasy extracted from the nonsense. As such, you do not so much end up being bored with the game, as end up hating it. And that is a damning indictment of a game that otherwise is technically accomplished. Just like the tedious old Dungeon Masters eh?
In the land of Chaybore things have been sweeter than the smell of fresh flowers dancing happily in the spring breeze. I say had, because the crystals which protected the people of Chaybore have been taken by Baalhathrok - an evil demon. Using the crystals as a focus for his power, Baalhathrok opened a portal to his own dimension and built a fortress. The citizens of Chaybore began to struggle for survival as the fortress' pumps sucked the goodness from the land. Things were not looking good then and the people of Chaybore could see no hope for the future. They had not counted on Treeac hower. Found by a hill farmer one night, the baby Treeac was the future savior of Chaybore, as foreseen by Maylor, the prophet.
Enough, enough! The plot is the standard RPG fare then and you can probably guess the rest of the story, even if you do not torture yourself by reading through page after page of the seemingly never ending intro. So, as Treeac it is down to you to both destroy the life sucking pumps in Baalhathrok's fortress (with the magic sword given to Treeac by the hill farmer), as well as finding and returning the missing crystals of Chaybore. Treeac can be played as either a out and out wizard or warrior, or more commonly a mixture of the two. Mixing the skills is a simple matter of moving sliding bars one way or t' other, as in Gremlin Interactive's Legacy of Sorasil for instance. Seven levels and a total of 125 map areas must be traversed, but the viewpoint is isometric rather than first person as in the majority of RPGs. This gives the game a similar look and feel to the Heimdall series, but although good the graphics are not in the same league as Core Design's classics.
The seven crystals must be collected in order and once this is done Treeac can enter Baalhathrok's lair and finish off the demon once and for all. As well as the magic sword there are 32 different spells available, each of which has five strengths and these can be cast at one of three levels. At the lowest level a spell can only be cast within an area in reach while at the highest level everything that covers even a distant area will be hit. An alchemy screen allows herbs, fungi and the like collected during Treeac's travels to be mixed together to help create the full range of spells available.
Choose your weapons
Combat weapons can be found, some of which are much stronger than others, and with all the usual cronies which inhabit these mystical lands, thankfully armor can be found lying around too. Find and search some of the many hidden rooms if you want to discover the best equipment on offer in the game. Other than the numerous enemies, puzzles and locked doors do their best to slow you down. Some puzzles are very brain draining, but a rather nifty lock picking feature makes battling your way past any lock gratifying.
At the end of the day
As RPGs go, Tower of Souls is easy to get to grips with. The control system deserves special praise. No longer do you have to click on a grid or direction icon to move. Strolling around the play rea is simply a case of moving the mouse to wherever you want Treeac to move to. Place the cursor over Treeac and he will stop. Combat is initiated by moving the cursor over the character you wish to fight and clicking on the left mouse button. Other controls are handled by clicking on the right mouse button and moving the hand cursor to the icons displayed across the bottom of the screen.
Sadly the gameplay is not so praiseworthy, but this is more of a reflection on a tired genre than the game itself. Even so fighting is a rather hack and slash affair, with not enough of the strategy or turn based action found in the majority of RPGs, while the puzzles are the bland 'the route is blocked so find the hidden doorway' variety. The isometric display can also prove confusing at times. Despite some novel ideas like the control system and the alchemy screens Tower of Souls feels lackluster.
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