Thursday, December 29, 2011

A New Year and a New Plan


This past year has been a good one for Fantasy Gamebook! This blog got started for one thing, taking a detailed look at Dave Morris’ amazing Heart of Ice adventure. Tin Man Games then released my Catacombs of the Undercity gamebook as the fifth entry in their Gamebook Adventures series on iTunes to good reviews. Finally my entry, Sea of Madness, won first prize in Wayne Densley’s 2011 Windhammer competition for short gamebook fiction.

However, it has been exceedingly tricky at times trying to balance fun stuff like gamebooks with real-world concerns like employment and studying, and the number of posts on this blog has suffered as a result. For 2012 there will be some changes, with posts being shorter, but hopefully more regular. In order to do this, I’m going to have to introduce a bit more structure to the proceedings, with posts organized into a cascading series of categories as follows:

Wherein I talk about a bunch of tangentially-related gamebook stuff that caught my eye over the past week or so.

Where I explore some facet of gamebook lore in more detail.

Whether it be boardgames, RPGs, or CRPGs, I briefly review or offer examples of play.

Be they paper or PDF, I offer a few thoughts on whatever texts I’m currently wading through.

Ah nostalgia! Wherein I look at childhood influences that inspired a life-long lurch into the realm of fantastical endeavours.

Music, film, or (rarely) television; I post on what my eyes and ears are currently distracted by.

A close favourite I’ve previously dallied with here.

That’s the plan anyway. Whether it actually happens is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish...

Monday, December 12, 2011

DestinyQuest: The Review

I've been meaning to do this for a while, but it's probably about time to get a review done of DestinyQuest Book 1: The Legion of Shadows by Michael J. Ward. For those not in the know, this is the first in a brand new series of fantasy gamebooks, notable especially for its size (790+ pages), non-linearity, and character advancement.

Rather than drag this out into a lengthy series of posts, I thought I'd try a quicker review process where I summarize all the bits I like; the bits I think could do with more work; and a concluding statement containing my final thoughts.

For the record, I purchased my copy direct from the author via eBay as a special deal including a rare weapon card, a DestinyQuest postcard, and a set of four DQ dice in a little red velvet bag.

Things I like about DestinyQuest
  • The size. There's more adventure here than you could wave your character's main weapon at. Just looking at the maps that accompany the three Acts in the book (Tithebury; Mistwood and Blackmarsh; and The Bone Fields), is an invitation to continue adventuring. "Just one more quest..."
  • The character sheet. It's a nice, simple, easy to understand two page spread. The location-based layout for equipment is intuitive and far more comprehendable than, say, Lone Wolf.
  • Non-linearity. Go where you want, do what you want, when you want. It's the Skyrim of gamebooks in this way...
  • Travel. No endless trekking from A to B, dealing with a host of random encounters along the way. If you want to go to visit the weather wizard, turn to 66. In this way the entire map essentially functions as a hub paragraph, with all encounters and their consequences radiating out from it like a web of choices... 
  • Equipment upgrades. Get better gear, all the time. But wait! What would you prefer? Ebon Boots or the Hood of Night? You can only pick one, so choose wisely...
  • Lack of hoarding. Unlike Fabled Lands where you tend to accumulate huge quantities of items and artefacts scattered across numerous bolt-holes throughout Harkuna, in DestinyQuest equipment upgrades mean losing whatever is being replaced. In other words, what you carry is all you have.
  • Character advancement & careers. You start DestinyQuest as a generic adventurer, but by the end of it you can pick not only a profession but also a career specialisation. Necromancer, anyone?
  • Character uniqueness. Again, unlike Fabled Lands where you characters tend to do the same quests, raise the same abilities and gain the same powerful items, the character specialisation and unique item upgrades means that your character is likely very different from someone else's.
Things I'm not too sure about
  • No pictures. Although I realise the logistics of commissioning and inserting pictures into a gamebook this size are daunting, I do miss the gamebook with pix format.
  • No dying. There is no character death which is a bit of a shock for someone brought up on a steady diet of books by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson. Instead you simply respawn and begin anew. I can see why it is like this, and I do enjoy it, but it just feels wrong somehow...
  • Grind. Towards the end of the book, when the opponents get tougher, the combats tend to grind a little, and all the various special abilities can be tricky to remember and implement correctly.
  • Bold type for choices. Sometimes choices are in bold font, and sometimes not. Consistency with this would be good.
  • More choices. It would be good to avoid single choice paragraphs, particularly if they lead to more single choice paragraphs. Always offer the reader some kind of choice.
  • No indication for legendary beasts. It would be nice o have some vague idea of how tough these critters are as the paragraph for them is an immediate combat experience. An intro paragraph highlighting some of their more gruesome achievements, followed by a choice ("Do you want to face the Jabberwocky or not?"), would be good.

Summary: Despite these minor flaws, DestinyQuest: The Legion of Shadows is possibly the best and certainly the biggest solo fantasy gamebook I've played and enjoyed! This is the absolute closest you can get to a MMORPG in dead tree format if your internet connection goes down, and even if you are online, BUY IT ANYWAY! Guaranteed hours of entertainment as DestinyQuest puts you in charge of the action! 

If you haven't yet bought it, you can order it here or here.