Greeted with a properly old school, before my time, 2D scene setting introduction with equally old fashioned music I embarked on what was to become an unexpected journey through some on screen squares.
Swords and Sorcery – Underworld Gold is a turned-based, played-in-a-party, dungeon crawler, RPG that throws you back to the 1980s. Sounds like a complicated description for a game? It is, and it doesn’t just stop at the description. I’ll explain at this point that I have limited background in this genre, with Baldur’s Gate being the only similar game that I’ve played to any serious degree. I decided that because I am a man I’d crack on none the less, and started a new game. Five minutes later I was confused and had an overall feeling of nonchalance about what I had experienced. So in a very unmanly resolution I decided to open the digital manual that was provided and looked up at the learning curve that seemed to loom almost cliff-like above me. I had forgotten how much gaming has missed out on having informative, useful manuals! Within another ten minutes I had re-read the back-story, learnt about how to choose and equip my party and most importantly how to fight the 115 monsters the game boasts of. I was ready to depart Gladiator’s Inn and tackle the 20 15x15 maps that awaited my band of merry men (and a couple of women)..
Party creation can be as simple as choosing the existing computer created characters or you can pick your own. I chose to forgo picking six very rudely named custom party members and kept five of the original suggestions, making only a priest called Ric! You get the option of rolling for stats and choosing the race, class, gender and name for up to six characters along with keeping the original six, although you can only take a total of six on your adventures at one time. The short back-story explains that an unexpected evil world invasion has sprung upon the world and that you and your troupe are the only thing between victory and unanimous death. Brilliant, high expectations already... So venture out into the unknown I did with Ric and the crew.
The biggest shock for me was the repetition of the map textures, however the quality of the pictorial graphics including the mobs is fantastic for a retro game! Initially I thought I’d find navigation nearly impossible with the maze-like structure of the map and that I’d struggle with the controls; the direction can be controlled with mouse clicks but this confused me at the start so I played with arrow keys, and indeed used the highlighted keyboard shortcuts through-out instead of the optional mouse control - much easier.
After an hour or so I started to get the hang of the mechanics of Underworld Gold. Fighting is turn based and each different enemy has their own strengths and weaknesses, some of which are hard to work out at the start of the battle. And your party's experience and equipment really do make a massive difference to the outcome of the battle. Equipment can either be found after battle, whilst searching the tile you're on or bought from vendors with the money gained from being victorious against your foes. I found that some encounters, as they are called in the game, were very difficult and soon learnt that changing the order of your party and being tactical by moving characters in or out of melee really made a big difference. Although I recommend regular saving and resting to avoid losing hours of exploration to an unseen 'boss' behind a locked door! Moving from level to level really highlights this as the battle difficulty can ramp up at an alarming rate, I lost many party members and once they are dead that's it, back to an old save!
I wasn't anticipating to be impressed by Underworld Gold and I honestly thought that playing through the game to review it would be a drag. I was totally wrong. Once I embraced the graphical content and music (although I turned it off after a while, but kept the sound effects on) and used trial and error to find my way, I truly enjoyed playing. Underworld has the sort of addictive nature that lets you play for hours and not realize it's long past bedtime... If you are any sort of RPG or dungeon crawler fan, or are simply looking for an interesting, exciting and original game then you will thoroughly enjoy Swords and Sorcery – Underworld Gold.
(Underworld Gold is currently on offer at $4.95 reduced from $14.95 at Olderbytes website until 27/01/13. There is also a sequel on the way!)