Now here's a curiosity. Runestone was Smashed in June and here it is again to remind you all of what a great program it is. Games Workshop were the instigators of the game then, but now Firebird have taken up the challenge and delivered a slightIy changed version. The chief differences are an increase in speed, brought about by machine coding all the routines, and a sprucing up of presentation.
Runestone is basically a cross between the landscaping of Midnight and the text input of The Hobbit. It combines realtime action, a full text interpreter, multiple command input, dozens of independent characters and thousands of views from a great number of locations. You control three heroes in their main quest to crush Kordomir the Dark One, hopefully retrieving the long lost Runestone of Zaphir in the process. But in this we meet one of the many strengths of the game, namely its flexibility, and the truth is you can do whatsoever you like in the Lands of Belorn and the Northern Wastes. If in a vindictive mood, how about leaving all the quests to heroes and spend some time tracking and slaying every orc that ever walked the lands? (but be warned, some orcs are as solid as animated tree trunks and will leave you a tired and hopeless prisoner).
The graphics on this later version are superior but this is not to say that they are necessarily more effective. Comparing the two versions, new and old, I found the first version, reviewed in June, easier to follow. The added shading and detail on the lakes, camps and ships either confuses, or detracts due to the object appearing to change on getting closer. The trees in the forests often appear not to change perspective as you approach. One reason for this, paradoxically, is the greater speed, but more fundamentally, the design of the trees themselves is at fault. Midnight got around this problem by ensuring that the front trees were sufficiently bushy to obscure most of the trees behind. Overall screen presentation has been improved with a picture of one of the three main characters in the top right and the text background is a mercifully darker shade.
Structurally very little has changed from the Games Workshop version. There are no mid compass directions such as SW, NE and so in order to travel SE one must first move east then south. This is a touch awkward when compared to Midnight which allowed eight directions, but Runestone scores with its full sentence input, the ability not only to approach fortified towers, pavilions and cavedwellings but to enter them, and the thrill of guiding the dragonships about the lakes and waterways. One character's cruising can be observed by another on the shore which I think is one of the most remarkable features of the game.
The story that accompanies the program is believable and coherent. Long ago, before the coming of the Dark One named Kordomir, the land of Belorn flourished. They were a proud and simple folk but by the time Firebird arrived they had became a more wise and learned bunch. This was in the great age of the wizards who dealt in the mysteries beyond the ken of common man, and the elves, who wandered deep into the forests. To the north lay the inhospitable wastes where few Belorn folk had ventured and none suspected the great threat imposed by the orcs, trolls and demonic types from that distant quarter.
When the fleets of dragonships descended upon the gentlefolk to the south, the lands were overrun. Wizards were slain, the elves moved on, and ancient treasures were carried off north by the orcs. Over the generations the raids continued and the populations of Belorn dwindled. The ultimate victory of Kordomir seemed inevitable. Yet from this state of despair began the epic quest of Greymarel the Wizard, Morval the Warrior and Eliador the Elf who ventured north to the wastes in a final attempt to destroy the Dark One.
There's no doubting the first assailants to be met from the evil forces from the north. The orcs are brutish bullies who bring off quick raids on the south, then dart back to the safety of a fortified tower in the north. Working out how best to deal with this early threat will be your first major tactical problem. Trying to fathom which character is useful in any given situation will provide many more. Avoiding the orcs may seem the best policy but in so doing you forfeit the chance of finding rich treasure chests and objects of great veneration.
You may find the constant "Time Passes" which greets any pause in the action an annoyance at first, but after a short while you will begin to realise ' the significance of this every beat of the clock brings the marauding orcs closer, so much so, that when you return to continue with a character you may well find him ensconced within an orc-infested tower. Getting out of a well-guarded tower is anything but easy. Because of this real-time element the instructions wisely rule that a player should not dwell too long with the one character but constantly update the movements of each one.
Runestone was Crash Smashed in June and it remains a very good program. Its chief deficiency then was its slow speed and this has been corrected by removing the slow BASIC routines. When you take a very good program and improve on it you get something that is well worth buying.
Difficulty: easy to play, not so easy to complete
Graphics: improved perspective graphics
Input facility: allows full sentences and speech
Response: fast - a vast improvement on first version
Special features: interactive characters