Sorderon's Shadow describes itself as a new type of adventure game combining landscaping, first seen in Mike Singleton's Lords of Midnight, with the ability to input sentences and to talk with other characters. To be more precise, it is the first landscaping text adventure (although Runestone, reviewed herein June but yet to be released by Firebird, featured text input and very impressive vistas).
As with the Midnight series this game is accompanied by a story within which lie one or two clues to the game's solution. What is a little different about this game, and I must be honest, is not an altogether welcome departure from the norm, is its insistence upon spilling the beans as regards finding your way about the Land of Elindor. You, the un-named one, must tackle the nine tasks set you by Karavor the far-seeing. These tasks appear toward the end of the now familiar Beyond glossy booklet, just after the map of the Land of Elindor, and at a point when all the instructions seemed to augur well for a fine adventure game.
However, loading the game coincided with my reading these nine tasks and I began to become just that bit circumspect as I began play. The point is (and there seems little reason to beat around the bush any longer) these nine tasks take you stage by stage through the whole adventure, right up to the assault on Sorderon's Lair and to the Scroll of Immortality which bears the words that spell Sorderon's doom. You might ask, what's so wrong with that? Well, the impression it gives me is that this information was deemed essential as the game is so difficult to play, that without it play would have been impossible. Of course, first impressions can be misleading, but in this case playing the adventure only served to strengthen my reservations on this game rather than banish them.Let's have a look at the story. Out of the east came a surly hedge-wizard going by the name of Sorderon. He teamed up with another no-good named Caradach the Watcher with the intention of turning the good king Ba. When Sorderon tired of feeding the king lies he slew the sleeping king and stole away into the night with the fabled scroll of Dorian, a key to immortality. Having learned the scroll's secrets he lodged the scroll in forgotten Baramund. Not being one to forget old friends, Sorderon decided to call on Caradach and unceremoniously slew him. No one was safe now. Of lords he made Kremen and soldiers, Krillan. Lord Plavor escaped to his shelter beyond the lava lakes to the north while Karavor and Aravor hid in the forest of Balinor. Needless to say, in Elindor the fields fell barren and men wept for good king Ba. All who were free awaited the coming of the un-named one.
You'll see what I mean about being lead by the nose through this adventure by telling you about what you have to do first. 'As you awake in Elindor a guide will go before you. Follow him north, stay close and pay heed to his words'. The guide then goes on 'Bear greetings to the headman. Shirk not the task he sets you', and on: 'Summon the Balord with Lonar's help'. Now, I don 't know about you, but I find part of the fun in adventuring, especially landscaped adventuring, is to wander freely about the environs and discover for myself what I have to do and in what order I might have to do it. It spoils the fun somewhat, and indeed makes it something of a school exercise, to be hounded into following a set path of puzzles in this manner.
Now, before you get the impression this review is no more than a vicious assault on a game which has had tremendous reviews in other magazines, let me say now that this game is graphically stunning with some great art and design work by the Denton Designs team. Time is a major theme of the game with real time character movements going on all the while. During the day a bright sun burns across the sky in realistic procession while at night it is the moon which transcends the heavens. Flames flicker atop candles burning to either side of the display area which houses the characters in your present location. A drop of something which looks like blood constantly drips down to form a skull rising above flames. When the skull is clear of the flames it is night and the krillan zombie warriors are abroad.
Through the landscaping window can be seen stunning vistas of Elindor, too cluttered to be quite as impressive or effective as those in Midnight, but entertaining enough. In the landscapes can be seen hillocks, trees and distant mountains with drifting clouds above. Representations of characters can be seen some distance ahead. However, these figures are much cruder than those superb drawings seen in Midnight. Some compensation lies in the graphics below the landscape window which depict the characters in your location in true Denton Design style. The game has not just gone for stunning graphics though, it has also tackled the thorny problem of vocabulary. A 3 line editor allows the manipulation of three stored input commands which can be summoned and subsequently altered. Any word not understood by the program is clearly pointed out in the error message slot.
The apparently finished copy of Sorderon's Shadow sent to me was, to be honest, somewhat of a disappointment. Some of the keys did not function as the manual (or keyboard aid) suggested, and many of the abbreviations mentioned were not accepted by the program. These minor niggles, sadly, were symptomatic of a deeper flaw to this game: its play design has not worked out so well and it can take a considerable effort at times to muster sufficient will to carry on. What the game can offer is good graphics and a stiff challenge to any adventurer. It's early days yet but how much money on this game being compared to Valhalla?
Difficulty: Difficult to get into
Graphics: Rather good
Input: Sentences, command store
General Rating: A biggie.