Amstrad Action1st July 1989
Published in Amstrad Action #46
Times Of Lore
Heralded for ages on the CPC, but only recently surfaced, Times Of Lore claims to combine arcade action with adventure challenge.
The land of Albareth is in a tizzy following the disappearance of the High King and, in a scenario reminiscent of a dozen others, you must locate the various talismans needed to regenerate the spiritual values of your country and defeat the bad guys. This task is accomplished with the help of your joystick, some icons, a few multiple-choice menus, and a scrolling graphics window that gives you an overhead view of your surroundings.
If you're already wondering what on earth this has to do with adventuring, then join the club! However, the game is clearly marketed as a 'classic adventure featuring arcade thrills', so here goes with my definitive report... The principle of the game rests on exploration and interaction with other characters. Although there is no text entry, the icons enable you to pick up, drop and use objects, as well as examine objects and communicate with others. The joystick moves you about, and the landscape scrolls while your figure remains in the centre of the screen.
The land features buildings, castles and natural features. When inside buildings, you can go up or downstairs and view the surrounding landscape. When outside buildings, the walls and roof become opaque and you cannot see what is happening inside, so frequent exploration is necessary and sometimes rewarding. The rewards of exploration in Times Of Lore range from meeting other friendly characters to locating specific objects. When adjacent to another character (not always easy as they move about a lot) you can select the 'talk' icon and 'Start chitchat' or ask about any one of a number of other topics offered in menu form. The list of topics depends on previous encounters, so that having a conversation about orcs may well add 'Orcs' to the list for interaction with later characters.
All this gives a good, well thought out game-design that encourages perseverance and makes for quick, easy play. From the adventurer's point of view, however, there are serious drawbacks.
First, the introductory scenes are full of misprints and mis-spellings to the point of making nonsense of some of the sentences! This simply isn't on, lads. Ever heard of playtesting? There are also other points in the game where gibberish appears on the screen, but this doesn't really detract from the gameplay, just from the sense of having got one's money's worth. If you're spending a considerable amount of your hard earned on a new release then you don't want gibberish, however infrequent.
Second, the amount of area covered by the screen is too small to be truly satisfying. It's no coincidence that the most successful games that use overhead views (e.g. Ultima, also by Origin Systems) toggle between a large-scale and small-scale view. You can use the latter for wandering around the country, and the former for exploring buildings and small locations. Times Of Lore has only small-scale and this tends to cramp the imagination somewhat. Mapping is essential, therefore - I know there will be some of you, however, who find this a plus point.
Thirdly, the 'Examine' command works only on objects. This is perhaps the worst point of the game because it denies you the chance of getting any further, more detailed information about your surroundings. The inevitable conclusion is that the surroundings are not terribly interesting - and for the most part, in comparison with most text-and-graphic adventures, this is true.
My final gripe is that the joystick button is used both to select icons and to take a swipe at an adjacent character. This means that, in your haste to rescue Albareth (or is it Albereth? The program can't seem to make up its mind!), you often start a friendly conversation with a character only to discover - to your horror - that you are hacking him down in cold blood! This doesn't make you many friends and can sometimes obscure vital information by making enemies of people who would otherwise provide you with essential clues. After being brutally savaged with a sharp dagger, they are, understandably, somewhat reluctant to engage in polite conversation.
That's about it for the gripes. The good news is that this game will almost certainly appeal to those who inhabit that dark no-man's land between the world of adventure and the world of the arcades. If you're more of a puzzles and locations-description man (or woman) then leave it well alone. If you fancy a spot of running around, then take the risk, though I imagine that some of the shortcomings I've highlighted would dampen the enthusiasm of even the most ardent joystick waggler.
Ugh! Whoever designed this game never intended to play it on a green screen. Many of the characters are almost entirely invisible except when they move and the objects they drop are even harder to detect. Playable - but for masochists only.