Ambermoon (Second Review)


Title		Ambermoon (Second Review)
Company         Thalion
Game Type	RPG
Players		1
Compatibility   Minimum: 1 MB Amiga  (Recomended 4 Meg, ECS, 25Mhz 030)
Submission:	Alex Holland (a1exh@hotmail.com) Webmaster of the Thalion Webshrine

Review

Setting the scene
-----------------
The game is set on the world of Lyramion. A pre-industrial world of might
and magic, where people's lives are simple and influenced most by the
smell of mana and the steel of a blade.

One of the most powerful entities in the Lyramion system is Tarbos, God of
Chaos. He was beaten by the Guild of White Magicians and locked away on
the small red third moon orbiting Lyramion, a thousand years before
the time of Amberstar; the previous game.

70 years ago Marmion, a proficient young black magician, tried to release
Tarbos but your grandfather, with the help of the grey magician, Shandra,
and a group of friends located the thirteen pieces of the Amberstar and
overcame Marmion.

However, strange unfinished spells put the red moon into a new orbit, and
twenty years after Marmion was defeated the third moon colided with the
small planet of Lyramion changing the landscape to something
unrecognisable; the continents broke up into small islands collapsing
trade and plunging the world into dark ages!

But that was all years ago. Before you were even born! Towns have rebuilt
things are well... normal! Except your grandfather is dying and he has
something terrible to tell you!

This is where the game starts.

As with Amberstar you cannot play the game from the original disks (and if
you are a REAL Amiga user, you are immediatly worried at the sight of 9
disks!). It installs to other floppy or Hard Disk, and the installer is
easy to follow.

From the moment the fairy flitters about the Thalion logo you know you are
in for a treat. The 2D graphics are exceptional (considering they are
mainly 32 colours!) and if you are the type of person who skips the intro
and jumps straight into the game, I implore you to watch it at least once
as it is a graphical (and educational) treat.

The Thalion programmers were smart blokes though, they knew that once you
had seen the intro you wouldnt regularly want to watch it again, so after
you have saved. the game defaults to going straight to the startup menu,
extra load/quit-intro time as in most modern day RPG's.

Like Amberstar some sections are 2D isometric, some 3D and some chess
style combat.

2D Sections
-----------
As in Amberstar, half the game of Ambermoon is played in a 2D isometric
world, (similar to Zelda and Chaos Engine). I think the 2D actually makes
up most of the game, moving over large distances in the World Map area,
and moving around smaller buildings such as taverns and some houses.

The first thing you notice about the 2D graphics in Ambermoon is how much
better they are than in the prequel. They ooze with the quality no other
games company except the Bitmap Bro's ever delivered. Everything has been
anti-aliased, blended and shaded.

The main reason for the better graphics is that Amiga was the main
platform for Ambermoon, and unlike Amberstar's graphics (Which had to be
16 color to be compatible with the Atari ST.) they are in 32, 64 and even
4096 colours!

As you start playing you instantly recognise the interface (Well if you
have ever played Amberstar you do!) The control method in these sections
is a variation on the 'point an click' interface but, you can take contol
via the keys. The character equip screen is again relatively similar to
Amberstar, but improvements are everywhere. It's much easier to transfer
objects between characters, especially transfering multiple items.

Saying all this there are some annoying aspects to the control method,

As you have direct control over your character it means there is no
annoying "No I wanted to go over there!" but it can get a bit fiddly and
people who have played the game will know what I mean when I say
"Zzzz" or "Ouch!".

There is room for many improvements; for example you want to look at an
object you can see in the playing window. To do this you select the "eye"
icon which is look-at, and then click on the object. Seems simple enough
doesn't it? However the "look-at" has a range, so sometimes you cant quite
reach. So you move a bit closer and try again, but you are often still out
of range! If they would just let you click on anything in the playing
window, then the game could automatically move you to within range (If you
can get within range).

But if you ever get the chance to play Albion by BlueByte (developed
originally for the A1200 but only completed for the PC) you will notice
the Ambermoon team sorted most of the 2D and 3D control problems you see
in Ambermoon!

3D Sections
-----------
Before Ambermoon, all other 3D RPG's (including Amberstar, Dungeon Master
1 and Eye of the Beholder) used pseudo 3D graphics and a 90 degree control
system. Where Ambermoon differs is the 3D sections are REALTIME!

"So what is so good about that?" I hear you ask, companies like Argonaut,
and people like Geoff Crammond (of F1GP fame) and Archer Maclean (Jimmy
White's Snooker) have been doing realtime 3D graphics on the Amiga for
years!

Well Ambermoon's 3D sections are texture mapped, and it's one of only a
few games for the unexpanded Amiga to actually do texture mapped 3D
(Legends of Valour being another).

Designed to run on a bog standard 1 meg Amiga 500, the playing window is
quite small, and only the walls and objects are texture-mapped (The floor
and ceiling being flat shaded). But Thalion knew there were faster Amiga
machines out there and so did an alternate 3D engine (Am2_CPU)
that used the CPU rather than the Amiga Blitter. If the game detects you
have an accelerated Amiga (020+) then you can switch on floor and ceiling
textures (if that dungeon supports them). On a standard A1200 (14Mhz EC020)
it can be a little slow with both floor and ceiling textures on, so you
can switch either one off, (or you can get a faster CPU).

Because the 060 CPU wasnt invented when the game was written there is no
060 optimised version, but I hear that Sam Jordan has redone the two key
files of the German version to make it work on 060 and PPC CPU's. These
files directly replace the original ones unfortunately the English version
of Ambermoon which was developed later and never released has a slightly
different structure and is unlikely to work with these file replacements.

Like the 2D sections you can control your character either by the mouse in
the control window or with the keypad.

A rather cool feature is the Automapping (which was present in Amberstar
but not as advanced) is that during the 3D sections you can look at where
you have been, plot an easy escape route, or back track to an unexplored
area of the dungeon using the Map. But, even better, once you have seen
treasure in the 3D window, it is added to the map. This makes finding that
"Missing" key so much less tedious. Other things such as death traps are
also added. In large dungeons and especially towns Warp points are
occasionally added to the map. They enable you to travel to these points
with just a click, saving a lot of time (and allowing you to avoid any
re-spawned monsters).

Combat
------
Almost as soon as you enter the game you will be drawn into combat. As in
Amberstar the battles take place in a "Chess" style. You see a grid, which
has the characters in your group at the bottom, and the enemy a distance
away. Before combat begins you can choose the best places for your
characters; Warriors at the front, magicians at the back usually! Your
character's abilities and those of the enemy, determine who takes the
first move, how many attacks per round each character gets, and how
effective they are. You can cast magic, use magical items, or just hack at
them with steel and your bare hands! And of course, if you are losing
there is the option to cut your losses and flee.

After the battle (if you have won) you get the spoils of war, in the form
of experience points and weapons/gold and rations. (Wow, you EAT the
remains of your enemies?). The experience points you gain are traded in
(along with a sum of gold) at the appropriate guild to increase levels.
Some of the things you can specialise in at a grading are; Attack, block,
lock picking, scroll reading and swimming etc.

Gameplay
--------
What can I say, this game is the best RPG game for longevity, and
playability! Probably ;) With 10's of locations, 100's of puzzles and over
100 hrs of gameplay you are not going to want to stop.

At first you start as just you (well of course!) shabbily dressed and
unprepared for the real world. Soon you discover some chests of clothes,
armour, weapons and potions. Along your journey you will meet some people
(although not necessarily humans) to recruit to your group. As they join
they bring with them their own skill set, money, weapons and perhaps even
magical items and before you know it, you will have magicians, warriors,
theives etc. in your team. People who arrive untrained can be taken to one
of several Lyramion Guilds (of your choice) and for a small payment,
trained in its ways. As you experience combat your players will increase
in XP (Experience Points) and at the end of a Dungeon you can take them
back to their respective Guilds and for a modest fee, (someone is getting
rich) ascend levels, gain HP (Hit Points), SP (Spell points) and a whole
host of other skills. In fact you can specify particular skills to learn
during training.

The items you find around Lyramion cannot always be used by everyone. They
might require a person from a certain Guild to wear/wield them. For
example if you find some Paladin's Armour, the chances are that only
Paladins can use it (which is a bit annoying if you dont have a member of
that Guild currently in your party).

Unlike most RPG's, the authors were really intune with what players wanted.
The situation of "What do I do next??" almost never arises. It's usually
"What should I do first?" and "Should I go on, or go back to do that bit I
left?". I am not saying it is a very non-linear game (it is not) but there
are so many missions that can be done in any order, with pointers to other
missions all over the place. People in Lyramion speak several different
languages, "Human", "Ork", "Gnome" etc. and even "Animal", and occasionaly
you find yourself in a situation where no-one in your party speaks the
language, so you either have to find somewhere you can learn, or recruit a
new team member. Fortunately, Ambermoon allows you to dismiss team members
and they (and their belongings) don't disappear (as they did in Amberstar)
but they wander around and you can meet up with them later. Particularly
handy on a suicide mission, or if members of your team can't swim!

To conclude, Ambermoon is a terrific story, intermingled with a cool
interactive RPG game. Almost certainly the best RPG on the Amiga (yet) and
perhaps one of the best ever!

I thought it would be a good idea to associate Ambermoon with some other
games of the same style, so if you have played and liked this game you can
find others, or if you have tried some of the others, you know what you
are in for with Ambermoon. Others I would recommend therefore are:

Eye of the Beholder 1 and 2
Dungeon Master 1 and 2
Ishar 1, 2, and 3
BloodWych + Data Disk
Legends of Valour
Black Crypt



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