Shadowlands


Title		Shadowlands
Game Type	RPG
Players		1
Publisher	Krisalis Software Ltd.
Compatibility	OCS/ECS 1MB (AGA with WHLoad installer)
HD Installable  Yes with WHDLoad Patch
Submission	William Payne

Review
A highly original and engrossing RPG, Shadowlands emerged just as people
were crying out for a new take on the party-based RPG, having finally
grown weary of the endless uninspiring Dungeon Master clones and
repetitive, slow AD&D games. Shadowlands was played from an isometric
perspective, and the player was given control of four characters, which
were first generated using a random statistics system, and brought to life
with portraits which were designed by the player choosing from a selection
of hairstyles, eyes, mouths etc. The graphics for these portraits were
fairly manga in style, which made a change for a European developed RPG.

Once the game began, it was immediately apparent that this was different
from anything yet seen in the genre. The player's party could be split up
into groups, and controlled individually. This was something that I'd
always wanted to be able to do in a roleplaying game, ever since Dungeon
Master. The isometric angle made it much easier to do this of course.

The plot was, unsurprisingly for a game of it's type, pretty forgettable.
Very forgettable, even, as it seems like I've forgotten it, but by this
point in the Amiga's history as a games machine I think many of us had
given up on expecting interesting storylines to games. If I remember
correctly there was some kind of story in the manual, but nothing more
inspiring than the usual "land in peril, kill the wizard" nonsense.

However, probably the biggest innovation was the "photoscope" lighting
system. The party members needed to carry torches with them in order to
see their way along the dark stone corridors, and as the torches burned
down the radius of the torchlight would shrink, until eventually the
character was in complete darkness. I know this sounds very similar to the
system used in Dungeon Master, but it was much more dynamic here. Light
would attract some monsters, while scaring off others. Also some puzzles
required light from a torch to be cast over a certain object or area, and
without light many secret passages and buttons were completely invisible.
The idea was greatly expanded on for the follow-up game, Shadow Worlds,
but seen here for the first time it was certainly impressive enough.

The magic system was simple, which is always best for magic systems I
think. Basically once a scroll containing a spell was found, it could be
cast by any wizard of a high enough level with sufficient energy.
Cleverly, scrolls could be put into spellbooks for easy access, and strung
together in sequences to form "combos".

Shadowlands was by no means an easy game, spanning around 16 large levels,
and with a wide variety of creatures and traps to overcome defeating the
evil wizard (or dragon, or monkey-god, or whatever it was) took me a long
time. There was one particularly annoying aspect, however, and that was
the little rats that infested many of the levels. For some reason,
although they were tiny, there was no way (at least that I could find) to
kill them, as they couldn't be targeted as an enemy. They just followed
your characters around, nibbling at their ankles and causing a tiny amount
of damage. This caused problems on certain levels where you were forced to
split up the party, as while you were concentrating on one character the
others could be getting chewed to pieces by the tiny rodents, meaning you
would have to continuously switch back and forth to make sure all your
characters were a safe distance from the rats.

Despite that minor flaw, Shadowlands was nevertheless an inspiring piece
of game design, with many features that I'd longed for in a roleplaying
game and without too many of the annoying flaws that had put me off the
genre over the previous couple of years. It also provided a taster of what
was in store for the space-themed genius that was Shadow Worlds, the
follow-up that would appear about a year later. But that's a whole
different review.





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