Betrayal At Krondor
Have you ever read any of Raymond E. Feist's books? If you haven't, you should, and if you have, you'll probably like this. I hadn't read any of them when I first played it and I still liked it, anyway.
Betrayal at Krondor is set in Midkemia, the main setting in Feist's books. It's set between A Darkness at Sethanon and Prince of the Blood. What's of particular note is that Feist didn't write any of the content; though he must have been suitably impressed as he novelized it into Krondor: The Betrayal. He also novelised the 1998 seuqel Return to Krondor into Krondor: Tear of the Gods.
Well enough of the literary, onto the game. Even discussing the game, though, you can't get away from its roots as a literary means. The game is set out much like a book. It is ordered into chapters, the cut-scenes read as a book, page flipping and all, and even the quick save is called a bookmark.
Not that the overland game is without its problems entirely. The graphics engine is pseudo-3D, allowing you to go wherever you want. However, 'where you want', 95% of the time, is just to follow the road. The only reason to leave the road is generally to go see what's in that chest over there, which is usually nothing useful. I can't help but feel the engine is a bit wasted in this regard. Another thing is the slight inconsistency in the way the towns are laid out. When traveling, smaller towns and villages are seemless with the rest of the game. You walk around in the same way as the rest of the map, going through buildings as you like. The larger towns such as Krondor however, cut to a 2D hand-drawn representation. I don't think this is a particularly bad thing, though.
Another thing that makes this game different from most CRPGs of the time is that the game is very plot-driven. There are a few sidequests, and they integrate with the game very well — no random quests that make no sense here — but the majority of your time will go into the main quest. Which, despite having no input from Feist, is very well thought out, taking many of the characters from Riftware Saga (and many other influences), throwing in some new characters, and combining them in a very satisfying way.
The game starts as Locklear, and two new characters, Owen and Gorath, a moredehel (a bit like a hairy, evil elf) make camp, as Locklear is 'escorting' a chained Gorath to Krondor for some unknown purpose. Owen just stumbled into it all and tags along for the ride as the alternative to slitting his throat to prevent him leaking their location. The camp is ambushed by some moredhel, though this ambush is defeated by Gorath and is thusly unchained. Then everyone sets off for Krondor with you wondering what is going on, and needless to say it all ends up forming into an epic, multiple world spanning journey.
This is also a good early example of a game where you don't 'level up', but your skills increase as you use them, although there are some flaws in the design and implementation that means it's easier to raise your skills than it should be if you know what you're doing.
The combat is quite unique. There are no random battles, instead you can see the enemy as you travel. There are three ways to deal with it. If you just walk into it, you are taken by surprise and (I assume) have less chances of winning. The second is to try to go around, but this usually fails. The third is to click the enemies when you see them, which triggers planning for an ambush, then you walk towards them as before, and depending on your (I assume) stealth skill, you may or may not pull off your ambush and have a better chance. Quite how this works in game mechanics, I'm not sure.
When you get into the actual combat, you are greeted with a turn based system, where you hack at each other, cast spells, use items, etc. until you or they are dead. It works very well, though early fights seem a tad random.
Other threats to your adventurers lie in starvation, exhaustion, sickness, and other occurings. You will need to make sure you have plenty of unspoiled food to last you, and get rest when you can, as well as avoiding curses and other ailments that make combat more difficult.
Overall, despite the rather minor flaws, this is easily one of the best RPGs of the early-mid-90s and is well worth grabbing and playing through. The story is gripping, the combat works, and it's even enjoyable to play.
Note: This is the CD version, released in 1994, a year after the floppy version, contains improved music (though the sound effects still suck) in Red Book CD audio, as well as a video interview with Feist and a hints system that I've never looked at.
- Betrayal At Krondor (PC CD) (411.8 MB)