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‘Sorcery! Part 1’ Review: Exploring The Shamutanti Hills

Sorcery! Part 1

With naught but a blade in one hand and a book of cryptic spells in the other, a great quest awaits; one which has you traversing the Shamutanti Hills, in search for the lost Crown of Kings! It won’t be easy and many difficult choices await, in this first part of Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! quadrology. But he who dares, wins… right? Or maybe you’ll perish in a snake pit, never to be heard from again. Grand adventures are rarely for the faint of heart, and this one’s no exception.

It’s hard to believe that this particular Fighting Fantasy mini-series originally saw the light of day more than thirty years ago. Talk about ancient literature, eh? That said, what inkle has done with these four books is nothing less than amazing, turning what was originally text-based choose-your-own-adventure role-playing games into graphical open-ended tales. None of that ‘go to page this and that’ nonsense either. Instead, you’ll be traversing a map – one which adapts to your every decision, new paths opening as other close, and other neat tricks. A refreshing interpretation, to say the least.

Also long gone is the RNG-based combat system which had you rolling dice to determine whether or not you are able to hit your adversary, and for how much. Another welcome change. Instead, you’re to read his / her / its stance, with only a tiny amount of guesswork involved, to then act accordingly. If defenses are bolstered, your best course of action is to do the same, as then, no damage will be dealt on either side. But if you sense an incoming attack, countering is rarely a mistake, although there are times when lowering damage taken by parrying is more beneficial.

Sorcery! Part 1

See, offensive moves drains your meter either a little or a lot, depending on the strength used, and said meter is only replenished through defensive acts. A bit confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it… slice ‘n dice! Thankfully, should victory slip through your grasp, an encounter can be retried immediately and without penalties.

An alternative to slicing, stabbing and generally cutting your opponent to pieces does also exist, in the form of magic, in which Sorcery! – even in its original form – sets itself aside from most other Fighting Fantasy titles. Spells are cast through the alignment of three stars. No really, and it’s a lot simpler than it sounds, in that all you have to do is remember three letters (most of which actually make sense, in regards to the spell in question). ZAP, for example, allows the manipulation of lightning, while HOT lets you mess around with, well, great balls of fire – see what I mean? Perfectly logical.

Not all of these are restricted to one violent purpose or other though, as every now and then, you’ll be able to do things like avoid an otherwise troublesome scenario by casting the right spell. They do all come at a cost though: your health (or stamina)! As such, needless to say, leaning heavily on wizardry is a pretty bad idea, generally speaking. Even more so, since healing often requires spending the rather finite resource known as gold, whether it be to acquire rations or rest at an inn.

Sorcery! Part 1

One could always take to thievery, I suppose, should the opportunity present itself. I’d rather help those in need and hope for payment, however minor, in return for services rendered, though. But your game, your choices and, sooner or later, your consequences. Those two – choice and consequence – do make up a sizeable portion of what Sorcery! is all about, after all, as you’ll often be faced with multiple options for how to proceed.

Do you trust the advice of a stranger and avoid the nearby forest like the plague, punch his lights out for thinking you can’t handle yourself, or tip him for the information? Will you wander through the nearby suspicious looking village, or attempt to make the potentially rougher journey that takes you into the mountains instead? Fight or flee? Left or right? Up or down? Cast a spell, try to reason, or… wait? The vast majority of your actions change what happens next, or at some point down the road – perhaps even in a future installment (Sorcery! being a quadrology and all), so choose carefully.

Logic and common sense will get you far in Sorcery! Part 1, but at the same time, no risk, no reward, and since your save carries over into future installments, might not be a terrible idea to to go out of your way in a search of a magical artifact or two. Just saying. Do exercise caution however, as this being a Fighting Fantasy title and all, there are more than a few ‘death traps’, some of which I had the misfortune of falling into during my initial playthrough. Fortunately, this version of the gamebook does come with a rewind feature, as it were, allowing players to turn back time to an earlier point, retrying from there instead of starting over.

Sorcery! Part 1

That’s not to speak against restarting the game upon falling however, as you won’t be able to experience all it has to offer in a single session. This can be seen as both a pro and a con, depending on who you ask, but I like how it adds a bit of “what if…?”. Most gamebooks only have a single route to victory after all, everything else sending the player on a path to certain doom. Doooooom.

As far as the story goes, well, there really isn’t much to it, in that… it’s more of an exploratory narrative than something overarching. I mean, you are on a quest to recover the Crown of Kings and all that, sure, but aside from that, it seems to be more about bite-sized scenarios, each taking you one step further towards your goal (or away, in some cases).

At the end of the day, this first part of my journey through inkle’s take on Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! quadrology completed, I was hungry for more. More grand adventures. More deadly traps. More monsters to beat the crap out of. More– well, you get the idea: I wanted to know what awaits in Sorcery! Part 2, which apparently takes place in the Cityport of Kharé, home of numerous less-than-reputable people and… deadly mutants?! Well, no rest for the wicked, as they say.

[Note: since Sorcery! Part 2 was originally a seperate title, with quite a few tweaks / additions, I will be reviewing that one seperately.]

Sorcery! Part 1 and 2 are available for Windows (reviewed), OS X from Steam and Humble Store with a $9.99 price tag. Alternatively, part 1, 2 and 3 are available for iOS (iTunes) and Android (Google Play) at $4.99 a piece.

Sorcery! Parts 1 and 2 Official Trailer