The Rings of Kether – Conclusions

The Rings of Kether was an annoying book, it was so close to being quite decent but ended up being a chore to read thanks to some fairly poor story development. I touched upon some of my issues from within my read-through, it was quite obvious where the flaws were coming up as I was reading it. My comments are of course made with the caveat that I understand I have only seen one path through the book, but it felt very much like I would have got to the end of the story regardless of what decisions I made.

ROK 001

At its heart this is a sci-fi detective story, and so the detective work is crucial to making this story exciting and engaging. So why, back in that bar at the very start did I have to choose who to talk to through the roll of a dice? Why couldn’t I make a judgement of who was in the bar myself? It all went wrong from there really, I was bumbling along from one place to the next, following a woman into the city night for absolutely no reason whatsoever, just hoping that she might possibly be connected to a drugs cartel. It was very much just a chain of locations, one after the other without any input from me.

What could have saved this was a little puzzle solving, some need for me to assess evidence myself rather than being shuffled along to the next clue. A few red herrings would have been interesting too, again perhaps I missed this, but what if I’d chased down the wrong man or got caught out and faced some instant-death ‘my adventure was over’ endings’?

My write-up came only to two entries as this really was such an easy book with so little to describe, our bad guys were given almost no time at all and posed even less challenge to defeat. The same could be said for a lot of the combat, especially given that you find a blaster that does 6 Stamina damage at the start of the story, not that there is much combat. That goes for the underused space combat too, which I believe I only encountered once. Having said that though, I can understand and even welcome a reduced emphasis on combat when I’m supposed to be a detective and not a killing machine, but when there’s so little detective work to do it gives you an itchy trigger finger.

Artwork wasn’t something that elevated the experience either, that laboratory illustration still puzzles me, I don’t even really know what it’s supposed to depict. Where are the bubbling chemicals and arcing electricity? There were some more exciting ones though, the weird tripedal alien was something this book desperately needed more of, and there were some cool looking things I managed to miss. More space combat was out there if I’d made other choices…

ROK 005

As were robotic dogs.

ROK 016

A couple of crazy illustrations caught my eye as I flipped around the book too, although they look like they belong in a very different story!

ROK 006

ROK 009

I’d especially loved to know what the hell that second one is about!

Then there are some film-star cameos, who I believe have gone uncredited to this day…

ROK 012

Mark Hammil.

ROK 004

Kevin Smith.

ROK 018

And Bill Murray, who is clearly as tired of this book as I am. All in all, not quite as bad as Space Assassin, but very nearly so.

Advertisements

Temple of Terror – Conclusions

As I mentioned in my introduction, Temple of Terror is coming on heels of some non-fantasy books, so I was very happy to be back in more familiar territory. What you get in this book is the standard adventure that we are all sucked in by, a trek across the wilds followed by a dungeon crawl with a few traders to spend some gold with along the way. That’s not to say I wouldn’t have tweaked a few things though. Perhaps we were spoiled by the rich desert survival in The Seven Serpents, but I’d have liked a little more time on the desert section. Finding the ‘lost city’ seemed like a fairly trivial accomplishment, I’d have taken a slightly shorter portion of the book in Vamos and a longer exploration of the desert being required. My coffee-stained map shows how the adventure is heavily weighted towards the dungeon section.

tot 002         I had clearly missed some parts though as this interesting illustration depicts some kind of raid going on that I never encountered, a great action piece.tot 026 Another gripe I had, which I suppose is a little picky, is the bad guy, Malbordus. Obviously I never ultimately got to face off with him, but his presence in the story is basically non-existent. At least in other books where you are trying to stop a bad-guy, you’re in their domain, their dungeon, their Firetop Mountain. Here we’re in Leesha’s den and we never really learn that much about her other than the fact that she likes art. It is a minor complaint, but I would have felt more compelled to find the dragon artefacts if he’d been built a little more, in-fact at times I actually forgot I was supposed to be looking for them. Having said that, the book still had a great atmosphere, the sandy ruins felt dangerous and I was enjoying picking my way through. Malbordus might have had a diminished presence, but he was filled in for by the messenger of death rather well. This fellow was one of the most memorable parts of the adventure and was a good alternative to insta-death decisions, you could sometimes gain clues as to what he was doing. While it was certainly a penalty to find one of his letters, it wasn’t just a case of flipping back to the previous page after your death, it just turned up the tension a notch, which is a good thing. A tough dude I managed to avoid was the guy depicted below, a mutant orc assassin I narrowly avoided just before your dragon artefacts are totted up, who is seemingly armed with some sort of lightsabres. Skill 11 and Stamina 11 was not something I wanted to fight at that point, especially given my wildly fluctuating Skill score, I was trying to stay out of fights for portions of the book.

tot 021   My adventure was a failure, but had I found that 5th dragon artefact I believe I was in a position to get through the final encounter with Malbordus successfully. He is pictured here, played by the legend that is Nick Cave.

tot 024 I should hasten to add, I did not draw the horns and neither did Bill Houston. Some cheeky Shetland scamp must have done that at some point… It should also be said that my copy of the book did not survive the reading and scanning process, the water damage was too much to take and… he fell.

fallen_prince   Godspeed, Temple of Terror. You were a solidly enjoyable, if unspectacular, adventure.

Freeway Fighter – Conclusions

With the new rules and weaponry introduced in Freeway Fighter, it’s clear that an effort had been made to differentiate the experience from non-vehicular titles, but for the most part, I don’t think Freeway Fighter really pulls it off. Generally it’s the same model we see in every book, Firepower is Skill, turn left or right at this junction… etc. On a few occasions, the excitement does ramp up a little though, the best bit of the book by far was the Blitz Race, this section actually felt fast and dangerous, I would have loved to have seen more of these quick decision based sections than the gun-play of Firepower and Armour stats. It would also been good to have seen more of Pete the mechanic, it felt good to get my Interceptor upgraded – RPG players love their loot! Extra weapons and turbo thrusters would have been an entertaining way to develop my ‘character’ along the journey, perhaps even obtaining different cars. We will have to wait for Robot Commando to bring us that level of sophistication!

Sadly, my enjoyment of the book was mainly impeded by the setting, a barren wasteland is in the end, a barren wasteland. Most encounters felt like they revolved around seeing what’s in this next overturned vehicle, the unfortunately rather short raid on the Doom Dog camp at the end was a welcome turn. Save for those already mentioned and perhaps the dualist, there were few particularly memorable encounters. Similarly, the theme of the book influenced the progression gating, most Fighting Fantasy books put obstacles in front of you that you cannot pass unless you have acquired a specific item, often in a creative situation that makes you feel powerful or is just plain fun. In Freeway Fighter you refuel you car, which is a little dull when you’ve done it a few times.ff 001 (2)

As far as the landscape and the feel of the world we’re in goes, it really didn’t help that the illustrations were not particularly interesting. This flat looking style really didn’t do it for me, with these buildings coming close to level of dullness we experienced in Space Assassin. As mentioned in the intro, an Iain McCaig illustrated Freeway Fighter might have helped bring the book to life a little more.

ff 007

The best illustration actually looks like it belongs in a completely different book altogether! I didn’t actually encounter this guy in my read-through, but this is Rat Man, a rat orientated fellow I would have encountered in the motel at the end of the book had I not slept in the cab of my tanker. I’m guessing this is where I could have sustained the rat-bite the text referred to, a very cruel twist at the end Mr. Livingstone!
ff 015

All in all, Freeway Fighter is by no means a bad title, it just feels like a book that could have been taken further if it had a little more content and a little less driving south through rolling tumble-weed desert.

Space Assassin – Conclusions

Cambridge Dictionaries defines an assassin as ‘someone who kills a famous or important person, usually for political reasons or in exchange for money’. It therefore am left perplexed by the conclusion of Space Assassin in that my character appears to leave his target alive, we drag an unconscious Cyrus from the Waldo and then that’s it. Unless there is a very dark inference that we then kill an unconscious man before making our escape, I think we’ve not exactly fulfilled our contract. It should also not go without mention that we’ve ended our adventure with what has to be the lamest ended of the series so far, two sentences and a single word, I’d be amazed if it can be topped in it’s ”will-this-do?‘-ness’!

Suffice to say that this was the weakest book I have played so farIt is a toss-up with Scorpion Swamp if I’m honest, but even though that book made some bizarre and infuriating decisions based around a non-linear structure that didn’t quite work, it at least tried something new. Space Assassin didn’t even feel like I’d been on an adventure. One long straight corridor after another, another meaninglessly easy piece of combat, no real obstacles to overcome, I had it finished in a single sitting that left me thinking ‘is that it?’.

sa 001 (3)

Setting and story I quite liked, a Josef Mengele style sci-fi villain certainly has legs, it just didn’t use them. In-fact, he actually turned out to be an absolute pussy. Perhaps some of the padding that was added to the original script by the publishers helped make the experience feel so empty, I guess we will never know. My play-through did miss a few additional sections that were added by the publisher though, one being this puzzle from page 332 where you have to pick a path across the room and add up the numbers on the tiles along your path to give you a page reference. I have no desire to figure that one out!

sa 017

Also missed was some sort of future video-game which pitted you in tank combat against an AI across a grid system, the point of which I’m not entirely sure of!

sa 023

sa 024

Less than spectacular illustrations seemed to pepper my route, but some better stuff was hidden away. Had I chosen to kill the small rodent scientists early on I would have been rewarded with this picture of my victims.

sa 008

And I can only imagine this interesting little scene would have greeted me if I’d somehow made my way to the surface of the surreal ‘outdoors’ section? Actually reminds me of the style we saw in the Sorcery series.

sa 014

Similarly crazy looking were these fellows…

sa 011

….and this guy who maybe failed the cut for Destiny.

sa 003

I was also glad to have avoided this monster, which may have been even more deadly opponent than the dreaded cleaners.

sa 015

One more illustration stood out to me as being particularly poor though, apparently this is supposed to be some sort of plant thing. To me it just looks like a mess.

sa 018

Anyway, Space Assassin is not a book I will remember with affection, as Bernard Black might put it, ‘Enjoy. It’s dreadful but quite short.’

Talisman of Death – Conclusions

As far as story goes, Talisman of Death was a bit of a roller-coaster ride, it ripped along at a fair old pace and sent me through a pretty wide selection of scenarios. We started in the rift, travelled across the wilderness, explored a city, got hunted by demons, crashed a black-mass, went on a raid with thieves, crossed the wilderness again, a mini-dungeon crawl, a mountain climb, worked our way through jungle and then fought a dragon – it hardly gives you time to breathe! Whilst I did appreciate that this meant for very few dull moments, I did feel that maybe the book tries to do a bit too much. Some story directions I found more entertaining than others and I’d have liked to have spent longer on some locations or events than we did. For instance, I was very excited to combine City of Thieves-style street exploration with a cat-and-mouse chase between myself and the undead, only to then have the Talisman taken from me almost straight away. Ending this segment so soon was very disappointing, it was also disappointing to miss this memorable piece of art whilst being stalked through Greyguilds.

tod 007
During the latter stages of the book, I couldn’t help be reminded of Caverns of the Snow Witch in that it did seem to be a longer than average adventure, the journey out of Greyguilds to the mountain with Hawkana pursuing me in my dreams did drag a little compared to the rest of the book. Having commented on the length of the book, there were still plenty of choices I didn’t explore.

 

tod 026

My unexplored choices seems to have covered some of my favourite illustrations from the book, this elk-man thing looks particularly bad-ass in the sheeting rain…

 

tod 014

…this thing… I have no idea what the hell is going on here, it looks like something Kurt Russell should be burning alive…

tod 013

 

…I’m fairly sure this is the first (proper) boss from Demons’ Souls…

tod 006

…and this is the worlds derpiest looking triceratops.

tod 001

 

There’s also this great image of Smaug… I mean ‘the dragon’… having a snooze in his cave before we violently butchered him.

tod 024

I’ve been a bit critical of the book, but that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, I read the whole thing in two short sittings and had many memorable encounters, particularly the excellent dragon battle finale. I just would have liked to see it expand upon its more interesting segments like infiltrating the evil cultists or solving the underground riddles of the ivory spear. A bit of a jack of all trades I guess that stops short of being excellent and ends up just being very good. It was pleasing to get a good ending, difficulty wise the book was pitched pretty well given how the book flows so easily, the main challenge coming from some of the combat as opposed to needing items or making hard decisions. Including restart points was a nice idea, but I imagine the majority of players have already got their very own checkpoints set by jamming fingers in pages, but legitimising it in the rules of the book will please some.

After Scorpion Swamp, I leave Talisman of Death with my faith restored in the non-Jackson/Livingstone books, I thought this one was in safe hands and overall I think my confidence was rewarded with a solid adventure.