Betrayal in Antara
Aren always dreamed of adventure, hanging on the stories of far-off places the joymen brought to his father's inn. Then, one morning while fishing near the village, he heard the sounds of a struggle from the nearby dunes. Rushing to investigate, he found two men beset by a huge flying beast. Without thinking, he rushed into the fray, only to be knocked down by the beast. As it turned to finish him off, a strange feeling engulfed Aren and a huge blast of magical energy flew from his hands, blasting the creature into oblivion. Unfortunately, one of the men was already mortally wounded, but as he died he pressed a strange medallion into the hands of the other man and whispered a cryptic phrase. Aren was surprised to find that the man he saved was none other than William Escobar, youngest son of House Escobar.
Aren's life has suddenly taken an exciting turn—in gratitude for saving his life, William vows to take Aren back to Panizo with him so he can be taught to control his new-found powers by the court mage. On the way, they soon discover that the world is quickly going to ruin—disease is ravishing the land, raiders and pirates are attacking travelers, and war is about to break out. Joined by Kaelyn, a tough hunter who decides to accompany them after they rescue her from bandits, Aren and William must find a way to restore peace to Antara.
Betrayal in Antara is billed by Sierra as a follow-up to the 1993 hit Betrayal at Krondor. It is not a proper sequel, though, as it is not set in the world of Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar books, but it does use an enhanced version of the same game engine. The interface will be very familiar to all Krondor fans, and the few minor changes that have been made improve gameplay without removing anything that made the original so much fun to play. The best improvement is the addition of an instant help system. You can right-click on anything in the game to get a description of the object or control, which makes it much easier to examine items and map locations.
Most of the game is spent walking around the 3D world of Antara, following up leads to solve the many puzzles in the game. There are no restrictions on where you can go or whom you can talk to; the player has complete control over what happens as the story unfolds. For example, the goal of the first chapter of the game is to go to Panizo, and this can be done fairly quickly if you choose to ignore everything else, but this makes the game a lot less fun. Along the way you can choose to follow any number of smaller adventures, from stopping a shipping strike to helping a farmer with his sick cattle.
The other major portion of the game is combat -- everywhere you go there is someone (or something) that wants to stop you. The combat system is an updated version of the turn-based system used in Betrayal at Krondor. When the fighting starts, the combatants are placed on a grid of hexagons and you control the movement and actions of each of your characters individually. You fight with a wide range of weapons, from crossbows and swords to magic spells. This system was one of the best features of Krondor, and Antara has kept it virtually unmodified.
Overall, Antara is a very good RPG -- the storytelling is well done and provides an immersive trip to another world. Each of the characters you play has a distinct personality and history, and they interact with each other as well as the non-player characters you meet, making the game seem just that much more real.
As good as the rest of the game is, it is a shame that the graphics still look pretty much the same as those from Krondor. Antara does run at higher resolution than Krondor did, and the artwork in the inventory screens and cut-scenes between chapters is very good, but the 3D effects just do not live up to what more recent titles have led us to expect. The ground is always flat and the edges of the areas you can explore are always vertical walls; even forests are just solid walls with trees painted on them. While some of the textures are good, every building looks exactly the same and most of the textures are too drab. When night falls in the game, things only get worse. Everything is just very dark -- there are no lighted windows in the villages, and lighting a torch makes the whole view brighter, as if the sun was still up.
The effects and music in Antara are rich and varied. The music usually only plays while you are inside shops, during combat, and during the cut-scenes between chapters, not while you are wandering around. But since even the best music can become annoying if it is playing constantly, I do not consider that a drawback. The game also has rich sound effects, especially during the combat sequences.
A large part of Antara is conversations between the various characters in the game and almost all of it is accompanied by voice-overs that are generally well done. Some of the actors sound a little stiff, and in several cases I found myself waiting for the talking to end so I could get on with the game, but overall the voice acting improved the game's atmosphere.
Almost anything you need to know about playing can be learned from the pop-up help available in the game, but the few times I wanted more information I was able to easily find it in the game's manual. It also contains a brief history of Antara that provides some good background, but most players probably will not need to read through the manual to play and enjoy the game.
Required: 486DX4/100 or faster, 16 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM drive, sound card, mouse
Betrayal in Antara is a great RPG-style game that lives up to its predecessor. It does not break much new ground, but the additions to the interface used in Betrayal at Krondor are well-thought-out and add to the playablility. The background story and plot are well-written and will provide many hours of gameplay. Better graphics would have made this a great game, but it is still a good choice for adventure gamers. Fans of Feist's Riftwar saga looking for a true sequel to Krondor may want to wait for Return to Krondor, however, due out later this year from 7th Level. For those not sure if Antara is what they are looking for, Sierra has made the original Betrayal at Krondor available as a free download from their website, as well as an extensive demo version of Antara.