Ishar 2: Messengers of Doom
|a game by||Silmarils|
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One of the best parts of this job is when you are given a really awful game to review. Finding new and ever more eloquent ways to say you hate a game is one of the most pleasing pastimes a young writer can have. For instance: I hated this game so much that I wished it were a tortoise, just so I could have the pleasure of tipping it over on its back on a hot summer's day. propping a magnifying glass over its stomach and watching it slowly fry to a burnt cinder.' Or: 'To list the reasons why 1 so disliked Game X would take considerably more time than you, I or this magazine has to spare. Suffice to say if you were to look up the word enjoyable in the dictionary, it would say "Not Game X".'
Which puts me in a bit of a quandary. You see. Ishar2 is by no means an enjoyable game, I wish to make that perfectly clear. The trouble is. it is so inoffensive that to be rude to it would make any half-decent person turn and say: 'You're a very nasty man Presley', and very probabjy spit on me. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with it - the graphics are fine, the control system is perfectly usable and the basic premise is fair enough - it just isn't very interesting. It therefore makes it a bit difficult for me to discourage you from buying it.
First the good news
Let me start by accentuating Ishar2's positives before I communicate the negatives. Probably the strongest aspect of the whole game is the comprehensive, yet easy to use control system. The character management is easily amongst the best I've seen in a role-playing game, with the only black spot being the lack of a sleep/camp command. Each character has a portrait on the main screen from where you can access vital statistics, currently held objects or weapons, magic spells and team actions such as first aid and map reading. All without having to look away from the main screen. Calling up the full character screens allow you to delve even further. Objects can be swapped between members at will and, best of all, there's an 'Identify Object' icon. So many times I've played rpcs. picked up an object and. due to less than clear artistry, not had a clue as to what it is. To be able to identify at a glance what something is makes me happier than a man that's been called away from a hot date with a very sexy blonde, just to be told that he's won a million pounds on the pools. (Sorry, politically what?)
Other bright spots in the game include some (definately not all) of the graphics, the combat controls which, while not being the most interactive or strategic ever seen, are at the very least the best of the standard flick-screen role-player systems and the magic system which, in my mind, is second only to Dungeon Muster.
And now the bad news
But all this is just very pretty icing on a very stale cake. Ishar2's main problem is that, when you get right down to it. it just isn't very interesting to play. I know it's hard to come up with original ideas these days but almost everything in lshar2 has been seen before. (I say almost because there is a nice bit in a tree city - like the Ewok village in Return of the Jedi.) All the while I was playing it I just kept getting the feeling I was going from one separate encounter to another. Never did 1 get the feeling that this was all one big plot and everything I ran into was just a small part of the puzzle.
Plots are all important to fantasy games, and what we have here is just a pretty looking world with some random encounters thrown in. The loose story of having to find pieces of a map in order to explore the seven islands is rarely enough to keep you interested in what's going on and serves really as a poor excuse for a scenario. As the Great Mage Onirin once said: 'A collection of loosely linked encounters do not an epic quest make.' But then he was always a funny bloke.
As though Ishar 2's future wasn't already edging slowly over the chasm, along comes the manual to give it a real push forward. Now to be fair I did not see the finished version of the manual and there may be a lot more to be added before the game is released. I hope so. It isn't nearly comprehensive enough for a fantasy rpg manual. And more than any other game an rpg stands and falls by its manual.
Now perhaps I've been spoilt by all the American products that come with three or four separate booklets, covering everything you could possibly see and do in their worlds, but the thing is this kind of detail really helps to create that most fabled of things for an rpg (see if you can guess the next word kids) - atmosphere. Ishar 2 is not only devoid of atmosphere, it's devoid of excitement, interaction, realism and any other role-playing ingredient you can think of.
So, to sum up
Essentially Ishar 2 is like being taken on a tour of a sewage farm by Robin Williams. No matter how many jokes or one-liners. no matter how many crazy antics or silly voices he uses, it's still just a sewage farm and nothing will change that. That said, it would be a shame if Silmarils don't attempt a more ambitious follow-up as. like I said, the control system is one of the best I've seen for ages. That, if nothing else, is worth persevering with.
Oh, hang on. I've just thought of a way to insult lshar2 without being cruel. 'Ishar2's most endearing aspect is that it sets itself extremely low standards and then admirably fails to live up to them.' There, that wasn't too bad was it?
Democracy In Action
One o! the more intriguing moments in Ishar 2 is when your party decides to do anything that affects it as a whole, such as recruiting new members, dismissing old ones or assassinating unwelcome guests. (Yes you can actually assassinate team members if you want! Why? Don't ask me) Whenever you want to perform such an act each party member has to cast a vote in favour or against with the majority ruling deciding the actual result. The other strange bit is when administering first aid. Each character in your group has an individual attitude towards each of the others and if you ask one member to help patch up someone he or she doesn't really like, they'll probably refuse.
It really is the most bizarre form of character interaction I've ever seen in a role-playing game and once or twice led to the situation where I'd run away from a fight after taking a bit of a beating, set up a temporary camp and tried to heal a few injuries before going back. Unfortunately my group would be rife with internal squabbling and everyone would refuse to heal each other! There I am, zombies abungo, and my group is busy fighting with itself. With friends like these, eh?