Most games companies, when they release the follow up to a good game, go for the imaginative approach when it comes to the name. Let's face it, Doom 2 tells you all you need to know, doesn't it? Of course, it's just possible that if the original was a load of crap, a new name might disguise it from the gullible games-buying public. But let's not be too cynical 'cos lo and behold. Menzoberranzan (Menzo) is the follow up to Ravenloft. Better interface, different plot, same approach.
For those of you who missed it, Ravenloft was a thoroughly unremarkable role-playing game that uses the 2nd edition AD&D rules. You know the story by now - fill the four character slots and toddle off on "ye quest". Oddly enough, that's just what Menzoberranzan is too. Okay, it has a few enhancements here and there, and there are more spells and different monsters but. at the end of the day. Menzo is really Ravenloft revisited.
Pick and click
The game has a stylish, if unpredictable, user interface which has been tidied up a little from the Ravenloft original. There are four character slots for your party of adventurers and a large window into the obligatory three-dimensional world. Two styles of play are allowed - you can turn smoothly through 360 degrees (as in Ultima Underworld), or a square at a time (as in Dungeon Master and Eye of the Beholder). The former method 0 looks and feels much more realistic, but it does take up time and processing power.
Clicking on the characters' portraits brings up the inventory and information screens, letting you rearrange clothing, items and weapons, see how well they're doing in terms of experience, and so on. On the main adventure screen, weapons, class abilities and spells are readily available and the party is moved using the arrow icons in the lower centre of the screen. In fact, there are two alternative movement methods. You can click inside the main window and then use the mouse to guide the party, or you can use the keys on the numeric keypad. In practice, the latter is by far the best method because you can call up weapons or spells with the mouse at the same time. Occasional actions, such as resting, regaining spells and saving the game, are made available by clicking the buttons in the top corners of the screen. The interface isn't entirely without its troubles, however. Picking up and using items is made much more difficult than it should be by requiring a double right click rather than the more intuitive left click.
Drinking potions and reading scrolls isl pretty erratic - if you happen to click wrongly in the middle of combat, the potion can easily go flying off into the middle distance or pop back into someone's backpack. It takes quite a bit of practice.
Combat in the game is carried on using the mouse. Simply click on the enemy and the various characters will hack and slash all over the place until whatever it is falls over and becomes a puddle on the floor. You can also add spells but they're not exactly dramatic. In fact, running into a minor monster is just plain annoying as you have to take a few swipes to get rid of it. Wandering into a pack of them is a recipe for rsi of the right forefinger.
A spot of elf bashing
Beginning with two characters, you generate yourself. The first thing to do is wander abroad in search of someone else to take with you. Added to the game are ranger and thief abilities, such as Hear Noise. Hide in Shadows and Backstab. plus the characters can gain the ability to fly. levitate and jump when necessary.
Unfortunately, you don't have any real choice about how to go about things. The game has to follow the plot that's laid down, and in this respect it can become a bit mindless. Do this dungeon, do that one collect the whatsit, head back there, and so on. In the end though, there's only one way of doing things. For instance, to enter the Underdark you need enchanted gems or you'll die of radiation poisoning. The gems lie in a cave near the village and you have to defeat the inhabitants. take the gems to the local crackpot mage and then head into the depths. This sounds fine, but sadly the game won't allow you into the lower realms until you have the gems. So much for freedom of action, eh?
Other things annoyed me too - the village is still burning if you return to it several days later and you even get the same conversation with the inhabitants. Apparently you're supposed to help put the fire out but that's about as much fun as cutting someone else's toenails.
To add insult to injury, as far as the keen RPG-er is concerned, each area of the map has finite boundaries. Wander out of the village and into the wilderness and whichever way you turn you'll come up against the cliff that surrounds the whole area. This doesn't matter quite as much in the dungeons but the maze-like way these levels are designed, without any rhyme or reason to them, makes them border on being plain boring.
Interaction with non-player characters is. to be honest, a bit sad. That's if you call three-line conversations "interaction". I don't. The first bloke you meet is Drizzt, a born-again drow. As he's a 15th level Ranger he's well worth having along. Other NPCs include a talking sparrow thingy and a centaur, either of which fill up the fourth slot quite happily.
As a game system. SSI's offering isn't bad. though. It's slick, reasonably fast and rather pretty to look at. Unfortunately, those elements don't make it a good game overall, unless you like adventuring in a straight-jacket. It's too rigidly plotted without any real sense of atmosphere or interaction.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP