Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor
Ten years ago, a cadre of adventurers banded together and rose up to the challenge of stopping a Pool of Radiance that had manifested itself and brought evil to the edge of world domination. The Pool, which emanates pure evil, was closed and the lands rejoiced, singing songs of the great deeds these heroes had performed.
But all is not well -- for evil, true evil, cannot be stopped.
A new Pool of Radiance has emerged and the land's greatest heroes sallied forth to meet this challenge. They blew it. In an attempt to escape their deaths, the group’s sorcerer opened a portal into which they could escape. Instead, they were cut down, and you and your team just happened to be on the other end of the portal. As any good adventurer would do, your group jumped into the portal and instantly found themselves among a small crowd of monsters. After getting your bearings you realize that you are near the fabled (yet decrepit) city of Myth Drannor. Quickly you find that maybe you didn’t just happen upon that portal, maybe larger forces are at work. For this new Pool must be stopped, and you and your cohorts love adventure, so...
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
To many people,is the be all, end all of RPGs. So with the huge honor of being the game that could very well redefine the genre, (PoR) has been cast down onto us mere mortals.
Let me start off by saying that the first thing you will want to do when loading up this game is to get a cold drink. The installation on this puppy is long and the game is huge, weighing in at 1.2 GB if you choose the full install. Next, you will want to visit www.pool-of-radiance.com to download two patches that fix a number of issues with the game. Most notably, the fix that allows you to install PoR onto drives other than the C: drive. So, okay, no big deal, most games have patches that come out almost immediately with the launch.
Once you finally have installed the game and set the very limited amount of options, I would advise any new or moderate RPG player to take a tour with the tutorial. The tutorial will give you an existing set of adventurers and walk you through the ins-and-outs of the game. Learning the interface, activating characters either separately or as a group, combat, you know, the usual stuff found in games like this.
Now, I will admit, that certain "massive" RPGs in the past have somewhat overwhelmed me with the monumental amount of controls and with the user interface. So I was pleasantly surprised to see that PoR kept things a bit simpler. First, each character in my party was assigned a different color. Now, when I say that, I am referring to the colored circle that appears underneath them when selected independently. This color coincides with a small colored bar located in the bottom right hand corner of the screen. This bar has two functions. First, it acts as an easier way to select a single character in case they are all grouped together and you can’t click on him or her because another character is in the way; and second, the bar is a health meter. Under the colored bars is an icon that indicates who you have set as the leader of your party. A diagram button to the right of that allows you to pick how you want to form you party (how you want them to walk strategically) and then a last button that switches the movement action from one character to the entire group.
The game can be almost entirely controlled with the mouse. Right clicking on a character brings up a menu that can be accessed in or out of combat, since this menu contains not only inventory and item options, but also special attacks and magic attacks. Without right clicking this menu during combat, your character will just do his/her generic attack when you press the left mouse button.
In PoR, you will want to keep your eyes open and your cursor moving at all times. The cursor icon changes to one of several icons when you move it over something of interest. Which brings me to the view. PoR is a ? view game that has height, width and depth. Although it the game is 3D, it felt like it really wasn’t -- think of it as a poor man’s 3D. Not that this is a bad thing, because it really isn’t. This view is best for these types of games since is allows for the greatest viewable area. Occasionally, I had to muddle through some areas that didn’t seem to make sense to me (e.g. I didn’t really see those stairs until I just put my destination point on the object). This was even in the tutorial, strange.
Once you are ready to begin the real game, you are given the option to assemble a team of up to four characters. The game has several pre-made characters to choose from or you can create your own. Since I’m not into using pre-made, I chose to create my own team. For starters I obviously got to pick their names. From there you can choose what race you would like the new character to be and you have several to pick from: human, elf, half-elf, dwarf, halfling and half-orc. Each race has its benefits, both long and short term. If you pick a half-orc, you will have yourself a big tough brute to start out with, but don’t plan on making him your leader since he starts with lower charisma. Did I forget to mention that? Yes, PoR has the usual attributes associated with traditional dice and paper RPGs. Strength, dexterity, charisma, intelligence, constitution and wisdom are all in here, and don’t you believe that it doesn’t affect the overall game. I'm adding this here, because each race will be given a varying amount of character points that can be distributed over these six statistics. Pool of Radiance has also added a couple of new character classes to the game, which total eight: Fighter, ranger, paladin, barbarian, rogue, sorcerer, monk and cleric. I tried to create a balanced team, so I started out with a fighter, barbarian, rogue and sorcerer. Moving through character completion, at the last stage you can pick what you want your characters to look like. Frankly I was disappointed in the real lack of choices. Yes, they did include female versions of all the professions, but they did not show a woman half-orc. Personally, I would have liked to seen that.
So on to the actual game. While adventuring, I found it necessary to switch the "always run" button to on. Trust me, this game will take about 100 hours to complete, and you could spend an additional 25 hours if you always walked. Kill as many bad guys as you think you can, then talk with everyone you think you can, including possible enemies. Not all monsters are interested in fighting, ya know. Speaking with non-player characters is fairly easy and the path is never really foggy. There will be a few times during the game that you might feel a bit lost or where you might not know what to do. The game makers did this on purpose. The clues can be found in the hand of a slain enemy or in a hidden room. Look around, use your rogue’s ability to find traps and discover hidden places. Put that barbarian at the front of the party. Rest whenever you can and save this game often.
When combat is initiated, whether you were surprised or you managed to sneak up on someone, a series of icons will appear in the upper left corner of the screen. Essentially, there is an icon for every character that gets a move during that particular round of combat. Again, your characters’ colors will be displayed along with a red icon for each enemy in the fight. Now, here is another reason to choose those extra character skill points more carefully. A stronger, more dexterous character has a better chance of striking the first blow, especially if they are of the more quick profession (barbarian, rogue). A small, time bar appears when it’s that particular character's turn to attack and steadily decreases as you make your combat selection. Depending on what kind of combat selection you make, once it’s been completed, it may be that your character has a little more round energy to use. In some cases you might want to attack and then back away. Or you may want to strike more than once in this particular round. Either way, designing a good strategy is paramount. You can and should also tweak your ranged fighters to walk toward the rear -- bows and sorcery are a very effective combination. My only real beef was that characters start out the game with really low hit points, and I’m talking anywhere from 8-14 hit points. That’s one slash away from getting killed. I realize these characters can possibly reach level 16, but that doesn’t change the fact that single digit hit points is a really bad way to start a huge adventure like this one.
Look, to be perfectly honest I could go on and on about the specifics of this game, it’s that huge. Know this, the game includes the latest D&D rules and a really great cast of monsters and bad guys. It’s up to you to make the good guys cool.
PoR features online gaming that allows you to team up with players from across the net to go dungeon crawling in maps specifically made for online gaming. I find that doing online RPG style games is much more fun when you contact people (your friends) and host/join a game that includes people you know. Sometimes it is difficult to find other players that like your particular style of gameplay. And it can be difficult, as I found out, to deal with online gamers who like to mess up strategies. Otherwise, I really enjoyed my online experiences. I need to hook up with that geeky tech group in my office who plays every night.
This game is in line with Baldurs Gate, and Fallout. Only thing is, the graphics are far superior. The monsters really steal the show; from giant undead dragons to Basilisks, they all look really good. Action movement by all characters look as if real people were bitmapped and transferred to the game. Hacking and slashing is raised to an art form (hey look! Brains!). The clothing on the various characters looks cool as it sways during movement. Whenever armor is changed, it is reflected on the in-game character. On the fashion police note, you can find magic items in the game like boots, which just happen to look really horrible with pretty much every armor color. I didn’t know if my enemies were cowering in fear or trying to shield their eyes from my character's obvious color blindness. As in most games, the environment plays a huge part and the locales in PoR are nothing short of beautiful. From the awesome look of the underground dungeons that seem to be everywhere to the impressive ruins of Myth Drannor, the ancient Elvin city the game takes place in. Sometimes I’d be admiring the attention to detail and not even notice the monsters making their way towards me. I like games that look so good that you get caught looking
Why do RPGs seem to attract the best voice actors? PoR is no exception -- just watching and listening to the intro tells you that the effort put forth in the accurate music and timely voice acting is top-notch. Several non-player characters have cut-in voices and of all the ones I met sounded really good. Accents, from guttural to pristine, were done with a real flair. The music that also accompanies the game really sets the tone for high adventure.
Pentium II 400 or faster, 64 MB RAM, 8x CD-ROM, Direct X 8.0 compatible sound card, and a 3D video card with D3D support.
Oh boy, Pool of Radiance contains a 142-page manual. Hard-core D&D players will read the whole thing; I perused most of it, and seem to be doing just fine.
This game is HUGE! Anyone who buys it, plays the whole thing through (I haven’t yet) and beats the end battle is a person with drive. The only thing preventing me from scoring this graphics masterpiece in the 90’s was the somewhat weak storyline and the tedium that got me down on more then one occasion. Again, 100 hours is a long time to play a game -- you should be getting more than simply more powerful monsters once you reach the 50-hour mark. A must buy for the serious RPG player; a casual player won’t finish it.