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The Warlock of Firetop Mountain

Score: 85%
ESRB: 12+
Publisher: Tin Man Games
Developer: Tin Man Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Classic/Retro/ Adventure/ Miscellaneous

Graphics & Sound:

With the increase in graphical power in video games, we've seen a push toward realistic graphics and, in more recent times, surrealistic graphics. The Warlock of Firetop Mountain does a good job of creating a realistic representation, but rather than trying to make the adventure real, it is creating a simulation of the tabletop miniatures and scenery props. Instead of a walking animation, your character (playing piece) moves around in a series of hops, as if being moved by an unseen hand. While somewhat odd, I found it to be a bit nostalgic, reminding me of the many times I had played Dungeons and Dragons using similar miniatures.

Making good use of the miniature aspect of the game, you will find a variety of heroes for your playing pleasure. The ones who appear painted are playable, while the ones who appear unpainted have to be "Unlocked" by purchasing a pack via in-game purchases, typically coming four to a pack. Purchased characters are immediately available for play, being unlocked when you purchase them (and getting their color to indicate such).

There are a couple of things to note on purchasing the iOS version, however. First, you'll want to make sure your iOS devices are capable of playing the game. I have a 3rd generation iPad and it's not compatible with The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. My iPhone is newer, a 5S, and I am able to play the game on it, but to play it on an iPad, I had to get a second copy of the game on my wife's new iPad Pro, so compatibility is an issue to watch for and, quite frankly, a factor that could tip some people's favor back toward the Steam version. Further, while it's playable (technically) on an iPhone, I found that, on such a small screen, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain became difficult to play (there's a lot of text to scroll around) and that it also loses a lot of its visual allure, as you lose a lot of the details, since the screen is so small. There doesn't seem to be any real change in camera or presentation (other than minor UI button placement changes that, quite frankly, looks like it just wrapped a button to the next line). The iPhone game tries to show you exactly what you would see on a larger screen... but on a much, much tinier screen. You can zoom in to see the detail and there are a variety of settings to adjust the text size and font to make it easier to read, but the game simply needs a larger screen to truly reach its full potential.

The music in The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is grand and sounds like a fantasy score should, with the right amount of emotion and tension and is instrumental, so it doesn't hamper your ability to read the text. The sound effects are pretty good, as well, from the screech of bats to the moan of zombies and the snickering of that darn sneaky goblin, the sound effects do as good a job of making it feel alive as the graphics do in making it feel like a tabletop game.


Gameplay:

First of all, a brief history on The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. The Warlock of Firetop Mountain was a book - the first book in the Fighting Fantasy line of books created by renowned Tabletop game creator Steve Jackson (Steve Jackson Games, Games Workshop, Lionhead Studios) and Fantasy writer and entrepreneur Ian Livingstone CBE (Games Workshop, Eidos). Referred to as a "gamebook," it was intended to provide a reader/player with an interactive fantasy story/experience. It started with the idea of a Choose Your Own Adventure / Which Way Book / Plot Your Own Story sort of gamebook, but it added a fighting system, allowing for a more game-like experience, adding a bit of chance and stat management to the experience. The adventure pits the player against the many dangerous of Firetop Mountain as they adventure through underground caverns and long abandoned Dwarven halls braving orcs, goblins, spiders, traps and other dangers to find - and end - Zagor, the warlock who has seized control of Firetop Mountain and has been terrorizing and subjugating anyone who lives or passes through the region.

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain brings this experience to life, but bigger, with the miniatures and environment pieces. You still have a lot of text, however, as this is, at its heart, fantasy literature. This is a game that will appeal more to readers who like games than casual gamers who don't like much reading.

Since the core of the game is that of interactive fiction, gamers will notice that their choices, while paramount to the experience, are limited. While most games will allow you to revisit areas and double back as often as you like, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain enforces a forward motion, keeping the narrative going. When presented with three different options, you often only get to do the first one you choose - even if this is choosing something to search after a fight. On the rare occasion that you do get to select a second option from the list, the first one has been expended and can't be selected again. So, for example, if you encounter a bench to rest on (which raises your stamina) and you know (say, from a previous play through) that a battle is coming up right after this bench and you'll likely need the bench after the battle, but you don't right now... you're out of luck. You can't "leave the bench for later." You either rest now or hope you don't need the bench until you get to the next one.

As I mentioned earlier, there is also an aspect of fighting in The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. In this game, this takes the form of a square-based grid, where your character and enemies are represented with miniatures and scenery pieces may also be present (such as tables, large rocks, etc.) to provide for some additional strategy and, in some cases, cover. Do note, however, that some scenery pieces will be destructible, so your cover - and strategy - may be subject to unwelcome change. Each turn, you will opt to move or attack and your enemies will do the same. If you pay attention, you can know that your enemies are going to attack on their next turn when they shake during their move. That might sound a bit weird, but it's really easy to discern if you watch for it.

Different enemies have different types of attacks. You will want to learn their attacks and patterns to adjust your fighting style appropriately. Sneaky goblins might attack only along a diagonal, while sliding away to the side and laughing each time, while zombies, who are both physically and mentally slower than these goblins, may only move and attack in cardinal directions. You'll want to make sure that you don't end your turn in a square that is going to be where your enemy attacks. Well, if you can avoid it. When there's a whole lot of enemies in an encounter, you might have to simply minimize the damage until you can get rid of some of them. Learning the way(s) that your enemies move and attack will help you to avoid getting hurt... which will let you get further into the mountain.

In addition to normal damage, which lowers your stamina, you can also get hit with Skill or Luck damage. Luck is used to see how certain events come out and you have to roll lower than your Luck score to succeed. If this number gets lowered, you'll find it more and more difficult to pass these trials. Skill damage makes you less effective in combat. This is a very bad thing. The less effective you are in combat, the longer your fights are going to be and the more time you have to get hurt and lose Stamina, as well. Further, while Stamina is raised by resting, you will have to either use a potion to improve your Skill or Luck, or you have to happen upon fairly rare events that award point to those... if you choose correctly. When Skill and Luck damage come into play, take note, so you can avoid those options in the future or so you can prepare by picking up potions to fix you up.


Difficulty:

I am a computer programmer. When I was young, I was a fledgling computer programmer and, when I had only a Commodore 64 with no storage system, I wrote the equivalent of an interactive book on it. Page after page of story and options... and every bit of it would be gone forever when the switch was turned off. I made my sister play that game several times and try the different options to see what happens, even when it led her to "bad ends." There was an Ewok-like teddy bear race that, if you happen to get to the wrong part of the story would direct your attention into a stone toilet-shaped structure and lop your head off. This, after doing something friendly earlier in the story. It was a different tribe, but how was the reader to know that? It was a cruel thing for an author to do. So I can see how I totally deserve some of the unexpected deaths that I've encountered in The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, but you don't. Save yourself... there's still time.

Still here, huh? Well, fine. I'll just do what I can to advise you on your journey, then. You start with four different characters to play as, and you can get more as in-game purchases. These characters have different skills, stats and attacks. Different background stories, personalities and special skills lead to differences in gameplay at some areas, more so than others. For example, some characters are illiterate. When they come into contact with a sign, book or labeled bottle, they have no idea what the text says. Then again, a character from a foreign land may know how to read, but not know the specific language in which a book or label is written. As the player, you may, of course, know what the text says from previous attempts, but the description text will reflect that they don't know what it says. Further, a character who is more of a survivalist with a Keen Eye might be able to cobble together an extra ration or two out of any discovered food in the dungeon. These unique changes personalize the quest for each character, and make things more interesting, especially when certain pivotal aspects of the dungeon seem quite different for a specific character. So, basically, try the game with the different characters you have available and take note of their strengths and weaknesses. You don't have a persistent effect on the dungeon, so you'll have to make it all the way through in a single run with a single character in order to defeat Zagor, eventually, but you can explore the dungeon through the eyes of these different characters, in the mean time, to get a better understanding of what your biggest challenges are and what character you most prefer to use.

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain presents a challenge and is geared for a player to make several play-throughs before completing the game. If you are the kind of player who enjoys repeating a dungeon multiple times to learn all of its secrets, then you may really enjoy this game. If, on the other hand, you get frustrated at repetitive tasks, it may not be for you.

Those who are ready to climb in for the "long game," grab a piece of paper and a pencil and make notes as you go. What options do you get for searching that dwarf? If there are three options, you'll need to play three different times try all of the options. What did you find? Write it down. Later, when you realize that you need that thing that you saw on your first play-through to get past a later challenge without taking damage, you can refer to your notes to see where you had encountered it.

In addition to learning where things are found and how they might be used, you will find that the different characters have different types of attacks and, hence, may suit your style of play to differing degrees. You may find that you prefer a character with a long distance attack coupled with a dodge or one who has a sweeping attack that can hit three enemies directly in front of him or another who can knock enemies back from a distance or do a little bit of damage over a large area from a distance. There's even a character (in an in-game purchase pack) who can actually heal themselves when they successfully attack an enemy with one of their special attacks. This is not a trivial thing, since regaining stamina is only done in a couple of ways and is, otherwise, never available during a fight.

Finally... and I do mean finally... there is an option of last resort. If you really find it impossible to progress and you keep getting killed in battles, you can explore forward more easily by selecting the Free Read option at the beginning of a new game. This will prevent that run from counting toward your Leaderboard score, but will give you a new option every time you encounter a battle. This new option allows you to skip the battle without taking any damage. The text in the game warns that the Free Read option removes all challenge. While you can still get hurt by non-battle things, such as traps or other bad selections, removing the chance of getting hurt in battle does drop the difficulty down pretty close to nil. How you make use of this option is up to you. I will say, for the record, that this option still doesn't make this game as forgiving as the books would allow, as I would find myself with multiple bookmarks and would simply backtrack when a decision didn't pan out as I hoped. Free Read doesn't let you take back any of your decisions; it merely allows you to skip the battles.


Game Mechanics:

I love the addition of miniatures and sets to the gamebook concept. This works really nicely, adding an additional dimension to the experience. And, with it being virtual sets, it can be much more elaborate than one would expect in a real miniatures game, including gravity-defying removable panels that fly away to reveal new rooms as you enter them, for a very satisfying effect.

However, the limited options takes something away, in my opinion. If I'm going to search a room, I'm going to search all locations. If I'm afraid that someone might stumble upon me, I'll deal with them when they show up. If this paranoia is an aspect of this character's personality, then I wouldn't be as annoyed, but I find it hard to believe that all of these adventurers are afraid to hang around long enough to check a second location or try a second option. Hell, there should be at least one character who values thorough searching and ensuring the dungeon has been cleared up to the current point, by giving things a second look. (Funny how that sounds like a generic description of most of my D&D characters...) J. R. Nip told me that one of the characters had taken time to check a second location, but when I played with that character in the circumstance he was talking of, it turned out that it was a case of a personalized difference for that character and it merely allowed you to search a secondary thing in the room after forcing you to make a certain selection, due to a special twist on the text for that character, owing, in part, to this character having the Keen Eye ability.

While I would definitely recommend playing on a iPad Pro or perhaps the Steam version, for the larger screen, I found the presentation and experience to be quite enjoyable and would highly recommend it for gamers who wax nostalgic for gamebooks and who are not the type to get easily frustrated.


-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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