CHOP! SLASH! CLANK! BOOM! Take that you retched beast!!!!
When I was in college, I jumped at every role-playing game I could get my hands on. I started with Dungeons & Dragons, then I graduated to Middle Earth Role Playing, and finally Rolemaster. There were many others that I experimented with along the way; in fact, too many. As I got older and my responsibilities expanded, I found myself unable to set aside the time necessary to continue my hard-core gaming addictions.
Being an arcade junkie as well, I diverted my fantasy playing to games like Street Fighter II and whatever else I could get a challenge and a cheap thrill out of. But somewhere along the way a new addiction settled. I discovered computer role playing games that went beyond the call of duty and added the element of "real time" gaming. I remember the long evenings on my Commodore 64 playing "The Bard's Tale". Then I got involved with "Dungeon Master". A year or so later, I found myself playing "Eye of the Beholder". The addiction grew stronger with each game I could get my hands on. Luckily for me, there was a big gap in worthwhile fantasy role-playing games for a couple years. This was my time to find a life on the other side of the game screen. And now I'm back! Writing about the best game I've discovered since the good old days. I present to you Stonekeep...
Stonekeep was developed by Interplay and after nearly seven years of product development, design changes, and platform shifts, it's finally out and ready for the "Big Test Drive". According to the story-line, you are Drake, a resident of the great citadel Stonekeep. As the game opens, the stronghold is overcome by a great darkness and the residents are stripped of their flesh as they fall helplessly to the ground. Drake is wisped away through a magic portal by a robed figure as the castle crumbles into the earth. Ten years later, Drake returns to his homeland only to find a dark chasm where his home once stood. An angelic figure, Thera, appears from the embers and transports his soul from the confines of this plane to the realm of Stonekeep. There he must retrieve the nine orbs of power, battle the dark god Khull-Khuun, and set the castle free.
You start the game in the uppermost region of Stonekeep and you must equip Drake with the appropriate items to survive the horrors ahead. Movement is controlled with the keypad and the screen can be affected by the mouse. To help you "get your act together", Drake is given a mirror which will give you a frontal view of your party. Here you may change weapons or administer healing herbs and spells to aid your quest. You are also given a scroll which will carry absolutely everything you find along the way. Shortly after you begin, you will come upon a book which will allow you to see what your current statistics are, what spells you have acquired, your map, equipment definitions, NPC records, and any notes you may want to record.
The movement is smooth and combat is wonderful. You may move ten square feet at a time and turn north, south, east, or west. When an enemy is encountered, the music changes and a fierce battle will begin. Left click your mouse and use your left hand. Right click to use your right hand. Push the arrow keys to move away or turn your party. That's it! It's a very simple interface with very few demands on the user. This is a major plus for those who are tired of endlessly advanced rules. It's all quick and concise.
The magic system is also a treat. Along the dark and dank dungeon corridors, you will find rune sticks that will hold mana for later casting of spells. Scrolls with runes can be found and instantly logged in your journal. Combine these runes and see the amazing spell effects take place before your eyes. Firebolts, shield spells, healing, teleportation, and many others are at your disposal. That is, if you have enough mana for them... There are also other types of runes which will increase the power of your mystical arsenal, like tripling your spell's strength or making a firebolt into a fireball. There will be more than enough combinations to keep the most avid roleplayer amused.
Another interesting addition is the level system. Drake and his companions ( you will come across more than enough along the way) do not increase in power based on the number of 'experience points' accrued. Instead, each of your skills will go up a level as they're used more and more often, including magic. Each person playing Stonekeep will have different statistics depending on what their favorite weapons are and how often they decide to use them.
Finally, Interplay deserves a big round of applause for their digitized characters, mixed with computer animation. They blend very well together and the artificial intelligence of each character will keep you on your toes during many late nights. Also, the music and sound effects are excellent. They add the right element to the given situation without becoming dull and repetitive.
Interplay's Stonekeep is a definite keeper. I've finally satisfied my long overdue craving for an intuitive and exciting role-playing game. Stonekeep is not perfect, but it will keep you coming back for more! Also, it's not a terribly easy game; The combat is more than challenging and the puzzles are not quite impossible to figure out. If you have an extensive role-playing background, you'd better make an effort to see this one. Even if RPGs are not your cup of tea, the graphics and sound effects should prove to be a pleasant surprise. Everyone should download the demo off of the net and see for themselves. In the meantime, happy gaming!!!!