Saturday, December 01, 2012

Reviews for newest Eamon adventure, "Stronghold of Kahr-Dur".

In this previous post, I mentioned a new Eamon Deluxe adventure and promised to release a stand alone copy along with a review. Shortly after that, I (optimistically?) thought that Eamon Deluxe was going to be ready for public release and, since it would be included, delayed putting together the stand alone copy. Obviously there was much more work to be done on Eamon Deluxe than I predicted and somehow I managed to completely forget about posting anything more about the adventure on the blog.

Although I did email the author copies of the reviews I received, I do feel a bit bad for not giving his very well written adventure the attention it deserved. Eamon Deluxe actually is about to be released this time, so it will be made available with the full system rather than as a stand alone, but here are the two reviews which were written for that newest entry into the Eamon adventure library, "Stronghold of Kahr-Dur" by Derek C. Jeter. (Screen shots were posted with the previous blog.)

Derek has also announced that he is working on a second adventure! He recently posted a screen shot on the Eamon Guild's facebook page.

Eamon Deluxe adventure #24
The Stronghold of Khar-Dur
by Derek C. Jeter

Description: You are milling about the hall of free adventurers when the burly Irishman approaches. "A raven just arrived carrying a message for you," he says grimly. You take the piece of parchment from him and read the hastily scribbled letter. It is from your brother, Jollifrud, who lives in the wealthy city of Fharnor.

He states that a terrible menace has haunted a long-abandoned mountain fortress, known as Kahr-Dur, that overlooks the town. This unnamed menace has been quietly kidnapping the city's denizens during the night which has led to a general state of fear and anxiety. Even worse, Jollifrud's daughter Lady Mirabelle is among those who have been seized. He begs you to journey to Fahrnor and help him rid the city of this great evil once and for all...

Reviewed By: Thomas Ferguson
Special Features: Difficulty scales to character's level, Atmospheric effects
Playing Time: 1-2 hours
Reviewer Rating: 9                  Average Rating: 8.5 (from 2 reviews)
Difficulty Rating: 7                   Average Rating: 7

Comment: "Stronghold of Kahr-Dur" was initially described to me as having a "classic Eamon" flavor and I think this is an apt assessment. The plot is a straightforward "damsel in distress" scenario, paying homage to the classic dungeon crawls of yesteryear, with a heroic companion by the player's side and nasty enemies to defeat. "Stronghold," however, is by no means a derivative work.

Where this adventure shines, I think, is in its execution. The descriptions of rooms and artifacts are detailed and moody while avoiding being verbose. The design is likewise excellent; the different areas of the map are very distinct from one another and are naturally laid out. While the puzzles tend to involve a fair amount of backtracking to complete, the layout of the map prevents this from making such forays overly tedious.

There is a very effective blend of fighting the bad guys and solving puzzles. On the former point, the author has added a nice feature that assigns the attributes of the enemies based on the values of the adventurer's strongest weapon; this ensures that the difficulty scales to meet the experience of the character. Though going through "Stronghold" with a brand-new character saw him swiftly trounced, playing with my old standby adventurer, wielding a souped-up canister of Smylex (retrieved from "Batman!!" in the Worst of the Classic Adventures collection), still proved a challenge. The puzzles can be intuitively solved without resorting to using the HINTS command though still demand some reasoning on the part of the player. In short, little in "Stronghold" is outright given to the player; success must be earned.

"Stronghold" also takes pains to incorporate a number of effects and special features and they are employed successfully due to their subtlety. Often, special effects in Eamon, when present, tend to come off as gimmickry; in the case of "Stronghold," effects are employed seamlessly to add to the atmosphere of the map. I was surprised after looking "under the hood" at the number of effects programmed into the adventure; I'd been enjoying the adventure too much during the playthroughs to notice that they were being employed. And this is precisely how it ought to be.

A further, satisfying feature of the adventure is the clearly outlined quest and the explicit indication in the endgame of having "won" or "lost." I'd have preferred to have read a bit more storyline detailing what happens after the player leaves the fortress- Eamon in general tends to be unbalanced in its proportion of prologue to epilogue- but the mere acknowledgement that the player has been successful is enough to make "Stronghold" stand in distinction to most of the [Eamon] canon.

The writing and programming of "Stronghold of Kahr-Dur" are top notch. While itsauthor doesn't try and reinvent the wheel, the adventure succeeds in refining many of the traditional tropes of Eamon to produce one of the best "dungeon crawls" Eamon has seen.

Reviewed By: Luke Hewitt
Reviewer Rating: 8                    Average Rating: 8.5 (from 2 reviews)
Difficulty Rating: 7                     Average Rating: 7

Comment: The best summation of stronghold is that it is what many of the more childish, combat-heavy classic adventures hoped to be when they grew up. The plot is absolutely typical of the genre: An evil necromancer is causing havoc in a far off town, kidnapping an important lovely damsel along the way (these evil sorcerers really should learn to only kidnap ugly, unimportant people). However, what really stands out in this game is the staggeringly good atmosphere that Derek has managed to create. Though there are many, many empty rooms in the large map, I never felt bored or uninterested since even the majority of empty rooms still have detailed descriptions which are not limited to visible objects and features, but distinct smells and sounds as well. A nice touch of special programming also comes into play as it randomly flags up extra atmospheric effects such as gusts of wind, distant howling, feelings of fear and other contributions to the already stunning environment.

I was extremely pleased to find that the dusty, abandoned castle where you first start out is not the only environment you visit in this map either, as I later progressed to a dark and rugged series of caves, a gloomy forest, and other unique settings. As I mentioned already, the overall map is quite large and this is definitely an Eamon for explorers since several later portions of the game can become rather maze-like; though I encountered no "trick" exits or random room connections: and it's possible to navigate without getting lost as long as you keep track of where you have been and where you haven't explored yet.

One thing I did find a little jarring in this adventure is the total absence of embedded artifacts. I was occasionally quite sorry to have a fascinating object such as a statue of a warrior or a wizard's tome mentioned in a description, but not be able to examine it. Though, once I stopped trying to EXAMINE things, I came to appreciate how the artifacts that did exist were used in clever and interesting ways to create puzzles without the use of embedded objects. I can clearly understand the logic and reasoning behind the author's choice of artifact usage, even though it's not a choice I would have made myself.

One minor disappointment was that, despite the extremely well crafted atmosphere and clear quest, the plot still felt a bit unfinished and anti-climatic in some respects. For example, though the intro story mentioned that many local citizens had been disappearing, but I only actually found the "brother" I started the game with and the aforementioned damsel in distress for companionship. Also it was never made explicitly clear who exactly the evil necromancer was or what his nefarious motivations were. Even when within his lair, I found no altars to mysteriously nasty gods nor preparations for unpleasant enchantments, plans for domination, etc.-- just the captive damsel who was quite two dimensional and really seemed to be there just for decoration (after all, the lair of any good necromancer has to have an attractive, chained up maiden as part of the decor).

As I mentioned, your only companion is your loyal "brother"-- whether that is a friendly title to describe a comrade-in-arms or a literal relation was never explained, but I personally chose to interpret it as the first option, since I prefer to imagine my characters' background and family tree myself. Unfortunately, this "brother" is almost as two dimensional as the damsel in distress; this is an area that could have greatly benefited from some special programming, perhaps allowing him to speak to you or comment on what was happening throughout the adventure, it felt particularly flat when I rescued what may or may not have been his daughter (and therefore my character's niece).

The puzzles aren't overly challenging provided you take care to pay attention to the descriptions. The map layout can get rather complex especially towards the end, which certainly added to the challenge. One tip: though not exactly a puzzle, the author probably should have mentioned somewhere in the game that a "knock spell" is a magical enchantment used to open stubborn doors and/or other barriers. I learned this myself from playing other RPG games, but "Stronghold" could have been a bit unfair, had I not already known this.

I give this one a 7 (out of 10) for its difficulty rating. The high rating, however, is not merely based upon the moderately challenging puzzles or the large, twisty map alone, but rather comes mostly from the combat. I give extra credit to Derek here as well because, instead of loading the place with hoards of weaker enemies, he intersperses the largely empty map with interesting monsters and very tough battles, which which adds far more significance to the standard Eamon hack'n'slash approach. My medium strength character (with a 2D6 weapon) was often down to the wire, and it took the proper use of spells and artifacts to win several fights, despite having the included "brother" (who is a very hardy companion) from the start.

The big boss fight itself also deserves special mention as it is one of the better examples of special programming being used in combat that I've ever encountered, and very much stays consistent to the theme of facing off against a powerful, evil sorcerer who is capable of using dreadful magic against you. I'd definitely advise people pump up before trying this one, especially on their magic spells.

There are several tough fights, which are actually completely avoidable through clever navigation and which really could have used some sort of small reward or mention to generate a deserved sense of accomplishment (indeed given that one of them was against a group of animated skeletons).

All in all though, Stronghold of Kahr-Dur is an extremely well written Eamon Deluxe adventure, both in a literary sense as well as the inclusion of special programming. It has a classic "dungeon crawl" flavored plot, a clear quest, multiple combat fests against interesting opponents, challenging exploration and a fantastic atmosphere which is continuous from start to finish. Despite the few shortcomings I mentioned, it's still an outstanding game overall and I highly recommend it. With the dramatic combat, strong atmosphere, puzzle solving, or just the challenge of exploration and mapping, there is something for everyone. I give it an 8 out of 10 for the overall enjoyment rating.

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