Here Be Dragons
You're dead. In fact, you've been dead for ten years. Before that though you were a famous wizard, imbued with magical powers as a child by your stepmum, who just happened to be a dragon. So it's not entirely a surprise to find yourself resurrected to face a new menace which is threatening your former homeland and robbing the underworld of fresh souls. Welcome to the decidely odd world of Gorasul... Firing up Gorasul for the first time you are faced by an outraged sounding man demanding to know if "you think this is a game". At this point you will no doubt start to wonder what you've let yourself in for. Perplexity will rapidly give way to worry as he follows up this challenge by questioning whether this is "a tale told by humans, a game designed by humans", or actually the result of some kind of transdimensional portal. Veteran gamers may start to suffer flashbacks of Omikron : The Nomad Soul, and you may even find your hand subconsciously reaching for the uninstall option in an attempt to save you from further mental scarring. This temptation you should resist. Yes, the game loses a little in the translation from its native German, and at first the opening cinematics may sound somewhat pretentious .. or just plain embarrassing, depending on your mindset. The lengthy voice-over which continues to ramble on about dragons and the undead as you fumble your way around the obscure low resolution menu system is a tad goofy, and it gets increasingly annoying once you realise that you will have to put up with it every time you load the game. But once you get past these initial niggles the game hiding behind the clunky exterior is actually rather entertaining.
The first piece of good news is that Gorasul doesn't always take itself very seriously, a fact which you will be left in absolutely no doubt of should you reach the frankly bizarre final scene. Some of the humour is misplaced (it is German, after all) but enough of the jokes hit the mark to raise a smile and lift the otherwise rather oppressive atmosphere of doom and gloom pervading throughout. The world of Gorasul is a dismal place at the best of times, and this is far from its finest hour. Undead are crawling out of the ground everywhere, the dwarves are at war with the giants, the ice elves are freezing thanks to a broken doohickey and a boy has fallen down a well. Naturally it's up to you to solve all of these problems, while simultaneously trying to track down an evil wizard and assemble a circle of powerful magicians to break his spell and save the world. Or something. Along the way you'll find a village overrun by hell hounds, bandits smuggling weapons, elven architects squabbling over blueprints for a new school, and wizards' apprentices breaking any number of health and safety regulations by dumping poisonous chemicals in an abandoned mine, contaminating the local water supply in the process. Quests vary from exploring a ruined temple and defending a village of surprisingly enterprising kobolds to recovering some overdue library books. It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it.
At the heart of this adventure is Roszondas, a human raised by dragons, but in true role-playing tradition several other characters are scattered around the world, and up to three of them may accompany you at any one time. Some will stay with you for as long as you want them to, others will abandon you once you've helped them to complete a specific task. Your characters are surprisingly autonomous, casting spells and bravely running away from enemies without any prompting from yourself, although they are unable to use items from their inventory such as healing potions without a direct order. These actions can be controlled to some extent by discussing "combat tactics" with each of the characters in turn, telling them whether to focus on offensive or defensive magic, whether to hold any mana in reserve or to let the particle effects fly free, and whether they should close in for hand-to-hand combat, stay at a safe distance or try to escape if their health falls below a set level. Unfortunately your companions don't always seem to pay much attention to your choice of tactics, particularly when it comes to which spells to cast and when, but it does take some of the load off your back and avoids the game turning into a point-and-click fest. Combat is fairly fast and furious and battles can involve a dozen or more enemies, which sometimes seems a little unfair, especially in the early stages of the game when your characters are relatively weak and too poor to support their burgeoning addiction to healing potions.
Sparky's Magic Longbow
Evening up the odds are a wide range of magical items, weapons, armour and skills. Having chosen Rossie's character class at the start of the game and applied spare points to his various attributes (the usual strength, dexterity, constitution, charisma et al) you will discover two of Gorasul's little extras. First up are dragon skills, a range of sadly uncontrollable abilities which Rossie has inherited from his stepmum which can prove handy in a tough spot. Dragon Strength will give you a temporary boost in combat when you most need it, while near death experiences can kick off Dragon Breath, which does exactly what it says on the can. Dragon Fear encourages your enemies to flee when their health drops, and finally increasing your Dragon Eye skill will allow you to see further and spot useful items on the mini-map. Secondly you have an intelligent weapon which will accompany you throughout the game, with a choice of anything from an axe or warhammer to a dagger or bow. Like characters, your weapon gains experience from any fight it's used in and its abilities rise throughout the game, giving Rossie bonuses to his dexterity, increasing the chance of critical hits or reducing the frequency of your trips to the local blacksmith to get it fixed. You can even make it smarter, resulting in more sarcastic comments and the occasional useful tip. Sadly this isn't fully exploited, as helpful suggestions tend to be few and far between, but it's an interesting idea that adds character (and an extra layer of stats) to the game.
Gorasul may not be the prettiest role-playing game we've ever seen and it's not likely to win any prizes for its dialogue either, although a recent patch improves the quality of the English translation somewhat. It's also not quite as epic as the four CDs and 2.5Gb full install option may suggest - although I didn't complete every little side quest, I did make my way through the game's main storyline and saw most of the sights in under a week. It's no Baldur's Gate, but Gorasul is an enjoyable if comparatively short-lived adventure which is well worth delving into.
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