Review by Demonic Gerbil
"Birth of a New Kingdom"
King of Dragon Pass is a fun game, and an easy way to immerse yourself into an alien culture without having to travel halfway around the globe.
Everything in the game, from the music, to the paintings that serve as most of the game's environment, to the text itself immerses you in the world of Glorantha. You play a Clan of Orlanthi that has immigrated to Dragon Pass from their homeland after the takeover of the tyrannical Pharoah. Whether your people live or die depends on decisions that you make.
Gameplay is somewhat confusing at first, but it's simple and intuitive feeling once you do get hang of it. The game consists of menu after menu, where you make the decisions which govern your Clan. You can launch raids, diplomatic and trade ventures, explore, learn the secrets of the gods, and so on.
Unfortunately an absurdly high degree of randomness combined with a lack of ability to actually control the battles mar the otherwise enjoyable interface. Far too often I've had the "Elmal Guards the Stead" heroquest fail after making correct choices with all the signs auguring well for the venture. Or had my vastly superior forces, with an ancient relic and overwhelming magic be routed by someone that shouldn't be a threat. I understand that an element of risk is needed to add spice to life, but it's more than just a bit frustrating.
It's also possible to break the game with regards to the location of Clans on the map. More than once I've gone on massive conquest sprees that have caused clans to relocate to odd locales where their borders are glitched. On occasion I've even driven a clan off of its lands only to find that it is no longer on the map, though it can still be raided, raid me, and negotiated with. A very odd situation, and one that even the newest patch (1.7) doesn't fix. This is probably the one thing that really irks me about the game, because it breaks the otherwise laboriously constructed immersion.
There's not much to the gameplay. Run through the same menus over and over again. Deal with interesting and sometimes funny events. Guess the best way to win a fight. Get frustrated with the random number generator making it impossible to do something.
I know, I know. The graphics are still images. But, they're all beautiful paintings. I can't fault them at all, because they help set the mood and work perfectly. Would I have liked animation and all that? Probably. But what's there now is so good, it's hard to imagine how to improve it without making an entirely different interface for the game.
The music all sounds like the sort of fare you'd expect in a small, rather primitive village setting. Horns, flutes, drums. I just wish there was more of it. It sets the mood quite well, though. The sound effects are merely adequate. Average "Great" with "Adequate" and you get "Very Good."
Every time I replay the game, I see events that I haven't encountered before. Lots of replayability if you get into the game. Heck, you don't even have to go for the actual plotline. Just playing around with a Clan for a while is a good deal of fun.
Really, the biggest failing of the game is that it's not a 'real' strategy game. It's a game meant to tell a story, much like Sword of Aragon, but unlike that venerable ancestor, King of Dragon Pass abstracts entirely too much into the background and a throw of the dice. Often I wished I could have just went and expanded my lands into the unoccupied territory near the settled areas, instead of having to fight with the other Clans for resources. And then there are the various non-Orlanthi factions around, who should be treated as actual entities like the Orlanthi clans, instead of just being a bunch of random events. Is there a real reason why I can't talk to the Marsh Ducks, but I can talk to the other group nearer to the starting position? And why won't the Beastmen conduct diplomacy? The world will never know.
King of Dragon Pass is a good one for Strategy fans, and those who like very interesting stories. It's highly immersive. If only there was more to the strategy, and less to the dice it would be an even better game.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 05/16/06
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