Okay, this is going to be interesting.
You see, the thing is that in and of itself this book has some enormous strengths. Put simply, it was able to evoke the practical realities of travelling through an arctic wilderness. And this is true both in terms of the ‘flavour’ text and also the practical realities of the gameplay.
Difficulties such as the cold, traversing the snow and ice, falling off course and so on could have come straight from a textbook on arctic travel. The description of the environment was beautifully done, and the reader really does feel that s/he is battling against the wilderness more than orcs, goblins and so forth.
However, in terms of replayability, it soon becomes apparent that no matter how well (or badly) you manage the wilderness portion of the adventure, it is all really a pretext to dump you into the subterranean tunnels which lead to the entrance to the ice fortress.
A bit like the palace intrigue in Way of the Tiger’s Overlord, once it becomes appparent that survival is all that is necessary, it certainly removes a certain part of the frisson from the travel.
Aside : I do admit that certain paths through the snow and ice result in you losing your backpack and / or weapons, so obviously these are also paths to be avoided.
With one massive caveat (which will be mentioned later) the gameplay level of the book is well-managed. None of the fights are of massive difficulty, and there aren’t too many instant deaths.
If you don’t have the Sommerswerd (and more about that MacGuffin later on) then you really need the idol / figurine of the Akraa’neonor to survive. Having said that, giving a (depending on your Kai Disciplines) 30% chance of simply missing the secret door hiding said plot token is just not on. (EDITED TO ADD : Check out Ben Krefetz’ comment below regarding another way to get the plot token!) Joe Dever has a tendency to up the ‘difficulty’ of his books by simply having an R10 check every so often with a 10%-20% chance of an instant death. Although I have all the respect in the world for Mr Dever, that is a lazy and unsatisfying way of making a book harder.
Alright, the gold sword-shaped elephant in the room is the Sommerswerd. I don’t know if Mr Dever was aware of what a rod for his back he was making in the second half of Book 2 by giving Lone Wolf such a powerful weapon, but it had an undeniably significant effect on the remainder of the series.
Consider : A starting character has a Combat Skill of between 10-19. Leaving aside considerations such as Mindblast, Weaponskill and so forth, the Sommerswerd adds a base +8 to your Combat Skill. Therefore, bearing in mind that some players would theoretically be starting with this book, the author had to construct an adventure that had an appropriate level of difficulty for players with Combat Skills ranging from 10 all the way through to 27.
You just can’t do it.
As I stated during one of my recaps, it really has the effect of placing the combat sections of this book (and the next couple) as being like playing a video game on ‘beginner mode’ and it affects your choices correspondingly. There were really a number of ways that this obstacle could have been circumvented :
- Reducing the CS bonus of the Sommerswerd.
- ‘Capping’ the total CS of Lone wolf at, say, 22.
- Automatically granting the player the Sommerswerd at the start of the adventure, even if it was their ‘first’ book.
Then again, I haven’t written a multimillion dollar selling series (yet….) so who am I to say?
The deus ex machina of Loi-Kymar’s intervention in the latter part of the book was a little cheap, but predicted. It certainly would have helped to have some flavour text (after you fall into the caverns) emphasising the issues (as seen by you at the time) around getting back to the Cardonal, and your (presumed) determination to triumph in your mission, even if it means being stranded in Kalte.
Next book – A fan favourite!