Well, every fantasy series has to have their own ‘Chasm of Doom’, don’t they? The Rift, the lava pit at Mount Doom (along with the depths of Moria), the massive drop from the top of Rak Cthol etc etc.
Giving Lone Wolf travelling companions at the start of (or during, for that matter) the adventure, by Book 4, is starting to be a clear signal that, before too long, Lone Wolf will be travelling by himself.
Bet then, I suppose the first part of our hero’s name should be enough of a warning regarding his intentions, after all.
Back to the book. Like a number of Lone Wolf books, this is broken up into a series of fairly distinct sections. There is first the (comparatively) peaceful trip south, protected by your loyal rangers. There is then the more frantic dash towards Ruanon, either cross-country or through the mines. After the frenetic battle at Ruanon, Lone Wolf must then navigate the final endgame to the Maakengorge.
Although making some provision for individual choices and preferences, there is still a strong flavour of a ‘story’ to Lone Wolf’s adventure, with distinct ‘acts’ and a strong conclusion. It is surely not coincidence that it is this series of gamebooks which has translated into a fairly lengthy series of novels, known as the Legends of Lone Wolf.
As usual with these books, a significant strength is in the writing, as well as the gameplay. There is a distinct sense of ‘place’ permeating through the different books, as Mr Dever clearly takes pride in giving a sense of the protagonist travelling through snow, wildlands, cities, wilderness, mines and so forth. This can be favourably contrasted with the anodyne ‘dungeon crawls’ in a number of other gamebooks. (This is so pronounced that the setting of Fighting Fantasy book 12, Space Assassin, was infamously changed from a dungeon crawl to a spaceship mission without having to significantly alter the text).
As stated with regard to previous books, the existence of the Sommerswerd still have a worrying effect on combat difficulty. Having to craft a book which would be interesting for players (theoretically) with Combat Skills ranging from 10 all the way through to 30 would be a task beyond almost all writers, and so it proves here. In my playthrough, Lone Wolf was never serious tested in any of the fights, and I think lost no more than about half-a-dozen Endurance points.
Given my statistical advantage, my only real worry was ensuring that I could avoid so-called ‘insta-deaths’. I can say unequivocally that, if it were not for my previous knowledge of the book, I would have (literally) fallen head-first into the cellar trap in the latter stages of the book. Indeed, I would categorise this trap as unfair, in that there was no indication (in the text) whatsoever that the choice in question would lead to any danger or risk at all, let alone a death with no chance of survival. This is true not only on a meta-level, but (in addition) the inconsistent application of Sixth Sense is applicable here, since you would expect that it (Sixth Sense) would warn Lone Wolf of such a risk. Mind Over Matter would presumably also be helpful to either open the trap-door or create a diversion.
Each of the five books that comprise the initial ‘Kai’ series have their own distinct setting and ‘hook’. There is the ‘dash to the capital’ of Book 1, the epic adventure to retrieve the Sommerswerd in Book 2, the arctic wanderings of Book 3 and the countryside stroll (!) of Book 4. The desert scramble of Book 5 is for future days.
One aspect of the series (with this book being a prime example) that is well-crafted (if frustrating in a good way) is the combination of (1) strict restrictions on the number of items which can be carried and (2) a significant number of items which are either completely unuseful or only become useful in limited circumstances.
For instance, there was no real indication that the Holy Water which ended up being crucial to finishing off the final villain would be helpful at all, apart from general gamebook experience. By contrast, I was slightly panicked about which pieces of mining equipment to take, and whether other paraphernalia would be of use. The need to retain Meals and Healing material made the choices doubly difficult.
Unless my memory fails me, the difficulties in this regard become even more pronounced in future books, when restrictions on Special Items are also implemented.
In summary, a well-written and crafted book, with the only (minor) quibbles being the problems caused by the Sommerswerd’s existence, and one or more ‘insta-deaths’ that struck me as unfair and without warning.
Next – Bring on the desert, and the Book of the Magnakai!