So – how about those Kingdoms of Terror, eh?
First, I want to make it VERY clear that I am grading these books on a very steep curve. When a series is touted as (and it has been) the finest gamebook series ever, it then has to be prepared to accept criticism of flaws that would be forgivable with a lesser series of books.
First, you would have thought that, after introducing the Sommerswerd in Book 2, Joe Dever would, by book 6, have been fully aware of the difficulties in game balance caused by that +8 to Combat Skill bestowed by possession (or not) of the MEGASWORD.
The start of the Magnakai books, or, if you will, the ‘Season 2’ of Lone Wolf, would have been an ideal opportunity to address these difficulties. We’ve talked before about this, but in the ‘Background’, it would have been so easy to simply state that ‘as part of your adventures’ Lone Wolf has taken possession of the Sommerswerd, with the consequent effects on your Combat Skill.
When you think about it (which I spend waaay too much time doing), by definition, according to the continuing ‘story’, Lone Wolf HAS to have obtained the Sommerswerd (or else Zagarna would not have been defeated), so it would have been logical, as well as sensible, at the commencement of the ‘Magnakai’ adventures, to treat it ‘as read’ that the Sommerswerd was part of Lone Wolf’s arsenal.
Aside : And just how many commas could I work into that last sentence, hmm?
This, in turn, could have ensured that the combat sections of the book were balanced, rather than being, comparatively, a walk in the park for Lone Wolf, where his most serious opponent was……..a door.
And speaking of balance, that archery tournament was seriously out of whack. That seems to be acknowledged, with Altan’s combat skill actually reduced in subsequent printings to a (slightly) more manageable level.
My opinion on the final ‘insta-death’ is fairly clear. In fact, I’ll address this more later.
With regard to the ‘story’ of the book, I didn’t consider that there was an overall narrative that was compelling. The story really didn’t have a consistent ‘through-line’. The first half really dealt with Cyrillus and Roark. However, after the death of Cyrillus and the fight with the quasi-zombies, neither were relevant for the remainder of the adventure, as long as you remember to avoid the city of Amory.
Then after the first half, in a matter reminiscent of Shadow on the Sand, the adventure essentially resets after Lone Wolf reaches Varetta. The whole ‘meeting with the astronomers’ sequence isn’t really handled brilliantly. As I said during the regular posts, both the book and Lone Wolf assume that the first set of people he speaks to are completely correct, and that any opposing view is absolutely without merit. There isn’t even a nominal ‘choice’ as to whether you accept that these guys are on your side!
The ‘final’ sequence in the sewers / tunnels beneath Tekaro is, with respect, handled badly. For starters, there is no real ‘build-up’ about a deadly foe lurking in these tunnels, waiting to munch on unsuspecting Kai Lords. I re-read the section before writing this review, and there are a number of insta-deaths where you are basically informed that you’ve run afoul of some monstrosity known as the ‘Dakomyd’. Now, without being horrible about Joe Dever’s choice of names, the above term doesn’t inspire fear or worry in and of itself.
Between the encounters with soldiers, healers, etc etc there was ample opportunity to sow the seeds of intimidation concerning a possible encounter with a fearsome beast. As constructed, it just seems like a ‘final boss’ was inserted in the book to make the final approach more difficult.
And, speaking of the Dakomyd, with regard to the final choice, I have no issue with the final decision being a life-or-death one. But I very strongly consider that there was no real way to decide which choice was the right one, and it became dangerously reminiscent of an Ian Livingstone-esque “Go east and live, go west and die” choice. Joe Dever frequently states that his gamebooks were specifically constructed to reward the player who paid attentions and made considered choices. There were several examples where this wasn’t the case.
And, although I took advantage of it, the “Any 2 Special Items” bug, where you could effectively buy a horse for a couple of trinkets, was awesome to enjoy, particularly right after a previous incarnation of Lone Wolf had been killed while ‘borrowing’ a horse.
OK – what now?
Actually, I’m going to write a post on an aspect of Gamebooks that I want to give further consideration before moving on to….Castle Death.