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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (359)

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Sundered 3/5
Iconoclasts 3/5
Divinity: Original Sin 2 4.5/5
Heroes of the Monkey Ta... 4/5
Lands of Lore III 2.5/5
Lands of Lore II: Guard... 1/5
Lands of Lore: Throne o... 2/5
Rage 2 4/5
EnHanced 3.5/5
Blossom Tales: The Slee... 3.5/5
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 2.5/5
Far Cry 5 4/5
Jotun 2/5
Armada 4/5
RiME 2.5/5
Song of the Deep 4.5/5
Shadowrun: Hong Kong 4/5
Destiny 2 4/5
Shadowrun: Dragonfall 4/5
Shadowrun Returns 3/5
Kirby Star Allies 3.5/5
Dark Quest 2 3.5/5
Never Alone 3/5
Octopath Traveler 3/5
Guacamelee! 2 4/5

Next 25
 

Lands of Lore II: Guardians Of Destiny   PC 

Make it More Like ‘DOOM!’    1/5 stars

Thanks to GOG.com and my occasionally misplaced enthusiasm for ‘lost’ classic games, I ended up owning not just the first “Lands of Lore” game, but all of them. “Lands of Lore 2: Guardians of Destiny” (“LoL2”) was originally released in 1997, 5 years after its predecessor, and the same year I graduated from high-school and began my descent into PC gaming apostasy. Even though I found the original game to be a complete travesty during my recent playthrough, I figured I’d give the series the benefit of the doubt and see if it got better with iteration… and GOG sells the first two games in the trilogy as a bundle, which I managed to snag for less than $5 during a sale. I now mourn the burning of poor Honest Abe, as I definitely didn’t get my money’s worth out of the purchase.

Presentation
The 1990s were a weird time for cutting-edge games and technology in general. There was a massive push to ‘go digital’ in every single way, yet most of these attempts were handled in the most analog way possible. Thus, 5 years after the original “Lands of Lore” came across as somewhat impressive with its hand-animated cutscenes, “LoL2” comes across as somewhat bizarre, with a mix of digitally-recorded human actors in costumes superimposed over a wholly computer-generated backdrop, sometimes interacting with computer-generated monsters. To be generous, in spite of the limited color palette in these digitally-captured performances, the resulting cutscenes hold up much better than fully CG – and especially polygonal – cutscenes from the same time period. But that’s being generous ~ these cutscenes also feature dreadful acting and dreadful pacing, with long pauses between lines in back and forth dialogs. And this is how ALL NPC interactions are represented in the game.

Outside of interacting with ‘people,’ “LoL2” clearly suffers from the problem I frequently refer to as “The Demand for MOAR AKSHUN!” There was a time before the current decade when RPGs were little appreciated by a sizeable portion of the videogame playerbase, and were appreciated even less by game publishers, in spite of the fact that many of the best-selling, most-acclaimed, and most fondly-remembered games ever have been role-playing games. Thus there was a concerted effort from the mid-1990s through the mid-2000s to stamp-out the necessary abstractions that serve as one of the three pillars of the RPG genre, and replace them with real-time, open-world, full-freedom, and other annoying hyphenated mechanics lifted from popular contemporary Action games. One of the biggest Action games of the mid-1990s was “DOOM,” and the “MOAR AKSHUN” push was to make every first-person game look like “DOOM.” ‘Lands of Lore’ is a first-person Dungeon Crawler, and so, of course, the Westwood and Virgin tried to make it look more like “DOOM.” Even though “DOOM” was ugly as sin. Gone are the highly-detailed corridors of “Lands of Lore,” instead replaced with muddy and pixelated – but open! – environments, cluttered with sprite-based objects that conveniently pivot on their central axis so they’re always facing the player (in spite of being stationary things like trees and barrels).

Audiowise, “LoL2” is likewise a tragic product of the mid-1990s. The soundtrack, mercifully, offers the option of MIDI or CD quality, but the actual content is largely generic and forgettable. The voiceacting is a complete flop, with no big names or renowned cartoon voice actors to be found. Perhaps worst of all is the way audio is incorporated into gameplay. There are no more tool-tips that pop-up with the names of items or objects the player finds. Instead, hovering over an object (for an unreasonably long time) causes an invisible British gentleman to recite its name in a bored monotone. Thus a deaf or hard-of-hearing player might find “LoL2” completely unplayable for different reasons than normal-hearing people. Even worse, the player is supposed to get information about their environment from their player-character, however, when clicking on most things in the game, instead of telling the player what it is or saying that touching that won’t accomplish anything, he just grunts or mutters, “Oh,” like a complete retard.

Technically, “LoL2” is still a disaster because it’s still a DOS game (In 1997! WHY?!). There’s an option to play the game in 3Dfx mode (i.e., polygon mode), but it’s grayed out by default in the GOG version. I found a guide on how to enable it, and discovered that the reason it’s grayed out is because polygon mode doesn’t look appreciably better/different, and it makes the cutscenes stutter and glitch. PC gaming, YEAH! And, of course, “LoL2” doesn’t have any native Dinput support for gamepads, but instead offers a horrendous UI, unusable default keybinds, and a ridiculous number of toggle keys to switch between mouselook, mousemove, targeting, and normal cursor modes. Clearly 3D gaming was still in its infancy in 1997, but if all games were this cumbersome to play, gamers would/should have committed infanticide against them.

Story
“LoL2” takes place a couple decades after the original “Lands of Lore” and follows the exploits of our hero, Luther, the son of Scotia the hag – the villain of the first game – and bearer of a magical curse that causes him to transform into a misshapen behemoth or a tiny lizard at random. Luther escapes from prison and sets out to find a way to remove the curse, traveling to several far-flung locations in the process.

Unfortunately, I will never know if Luther managed to break his curse or not, as “LoL2” turned out to be one of those games that was so bad I just couldn’t stick it out to the end. I gave up roughly 1/3 of the way through (according to walkthroughs available online), which was roughly ~5 hours into an allegedly 15-hour game.

Nothing about “LoL2” is engaging from a story perspective. Luther is a bland, lifeless attempt at creating an anti-hero (who were all the rage at the time). Several characters from the first “Lands of Lore” appear for no other reason than fanservice. The lore of the lands is still nonsensical. At least ‘The Elder Scrolls’ gave its random cat-people a unique culture and accent – the Hulines (as in HUman+feLINE) in ‘Lands of Lore’ have no real cultural identity other than that they live in a jungle – and the writing still can’t make up its mind whether it wants to be taken Very Seriously or it if wants to be full of lame jokes and references (there’s a Marvel Comics reference to Thor within minutes of starting the game).

The entire narrative comes across like a terrible, amateurish D&D campaign written by a flaky teenager with no friends, who doesn’t even have D&D friends to play with because his campaigns suck.

Gameplay
I am hard-pressed to grit my teeth and label the monstrosity that is “LoL2” as a Dungeon Crawler RPG, but it doesn’t really fit better into any other genre or subgenre, so I’ll have to let it go.

Why isn’t “LoL2” a Dungeon Crawler? Well, it doesn’t feature grid-based movement, ranged combat requires the player to actually aim an on-screen cursor, everything happens in real-time, and there’s hardly a proper ‘dungeon’ to be found. As touched upon in the Presentation section above, the demands for MOAR AKSHUN didn’t just cause “LoL2” to look like “DOOM,” but caused it to (partially) play like “DOOM.” Movement, especially, is reminiscent of id Software’s prototypical abomination, which is incredibly frustrating for a game in which melee combat takes center-stage and ranged combat is largely an afterthought.

To be generous (again), “LoL2” does have a few features that improve on both its predecessor and the Dungeon Crawler genre as a whole. There’s still an auto-map (though the game doesn’t tell you how to open it!), there’s no need to hoard food and water, Luther can equip a melee weapon and ranged weapon simultaneously and contextually switch between them depending on his target’s distance from him, and a charge-based magic system, in which different levels of a spell can be charged by holding a button instead of cumbersomely clicking a spell power level during combat. But that’s really all the game does well.

Menus are an oddity, though slightly better than the abortion that was the original game’s UI. Luther’s portrait always sits in the bottom right, and it’s possible to expand an equipment/stats pop-up above that portrait, a bag pop-up to the left the stats pop-up, and a spell pop-up to the left of the portrait. These can all be collapsed again to ensure that the player has the maximum possible view of the akshun… ahem, action… though it’s also possible (nonsensically) to shrink the game’s viewport into the game world so the menus don’t overlap it at all, though this makes it very tiny… like Game Boy tiny. And speaking of tiny, this revamped inventory system has even fewer bag slots in which to hoard object than the previous game – 30 if I remember correctly – though, mercifully, identical items can be kept in stacks of up to 9 in a single slot.

Stats and equipment are perhaps even more abstract and inscrutable than in the previous game, as there are simple, non-numerical bars to show how good Luther’s defense, melee, ranged, and magic skills are. Weapons and armor are still trial-and-error, and even more nonsensical than before. For example, why are there some bracers that can be equipped in the Shield slot or an Accessory slot and come bracers that can only be equipped in the Shield slot? Another example of terrible, unintuitive equipment is one of the earliest bows a player is likely to find doesn’t appear to DO ANYTHING! According to the Internet, this bow automatically fires energy projectiles at targets that are only weak to specific energy types… otherwise it fires nothing… and enemies with that particular attribute don’t appear in-game until well after the player finds said bow!

All of that is tiresome and cumbersome, but not really enough to make a person ragequit. The rest of “LoL2’s” gameplay takes care of that. Because the game is not grid-based and has full-freedom of movement, melee combat is a massive pain in the ass. Enemies slide around to Luther’s sides easily, and – as mentioned – the movement and cursor controls for the player are atrocious. Even more fun, enemies take far too many hits before they go down. In the last area I toughed-out, the enemies literally took between 50 and 60 hits! HOW IS THAT REASONABLE!?

Every aspect of the game is rendered even more annoying than they are at face value, thanks to Luther's curse. He randomly transforms from a human into either a lumbering beast or a tiny, skittering lizard. He can't use tools in either form, which seem to exist solely to make things inconvenient for the player or to allow the player to discover secret stashes of loot (which they won't have room to carry) if they happen to morph into lizard form while near a Suspiciously Small Tunnel. Oh, and if you're wondering about Luther's companions picking up the slack for him when he transforms... there aren't any! It's an entirely solo game.

Puzzles are largely non-existent, yet when they do crop up, they are largely inscrutable. How is a player supposed to guess that black crystals hidden in crates will explode when exposed to magic? Maybe if Luther said, “Oh, exploding crystals!” when the player clicks on them… but he just stops with the, “Oh.” If I’m going to ‘Guide, Dang It!’ my way through a game, it’s going to have to be better than “LoL2.

Overall
“Lands of Lore 2: Guardians of Destiny” is, like its predecessor, a game that completely flubs the fundamentals of its genre while tripping over itself in the pursuit of cutting edge visuals and audio. A well-made game that gets its gameplay right can be timeless. A game that chases the bleeding edge will typically look dated within a decade. In their mindless attempts to make their flagship RPG into a “DOOM” clone, Westwood and Virgin signed their own death warrants. They deserved their ultimate fate.

Presentation: 2.5/5
Story: 1/5
Gameplay: 1.5/5
Overall (not an average): 1/5

 

 


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