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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (384)

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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

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Lands of Lore III   PC 

Open World One Point Oh    2.5/5 stars

In 1999, Westwood Studios released the third, and what would prove to be the final, game in their ‘Lands of Lore’ series, “Lands of Lore 3” (“LoL3”), no subtitle. The studio’s fateful acquisition by Electronic Arts, which would ultimately digest and excrete Westwood as so much waste, had happened the year before, and contemporary journalism paints “LoL3’s” release as ‘delayed,’ in spite of the fact that there were a mere two years between its ultimate release and that of its predecessor, thus revealing early glimpses of EA’s overbearing expectations of its acquired studios.

I went into “LoL3” more out of a sense of obligation than I did with any expectation of a good time. I had bought this entire series, sight-unseen, from GOG during a sale, expecting a series of delightful Dungeon Crawlers, only to find a series that progressively tried to distance itself from its own subgenre and, even at its alleged ‘best,’ was quite poor. After the overwhelmingly awful experience that was “Lands of Lore 2: Guardians of Destiny,” I expected to fire-up “LoL3” for about 20 minutes just to get a glimpse of the trainwreck before putting it aside forever. Instead, I found a game that, while definitely still very, very far from ‘good’ at least proved to be moderately playable and managed to scratch at the bare minimum of quality required to be described as ‘adequate.’

The ‘Lands of Lore’ trilogy runs the full spectrum of the degeneracy of PC gaming in the ‘90s. While the first game employed attractive 2D assets and sprites, the second game attempted to merge the digital with the analog by combining pre-recorded live action video with pre-rendered 3D backdrops, to a somewhat laughable end. “LoL3,” however, is truly exemplary of how over-eager game developers were to jump the gun and employ 3D polygonal visuals before the technology was ready. “LoL3” is based, largely, on the same engine as “Lands of Lore 2,” but with the pre-recorded live action replaced with pre-rendered polygonal models… for everyone, not just monsters. A handful of these pre-rendered beings look acceptable – specifically spiders – but most of them look atrocious. Most mind-bogglingly, the people who inhabit the game’s hub city are so poorly animated, so low-resolution, so pixilated, and so deep in the Uncanny Valley, I find it inconceivable that any Art Lead at Westwood or EA could look at the mock-ups and say, “Yup, that looks good. Ship it!”

Creatures aside, “LoL3” looks nearly indistinguishable from its predecessor, with (slightly less) muddy and blurry textures slapped on its walls, floors, and ceilings. However, it is noteworthy that, for the first time in the series, the environment maps seem to have had a bit of thought put into them, and the open areas in the game’s big 3D environments aren’t completely cluttered with ugly, pixilated props (just slightly cluttered). Also, like its predecessor, “LoL3” can be run in a fancy 3dfx accelerated mode, which, unlike its predecessor, actually makes the environments look a bit less muddy and blurry. Unfortunately, 3dfx mode completely breaks the game’s many pre-rendered cutscenes, showing a black screen with audio instead, making it a useless mode in practice. It’s too bad, as 3dfx mode is the only way to make the game resolution go higher than 800x600. In the end, I was stuck playing at 640x480, simply because the game wanted to shrink its 800x600 view port instead of filling the center of my 1080p screen.

With regard to audio, “LoL3” seems like something of an improvement over its predecessors. While full voiceacting was no longer a novelty in 1999 as it was in 1992 (with the original “Lands of Lore”), “LoL3” clearly aimed to save some of its budget by not hiring celebrities or known voice actors. Most notably, this means that King Richard is no longer voiced by Patrick Stewart. The vocal performances are somewhat mixed, though largely acceptable. The soundtrack, though, is a marked improvement over previous “Lands of Lore” games, in that it is both CD quality (instead of MIDI) and features pleasant, if not a bit generic, medieval fantasy tunes. There is an unfortunate glitch, however, that causes the soundtrack to cut-out in certain areas.

Technically, “LoL3” is something of a bugfest, with both beneficial and detrimental glitches throughout. There’s a known issue where the player’s safe storage space will get wiped out between different stages of the story, but to make up for it, there’s an infinite experience glitch that makes leveling up trivial. Unlike its predecessors, “LoL3” is finally a native Windows game instead of a DOS game, so it doesn’t require an emulator on modern platforms and actually works with the Steam overlay. However, even early Windows games were generally awful from a user-friendliness perspective, and “LoL3” always displays an error message stating, “Not enough available video RAM” on its loading screens, despite the fact that my 4GB GTX970 has roughly 100 times as much VRAM as any system from 1999. I think ‘90s PC games just demanded more RAM by default, regardless if they needed it or not. PC gaming, yeah!

“LoL3” continues the narrative focusing around the generic Fantasy kingdom of Gladstone, ruled over by the Good King Richard. This time around, the events focus on Copper LeGre, the bastard son of King Richard’s brother. As Copper, his father, and two legitimate half-brothers prepare to set out on an annual boar hunt, which is a LeGre family tradition, they are suddenly set upon by what appear to be hellhounds. The legitimate LeGres are all slain on the spot, while Copper is severely injured and thrown off a cliff.

A short time later, Copper awakens in Gladstone Castle under the kind ministrations of Lady Dawn, the court magician and blonde, big-haired ‘90s-era eye-candy of the series, and learns of his family’s fate. Even worse, Copper learns that Dawn had to put an enchantment on him in order to keep him alive, as the attack by the hellhounds somehow dislodged his soul from his body. Dawn informs Copper that he will indeed die when the spell runs out if he hasn’t found and reunited with his soul by then. She then kicks our protagonist out of the castle and tells him to get a job (no, really!).

Copper can enlist the help of up to four different guilds in his search for his soul. These are, unsurprisingly, a Fighters’ Guild, a Mages’ Guild, a Clerics’ Guild, and a Thieves’ Guild. He must also make his way to see the Draracle – a recurring series mainstay, who is a combination of a DRAgon and an oRACLE – in order to learn how to solve his problems.

Eventually Copper learns what caused the hellhound attack and how to get his soul back, and thus sets out on a sprawling adventure to retrieve the pieces of a broken artifact, all while the kingdom of Gladstone falls further and further into disarray.

While the writing and character development in “LoL3” still isn’t anywhere near ‘good,’ it’s closer to cohesive and sensible than it has ever been. There are still plenty of mish-mash and nonsensical moments, but they are less glaring, and mostly just elicit and eyeroll. It is quite noteworthy, though, that “LoL3” was very ambitious in its attempt at creating a non-linear story that can feel somewhat different depending on the order the player chooses to do things (though the end is always the same). There are also a handful of guild-related sidequests that, when taken together with the main story’s attempts at non-linearity, make “LoL3” an obvious contender for one of the earliest Open-World Sandbox games out there (though, it’s obvious that Westwood was cribbing ideas of Bethesda’s “The Elder Scrolls 2: Daggerfall” and not actually coming up with anything on their own)

Dedicated fanatics who, perhaps due to brain damage, absolutely love this game will find a very re-playable experience due to its non-linearity and Copper’s options with regard to the 4 guilds. A single playthrough for a sane person, though, is about 30-40 hours (again, GOG Galaxy refused to count time for me because I was launching the game through Steam so I could use my Steam controller).

The push to put the AKSHUN in AKSHUN/ARR-PEE-GEE is still quite evident and prevalent in “LoL3,” as it was in its predecessor. However, “LoL3” features a radically overhauled user interface, drastically streamlined controls, ACTUAL ITEM DESCRIPTIONS!, better map design, and ACTUAL NUMERICAL STATS!, among others. In short, “LoL3” fixes a lot of the huge, glaring flaws that made “Lands of Lore 2” completely unplayable, while adding in its own set of flaws.

The good things about “LoL3” are largely simple mechanical improvements. The generic cursor that is used to interact with the world also aims attacks with no need to toggle to a separate targeting cursor. Whenever Copper picks up an item, it creates an entry in his journal, and using said item or being a member of a certain guild will add more useful information to that journal entry (monsters and spells have similar sections in the journal). Copper’s stats are still rather rudimentary and represented as Might, Defense, Ranged Power, and Melee Power, but hovering over one of the icons reveals the exact numbers involved and allows to player to make informed decisions when swapping pieces of equipment. Coppers other stats, like health and magic, are tied to his guild class levels, which go up by earning experience, typically by doing things associated with each guild. Clerics gain experience by casting healing spells, etc. Mages gain experience by casting non-healing spells, etc. Fighters gain experience by swinging melee weapons, etc. Thieves gain experience by shooting ranged weapons and picking pockets, etc. It’s a simple and sensible evolution of the “use it to improve it” experience system that has been with Dungeon Crawlers and Open-World Sandbox games forever.

The UI and controls actually resemble modern games for the first time in the series. There’s a menu bar along the bottom of the screen with things like a compass, journal, map, hotbars for spells and items, and health/magic meters, and clicking an icon (or hitting a menu hotkey) causes the viewport to the game world to shrink to the side and reveals Copper’s full inventory (which is still too small for comfort, but usually stacks items into piles of 20 instead of 9, though some items nonsensically have smaller stacks). Default movement is fairly horrible, but it’s easy enough to turn the game into a standard dual-analog/WASD&mouse setup that it actually recognizable.

But with those improvements and refinements come downsides. Unlike either of its predecessors, “LoL3” features a hunger meter, and the player must keep Copper fed to stave off stat penalties and death. Even worse, someone on the map design team thought that first-person platforming would be a great addition to a series that is, ostensibly, an RPG franchise. Let’s just say that ‘90s era FPS engines weren’t really designed for platforming and leave it at that. Sadly, these platforming sections are the closest thing “LoL3” has to ‘puzzles,’ which should be considered a mainstay of the Dungeon Crawler subgenre.

In the realm of less-detrimental, there’s also a crafting element in “LoL3,” which allows Copper to figure out how consumable magic items are made (a Clerics’ Guild Perk) and craft them from junk he finds in his travels. I found this to be a largely useless feature, though, as Copper finds so much junk I had to sell most of it to keep some free inventory space, and most of the consumable magic items are just like the consumable magic items in EVERY fantasy game: nearly useless.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that I would have found magic items more useful if I’d played the game on a higher difficulty. As it stands, I found “LoL3” to be a laughably easy game from a combat perspective (even before I employed the infinite experience glitch to get all four of Copper’s classes up to level 20 [out of 30]). I found that Copper could stand toe-to-toe with everything, even whilst standing in lava or poison. It wasn’t until I’d finished the game and was looking around the menus a bit more to prepare for writing this review that I discovered that the game’s default (yes, DEFAULT) difficulty setting is ‘Easy.’ I guess the developers didn’t have faith that their combat was good or balanced when they made that decision, but, hey, at least I didn’t have to prolong my time with the game anymore than necessary due to dying all the time.

While, like the rest of its franchise, “Lands of Lore 3” is not a good game, at least for this final outing Westwood managed to produce an experience that isn’t entirely deplorable. Indeed, writers and scholars interested in the history of videogames will find a compelling artifact here, especially with regard to the evolution of Open-World and Sandbox game design. Many things modern gamers take for granted in Open-World games just weren’t there in 1999, and the subgenre itself clearly wasn’t ready to come out of the oven, but a few brave fools brought it to the bake sale anyway.

Presentation: 2/5
Story: 2.5/5
Gameplay: 2.5/5
Overall (not an average): 2.5/5



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