Lands of Lore: Guardians of Destiny
Guardians of Destiny is light on stats and complexity, more keen on story.
It is the plane of mortals. Your name is Luther, and you suffer from a terrible curse that will have you morph randomly from human to repugnant monster with appendages, or, on other occasions, into a tiny lizard with heightened magical abilities. These transformations are both a blessing and a curse – they help your character escape his dungeon in the introductory FMV sequence, but he’s eager to rid himself of the ailment, and so begins your quest in Guardians of Destiny, otherwise known as Lands of Lore II.
Although marketed as a role-playing game, the RPG mechanics in Guardians are rather trite – there’s an inventory menu, a few bars that represent your armor, weapon or magical proficiencies and a few more covering your character’s traits. It’s all very basic, and the game indeed plays primarily as an action adventure game. Ease of use and playability seemed to have been high on Westwood’s priorities, and the game handles quite well from minute one – the interface is remarkably simple, occasional help messages clue you in on what you should be doing and you’ll likely find yourself gleefully playing Guardians without so much as flipping through the manual (not that the manual is useless – flip through it and you’ll find a nice tutorial). Point being, the game is quite accessible for you role-playing amateurs and adventure seekers, and it looks marvelous!
Granted, it might not be the best 1997 had to offer visually, but I’ve found the environments in Guardians of Destiny particularly appealing. It’s this lovely combination of 2D sprites, 3D levels, animated monsters and wonderful textures all-around that give each setting a certain artistic retro appeal. The art is in fact wonderfully intricate at times, especially in the early and final levels (there’s a mid-point where things do get dull). Although nowhere near the size of Daggerfall, there is nonetheless a good amount of exploration and backtracking as you solve this rather linear story-driven game, and a whole lot of killing as well. As in Hexen, certain areas serve as hubs, branching off into sub-levels, where you’ll sometimes find a puzzle or two, some occasional combat or non-player characters requiring your assistance.
Always central to the story and the action is the random polymorphism. The lights flash, the sound effect blares, and you know that Luther is about to change. Into what? is always the key question. Certain situations require the diminutive lizard, while others require the brute strength of Yeti-man. This particular element of surprise is welcome in the early part of the game, but gets old quickly.
Situations arise where you’ll find a small hole in a wall, and will only curse and wonder why you can’t transform into a lizard on command and see what’s past that rat-sized opening. A few minutes pass, and chance will have it that you finally transform into a lizard – so you hurry back to the opening from before, and transform back into a human just before you can reach it – this is annoying, not to mention foolhardy design. Likewise, your two alter-egos have their own prohibitions – the monster can’t use magic (which are needed to solve certain puzzles) and the lizard can’t push buttons that are too high up. You do end up gaining some control over these transformations, but do so far too late into game.
There are also several design hiccups with the controls. In essence, the screen interface is good, but there seems to be a lack of harmony between the keyboard and mouse. You can use mouselook when not in combat mode, as you proceed to walk and explore the world, but getting into a fight will free the mouse pointer and you must use the keys to move around and turn. This allows you to use the mouse to deliver precise shots, but not turn your facing – and that’s bad, since any first-person action game that prohibits strafing or mouselook will always suffer.
Yet the game is an amusing experience, or at least most of it is. Things do get dull halfway, and the ending isn’t that rewarding, but the corny fantasy story, silly acting and accessible gameplay will mean that most action adventure fans will find their trip through Lands of Lore an enjoyable one.
System Requirements: Pentium 75 MHz, 16 MB RAM, VGA Card, Windows 95 / MS-DOS 5.0