Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor
Not since the infamous debut of Daikatana has the release of a single game generated so much incensed indignation from early buyers. Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor had the potential to be one of the greatest â€œdungeon-hackâ€ epics of computer role-playing, potentially on par with the fabled Baldur’s Gate series. As the copies rolled of shelves, however, it turned out to be one of the greatest let-downs of RPG history.
There certainly are plenty of reasons to be frustrated with Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor. A multitude of outrageous bugs infested the initial release, and many RPG fans are baffled by the gameâ€™s handling of AD&Dâ€™s 3rd Edition rules. The turn-based combat (the only option) is extremely tedious at times. The drop-down, window-based interface is clunky at best in combat. The monsters arenâ€™t varied enough within each level. You can scroll your view only to a tiny degree. And, most annoyingly, the story is a tired rehash of the first Pool of Radiance game plot (1987).
It soon becomes readily apparent why Pool of Radiance is billed as a 100-plus-hour game. Progress through the dungeons is laboriously slow as you wait for tiresome monster animations to finish. Be prepared to watch hours of repetitive combat animation. One of the coolest features is a tangible Dungeon Master presence, mostly in text form but often via audio messages as well. The â€œvirtual DMâ€ describes rooms when you enter them, offers occasional hints and directions, and gives you detailed feedback on rolls during combat. The DM really gives an atmospheric pen-and-paper feel to the game.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about character building is the inability to choose your skills and feats (extra powers similar to Perks in Fallout). One of the main tenets of 3rd Edition is a move away from cookie cutter characters. That is the reason that characters can now gain levels in multiple classes with greater ease, representing diversity in training, and it is also the reason that a wide array of skills and feats are now available. In Pool of Radiance, however, they are inexplicably chosen for you based on your race and class, greatly reducing your ability to customize your party.
Once your party is ready to roll, you’ll find yourself fighting battle after battle forâ€¦ well, pretty much the whole game. At its heart, it’s is really more of a turn-based tactical combat game than a role-playing experience. The Dungeon Master feature, a blue text pop-up that tells you of things in the game world, and generally fills in for an actually DM, is nice, but isn’t used nearly enough. Non-player characters and interactive encounters are extremely scarce, with all of the time in between spent dungeon hacking away.
The combat interface and controls are muddy, making it difficult at times to move your characters where you want, or get them to execute the right orders in the right way. The fact that some of the rules just don’t seem to work correctly only adds to the frustration. After a few levels, spellcasting clerics and sorcerers quickly begin to dominate the game. Places to rest and regain spells are everywhere, and the game is even so kind as to tell you when it’s safe to do so without fear of being attacked. Even some simple monsters, like skeletons and orogs, have armor classes so good you’d think they were driving around in tanks; a nuisance balanced out only by the absurdly powerful magic items doled out to your party in true “Santa Claus DM” style. Dungeon levels are huge, and fairly drab. Considering how much time you spend scouring them, a little more texture variety would have been nice.
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But an even bigger problem is the number and severity of bugs. Do the words “quality control” no longer have meaning? Does beta testing no longer exist? As if sloppy implementation, poor design decisions, and muddy controls weren’t bad enough, Pool of Radiance is also plagued with a number of severe technical problems. Among the highlights are saved games that spontaneously become corrupted, requiring an arcane work around involving moving directories, deleting files, and recreating characters from scratch, andâ€”get thisâ€”an uninstall bug that sometimes erases Windows system files. Whoa baby, it just doesn’t get better than that. By the time you read this there will likely be a patch, and much of this will probably be fixed, but this kind of flagrant ineptitude is simply unacceptable.
Pool of Radiance offers a change of pace from the typical hardcore role-playing game (Baldur’s Gate) and the typical fast-paced action hack and slash (Diablo 2). But it’s a bit too buggy and repetitive in the end for it to justify pouring hours of your time into it. Plus there’s an already much better AD&D role-playing alternative that does about the same thing, but much better. That game is called “Icewind Dale”, and it’s several times more worthwhile than Pool of Radiance.
System Requirements: Pentium II 500 MHz, 64 MB RAM, Win95
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