|Raymond E. Feist, a
celebrated fantasy novelist, has once again contributed to a computer-gaming saga, Return
to Krondor. His first collaboration (with Dynamix) produced Betrayal at Krondor, which I
still believe to be the most superb fusion of story and gameplay to be found in a computer
game. In Betrayal at Krondor, you control characters straight out of the Riftwar fantasy
series in a compelling game where your objectives are well defined but the possibilities
for exploration are endless. In Return to Krondor, it would seem that the opposite
approach was taken.
Return to Krondor is more of an interactive novel than a RPG. It does contain elements of a RPG, such as character advancement and skill point allocation, but character creation is not an option. This does allow for an engaging story and the use of familiar characters from Krondor such as Jimmy the Hand, but I was surprised to find that there was little character development (other than levels gained, skill points allocated, etc.) within the story. To further differentiate Return to Krondor from your average RPG, many portions of Return to Krondor contain puzzles along the lines of an adventure game, some of which require a mouse click in an odd area to advance the plot.
The game opens (every time you run it) with the opening sequence in which a giant mercenary named Bear leads a group of pirates against an Ishapian ship containing the Tear of the Godsan artifact of great power. His attempt is overzealous, and the ship sinks before the Tear is removed. Your ultimate quest is to retrieve the Tear before Bear can clench his massive gauntlets about it. In the first Chapter, you begin with Squire James at the palace gates in Krondor. During the first few chapters you must find Jazhara the new court mage, explore Krondor, and gain experience points by re-entering rooms throughout the city to do battle with Krondors formidable network of criminals.
Battle is similar to the original Betrayal at Krondor, though with a much better interface and graphics. You have an isometric view of the battlefield, with the ability to switch between several available camera angles in order to view all of your enemies. The hit-points and spell-points of all of your characters are displayed at the bottom of the screen when you target a member of your party. Additionally, each character appears to be standing upon a ring of light. The color of the light indicates their health, from a healthy green to a sickly red. The ring of a spell-caster is 100% filled if they have all of their spell points, and the diameter of this inner disc decreases as the spell points are used. A simple point-and-click is required for a normal attack, and there are two types of both priest and mage spell-casting which also employ an easy interface. All ranged attacks, both magical and conventional require line-of-sight, although at times the algorithm was flawed. In summation, the combat system was one of the best that I have seen in a game of this type, and I highly recommend it.
Despite the impressive-looking combat, my initial impression of the graphics was not a good onethe characters are polygons and reasonably well done, but their motion-captured movements are disturbingly awkward. In addition, whenever a character is behind an object within the game (such as a door, counter, or building) they are visible through the object! Besides these two faults, I was quite happy with the game graphics throughout the game, but the menu interface graphics are atrocious. How much effort could it have taken to make the menus more visually appealing?
Even with all of the aforementioned quirks of this game, it would have been one of my favorites this year if not for a few problems. The first of these problems was the awkward camera angles that made it difficult to feel as if you were inside the story. When you have to walk to the edge of the screen with your mouse and switch over to the keyboard to nudge your characters to the next screen, there is an obvious problem with the movement interface. In one chapter, if I had not studied the map I would not have even realized that it was possible to reach a game-critical building. Even when I knew where it was, I had to delicately maneuver my characters off of the screen to activate the appropriate camera angle that would allow me to approach the building. This is an extremely aggravating process that cannot help but to detract from any gaming experience!
My second problem with this game was its lengthI beat it in about 20 hours, and my characters had more than enough experience to make it through even the most difficult battles without dying (on medium difficulty). Even replayability does little to extend the lengthI found enough magical items to satisfy even me, and the choices that I made in the game appeared to have little effect on the conclusion. The gameplay itself was linear enough that I am not inclined to try it again soon, although like most novels that I own I will probably "read" it again some day.
My final problem was a bug that I found to be particularly distressing. Even though Return to Krondor has been lauded for its lack of serious bugs (it was surprisingly bug-free although the camera angle problems still made me wonder whether the game had been seriously play-tested), I did have a problem. At the end of a particular chapter, I made it to Widows Point. I suspected that something was supposed to happen here, as it was obviously the intended destination of my party. However, I was wrongnothing happened, and my characters were not allowed to leave the Point. So I decided to try using items from inventory, and finally rested for a couple of days (a few hours at a time), each with no effect. Finally, I reloaded in frustration and tried againand finally got my cut scene
Return to Krondor is a good interactive novel brought to its knees by lousy camera angles and brevity. The expansive fully-explorable map of Betrayal at Krondor is sorely missed, and even the story is lacking by comparison. The graphics, combat system and puzzles are a step in the right direction, but Return to Krondor certainly fell short of my high expectations for a Raymond E. Feist RPG. Nonetheless, I still recommend it to Feist fans and adventure gamers who want a taste of role-playing.