Have You Played… Betrayal At Krondor?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

There are games I played in my youth. And there are games I sat next to my dad and watched him play. I’ve never played a game of Civilisation or UFO: Enemy Unknown, but I watched my dad play them for hours. Also in that list comes Betrayal At Krondor [GOG].

I helped, of course. Mostly I helped with the riddle-locked chests. But mostly I watched, enchanted by the enormousness of this RPG, seemingly going on forever in all directions, and open like nothing outside of the Elder Scrolls. I remember my weary father attempting to explain, for the dozenth time, how the turn-based combat worked, positioning his characters on a grid like a game of chess, while I imagined how much better it would have been in the Doom engine. It wouldn’t have been. I was 15, and an idiot.

I find even the UI remarkably evocative today. Those huge, bold character icons, the round buttons, the strange blue polygons. I played it all before I’d read any of Raymond E. Feist, but I think as a result of the game I picked up Magician and really loved it. I then tried reading Silverthorn and realised that boy oh boy did Feist need to rewrite all his books ten years after he’d written them. Still, gives me an excuse for a quick boastful aside:

I joined the Raymond E Feist mailing list in 1998, having read Magician. Feist was a regular contributor to this email list, and replied to absolutely everything. At one point there was discussion of who, should it ever happen, would direct a Magician movie. Feist had dropped hints that George Lucas might be interested. I, as a huge fan of Heavenly Creatures and all preceding Peter Jackson films (this was when LOTR was announced but unfilmed), suggested he was the man suitable. Feist pooh-poohed me for even thinking it, saying that Stephen Spielberg was the greatest living director. Well, Jackson went on to shit out King Kong and Lovely Bones, and Spielberg War Of The Worlds and Indiana Jones & The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, so I guess we were both wrong.

So, yes, I strongly recommend watching my dad play Betrayal At Krondor.

43 Comments

  1. BobbyDylan says:

    Aaaah, loved this game. Got it for Christmas, I think back in 1993 or 94, along with Star Control 2. These 2 games absorbed me for years afterwards. BaK actually got me into the Riftward books, which I loved right up until the Dues Ex-machina ending of the Serpantwar Saga. I’ve not read anything Feists written after that.

    But i think it might be time again for another play-through of BaK.

    • udat says:

      Star Control 2 and Betrayal at Kronor might be my two favourite games of all time.

      Betrayal at Krondor was the first really truly open-world RPG adventure I can remember playing. Might and Magic 3 and the venerable Phantasie 3 were expansive and open in their own way, but Betrayal at Krondor seemed filled with more opportunity for exploration and discovery. Chapter 3, when the game would let you explore about 90% of the world, unfettered, was when I really fell in love with it.

      Star Control 2 is still the bestest of all though.

      • quasidemo says:

        My people! I keep an XP laptop around loaded with both Krondor and SC2 just for nostalgia’s sake. Those riddle boxes were boss. I remember having piles of scrap paper around the PC listing out columns of letters as if I was breaking a code. For SC2 I seem to remember also having notes on things like what systems had what and when, and of course a QuasiSpace crib sheet.

      • Lykurgos says:

        Not sure I can agree on your rank order but goddam yes, Betrayal at Krondor and Star Control 2 are two of the best games of all time, add in Speedball 2 and you’ve got a holy trinity.

        I rarely complete games and never replay them, with BAK being the rare exception, it is the only game I’ve ever completed three times.

        If some kind of modern re-imagining or reboot was kickstarted, omg let me at it!

    • Maxheadroom says:

      I worked in a computer shop back in the early 90’s and remember how awesome this looked but not having a PC at the time never got around to playing it. Has it aged well?

      Also phrases like “I used to watch my dad play x-com” make me sad, can we have some older writers please? I’m telling you now, once I see the phrase “I grew up watching my dad play Skyrim” im done and taking up landscaping or pipe smoking or something

  2. klops says:

    Yes I have! I actually have it installed right now, but stopped playing at Elvandar’s ugly elf forest ridden with wyverns about half a year ago. I will never continue playing that, but a remarkable game anyways.

    Good shit that modern games could take from Krondor:

    -The Chapter system where you may free roam the world or concentrate on some areas. Sometimes with different characters (and usually bad, compared to your regular trained killers). Of course, this is about personal preferance, but for me some obstacles and forced concentration on smaller areas is not a bad thing at all – especially when there are chapters where you are able to roam the world freely.

    -The fighting system with stamina. When your condition is such that the next punch at your plate mail kills you, you should’t make very lethal strikes as well. If you swing wildly with a sword, you get tired. Still the fighting was effortless and fun. A good swing from Gorath with an Galon Griefmaker was verrry satisfying when it finally hit the target. I still like the combat.

  3. Robin says:

    I watched my D&D-obsessed younger brother play this, rather than my dad, and can vouch for the experience.

    I love how ambitious it was. It had a 3D engine on about the level of an early golf game and yet managed to let you ‘do’ everything modern RPGs do, exploring a big overworld with lots of dungeons and towns. It didn’t shy away from describing events in text either, although I remember PC Gamer giving it a really sniffy review based on how cheesy a lot of the prose was.

    Splitting the game into chapters with different characters in the party in each one kept it varied, and the way the characters were written (and the mechanical differences in what they could do) gave them so much more depth than just a list of stats.

    The partially animated cutscenes (which look like the programmers had raided a wig and costume shop) were hilarious as well.

    I think there’s someone doing a Let’s Play of the whole game on YouTube. Last time I checked they had been going for about three years.

  4. Shockeh says:

    God I adored this game. Riddle chests? Sinister invasions? Real time wilderness?

    It looks so awfully dated now, and my nostalgia filter can’t even save it, but it was a fantastic game that really created a believable, breathing world. The terror when you realised that enemy Mage was as dangerous as he was, and the total shift in tactics it created were glorious.

    An excellent choice John!

    • klops says:

      There wasn’t real time wilderness in Krondor, though. The enemies were stationary and moved a bit in your view every time you moved.

      But but but, nitpicking aside, an adorable game, yes!

  5. rondertaker says:

    krondor was so amazing. i was absolutely obsessed. the fact that a lot of things “reset: between the “chapters” flicked some crazy maximizing/completeness switch in me, i would run around the entire map hitting every possible tavern, chest, event, etc. before proceeding with the main quest steps that would advance the chapters… i still cant remember if i ever “completed” the game, but i can remember the incredibly satisfying sound of the lute playing improving slightly after many many practice barding attempts. and the flick of the whetstone, sharpening my swords. i sharpened so many many swords…

    and… you sat next to your dad and watched him play games… when you were 15?

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      Did you NOT? I have so many fond memories (admittedly mostly muddled together now) of doing exactly that.

  6. Premium User Badge

    gritz says:

    I read this and thought, “Ah man, I should give dad a call and see how he’s doing today.”

    Then I scrolled down to the next story in the feed.

    0_0

  7. Freud says:

    I consider myself fortunate to have played some of these games at a time where I hadn’t played as many games as I now have so I was able to overlook all the flaws and just enjoy the wonder of it.

  8. geldonyetich says:

    Surprisingly good game, you eventually get used to its graphic style, and Raymond E. Feist’s writing is a worthy inclusion wherever it can be found. Brutally hard, though, and perhaps that’s part of its appeal: this isn’t an RPG you can just sit back and grind through, nearly every battle makes you think.

    • Nasarius says:

      Feist is probably my favorite writer of classic fantasy adventures. Nothing hugely original or deep, just well-written stories with some good worldbuilding. It’s the perfect light reading. Although my favorite series is probably the one he co-authored with Janny Wurts, the Daughter of the Empire trilogy.

      And yeah, there are so many older games I love which I’ve never finished because they’re too hard. And that’s fine! Gives me an excuse to revisit them some day.

      • sg1969 says:

        Definitely agree that the Empire trilogy is probably some of his best work. It was nice to have for once a female protagonist who wasn’t always being rescued by knights in shining armour, and the whole kelewan setting was a nice change from Midkemia. And it was really interesting with all the politics and backstabbing, instead of elves, goblins, and evil gods trying to take over the world…
        But I have read most of the books in the series (I think I have 1 or 2 left) and really enjoy the world he’s built.

    • Infinitron says:

      Feist didn’t actually do any writing for this, it was all Neal Hallford.

  9. Premium User Badge

    SoundDust says:

    This one was one of my favourite RPG’s of the time – the combat comes close to the levels of the gold box games, and the characters and story made it into it’s own thing. I recall even enjoying the sequel of sorts, Betrayal At Antara..

    • WiggumEsquilax says:

      I never got the hate for Antara. The quests could be a bit irreverant, but the gameplay hit all the same notes as BaK, with voice acting that was excellent for it’s time.

      • Kaeoschassis says:

        Antara was doomed to never be as good, because how could it be? But it’s an absolutely excellent game on its own merits. Was fond of how it handled character development.

  10. hostleaver says:

    I registered just to say I played this game and loved it! The rations, the spoiling, the town vignettes, besides all the other stuff. It was just brilliant.

    • quotidian says:

      Such a great game. I spent far too much time trying to remember/recover my password just to say that I played and loved it.

      It was one of my first introductions to both RPGs and fantasy, so I am slightly biased, but I played it again about 5 years ago and while the graphics did not age well, the story and the gameplay were as good as I remembered.

  11. Branoic says:

    I’m a massive Fiest fan. Riftwar Saga, Empire series, Serpent War were all utterly fantastic. Then there was a serious, *serious* dip in quality with the Krondor series, which incidently is a series based on this very game. He was going through a divorce at the time, which is what I put the shocking drop in quality down to. I don’t think he’s reached the heights of the earlier stuff again, but did show gradual improvement in later series – the Conclave, Demon War etc. In particular the finale of the whole thing, Magicians End, was really really good, even if it did very obviously pull out the nostalgia cards for the original Magician a little too often.

    Also, that Feist Fans mailing list is still there, and Feist himself is still active on it.

    And yes, I have played this game :)

  12. SanguineAngel says:

    I have actually been reading Magician this past few days! I’m right at the end now and I have found it to be a bit too twee for my tastes and some other areas I have disliked but on the whole I have found it to be rather enjoyable and the entire thing has moved in unexpected directions. His characters aren’t the strongest but he can really sell a sense of place!

    I remember the Return to Krondor demo being on the front of magazines at the time and I had no idea what I was doing in it so unfortunately I never picked it up. Maybe I shall reconsider….

  13. ansionnach says:

    Didn’t really play it much. Remember it getting panned by the press on this side of the Atlantic but the Yanks really loved it. Didn’t even give it a shot until I read about it on Underdogs and tracked it down. That was a great site and did more for the love of gaming and preservation of its history and unsung heroes than any other I’m aware of.

  14. nigelvibations says:

    C64 kid growing up, I went through an abandonware phase in my mid-20s & wound up playing this for the first time in 2005. It absolutely swallowed my life. First time I ever stayed up until sunrise playing a videogame without having any idea how much time had passed (I think that was before I found the speed controls in DOSBOX). The combat was *awesome*, and for some reason stayed in that sweet spot of neither cakewalk nor punishment for the entire game. The chapters were equally awesome, as were the teleportation codes, the point and click pixel hunts when you’d reach a new town. Very ambitious & surprisingly failure-free, in terms of both tech and ideas. I remember being actually devastated when a major character died. I’m an open-world junkie, but I’d say that if you haven’t played this & have the stomach for seriously primitive, barely-VGA 3D graphics you should give this a go. It’s a weird little bottle of scotch.

  15. Stomphoof says:

    I registered JUST because of this post.

    Ahh Betrayal at Krondor. My first meeting with the world of Midkemia. My first RPG. And one of my most beloved memories of gaming.

    This game taught me to think, explore, and solve problems better then any other game at the time. I played it when I was around 13 years old. My uncle got me a pirated copy (sorry guys :P) before I even knew what an RPG really was. Sure I had tried Wonder Boy 3 the Dragons Trap on the SMS, and Dragon Warrior on the NES…but those didnt grab me.

    The opening music however…did. I can hear it in my head while I type this.

    When Gorath stranged Haseth at the start of the game, the clinking of the chains..I was hooked.

    The first time I ran into an NPC and heard him speak.

    When I went into a dwarf mine and helped slay a stone monster.

    God the memories.

    It makes me want to go back and play it again….but then I remember Chapter 3…and I shudder.

    You see for those who have never played each Chapter has an objective. Chapter 1 is very simple: Escort Gorath to Krondor. Chapter 2 is Escort Gorath to Romney. Chapter 3?

    SOLVE THE MYSTERY OF THE SPYGLASS AND THE SPIDER!

    Took me I think 8 months and some cheating to pull it off. But I LOVE this game. Still do.

    • hostleaver says:

      With that pompous guy in that town to the North-East, the leader of the nighthawks or what they were called… And that kobold in the naphta mines… And the theme song, the memories. :)

    • vojski says:

      Thanks for inspiration Stomphoof, after reading RPS for about a year I just registered for the same reason :)
      My first RPG, a game that took 6 months of my teenage life back in nineties, forced me to learn English and lead me to discover Feist’s Riftwar Saga. I loved the story, the atmosphere and the first actual feeling of immersion I had in a videogame.
      Due to language barrier, I had to play with a dictionary in my hand and probably missed a lot of content. I surely missed some because of a bug in 4th chapter. I couldn’t get through the game without the walkthrough. Some kid in school was picking on me, because I played some weird old game with tons of text instead of Quake, but none of that mattered. The combat was IMHO was one the best turn-based systems ever and definitely shaped my preferences in this matter for years to come. The books, namely the original Riftwar Saga, which I found translated into Polish few years later – turned out to be one of those I have to revisit every 2-3 years, and never get bored of.
      As for the music, I used to hum those tunes to my baby brother instead of lullabies. Almost 18 now, boy grew up to be an avid RPG gamer.

  16. Premium User Badge

    Waltorious says:

    Why yes, I have played it, and recently too! In fact, I wrote a massive four-part blog post about it and what it’s like playing it today (including some easy tweaks to get it running perfectly).

    SHAMELESS LINK:
    link to waltorious.wordpress.com

    Spoiler alert: I liked it a lot.

    • ansionnach says:

      Read part one. Made for a good read, thanks. Might hold off on the rest until I sit down and finish (or completely abandon) the game.

      I read the MIDI part too. It seems a little muddled. Is your belief that the CD music was recorded from an MT-32 based on listening to the various tracks? I’d have guessed off-hand that a game of this vintage would have used the Roland Sound Canvas (SC-55, which you have mentioned) rather than the MT-32. Indeed, this is the soundfont discussed. There shouldn’t be a need to use this (with BASSMIDI, for example) and select MT-32 in the game’s configuration programme (maybe I’m confused here?). Indeed, the forums to which you link recommend using General MIDI. If you want to use MT-32 it’s best to install Munt or use an alternative version of DOSBox that has native MT-32 emulation. GM devices “emulating” the MT-32 by remapping where the instruments were often sounded quite poor as the MT-32 could be programmed to play custom sounds… and the MT-32 and SC equivalent instruments might sound dissimilar enough to make the score sound a little shonky anyway. Munt uses the original MT-32 ROMs and sounds much better. I’ve never had the privilege of hearing the original MT-32 or Sound Canvas but I did have a Yamaha DB-50XG board plugged into an AWE-32. Sounded great for GM (XG was a Yamaha extension of this) but its MT-32 “emulation” was woeful. Could sometimes be passable for music but the sound effects (e.g. footsteps in Ultima Underworld) were piano notes!

      Often, the best musical score for any MIDI game was the device the composer used. This could be (especially with smaller developers) one of the cheap OPL synth chips seen in Ad Lib, Sound Blaster and most consumer sound cards. I’ve heard some shocking MT-32 and even GM soundtracks. Technically these might be superior but if the soundtrack wasn’t optimised for it, they can sound inferior, or even plain awful. Dune by Cryo is a famed example of an excellent Ad Lib soundtrack. For this, StĂ©phane Picq used the Ad Lib Gold (OPL3 synth, also seen in the SB16 card). I reckon Day of the Tentacle’s FM synth soundtrack is vastly superior to both the MT-32 and GM ones. That game’s zaniness demands its music to be as synthy as possible!

      • Premium User Badge

        Waltorious says:

        Glad you enjoyed it! I tried to avoid spoilers as much as possible in the later segments, although I do discuss the way the storytelling is handled in general as the game progresses, and some general things about the types of locations I visited.

        As for the MIDI, I’ve been assuming that the MT-32 was the device used for composing the soundtrack for the game mainly by what I’ve read in various forums. It seems most people prefer the MT-32 for this game. But, as I said in my post, I quite liked how the SC-55 soundfont sounded, so I wasn’t inclined to spend too much more time tweaking it. And yes, the soundfont works by selecting general MIDI in the game’s options, not the MT-32 setting.

        I’ve heard of Munt but never took the time to try it out. Since I’d found that forum thread specifically relating to music in Betrayal at Krondor I decided to follow its instructions instead. When I play other DOSBox games in the future I may try out Munt and see how I like it. Generally, however, I look for specific suggestions for the best music settings on a game-by-game basis; since I never had any of these fancy MIDI modules myself, I look for the expert opinion of others.

  17. Grey_Ghost says:

    Am I the only one who noticed he spelled Civilization wrong?

  18. KingFunk says:

    I’m currently travelling in South America and I have BaK installed on my Galaxy S3 using Magic Dosbox. I love this game! I originally got it as freeware on PC Gamer or some such years after it was released and was already a fan of Midkemia so I lapped it up. I’ve completed it at least twice and I’m sure I will again. It holds a place in my heart quite close to Ultima 7…

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      The same disc that had Red Baron on it, right? I have no idea why I remembered that…

      • KingFunk says:

        Yes! Your powers of recollection for redundant information are truly second to none, sir!

  19. Kaeoschassis says:

    One of my favourite RPGs ever. In a lot of ways I don’t think it’s been topped.

  20. MrPyro says:

    I played this when I was around 15 and found it to be brutal in terms of difficulty, although getting a bit better after the first couple of chapters when you actually had some skills.

    I was already a fan of the books, which did make some of the writing/plot come off as a bit weird; they really should have swapped the actors/models for Pug and Arutha, for example.

    I played Return to Krondor as well, a game with a huge inverse difficulty curve; at the beginning of the game you are save-scumming massively because the combat is brutal – the final fight can be won in a couple of turns with minimal risk due to repeated casting of the “hurt every enemy on the screen” spell.

    • KingFunk says:

      Yes, I too purchased Return to Krondor. Nothing like BaK and kind of wonky, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. For some reason the part in the spooky village where you have to solve some mystery or other always reminded me of ‘Sheep’ by Pink Floyd. Random, I know, but there you go…

  21. DevilishEggs says:

    This is still my #1 Nostalgia Game, even over SimCity 2000 and Wing Commander 1. The sense of place and character were just fantastic. Like other people have mentioned, the chapter structure really made it feel like Things Were Happening. The combat was quick but just complex enough to be satisfying. The variety of encounters you could have just by clicking on a house or barn (I still love those little brown structures) have not been bettered, I don’t think. It felt like a world first and a game second.

  22. warkwark says:

    I remember this game as a lot of fun. It was a bad time for graphics though; the evocative sprites of the 8 and 16 bit era were fading away in favor of clumsy attempts at using photos and photorealistic processes.

    Somehow, a screenshot of most Nintendo games would hold up better!

    Of course, at the time I don’t remember caring much.

  23. Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

    So, yes, I strongly recommend watching my dad play Betrayal At Krondor.

    When does Mr.Walker stream? Twitch link?

  24. fenriz says:

    ah yes i know what this game (‘s characters) reminded me of even back then. Pit fighter