Have You Played… The Legacy: Realm Of Terror?

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


I’ve written at greater length about the old, proto-3D Microprose survivalish-horror RPG before, but it returned to my mind recently when I reasoned that latter-day games are arguably picking up the baton it dropped (and, truth be told, slightly bungled). The cruelty and misery of Darkest Dungeon, the uncertainty and danger of Eldritch, the haunted house inversion of Gone Home, the, er, stupefying stumpers of Legend of Grimrock: none of them would claim this little-remembered Lovecrafty haunted house as an inspiration (though the likes of Realms of the Haunting and the Seventh Guest would prompt more recognition), but I think they’re exploring values that were abandoned abruptly at a time when the first-person shooter first became dominant.

The Legacy was about being afraid, being punished for recklessness, getting killed abruptly and going mad – this latter the case outside the game as well as within it.

It was not a good game, I discovered when I revisted it a few years ago, but in the 1990s I was absolutely determined that it must be a good game, because I loved the pictures and the outrageous, lurid promises on the back of the box.

I bought it despite middling reviews, convinced that they must be wrong or written by an idiot: I suppose that is the mindset of the furious Xbox fan attacking a site which gave Halo 5 8 rather than 9/10, despite not having yet played it themselves.

I digress. Have you played The Legacy: Realm Of Terror? A horrendous cocktail of archaic controls and miserably unfair difficulty means you have my greatest respect if you manage to stick with it for long today. It is maddening, although its cacophony of ideas and fealty to discomfort means it will forever hold some glimmer of appeal to me. I’d love to be able to tackle it with non-awful controls; learning it the way people now learn Dark Souls. That’s what I wanted to do at the time: figure out how to survive its apparently insta-death monsters rather than simpyl proclaim it impossible and give up. I tried and tried until the disks stopped working, and that was that. There’s still a part of me that wants to go back and, somehow, finish it.

But I’d be better off with Darkest Dungeon or Eldritch, games which are no less cruel but aren’t such a drag to start over when it all goes wrong. That’s what time has taught sadistic games: give people a reason to go back after they’ve been ground into the dirt.


  1. jj2112 says:

    Nope. But I finished Realms of the Haunting recently and I’m sure it’s much better than this.

    • dogsonofawolf says:

      Similar names and themes but pretty different gameplaywise. Realms of the Haunting was mostly shooter, whereas Legacy is very RPG leaning. I think Realms is a much smoother, less janky game but I prefer Legacy’s atmosphere and horror.

      • jj2112 says:

        Well now I’m interested, but I’m sure it’ll be hard to find.

  2. jezcentral says:

    One of my first games. Any Microprose game was an insta-buy for me. Thanks to the recent success of Alone in the Dark, or was marketed as a Poe-inspired game despite being blatantly Lovecraftian. Also, the load times were huge (like 5 to 10 mins) on my 386SX 16MHz. I never finished it, despite drawing maps with pen and paper to see where I had missed. I resorted to battering myself to death against locked doors, which was a thing you could do, even though I don’t remember a single door being forced own that way.

    I still think about going back, and it was the first thing I thought of when I saw pictures of Legend of Grimrock.

    Happy days.

  3. TheAngriestHobo says:

    I haven’t played it, but I like the synopsis.

    “You come from a long line of self-destructive assholes who have dedicated the last few centuries to torturing their own descendants! For no particular reason! CAN YOU DIG IT”

  4. aepervius says:

    I played it and even finished it ! I did not find it that bad, only very hard at the start.

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    Risingson says:

    Tried to, as with most games from Home of the Underdogs.

    And gave up pretty fast.

  6. ansionnach says:

    Never played it but wanted to. It’s obviously a superb game in spite of the reviews and what Alex has just said! I’m pretty sure it was just called “The Legacy” in the UK and Ireland (the unclassy “Realm Of Terror” subtitle sounds like something that might have appealed on the other side of the pond…). Same as an unrelated Microprose game called “UFO: Enemy Unknown” was just called “UFO: Enemy Unknown”.

    • ansionnach says:

      Reviews were more than middling – perhaps sixes and sevens. Think some of the Ultima VII games rated similarly in PC Review.

  7. dogsonofawolf says:

    I consider Legacy an underappreciated classic. I didnt play it at the time, only discovered it two or three years ago. The atmosphere is fantastic and the complexity of the game’s systems are ambitious even by today’s standards. Yes, the controls are infernal and the difficulty is initially staggering, but with some patience and browser tab open to GameFaqs the juicy, creepy meat of the game becomes accessible. The comparison to Dark Souls is facile.

    Definitely recommend everyone who hasn’t at least give Legacy a try. It’s not everyone’s thing but event today I thought it was great.

    • jj2112 says:

      Well I just downloaded it from abandonia. Didn’t know it was developed by Magnetic Scrolls, I loved their adventure games for the Amiga. Thanks for the recommendation!

      • dogsonofawolf says:

        Hehe, don’t thank me until you’ve seen if you can stand it, it’s not for everyone. But I love it.

  8. Gravy100 says:

    I had a similar experience picking up this game when I was younger based off the back of the box, it also helped that I found it in a bargain bin for about £3.50 in 1996, but those screenshots and blurb, while ultimately deceptive really did fire the imagination.

    By that time I hadn’t really played RPG games, I loved adventures and that’s what I thought this was so when I got to character creation I think I must have just picked a pre-made option and dived in. I don’t think I ever made it off the first floor of the mansion. I was terrified of the way those zombies roamed around, their turgid pixelated animation was grotesque in the way old horror games can only manage for me, there is that fear of something that doesn’t quite look right, a creature that moves prescriptively until suddenly it doesn’t and the unexpected emerges.

    Games like The Legacy have always held a potential energy of doing something weird, keeping something unseen in a place you will never reach because it keeps you at arms length, never giving you a tutorial or telling you ‘that’s it, these are all the mechanics you need to know, now go and explore and have fun’ and by doing that you’re feeling around in the dark wondering how everything fits together. I think the comparison in that case to Dark Souls is apt.

    I really hope we see a successor to this type of game, I want to have a modular interface, a window to navigate via, a visualisation of my character, a few sections for manipulating objects, studying them, gleaning information from them, probing the unknown and feeling as if I am physically there in the world. A return to the simulation, to games with interfaces like system shock where things are convoluted but intended to give you a more tactile interaction. Strangely a game like Papers Please would be the perfect example for a jumping off point.

    Alec, you mentioned feeling stung because the The Legacy didn’t have high scores and accolades at the time but even though it is a very flawed game I think you were right in that the feeling you had was maybe that this game needed to be remembered as a touchstone to build better games off of, reflecting on it now I think that’s why it’s always stuck with me.