Have You Played… Lands Of Lore?

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

It was the magic that won me over. Westwood Studios had already proven themselves to be the original pixel wizards, and in Lands of Lore they took that literally. When you pressed an attack in some other game, you got a buzz. The kind of static flash more associated with cat fur than high wizardry. Maybe a different projectile. But in Lands of Lore? No! You’d taken the time to learn lightning? They gave you lightning!

Sure, fancy graphics only go so far. But here’s the thing. Lands of Lore, and its sequel for that matter (not so much the third one) had a lot of fancy graphics. The first one was Dungeon Master style exploration, the second more freeform, but they stretched those engines to absolute breaking point. In the case of the first, pretty forests gave way to lavishly drawn close-ups of specific locations and characters, in a quest that felt epic and cinematic instead of simply long. Early quests leading to the near-death of the King (played by Patrick Stewart no less!). Seemingly endless types of terrain, if you ignored that all of them were 2D box mazes, most with trees for walls. Minecart rides through dungeons. Fast paced action that felt exciting even though it was pretty traditional, give or take the trick where you basically bombarded everyone with rocks instead of playing fair. It was the classic template made fresh once again, even after everyone had realised that actually, going outside was probably going to take more than just reusing a standard grid engine and letting the player see the sun now and again.

The second one was my favourite of the series, with the exception of what I think any player will understand my calling the fucking Silverleaf hunt, but having missed out on Eye of the Beholder et al when they first came out and so only really approaching them as retro RPGs, Lands of Lore was my first real into to the joys of grid-based dungeon crawling. As a genre, it was largely reaching the end of its lifespan (at least until being brought back as a retro thing) back in 1993, but Westwood’s production values meant there were definitely worse starts. Even if it didn’t casually invent the goatse.

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26 Comments

  1. fabrulana says:

    Loved the first game, the second one was also not too bad – but the first one is still one of my favourites.

  2. Arathorn says:

    I remember Lands of Lore from the “sneak peak” videos in Command and Conquer (that was probably for the second instalment of Lands of Lore). It looked amazing (even though those videos were extremely low-res), but I never got to play them then (it was the dawn of the internet era and we got most of our games through physical trading and lending). I wonder if they are still playable nowadays? I mostly mean in terms of game play. Or is it simply to clunky for our spoiled tastes?

    • FreshHands says:

      Well, I boot up those old gems now and then to breathe in some primal gaming…eh..fumes.

      If you are in the mood and really love them because of artistic reasons/nostalgia then you might get a few hours out of them (also, they are mostly free).

      Hoewever, “clunky” really is the correct word here. Poor usability is usually the thing that chases me off sooner than later.

    • jrodman says:

      I enjoyed lands of lore a great deal around 5 years afters its release date if that’s anything to go by. I bought it in some kind of shovelware package.

      Of course I played Wizardry 1 in 2001 and enjoyed that too.

  3. something says:

    Early quests leading to the death of the King (played by Patrick Stewart no less!)

    Dude sure gets typecast.

  4. geldonyetich says:

    Lands of Lore was downright magical. Not only because of the great pixel wizardry, which was utterly sublime, but something about the musical score reinforced the sense of the whole microcosm on the screen.

    That said, it was often frustrating, and I have a hard time recommending the RPG mechanics, which often felt a bit like button mashing.

    Lands of Lore 2 suffered from CD-ROM multmedia feature creep as much as many titles at the time, but even though it didn’t have the magic of the first game, it was magical in its own right. Creativity was, have no doubt, fully on display.

    Lands of Lore 3… honestly, I thought it was tolerable, even though it was probably the worst received of the series. The RPG mechanic was probably the most intersting, a sort of multiclass open-ended thingy. The multimedia may not have been as ambitious as the second game but still had its moments.

    Still, if I had a time machine, I’d probably have told Westwood to make Lands of Lore 2 and 3 in the same pixel stylings of the first game.

    “This whole 3D graphics and CD-ROM movie thing is fascinating, but a fad, we’ll be back to seeing what’s so cool about stylized pixel graphics in another few decades,” I’d say.

    “Balderdash,” they’d answer, “Our good friends at EA wouldn’t have steered us wrong here.”

  5. Jeremy says:

    I have very fond memories of this game, and probably played through it 4 or 5 times. The setting, music, and characters played a pivotal role (along with Realms of Arkania) in turning me into a PC gamer.

  6. aggr08 says:

    I’ve always meant to try the first one. Lands of Lore: Guardians of Destiny was basically my first PC game. I played the shit out of it. There was a time a good weekend was running through that game one more time.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Wobin says:

    Wheeeeeeee! *clack-clack* *clack-clack* *clack-clack* *clack-clack*

  8. leeder krenon says:

    THE CHEST IS SMASHED.

  9. leeder krenon says:

    One summer I played this with a friend, and we got very close to the end, before we learned we had left behind a critical item in a level we could no longer return to, and we had no saves going back that far. Absolutely gutted :(

    • Someoldguy says:

      Had much the same experience and didn’t finish it until replaying it a lot more recently, with walkthrough in hand to make sure I didn’t make a critical misstep.

  10. TimorousBeastie says:

    My only real memory of Lands of Lore (I think the second one) was having a really awesome warrior dude tagging along with you for a large part of the first bit. I gave him all my best gear, then I got to a certain area and he buggers off with everything he had on him.

    • Landrassa says:

      Remember the part with the ghosts? That could only be harmed by those green blades and were pretty much impervious to all other weapons? That’s where I learned the concept of “pulling aggro”.

      How I hated that part…

      • Ragnar says:

        That’s where I got stuck, with the ghosts in the tower. Loved it up until that bit, but just couldn’t get past those ghosts.

  11. yonsito says:

    These scones are firmly attached.

  12. Turkey says:

    I did a search a few months ago trying to find out who that amazing lead artist at Westwood was, and what he was up to nowadays. Turns out his name was Rick Parks, and he died of cancer 20 years ago :/

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    gritz says:

    Soren Johnson’s podcast Designer Notes just recently featured an intensely long interview with Westwood’s Louis Castle. He doesn’t specifically talk about Lands of Lore IIRC, but it is cool to hear him talk about the early days of the company and what it meant to be both a digital artist and a programmer in the early days of computer gaming.

    When you talk about the gorgeous pixel-art of old Westwood games, I have to think Castle’s eye for aesthetics is the engine behind that.

  14. Halk says:

    I liked LoL 1 a lot.

    Especially how it allowed free exploration within the levels, while managing to keep the story tight. Basically, at any given time, there was only one level for you to explore and one thing to do, but within the levels you were free.

    Result: No open world boredom, but you still did not feel as on a leash. This is something very few games get right (Thief 1 and 2 are another example).

  15. kalirion says:

    I loved this game. Was completely blown away by the graphics. Then used the cube in the wrong place and the endlessly respawning ghosts in that one tower got the best of me.

    Years later I was armed with a strategy guide and beat it without any more dead end mistakes.

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    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    I remember the third one and that skeleton dog thing that they used in all their marketing. It was always looking right at the camera as if to say, “Oh can you you believe this shit!?”

  17. horrorgasm says:

    One of the best fucking games ever.

  18. Darth Gangrel says:

    I remember some people making fun of the second game’s subtitle, Guardians of Destiny, saying it makes the game sound ridiculously generic and bland. This screenshot makes the first game seem the same in that regard, like they’ve just added a bunch of “old speech” fantasy words to make things sound profound, but instead making it sound generic and featureless.

    I never played the first LoL, but I actually like this thing of. These things in LoL doesn’t make me lol, “so bad it’s good” kind of unintentional humor. Never did get very far in LoL 2 because of my arachnophobia (and also the game being very long and uneven).

  19. Fediuld says:

    I played it, and took me quite some time the first time back in 1993. I was so hooked to this game that at night I was seeing nightmares.

    However the only disappointment ever had, was never managed to find the edition of the game given to journalists back then. We were able to cross the bridge at lower side of the forest (where the orcs were), and had an extra 15-20 levels :(

    And is possibly the only thing in my bucket list that will never be fulfilled.

  20. waltC says:

    Great games, and even in Lol1, if you use the Coolsoft VirtualMidiSynth for General Midi the music is very nice in the game! Lol2 should only be played with GLIDE emulation, imo. Lol3 was panned at the time because it was so different from what people were expecting…but it’s actually an OK game under GLIDE emulation and with the Coolsoft Midi as well.