The RPS 2016 Advent Calendar, Dec 3rd – Sorcery! 1-4

What was the best RPG of The RPS Advent Calendar highlights our favourite games of the year, daily, and behind today’s door is…

It’s Sorcery! Parts 1-4.

John: I was not expecting to come away from the fourth and final part of the Sorcery! Series with the firm declaration that it was one of the best RPGs of all time. But blimey, it really is.

I played all four games this year, as they arrived on PC, and was ever-increasingly amazed at what was achieved. It’s tempting to describe the first as a loyal recreation of Steve Jackson’s original book, but actually that’s not fair. While it’s the most… “faithful”, it still reinvents the concept of a page-turning choose your own adventure into a world map, creates a new and immediately successful dice-free combat system, gets a gambling game into a working state within a text system, and delivers the lines of the story to you in a dynamic and novel (fnarr) way.

That it then becomes bolder, braver and wildly more elaborate is what makes Part 1 feel so comparatively more like the book. Because by Part 3 they’ve somehow allowed a text adventure to become open world, played across two intertwining, interchangeable timelines, with the decisions you made in the earlier games strongly affecting the experience, while the actions you take this time around having a huge impact on the fourth and final edition. And wow, that fourth edition. Part 3, if anything, became a little too loose, a little too unwieldy, but Part 4 is the series at its peak, exquisitely balanced, open but directed, and an experience offering meaningful variation such that you’ll want to start the whole series over again making different choices to see their results four games later.

In the end, rather than being a retro experience harking back to the long-lost days of the choose your own adventure novel, Sorcery! has been pioneering and hugely original. It’s an RPG everyone else in the industry should be playing to see exactly what they should be reaching for, how something with pared down tools and minimalist options for communicating with the player, sets the bar for them to aim for.

Adam: 80 Days was my introduction to Inkle and when I saw that there other games were an adaptation of a sword and sorcery gamebook, my heart sank a little. “Oh great,” I thought,” from one of the most imaginative and strange adaptations of a book I’ve ever seen to a game about hitting a troll with a sword.

It’s a good job I put my initial feelings to one side and jumped in (mostly thanks to John’s reviews) because the Sorcery games are even more inventive than 80 Days. Where the latter sticks to a basic theme of forward motion, journeying as an objective and every stop along the route being a meaningful destination in and of itself, Sorcery muddles things as it goes along. The first game has you taking part in a basic Go From Point A to Point B quest, but the journeys soon become more complicated.

One game is almost entirely about a single place, one feels like an alternate reality version of Lords of Midnight, one is doing that whole time-manipulation thing that has been all the rage this year.

Sorcery is neither a traditional fantasy tale nor a traditional gamebook adaptation. It’s weirder and more wonderful than I ever expected it to be, and confirms that Inkle’s next project would be of interest even if they announced it were an interactive fiction adaptation of the Fast and Furious films.

Actually, I really hope it is.

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20 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    basilisk says:

    I agree with this. They are really quite extraordinary and rather brilliant. I didn’t find the world or the plot particularly interesting, but the sheer number of possibilities and permutations across all four games is staggering.

    This is probably the closest we’ve ever come to truly “choosing your own adventure”.

  2. Kefren says:

    I thought these would be a perfect fit for GOG but apparently Inkle have no plans to release it there. :-(

    • SBLux says:

      Sorcery is not on GOG for some strange reason but the fantastic 80 Days is. Well worth a try if you have not already.

  3. Sin Vega says:

    Why do you hate all games John

  4. noodlecake says:

    Is it necessary to play the first three to be able to enjoy the fourth one fully?

    • Premium User Badge

      Grizzly says:

      Yes. Although Inkle do a decent job at making sure that you get up to speed if you haven’t played the preceding chapter, one of the things that makes Sorcery really good is that they’ve absolutely nailed the whole “Carrying saves trough to the next chapter” thing. Sorcery 4 can be a completely different game depending on what you did (or did not) do in the preceding chapters, and without those you are missing out on one of the series’ strongest aspects. And you’re just missing out on the earlier chapters, which are really good.

      They are perhaps better mobile games then PC games though: They definitely made my daily commutes and sleepless nights a lot more bearable, and I had previously never played any form of mobile game.

  5. Freud says:

    I only played the first two and while I could see why people would like them, due to the good writing and interesting world, I didn’t like them enough to want me to play the third.

    It’s just too much time spent reading and then making a more or less random choice that you know you can revert at any point. There’s not enough game mechanics for it to work for me as a game. The combat system being very shallow didn’t help as well.

    I’m glad it found an audience though since it’s obviously a labor of love.

  6. caff says:

    Great set of games. Haven’t yet hit part 4 but the series has really impressed me.

  7. FurryLippedSquid says:

    Saucery.

    Games with the best saucers. Hmm. Er, Little help?

    • Premium User Badge

      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      You might enjoy Kingdom of Loathing.

      And try using butter instead of margarine when making your roux.

    • GeoX says:

      Earthbound has some pretty good flying saucers.

  8. Rizlar says:

    Yeah you really need to take the name of the game out of the article’s title. What could possibly be behind the door…?!

  9. Premium User Badge

    subdog says:

    I know this is RPS and we love PC gaming uber alles, but these games definitely hold up on the tablet for those times when you want to play something good but don’t want to get out of bed or you’re stuck at the airport.

    The writing is excellent, but I think the thing I love most about this series is the throwback 1970’s/early 80’s fantasy art. For old pen and paper grognards (and RPG hipsters), the weird black and white portraiture is downright heavenly and captures a mood that has escaped videogaming for decades.

    Vik for first noble!

    • Premium User Badge

      Grizzly says:

      The art is not throwback, it’s pulled straight from the source material!

      • pandiculator says:

        So, would you say that the art directors for the game used source-ry?

  10. xalcupa says:

    Loved these. Played the books at the time, but the game adaptations really reinvented the genre, and the art sets the mood perfectly. I travel a lot to the US from EU and savor these (tablet version) on the long-haul flights.

    Game(s) qualify on my personal top 5 list for this year.

  11. stkaye says:

    What a wonderful series of games – and wholly engrossing on a smaller screen during the daily commute, as well, which might make these my most-played games of the year too.

    I actually think the third episode is the strongest. It really is an open world – or, in fact, two open worlds, layered on top of each other and affecting each other in intricate ways. I love it a lot.

  12. Ghostwise says:

    I’m having a small bit of trouble getting used to the combat system, but I’m fairly sure it’s caused by my superhuman genetic enhancements driving me to OPTIMISE ALL THE STRATEGIES rather than just play the dang game and relax.

    Dang super-powers. I had asked for prehensile hair, not this !