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.