Have You Played… Stonekeep

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

I want to go back to play Stonekeep so much. I can never bring myself to go back to play Stonekeep.

I remember Stonekeep with an enormous fondness, tied up in a conflation of nostalgia, its probably being rather good, and most of all, being a game my dad and I played together. And it feels like it might be one of those games that to return to would be to break it.

Games from 1995 are often like that. Even FPS games can be a struggle to pick up again, with their lack of mouse-look and other luxuries we’ve come to accept as bog-standards. But first-person RPGs are probably toughest of all, their clunkiness felt at the time, let alone over twenty years on. And Stonekeep doubles down in that regard by having employed that spectacle of mid-90s gaming, FMV.

And then of course there are all the memories tied up in playing it with my too-recently late father, filling me with fear that it’ll be a prompt for more grief rather than more fun.

So I need convincing – the game is available in a DOSBox version via both Steam and GOG (criminally overpriced on both) – so should I? Does it hold up? Is it worth the risk?

26 Comments

  1. DeadlyAccurate says:

    I LOVED this game. I was in college at the time, and I would often play 8 hours at a time, I loved it so much. I’m sure I would find it just awful if I ever went back to it, but holy cow, this brings back pleasant memories.

    • waltC says:

      Still holds its own, actually…;) I remember when the game was new there was a nasty bug where Wahooka was supposed to appear–a critical point in the game–but he wasn’t showing up for a lot of people…! Me, included at the time. Fixed much later, IIRC. GOG sells a version that runs fine under Win10x64–I would recommend using SVN-Daum Dosbox instead of what GOG ships with the game (standard Dosbox)–you can run it in Dosbox d3d mode & scale it all the way up to your native resolution–looks a *tad* better that way–and with SVN-Daum Dosbox you can use shaders to enhance the graphics even more, and you can use his 64-bit version of Dosbox, too, which I have found to be 99% compatible with all of my Dosbox games–and for the 1-2 games that don’t like it–his standard 32-bit Dosbox executable works perfectly–and you still get the shader support and the other advanced configuration options lacking in the GOG Dosbox versions. I use SVN-Daum Dosbox (the latest 2015 version is the last and best) in place of GOG’s Dosbox in every Dosbox game I have–including Stonekeep. You should buy it from GOG just to collect it if nothing else in one of their ~$1.49 sales…;)

      link to ykhwong.x-y.net

      • ooshp says:

        This is the way to do it.

        Also worth noting that DosBox has a full key remapper, allowing you to force a bit of WASD love on games with obscure controls.

  2. Meat Circus says:

    I AM THE GREAT WAHOOKA

    YOU WILL PAY HOMAGE TO ME

    • theallmightybob says:

      Loved this game as a kid, I think I still have the tombstone box with holographic skeleton hanging around. I consider it a masterpiece, and still play it now and again. It might be a bit rough around the edges by today’s standard, but you can really feel the work the team put into. I haven’t played a game since that has had a full set of fairies sing to me for flowers.

  3. GrumpyCatFace says:

    People forget how revolutionary this game was for its time. It had a fluid walking motion, persistent auto-mapping, and an excellent thematic design that was brand new to RPGs. The parchment-look of the screens, the inventory screen, the sounds and yes… even the FMV were amazing.

    One of the great RPGs of all time (for it’s time).

    • Risingson says:

      Precisely the problem with this game is that nothing of what you say was innovative when it was released. It was a solid game but it came out too late.

      And back then you had to pick a team: anvil of dawn or stone keep. Team Anvil here.

      • waltC says:

        Team both games, here…;)

      • Siannah says:

        I didn’t wanted to pick a team and bought both. But yes, Anvil wins.

      • GrumpyCatFace says:

        Never heard of Anvil of Dawn, but screenshots of it look a generation behind Stonekeep…

        It was most definitely the first game I’d ever seen on this level, prior to Baldur’s Gate. Quite possible that I was unaware of other games with more features, I dunno.

        • ansionnach says:

          Risingson is right. None of these things were revolutionary at the time. The two Ultima Underworld games had done a fair bit more years earlier (actual 3d dungeon crawling with free movement, running, jumping, swimming, flying…). I still rate the Underworlds as unequalled by the games they influenced. Deus Ex and the various Elder Scrolls games don’t even come close. I only finished both in the last few years and played them for the first time at the end of the nineties, so nostalgia goggles aren’t blinding me. These games got rave reviews, did quite well commercially (unlike System Shock) and were often the reason critics panned perfectly good games as dated. Going by this standard plenty of games still being made are irrelevant in a post-Underworld world. I found Deus Ex good but severely disappointing. Warren Spector was involved in the Underworlds so some of the hype around Deus Ex was because of this. Unfortunately, I suspect that many never played the Underworld games and consequently mistakenly think that Deus Ex is revolutionary. It’s very different from the other games, which are more on the RPG side of the fence, but I don’t think people remember Deus Ex for how good the action elements were (or weren’t…).

  4. someoneelse84 says:

    Sounds like you had a great dad, John. Not many do. My condolences again. I haven’t played Stonekeep but it sounds like one that’s best kept as a hazy memory for now.

    • Unclepauly says:

      How do you know how many dad’s are great or not? Of everyone I’ve ever known it’s been more good than bad. Maybe you’re in a part of the world that’s not great?

      • someoneelse84 says:

        I actually am in a pretty obscure part of the world. Now that you mention it I’m probably projecting my personal experiences on fatherhood here… I guess I feel a bit of envy too.

        • Unclepauly says:

          Understandable, hard life makes hard people. My only measuring stick is if someone is trying to make things better or worse. A hard life can make someone only think about themselves(survival tactic) so even if I don’t agree with bad dad’s I do understand it(sortof).

  5. Baf says:

    I tend to think of Stonekeep as the last of the great old-school tile-based first-person dungeon crawls. The lineage of Wizardry and The Bard’s Tale and Dungeon Master ended here. Oh, sure, there have been other first-person dungeon crawls since then, your Legend of Grimrock and the like, but somehow they all seem more backward-pointing, more like revivals of the genre than like participants in an ongoing tradition. I don’t know if this is at all a coherent thing to say, but it’s how I feel.

  6. Blake Casimir says:

    There was an updated Stonekeep developed for the Wii. It really, really deserves to be released on Steam/GOG but likely never will. Sadly it was saddled with rough motion controls but, hey, the Wii got a free-movement first person dungeon crawler. It’s not often I get to say that about ANY platform. My favourite genre of all time has to be the most rare, doesn’t it!? ARRGGHH! :(

  7. Premium User Badge

    Waltorious says:

    I only ever played the demo when Stonekeep was released, but played the full game through a few years back when it was released on GOG. I actually liked it a lot, although I was starting to run out of steam a little by the end. It’s cheesy as hell, but doesn’t suffer much for it, and has a good mix of exploration, fighting, and puzzling. Later I discovered that there was supposed to be music, but it didn’t play for me for some reason. Probably because I didn’t know how to use DOSbox properly yet.

    So I’d argue it holds up pretty well. But I didn’t have any personal connection to the game beyond fond memories of the demo, so I’m not sure if John would enjoy a replay or not.

  8. N1kolas says:

    I still remember the lever combination you had to use in the very first level in order to unlock a secret room that had one of the most powerful weapons in the game (a dagger) in it. No idea how anyone was supposed to figure it out on their own, I read about it in a magazine.

    I’ve been on a nostalgia trip myself the last couple of months. I have no problem with the graphics, but those ancient UIs can be real show stoppers. I just couldn’t take Ravenloft – Strahd’s Possession for more than three hours. On the other hand, I’m quite happily playing Eye of the Beholder 2 at the moment, since it doesn’t feel like the user interface is fighting me every inch of the way.

    I remember Stonekeep as being rather streamlined for its time – limitless inventory, automap, AI-controlled companions, smooth (if tile-based) movement… Oh, and unlike Anvil of Dawn that has come up, you didn’t have to wait around twiddling your thumbs for hours for health and mana to very, very slowly regenerate, there being no “rest” option. I think I will revisit it myself.

  9. Sin Vega says:

    Bought it on the gogs back in about 2009, played it for ten minutes, never gave it another chance. But then I never got on well with those griddy first person dungeon games.

    I had no idea it even had FMV bits. Nor that the guy who voiced the guide in Sacrifice was in it, judging by the wahooka video linked above.

    • theallmightybob says:

      every monster goblin is an FMV animation. most monsters you fight are just FMVs cut and transposed into the game.

  10. Einsammler says:

    I have not! However, it got a review on Interactive Entertainment, a CD full of audio reviews I was given by my uncle. Not as enthralling as the Steel Panthers review accompanied by taking “The IE Sherman Tank” and giving rides to audio schoolchildren, but entertaining for my younger self.

    And the internet remembers: link to youtube.com

  11. Craig Stern says:

    YES. I, too, played this game with my dad! I remember when he got his very first PC (with a blazing fast 233 megahertz CPU, no less)–he set the thing up in his bedroom closet. We would sometimes hang out in there and play Stonekeep together. I have very fond memories of that. :)

  12. Ragnar says:

    I have not, but your post inspired me to play more games with my son. I think he may be too young to appreciate it now, but hopefully it’ll help foster the same type of relationship you had.

  13. Vilos Cohaagen says:

    I bloody loved/love Stonekeep. I still have the novella Thea’s Awakening that came with it. I’ve been pondering replaying it myself too :)

  14. carewolf says:

    One of the best games ever, and probably the best dungeon crawler, though it was probably also to last time a dungeon crawler could be called innovative.

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