Have You Played... Lands Of Lore?
Back on the grid
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.