Video games owe a huge debt to the classic pen and paper RPGs. The complex worlds and intricate systems outlined by these visionary rulebooks set the standard for many classic games of the genre. However, as the medium progressed, graphical advancements meant that these rules were hidden behind the flashy glimmer of a fully rendered set of armor. “Steve Jackson’s Sorcery!” welcomes back the traditional tabletop model both in style and design, granting old school adventurers the nostalgic jolt they were missing in their lives.
The first two chapters were originally released for mobile devices a few years ago. Now, developer Inkle has bundled them together for a very well optimized PC port. Based on the four-part adventure books by Steve Jackson, “Sorcery!” closely follows the trail laid out by the 80’s classics. You take the role of a nameless adventurer who is tasked with retrieving the Crown of Kings and bringing it back to the rightful kingdom of Analand. Your journey will take you though impoverished towns and dangerous woods where every move has a tangible consequence. Though the map in the first chapter appears small, the second part takes place in the massive city of Khare, where the game will send even more twists your way before you reach the end.
Despite the $10 price tag, you can easily clock in close to as many hours in a single playthrough, but that would be an insult to the fantastic game design laid out. “Sorcery!” sticks close to its roots, providing multiple choices for every conversation, possible pathway or environmental interaction. The results of your choices are immediately visible. Casting a spell in front of a superstitious assassin could cause him to cower away, avoiding combat altogether, while approaching a group of mysterious teenagers could see you thrown in jail all the way across the map. It is clear from the moment you leave your quiet settlement that you will not be seeing everything the game has to offer in a single playthrough.
How you approach the game will have a major impact in the way your journey pans out. However, it is clear from the get go that being a good person will generally make your life easier. Helping out people early on might cause them to return the favor later in the game. If you do mess up however, there is a nifty rewind feature at the bottom of the screen that lets you pull time back to any point you had to make a choice. Early on, the feature can be shrugged away, as the fun comes from letting your decisions shape the path you take. By the second chapter though, I was using it much more often as I found out that certain choices could lead to an untimely death for my questing adventurer.
While the rewind is completely optional, the immersion of playing a true tabletop adventure is shattered near the end of the game. Unless you had a perfect playthrough, “Sorcery!” will pretty much force you to go “back in time” and complete a fetch quest you only learn about at the very last moment. It is an unfortunate video game trope that rears its ugly head in an otherwise fantastic choice driven quest.
In a refreshing twist from these sorts of games, most of the characters you will meet are good natured people. But, like any good adventure, every once in a while you will have to draw your sword and battle it out. The combat engine is simple but engaging enough to keep you guessing. You can choose to either attack or defend with each turn. Attacking with a power higher than your opponent’s attack will deal damage and leave you unscathed. However, if you catch them defending you will only deal one point of damage no matter your attack power. The more attacks you link together will cause the next one to be weaker, and the only way to replenish is to take a defensive stance. The key to lunging forward at the right time is by reading the beautifully written descriptions that come with every action you take.
These don’t just stop with the fighting. In lieu of fully rendered 3D environments, “Sorcery” borrows heavily from its literary roots; painting sublime portraits of every character, environment and situation you will encounter. Reading that you are walking past “round huts” made of “hard-baked, bright clay with thinly thatched roofs” that have “eyes appearing from dark doorways, watching your movements” works just as well, if not better, than any high polygon count render. To accompany these descriptions reminiscent of “Planescape: Torment” are a Tolkien-esque map that tracks your movements with pins and wonderfully retro illustrations of the more picturesque sights you encounter.
As a compliment to the basic battle system, you have close to 50 spells that can greatly alter the course of combat. These vary from basic incantations that can zap your opponents, to more mind altering illusions that could shift the entire course of the game. As fun as it is to invoke your inner sorcerer, the game determines when you can use and exactly what spells you can use at certain situations. Although I can understand it would be near impossible to deliver outcomes for any spell being used in every situation, it can be disappointing when I am running low on stamina and need to use a healing spell but the game won’t let me cast anything at that time. Following those same footsteps is the ability to pray to your guardian spirit, giving you a free “get out of jail card” if you are stuck in a perilous situation. This deus ex machina is not only available once a day but also when the game determines it is ok for you to pray.
Nonetheless, the reason these roadblocks stand out is because of how wonderfully open the rest of the game felt. “Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! Parts I and II” managed to capture the true feeling of playing a tabletop RPG through inspired writing and meaningful choices. Though it can’t help but remind you it is a video game at the very end, like any good adventure it is the journey, not the destination, that matters.
- Feels like playing a tabletop RPG.
- Amazing writing throughout.
- Every choice in the game has a tangible impact.
- Forces you to do a fetch quest at the end.
- Spells can only be used in certain situations.
- First part is much shorter than the second.