Sunday, January 12, 2014

Adventure Begins Here 2 - Dragon's Deep (Real Review)

Didn’t think I’d see the day, but since I did, Adventure Begins Here: The Renegade Wizard, supremely clichéd story of unlikely hero Toby the squire, evidently did well enough to go to sequel.

A little time has passed. Toby’s apprenticing under a new knight and the kingdom’s facing a new threat, this time from a massive rampaging dragon. And the only weapon in the realm capable of slaying such a ferocious beast, the legendary Dragon Spear, has been filched from the royal repository. So you find yourself on another quest, not just to retrieve the spear but to then use it to slay the dragon before it incinerates the entire kingdom.

Unlike the first book, this one begins with a part where Toby’s recounting how he got to a certain point that’s told in first person. Since it’s a flashback, you have a nominal amount of control but if you die the narration stops and says that’s not what really happened, and you get sent back to pick another course of action. Reminds me a little of the do-over feature in the old Zork books, except as far as I remember it never tried to catch me cheating.

It was a little confusing though, since as a direct sequel to the previous book you’re expecting to be able to carry over the stuff you got in the first book. And you can. But it’s only once the “tutorial” part ends and you have to start actually rolling the dice that the game brings that up. Importing your character isn’t even mentioned in the rules. So you can, you just aren’t given any reason to think so until you’ve been reading the book for fifteen minutes, which got the book off on kind of a weird foot.

Which brings me to how when you do import you stuff you can also say you’ve leveled up since the last book. While filling in your character sheet with the stuff you plundered from the first book you can spend Hero Points to buy skills or spells relevant to the one you picked before going after Maudilus in the first book. It’s an interesting dilemma that represents since a having certain skill can feasibly make the adventure easier, but at the same time if you break the bank you won’t be able to reverse a roll that could mean game over. Although those of us checking this out because of being longtime Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf readers, like myself, are used to not having Hero Points to fall back on anyway.

Oh, and you probably did, but if you picked the reading runes skill hope you picked the wizard’s spell book as your prize or the selection of spells for sale will be awfully limited.

Unfortunately, the writing and plot are still as pedestrian as can be. One particular thing that doesn’t make any sense is that when the story begins, Toby’s the squire to a new knight. After the flashback portion ends and he’s rescued by a group of knights who plan on venturing onward to slay the dragon, he asks to come along but they demur because a prophecy says only a knight can do it. He says they can just knight him and he’ll be good. And they do. And that’s it. He’s a knight, just like that.

Kinda anticlimactic, don’t you think? Or worse, delayed. Something like killing an evil wizard, one who foiled every bounty hunter, assassin and army of knights of the realm sent to dispose of him seems like it’d merit a promotion, but no. It’s not even that nobody else knows about it and doesn’t believe Toby when he claims responsibility. When Toby and his new benefactor go to the capital city the knights there have already heard the story of how he kicked Maudilus’s renegade wizard behind and give him a hearty slap on the back for it. Why is Toby still apprenticing when the book starts?

Speaking of a prophecy, here it is: “A knight the slayer will be, but the Dragon Spear is the key.” As prophetic verse goes, that’s pretty nickel-and-dime stuff there. Try this one on.

“When the full moon shines o’er the temple deep,
A sacrifice will stir from sleep
The legions of a long forgotten lord
When a fair royal maid on the altar dies,
The dead of Maakengorge shall rise
To claim their long-awaited reward.”

The rhyme’s not the best, but it does tie into the plot (of Lone Wolf 4, The Chasm of Doom) and it’s a little unnerving if you think about what it means is at stake. The one in this book just tells you the one to kill the dragon must be a knight, which as I already was handled poorly, and gives a nebulous clue.

There are also Greek mythology motifs in here, with talking idols of the gods offering you magical artifacts if you can prove yourself worthy. They feel out of place, but I get the feeling they were put there to make something else feel less weird. You see, one of the guardians of the dragon’s lair is no less than Medusa, and it seems she was only put in there so the player could have an easy way and a hard way to kill the dragon, and the author was inspired to put the easy way in by seeing Clash of the Titans.

And in the end, this book seems even more hopeful than the first of another installment. Those artifacts you get from the gods? You’re told one thing they do, but it’s made pretty clear they probably have other powers you have yet to discover. And the spear wasn’t stolen by the dragon’s thralls to protect their master, it was stolen by a cult of elves for reasons of their own, which the author was probably hoping to build up in another story. With where the creativity starts and stops on the premises of these books, not sure I’m looking forward to that.

But I’ll probably review it anyway.

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