Genre : RPG
Publisher: Strategy First
Developer: BURUT Creative Team
Release Date: TBD
About three centuries have passed since Goldenland had found peace. The Cult of Great Heroes appeared and the people of the valley turned away from the Light Gods relying on nobody but themselves. It seemed that nothing could trouble this land. Nobody worried about the undead that filled the valley again and the hunger and diseases of harvest time. Only High Priest Kotar knew that the same things once proclaimed the coming of Drah-Shu… The Great Council was gathered and three novices were chosen to find and ask for the help of Shurba-Khal, the great magician of the past. But Kotar had a vision sent down by the Light Gods. The vision said that a fourth student ought to take part in the search for Shurba-Khal, as well. Thus, an unknown young novice takes on the hard journey at hand... you are that novice.
At the outset, let me say that Goldenland is a huge, sprawling, well designed RPG that takes me back to the great old days when RPG’s dominated the gaming market. The frenetic shooters of today were still in their infancy, so strategy and role-playing were among the best games available. Goldenland follows this rich tradition with a game that is both very familiar, yet quite innovative.
Overall, Goldenland really reminds me of the style and flavor of the Forgotten Realms series of games. The style is high-level 3rd person, (remember Diablo?) and movement is a simple point and click affair. Single clicking makes your character walk, while double-clicking forces him to run at a faster pace. A zoomable mini-map in the upper right hand corner gives you the big picture, while the main screen handles the details. When combat ensues, the game switches to a real-time event based on action points. This again will be very familiar to RPG veterans. Choosing the correct weapon, style or spell is crucial to your success.
The inventory screens are large, and again familiar. Drag the items to the locations you wish them to inhabit, and they stay there. Holding the mouse over most objects will bring up a tooltip style box, giving you detailed information about each item you carry. If there are limitations of use, such as strength or level requirements, these are also displayed.
The spell system is a little different from the norm. Each of the Six Magic disciplines (Shadows, Nature, Gods, Darkness, Elements and Light) must be studied separately to amass the knowledge necessary to use the spells. In addition, there are multiple levels of proficiency within each discipline, and multiple spells per level. This makes the magic aspect of this game very deep, and very diverse. Some spells will temporarily alter your statistics. This is old hat, but I really like the way the designers here have made most of these spells trade-offs. For example, one brew might raise your Strength a few points, but at the cost of a few Intellegence points.
Each type of magic must also be defended against individually. The same incantations that would protect you from a Darkness Spell will do nothing versus Elemental magic, for example.
Skills are handled with a system of recipes. For example, as your skill in blacksmithing increases, you can make weapons from things lying around. A simple wooden sword can be forged into a magical weapon if you have the right materials to combine. Alchemy skill will allow you to concoct potions and poisons, as well as the ability to charge staffs with magic. The higher your skills, the more stuff you can make from the weird items you take from your fallen foes.
Combat is handled, as mentioned, in real-time. A bar at the bottom of the screen shows the available number of action points you have available each turn. Magic, potions, items and the like can all alter this number, so keep an eye on it! Each action you would wish to perform requires the expenditure of a certain number of points. Using this strategically, it can lead to the difference between getting first strike, or standing there like a sausage while 4 slimes each take a shot at you before you can draw your sword. Goldenland does a great job of providing you with nearly all the information you could need about your character, enemies and companions during combat. If you are not directly engaged with an enemy, it is possible to access your inventory and magic during combat, but it you are presently hacking away with a zombie, the game will logically not allow you to stop for a read through your spell book.
This leads me to one of my few complaints about Goldenland: Its Logic. At first, when your character isn’t very swift, enemies will play catch-me-if-you-can for a long time. Once they sustain enough damage to be frightened for their lives, they try to escape. This is perfectly logical, but in a game, can get really monotonous. Once you are more powerful and have access to more (and better) weapons, this tactic isn’t so annoying, but early on…wow.
Another logic flaw to me comes along when you are exploring houses. Any chest, bookshelf or whatever object that is highlighted when moused over can be searched for goodies, and if an NPC is present, they just let you do it! I walked right into a guard house, full of NPC guards, took 2000 gold pieces out of a chest, and just walked out! C’mon!
For the most part, enemies just try to swarm and overpower, until you start really hurting them, and they try to run away.
As for the world design, Goldenland is a big game. The developers prose between 100-120 hours of gameplay. I can easily see that as a realistic goal. I have been playing for about 22 hours now, and have only explored about a third of the world map! The quests become a bit more of the “run around talking to everyone until something pops up” sort of thing, but they are more explicit when it comes to what is actually expected of you. For example, at the outset, you are given a unique bracelet, which will allow you to pass through a magic gate. You are told where the gate is, and the second you leave your monastery it is stolen from you. You ask a burglar about it, he sends you to the local fence, who just sold it, now you have to find the new owner, etc… If you ever played an RPG you know exactly the kind of scavenger hunt style of game we are talking about. And you either really love that kind of game, or you loathe it with a passion. Personally, I’m having a hoot and a half.
The animation is very smooth, and if you like, you can speed up all the walking and running business from the options menu. Spell animations are particularly nice in combat. A good example is the God’s Hammer spell, where a hovering golden club materializes from a small cloud of glory and bonks the baddie on the ole’ noggin!
The music is decent enough, but as in most RPGs can get a little monotonous after a while. It is decidedly like every piece of music from every game and old medieval action movie rolled into one. Innocuous at best.
As my more constant readers will know, I am a stickler about voice-over talent in gaming. If I am going to keep this job, I better start taking language lessons, because Goldenland (as have a number of games I have previously previewed) is all in Russian. It was released in Russia in December of 2003, and is currently being ported for a US release. All the menus and text boxes have been translated, but the actual voices are speaking Russian. The folks doing these snippets of dialogue sound pretty good, but for all I know could be the William Shatners of St. Petersburg. (Shrug)
The developers promise cooperative multiplayer campaigns, but at the moment, no servers are active. When this becomes available, it will no doubt impact the replayability value, which at this time, is rather small.
In the final analysis, Goldenland is a classic style RPG with enough innovativeness to keep it fresh feeling. The maps are huge, the quests are bountiful, and there are over 2000 unique items to discover. The storyline is compelling, especially later in the game, when the true reasons for all of this paranoia become clear. The combat system, while initially difficult, becomes second nature after a while, and the Spell System is full of depth and trade-offs. Goldenland may not be the Golden Grail of Gaming, but it’s worth more than just a cursory glance.