Remember the old ‘choose your own adventure’ books, back in the day? You would read a section of a story, then make a choice as to where it would go next, being prompted to turn to a certain page to continue depending on your choice. This was before videogames became as complex and varied as they are today, with the likes of Baldur’s Gate, Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect and Fallout taking the place of those old adventure novels. Pen and paper RPGs were also a good way of experiencing an evolving adventure, based upon the choices made by players. It’s these fans that Liber Primus Games appear to be targeting with their new PC adventure, A Land Fit For Heroes.
Based on a trilogy of novels by Richard Morgan, A Land Fit For Heroes (hereafter to be known as ALFFH) sees you taking on the role of three characters, either playing them all in turn in single player, or three players taking a role each in multiplayer. Once you have chosen the stats for each character, you will be dropped into the first chapter (playing single player, you play the first chapter of all three characters, then all three second chapters, etc.) and you will be greeted with a wall of text. This may be a complete turn-off for many gamers, but others will immediately be drawn into ALFFH’s dark fantasy world.
This is where things get tricky. You see, ALFFH has very little ‘videogame’ to it, as you spend 95% of your time reading its story like a book, the other 5% is spent selecting story choices or taking part in the game’s limited combat. As a reader and writer of fantasy, I enjoyed reading the dark and sometimes harrowing story, with its natural dialogue and intriguing characters, but it absolutely will not be for everyone.
Unlike most ‘mature’ games, this actually does feel mature. Its story is deep and full of lore, its characters likewise, and the choices you make when setting up your character are reflected in the story’s text. Creating a gay male may result in him waking up beside another man, or perhaps offer up an explicitly detailed sex scene that will make Game of Thrones fans blush. His/her sexual preference may not even play a part in the story, depending on how you play the game, but it’s all handled very well and never feels contrived.
Sometimes the game will force you into combat, which is where the only real ‘gameplay’ comes in, and the view switches to a grid-like board. Little figurines represent your character and their opponents, and each will take turns to move and attack. Nothing new here, really. You spend action points (AP) to move around the board, attack or use healing items, and the AI will do the same. When attacks inevitably arrive, or you’re dishing out damage yourself, dice are rolled to determine the success/failure of the blow, which adds to the pen and paper atmosphere greatly. Battles rarely offer any challenge however, whether to keep the game flowing or simply due to it being too easy, it isn’t clear. It does make the combat seem like an afterthought though, especially when character stats seemingly play no part in proceedings. This seems a shame, as a bit of extra time developing the battle system would have increased the quality by some margin.
Another area to be improved should have been the sound, more specifically the music. Initially it helps the enrich the atmosphere of each chapter as you read, but it soon becomes apparent that it loops indefinitely and you can actually hear the stuttering point at which the music restarts. It cheapens the experience somewhat and the repetition can grate, especially for the slower readers such as myself. Other than the music, there is almost no sound in ALFFH, with selection sounds, dice rolls and attack hits/misses being the only additional sounds available. It’s not exactly an issue, but a few stock sounds are just another example of the game feeling cheapened, possibly as a result of keeping development costs down.
A Land Fit For Heroes isn’t a particularly rewarding game, nor is it even a game in the traditional sense, but it is quite a unique experience nonetheless. With an engaging and well-written story (minus a few typos here and there, but have you ever read a book without at least one or two of those?) combined with a simple and inoffensive combat minigame, it will offer something that the more old-fashioned gamer can appreciate.
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