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Lands of Lore III

A few weeks ago, as I began work on this review, I was fortunate enough to take my own trip down memory lane. When reviewing a sequel or game that is part of a series, I like to begin by playing the preceding game(s) in sequence. Booting up the original Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos on my almost extinct 486/66 was a refreshing experience, although I am grateful we don't have nine disk installations anymore. I recalled the first time I watched the introduction. I remembered being awe-struck when the horse galloped across the wooden draw-bridge and the sound effects changed to mimic the hooves' echo. I relived the descent of the nightmarish Urbish mines and ascended into the haunted White Tower. It was like revisiting an old friend I hadn't seen in years.

Ironically, I didn't have to reinstall Lands of Lore: Guardians of Destiny because it's still on one of my systems as one of many games on my list in need of completion. I never finished it because, to be honest, I lost interest. Not under a review deadline, I played for one reason -- to have fun. When the fun stopped, less than 20 hours into it, I quickly shelved the sequel in favor of another, Andrew Spencer's magnificent Ecstatica II.

So it was with high hopes and slight apprehension that I started to play Westwood Studios' Lands of Lore III. As they do with their other marquee product line, Command & Conquer, Westwood has weaved the storylines in the Lands of Lore games together as good as any series around. Fans of the trifecta will quickly notice references to the Kingdom of Gladstone, the all-powerful Draracle, the mystic Dawn and many others. This time around, however, the primary opponent won't be the witch Scotia or any of the evil she has spawned.

In Lands of Lore III, the all-powerful Draracle has left the mortal realm, and with the defeat of Belial, his responsibilities are complete; he must return to his home and reunite with those of his own kind. His departure, however, has caused the magical mirror that binds the dimensions together to fracture, thus opening up five rifts to alternate realities. You take on the role of Copper LeGre, the son of Prince Eric LeGre and a Dracoid servant. As the game begins, you, your father and two half-brothers are attacked by a pack of Rift Hounds, killing your father and two brothers and leaving you as the only living bloodline to the throne. But your survival is not without loss or contention. The mystic Dawn informs you the hounds have managed to steal your soul and only a powerful magical spell now keeps you alive. Unfortunately, the spell's power is limited and will not last forever. But finding your lost soul may not be your greatest challenge. Many people of the kingdom, including the chief advisor to King Richard and your own stepmother, hold you responsible for the tragedy and will stop at nothing to prove it.

While the storyline seems riveting on the surface, once you get past the introduction, there is little that will hold your interest. The main component of the game has you traveling from realm to realm in search of five pieces to the broken mirror. This style of gameplay and quest system is so old and overused it stinks like a pair of wet sneakers. Even with the political unrest components added in, the way Lands of Lore III evolves is so cliched you'd think they got the storyline from a Dr. Seuss children's book. When are developers going to realize the shattered-artifact-finding game has been done before and, in this case, done much better? If they had developed the mutinous portions of the story more, the end results and my feelings towards the game would have been decidedly different. Instead, Copper's standing amongst the court goes from being a murderous bastard son to everyone's favorite half-breed as the rifts get closed and the kingdom is restored. Granted, this does take some time, as there are nearly 100 hours of game time here, though unfortunately, those 100 hours are predictable and overdone.

Backing up the unoriginal gameplay is the same old disappointing 2D and 3D engine used in Guardians of Destiny. Visually, the game has improved since then, but it is so limited by the engine that the improvements easily take second chair to the low resolution 2D sprites prevalent throughout. There have been numerous claims that this chapter of the series would be using Voxel based technology instead of 2D sprites, and while that is somewhat evident, alas, the sprites remain. Many of the objects, such as NPCs, have received a 3D upgrade but the benefit is nominal. Graphically, this game exhibits qualities of brilliance but lacking depth and clarity.

Lands of Lore III also fails to deliver some of the most important features of a good RPG, especially when it's compared to the competition. For the hardcore RPG purist, far too many things have been automated. Character creation, conversational dialogue, stats management and overall gameplay development are as linear as they come. I found very few opportunities to divert from the main quest, and the sub-quests offered are equally as linear in progression and delivery. There are far too many buildings and locations throughout the game that are not accessible to the player, existing for the sole purpose of providing visual pleasure. The automated conversations were very annoying. Much of the dialogue is trivial and poorly executed, especially that between Copper and his chosen Familiar.

To its credit however, Lands of Lore III is mildly entertaining. Even with the overused story model, outdated graphics engine, maligned interface and poor dialogue system, Westwood still manages to carve out a few raw diamonds in the rough with the additions of a robust magical spell system, a ton of items and artifacts to play with, and the inclusion of Familiars. The Familiars are magical companions provided by one of the four guilds that Copper can choose in the beginning of his quest. The Magician, Fighter, Cleric and Thieves' Guilds all offer distinct advantages to Copper as he progresses. I played the game as a member of the Talamri (The Magician's Guild) and also the Order of the Finch (Cleric's Guild) as well as toying around with the two others to get a feel for how the game changed with each guild. Other than the expected changes that come with each class, such as combat style and spell usage, Lands of Lore III played exactly the same, offering the player no real reason to play it more than once.

In the end, Lands of Lore III has left me unimpressed and disappointed. I'm confused how a game with such great beginnings could have strayed off course this far. While Lands of Lore III isn't as low on the depth charts as its immediate predecessor, it's not deeper by much. If you're an initiate into gaming and want to try out a role-playing title, this wouldn't be a bad choice, but with Might and Magic VII just around the corner, you might be better served to wait.

 

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