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About the Story
You have been volunteered by your master for a quest to save the small city of Windhall from a terrible fate.
The first part of a series-in-progress, set in a D&D-style world. As Aerin, apprentice to the town of Windhall's smith, you are chosen to relieve the town's financial woes by seeking a lost dragon's hoard. A nice game, with lots of text - few objects are left undescribed. Some monster-slaying is involved, but no randomized combat. The characters are the best part of this game; be sure to ask everyone about everyone else. Has a more-than-adequate time limit and numerous time-based puzzles, a day/night cycle, sleep, riddles, and a maze with a rather subtle key. A little guesswork and some random examination of scenery is required. Don't be put off by the torturously ungrammatical pseudo-medieval speech patterns in the introduction - only one character talks like that, and he's a buffoon.
-- Carl Muckenhoupt
The game begins with most of the world available for exploration, and the world is large and complex. There are many places to explore and many puzzles to attempt, which helps if you are stumped by one particular puzzle. It would have been nice had the game not shown its whole hand at the beginning; additional areas which you can explore only after solving a puzzle hold my interest more than being able to visit (almost) everywhere at the beginning.
-- Stephen Granade
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Because, strangely, there is no inn in this otherwise standard Fantasy adventure.
I say standard, but it's actually a very good game.
After a lengthy but very funny introductory scene where you, the smith's apprentice, are appointed "volunteer" by the villagers to kill the dragon and get its treasures (the town has a bit of a tax-problem), you find yourself in a traditional Fantasy land. After talking to all the villagers and starting to explore a bit, you remember that aside from funny narrators, hidden treasure and a wizard in his tower, old-school Fantasy adventures also tend to be Big and Difficult.
-Setting: The entire map (minus a handful of hidden locations) is accessible from the get-go. The game thus has a great sense of spaciousness. The boundaries of the playable area are also very naturally worked into the narrative. There are mountain ranges with their peaks stretching out as far as you can see, grassplains too big to cross where you see the next town shimmering against the horizon, the ocean shore where you can just see the barbaric islands through the mist...
There are many, many locations. It helps a lot that they are geographically ordered. From the central village, you can choose to go to the river/swamp region, the forest or the rocky hills. The wizard's tower lies on its own mountain peak.
Some of these locations are truly beautiful: a hidden lake seen from a cliff above, a lone giant tree in the forest, the tower seen from a hill top far away...
The openness of the game world does mean that it can be hard to find that next loose thread while puzzle-solving, meaning that you will see some of the locations so many times that you don't care about that wonderfully described scenery anymore.
-Puzzles: The puzzles in The Windhall Chronicles are a mixed batch.
The three parts of the Wizardry-test are great. They are followed by a logic puzzle that I took out my chess pawns for and had a lot of fun solving. Most puzzle fans will probably have seen it in some form before though. There's a fetch-quest for the wood-elf that I found very enjoyable, and then there's the Mire Cat's riddle.
Then there are some puzzles that make sense,...in hindsight. The kind where you couldn't possibly tell what other function an object might have. Or where the sequence of actions is underclued.
One or two puzzles just make you go "Huh?" after finally checking the walkthrough.
It's a shame that the final puzzle, the dragon-fight, is completely clear and obvious (which I find a good thing for a final puzzle),but not described clearly enough to solve it while staying in the flow and thrill of the endgame.
-NPCs: To solve the puzzles, there are many characters that will help you. That is, if you help them first of course... This leads to some interesting fetch-quests and some funny conversations. It also adds to the feel of the game that all the characters have different opinions of one another, giving you a glimpse of the town's social dynamics.
Very important here is that all the characters (you/the protagonist included) have sleep cycles. Wildly differing sleep cycles... Your dwarven master gets up at 5:30 while the lazy alchemist doesn't wake up before 10:30 am. Some crucial information has to be got from an insomniac knight who doesn't show himself until after dark... Sometimes you can be forced to WAIT twenty turns because the character you have business with is still asleep. (Knocking on their door doesn't help...)
On the other hand, it is very rewarding to plan out your actions so that you can solve a puzzle and give the result to a character just as they get up. Therefore, I strongly recommend copying the sleep times from the walkthrough. They are all listed at the top of the page.
-Writing: The writing is good, sometimes very good. I only found a handful of typos, which is not a lot in a game this size. Some location descriptions are simply beautiful, but the prose does turn a bit purple after you solve some key puzzles. Also, both the intro and the epilogue are very wordy. Well written, but wordy.
The writing is also truly funny at times. Can't say much without giving the away the jokes but: (Spoiler - click to show)the shed falling apart when you turn the long-sought-after key...
-The sense of space, Fantasy feel, natural borders and wonderful surroundings make this gameworld a joy to explore.
-The lack of pacing/bottlenecks, the sleep cycles and the undercluedness of some puzzles can lead to pointless wandering.
All in all, I was absorbed in this game for a week, often pondering puzzles in bed and coming up with new things to try.
(If you enjoy this kind of text adventure, be sure to check out Larry Horsfield's Alaric Blackmoon-series)
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