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Ace of Spades *, February 11, 2021
Magnetic Scrolls' The Guild of Thieves was high on my to play-list for a long time. Not anymore! See, it was abandonware for a long time, but none of the DOS-downloads I tried would work in DOSBox. Then the game was reworked for play on smartphones so it wasn't abandoned anymore. Now you have to pay for it. But... the nice people over at the Magnetic Scrolls Memorial website have put up the reworked version for free play in-browser. Thank you, nice people at Magnetic Scrolls Memorial!
In this online version, the gameplay of the original has not been changed as far as I could tell (comparing to older reviews and to other games of the same period). UNDO doesn't work, so RESTORE is your friend (trust me, when you've locked yourself up in a tight cramped space with no exits, it's your best friend in the whole wide world...) X object doesn't work either, but you can use L object instead. Lastly, you can make an account to get access to your saved games from different devices.
The Guild of Thieves starts out on a wide stretch of woodland and wheatfields. To earn your membership of the Guild, you must find all the valuables in the surrounding region and steal them. There are three big areas of interest you need to gain access to, and each of these has its own locked doors and other bottlenecks to get through. I loved this map. The feeling of a wide world to discover with enticing puzzles to get around that next corner. Also a lot of fun for the mapmakers among us. (I color-coded my map...)
At first, the different parts of the map seem disconnected, not only literally but also in atmosphere. There's a temple, a castle (not the medieval type but the later, overgrown lordly manor type), an udergound section,... that don't seem to have to do much with each other. As you solve puzzles and the map slowly opens up, the different areas are brought together nicely by the solutions of the puzzles. Information you need for a tunnel is found in the temple for example.
The puzzles are great... They are all understandable in hindsight...
No, seriously. The first few puzzles you'll encounter are well hinted and logical. The further you progress in the game though, the more difficult it becomes to deduce the logical steps of a solution from the clues. Add to that that some puzzles require you to make preparations on the other side of the map before attempting to solve them and you will understand why, yes, RESTORE is your best friend. This does mean that when you finally understand how the different pieces work together and the solution *clicks*, it's very satisfying. Also, the nice people at Magnetic Scrolls Memorial have provided a very good narrative walkthrough should you become overly frustrated. Thank you, nice people at Magnetic Scrolls Memorial!
The writing is what it needs to be in this type of adventure. Good descriptions, the occasional joke and a more verbose passage here and there in an important location. The Guild of Thieves is a rather serious game. Stealing the treasures and becoming a Guild member is important to you, so there's not too much goofing around. Fortunately, the Master Thief who's following up on your progress brings some comic relief to the story now and then.
The game's responses to failed attempts are mostly unhelpful, but don't let that keep you from trying to solve the puzzle. You may well be on the right track. Rewording commands can do wonders for a parser who doesn't know that much English.
When I started playing, I was pleasantly surprised that there were beautiful pixel pictures of the locations. It later became apparent that these are not very well adjusted to the flow of the game. It can be distracting to read about the field of golden grain you're supposedly in while you're seeing a dank cave above the text.
The story is just the barest excuse for a puzzle romp, but an engaging and entertaining romp it is. Highly recommended!
*You'll get it when you play it.