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Holy Relics!, November 11, 2020
Wow! That was really really really cool!
The year is 1347 AD. You, a renowned scholar and theologian, have been summoned by King and Pope. There has been a tragic fire in the library of the great abbey at Montglane. The fleeing monks have rescued as much of the treasures as they could, but the location of certain ancient relics has been forgotten through the centuries. You are to retrieve them for the greater glory of King and Church.
The Abbey of Montglane is a 1988 DOS text-adventure. It is by far the oldest IF I have finished. (Edit: I see that the date on the IFDB page is 1993. I could have sworn I saw 1988 somewhere.)
Because of the limited implementation of objects and scenery, I had to switch my adventuring style from obsessively examining everything named in the descriptions to a more general exploring of the game-space. On my first evening, I spent more than two hours drawing a map of the abbey, and I hadn't even found the passage into the catacombs by then.
This game is awe-inspiring in its handling of space. The map is very large, and a huge chunk of it is open to exploration from the get-go. However, it is structured according to the layout of a historical abbey, a large rectangle contained within the outer walls. Most of the locations are next to one of the main paths, with enough of them to the side or in between to break the symmetry and give the map a more natural feel.
A medieval abbey was for the most part a self-sustaining entity, so the locations are very diverse. Next to the church and the monk's dormitories, there is a herb and vegetable garden, a bakery, a pigsty (with barrels for collecting the blood of a butchered pig!), a meditative fountain grove,... An impressive bell-tower looks out over it all.
The orderly structure of this above-ground map contrasts with the nooks and crannies and twisty passages of the underground catacombs. (No maze.) Mapping fun guaranteed!
The intro I have summarized above promises good writing, and the game delivers... for the most part. The descriptions are sparse, efficient and more verbose when needed. But: the juvenile 1980s text-adventure humour that pops up here and there broke the atmosphere enough for me to take away a star from my rating.
Solving the puzzles is mostly a matter of exploring thoroughly, taking the (surprisingly few) objects you find with you and remembering written clues until you need them. The best puzzle of the game is wildly unfair to modern standards, but it works and it is great and funny. Well worth solving without cheating.. (Spoiler - click to show)Learn by dying... A lot.
The Abbey of Montglane is a tremendous work of interactive fiction.