Lair of the Necromancer

by Rob Rudd


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Nostalgia for the first IF game I ever played, August 14, 2018

In the 1980s and 90s I had a Commodore 64 and boxes full of disks. Some of my favorites were amateur games and programs from a magazine called Loadstar, where I found the first text adventure I ever played and completed... Lair of the Necromancer! This review is about 60% nostalgia and 40% actual review.

The player begins already inside the humid, mucky smelling dungeon in front of a sign reading, "Thou art now in the lair of the everpowerful Necromancer. Thou shalt meet thy doom." What follows is a series of 16 rooms, each containing a puzzle, a monster, an item or all three. Defeating the puzzles and monsters is dead simple, requiring the player to use an easily obtainable item found in one of the other rooms in the dungeon. The only real puzzle is figuring out how the rotating room works, even after you've figured out the "puzzle" of it (hint: exits are just random). The final showdown with the Necromancer is a bit anticlimactic, not much different from any of the other "fights" that required you to have the right item on you to insta-win.

As a kid, the joy of first getting lost and then drawing a map, watching the dungeon unfold as I defeated its puzzles, was exhilarating. I was into D&D and fantasy novels and this game was Fantasy 101: fighting skeletons, dragons and demons, finding magical treasures and dying gruesomely. It was glorious. Most games were short back then, or repeated infinitely in the case of arcade games, so I didn't mind the length of this game. Being able to actually beat it in one sitting added to the exhilaration!

There is one puzzle in the game, a riddle, that I thought was the coolest thing ever when I first solved it:

Jewel on black velvet
Pearl on the sea
Altar of the Lupine Lords
A riddle for thee
Answer correctly to pass the gate
And be my slave for eternity

Of course, replaying the game today I rediscovered a lot of that joy and a little bit of new frustration. The game's command parser is incredibly simple. Commands are all single words, no qualifiers. So instead of "get gold" you just "get". There's only ever one "gettable" thing in a room, so this simplicity is functional. Discovering the mechanics of the command parser can be frustrating at first, as you type things like "use holy water" only to be met with a prompt asking you for what item you want to use.

This game teaches you by killing you. Use the wrong item against a monster? Die and start over. Use an item in the wrong room, now it's no longer in your inventory and you have to start over. With only 16 rooms in the game and a handful of items this isn't too much of a burden. It kind of gives the game an "arcade" feel, if that makes any sense.

All in all, totally worth replaying if you've already played it decades ago and want to relive the thrills and spills. Otherwise, this is incredibly basic stuff that might keep you occupied for a few minutes and leave you wanting something more substantial.