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Hadean Lands

by Andrew Plotkin profile


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Number of Ratings: 49
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- Shigosei, February 17, 2021

- mifga (Brooklyn, NY), October 14, 2020

- nosferatu, September 24, 2020

- Relle, August 10, 2020

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful:
A synthetic diamond: faceted, complex, and artificial, July 30, 2020
Note: I played the Glulx version using Gargoyle, not the iOS version.

In the process of solving Emily Short's Savoir-Faire, I made a list of all the items I had discovered, eventually including every single object in the game. Its system of magic linkages afforded a lot of possible combinations, you see, and I didn't want to overlook any of them. Hadean Lands will make a similar list for you automatically, and then again for several other categories if you wish. In fact, you might say the ship in this game is severely listing, judging from all the multi-line outputs you'll see while playing. You might say it's the long-awaited sequel to Andrew Plotkin's 1996 opus Lists and Lists, if you were the type to belabor a joke.

In seriousness, though, I detected traces of Delightful Wallpaper (automatic note-taking and lists of known obstacles) and Dual Transform (ritualistic symbol manipulation), but the alchemy on display here is all-new and is clearly what most of the work went into. This is a game that wears its systems on its sleeve, and for good reason. There are many locks, many more keys, and enough alchemical steps to give anyone's hand a cramp if they had to write it all down themselves. With Plotkin's note-taking, item-remembering, and ritual-automating systems in place, you can focus on managing your resources and sorting out the causal chains, although I do have three hand-written pages of additional notes for things the game wasn't tracking to my satisfaction. I don't think the scale of the problem-solving actually changes that much--in other words, the point of the automation is to avoid tedium, not to free up brain cells for bigger problems--but you do start to think of solutions in larger chunks, and to my knowledge no other text game has attempted this. The overall feeling is one of being a technician running around the innards of a giant machine, initially following the instructions step-by-step so you can put the gears in motion and let the automation take over. Then, later, you have to go back and make manual adjustments when you realize things aren't quite set up properly. In the same vein, Hadean Lands repeatedly gives you that drug-like feeling of unlocking new areas and having a new set of possibilities to consider. This game infected my sleep. I ran through loose ends and ritual variations in my dreams. I found it to be tough but logical, with several "Aha!" moments of insight and ingenuity, and only a couple gripes about undercluing. The obstacles and tools are always clear, even if the solutions aren't. For all of this, I have to give it five stars for the puzzles alone.

However, the flipside to the user-friendly, puzzle-enabling automation is a decrease in immersion. In 2012, Plotkin said, "The IF parser draws the player *into* the game world in a distinct and powerful manner. You can't skim the text or skimp on imagining the situation, because the situation is your only guide to what to try next." An insightful observation and a great quote, but in this case, the game does let you skimp. It helps you skimp, in fact. Locations are sketched broadly, mostly in terms of their functions aboard the ship and useful objects that are present. Yes, it is important to examine things and read the descriptions for clues. No, I'm not complaining about a lack of LOOK UNDER puzzles or saying that the game isn't well-implemented, because it is. But it has significantly less granularity than many I've played, and what detail is there sometimes becomes ignored as you rush through the rituals, and indeed becomes auto-ignored upon repetition. At one point I missed a minor clue because a PERFORM [RITUAL] command was making an automatic change and I didn't notice. Along with this is the fact that the puzzle elements are often arranged in contrived ways. It's silly to have locked cabinets with nothing but two sheets of paper in them and not a useful textbook in sight. I suppose the counterargument is that puzzle solving in such games always becomes a checklist of undone tasks and untried combinations anyway, so let's cut to the chase and avoid the flurry of RESTORE commands, right? Well, it's a matter of degree, and to theorize about it in depth would require its own article. Let me say that for the type of game Hadean Lands is, I think Plotkin's choices in this regard were good ones, but I hope others don't follow them as a template without considering what they're taking away. Also, I'm sure someone has a plot theory about how any apparent contrivances are in fact the point, but whatever. Playing through the first time, it feels artificial.

In contrast, the alchemy itself is written with enough care and attention that it comes across as entirely believable. The rules are not fleshed out enough to ever truly understand the principles at play, but there are delightful descriptions for ritual steps and effects, both successful and failed. Plotkin writes about glowing arcs, shimmering ripples, sparkling flames, and substances melting into each other with such vividity that it really feels like you're doing something special when you pull one of these rituals off. It's a hold-your-breath feeling that adds to the excitement of trying a puzzle solution for the first time. The environments are not as lush, as I said, but there is a strong coherence that comes from everything being described in terms of the ship's operation. The ship may be in a contrived arrangement of puzzly disrepair, but otherwise all the rooms have a strong sense of purpose. And of course there are characters and plot crumbs (implemented with surprising complexity, though not in the way you might think), casually dropped in your path in order to fuel the fires of speculation. The ending is, uh, well. It's open to interpretation. I found it unsatisfying and will leave it at that.

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A very long, complex alchemy game. Polished, and set in a fantasy world, July 21, 2020
by MathBrush
Related reviews: more than 10 hours
This game combines an intricate alchemy system with technology aboard a sort of magical spacecraft. This isn't a rocket engine; it's a complex environment that uses magic to translocate in space.

Something has gone horribly wrong on your magical ship, leading to major disruptions in time and space.

You collect what may be hundreds of items in this game, perform dozens of rituals, and visit quite a few locations. In this sense, it ranks with other ultra big games like Mulldoon Legacy or Spellbreaker. However, this game has an advantage in that it simplifies things for you. Any ritual, once performed, can be done again with a single command. There are database type commands that allow you to recall all rooms, all items, all rituals, etc.

The setting is barren and mysterious, with the outside world leading to a variety of mysterious lands.

I couldn't put this game down. Very well done.

- Blind Assassin (Illinois, United States), July 12, 2020

- Cognitive_Prospector, June 6, 2020

- felix, November 2, 2019

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A bit sad, September 29, 2019
I had so high expectations of this game, but in the end I found it very unsatisfying. I mean, the implementation is super. However, the ending is unsatisfactory. It takes a lot of work to finish the game, as it's big. You spend a lot of time learning the various rituals and managing the ingredients, and the reward for all this work is extremely terse. The difference between the better ending and the worse ending is 3 words. It feels... stingy! The author could have given us a slightly more expansive description of the ending as a reward.

- alex19EP, August 29, 2019

- florzinha, July 12, 2019

- Steffan LW Sitka (Los Angeles), March 3, 2019

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Too rational and systematic magic gets boring, December 8, 2018
I was one of the backers for this project. I think the game it's full of original ideas and the parser does impressive things, but most of the game is about having to learn this complex magical system involving boring mechanical rituals. Burning things, combining physical elements... Learning the system is too tedious and getting a ritual done is not very rewarding (there isnīt much fun in the descriptions of the effects) so I didnīt have any incentive to go through. The fantastic here is filtered by a rational lens that spoils all the fun.

- caitirilt, November 19, 2018

- kevan, September 23, 2018

- Squidi, June 22, 2018

- dgtziea, May 9, 2018

- becdot, March 26, 2018

- Guenni (At home), January 23, 2018

- mjw1007, January 15, 2018

- Tross, November 18, 2017

- karlnp (Vancouver, BC), August 23, 2017

- jamesb (Lexington, Kentucky), August 12, 2017

- Targor (Germany), May 19, 2017

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