Enchanter

by Marc Blank and Dave Lebling

Episode 1 of The Enchanter series
Fantasy, Zorkian
1983

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The Best Zork Yet, September 18, 2021
by Drew Cook (Baton Rouge, Louisiana)

1983. For the first time since Zork, the dream team of Marc Blank and Dave Lebling reunited. Both were seasoned implementors, as their work on Deadline, Zork II, Zork III, and Starcross attested. Lebling in particular had, in Starcross, created a Zork-style large, open map filled with puzzles and treasures that actually served a purpose in their game world.

Lebling's evolving mastery of the form must have been a great benefit to the team. Back is a large, open map filled with puzzles and treasures. In Enchanter, Blank and Lebling come up with Infocom's most exciting treasure yet: spell scrolls. The protagonist is the titular Enchanter--a novice wizard who can memorize and cast a variety of spells from a spell book. New spells can be added to the book, and it is consistently exciting to do so. Each adds new possibilities for gameplay. The implementation of spells is atypically expansive: you can cast spells on all sorts of things, whether doing so advances the plot or not.

In Enchanter, you are sent to the fortress of the warlock Krill, an evil wizard who is casting a spell that will forever cloak the world in darkness. It is explained that Krill would immediately detect and kill a powerful wizard, so the Circle of Enchanters sends you instead. Within, there are some truly excellent puzzles, a death cult, and a rapidly escalating sense of doom. Since no more zany, madcap hijinks remain to be ported from the PDP version of Zork, Blanc and Lebling are finally free to create a tonally consistent game in the Zork universe. The fortress--and the world outside it--deteriorate daily, and the nights keep getting longer. There are some good jokes, too, but the balance works better than Zork III's text at war with itself, pitting as it does the old versus the new.

Enchanter is quite fair. My only quibble is that becoming a light source makes the game unwinnable. While I do get it--how would the player ever sleep?--it feels obnoxious after Zork II's ending. Standout favorites include The Unseen Terror and the talking turtle. Talking to animals unfortunately doesn't reach Deadline levels of complexity, but it's still a lot of fun. There are surprises I have not mentioned--why spoil your good time?

Those who played Zork III will recognize the scene from "Zork IV." If Lebling and Blank struggled to incorporate it, it doesn't show. In fact, that's a way to sum up Enchanter: the struggle never shows. This is a well-designed map filled with fair puzzles of reasonable difficulty. The new magic system is is intuitive and satisfying, and it constantly rewards the player's progress. Everything just settles into place. Enchanter is an impeccably crafted adventure game, the as-yet best Zorkian Infocom title.

I suppose that Enchanter is not Infocom's best game. It is, however, my favorite. I encourage everyone to at least try casting a few spells or meeting briefly with the protagonist from the Zork Trilogy (seriously!)

A warning: Enchanter has hunger, thirst, and sleep timers. I found them less intrusive than those is Planetfall, but they're present all the same. Dreams provide some useful clues, so there is at least a point to sleeping. Like other games of its ilk, Enchanter offers little in terms of plot or characterization.

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