Secret of the Silver Blades review by Al Giovetti
By Al Giovetti
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Secret of the Silver Blades
The game is now available in Interplay's The Forgotten Realms RPG Archives.
This is SSI's fourth "gold box game," their line of "Fantasy Role-Playing Epic"s using TSR (editor: TSR=temporary and stay resident)'s AD&D (Advanced Dungeons and Dragons) sytem. Set in the Forgotten Realms fantasy game world, Silver Blades concentrates on strategy and tactics for a small band of up to six characters and two NPC's (non-player characters).
In point of fact, the gold box series is actually based upon the AD&D Second edition rules that does not have monks, which is the favorite player of many dungeon delving teams. Many will lament the loss of the monks, while others have hacked the game and find that monks are within the system, just not implemented in the full release version.
Conclusion: If you enjoyed the Pool, Bonds or Krynn, you will like this one. If you haven't played any of them, though, try Bonds first. It conforms strictly to AD&D rules and was developed with the cooperation and approval of TSR. The story is detailed and ineteresting and carries you right along. If you like the best AD&D combat simulator avalable, one that comes with a great story, this is it.
Skill Level: Intermediate
One very enjoyable part of this game is that it allows for advancement not provided for in many AD&D paper and pencil games. Thieves can advance to a maximum level of 18. Other classes can advance to a maximum level of 15. Many gamers object to limitations on the levels to which characters can advance, because these limitations are too restrictive to game-play. Limitations in level for AD&D games is explained by the limitations designed intot the scenerio itself. A planned scenario will deal with even higher levels fo play, and this game is designed for high-level play.
The story begins sometime after the events in Curse of the Azure Bonds, which was a sequel to the Pool of Radiance. The game lets you transfer characters from Pool to Bonds, and from Pool or Bonds to Blades.
Many people have had trouble with the character transfer routine. So did I. Perhaps my inability to transfer characters was due to my own stupidity.
The game attempted to access the characters, but the characters never showed up in the group. I got around this deficiency using the training menu's "modify character" option, which lets you change the character statistics, hit points, and character name to generate custom characters.
Alternatively, you can use the prerolled characters provided with the game, or roll your own by choosing from a list of six races: Dwarves, Elves, Half-Elves, Gnomes, Halflings and Humans.
There are six randomly gnerated ability scores: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, Charisma, and Hit Points. Rolled characters are given 200,000 experience points and the levels are determined as per AD&D rules relating to class and experience.
Depending upon your random attribute scores and race, you can pick from six character classes: Clerics, Fighters, Rangers, Paladins, Magic-users, and Thieves. Non-humans can be multi-class characters with up to three professions to divide experience and hit point advancement amoung. Multi-class characters are limited in advancement by race, Strength and Intelligence (except for ththieves, who have no limitations). For example, a Half-Elf cannot advance beyond Cleric level 5 but can advance up to Thief level 18.
More three-way splits
Multi-class characters also split experience points three ways, so that 200,000 experience on a three-class character is 66,666 per class. I suggest that the only multi-class character you use in this game be a Dwarf Fighter/Thief, who can weild Fighter weapons and advance up to 9th level Figher and 18th level Thief.
Human characters can be dual-classs characters who are one class for the first part of their lives, then change to a new one. Once their level in the new class exceeds the level in the old class, they can use both classes and will gain Hit Points normally. A dual-class Human Fighter Turned Thief cold be a greater asset than the Dwarf multi-class Fighter Thief. (There race limtations have aggravated some players to the point of editing their character files to allow for the higher levels for non-Human characters.) The high level of race descrimination in AD&D should dissuade anyone who follows the rules from using any but Human characters in their parties.
Magic and its properties
The magic system is straight out of the AD&D rulebooks. Spells are liited to only a dozen or so types per level. Minor differences will be noted by grognards, such as the distance from the point zero that a group fireball does damage changes with level and power. The game makes no allowance for this feature.
Spells are limited to only a dozen or so types per level. The Forgotten Realms game setting lacks the overly complex magic system of the Dragonlance fantasy game setting used in Champions of Krynn, another gold box game from SSI. Many players differ in their preferences of the two magic systems. I am prejudiced -- I like both systems.
Due to the higher character levels in Blades over Bonds, new spells were added: 7th and 6th level spells for Clerics and Mgic-users and 2nd level Druid spells for high-level Rangers. In addition, the higher levels add to certain spells that use level as a multiplier of power, such as Fireball and Magic Missile.
One of the main objections to past games in this series has been their limited auto-mapping, for the automapping system wfeaure was disabled in many of the dungeon and wilderness areas, which made it virtually useless there. Several areas of this game can be auto-mapped after your group completes a few battles to "clear" a small local territory of hostile monsters. Thease automappable areas include the town, the administration building, the Well of Knowledge, the dungeon, the storm giant villiage, and the castle. Automapping does not appear to work in the ice rifts or the ruins.
Since many more areas now use automapping, one of the main objections to this system seems to be alleviated. If the game designers could figure a way to use automapping throughout the game, including areas like the ice rifts and the ruins, the problem with automapping would be completely resolved.
The left side of the combat screen is devoted to "semi-three dimensional" overhead oblique angle perspective of the battle (editor: Back in 1990 three dimensions meant a semi-side view of a two dimensional screen or an overhead or 3/4 oblique view. Not what we call three dimensional in 1998.). The characters can move in any of eight directions by using the numerical keypad of the keyboard., mouse or joystick. Combat is resolved on a turn basis, depending on the combatants relative dexterity. The higher your dexterity, the more times you hit your opponent in the same elapsed time. A delayed turn phase accomodates the time it takes to cast spells, or allows you to time your movement and attack.
Combat can be handled manually or in auto mode. Some battles can be fought successfully in auto mode from beginning to end, while others require manual control of the back rank's ranged weapons, such as Archers and spellcasters.
Where Clerics or powerful wizards are in the back ranks fo the enemy, you hit the space bar to disable auo mode and use ranged weapons to keep these poserful characters from casting spells such as Hold Person and Death Strike.
Auto mode sacrifices common sense strategy and also results in movement that is less than advantageous in many situations, where characters run behind a wall, away from the enemy, move erratically from side to side rather than taking a direct route to the enemy. Perhaps the game designers should make the autom mode movement a little more intelligent.
Another auto mode improvement that could be made concerns ranged weapons. With all the group on automatic non-magical play (Alt-A), characters with Bows who can't get to an enemy character should be able to use the bow until they can get to an enemy with a hand weapon. The AI has the characters run, without shooting arrows, until they come into melee range.
As in Krynn, combat has been streamlined. The action is quicker, and you will not wage any five-hour battles, like those in Pool. (editor: Remember the ambush in Sokol Keep when you were up against hordes of orc fighters, archers, and mages.)Many battles are over in less than five minutes. The flight of arrows is abbreviated, with a few refinements the combat system could be a real joy.
Everybody must get stoned
There are a lot of high-level monsters, including an abundance of Basilisks and Medusae. Your characters are constantly getting stoned by them. Clerics have a defense against this in the spell Stone to Flesh, but it may not be as effective as silver shields, which reflect the gaze of Medusae and Basilisks. (See below for related tips)
Liek Krynn, this game has mouse support. I prefer the keyboard control of characters over mouse control, since I don't want arthritis sin the first two fingers of my right hand. I like to use all my fingers. But those who enjoy mice say the interface speeds up the game and makes operations less tedious. I don't agree.
The joystick is also supported for movement and may even be superior to the mouse for some players. In a few situations like flying a dragon, mouse control excels over the keyboard. I do not find the joystick particularly superior to the keyboard for this game, but I did give it the old school try.
Northwest of Moonsea
The adventure kicks off in the town of New Verdigris in the Dragonspine Mountains, which are just northwest of Moonsea and the ruins of Phlan, the setting for Pool, and northeast of Tilverton, the setting for Bonds. The party has been teleported there by the mayor of New Verdigris.
Three hundred years ago Verdigris was a thriving mining town and home to the Well of Knowledge. The mines produced the highest quality and quantity of gem stones in all the realms. About that time at the nearby Castle of the twins, a battle erupte between two brothers: Oswulf, a Paladin, and Eldamar, a Mage who, witht the help of the evil god Bane, was reborn as an evil Lich called the Dreadlord.
Oswulf led a small force of high-level adventurers called the Silver Blades against the Dreadlord and his Black Circle followers. Rather than slay his brother, Oswulf had his Mages and Clerics cast a spell to freeze the valley permanently.
Oswulf fell while protesting the Silver Blades from the Black Circle's final counterattack. The New Verdigris officials ask the party to help clear the mines of the evil creatures that are being released by the Black Circle, and unravel the 300-year old Cold spell holding the glacier over the Castle of the Twins and the valley floor.
Three coins in a fountain
You will be assisted in this goal by the Well of Knowledge, which imparts information and occasionally grants wishes in return for payment in gems. Your first mission is to free the Well from its captors so it can help direct your quest.
Due to an amusing error in the mayor's wish at the Well of Knowledge, the adventurers arrive nude and are given magical weapons, gems, jewels, and platinum as payment for thier work. You must outfit your group with armor and weapons, since the weapons given by the town treasury leave its members nearly as naked as when they arrived in the town.
No wilderness travel this time
Graphics are much the same as in Pool and the other "gold box" games. But this thime there's no wilderness travel, for the area in and around New Verdigris is very large. The action takes place in the town and the ruins, the Well of Knowledge, the Old Administration Building, a temple, a 10-level mine shaft and a 10-level castle dungeon, miles of "ice rifts" omplete with a Storm Giant city, and three levels of the castle itself.
While you're exploring, the left side of the screen shows a first-person view of your surroundings. As you walk down the dungeon corridors, the walls that scroll past are of many colorful and varied media, lending atmosphere to the chase.
Monsters and other NPCs grow larger as they approach, until they fill the dungeon window with their two-fram animated visage. The graphics for some of the monsters differs from those in earlier games, and in some cases they did not change for the better.
Special characters and situations resuslt in the whole top half of the screen being devoted to a computer art display that, unfortunately, is not animated. One of these displays shows the evil Dreadlord himself in the top level of the castle.
Graphics are EGA (enhanced graphics adapter), but the do look better on my VGA (very Enhanced graphics adapter) monitor that on the EGA monitor in 16-color mode. VGA in 256-color mode is not supported. 4-color CGA and Hercules are supported, but with less visual beauty.
AnimationAnimation is 2-frame style.
Voice ActorsNo voice actors or voice overs were used. All script is read from text files.
Music ScoreSeveral sound boards are supported. The game with the sound boards plays music only during the titles. If you skip through the statrting screens as fast as I do -- to get on with the game! -- the value of the sound boards is exactly nil.
Sound EffectsThe PC speaker handles the sound effects during play, and the external speaker is superior to the sound boards for footsteps and the clang of Sword on Halberd. Tandy owners will find the three-voice sound chip supported, with a result superior to the PC clone external speaker
UtilitiesBesides a 12-page rule book, you get a 60-page Adventurers Journal that has fewer pages of paragraps thn preceding games. There are only 17 pages of paragraphs, while Bonds has 30 pages of paragraphs, Krynn has 22 pages and Pool had 18. Except for the combat system, I find the story the best part of the game, so I would like to see more paragraphs, not fewer in future games. The best part of a game is reading and living the story, which makes it just like being there. Silver Blades has more of the fell of "being there" than any AD&D game since Pool of Radiance.
As with the paragraphs, there are fewer 56.25 inch disks than in the previous gold box games (two 5.25 indhers, half as many as Krynn), I wondered if the authors found a way to compress the program or if the quality has been reduced somehow. There was no physical evidence of a loss in quality.
I finished this quest in about 20-30 hours. The game shuts down after encountering the last room of the Dreadloard, so do not enter the last room until you have finished exploring.
Multi-player FeaturesThis is a single player game which allows you to travel in a party of six player characters and two NPCs.
Cheats, Hints, Walkthrough
ReferencesThis game is now available though the Interplay great games collection. Contact Interplay for your copy today.
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