Moraff's World (PC) review
"In the early nineties, Moraffware was as ambitious as small developers could get. A bundle of titles were released in a fairly short time frame, all with free shareware versions to try out and the option to register to get a bigger and better version of the game. The help files associated with each game spoke of even bigger plans, including a movie and a rock band themed after said games. Neither of those have ever come about, but some of Steve Moraff's games of that age survive to have some mea..."
In the early nineties, Moraffware was as ambitious as small developers could get. A bundle of titles were released in a fairly short time frame, all with free shareware versions to try out and the option to register to get a bigger and better version of the game. The help files associated with each game spoke of even bigger plans, including a movie and a rock band themed after said games. Neither of those have ever come about, but some of Steve Moraff's games of that age survive to have some measure of fame on the internet now a decade later, and that alone is impressive. First and foremost among these surviving games is what has generally been considered Moraffware's best title, Moraff's World.
Moraff's World is the second title in a trio of dungeon hacks, following the original (and also popular) Moraff's Revenge and coming in before the lesser known Moraff's Dungeons of the Unforgiven. Its formula is tried and true: create a character, descend into a big multifloor dungeon, beat up monsters, find treasures, and come back up to town to buy better weapons and gain levels to become even more powerful. This has worked for a hundred such games, and the challenge in creating a successful dungeon hack is in making it big enough and giving the player enough options to make things interesting, without overcomplicating the gameplay. Moraff's World finds just about the right balance, making only one real misstep in being too easy overall.
A game of Moraff's World involves making a character - there are seven character classes to choose from and also a bundle of races which help influence your starting statistics - and then challenging a 200 level dungeon with him. At the top of the dungeon is the town level, littered with shops, inns, banks and temples to provide various services, and of course a bundle of ladders that lead down into the dungeon. Each level of the dungeon is quite big and it would take quite some time just to completely explore *one* level, let alone the entire dungeon; in a typical game, though, you'd go down deeper into the dungeon as soon as your character is powerful enough to survive an expedition like that. Nonetheless, the game's scope is enormous and this is impressed on you right from the start.
There isn't a true victory goal in the game, either, although there are obvious ones to pursue (reaching the bottom level of the dungeon, and/or defeating a set of boss monsters along the way including a final foe at the 200th level). It's up to each player to determine for himself what he wants to do and how he wants to go about it, and the ability to save your game anywhere, town or dungeon, makes Moraff's World very suitable for a pick up and play mentality. It's the kind of game you wish they made for handhelds.
Your interface consists of a bird's eye view automap, as well as visuals of what you can see in each of the four directions. You'll thus be able to see where each corridor leads, and more importantly, where monsters are approaching. There is a wide variety of monsters in the game that become more powerful, numerous and varied as you descend deeper into the dungeon, and most of them are pretty well drawn. A couple look horrible, but in a comical way that suggests they are intentionally crude drawings. Virtually every enemy has its own graphic, though, with some reuse taking place only in differently coloured dragons, and poisonous variants of regular enemies.
Communicating with the game is done entirely with the keyboard, using the cursor keys to move around and a wide variety of keyboard shortcuts to perform such actions as take ladders up and down, cast spells, use items and everything else you may need to do. An inbuilt help function explains all of these commands and is very helpful in getting a new player up to speed. While the huge range of commands looks overwhelming at first, in truth it won't take more than an hour to get used to the basics and a couple of hours' play to get a feel for how to best go about the game. From that point on, it can last you for ages. I started playing this game's shareware version more than a decade ago and I'm still playing the full version today, if that's any indication.
Compared to its predecessor Moraff's Revenge, Moraff's World has a far wider range of options. I mentioned before that there are seven character classes now (as opposed to two in the original), and the main difference between these classes is in how well they fight and which spells they have access to. There are an impressive 120 different spells in the game now, divided in a group that can only be cast in town and drains spell points permanently, spells that any mage can cast out of combat, and specific spells for either wizards or priests which are themed accordingly. Wizards get all the nifty fireballs and bolts of lightning while priests get healing, protection and stat boosting. Both sides can however invest spell points permanently in making scrolls or wands that let them cast some of the other school's spells. A wide variety of magic items exists as well, including favorites like the Holy Hand Grenade that instantly kills a monster or the Floor Slosher that's perfect for going down a level when there's no ladder nearby. All of these items have to be found by killing a lot of monsters, and in general they seem a little less generous with magical goodies than they were in Revenge.
Although Moraff's World is a huge game with plenty to do to keep you busy for many hours, it does have a few flaws, some of which even made me long for its undeniably more primitive predecessor. The first complaint is that while there are seven character classes, not all are viable for long term play, and the ones that are aren't *that* different from each other. Three characters types - the Fighter, the Monk and the Sage - are impaired when it comes to magic. The Monk and the Sage get very few spell points and the Fighter doesn't get any magic at all. But magic is so central to high level play that these characters simply stop being viable after the first few dungeon levels. A Fighter may be able to hit his enemies hard, but if he can't heal himself, can't use magic to easily descend or ascend through the dungeon, can't protect himself against such nasty things like being poisoned or having precious experience levels drained, and can't take out the enemies doing this with a single reliable offensive combat spell, that means he won't survive past level 20 or so. That's 90% of the game still unexplored by the time the Fighter really doesn't work out anymore. The Sage and the Monk can get slightly farther than that, but no more.
That leaves four viable classes; the Priest and the Mage, and two variants on them which have more magic power but less ability in combat, the Worshipper and the Wizard. These are all good characters to use, and their main distinction lies in that half of them get all the priestly spells and the other half the wizardly ones. But the ability to use scrolls and wands of the other school - and in fact, to make these yourself while you're in town - blurs the differences between these classes. Basically, a Priest will rely mostly on his priestly spells but still keep a wand or two handy with a powerful damage spell in them, whereas the Mage will work the other way around, making sure he has access to such important Priest spells as Resist Level Drain. The difference between the magic and combat oriented variants isn't so big, either. Sure, at first the Worshipper is much worse in combat than the Priest but doesn't run out of spell points that quickly. But once your character reaches a high level, it really doesn't matter anymore if you have 2000 hit points and 400 spell points, or 1000 and 800. You'll rock either way and won't play the characters much differently.
A problem related to the above is that, as long as you are actually playing one of these effective classes, the game isn't all that difficult anymore. The first few dungeon levels can be challenging as your character is still weak, but once you're zooming around the dungeon with Descend, Ascend and teleportation spells, taking out enemies with souped up weapons or powerful combat magic, healing yourself entirely with a single spell and having Resist spells handy against everything that *is* dangerous (such as the level drainers), you can pretty much deal with anything. It is entirely possible at this point to take a lvl 20 character down to dungeon level 60, defeat a few monsters, warp back up to town and rise ten levels at once. The only combat that will really pose a challenge at this point is against the various bosses, and even they can be foiled with the right combination of spells without too much trouble. This doesn't mean the dungeon trek is any less fun - it is still cool to kick so much ass and return to town with even more experience and magic items - but the constant thrill of danger that Moraff's Revenge had is gone. Heck, even if you do die in Moraff's World, you can make sure you have a Raise Dead contract with the temple in town that'll let you cheat death at a reasonable price.
A final complaint and really more of a nitpick is that there is clear evidence of unfinished game elements throughout Moraff's World. No game ever has everything included in the final version that was planned during the design phase, but usually such evidence is removed. Here, however, you can still catch glimpses of what could have been but wasn't, and that's a little disappointing. For instance, the Sage's character description says "good for exploring without being noticed. Gains experience just for exploring." This is simply not true. The Sage gets spotted by monsters same as everybody and can only get experience by killing monsters. Considering that she's not a viable character class as it stands, it's all the more frustrating to know they had such cool plans for her that were never implemented. Similarly annoying is to get yourself a Ring of Magic Protection, only to find that there are no enemies in the game that *use* magic (and the help file does indeed say that this ring "does nothing").
But when all is said and done, these complaints are only what keeps Moraff's World from being outstanding rather than very good. It's still a great game among dungeon hacks, a good improvement over Moraff's Revenge in all aspects except for the challenge, and an excellent time waster even twelve years after it was released. So while it's not *quite* what it could have been, it's still well worth playing. The shareware version remains easy to find online and gives a good taste of what to expect, although it of course ends on you just as it's getting good. Finding the full version may be a bit more of a challenge, although Moraffware still sells it on special request. Nonetheless, if you're looking for an old school dungeon hack to waste some time with, you could do a whole lot worse than Moraff's World.
Community review by sashanan (June 22, 2009)
Sashanan doesn't drink coffee; he takes tea, my dear. And sometimes writes reviews. His roots lie with the Commodore 64 he grew up with, and his gaming remains fragmented among the very old, the somewhat old, and rarely the new.
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