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Bloodstone (PC) artwork

Bloodstone (PC) review

"Before Bloodstone, I always took boats in RPGs for granted. Maybe I'd have to complete a weird quest or even overpay a greedy merchant to acquire one, but really, there was little doubt I'd get a boat at some point. There'd always be someone there to help me with transport so I could save his world. "

Before Bloodstone, I always took boats in RPGs for granted. Maybe I'd have to complete a weird quest or even overpay a greedy merchant to acquire one, but really, there was little doubt I'd get a boat at some point. There'd always be someone there to help me with transport so I could save his world.

In Tarq, there were no boats. Using magical tiles in teleportal houses worked well enough to get to the outer inhabited isles. But my party could not reach Ilakasek and castle Entemar, home of the gods, until I met a reclusive old crank who claimed you could travel on the sea, not just over it. He was too lazy to collect materials to build a second boat. So I scoured Tarq for ship parts. Often I traded down valuable magic artifacts for them, or even for clues about the parts.

All for Khamalkhad, the magic axe of Rohrkad-the-Creator that would unite Tarq's dwarven clans against the invading Taldors. In building the boat, I had already negotiated rivalries between warring villages, brought former friends together and even ran love letters across the land. So the ice caverns where Khamalkhad lay felt more like a victory lap than the game's last chance to wear me down. Fights and ambushes lay ahead, but my party had questioned conventional wisdom and still trusted the gods, so what was one last fight?

And this breaks the formula of the previous Magic Candle games. You cross your new land, researching in libraries and nagging reclusive wizards, to learn the ceremony to repair the giant candle protecting each land. But by MC3, these rituals became increasingly convoluted, the magic chamber buried deeper in a tower behind a dungeon. Near the end, fear I'd forgotten an item overshadowed the magic and wonder that built up during the game.

Your mind can wander, because party improvement is based more on exploration than continual fighting. You can apprentice your starting group of craftsmen once you find fighters in taverns. Then, off to new towns. Pay attention to merchants, as shrewd traders who learn teleportal locations and combinations can quickly afford the best arms, or training that improves your skills quicker than combat experience. Magic mushrooms help defeat dungeon-room monsters more powerful than you, so you gain that magic axe. Whispering secret words to sleeping gods bumps your attributes further. Through it all, libraries and out-of-the-way wizards provide back stories on the next few crazy relics to uncover. So I hoped for another Magic Candle game--sans candle.

Mindcraft obliged brilliantly with the prequel Bloodstone. The new name, the pyramidal mountains the gods haven't sanded down yet, and the ancient Nordic style font make for obvious, welcome changes. Terminology is quainter: librarians are now loremasters, and spellbooks are totems, with many spells renamed, and Bloodstone retains evocative names the series seems to crank out effortlessly: Sartuma, Delqafi, Phoroshe, Noriin, etc. But best of all, Bloodstone takes only its design seriously. It sends you out for items that can't be magical, among people guarding or coveting them too jealously. And it starts with a Taldor ambush you brush off quickly. The implication: dwarves can't organize against THESE guys?

They can't. The average Tarq native is lovably devoid of basic social skills and bears the silliest grudges. He'll explain that it's not worth hooking around the mountain to visit the rival village to the west, or that there's a powerful mage by the shore who's just too cranky. Many know more magic than is good for them. So you get poor chaps like Doroma, who has walled himself in Kireini Tower to avoid parental pressure from his father, an evil wizard. He's learned enough magic to set traps and teleports, but really, he just wants to study flowers. So you need to get him a flower book, which you get from inside the all-male village, on a tip from the all-female village that hates them. Tlengles, a red lizard-man race from the outer isles who shun vowels, can't avoid horrendous jokes, then drop hints at weird times. You sense everyone needs more than a magic axe.

They sure know how to build temples, though. These dark structures, more intricate than villages or dungeons, reflect the awe your semi-civilized people hold their gods in. Stairs spiral to ledges. Doors in the high walls may lead to combat or link nearby but separate corridors. This quasi-teleport, combined with overpasses--a maze element sadly underused in top-down RPG's--makes pretzeling through to find the sleeping god dizzying but rewarding. Unless it's Palelil, who created the Taldors. He improves your swimming and carpentry and goes back to sleep. Gods bear grudges too, I guess.

Towers also feature dizzying stairwork, but their focus is more on teleports and backgrounds, with tapestries and living quarters between dungeon combat rooms. These feature a fixed set of monsters, randomly placed, with treasure in the corner. Where fights can usually be decided in one round if you're clever. The final one takes five, but you can freeze enemies for two of them. Once you learn high-powered offensive spells aren't the best, and you combine the right ones with mushrooms that triple your damage or speed, you can strike monsters before they turn invisible or cast a silence spell. Since money shouldn't be a problem, you'll always be prepared. As Bloodstone tells other jokes and combat is rare enough, smacking monsters with ten times your hit points, and basking in your pretend underdog status, never loses its novelty.

Ambushes provide the only serious drama, because monsters get to attack first. Even then you can often flip your party formation over the trigger square. You have six guys in a 3x3 box, so if you can pivot them about your leader, you can jump over the square in narrow corridors. You can even disband a comrade temporarily, flip your reduced party in an especially narrow corridor, and invite him back. It's cheating, yes, but the abstract puzzles involved are genuinely satisfying. And Magic Candle's big on planning, anyway.

The only bummer here is sound. It's tough to configure, with a small executable big on technical jargon. If you get it wrong, the game freezes when it awards skill points. During the Taldors' opening ambush, the game can make a bad first impression, though thankfully muting the sound lets you through. And there's little loss. While each spell makes a different noise, and your party groans amusingly when poisoned or diseased, it boasts nothing beyond what you'd expect. But given the lack of continuous action, and that Mindcraft was close to folding when Bloodstone came out, they were wise to gloss this over.

The Magic Candle series's sensible mix of planning and exploration carved out a niche of relaxed games that covered plot faults easily. The designers always had an ear for names, and while dungeons occasionally felt formulaic or item quests felt arbitrary, players never had character improvement to worry about. Bloodstone stretches this solid background into an engrossing, beautiful and subtly hilarious prequel with constant clever misdirections. Instead of hanging out in libraries and dungeons, or talking to leaders, you have to deal with the people you're trying to save. You start to unite them before you get the magic axe that finishes the job. And so Bloodstone feels like the epic it claims to be, even after it weeded out the dragged-out bits from its predecessors.

aschultz's avatar
Community review by aschultz (July 08, 2009)

Andrew Schultz used to write a lot of reviews and game guides but made the transition to writing games a while back. He still comes back, wiser and more forgiving of design errors, to write about games he loved, or appreciates more, now.

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