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Wrath of Denethenor (Apple II) artwork

Wrath of Denethenor (Apple II) review


"Wrath of Denethenor seems to be Sierra's attempt to do Ultima II right the second time. Dying's tougher, and instead of time periods, your lone character moves from one world to the next. Unforunately, the formula's apparent: talk to king, beat up monsters, get better armor and weapons, steal a boat in plain view, and move to the next world. The outside's too black-and-white, and the inside's too orange. The keyboard controls are bizarre alphabet soup even by 80s standards, and sim..."



Wrath of Denethenor seems to be Sierra's attempt to do Ultima II right the second time. Dying's tougher, and instead of time periods, your lone character moves from one world to the next. Unforunately, the formula's apparent: talk to king, beat up monsters, get better armor and weapons, steal a boat in plain view, and move to the next world. The outside's too black-and-white, and the inside's too orange. The keyboard controls are bizarre alphabet soup even by 80s standards, and simple mountain and floor graphics are uglier. This presumably avoided copyright issues with the departed Richard Garriott, whose Ultima III overhauled the top-down RPG right.

Sierra certainly tried, though. WoD emphasizes efficiency in killing monsters without dire punishment for quick mistakes. One outdoors move gains a hit point, and seven lose a stamina point. Food buys stamina. There are no levels--just intelligence boosts to improve spell power when talking to the king of each new land, or new weapons and armor to find or buy. This part's wretchedly random. Most monsters drop around five gold pieces until one drops a longbow worth 900. In dungeons, enemies tend to drop spell reagents not useful until a hidden townsman gives you that spell's chant--or you cull it from a cheat sheet.

Either way, combat's a pain. You must hold control- and IJKM to attack an enemy, then specify where to aim: high, low or the middle. These pop quizzes aren't hard, as you aim high for birds and low for snakes, but it's easy to flip which enemy you're attacking and where you aim. Enemies often jump around from next to you to above you or, worse, diagonally, where you can't retaliate. Thankfully, they don't press this advantage. Wizards' magic bursts send you hurtling back into a mountain or sea barrier, which can be twenty squares. Late in the game, since you don't earn gold proportional to monster damage, you'll spend a lot of time running, freezing monsters, and repeating, praying reagents don't run out.

Even the one convenient feature--WoD fills in the full spell chant after you know it and type in the first letter--doesn't quash the busy work. If you unlock a door with a charm, you'll have to re-unlock it to pass back. Here the old save/explore/reset semi-cheat feels fully justified in towns with several locked doors, given how randomly you gain reagents from battle.

Towns don't provide much character, either. Jokes moderately amusing in the first world get repeated, albeit with synonyms, later: KILL N STUFF sells arms, and townsmen are most interesting to talk to after you've gotten all the clues and start killing and looting. The "welcome to X" sign lists you as wanted, which is nicer than the measly gold you get. Unusual touches like a door in a mountain defy belief, and another town holds an amphitheater with nobody worth visiting. So finding the new portal to the hidden world isn't special. It's too much like the last.

The dungeons remind me of the old Yiddish joke: "Waiter, the food is terrible. And such small portions!" Their orange tiles match with indoor town areas. While it's fun to stake out--or avoid--the monsters that constantly pop up and use the dungeon's wrapping qualities to move around, it's just walls and floor--and, yes, senseless death and traps. Walls map out some amusing messages, but generally the treasure pits are more trouble than they're worth. Still, some of the mazes are creative, and more dungeons and fewer towns would've served WoD better.

By the end, there are several fake Denethenors, and the whole outerworld-as-maze thing becomes a nuisance as enemies pack into places that need defense. You must choose between several teleports, which are barely animated forest, with wrong choices being brutal. The final confrontation with Denethenor requires stealth and ingenuity but also stamina and hit points from level grinding. And one last spell, from the right guy among countless identical townsmen--or a cheat sheet. If you must play, take the latter and don't feel guilty. Better yet, start with maximum hit points, stamina and gold immediately. WoD's quite pleasant that way. While it tries to be epic, too many towns are like each other, and it offers little more than silly jokes. It sprawls without ever achieving personality.

Rating: 4/10

aschultz's avatar
Community review by aschultz (December 29, 2009)

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CoarseDragon posted January 04, 2010:

I may be one of the only few who actually remember (and played) this game. I recall resting in a mountain cubby-hole to get hit points back and when I was able to see the map again there were hundreds (yes literally) of monsters icons on the other side of the mountain. I have been looking for this game for quite a while now but could never find it (C64 version). I don't want to play it again I just want to have it because I used to work with a division of Sierra.

Anyway, your review was quite fitting to the game I remember.
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aschultz posted January 04, 2010:

Thanks...I remember that too! Though I never found a perfect niche, I found places where monsters would be on the other side. I remember casting freeze spells to hook around when I was almost drained of HP.

I didn't realize the outside got so populated. I'm not sure how often monsters get generated or if there is a maximum--but yes, you did have to find niches there!

Also, I just realized that the author, Christopher Crim, has his own web page. In it he mentions he was 19 or 20 when he wrote the game. Those are mitigating circumstances I should write into the review. Crimdom.net is the site, if you're curious!
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CoarseDragon posted January 04, 2010:

I was shocked to see how many monsters showed up and was glad they ended up on the other side of the mountain. That is about the only thing I remember about the game - monsters everywhere - oh, and using torches that could never be put out forcing you to buy more and more of them.


(Thanks for that link.)
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aschultz posted January 04, 2010:

It's pretty funny once you get a good spell and can blast the enemies--but yeah, having all those enemies nearby is intimidating.

NP about the link. You'd be surprised how many former Apple programmers have websites, etc. After I found three or so, I began to search a bit more aggressively. The most interesting one may be for Bruce Webster's Sundog, a review of which I meant to enter in the Brevity tourney. I still might, this year. Maybe you've got an old old game whose author has a web presence--crazy what can turn up.
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CoarseDragon posted January 05, 2010:

A couple of guys I worked with in QA at the Sierra campus in Oakhurst have a web site. I have one myself but I suck at HTML so it just sits there and I mostly use it to transfer pictures and files from work to home.

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