Champions of Krynn (PC) review
"The AD&D Gold Box games never evolved terribly much, but on the other hand, they never did anything too wrong, either. And though the Krynn series moved to a different continent, you really have more of the same. You have a new race and moon phase-dependent magic classes, and some new monster names and character classes. There's a tricky end series it's hard to turn back from, but all in all it's a comfortably little game you should be confident you can plug-and-chug through. It's great to feel ..."
The AD&D Gold Box games never evolved terribly much, but on the other hand, they never did anything too wrong, either. And though the Krynn series moved to a different continent, you really have more of the same. You have a new race and moon phase-dependent magic classes, and some new monster names and character classes. There's a tricky end series it's hard to turn back from, but all in all it's a comfortably little game you should be confident you can plug-and-chug through. It's great to feel safe while you're saving a fantasy world from evil monsters that subdued entire populations.
You still have the familiar features from previous AD&D games: combined classes, ability to adjust character stats, the cute menu at the bottom you can manipulate with arrows or keys, and the combat where you punch the number keys in and, boom! You can run into enemies, or you can cast spells. You can even transfer characters in, with a possibility of shifting to new subclasses. There are a couple. First the Kender, who have lousy armor but make up for it with a boomerang weapon called a hoopak and an ability to taunt the enemies to focus on them instead of your magic user or front-line. This makes the Kender a de facto thief/mage. Sometimes you'll need to outsmart the oversized henchmen even more than usual, so they are handy. There's a new class of knight similar to a paladin, and you can also choose red and white mages, who get some different sub-spells, and whose power depends on the phase of the moon. You don't need any of the special mage characteristics and spells to get through this game, but it's a nice idea.
And in fact CoK is easy enough even if you do not transfer characters in. Yours will start at level 1, but after finding some secret treasure, they'll pump up pretty quickly. And there is a lot in Throtl, the besieged temple east of the outpost where you start. An outpost, in AD&D world, is a town without the 16x16 map area. The only potential culture shock is that enemies have different names. Baaz are like other games' orcs and goblins. You've got some catacombs once you've cleared Throtl, very cleverly constructed so a long winding path fits in to the usual box. Backtracking is never a problem, though it takes a while. It may be better just to replay a fight, or take a chance resting to memorize spells, hoping you don't get caught. DosBox is great for this.
Given the direct orders from your outpost and the lack of abstract puzzles, there's only so much a new AD&D game can offer. The old formula works to make a game, and it works to plow through the game. The tactical combat offers few surprises for those who've played it before, and you can usually goad the enemies into giving you the first attack. You form a line, they form a line, and they run at you while guarding. Similarly, while attacking a dragon that is two squares by two, it's a lot of fun, as you turn it around and backstab it continually. Some mages drop annoying spells, but for the most part you can be pretty confident you'll win a fight unless you stayed in the same place too long. The bigger enemies' size works to their disadvantage, especially during encounters in narrow corridors. Four of your guys can tag one of theirs. It's brutal.
Most areas can be completed in one pass, whether they are enemy outposts like Gargath where you can infiltrate with charisma, or the various tombs and ruins that house the less human monsters. A tomb where you find a sword has some tests of chivalry, but they're really multiple choice, and save slots make sure you don't waste time. In fact, not saving the game caused me the most problems while progressing. I occasionally got careless. Hey, wait--I'm the good guys, I'm not supposed to!
While fights seem to get more convenient in each AD&D game without losing complexity, unfortunately there is not enough plot to advance things. The closest you get, besides an encounter with an undead hero, is constantly find nice magic items in out of the way places, if you search. If I had the patience, I could think of a formula for the AD&D games--one place you sneak into, one where you free the prisoners, another where you beat a dragon, and so on. But CoK forgets one part--the interesting dungeon with teleports where you have an interesting mapping challenge, and not just lumps of 2x2 rooms where you find some dialog and beat up some enemies. The best you have is the catacombs, at the start.
And the areas generally are not big enough to present any real mapping challenges. Eventually you wind up getting the Dragonlance, a little number that does 99 damage, and you have a one-way trip to the Flying Fortress and the Kernen Base where you even solidify an alliance with ogres to defeat the wizard Myrtani.
All this is augmented by the cool old AD&D font and a handy menu at the bottom where you can use arrows or the first letter of a command. It's convenient, which is nice, and it's good to see the improvement from, say, Pool of Radiance. But all the critical locations are strewn out across an overland map that is just not fun to search through. The occasional overwrought dialog(OK, it's an RPG, it can get away with that) and weird ending(an NPC steering two fortresses together) is just odd. But there is that sense of entrapment and being unable to retreat...even though you just need to rest to win any of the final fights. The design is adequate to keep your interest, but CoK never moves beyond having a puzzle you can unlock a few different ways.
So the AD&D formula chugs on--I'm generally a bit tentative to go on to the next one because I am worried it is too similar to the previous one. And yet, when I am not feeling original, the Gold Box games are still there. They can't stack up to the huge weird caverns of Magic Candle, the humor of Bard's Tale or Dragon Wars, or the moral questions of Ultima. And they can't weave plot and character improvement like Legacy of the Ancients. But they're good enough, the combat is fun, and they survived. Albeit as a sort of comfort food among old computer RPGs. You futz with maps. You futz with combat. You find new magic items. And eventually you win when you're just about sick of it all. There are worse ways to spend your time.
Community review by aschultz (April 07, 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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