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Eternal Dagger (Apple II) artwork

Eternal Dagger (Apple II) review

"The too-short Wizard's Crown series from Strategic Simulations, Inc. had a simple solution: quick combat where the computer ran everything and flashed text of your party's health every second. It left time for the actual story and exploration."

From what I understand, combat still lasts too long on average in modern RPGs. The too-short Wizard's Crown series from Strategic Simulations, Inc. had a simple solution: quick combat where the computer ran everything and flashed text of your party's health every second. It left time for the actual story and exploration. Eternal Dagger, the second and last in the series, provided that and more. It shouldn't really be surprising given SSI's success with war simulation games. I'm a bit disappointed they didn't use this formula with more urgency.

Because ED also improved that formula from WC. ED didn't present any great technical strides beyond letting you save in dungeons. It left room for more fun and exploration, of being able to talk to groups of potential allies or enemies, and even for terrain beyond Wizard's Crown's orange city, green wilderness. The Apple's blues and purples allowed for an evil tree that guarded the Living Dagger, a turtle's swamp hut, an aerie or even an underwater cavern by the demon world whose portal you must use the Dagger to close.

There's even a mad wizard's tower--one room has seven levers to flip, and the "solution" infuriated my friend who showed me this game. It's still funny today. All a step up from the various orange dungeons where you eventually find a hidden lever in the wall and hope there's not another ghost fight behind that locked door.

Party strategy is still the same, but it didn't need much changing besides removing redundant or useless skills. Your eight-character party could each mix any of five classes. In fact, it's clearly the best way to go, long-term, at the sacrifice of immediate strength and dexterity and hit points. Instead of having discrete levels, characters gain experience which can be spent right away on different skills. Skills are specific to a certain class, so it's important to have a combination thief to haggle and find treasure, a ranger to track lairs, hunt for food and stand guard at night, and sorcerers and priests for offense and defense.

You can improve characters right after a fight with no need to visit an achievement guild, but here's the kicker--they get tired, which tanks their effective abilities. It's entirely possible to lose to the same rough group of monsters on the way out of a dungeon as on the way in, even if you're all healed up. It's very likely for some of the more involving quests, since the game is immersive enough that this is a real risk. You can never really quite cruise, and what's cleverer, the developers push you towards solving important quests by letting enemies slowly die out in certain areas you've looted long enough.

The world of ED may not be as huge as the Ultimas, but the basic progression of human isle overtaken by dragons, Elven isle with all the animal areas, and Dwarven isle with great treasure--or work in the sewers if you go broke generally works. So planning traveling takes precedence over learning to fight. ED doesn't really try to play any tricks on you, and usually it's pretty obvious when to rest or track, but combat's quick enough that it's too easy to look for that one more fight. You're pretty sure nobody'll die, and even if you do, you'll have enough karma to resurrect someone so they don't disappear forever. But then there are those who are poisoned, or seriously bleeding. It's worth trying, though...random odd loot can pop up anywhere.

ED works hell on perfectionists who want to be sure of a win. All kinds of enchantments go into the detailed combat system, a board game the quick combat is a shell for. Basically, you can slaughter the computer when you need to--it seems to think all spells deserve to be cast, even the lame ones. Only a few are good. Detailed combat is technically impressive but probably the most tiresome part of the game, so all you really need to know is that weapons can have elemental enchantment or cause bash, cut or thrust damage. Armor works the same. Enchanting something like a Cold Morningstar all the way to +6 requires more gold and fighting than you really need, but it's tempting, and each fight seems so easy.

And the kicker is that none of this matters near the end. The game's big twist is that only living things can enter through the portal, and you need to enchant the dagger in order to bring it across and seal the portal. So, yes, your party leaves all their items behind. The final dungeon is a wonderful exercise in ludicrous mazes and figuring how to destroy the path into your world before the demon catches you. It's even cleverer than WC's final fight where you can't hit Tarmon with anything magical. And at the end, there's a sudden jump to somewhere new that indicates a planned sequel.

The sequel never materialized. It's one of my big disappointments in the series. It seems like they could've spun something more out, but ED was never really a classic Bard's Tale style RPG or enough of a simulation. It got caught in the middle, with its own quirky interesting ideas. And often when I get stuck in an RPG combat where I have to push the same buttons to win, I think how neatly ED did it. It's too bad I only found two such games.

aschultz's avatar
Community review by aschultz (January 21, 2012)

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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