Preview - Dragon Lore: The Legend Begins (DOS, 1994)
It's a good thing that I didn't know about the first person-perspective in Software Toolworks' Dragon Lore before I actually got to see the game. If I had, the critical side of my over-DOOMed brain would've kicked in and probably would've negatively influenced my opinion. Unless you're a fanatic, you probably agree that first-person is getting old and that it's time for something new.
Well, the truth must be told, and the truth is that even if this game featured an interface akin to SSI's old Gold Box games, its graphics would save it. Graphics like the ones in Dragon Lore might save any game. They're so exceptional that they almost make me forget 7th Guest and Myst. If you're a "graphics first, everything else second" person like me, you'll get hooked during the intro and won't even need any further motivation to play the game. And, as if sent from heaven, Dragon Lore is quite playable and has a reasonable level of difficulty.
The first thing I generally moan about when reviewing a new title is how original it is. First-person perspective aside, Dragon Lore looks and plays unlike any other RPG/adventure I've seen. Few games actually reward the player for being non-violent (imagine trying that approach in one of the Street Fighter games!). Dragon Lore requires the completion of tasks in order to advance, much like any other adventure game. Its "alignment" system provides an interesting twist, though. Most problems encountered in the game can be resolved in a number of different ways, each way requiring a different level of violence. Unlike traditional RPGs, wherein most people assign alignments to their characters and then virtually ignore them, Dragon Lore lets you mold Werner's alignment as you play. Beware, though. I learned the hard way that if your first solution to any problem is to kill or break whatever is in your way, you'll have a much tougher time accomplishing things later in the game. As a rule, use your head first, and use your weapons as a last resort.
Attention to detail is also important in video games nowadays . . . whichever game has the most realistic shading or most polygons per creature wins. In Dragon Lore, everything looks real, and I'm sincere about that. When standing near to a growing plant, you can see the lines in the leaves and the blending of colors. Looking closely at a broken-down wagon shows the wear and the cracks. Even your mouse cursor is a cute little animated dragon. Incredibly, none of this superfluous pixel work slows down gameplay even a tad. On my 2X CDROM-equipped Pentium machine, movement in any direction was almost instantaneous, and transition animations scrolled so smoothly that half of the IE staff gathered around my desk to watch in disbelief. There's something to be said for computer games that gather a crowd.
I had to search really hard to find any sort of annoyance in Dragon Lore, and the only truly negative thing I came up with was that several adjoining areas in various places look too similar to differentiate easily. This is one game that certainly could've used an automap feature. Every RPG or adventure ever made could've used one, and most software companies are wising up and including them in their new titles. If you have a pen and paper near your computer, though, you can make a map and eliminate this lone flaw. Do yourself a favor and set aside $50 or so for Dragon Lore. It'll make you very happy.