Preview - Lords of Midnight (DOS, 1995)

Welcome to Midnight.

You've come at a bad time. The noble King Luxor has recently been kidnapped by the evil Boroth the Wolf Heart and imprisoned somewhere in the lands south of the Bloodmarch. It wasn't long before the ransom note came to Prince Morkin, Luxor's son. But did he just give in? Of course not. He knew that Boroth probably wouldn't let Luxor live, even if the ransom was paid. But storming the Black Citadel also seemed out of the question. After all, Boroth had loyal spies everywhere in Midnight and they'd pick up on the formation of a posse all too easily. So, the clever Prince Morkin decided to take a miniscule army with him and sneak into the Bloodmarch, where he could assemble a larger force from the other twelve regions . . .

Domark will soon be releasing the third installment in Mike Singleton's acclaimed Lords of Midnight series. If you didn't know this was a continuing saga, you can be forgiven, since part two was released ten years ago for the Commodore 64 and the European Spectrum, now obsolete, and barely known in America even in its heyday. Thankfully, this latest chapter, The Citadel, is completely playable without any knowledge of the previous two parts.

The recruitment of the royal rescue force hits a snag when Morkin discovers that the leaders of the twelve regions have also been kidnapped by Boroth, and their citizens will not help with the quest until their leaders are freed. This would seem to be an insurmountable problem.

But, like all evil-doers, Boroth has made a critical mistake that will ultimately be his undoing. At the same time that he took Luxor from his ship, Boroth also abducted Corleth and Aric, Lord Blood. Not realizing their significance or their resourcefulness, he sold them into slavery. Soon they had escaped the slave pens and were free to roam the Black Citadel, releasing prisoners as they go.

The Bloodmarch is almost like another world, operating on its own scale of time. The Citadel will start in the Bloodmarch equivalent of the day you actually begin it on. While you can let game time pass normally, you can also skip hours or days and see what the characters have done in the meantime. As time passes in the game, you see constant reminders of the time of day, as well as the changing of the seasons. The adventurers may find themselves trudging through heavy snow or sweltering in the summer sun. If you choose, you can even leave the adventurers to forage for themselves while you are away from the game. Even while your machine is off, the rescue mission continues.

While the rescue mission has been mounted by Prince Morkin, the player can witness and control the actions of any of 24 characters, including Corleth and Aric, and even the enemy, Boroth. You can also choose to ignore the progress of any of the characters you choose, and as long as you give them general quests to accomplish, they will continue to act intelligently without your help. But don't get the feeling that you are somehow unnecessary and that the game will just play itself. You are a very important member of the team, and they would never be able to complete the rescue without your help. At least, I don't think so . . .

The scale of The Citadel is nothing short of staggering. One look at the area map and you know the game possibilities are nearly endless. The sweeping landscape is, in fact, too large to be stored in memory, so it is fractally generated on the fly instead. This aspect is particularly impressive as you travel over mountains and through forests with completely distinctive trees and stones.

The active metaphor in The Citadel is that of a book. Every new game is a differently colored book, and the saved games are displayed as bookmarks. This metaphor is also used effectively in normal gameplay. The player has constant access to the "almanac", which lets you research the intricacies of your alliances, the location of all of the characters, as well as useful information on the local flora, fauna and arcana.

While there is a great deal of detail in The Citadel, the player can choose to observe or influence as much or as little as he desires. But will Morkin and his allies manage to rescue the king and destroy the Black Citadel? That's for you to decide. Lords of Midnight will be on the shelves this Spring.