Preview - Realms of Arkania: Star Trail (DOS, 1994)

Think for a moment . . . which companies make the best RPGs? Well, when you think RPG, you think AD&D, and when you think AD&D, you think SSI. There's one. Some more, maybe? The Might and Magic series was fairly popular, so you can throw New World Computing in there. How 'bout Origin for the Ultima games? Okay. Well, most people would probably come up with those three before they remembered Sir-Tech, the Ogdensburg, NY company whose RPGs, in my opinion, rank right up there with SSI's as the best available today.

Have you ever played any of the Wizardry games? Many people have seen the ads and even the games themselves, but have never played them. They're good . . . VERY good. Especially the more recent ones. And they're not the only good RPGs made by Sir-Tech. Two years ago, led by a slightly more aggressive advertising campaign, Realms of Arkania: Blade of Destiny debuted and sold well. Praised for its excellent character attributes and isometric 3D combat system, Blade of Destiny provided ample competition for the legion of SSI games on the market at the time.

I love a good sequel, and believe me, Realms of Arkania: Star Trail might be one of the best ever. Returning to Arkania, your party seeks the blade called Star Trail and the gem known as Salamander. Both could give your party wealth and power . . . or agony and torment. This game leaves NOTHING out. It's going to quickly establish itself as a must-have for any RPG fan, let alone fans of Blade of Destiny. Let me convince you of this. First, if you're the type who's impressed by statistics and raw numbers, feast on these: 256-color VGA, 25MB of data in the floppy version, 12 character races, over 50 improvable character skills, and over 350 weapons and magical items. Not yet convinced? Witness Star Trail's smooth-scrolling first-person 3D movement, editable automapping, "keyword" dialogue system, automated combat, variable difficulty, and diary recording. You may not even know what all of those features are FOR, but you have to admit that they pile 'em on pretty thick.

One of those features, the variable difficulty setting, is intriguing. The best use of this feature will be to control the learning curve, letting amateurs begin on the easy level and then advance to the harder setting after practicing a bit. I'm eager to see how well this is implemented. It's a great idea . . . one that I would've appreciated in several other games. Ditto with the editable automaps. There's a special place in the Hall of Shame for roleplaying games without an automap feature. Kill them before they spread.

Since CD ROM drives are really becoming standard equipment now, Star Trail will indeed be published on CD, and the CD version will contain features not found in the floppy version of the game. Taking up the majority of the extra space will be digitized speech and cinematic animations. If you have good sound and video capabilities, Star Trail will take advantage of them in a way few games have. Animations are very smooth and digitized speech actually seems in sync with lip movements. Monsters will come to life and talk to you (or possibly eat you, but that'll probably be fully animated too). Even on the floppy version, where you'll see fewer animations, the artwork is of superb quality. Especially the character faces, which are detailed and shaded perfectly. Other nice touches include keeping your characters' names and life meters on-screen at all times. Other RPGs give only minor facial distinctions to their character portraits and put only the mug shots on-screen, often leaving you guessing as to who is who.

I'm in awe over all of the terrific highlights of this game. It's almost as if Sir-Tech read gamers' minds and included in Star Trail everything that's been missing from other good-not-great RPGs. If you find yourself frustrated with the RPG you're currently playing, consider plunking down the $50 Star Trail will cost you. The game takes care of all of the map-drawing and timekeeping . . . the only thing you need to do is think and have fun.

Play the demo for this game directly in your browser