Review: Steve Jackson’s Sorcery!

The Archmage stole the Crown of Kings from Analand and took it to his fortress. Now the Analander King dispatches a single warrior-mage, to brave dangerous lands and vanquish the foul sorcerer!

Genre(s): Adventure

Developer: Inkle

Publisher: Inkle

Release Date: Feb – Sept 2016

Played: Full Season

Platforms: PC

Purchase At: Steam

Source: Review Copy provided by Publisher

Good:

  • Great art.

  • Rewinding.

Bad:

  • Multiple choices, same outcome.

  • Combat.

  • Spell choices.

Review

Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! is a videogame adaptation of the eponymous gamebook written by Steve Jackson, illustrated by John Blanche and published in the 80s. It follows the same story but presents the game as a choice-based adventure.

Your character, the Analander adventurer, is a token on the map-board. The core gameplay is moving the character around the map, to one of the limited options available and resolving the encounters you face along the way. Sometimes you find items, other times you meet characters, friendly or otherwise, and sometimes you have no choice but to kick ass and take names.

Steve Jackson's Sorcery!

Checking where to sleep is a constant thing, and I always slept wherever I could.

Sorcery! has you managing resources, but you can go the entire campaign without spending much gold, as most of the bad stuff that happens to you tends to wash away your hard-earned cash…or at least that’s what happened to me. Rations come in handy to keep you going and recovering health while you sleep but they’re rare as hell. I would have loved to hoard them for when the going got really tough, but much like the money every bad result tended to leave me food-less.

One of the things I hate about this game, and I truly and passionately mean it, is how very often it screws you over no matter what choices you make. There were times where on some encounter I chose to run and lost, then tried to fight, won the fight but still lost in the story, then used a spell and still lost. For a game that revolves around your choices, it’s frustrating that sometimes they matter very little in the way the story develops. In the last act, meeting the bad guy, no matter which choice I picked it ended with me getting screwed ten ways to Sunday, so I call shenanigans.

But the failures do teach you the patterns in Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! During  episode one, I fumed and raged, on episode two I had a lot more fun and then episode three was even more so. So for Episode Four I had a wealth of experience to draw on, to see the patterns in the storytelling to know when the game is trying to set me a General-Ackbar-level trap, and when I can trust the NPCS.

One of the blessings of the game is the ability to rewind to a earlier decision point, so you can retry and perhaps avoid some horrible fate, which is why I know that sometimes there is no other way but getting your butt handed to you. I still remember the damn griffin from the first chapter, where no matter which choice I made, I always ended in a fight with a buffed-up giant bird.

Steve Jackson's Sorcery!

I wanted all the letters available, not these random ones!

I dislike the combat in this game. The mechanics are simple, but it often feels like the rules are different for some enemies than they are for you. For instance, sometimes characters lose extra health if the one side’s attack number is higher than the other’s but then you get to fights where no matter what, you’ll never deal more than one point of damage—though they’ll still deal massive damage to you!

I believe that the rules should work the same for everybody, and Sorcery’s combat loses me because that is simply not the case.

But the one thing that really irks me about the game is how useless the magic often is. Casting spells is always a possibility but not all spells will be available. You form magic using three-letter words and in-universe it depends on the constellations, so you don’t always have all letters available. This makes magic worthless at times, as the one spell that fits the situation is the one that you coincidentally don’t have.

Steve Jackson's Sorcery!

Choose your destiny!

I call shenanigans on this more than anything else.

But I will give this to Steve Jackson’s Sorcery!, the plot is great. It has few twists but it’s pretty cool. There are many characters, and the game does great things with its creatures and monsters. Not all humans are nice and not all monsters are evil. Sometimes it’s the trolls you can count on, when humans just want to shiv you. And while you can bust through castle doors, sometimes you just need to suck up to a Hobgoblin chef and he’ll let you into his private room where you can find a nice tunnel.

I absolutely adore John Blanche’s drawings and I think it’s a brilliant idea to include them, to immortalise them in this video game, especially considering how difficult some of these books are to find. They are fantastically moody and phenomenally detailed for black & white art. I also liked how they kept the board art in the same overall Blanche style, making it all mesh well together.

The game takes a bit of a nosedive in the sound department. When the music plays, it’s pretty good if a bit repetitive, but the problem is that it very rarely plays. When you’re on the map, going from point to point, you do so in almost complete silence. Only combat and the magic-casting part have constant music, but depending on your play style and choices, you may not hear them very often.

Steve Jackson's Sorcery!

This fight exemplifies everything wrong with the combat

Conclusion

When the choices feel significant, Sorcery has a way of making you feel like a proper adventurer, at least until the next time it forcibly wrestles control from you. The visuals are amazing, a mix of old-school drawings and a beautifully rendered map, but the audio is a bit lacking.

Overall, it’s a pretty fun game, especially if you play it in one sitting!

TMA SCORE:

3.5/5 – Good!

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