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!
Release Date: Feb – Sept 2016
Played: Full Season
Purchase At: Steam
Source: Review Copy provided by Publisher
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
3.5/5 – Good!
6 thoughts on “Review: Steve Jackson’s Sorcery!”
I realize that this is an old thread, but having just picked up the game on Steam, I am glad that I’m not the ONLY one who noticed these same things. It seems, basically, that no matter what you do, you’re screwed in one way or another (coincidentally not having the spell that would help, constantly running into things that take your stuff, running into danger/bad guys/enemies no matter what choice you make) – it reminds me far too much of playing D&D with a sadistic DM who was just out to kill you back in the first edition/AD&D days.
To me, the bad points outweigh the good and make it an exercise in frustration, rather than an enjoyment or a relaxation.
The D&D analogy is not far off to be honest. I felt the same in the first act, with that damn griffin. I tried going back in time and try all sorts of different approaches and still found myself fighting the stupid bird.
The other episodes are a bit more relaxed in this regard, but it still happens from time to time, which makes it extremely frustrating.
If you’re willing to put up with it, it’s a good game, but frustration will set in fairly easily too.
How far into the game did you get?
Trying to get to the first town in Part 1. After going one way and running into Elvin who ended up stealing all my stuff because they attacked me and I killed one, then going another way and getting killed by a giant even though every indication said the giant hadn’t been there in a LONG time, then going this way and ….and going this way and….I began looking to see if that experience was a common one, and it seemed to be. Not going to just toss the game, but at least now it’s more like “Oh yeah – figured that would probably happen” kind of thing.
This won’t help the way you feel about the game, but if you tried to avoid the Elvin, they would still have gotten you. I made sure to replay that bit to see if there was a better outcome…there isn’t.
Oh I absolutely can believe it because when I rewound it, I went a completely different way and STILL ended up being cornered by them near the river, then captured by them and taken to their town, then having them throw things at me, then….
I don’t mind a challenge in a game, by any means. That being said, I also play them casually enough that when it becomes either (a) a slog fest or (b) an exercise in banging your head in the keyboard, I’d rather go find a good book 😀 Again, a lot of that comes from DM’s I remember who shoehorned you into their story, no matter what you tried to do and thwarted anything they didn’t like just because they could.
I think that’s the problem here. The original source is a series of single-player RPG books, adventure books. To port them to video games meant closing off some of the possible choices, in essence giving you that sadistic DM.