on 18 July 2015
After a hugely successful run during the eighties adventure gamebooks fizzled away by the mid-nineties. The main reason for their demise was probably due to the advent of more advanced game consoles and improved graphics which made role playing videogames far more popular. A lot of the old series’ of adventure gamebooks have experienced something of a revival in recent years and been given reprints. It is, therefore, somewhat understandable and expected that there would now be attempts at new gamebooks.
The above goes some way to explain why ‘Legion of the Shadow’ feels closer to a computer/video game than it does to the old adventure gamebooks it is attempting to emulate. For those that loathed reaching the end of a gamebook only to be thwarted and have to start all over again, you will be pleased to know that death is not the end in Destiny Quest. If you die (and this will only be in combat as there are no ‘you have died/lost’ passages) you generally just restore your attributes and re-start the fight you died on or try something else and come back later; much like you would in a videogame. This does make things easier than most gamebooks but it is probably a good thing because the vast majority of combats are quite lengthy and difficult.
The gameplay style is far more orientated towards combat. There is a lot less that involves finding your way around, searching places, solving puzzles, learning codes and finding items. The vast bulk of stuff to be found is equipment that is geared towards combat. In a lot of ways the adventure moves from one combat to the next, sometimes relentlessly. In can get a little tedious and time consuming (especially repetitively fighting the same opponent). At times you can expect to spend half an hour or more just rolling dice.
However, the combat system is well thought out and designed and quite entertaining, especially when first starting out. With all the modifiers involved though it is easy enough to get something wrong and inadvertently cheat, usually to your own detriment.
The blurb makes a lot of the fact that you can personalise your character to be different every time allowing for multiple replays. This is a bit of an exaggeration. Your character may always be different but really only in so much that you have a slight variation in your abilities. There is obviously no image of your character so having a polished helmet and fancy sword may actually be no different in real terms to the gameplay than having a battered hat and rusty battle axe. The three classes from which you can chose are fairly typical and rarely make any substantial difference.
In fact this gamebook has a lot less re-playability than most. Completely the book probably means you have virtually done everything there is to do. The book counters this though by having an incredible length (at over nine hundred references even longer than the epic ‘Crown of Kings’) and a huge amount to do. This just about compensates for the hefty price tag for a gamebook.
The main innovation is probably the use of a map which you use to select quests, missions, hunts or shopping trips. It takes you directly to a starting paragraph for that section. It’s quite novel but it does mean that some of the exploration typical of adventure gamebooks is actually lost.
The main plot of undead, demonic forces invading through a dimensional portal is hardly very original but it is one that almost always works. However, the adventure actually has a stronger storyline than it initially suggests. This is because the adventurer begins as they return to consciousness knowing very little about themselves. The adventure is a slow discovery of who and what you are. A similar idea has been done in gamebooks before (most famously ‘Creature of Havoc’) but it seems to always make for an intriguing read.
The adventure is a bit too combat orientated and I’d prefer some more extensive subquest sequences. But overall it is a well written and engrossing adventure with plenty to enjoy.
When I were a lad, Fighting Fantasy books were all the rage. They gave you a rare opportunity to be someone else. A death defying hero, in control of your destiny. As a nine year old this was an exciting prospect. But times change. Role playing games and the emergence of the home computer afforded more control, more excitement. Shallow characters ('YOU') and linear plots can only hold attention for so long in the face of creating an entire new persona and being able to go anywhere, do anything. With World of Warcraft, Warhammer and Dungeons and Dragons, do we need game books?
To be honest, I hadn't even considered the question until a rogue tweet passed across my Twitter feed. Something called Destiny Quest hoped to pull the gamebook into the twenty-first century. It promised multiple pathways, in depth character development and kick ass magical items. A self-published version of the book had garnered excellent reviews, and the Gollancz reboot looked impressive. Curiosity piqued, I recklessly placed an order.
I then discovered that 'Legion of Shadow' is written by an old school friend. Mike Ward always had a passion for storytelling and for gaming. In our gaming sessions, whilst most of us were obsessed with finding treasure and beating up monsters, Mike was concerned with character development and story progression. If something more interesting than a dungeon crawl was happening, then Mike was at the heart of it. That he was behind the Destiny Quest series was a delightful surprise yet made perfect sense.
Legion of Shadow is a book with ambition. At over 600 pages (and 900+ separate entries), it is a little daunting, but its simple game mechanic means that within ten minutes you should be up and running. The production values of the hardback are excellent. The artwork is of a very high standard.
The narrative of LoS is broken into three acts. Each Act is self contained and made up of a set of chapters. Chapters are colour coded to denote difficulty, and are intended to be read roughly in difficulty order to form a coherent narrative. Once you have completed all the chapters, you can try your hand at the end of Act 'Boss Monster'. Once you've killed the boss, there is more narrative description and you progress to the next Act. In addition to the narrative chapters, each Act has several 'Legendary Monsters'; single short encounters, that enable you to hone your fighting skills and improve your treasure trove.
As the story opens you have no memories of your past and a man lays dying in your arms. He has a letter inviting him to become the apprentice of a powerful 'Grand Master of the Dawn'. You take the letter and the dead man's sword, and begin the quest to discover who you are. The opening Act is jovial in tone. Many of the adventures and quests are based in traditional children's fairy stories and folk tales. The introduction is gentle, and the first few quests simple to complete, but as you progress the narrative becomes darker, and real choices have to be made.
Destiny Quest offers the reader a multitude of options for character development. Each character has five stats, Speed, Brawn, Magic Armour and Health. The game mechanic adds character variation through its equipment slots. There are eleven places to add equipment, including main hand, off hand, cloak and rings. As you progress through the game you find various items to equip that boost certain stats, and so you improve. Further flavour is added to items through special abilities. These are usually very powerful but only useable once per combat. They have entirely cool names such as Spider Sense, Time Shift & Patchwork Pauper.
At the end of Act 1 you get the chance to choose whether to be a Warrior, Rogue, or Mage. Your choice limits some of the items you can use, and also determines which careers you can choose. Careers are the final way to flavour your character, each one giving your character new abilities. The character variations are myriad, and herein lies LoS strength and its weakness. You can easily play through the book several times, each time creating an entirely different character, but it does mean there is great deal of bookkeeping.
I think there is too much emphasis on the physical abilities of your character. Though there are many options, they are perhaps not as different as they first appear. There is also far too much combat in the books. At first it was exciting, but as characters and creatures become stronger, it takes longer and longer, and when playing on your own, repeated dice rolling can only hold the attention for so long. In the end, I abandoned combat altogether, not because I wanted to cheat, but because I have a busy life, and rarely enough time to sit down surrounded by papers, pencil and dice.
The Legendary Monsters though a good idea in principle, for me, failed to excite. They add little apart from dice rolling. Tough battles that promise treasure, but little in the way of plot development. If you failed to kill them you can return and try again, but unlike a computer game, where you learn from your previous attempts, here it's a case of keeping rolling those dice until the odds fall in your favour.
I was far more interested in the story.
For this first book in his series, Mike is a nice position. Many people who buy the book will be looking for a nostalgia trip, and the author delivers. The writing style is very immediate, and feels cinematic, you can easily visualise yourself crawling through catacombs filled with creatures or squelching through swamps, trying desperately not to wake whatever might be lurking. There are many chapters and set pieces that are borrowed from other popular fantasy stories. That is not to say LoS unoriginal, as it very much has its own slant on things, but whether it be fairy tales, vampire counts or skeleton armies, there are lots of popular themes here.
But you can only play homage for so long. LoS is entertaining certainly, but I worried for the future of the series. I found the opening two acts diverting, but there was nothing to elevate it to greatness. The book was in danger of becoming a hodgepodge of staple fantasy set pieces, and lacked a unique author's voice.
But then came act three.
The transition from two to three sets up the story for an intriguing finale. Clearly aware that he needed to turn up the heat, Mike sets fire to his reader's preconceptions. This is a solo story, yet suddenly you are part of a small band of freedom fighters. Character interaction feels natural, as you become part of crack team fighting against overwhelming odds. The action and camaraderie is extraordinarily vivid.
Act three contains a chapter that is simply mind-blowing. Here the author shows what he is capable of creating, and it certainly bodes well for future installments. There are a number of different pathways through through, each having alternative outcomes for your character and the resistance movement you have become part of. The number of permutations is bewildering, and the complex structure must have been painstaking to put together. The chapter as whole is filled with intrigue excitement and suspense.
Act 3 gives me great hope for the future of the Destiny Quest series. It elevates the book from something that will entertain fans of the gamebook genre, to something that is enthralling and immersive for all readers. In the final stages I couldn't put the book down. The gamebook has much to fight against if it is going to find a place in a highly competitive market. With 'Legion of Shadow' Mike Ward has given the genre a +4 Broadsword with which to smite its foes. The future of the solo adventure is in safe hands.
on 8 January 2014
I heard about these books from a fantasy book blog and my interest was piqued. As a teenager back in the 80s I used to love the interactive 'Fighting Fantasy' gamebooks, which were essentially very light fantasy stories in which you played the hero and for which you would need dice to resolve combat and other encounters. Ah - those were the days!
Fast-forward 30 years and these books are now seen as a bit of a relic - after all, nobody plays a game today if it's not on a computer or a games console do they? And weren't those 'choos your own adventure' books a bit childish anyway?
Well, here we have the DestinyQuest and games in book form are back with a bang - and a very modern twist!
The author (Michael J Ward) has taken the best elements of the modern computer MMORPG (mass multiplayer online role playing game) such as 'World of Warcraft' and they have seamlessly blended it with the old 80s style gamebook format. To wrap everything up in an appealing little parcel he has also given us a cracking, well-written fantasy story to boot. Yes - it's not just a game, this fella can actually write!
So I ordered the two DestinyQuest titles and off I went down memory lane - only now it had been given a new. exciting and modern refit. Now there was an air of mystery and I was able to choose the path and career in life that my hero decided to take. Would he become a Warrior Gladiator? A Rogue Swordmaster? Or a Mage Pyromancer? Or any one of more than a dozen other choice each of which would have a direct affect on the story and also on the gear and the loot that I could take with me - and the gear and the loot is king is in this book. There are literally hundreds of different items that you can find scattered throughout the story and you can equip these as you wish (your character will have a slot for head gear, gloves, main weapon, boots etc). Each piece of gear will boost your characters strenghhs and skills and will often provide your character with a new skill, ability, power or spell.
This all becomes important when your hero finds themselves in combat. At this point there is a very simple dice rolling mechanic that is used to resolve the combat - so simple that a baby could learn it. However, the simplicity is deceptive because once you start playing your powers and spells in combat and stringing some of your abilities together in various combos (whilst your opponents do the same), the combat becomes deeply tactical particularly as you reach the end of the book.
Add into the mix a map-based quest system (where the quests are colour-coded for difficulty) and a computer game-like 'save' and 'heal' system and you have an amazingly deep gaming experience here. The replay ability is fantastic as well because you will never create the same hero or make the same choices twice (and you can choose two different moral directions to take your hero in as well).
But this is more than just a game. If you like a good fantasy epic, this book certainly delivers as a great story in its own right.
If there was anything that I would say could be taken as a negative, it is that some of the later game fights can become too difficult or tedious if you have not done a very good job of kitting out your hero. But that's a really minor niggle as you can just go back and rebuild slightly differently and then try again.
So all in all, heartily recommended! Five stars.
on 20 March 2011
As an educational books editor and ex-teacher, I'm always on the lookout for unusual, inspirational texts for young adults. Friends were raving about DestinyQuest, so I decided to find out what all the fuss was about...
DestinyQuest did not disappoint - I'm only halfway through but I'm absolutely loving it!
The book is written in a concise and lively style offering suspense, dilemmas, action and comedy, all with a hint of classic fairy tales thrown in! Although it's a chunky book, the non-linear structure lets you dive straight into the action as you dance back and forth through the text to complete the various mini-quests. Once you have mastered the rules of combat, you're away, and it is very rewarding when you (the hero) grow in ability and strength!
DestinyQuest has everything you'd expect from a quest-adventure story plus a whole lot more! I can't believe such a lovingly produced, high-quality book is so fairly priced. The cover is beautifully illustrated as are the glossy colour maps for each Act. There is even a DQ website providing free downloadable resources and a forum where you can swap hints and tips.
This fabulous book is suitable for young adults (especially reluctant readers or those less confident in numeracy), hard-core gaming enthusiasts as well as complete novices like me. I'm looking forward to the sequel and would highly recommend DestinyQuest to all would-be adventurers.
on 16 June 2016
Hmm, I was expecting this book to be really good but it was actually rather disappointing, and this is speaking as a 'veteren' solo gamebook aficianado of the 80's heyday.
The book is basically divided up into 3 parts or 'Acts'. You are supposed to develop your character as they progress through the story by defeating various cliched beasties and claiming their goodies, such as new weapons and armour. All seemed very promising at first and I was enjoying my adventuring, but as I gradually progressed through Act1 I began to lose that enjoyment and felt it was all getting very repetitive.
I didn't like the way the item rewards in the first Act are quite weak and don't particularly help to defeat most of the enemies you come up against - especially the legendary monsters, and there is a lot of combat involved which unfortunately does start to become more of a chore than anything else.
Once embarking on a quest (each Act consists of several quests) there is little freedom of movement, (very similar to the old Fighting Fantasy books), for example - if you choose to take the left passage at a corridor junction but change your mind (or want to explore everything) there is no option to go back and take a different route. The author should have learned from the old Fatemaster gamebooks by Paul Vernon, which provided much more freedom of movement.
Also, there is no option to repeat quests in order to try and get better equipment and when all the easier quests are complete you have no option but to do the tougher quests even though you may feel your character is not quite ready or strong enough to survive.
Another negative is that there is no artwork inside the book, I always felt like a few pictures inside gamebooks helped to establish a certain atmosphere.
Not long into Act 2 I became so bored that I just stopped reading it altogether... and that is the sign of a book that has failed.
The Legion of Shadow could have been a success back in the 80's but, in this day and age, it leaves a lot to be desired.