Chris Roberts, the godfather of the Wing Commander series, didn’t always dream of starfighters duking it out in space. In 1988, years before he pit the Kilrathi and the Confederation against each other in a dance to the death, he put together a friendly little action RPG called Times of Lore.
Times used a simple, easy-to-get-into approach for the mechanics along with its emphasis on killing the bad things roaming the wilds as opposed to measuring your character’s performance through traditional stats crunch. The manual was written in story format with examples on how things worked in the world such as a conversation between your character and a serf’s wife which comes of as a lot more detailed than what passed in the game.
Story was front and center with plenty of fiction laying out the history of the Kingdom of Albareth. In short, the High King that had ruled the kingdom has been missing for awhile and all is in turmoil as its lords huddle within their walled castles. Three mighty treasures that had once united the land now lie scattered as rogues and worse plague the dark forests and forgotten corners of the kingdom. Enter the hero!
But before you step onto this stage, you get to pick which of three characters you had grown up as: a brave knight, a swift and true valkyrie, or a powerful barbarian. The manual does a pretty terrible job at describing what the advantages of any three are leaving it to trial and error, but basically what you see is what you get. The knight is tough and better able to take damage. The barbarian is raw power but not so well protected. And the valkyrie is quick and lies in between the knight and barbarian in strength. At least that’s the gist of things, but the game can be easily beaten with any of these three intrepid fighters.
The game was played from a top-down perspective and an icon-driven menu let you perform everything from talking to NPCs to filling your inventory with loot. As you trundled about, you can whack enemies with your weapon of choice, loot what they dropped, and move on. There was no real restriction to where you could go, either. Looking at the color map that came with the game, and after reading the pages of story in the manual, the first thing I wanted to do was take off and start visiting all of the places on that map. It didn’t keep you from going where you wanted, but if you weren’t ready, you could also die an early death in short order.
Times also lent the impression of being a very newbie friendly version of Ultima without the stats or magic system. Items provided the needed magic and healing buffs. All a player had to provide was the reflexes. Because of its streamlined take on gameplay, it made it a great candidate to be ported over to a number of platforms from the Commodore 64 to the Nintendo Entertainment System which got a password system to save your progress with.
Although it’s not quite Gauntlet, the fiction saturating the world from its extensive intro to the ending and the sandboxy approach to exploration made it a fine hybrid of the deeper roots of its CRPG peers and the frank directness of smashing evil’s head in with enough button mashing. It was also short game. I’d replay this after finishing it just because of how fun it was to crush monsters and seek out loot, but it only took a few hours to save Albareth.
The 1989 ad below shows off the box art and a few screenshots of the game itself while talking up a bit of its story. But despite the fun it brought and its welcoming facade, it never got a sequel. It was lost beneath the deluge of other CRPGs that vied for players’ wallets during the heyday of PC gaming, though the tech behind it would go on to create Origin’s Tangled Tales in ’89. Still, it wasn’t a bad way to save the world before lunch without having to break open a pad of graph paper.