In 1992, SSI brought the Dragonlance series in the Gold Box collection to a close as a trilogy with the release of The Dark Queen of Krynn.
SSI’s grip on the TSR license created an AD&D invasion on PCs ranging from the CGA battlefields on IBM clones to the visual gardens of the Atari ST and the Amiga. One of those worlds was the immensely popular Dragonlance series over which SSI saw a wide variety of adaptations from a dragon flight sim like DragonStrike to a side-scrolling action game such as Heroes of the Lance. The setting would also be an important part of the Gold Box lineup, SSI’s series of “hardcore” CRPGs loaded with THAC0 flavored crunch and tactical hack ‘n slash combat. These were the cornerstones of SSI’s CRPG catalog.
At the same time, they all varied in quality and their prolific success had also become, in a way, their worst enemy. By 1992, the engine driving the Gold Box titles since 1988’s Pool of Radiance began looking long in the tooth. Recycling it as often as SSI did across multiple titles — such as three in one year — might have been a great time saver for development, but it also didn’t help that the titles began to feel outdated. With the exception of 1993’s Unlimited Adventures which was more of a construction set, 1992 was the swan song year for the Gold Box series and the engine that had carried them so far despite how much pixel magic the artists could work into the later games.
The Dark Queen of Krynn, by Micromagic Inc. for SSI, finished the Dragonlance saga begun in 1990’s Champions of Krynn when the first stirrings of evil began to awaken once more. Players would then face off against undead evil in Death Knights of Krynn in 1991 as Lord Soth and his army of doomed knights moved against the forces of good. Now, in the Dark Queen of Krynn, the goddess, Takhisis, has finally had enough of players’ meddling and has hatched a plot to bring her into the world from the Abyss. If that happens, the world is doomed.
DQK starts off like the previous games did by allowing the player to build their own 6-member party, character by character, all based on the AD&D Dragonlance world, but by the third game, series veterans already knew the drill. It was packed with Dragonlance-flavored races, such as kender and Silvanesti elves, along with classes like the Solamnic Knights and wizardry affected by the phases of the moons. At the same time, players could simply import their characters from Death Knights of Krynn — and this time, unlike in previous iterations, kept the goodies they had with them such as that nifty dragonlance — which gave them a much needed advantage for what would turn out to be a merciless game.
Dragonlance also brought a number of uniquely brutal monsters to the AD&D formula such as the different flavors of draconians. There was the Aurak draconian, created from gold dragon eggs, that would explode when killed for even more spiteful damage. Or Kapak draconians that turned into pools of acid. It was a great adaptation of the world of Krynn and its lore.
A good chunk of the action this time around also takes place in the land of Taladas, a separate continent from Ansalon that had also gotten its own PnP box set supplement for Dragonlance called “Time of the Dragon” which also introduced a nation ruled by minotaurs. Players would find their way to it via an underwater adventure the game boasted as one of a few unique environments that this final conflict would engage them through.
As stale as the mechanics might have been at this point, SSI didn’t shirk from polishing them up at the last minute along with the graphics. CGW’s Scorpia, in her writeup on the game, was thankful that the game had finally decided to allow players to load saves without having to exit the game. She also noted the addition of a new “Inv” command to give players an instant overview of what was in their party’s pockets in case they were looking for a specific quest item.
She also noted how incredibly brutal the combat was, especially with the new “enchanted” versions of draconians. Now, Auraks don’t simply explode — they explode massively, for example.
Yet Dark Queen of Krynn didn’t seem to be as much of a hazing experience as Wizardry IV was, but it was a hack ‘n slash smorgasbord of monsters, mayhem, and moments of cheap damage. This was a game slanted towards veterans who knew what they were doing and the added save functionality was probably not so much an acquiescence to fan demand but likely necessary given the description of it as being a lot more hacky and slashy than even Secret of the Silver Blades.
Another criticism she leveled at the game was how pointless a number of its choices and consequences seemed to be — that regardless of what one chose to do in certain situations, the end result was always the same. In one situation, Scorpia describes choosing to go in and masquerade as soldiers transferring trainees to avoid potential combat, yet gets drawn into combat anyway. Even with examples like that, she didn’t let down her guard because a few of those choices did affect small events within the game, making it a minefield of whether one cared enough to play a role or not. In the end, she didn’t think much of Dark Queen of Krynn, or the bugs that it also had, aside from being the end run to the Gold Box series of titles.
For Dragonlance fans, however, the game provided a titanic, lore-filled, battle-heavy finish to the story that SSI began two years earlier with a renegade Aurak and his plot for power. And, like a number of other titles, came out on a limited number of platforms — MS-DOS IBM PC machines, the Amiga, and even the Macintosh wouldn’t be left out of the finale. Unfortunately, like the rest of the SSI/TSR catalog, it would languish today as abandonware.
Yet as one of the last of the Gold Box games, it set out exactly to do what it and its predecessors had always done in providing well-oiled, familiar, and challenging, gameplay set in a new story. The engine was old, the mechanics aged, but for those waiting to end their journey by taking the fight to Takhisis’ doorstep, the gameplay had always welcomed them back.