From the ads of the past, CRPGs of yesteryear – Lands of Lore III

A big, nasty Rift Hound leaps at the reader in the ad above! Lands of Lore III had more CG critters, more 3D, and more combat as the solo protagonist performing their best impression of a one-man army waded into cleanup work on multiple worlds and an alien ship following the events of Lands of Lore II.

By the time Lands of Lore III had come out in 1999 for Windows PCs, two years after Lands of Lore II: Guardians of Destiny, the rapid advance of game technology and design had created a number of iconic games in that time.

Valve’s Half-Life and BioWare’s Baldur’s Gate in 1998, Fallout in 1997 a few months after LoL II and its sequel also in 1998. New World’s Might & Magic series had also resurrected itself with a whole new engine in 1998 which was free ranging and crammed with crunch. But more importantly, for other RPG players, it had a party system.

Lands of Lore II surprised players with its focus on a solo-character instead of the party that they could build up in the first game. Lands of Lore III continues that trend along with the simplified mechanics set up by that game.

I liked the first two games if only because they featured a different approach to CRPGs in comparison to many of its peers with the exception of Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series which did relatively the same thing — albeit with a lot more crunch and wide open world to sift through. They also had that Westwood panache for theatrics, storytelling, and music that accompanied them from their time with Eye of the Beholders I and II.

So when Lands of Lore III came out, I went in fully expecting another fun, solo hero, Westwood flavored take on CRPGs the way that Lands of Lore 2 had started in with for the series. Unfortunately, if the series decided to end with LoL 2, it might have been for the best.

Lands of Lore doesn’t really have an arc that traditional trilogies normally do in which an ongoing struggle is traced from start to finish. Instead, each game can be taken as a sort of standalone title encapsulated within its own little slice of the same world.

In this chapter, the player is cast in the role of one Copper LeGre, the illegitimate son of his father who is related to King Richard of Gladstone. That makes him fourth in line to the throne but with the way others aside from his father treat him, you would never know it. Copper’s also half-dracoid, the dragon-like humanoid race that his father had a brief dalliance with. Not only do his two step-brothers despise him for what he is, he also gets grief for being a “half breed” from everyone.

Things get worse when he joins his brothers and his father on a hunt where everyone is murderfied by strange beasts leaping from rips in thin air. Except for him, of course. Instead, his soul is stolen and he’s left beaten and bloody where he’s discovered and Dawn, the always-present spell caster for the royal court, manages to keep him “alive”…but only for a time. But not everyone is convinced of Copper’s innocence, especially now that he’s a step away from the throne, and the simmering hate for him from many quarters is now boiling over.

Things get even worse — the tears are also wreaking havoc in the land. It’s as if the fabric of reality is becoming undone, but they’re also where Copper has to go in order to find his soul as well as shut them down in shades of Ultima Underworld II where the Avatar has to travel through different worlds to save Britannia.

Installing the game from CD-ROM could take awhile, but to make things more interesting during the waiting, Westwood recounted the mythic backstory that led to the current Lands complete with art reminiscent of medieval wall paintings.

The gameplay is still the simplified, action-focused system that Lands of Lore II had evolved into from the one in the first game, changing it for a party of one and the free ranging movement that the new engine brought to the table. The solid automapping system is back and now complimented by a journal tracking your quest and any other important events that bear remembering.

There’s not much of a raft of stats in this solo adventure unlike that found in a game like Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls: Arena or its sequel, Daggerfall. Instead, like in the previous games, the player only has bar gauges that give you an idea of how much protection, damage, or magic pieces of equipment will give you.

This time, LoL 3 mixes things up with a guild system which covers the four basic classes: Fighters, Magician, Clerics, and Thieves. Copper can pick one guild to specialize in, or a mix of two, three, or all four, keeping in mind that experience earned will be divided by how many he’s a part of. There’s also a familiar companion that he can pick, each familiar specializing in whatever guild it’s a part of though Copper can pick whatever familiar he wants regardless of membership. They act as the only extra body accompanying Copper on his solo adventure.

And then there’s the food. Copper will have to eat from time to time because hunger. There’s no real reason for this to even be in the game, or to have food take up precious inventory space, other than to scratch at a reality itch that the series never bothered with until now.

Enemies were often seen as pre-rendered 3D critters/NPCs sprites much like how Daggerfall had also used in 1996 before going full 3D with their Elder Scrolls Adventures title, Redguard, in 1998. But LoL 3 also mixed in poly-modeled monsters at the same time, making for a curious combination.

Gameplay-wise, it banked a lot on action and mouse clicks, especially when it mobbed Copper with bunches of dim but powerfully equipped enemies. Remember the Ruloi from the last game? They’re back and they’re actually aliens, injecting a little sci-fi into this fantasy the same way that Jon Van Caneghem’s Might & Magic did especially in its later iterations such as Mandate of Heaven in 1998. They’re also just as overpowered as before.

One of the things that the game allowed the player to do was store up stuff by dropping items down somewhere in Gladstone, the “hub” where all of the other worlds connected through. The only bad thing about that was when Gladstone was utterly wrecked later on in the game, destroying the place where I had left a large chunk of stuff I had stowed away for sale or just to free up space in my inventory.

In the end, the main cause of all of this trouble was a being named Jakel, servant to the Draracle. The Draracle was an Ancient who was a key character in the first two games. After the events of LoL 2, he left the world forever but in so doing, a relic that bound the world together had also shattered. After a few adventures, Copper manages to find the Draracle through one of the portals and discovers how to fix it.

On the other hand, Jakel, the cloaked servant of the Draracle left behind when he left, eventually reveals his true colors. He doesn’t want the relic repaired because of the Ancient magic it would dissipate when it is — at the cost of the Lands.

Jakel is kind of a tragic figure pining away for Ancients that will never return and would literally die if Ancient magic were severed from the world forever when the Draracle’s Cave collapsed. Not because of heavy rocks falling on top of him. More along the lines of being tied to its existence.

If the Draracle had found a way to bring him along away from the Lands in the first place when he left, all of this could have been avoided. Instead, he’s hanging around the Lands like an orphaned god. For a wise Ancient, the Draracle certainly didn’t see this coming when he tossed away his faithful servant. Either that, or he didn’t care a whole lot.

In the end, Copper has to defeat him and recover the last piece of the relic, repair it, and save the world. This time, Westwood flexed its CG muscles in providing a full fledged ending to top off the journey’s end making the “good” one in LoL 2 look like a total fluke. It’s as if they saw reactions to that and swore never to make that mistake again. Copper returns home and King Richard himself takes him on the same hunt that his father and step brothers started the game with, so a happy ending all around.

That wouldn’t get made. Lands of Lore III was the last game in the series and the weakest one out of all of them. It just didn’t seem to dazzle with the kind of awe and wonder that the epic quest in LoL 2 had brought out throughout the course of its adventure.

With Might & Magic’s return with Mandate of Heaven along with a number of distinctly non-3D CRPGs, or those with lone wolf heroes such as Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series and connected tangents, it was much harder to convince players hungry for deeper stats and mechanics to give the stripped down solo act of LoL 3 another look. On the other hand, the story was too bad and Westwood’s small touches to present it such as trying to make the boring installation procedure something interesting helped. They also weren’t shy on using the whole multiverse approach to drop in bizarre places such as NOD Temple from Command & Conquer and sci-fi.

The year before, 1998, also saw EA acquire Westwood Studios for a cool $122 million. Given EA’s treatment of Origin and the debacle that became Ultima IX, Westwood’s own future didn’t seem quite as bright, either, and LoL 3 would be the last CRPG that the studio would build before churning out Command & Conquer titles as if there were no tomorrow. Five years later, it would be liquidated with its staff scattered either to internal EA studios or elsewhere with other studios handling the C&C property. Today, you can pick up LoL 3 on Good Old Games for a few bucks if you’re interested in checking it out if only to complete the series.

Westwood’s Lands of Lore distilled their Eye of the Beholder expertise into a simple approach for real-time CRPGs. FTL’s Dungeon Master pioneered many of the concepts that they explored while Westwood’s artists and designers put their own personal stamps on both the Lands and their mechanics. It might not have been a ‘fresh’ approach, but it stands out as the end cap to the design work Westwood first started tinkering with in all the way back in 1991.

Lands of Lore hit up the broader audience with its accessible, real-time combat while retaining ties to high fantasy and a competent challenge. It was simple to dive into and it could be swearingly brutal with the combat. It also wasn’t for everyone, and it didn’t quite go out on a triumphant close — an ominous sign of things to come in 1999 for the studio that did more outside of the RTS genre than simply help define it.

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6 responses to “From the ads of the past, CRPGs of yesteryear – Lands of Lore III

  1. I don’t know if you played Westwood Studios’ Blade Runner, but you can clearly see how their proprietary “Voxel Plus” system they developed for that game to render character models originally composed in 3D was reused for this game’s character/monster models. You might be able to see them from any angle on a level surface (unlike the monsters/characters in the previous 2 games), but they’re clearly still sprite-like in that if you see them from an upper or lower angle they still appear to you as though you were still level with them. You can read more about that game plus how they developed the “Voxel Plus” system here:

    http://deadendthrills.com/future-imperfect-the-lost-art-of-westwoods-blade-runner/

    However, the end result is that, like the characters in the Blade Runner game, the characters in LoL3 all look rather blurry outside of pre-rendered cutscenes. I’m sure after the successful release of 1998’s Half-Life everyone wanted in on the 3D bandwagon, but Westwood clearly thought these kinds of graphics would tide them over in an engine that offered close-up views of the world (unlike a strategic view locked to one angle and zoom level, like their RTS titles, where such blurriness is less noticeable). That clearly didn’t turn out to be the case.

    Unfortunately the features of this game you mentioned weren’t very well implemented, which is a major reason why I felt it needed more development time. For one thing, the Hunger mechanic is missing one crucial element–all food items restore the same amount of health regardless of their supposed “size,” from a bag of rations to a small aloe leaf. Furthermore, even the most basic Healing spell will “feed” Copper by this same amount whenever cast, and this spell is very easily found ingame, so Hunger is more of a nuisance than a serious concern in this game. It would make more sense if Healing spells made Copper very hungry (according to the game manual, being hungry m

    The guild system (i.e., you join one or more to learn their skills, and your XP is split amongst the number you join) was a nice touch, but many of their quests are, due to bugs or unfinished code, simply cannot be completed. One particular case that stands out is one “promotion” quest from the Cleric’s Guild; you’re supposed to retrieve a specific item from the Volcanic Caves Portal World, but the item is located past a door that can only be opened from one side via a pressure plate (there is no corresponding one on the other side) and can’t be held open, and thus there is no way out of the portal world once you’ve beaten the boss there once (and you must do so before you can get this specific quest).

    You mentioned in this entry that Gladstone was supposed to have a safe place to store your stuff. The devs themselves mentioned in an interview (you can see a link below) that the room Copper rented at the Lower Gladstone Inn named “The Blue Deer” was supposed to be a safe haven for his dropped-off stuff so as long as his rent was paid, but those plans clearly fell through. The safest place to store your excess ingame stuff was in one of the portal worlds.

    http://landsoflore.de/index.php?page=faq#q15

    The main story arc about how Copper is seen as a usurper to the throne of Gladstone isn’t very well-developed, either. The innkeeper will say “I take it your father didn’t have his purse on him?” implying that Copper murdered his father Eric for his money, and Carmen LeGre (the wife of Eric LeGre and the mother of Copper’s less-than-pleasant half-brothers) is only met once, where she will scream for the guards after calling Copper a murderer. After that, you get a look at a private letter implicating Carmen LeGre and the ever-obstructive-and-questioning Lord Geron in a conspiracy, and then Lord Geron commits an act of treason by refusing Copper entry into King Richard’s private library/treasury/armory at Gladstone Keep, despite Copper possessing an authentic “royal writ” (which Geron unceremoniously destroys). That’s about it, aside from the game letting players do something to Geron that, in the words of an LPer named Kikoskia, they have “waited 3 games to do”:

    (Technically Lord Geron is absent in Lands of Lore 2 except for an offhanded quip by Luther when he examines the painting of “Thohan the Brave” in the Draracle’s Museum, and Luther than mentions that he was mistreated by Geron during his imprisonment in Gladstone Keep.)

    I would agree that the sole ending to this game is better than Lands of Lore 2‘s, but there’s a catch. It’s the only ending available despite the fact that Copper can act in “evil” ways such as killing passersby in Lower Gladstone. While it’s nice to see Copper back among his true family finishing the traditional LeGre Boar Hunt that was started in the beginning of the game with his uncle (though by this point in the game it’s very likely Copper can kill wild boars bare-handed given all the experience he’s earned) and the portals closing off , the LPer I mentioned earlier that the game’s focus shouldn’t have been so narrow (i.e., on Jakel and Copper). It would have been spectacular if the ingame cutscenes and the ending gave us an idea of what Dawn and Luther, powerful heroes by this time, were doing during this crisis, but the amount of time you see them in this game is very small. Still, I feel that the credits theme for this game was spectacular and one of the very best to ever grace a PC RPG.

    I look back on this game with fond memories despite the fact that it’s a rather flawed epitaph to an RPG series that should have been given more development time. It was the last chance to shine for a series that should have lived longer.

    Thanks a lot for your reviews for this RPG series. It deserved a better fate.

    • Thank you for sharing your insight and memories on the series as well! Though Westwood’s RTS games are incredibly popular, their adventure and RPG games stand out for me — as a I mentioned earlier, memories of flying to the City of the Ancients, doing battle with an ancient god, or fighting for the fate of Gladstone with a small party of companions provided hours of adventuring fun.

      Westwood was one of those few (like Origin) that wasn’t afraid to dabble in as many things as possible — RPGs, adventure games, and RTS titles. Today, it’s hard to find many studios unafraid of taking as much risk — it really was an exciting time for developers traveling at lightspeed back then.

      As for a continuation for the series, I actually wouldn’t mind seeing someone pick up Lands of Lore in some form, even if it went back to its classic, grid-based roots. Maybe someone will pick up the torch the way Limbic Entertainment and Ubisoft did with Might & Magic X Legacy. We can only hope!

      • Pardon me, in my previous message I should have the following regarding the last part of my “Hunger System” paragraph:

        “It would make more sense if Healing spells made Copper very hungry (according to the game manual, being hungry makes you unable to regenerate mana and health naturally, while starvation makes your mana decrease and greatly reduces your Might and Protection stats), since the game documentation implies that food helps to fuel his natural healing and mana regeneration. Accelerating that healing process (without the aid of Ancient Magic) would likely deplete his natural energy, making food that much more important.”

        Westwood’s pioneering nature and the way it wasn’t afraid to try new things (and really excel at them, such as was the case with Blade Runner) was one-of-a-kind during those days. Now it’s arguable that the costs of game development make such a bold, pioneering approach too risky, pushing and consolidating more and more developers and IPs into the hands of AAA publishers (who may have their own incompatible agendas).

        A new grid-based LoL game might work on portable or mobile-phone-based gaming devices because of the possibly-lower system requirements (and grid-based gaming means a party system is easier since you don’t have to program in very fussy pathfinding programs for NPCs to follow the player character in a full-3D environment), but resurrecting the series on mobile devices while staying true to its roots might not work well, as the following article explains:

        http://gamasutra.com/blogs/ThomasHenshell/20140807/222732/Why_Ive_Said_Goodbye_to_Mobile_in_Favor_of_PC.php?elq=12958b8b29fc4ac1a0d7e6ac411ed069&elqCampaignId=7096

        In short, the above article says that mobile gamers want distraction, not gaming. If, for example, LoL1 was ported to mobile phones, I doubt many of those gamers would have the patience to sit through the various puzzles and extremely long dungeons the game throws at you (such as the Urbish Mines and Castle Cimmeria). That’s why I doubt the portable gaming audience will really want to experience RPGs in the style of LoL, which had very few training wheels and was often difficult for the sake of making winning that much more gratifying (what might now be called “hardcore” RPGs).

        As for possible continuations, the landsoflore.de website has mentioned a LoL4 fangame for a while, but apparently not much progress has been made. You can read about that project here, assuming the German text is not a problem:

        http://landsoflore.de/fangameinfos.html

        A message from Rick “Coco” Gush, chief LoL writer (albeit more than 10 years old) says that “if you’re a wealthy heiress, as a matter of fact, Jeff (Filhaber) and I could probably be talked into putting a team together and making LOL 4,5,and 6!”. So at least back then he was interested in continuing the series. You can read the full message here:

        http://elands.ar.tripod.com/LOL4.htm

        Of course, raising the funds remains the problem. Crowdfunding might be the answer, but LoL was always a niche RPG series, even in its heyday. Oh well, I’m sure that Frank Klepacki and David Arkenstone would love to return for such a project, if nothing else.

        I always did think that the “Coco’s Cap” item referred to the Jester hat that Rick Gush wore during the credits of LoL2 (its item description in LoL3 even says the label inside reads “Property of Rick Gush”), though its design is different ingame from the one he wore in the credits. I don’t know where the strange dialogue you hear when your player character wears it comes from, but my guess is that it was a developer’s in-joke; the cap’s description implies that Rick often fell asleep if he was idle for a short time, and the dialogue sounds a bit like sleep-talking, so its possible the devs recorded his sleep-talking and put it into the game.

        It’s always nice to talk to people who have seen the beauty this series represented and how much more it might have been. Thanks again for your LoL reviews.

      • And it’s always great to hear about others’ experiences with the games and to learn more about them at the same time, so thanks again for sharing your views and giving me more food for thought. That’s an intriguing point of view related by that article — mobile gamers are more interested in distractions — which, one one hand, makes sense but also closes that door to something like LoL as you point out. I’ll still keep my fingers crossed that one day someone will take up the banner, or regale us with more stories of the series’ history. Again, thanks for reading and sharing!

        Also, I’m slowly going review by review (my old ones) and opening those up to comments — it took me a bit to figure it out, but I think I’ve got it, so apologies. I thought I already had those opened by default but…I guess not.

  2. There’s an old publicly posted e-mail by Rick Gush that says that if you are a “wealthy heiress” he could assemble a team and get the license going again. Given how much EA would likely charge for parting with the old license, it’d have to be a very wealthy heiress or the like.

    I doubt that crowdfunding would solve the issue. After all, Lands of Lore was an old and rather obscure intellectual property (it was, after all, a spin-off of D&D after Westwood lost that license). Something like Gabriel Knight was only remade partly because the original author still owned the IP herself, which can’t be said for Lands of Lore. Just remaking LoL1 would be a pretty big task on a modern 3D engine because of how expansive the original game was, for instance, unless it kept the grid-based movement system and came out on the iPad or the like.

  3. Hum as one of the Inheriters of the Earth I have a very important issue to deal with here during my three month term as Overseer over the World, it would seem that I would have to keep promoting this series more and more, I’ve released a book called Chronicles of Lore it can be found on Amazon.I also am working on a project called The Continuing Saga, I will release the two movies before it and then the unfinished one.
    The Full Video can hopefully be released on you tube as of tomorrow.
    The story starts with a relationship between the bad guy in Lands of Lore 2 Guardians of Destiny and shows the Story of how Scotcia became corrupt, the unfinished one shows the defeat of Scotcia followed by her returning to help Luther defeat Belial, then it continues to the Portal Corruption followed by a Fairy War.
    The project will continually be updated.
    Also you can see 9 parts in claymation and video game form on you tube as well.
    I will keep tabs on all events of this Ganre,\
    Jonathan Riccardi

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