Sleeping Gods Lie was released in 1989 by Empire, a large software company in the UK that would go on to be a prolific developer and publisher of PC games in the following years.
This one has an interesting setup. In short, the gods created the world that you’ll be adventuring on. But afterwards, they left it to its own devices with the last god apparently going to sleep. In their absence, a powerful empire arose to control the world and the Archmage, a powerful member of the Imperial court, became the proverbial power behind the throne.
As for you, you’ve awakened to another day when you hear a crash at your door. Worried that it might be Imperial agents come to take someone else away for imagined crimes against the state, you hesitate to open it, only doing so when you find your back door key missing limiting your options. But it wasn’t an Imperial agent that comes through the door. It’s the beaten body of a Kobbold.
Kobbolds (the game’s spelling, not mine) were the masters of trade on your world, linking together the many lands until their strange disappearance years ago. This one, however, was barely alive and dying. Despite your offer to help, his dying breath relates to you the story of his people…that they disappeared looking for the Sleeping God, N’Gnir, hoping that with his power the Archmage could be toppled freeing the land. He gives you a small, strange bracelet, begs you to find the Hermit and fulfill their quest, and then dies.
And as the chosen one to fulfill this destiny, that’s what you set out to do.
Sleeping Gods Lie presents its world with a first-person perspective and a simple, mouse-driven control scheme. Though it’s labeled as a role-playing game, it doesn’t share some of the genre’s crunchier trappings popularized in the biggest titles of the day from Might & Magic to Wizardry. You don’t roll up a character, balance out stats, or grind for levels. It comes off as more of an action adventure game with a few light RPG elements, though you do play the role of the land’s secret savior.
Its first-person world is a mix of 3D polygons and 2D sprites which comprise a majority of the game’s look. The house you start in is inside a 3D box with plain walls, floor, and ceiling — typically low-detailed 3D poly environments back in the day. Exiting your house brings you into the wilderness, a vast open space with a green floor, blue ceiling, and lines making up roads with 2D bandits coming at you. The 3D effect is largely handled by scaling tricks with the sprites and props in the landscape.
The mouse does mostly everything. Sliding it forward moves the cursor on the screen up and our hero, well, forward. Pulling back does the opposite. Taking the cursor to the extreme left or right of the playing screen turns you in that direction.
Combat is all about being clicky. Clicking on the left mouse button fires whatever you have armed as long as you have the ammo. In the beginning, it’s a bunch of pebbles that your apparently herculean strength can turn into deadly projectiles. Interestingly, the cursor’s location not only determines the direction that you’ll be firing but also the distance. Raise the cursor hire and fire and whatever you have will go further adding a bit of thinking to simply firing straight ahead and expecting stuff to die.
Sometimes better weapons (other than in using your bare hands to throw pebbles) are dropped and these can have varying ‘load’ times to get the next projectile ready. Pebbles are quick to toss at enemies on after another, but using a crossbow can take a lot longer between shots.
By simply moving over stuff, you can vacuum things into your inventory or use special items when you make contact with what they can interact with. NPCs will automatically talk to you when you simply approach them. And that’s essentially it. Point, click, throw stuff, and move over things to pick up whatever is nailed down or use what you have found to solve puzzles.
As for the lands you’ll be traveling to, they’re broken up into eight different kingdoms, though that’s kind of misnomer because they don’t actually have a ruler overseeing each one. Each kingdom is further broken up into six areas linked by gates. To get to the next kingdom, though, requires you to solve a few puzzles and perhaps battle a number of beasts for goodies to activate the way through. Once you leave a kingdom, though, you can’t go back. But as for the smaller areas that these are divided into, traveling back and forth between those almost becomes required to find and solve everything you need.
The manual goes into some detail in describing each kingdom and indulges in a bit of mathematical humor in saying that the “Kingdoms map like a four-dimensional hypercube, or Tesseract” though the descriptions of the lands themselves make for entertaining reading. It has to be because every land, with some exceptions, look exactly alike with only more descriptive text in-game creating additional environmental aesthetics. Sunderabad has pyramids and is supposed to be a desert, but it still looks a lot like the last green colored landscape you left behind a few kingdoms ago.
By breaking out of the grid-based, 90° turn-based movement of other first-person dungeons or the overhead tile-based displays popular among cRPGs, Sleeping Gods Lie’s first-person freeform movement was one of several interesting stabs at creating a more open world despite its restrictions. A year later, Infogrames’ Drakkhen would also adopt the same approach, but with a much more detailed and extensive RPG underneath the hood.
Sleeping Gods Lie was reprinted in 1992 by an outfit called Touchdown. It received less-than-glowing reviews not for the quality of the reprint but for the game itself which seemed dated when compared to everything else that had gone on in the RPG space since 1989. After that, it disappeared into obscurity only to lurk in the corners of the ‘net as its Amiga, Atari ST, or MS-DOS versions.
On the whole, Sleeping Gods Lie felt more like an action adventure with a few simple RPG elements bolted on. The biggest draw for the game, at the time, was its 3D presentation of the world dressed up with neat sound effects (especially on the Amiga) and graphics if not the relatively simple gameplay. Some of the lands could be great challenges, though, such as when I nearly ran out of ammo in the freezing hills of Simala (your health also slowly erodes) and thought my quest would come to a premature end. Or when I baked to death under Sunderabad’s sun before I found “cool shades”. Moments like that made it was easy to see how engrossing this short adventure into a mysterious land with an unusual goal, especially on the Amiga or the Atari ST, could be. An interesting gem from the UK with a unique ending that dared to take players on a quest to wake a sleepy god.