There’s nothing like a walk down memory lane. If you don’t mind me waxing philosophic, the best way to realize where the future of games is going is to look at the past. That’s how I felt when I was playing Menzoberranzan, one of the many Dungeons & Dragons RPG SSI released during the 1990’s. As the game loaded I was giddy with the sensation that I was about to experience history firsthand. It would be like watching the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t that compelling, and I haven’t truly felt giddy in a while, but I was looking forward to playing one of the games that stood out from the long list of Dungeons & Dragons CRPGs. Being a huge fan of the Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale games, I wanted to see how the Forgotten Realms was originally adapted to the PC.
Menzoberranzan is pretty straightforward. You are allowed to create two characters, and as the game begins they’re the heroes of your village, having just defeated some hideous creature. The villagers plan a party in your honor, but before you can celebrate, Drow invade the village, setting it on fire and kidnapping the villagers. This all occurs in the opening animation and gets the action started right away.
It should be re-stated now that this game was released in 1994, and should not be held to the standards of today’s games. That being said, the graphics in the opening animation are great, but they do not continue through to the actual game. The 3D world has a very flat and blurry look to it. There are no rounded edges, which made me think fondly of the old pen and paper dungeons I used to draw on graph paper. The designers did go through the trouble of giving walls their proper thickness, so there’s no similarity to the paper-thin walls we saw in the dungeons of games like the original Bard’s Tale.
The opening quest of putting out the fire is simple enough, and it serves as something of a tutorial so you can get used to the game controls. From there you learn more of the situation with the villagers, and you’re given your ultimate goal: rescue the kidnapped villagers from the Drow. Fortunately, you’ll make friends along the way that will lend you a hand. The most notable of these companions is Drizzt Do’Urden, who will help you find your way into the Underdark.
The subsequent quests are uncomplicated and linear, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. As I played, I did find myself trying to give the game the benefit of the doubt more than a few times. I was often reminding myself that the game was old, and that I shouldn’t be too hard on it. So with regard to the quests in the game, I did a little “role-playing,” and decided that if the safe rescue of my fellow villagers was of utmost importance, then my motivation for finishing quests should revolve around that goal. One drawback to Menzoberranzan’s quest system is that there is no record or journal in order to track your progress through each quest. I kept a notepad open to record important information, but there is a feature in the game to print out the dialog sequences if you wish to. However, I found it easier to just keep my own notes.