Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor Preview

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Eschalon: Book II

Developer:Stormfront Studios
Release Date:2001-09-27
  • Action,Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Third-Person
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A person realizes just how long they've been gaming when they are able to recall playing one of the original games to introduce Dungeons & Dragons to the PC, Pool of Radiance. Released in 1988 by SSI, the game was revolutionary for its time and offered a means for D&D enthusiasts to enjoy their favorite pastime without the need to gather a group of friends. And now, almost fourteen years later, we are about to see a rebirth of this classic in the form of Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor.

With RoMD, Stormfront introduces us to the first D&D PC game that incorporates many of the recently released 3rd edition rules. In addition to many of the standard D&D character classes and races, character creation in PoR offers the choice of the Barbarian, Monk, and Sorcerer classes, as well as the Half-Orc race. For more creation choices, all races now have the option to become any class, contrary to the restrictions in 2nd edition. Each character is presented with a point system for optimizing their attributes, removing the need to spend a considerable amount of time rolling them until you're happy with the outcome.

After each character is created, you can begin adding them to a party of up to four characters, with two slots available for NPCs later in the game. Each character is able to advance to a maximum of sixteenth level, but can attain the level cap in more than one class, allowing the possibility of a powerful multi-class character such as a level 16-16 Rogue/Sorcerer. With theadherence to the 3rd edition rules, literally any class combinations are allowed, contrary to the limited multiclassing of 2nd edition AD&D games.

As characters advance, they will acquire skills and feats, which are both new to D&D with the 3rd edition rules. Skills allow a character to do things like search for hidden doors and traps, or bandage a wounded party member. Obviously, some skills will be easier for certain character classes, but every class is at least somewhat proficient with most of them. Feats offer some sort of powerful advantage to the character, and are specific to each class. Fighters, for instance, gain a feat called "Cleave" which allows them to follow through on a powerful swing to attack more than one adjacent opponent in a single combat turn. Sorcerers, on the other hand, gain feats like "Toughness", which grants an additional three hit points to help them endure the many battles in the game.

Along with the previous gains, which are based on a character's level, you're bound to find an abundance of magical items that will further enhance your characters' abilities and ultimately increase your party's longevity. Equipping a character with a new trinket is done through an inventory screen similar to the one in Blizzard's Diablo or its sequel. You simply click and drag the newfound item onto the character's revolving avatar and they will equip it (assuming their race and class allow it). For those of you who like to give your characters a unique look, you'll be happy to hear that Pool of Radiance will adjust your character's adventuring graphic to reflect what he or she is wearing. Thus, if you want to wear leather armor, red boots, and wield a scimitar... well, that's exactly how you'll look.

Your adventure first begins in Myth Drannor, the once spectacular elven city that has since fallen into ruin. Here you'll discover that the band of heroes previously sent by Elminster have met their fate, leaving your party to continue their quest in finding and destroying the reawakened Pool of Radiance in New Phlan. Your investigations will bring you to many areas of the Forgotten Realms and put you up against some of Faerun's greatest foes, including the scarred mages from the organization called the Cult of the Dragon.

The many areas of the game have been created in high-resolution 3D, which makes you realize just how far we've come with games when you compare it to the original two-dimensional version of PoR. Both the outside world and dungeon areas in Myth Drannor provide spectacular landscapes to behold and are overrun with plenty of creatures, puzzles, and, of course, treasure. Dungeon delving is one of PoR's strong points, with each level being an enormous network of tunnels, collapsed structures, and hidden rooms. Instead of just moving from one dungeon level to the next, it is not uncommon for one floor to "branch off" into several sub-levels. For example, the main floor of the first dungeon contains exits that lead to several different areas, such as some dwarven crypts and an old dilapitated prison. Because of these vast dungeon areas, PoR's mapping function is an extremely helpful feature, allowing you to zoom in on any explored area, mark important locations with flags, and even view any hidden doors or stairways your party has uncovered previously.

For an added level of depth and realism, you're allowed to have brief conversations with some of the creatures you encounter (or simply listen to them plot their next move from behind a closed door) instead of just rushing into battle. These conversations can allow you to avoid combat altogether or even learn information pertaining to your quest... if you say the right things.

Of course, during many encounters, a battle is inevitable. Differing from recent role-playing games, combat in Ruins of Myth Drannor is turn-based, meaning that it offers the player control of each character one at a time. When a battle begins, the game will automatically calculate initiative for each character, as well as each opponent. Initiative is simply a number that determines when each combat participant's turn will fall during each round of battle. The higher the number, the sooner your character gets to perform an action. Once initiative is "rolled" for everyone involved, the game gives you a graphical representation of when each character's turn is coming and when to expect an attack from each opponent. Using this method, the battles tend to be much longer than in other CRPGs, but make for a closer representation to how combat is ran in a real D&D session.

It is not until a battle is over that experience is tallied and treasure is to be had. All characters that are conscious at the end of the battle gain an equal portion of the total experience and are free to loot any gold or items that appear on the battlefield once the opponents' corpses disappear. Typically, after some of the more elaborate battles, there will be additional treasure elsewhere in the room, such as in chest or on a bookshelf. Right-clicking on a chest or similar container brings up a small menu, allowing you to smash it, pick the lock, or other actions, depending on the container and the character who is inspecting it.

Having played through a near-finished version of the game, I can attest to the fact that it will easily provide the 100 hours of gameplay that Stormfront and Ubi-Soft are promising. And it's not just the time investment that makes the game so compelling to me. The thing I probably enjoy most is the fact that your characters begin at first level, restoring an appreciation for character advancement and magical equipment that seems to have been lost in many recent CRPGs. Find yourself a weapon of +2 enchantment in Baldur's Gate II, for instance, and you'll most likely be dropping it on the ground to save room. In PoR, however, you'll be hastily saving your game and deciding which lucky character gets to wield it. It's also nice to be able to utilize as low as 1st level spells again and get maximum effectiveness out of them. Cast a Sleep spell on a group of orcs, for example, and chances are that several of them will be taking a good snooze. Granted, some of the more aggressive players may not enjoy going back to this down-to-earth setting again, but for me it's a welcome return.

Overall, I think Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor has great potential for D&D enthusiasts and CRPG fans alike. It offers thorough exploration of the Moonsea section of Faerun, a unique flavor of combat with its turn-based controls, and a whole new method of character creation and advancement with its basis around the 3rd edition D&D ruleset.