Death Gate begins in apocalyptic fashion with a 3D rendered intro showing a group of robed figures sundering the world into 5 realms of stone, fire, water, air and the labyrinth. Like most games of the era this 3D isn’t all that impressive looking at it now but at least the speech is reasonably well done. Nothing can ruin a perfectly decent adventure game as easily as terrible voice acting and I’ve often found disk versions of some of these early “talkies” to be preferable to the CD-ROM release.
The game then jumps forward hundreds of years to a second intro, which is presumably the one that would have been on the floppy version of the game. I learn that the character I play is a member of the Patryn race who has just escaped the labyrinth with the aid of a powerful sorcerer called Xar. My entire race was banished to the hellish realm of the labyrinth when the world was sundered by the rival Sartans and hundreds of years later have only just found a route out.
This still leaves me with lots of questions but this is where the game becomes playable. The interface is fairly typical of Legend and shows their text adventure roots. The common verbs are all on the left of the screen, objects are interacted with by clicking them on screen and selecting one of these verbs or another object. Additional verbs pop up with some items meaning that this interface isn’t restricted to the usual handful of icons you see in most point and clicks.
The red fireball is for casting spells. As I progress through the game, I gradually learn spells which can be cast to solve numerous puzzles. These form a large part of the puzzles in the game from what I’ve seen so far.
The inventory is next to this and finally the compass on the left shows the directions I can travel in. The compass really is straight out of a text adventure but saves typing in directions at least. There is also a map which can be used to speed between screens if needed.
All of this is slightly more convoluted than a Lucasarts or Sierra interface of the time but I really like it as it gives more options to the game designer and usually means I have to come up with an idea to solve puzzles rather than being able to get by them mechanically through trial and error. It’s a decent compromise compared to some earlier Legend games which didn’t pull this off as well and were basically out-and-out text adventures with graphics.
The first job is to talk to Xar who gives me the full introduction to the world. All of the characters in this game have a lot to say with sizable dialog trees to say the least. My quest, should I choose to accept it, turns out to be going into all the four realms in a flying ship to recover all the world seals so that we can reunite the world into one again. His motives here don’t appear to be entirely honourable as both the Patryn and Sartars consider themselves rulers over the lesser beings of elves, men and dwarves but I’ve no choice but to go along with it for now.
Using a spell Xar has just taught me I transfer the rune for the world of air onto my ships navigation gem and set sail for the first world.
The world of air is full of little floating islands but isn’t especially airy with plenty of ground for me to explore. I start in a cave populated with dwarves. To a large extent the dialog with the dwarves is being played for comedy with some adventure game tropes thrown in. E.g. there is an old dwarf who spends all day sat under a dripping pipe waiting for someone to fix it. He has a box sat next to him which used to contain 5 parts for pipe fixing which have been pinched one by one by various people, etc.. Not all the puzzles are this obviously constructed but the obstacles you have to overcome are always pretty clear in this game.
The dwarves are being oppressed by glowing beings calling themselves gods and the dwarves are seemingly dumb enough to accept this just because they glow. I sneak my way onto the gods ship and find some human slaves manning the oars who tell me that the gods are infact elves using a glow spell cast on voodoo-doll type statues of the crew to make this effect. The dwarves have some sort of mining machine called the Kicksey-Winsey which the elves are using to supply water for themselves in this scam. One of these slaves is a captured Duke who asks me to seek his rescue and sends me off to see his royal relatives. This means a new location on my map to fly off to.
I tell the humans King about the enslavement of the Duke. He says he can only rescue him if the ship is in the air and I have to manage this feat myself. While I’m around, I sneak to the side of the castle, break in and witness someone casting a spell allowing them to walk into a painting. I copy this spell to enter the painting myself and discover that an elf is being kept as a prisoner of war inside. He teaches me a shroud of darkness spell to turn off the lighting in his cell so he can get some sleep but this is a ruse to get me close enough for a swap spell when puts me in the cage in his place while he escapes. Thankfully, his captors release me unharmed when they find out and I come out of the experience two spells to the good.
The shroud of darkness spell turns out to be just the thing to drape over those glowing statues of elves from earlier. It sucks up the glow spell and the dwarves seeing their gods are now mortal rebel. All the elves make a run for the ship before I can get off myself but the slaves point me to the hold from where I set off some pyrotechnics to draw the attention of the human Kings navy. They rescue all the slaves + myself and as a reward the King offers to help me in my quest. In the newly stolen elf ship, he sends me off to break into the tower of the Brotherhood (a guild of assassins) to get the information I need.
This leads to a third map location of the lawless city of the Brotherhood. This brotherhood is now headed by Ciang from the short story but I don’t get the meet her at any point. With the help of a young vagabond and through a series of puzzles, I manage to get into the tower by joining the brotherhood. I’m left to my own devices for an hour before the ritual joining ceremony during which time I have to break into their vault and steal the information I’m looking for.
I ran into a hitch at this point in that I didn’t realise this was a timed event, presumably on number of moves rather than actual time. If I don’t manage to carry out this task quickly enough, I’m found out to be a would-be thief and killed. Of course I didn’t realise there were dead ends and had my one and only save game in an unwinnable state resulting in me starting all the way at the beginning again. Thankfully, clicking through every conversation and knowing all the puzzles meant this took 10 minutes rather than the 3 or 4 hours it took the first time. I’m going to be far, far more careful about save games from here on in though as I wouldn’t want to get in this position at the end of the game.
The hardest puzzle of the game so far is in the tower. There is a door covered in hand prints made with different types of gem/stone. I have a piece of paper obtained earlier with the names of 5 floating continents and five words in a sentence above them. These words turn out to be the first letters of the hands I need to press to open the door. I can find which of the 5 continents I’m supposed to use by opening a window in the tower through which one continent is visible – the clue here is referenced in a book to say that the password changed at different times of year and presumably the continents float around in an orbit of sorts. What I like about this sort of puzzle is that all of the information you need is in the game and it’s not just trial and error. Everything in the game has been like this so far.
I escape from the tower with some books and a crystal globe. Next on the list is to repair the pipework from much earlier as I now have the missing pieces. This fixes the Kicksey-Winsey which through more puzzles takes me to a room full of dead Sartans + a statue which gives me the sought after world seal. One down, 3 to go with the realm of fire being next on the list.
I’ve skipping over most of the puzzles and story on this write-up, this post is more than long enough as it is. I will say that this has been an exceptionally well designed game so far though with loads of adventure and puzzles packed into a relatively small number of locations. I’ve never had to resort to wandering around aimlessly trying things but it’s still been a challenge thanks to the large number of alternatives offered up by the interface. I’d like to think it will get a little more tricky as the game goes on, this should be built in to an extent as I learn more spells and my options open up even further. By this point, I’ve already got about 10 spells under my belt and if I carry on accruing them at this rate I’ll end up with 40-50 by the end of the game.
Graphically, the backgrounds are very good looking for the time being mostly in SVGA but there isn’t too much animation and it does all come across as a little stale somehow. I’m not being drawn into the world and story so much as solving a series of puzzles. The adventure gaming tropes of everyone being there as pieces in a puzzle are all too apparent. The conversations and characters are still detailed and entertaining for all that, I would imagine that the novels took quite a different tone to say the least but this has been a great game to play so far. The interface is arguably the best I’ve seen in an adventure game and if this is typical of Legend’s output, I really need to play more of their games. One game at a time though – I’ll be back with part 3 when I have another world stone.