By: Matthew Striplen
You’ve been traversing the world so long that you’ve lost count of the days. Only the grave importance of your mission drives you, the legendary Analander, forward: retrieve the Crown of Kings from the villainous Archmage. Powerful forces, both magical and otherwise, work against you at every turn. Can you stay alive long enough to see your quest to completion?
The fourth part in Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! tetralogy follows in the same formula as its predecessors. Players control the Analander by dragging him or her to the desired action point. Other actions have the players clicking on buttons to trigger the desired decision. It worked wonderfully in the previous installments, and it works just as well in this latest entry.
Sorcery! 4 uses the same art style as its predecessors. The beautifully hand drawn maps and pictures lend a tremendous amount of personality to each landscape, enabling players to easily distinguish between different locations.
Sound, again, plays a minimalistic role, as it consists primarily of ambient noises. This creates the sense that the Analander is truly alone in his quest, but it also adds extra emphasis to the moments where the developers chose to implement music.
Sorcery! 4 sets itself apart from the last three installments by removing its trademark function: rewinding time. Upon entering the outermost walls of the Archmage’s castle, Mampang, the Analander finds himself cursed and unable to correct bad decisions.
Actually, this is slightly misleading, as the Analander can rewind time, but only to a point before entering Mampang, thus rendering the ability practically useless.
This change has massive ramifications on the gameplay. Previous chapters encouraged extensive exploration, as any negative outcome could be remedied without consequence. The removal of this ability forces the player to play conservatively and cautiously.
However, there is an alternative to the time rewinding mechanic. Midway through the quest, the Analander is cursed with ZED, a mysterious spell which causes time to collapse, at the expense of the user’s health.
This means that should the Analander die from any cause, they’ll reappear at the moment they were cursed, keeping all money and items gained in the “future,” but at the cost of one maximum health point. Obviously, the player gets to keep any knowledge acquired from future events, and new responses and actions to various situations may present themselves.
Spells in Sorcery! 4 continue to be an issue. Their sheer number makes keeping track of them difficult, as in previous games. Sorcery! 4 has an additional problem regarding spells. Should the player be captured by the Archmage, they will be locked in a cell. Though multiple choices are presented, it ultimately ends the same way each time.
If the player lacks the correct spell or item, escaping the room is impossible. The only way out is to cast unknown spells, which rebound and hurt the player, until death and ZED resurrection. This is unusual, since Sorcery! usually provides a way out of any situation, even if that path is less than favorable.
One of the biggest problems with Sorcery! 4 is in regards to decision making. Although this issue is not unique to this current game, it is only a real problem because of the lack of time manipulation. The player will often be making decisions with little to no information to help them make an informed choice. Similar decisions with different characters often lead to drastically different results.
This was not a problem before, when it was possible change the future to ensure a favorable outcome, but now players must live with a decision that may result in the loss of items or death. The added punishment of the decreased stamina gauge creates a vicious cycle in which death and failure become more likely with each successive death.
As usual, the world is tremendously large and full of perils and wonder. In-depth exploration is required in order to reach your goal defeating the Archmage. Since the conventional time rewinding mechanic has been removed, exploration is much more perilous than before. However, Sorcery! 4 has more opportunities to regain lost health and items than previous installments.
Although this mitigates the difficulty, this current game remains significantly more challenging than its predecessors. The sheer amount of artifacts and secrets ensures that players are constantly engaged in exploring every inch of Mampang.
Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! ends with a thrilling conclusion. Players need all the skills they’ve acquired over the course of the previous games, and more bravery and cunning than ever. Many of the issues from the older game still cause problems, but it remains an engaging and exciting adventure worthy of praise.