Now Playing: Stonekeep (1995)

Look at that. Look at it. Fucking hologram skeletons on a tombstone box (full box shape not seen here). How could this game not be amazing? And just look at these high tech graphics (for 1995)!

 

Well…that voice acting is actually pretty awful isn’t it? The combat and UI are a bit clumsy and uncomfortable too actually…

 

The beginning of the game is particularly rough, with only your main character available, with nothing but a dagger and some rocks to start out with. You aren’t even given your map and journal right away. You have to find them and that could take hours if you just happen to go the opposite direction from the room it happens to be in. Even when you do find it, while there is a nice ability to make notes on your maps and items in your journal, it’s still largely uninformative. Item descriptions are typically vague and useless and you’ll need to do a lot of experimenting to try to find out what anything does. Weapons and armor aren’t given any kind of visible stats so you’re just left to assume that the most recent thing you find must be the most powerful. You also don’t get any visible XP counters so you have no idea when your abilities are going to suddenly decide to level up. You will also have very little health and very few recovery items early on. The only way to really survive the early levels is to use one of the unlimited healing fountains somewhere on each floor, but you have to find it first, which means fighting your way through most of a level and backtracking over and over again to use the previous one until you find the next one. Combat is downright vicious through most of the game too. A lot of fights will go like this if you try to fight the enemies head on.

 

What I learned eventually is that ranged combat is king in this game. Melee is almost completely useless in most situations because the enemies do such high damage and even if you survive you can’t afford to lose that much health because of the previously mentioned health restrictions. You don’t gain access to magic until a good 1/3 of the way through either, and when you finally do, you find that mana is about as rare as health and completely unable to be used frequently. Did you want to be a fighter or a mage in this game? Too fucking bad. You’re a ranger or you die. Learn to love throwing rocks and being really cheap and cowardly. I learned that you can exploit the stupidity of the AI a good amount of the time too by getting an enemy to chase you and then starting to fire at him at just the right distance, you could usually get them to mess up and just stand there at that sweet spot while you slowly range them to death. This probably doesn’t sound very fun and there were definitely times where it could be a bit frustrating, but once you get a feel for the game the challenging survival feel of the game really starts to grow on you.

 

It’s a pretty long game too, with 20 or so consecutive dungeons packed full of nasty enemies and tricky puzzles and traps. Again, there are some downsides to that too, like the fact that so many of the level textures were the same small handful used over and over again with nothing but the color changed (but at least everything else about them was different), and that godawful fucking faerie realm level. Whoever designed that level and forced me to accept an insanely annoying fairy into my party with no way to refuse or remove them, needs to be punched in the face, like I punched out this rockslide…

 

Overall, despite all the flaws, I enjoyed it. It’s nowhere near as polished a dungeon crawl as say, Lands of Lore: Throne of Chaos, and I definitely will not ever replay it as much, but on the other hand, it’s way tougher and longer. Give it a try if you like a good challenging dungeon adventure. It’s worth playing at least once, if you can just push through that nasty first few floors.

 

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