Saturday, 8 January 2011

Review: Fabled Lands - The War-Torn Kingdom

As I mentioned before Christmas, I bought the first two books in the re-released Fabled Lands solitaire RPG series and I've just gotten around to reading the first. If you're following me on Twitter then you may have seen me tweeting about my exploits in Sokara, the land the book is set in, and probably realise that I was having a heap of unadulterated fun.

If you want to know a little more about the series then check out my previous post about it, since I'm getting straight into the review. Fabled Lands sets out to create a world that you can seamlessly explore to your heart's content and authors Dave Morris and Jamie Thompson have achieved this in spades.

The most striking thing is that there is only a story if you want there to be a story. The first book is set on a backdrop of war and civil unrest, with treachery and plotting around every corner. The land of Sokara has been taken over by a dictator called General Marlock who rules the land with an iron fist. The rightful king has been sent into exile and is now acquiring forces from other lands to take back the throne. If you want to take advantage of the situation then by all means the book lets you. Becoming a pawn for the authoritarian General will land you riches galore but honour and glory lies with taking sides with the rebellion led by the king. However, you could just as well ignore the war completely and go about your daily business, letting events happen around you.

You begin with a selection of character types to choose from, which have their own stat set. It's all very similar territory if you've played D&D, with a number of attributes that determine how well you perform in situations. Theivery will let you slip past guards and pick locks while scouting shows how well you can navigate and notice things. There are six attributes with values ranging from one to six, as well as defense and stamina. The character sheet is much more complex than say Fighting Fantasy, with boxes for titles, blessings, ressurections and even a ship manifest. Yet, it doesn't come off as complex when you're playing. It flows and that's a key factor in creating a good solo experience. The core mechanic involves rolling 2d6 and adding the relevant attribute. For combat you're trying to beat the opponent's defense and vice-versa. For other tests such as magic or sanctity you have to beat a pre-determined number. It's simple and quick, which is strange in a book that feels like it should be much more complex.

You start out on a boat sailing to Sokara in search of adventure, but are washed onto Druid's Isle, just off the mainland. There you meet a mad old man who shows you some standing stones that can teleport you to various places in Sokara. You also have the option of exploring the forested island, but I went straight to the continent itself, namely the capital city - Marlock. Since this is the main city there's a hell of a lot to do. There are lots of buildings, including four temples dedicated to various deities. Becoming an initiate of a certain religion will get you a certain perk, such as cheaper ressurrections, but you can only become an initiate of one religion at a time, and must pass a test to be accepted into the religion. You can also recieve blessings from the gods, which is especially useful when going sailing, as the sea gods will help you through a storm if it hits.

You also have the option to purchase a house in most towns and cities in the land where you can rest and recover your health without needing to pay for an inn as well as being able to store equipment that you would have otherwise has to discard due to the 12 item limit. The fact that you can own property adds to the feeling that you're living a life in this world and that you can choose where you want to live in the world is even better.

Before long you will come across a few quests that you can usually do at your own leisure. Some will be fairly small and others integral to the history of Sokara, such as assassinating the leader of a city. Money goes as fast as it comes as you gain it for completing quests and selling items, but lose it from purchasing, gambling and plain theivery. If you want to make some money with a little bit of risk involved then you can buy a ship and travel to different places selling goods. You could theoretically live the whole game as a sea merchant, with a goal to make as much profit as possible. There are three ships, each differing in size and cargo space. You also get an average crew thrown in with the purchase, but you can pay extra to get a good or excellent crew depending on which city you're hiring from. Good and excellent crew give you bonuses against the nasty things that you may encounter at sea, but prices can be steep. If you're more of a business person than a sailor, you can invest money in the Merchant's Guild to try and make some profit, although it seems that unless you wait a to collect various codewords then you're unlikely to make much.

Codewords are the backbone of Fabled Lands. When an event happens you are prompted to note down a codeword (all words in book one begin with 'a', and are different in subsequent books). Then when you get to a paragraph where you are asked to turn to another paragraph if you have a certain codeword you check if you have the word and then see what transpires if you have. Generally they are proof that you have done something or a certain event has happened. For example, you may be asked by a village to kill a creature that's been kidnapping people. Once you've killed the creature the villagers will react differently towards you than they did previously when you enter the village, such as cheering and praising you as a hero.

While codewords denote personal events, tickboxes are placed on certain paragraphs to show world events that are out of your control. You might be asked to tick a box every time you enter a city, and when all the boxes are ticked something will happen in the city. This mechanic is ingenius as it means the world is constantly evolving, even if you're not having a direct impact on it. Even events in different countries can have an impact on each other.

If you want to explore more of the Fabled Lands world then you're going to have to pick up the other books, which act like expansions to the first book. In fact, the only drawback of the series I can see is that at least one of the quests in The War-Torn Kingdom requires you to own another book. However, since the story spans books I suppose this can't really be helped since it's inevitable that there will be overlap.

Fabled Lands is nothing short of astonishing. It presents a living world that you can do pretty much what you want in. With other books added to your repertoire there is seemingly no end to the adventures that you can have in this fantasy world.

5 Stars