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A sequel was released in 1989 called Chaos Strikes Back that literally continued where it predecessor left-off. Sporting the same look and feel as the original, it didn't really improve much on the original game, but it didn't need to - why fix something if it isn't broken? Chaos Strikes Back offered one of the very first character editors, and had an intuitive hint-oracle one could consult when the going got too tough. It gave players more of what they wanted - good game play as well as nice graphics for its time. These games were the benchmarks for more popular efforts from a myriad of companies such as Westwood Studios's Eye of the Beholder series, and its reach continues even as far as today with the recent release of Interplay's Stonekeep.
Today, however, the concept of 3-D step movement limited to the four cardinal directions is very outdated. Surrounded by phenomenally successful games such in the early nineties, such as Origin's Ultima Underworld series to today's games like Id's Doom and Doom 2, LucasArts' Dark Forces, as well as many, many others (and many more on the way...) the limited movement tends to take away from the game play, and player's expectations have been raised. While the 3-D step movement games can have phenomenal graphics and interesting innovations, they simply lack the fast-paced excitement that newer 3-D games can offer.
Dungeon Master II was hyped as the next biggest thing in the PC world. Loyal Dungeon Master fans were primed and awaiting the arrival of what was to be an updated, nineties version of the classic game to which they (as well as I) lost many hours of their lives in the dungeons. Unfortunately, what FTL and Interplay delivered was a great new game, had it been released in 1990. For 95, it didn't cut the mustard.
The game begins in a quiet guard-house at the base of Skullkeep, a castle which broods above the countryside like a blackened mountain, that catacombs into dungeons underneath. You are Torham Zed, a lowly soldier who's been stuck in the garrison nearby, and on a rainy night you notice strange lights fluttering around and into Skullkeep. A mysterious woman appears, and bids you on a quest to gather some men, infiltrate the evil castle, and rebuild an unknown machine, in an effort to thwart the plan of a nameless entity that threatens the fate of the world (how original!). The game begins in the sleeping-chamber beneath the guard-house where you must choose three companions to join you on your quest. Here's where the game goes downhill (and you haven't even started playing yet...) First of all, the fact that Dungeon Master II is a rudimentary 3-D step game detracts from the game play, since the technology for full 360 degree movement is available, there is little explanation for why it wasn't employed. Secondly, the graphics fall far short of their potential. The environments are all drawn in low-resolution. For example, the hedges and walls of the areas are extremely repetitive, and the monsters look almost comical in many cases. Hand drawn characters and graphics do not have to look cartoony and childish, instead, when they are well illustrated, they can provide an awesome environment and interesting effects. The overall look of the game gave a weak impression. Once again, with the level of available technology and artistry, there is no excuse as to why the graphics are so poor.
The interface could be considered tricky. For experienced Dungeon Master players, the interface was nearly the same. Small improvements, such as the ability to fight with more than one weapon per character, are welcome, even though the concept is nothing new. The magic system, however, might as well be written in secret code for the inexperienced gamer - the spells are entirely comprised of cryptic magic symbols - and if one hasn't collected a sheet full of spells from the earlier Dungeon Master scenarios, one might find that even lighting a magic torch (the simplest of spells) can be an impossible feat. Inexperienced players may find the interface annoying, but after awhile it is not impossible to become accustomed to it. Also, one never needs to use the keyboard, it is entirely mouse-driven. Overall, it is not the best interface in the gaming world - there have been worse, but there have also been better.
The sound design of the game could have also used some fine-tuning (pardon the pun...) While the sound of the players' fist pounding on a dungeon wall might be a resounding thunk, the same sound from a hedge in the surrounding countryside was kind of inappropriate (the last time I punched a hedge, and that ain't often let me tell you, the sound it made was distinctly not "hunk"...) The sound effects are not as effective as they could have been. While the ambient noises weren't too bad, things like the monsters' howls and the sounds of walking through muddy waters are very uninteresting and hardly inspirational.
The overall playing of the game, however, was the strongest point of Dungeon Master II. It is full of neat little details that could keep some players interested. Currency is not limited to gold and silver - there are jewels included as well. There are stores in and about Stonekeep in which you can buy supplies and equipment, magical artifacts, as well as items unavailable anywhere else. You can even bargain with the sales-troll! On top of all that, you can even exchange large amounts of small coinage for small amounts of large. Other effects, such as lighting during rainstorms, can even damage the party or kill monsters.
There are a variety of magical maps that can aid the party in many ways: creating sentries to defend, revealing secret walls, or even showing the locations of monsters thirsting for your blood. Finally, FTL added a technological twist on the game: Stonekeep is full of neat little machines the player has to assemble, while electric eyes scan the hallways ready to zap intruders and mechanical assault drones attack at the most inopportune moments.
Written by Anil Chhabra
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486 DX2-66 MHz or higher,
Min 8Mb memory,
MS-DOS 6.00 or higher,
Hard drive required with 1Mb free,
Double speed CD-ROM drive or faster,
MSCDEX version 2.2 or higher,
256 color VGA or SVGA display (PCI or VLB recommended),
SoundBlaster 2.0, Sound Blaster Pro, Sound Blaster 16, AWE32, Pro Audio Spectrum, Gravis UltraSound, Ensoniq Soundscape, and 100% compatibles,
Microsoft compatible mouse.
Interplay Productions Inc.,
17922 Fitch Avenue,
Irvine, CA 92714.
Web site: Interplay
Email address: Interplay Technical Support
Interplay Productions Ltd.,
Harleyford, Henley Road,
Marlow, Buckinghamshire, SL7 2DX.