Times of Lore is one of the most incredible games ever programmed for the Commodore 64. In many ways it's the spiritual father of games like Diablo and Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance. From the moment this game loads, you know that a lot of effort and attention to detail has been put into this game. The game starts with one of the best intros ever. A chisel slowly carves the title into rock, then molten gold fills the stenciled letters and a hypnotic Martin Galway tune starts playing.
The composition goes on for approximately nine minutes, which makes me think they originally wanted this for in-game music but the engine couldn't handle it. (Who sits for 9 minutes in front of the title screen?) After you choose one of three possible characters you are presented with a picture-book summary of the history of the kingdom up to this time.
Like all Origin games, there are a lot of amazing details. You can walk into buildings, causing the roofs to disappear so you can see inside. Citizens walk around freely in and around houses. The woodsman and other characters behave according to the time of day. At night they go inside, and you can see them curled up in their beds. You can talk to anyone in the game (except enemies) and find out rumours to guide your quest. The atmospheric sounds are great. You'll hear birds when you are in a forest and waves lapping the edge of a lake. Even parts of the scenery animate, such as fire and water.
The Ultima games are perhaps the deepest RPG games for the time, but I always wanted a deep RPG game that was action based and featured better graphics. This is that game, though it isn't as deep or detailed as the Ultima games. There isn't a huge variety of enemies to defeat, though they all look very nice. Apparently it was made for the UK tape market, which restricted the amount of content in the game. If they had made it multi-load, perhaps it could have had the depth of an Ultima game.
The game plays similar to Gauntlet, especially in the dungeons later in the game. Most of the time you just walk up to an enemy and hit it with your sword. If you can press the button just before you touch an enemy, then you will go far young man. You have a few weapons at your disposal, but you will probably stick with the flying axe once you find it. One odd quirk is that no other enemies will appear from off-screen if you remain still. They only enter the screen when you are on the move, so if you ever want to take a break from the action, just stop moving.
The interface is vintage-eighties. It features several graphical icons at the bottom of the screen and a text area that is used well. By hitting spacebar the menu becomes active. The only problem I had with the interface was that to pick up an item you have to hit spacebar, then select the item. Considering the number of times you have to pick up items, I thought this was too much. It would have been nice to automatically pick up items, or perhaps a hotkey could have been used. Also, using items in the heat of battle was a little clumsy since it takes so many key-presses.
Story wise, the game is similar to Lord of the Rings. There's a divided kingdom, a wizard imprisoned in a tower, a powerful ring with a runic inscription, and a lost king that must be found. There are some good mysteries and side quests within the game, and it was enough to keep me wondering what would come next. The only rumor that didn't pan out for me was the rumor of a dragon in the Northern Mountains. As far as I know, that's the only false rumor in the game.
As a big Zelda fan, I was always looking for a C64 version to equal Legend of Zelda for the NES. In terms of action-RPG games, it deserves the crown that Zelda held on the Nintendo. There are things that Zelda does better and there are things that Times of Lore does better. Times of Lore allows more interaction with NPCís and has a deeper storyline. Zelda presented the world one screen at a time, while Times of Lore displays its world through scrolling, continuous screens, kind of like Grand Theft Auto. This comes at a price, however, since you can't fight as many enemies at once and things tend to bog down when there are many enemies on screen. With one or two enemies it's not bad, but when there are four other characters on screen it slows to a crawl. Zelda was a great game that fit perfectly into the NES hardware, but Times of Lore was a little too ambitious for the C64. If you can put up with the occasional slowdown, you'll enjoy the game.
People thought it was incredible when the huge world of Zelda came out on a cartridge. But if you thought that was impressive, you will wet your pants over the achievement by the Times of Lore programmers. The entire world fits into 64 kilobytes of memory in one single load. After the game starts you can turn off the disk drive and play from start to end. This may not sound incredible if you haven't played it, but when you see the detail of the surface world with various forests, deserts, lakes, plains, swamps, mountains, and all the subterranean dungeons, the mazes, all the characters with their dialog, and all the objects, and all the puzzles and hidden traps, you will wonder how it was ever possible. It's just a massively detailed world that somehow fits into one load. There must have been some seriously brilliant programmers behind this game. Even in this day of almost photo-real graphics, Times of Lore is riveting.
Downloads: Music, Advert 2, Advert 3
|GRAPHICS - 9/10|
|The graphics in this game are fantastic, almost approaching Amiga quality. Even background tiles animate, such as waves lapping the shore. The play area is a little small and there isnít a huge variety of enemies to face off against, but thatís a minor quibble.|
|SOUND - 8/10|
|Music is only present on the title screen, but itís absolutely amazing. Martin Galway is a genius. The sounds are very nice and there are even atmospheric sounds such as birds in a forest. It can be a quiet game, but that only enhances the immersion.|
|PLAYABILITY - 7/10|
|The engine design is near perfect. Saving is accomplished by finding an inn and paying for a room for the night. There are many quests with interesting stories. There are also some problems. It can be difficult to use items, especially in the heat of action. The big letdown is engine slowdown when too many enemies are on screen.|
|OVERALL - 9/10|
|The storyline, the graphics, the sounds, and the attention to detail all outweigh any problems with the game speed. Itís a fun game that will give you at least eight hours of intriguing game play.|