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You come upon a page for a work which has been tended like a garden and contains much text. A gargoyle perched on a nearby tombstone eyes you cautiously, while a red-haired fortune teller welcomes you. You decide to...
- ...simply walk through.
- ...inquire about methods of acquiring Darklands.
- ...read the page using your Read & Write skills.
- ...attempt to converse with the fortune teller regarding dinner.
- ...draw weapons and attack the gargoyle!
- ...throw an alchemical potion of "Wiki Magic" at the page.
- ...hide in a corner and wait to see what happens.
- ...pray to a saint for assistance.
- ...leave this page for other adventures.
Darklands is a Wide Open Sandbox and Role Playing Game by Microprose, released in 1992. Its most defining trait (there are many) is that it is set in 15th century Central-Europe (rather than a fantasy-fictional land), and turns real-world cultural lore and even religion into a background story.
In Darklands, an adventuring group of four characters sets out from very humble beginnings to make a name for themselves and (potentially) save the world from the dark forces of The Devil. The unique choice of setting (I.E. the Holy Roman Empire's last days as an actual power) also means that it aspires towards realism, despite taking plenty of freedom with subjects like alchemy, supersitition and religion. The characters visit many cities across renaissance-era Germany, Denmark, Poland, and Switzerland. They wear armor and use weapons that did indeed exist during this era (including inefficient but deadly handguns!), and spend much of their time battling brigand-lords and sucking up to the clergy. They can work for a living, maintain a decent reputation, and perform many other mundane activites that most RPGs simply take for granted.
On the flip-side, the world of Darklands incorporates real-world mythology as de-facto reality. This means that Alchemy actually works, so the "Wizard" class character is replaced by an Alchemist, who concocts various and potentially dangerous potions from alchemical materials. Christian saints can actually bless your teammembers if you pray to them, so a cleric must be a pious man versed in the properties and abilities of each saint. Monsters are taken right out of central-european medieval lore, and includes Gargoyles, Dwarves, Witches, and even the occasional Dragon.
Darklands is perhaps one of the more hard-core RPGs out there. Character creation is a complex process that involves choosing the character's background (more like "past career choices") and life experiences, rather than just putting points into skills. There are about two dozen skills, and each one has an impact on at least one important aspect of the game, making it difficult to create a party that covers all of them. Survival is tough, especially because combat is insanely difficult at times (the game doesn't scale down encounters...). Magical weapons are extremely rare, so you can expect to play most of the game with just the basic fare (which includes a vast array of different weapons, all of which are useful in some way). Additionally, while the manual is quite hefty, it doesn't even begin to cover everything the game has to offer, adding another aspect of Fake Difficulty.
Despite many bugs and other issues with its original release, Darklands managed to stay popular with hard-core RPG gamers for the past two decades, and is remembered very fondly even by players who didn't manage to get very far in the game. It should be noted that, for the most part, the game is a Wide Open Sandbox with virtually no objectives. Even if you do manage to complete the VERY LONG main quest, you can just keep playing on. Characters die of old age, and can be freely replaced with new recruits whenever necessary. The game never moves past the 15th century, even though it does keep track of time normally. For this reason, few players have actually finished the game at all, but that is not really required to enjoy it. It's more a question of how famous you can make yourself before you get bored.
Darklands is currently available as a digital download in Good Old Games. Unfortunately, while there have been many calls from the fanbase to remake the game, these calls go unanswered. A sequel was originally planned, but scrapped early on. It remains to be seen whether another developer will pick up this very, very heavy gauntlet.
This work contains examples of the following tropes:
- Alchemy Is Magic: There're no magical spells in the game not counting the Black Magic of witches and demons, but characters can practice alchemy, buy and trade recipes, obtain ingredients, and brew many, many potions.
- All Trolls Are Different: Schrat and Holzfrau. Pagan and violent, but they'll reward you if you help them.
- And the Adventure Continues...: After stopping the apocalypse! The party is always free to continue adventuring.
- Awesome but Impractical: Some character classes are simply not going to be usable by the average PC. A prime example is the Village Schulz; you need to have both been a peasant and taken an upper-class job at some point, which means the youngest you can realistically start the job is at 35, and at that point you should be ready to go adventuring.
- Be Careful What You Wish For: Sometimes a defeated witch, trying to save her life, offers you a boon of your choice. Hint: do not ask for "unnatural strength".
- Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism: Holzfrauen look like attractive women. The men of their species look like sasquatches.
- Breakable Weapons: Weapons don't deteriorate during usual fighting, but alchemical fire and other supernatural causes such as dragon's breath and demonic fire can lower their quality.
- Church Militant: Party members with a clerical background would be this. The Knights Templar are also powerful enemies in this game.
- Conveniently Placed Sharp Thing
- Copy Protection: Required to adventure outdoors, interesting in that it is based on real alchemical symbols so it is possible for a student of medieval/reinassance alchemy to not need it.
- Corrupt Church: Maybe not exactly corrupt, but the Catholic Church is, in general, presented as a rather mercantile enterprise, with monks expecting "donations" in return for vital medical aid, library access or tuition services, bishops collecting special tithes off everyone they pass on the roadway, and wandering monks cursing people who refuse to pay up. To add insult to injury, just in case you get the idea to tell the racketeers where to stick it, kicking a priest's ass for any reason will lower your Virtue.
- Saintly Church: The saints only answer you if you're a virtuous soul (something of a double standard, yes). Also, in general, the village pastors are decent people who live to save souls. Unless the village is secretly Satanist.
- Darkest Hour: The final boss destroys all of the items that are supposed to prevent the apocalypse and has the characters at his mercy.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance: Virtue, ethics and religion are based on fifteenth-century Christian standards. Accordingly, sometimes your traveling brotherhood needs to bow down to corrupt nobles and greedy clerics, and anyone who's not a Christian is a baby-killing worshiper of Satan (Not Hyperbole).
- Dude, Where's My Respect?: Totally averted: having good fame, and good reputation for a city/town, give advantages.
- Dug Too Deep: Sometimes, mines will dig deeply enough to encounter hostile dwarves and kobolds.
- Eats Babies: During the Sabbat, a witch is getting ready to cook unbaptised babies. You can sabotage this feast most foul by baptising the babies when nobody is looking.
- The End of the World as We Know It: You're trying to avert it.
- Fantastic Catholicism
- Fantasy Gun Control: Averted hard. You can get your hands on some brass "handguns". They're VERY expensive, and only useful for hitting heavily-armored opponents, where a bow or crossbow may fail to penetrate. They take ages to reload, so after the first shot it's likely that you won't be able to shoot again for the whole battle.
- Giant Spider: One of the random enemy types.
- Guest Star Party Member: Possible under very specific circumstances, and even more rarely, recruiting a village's schultz.
- Hope Spot: The final boss tries to induce this, but sticking to hope beyond all reason will break him.
- Karl Marx Hates Your Guts: Totally averted, it is possible to make a profit through trading and good bargaining, and the party can work ordinary jobs for a stable income.
- Low Fantasy: It may not be "as low as it goes", but this is a game set in 15th century Europe, with no magic (except Alchemy and Religion), and an ample emphasis on mundane activities.
- Moon Logic Puzzle: The dwarf puzzles are normally straight logic, but sometimes get into this. Guide Dang It can result when the dwarves screw up.
- Mugging the Monster: As the party increases in power, many of the random encounters become this. It is even possible to intimidate some of the bandits into running away. A well-built party can easily dispose of common muggers at the very start.
- Now Where Was I Going Again?: There is no quest log. Heaven help you if you don't write your quests down, or leave the game for a while. Hopefully, someone will fix this in a remake.
- Not long after the release of the game, someone made a DOS-based tool that reads the game file, analyzes it, and prints out a list of all the quests you're currently on. It's still available, and usually comes bundled with abandonware downloads of Darklands today.
- Obviously Evil: Satanic villages are not very subtle.
- Politically-Correct History: Only three professions are forbidden to women, specifically friar, priest and bishop (and most male PCs will never get those jobs either). Women can become knights, soldiers or students as easily as males.
- Purely Aesthetic Gender: Mostly played straight, but there're some aversions: for example, at least one saint grants her miracle only if there's at least one female character in the party. Also some miracles have different benefits depending on the character's gender, and only males can be friars, priests or bishops.
- Quicksand Box: The game's "Main Quest" is actually optional. You could spend a long time playing before even encountering the first "plot hook", and nothing compels you to take it. In fact, even if you finish the main quest, you're free to play for as long as you like.
- Real Time with Pause: During combat, this is practically essential... mostly due to a clunky interface.
- Religion Is Magic: There're no spellcasting priests, but learning about different Saints and praying for miracles is an important part of gameplay.
- Revenue Enhancing Devices: You'll want the cluebook, trust me. (Fortunately, it's available in scanned PDF if you know where to look.)
- Shown Their Work: Both history and legend are extensively researched, particularly the latter.
- The Knights Templar: They are really evil in this game, and are pretty difficult foes due to all wearing good armor.
- Village With A Dark Secret: You sometimes encounter such villages; their secret is that they are filled with devil-worshippers. (If your characters go to confession to the priest of such village, the penance will be quite disturbing: "You must slowly kill a small animal...") If you expose the devil-worshippers or just stay the night in such a village, they'll attack you.
- The Very Definitely Final Dungeon: With walls of fire, falling stars, and other apocalyptic happenings.
- We Can Rule Together: Raubritters who invite the party to their feasts always request, "Let us reason together."
- You All Meet in An Inn: Not only is it where the game starts, inns are also where you recruit new characters for your party and abandon old ones.
DOS RPG Lore increased from 37 to 39