The series of Fighting Fantasy choose-your-own-adventure books by Ian Jackson and Steve Livingston were among my favourite books to read as I grew up. Warlock of Firetop Mountain in particular. I loved how in FF books you could choose your direction and actually fight the monsters yourself. I’m not going to lie to you, I cheated a fair amount. I magically won battles I should have died in, and kept my fingers to hold pages when I wasn’t entirely sure which item I should have picked up. Although, that was all part of the fun.
So imagine my nostalgic joy when I came across a Steam version of Warlock of Firetop Mountain released by Tin Man Games. WoFM is a PC version of one of my favourite books, with realised dungeons, and strategic combat that still keeps the feel and style of the original book.
Well you don’t have to imagine because I’ve reviewed it. Hold on tight for a nostalgic nerd’s review of Warlock of Firetop Mountain.
For this, well for we can take it straight from the back cover of the Fighting Fantasy book itself…
“Deep in the caverns beneath Firetop Mountain lives a powerful Warlock, guarding a mass of treasure – or so the rumour goes. Adventurers like yourself have set off for the Mountain but none has returned. Do you dare to follow them?”
The story has everything you could possibly want. It has dark dungeons, evil dungeon-dwelling monsters, treasure, magic and an evil warlock practising his dark magic. Ok, maybe not everything, it doesn’t have aliens, tanks or a Belgian detective, but it’s still a tried and tested thirty year old story.
In the traditional Fighting Fantasy book, you would first generate the stamina, skill and luck values for your hero. Stamina determines the damage you can take before you succumb to your wounds, skill is your skill in combat and luck determines how lucky you are. Tin Man Games have dispensed with the character generation (Well, let’s be honest we’d cheat, wouldn’t we?) and given you a selection of pre-created characters each with their own benefits and drawbacks.
Looking at Warlock of Firetop Mountain itself, there are basically two elements to the game. There’s the the part based on the books and the combat system.
Looking at the largest element of the game first, i.e. the book part, Tin Man Games have tried to be as faithful to the actual book as possible. You read actual paragraphs of the book, and select the direction you want from your choices at the bottom. As you select your hero moves through the dungeon and new bits of the dungeon are revealed. The game is a direct copy of the book so the dungeon layout and all the choices and decisions are recreated within the game. These decisions could be directional, or strategic.
Tests of skill, luck and strength have been included. These tests involve you rolling a number lower than the required value to pass the test. Passing tests has good or no result, while losing them can have bad or sometimes fatal outcomes.
Within the books you could also stop at any time to eat one of a finite amount of provisions. These would increase your health by a number of points. The Steam version has included this while also including rest stops. These rest stops function as save points but they’re also places where eating some of your provisions will return more of your stamina points.
Looking at combat, Tin Man Games have changed combat from the books a great deal. They’ve taken what amounted to little more than dice rolling and have built a combat system with strategy and luck. Whenever you enter combat a mock-up of the room you’re in is shown with your hero and the enemies it faces. During your turn you select where you wish to move to or which square you wish to attack, with one of your normal or special attacks. The enemy models do the same, then everyone will move and attack at the same time.
So this could mean your enemy moves out of the square you’re attacking, or you can find yourself fenced in with multiple enemies. You have to try and predict where your enemy will move to and attack accordingly. It’s certainly a much better system than rolling a handful of dice.
Graphically, what can I say? It’s pretty. There’s something about seeing a book from your childhood so well captured. The game makes you feel like you’re playing a board-game, even the pieces when they move add to the board-game effect. The perfectly captured replica of the pages adds even more to the effect. Looking with a less nostalgic head there are ways the graphics could be improved, but just because you can doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to.
The controls of Warlock of Firetop Mountain couldn’t be easier. The mouse controls everything. The entire game is controlled by selecting the relevant book-style page options. Combat is a matter of clicking on the square you want to move to, or attack. Easy.
There are a few reasons to keep playing WoFM. Dying quickly or by bad choices is a pretty good reason to jump back into the game and go again. Incidentally, SPOILER ALERT!!! Don’t sit on any alters, it really won’t AGree with you. Anyway, the save point function and the fact that the game is so choice and decision based is always going to leave you with a sort of ‘What if I did that instead’ feeling. You’ve also got the other characters you haven’t tried which would put a slightly different spin on the game.
Of course, the story or book itself won’t change no matter how many times you play the game. In fact after a while you start memorising the best route, so the fun starts to drop off a bit. Although Tin Man Games have released iOS versions of the books, this is their first steam PC version, but hopefully they’ll be doing many more.