Ahhh Interplay. Once a company whose name was happily upon the tongue of gamers everywhere, known for quality games and great times, how the mighty have fallen these days. However, in spite of their current situation, the company's back catalog still holds up fairly well these days. So, without further ado, I'll start off this little spotlight with one of Interplay's great role playing games: Dragon Wars.
This would probably look good on the side of some 40-year old's van.
Dragon Wars was one of the many WYSIWYG dungeon crawlers released back in the late 80's/early 90's. A genre made popular by games such as Dungeon Master, The Bard's Tale, and Wizardry, the formula was almost the same each time. Create a party of adventurers, head off to fight monsters, gain fame and riches, eventually save the world. However, most of these games gave you somewhat of an easy start, with characters starting with at least basic equipment, and some money to help you along.
Dragon Wars....was different:
Purgatory must be a nudist's dream...
Your party of adventurers started with absolutely nothing but their fists and their wits, dropped into a hellhole of a prison known only as Purgatory. As such, the first task of the game is to not only scrounge together equipment and supplies, but also to find some way to escape. Of course, you're not the only group of people in Purgatory looking for a way to survive. Aside from wild dogs and giant spiders, you also need to deal with your fellow inmates:
Just like a college campus!
Now, Dragon Wars doesn't make things completely impossible for you. Taking into account that your enemies are weak, and aren't equipped with anything, most encounters in Purgatory only do non-lethal damage. Each character has two or three bars representing their status. The red bar is most important, and represents Health. The green bar is always the same value as the red bar, and indicates how much non-lethal damage you can take before passing out. The blue bar represents power, and is used for casting spells. If the entire party is stunned, you'll be knocked out of the battle, but able to get up again shortly after.
Don't let that make you think you're invincible however, as prison guards also roam the streets of purgatory, and are more than happy to run you through with the sharp pointy weapons they carry.
Once the party manages to escape from Purgatory, the real adventure begins, with travel between different towns, and adventures into various dungeons as the party looks for revenge against the one who stuck them in Purgatory to begin with. Aside from the various enemy encounters you'll face, Dragon Wars also has a few puzzle elements, which will require use of both character skills, and player skill to figure out. Characters are fairly customizable, earning points each level that can be added to stats ranging from Strength and Spirit, to skills such as Swords and Bureaucracy... damn red tape. As an added bonus, characters from The Bard's Tale can be transferred in at the beginning of the game, allowing you to bring over old favorites if you don't want to start from scratch.
In the end, Dragon Wars is not the best dungeon crawler, but it is fairly enjoyable, and fairly well made for the time. There is a version for both DOS and Apple IIgs, of which I would recommend the Apple version for the nicer looking color palette and slightly better enemy artwork. One thing to keep in mind is that the game uses a paragraph system, both as a way to fit more text into a game that once fit on a single floppy disk, and as a method of copy protection. You'll need to find a copy of the paragraphs somewhere out on the net if you plan on getting very far into the game. It's not uncommon to come across a prompt that says "Read Paragraph 9" followed by the prompt "Y/N?". Without the paragraphs, there are some very dangerous questions that could result in bad things happening to your party if you give the wrong answer.
Welcome to Purgatory, and good luck. You'll need it.