Review – The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain
Fighting Fantasy, the very paragon of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” book genre by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, is brought to life in this crowd-funded project by Tin Man Games that was released a couple of years ago, The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain. I picked it up recently during a Steam sale, I’ve had a recent Fighting Fantasy book (The Gates of Death) sitting on my to-do list for about a month or two now, alongside another book that’s had me pretty engaged for now (I’ll tell you about that soon), so I was curious to try an intermediary step between video and book games while I’m working on similar projects. Here were some of my impressions:
Atop a towering mountain there rules a terrible warlock… the Warlock, and the mountain is called Firetop Mountain, astonishing! Intrepid adventurers gather at the foot of the mountain, each with their own reason for braving its slopes, and the warren of caves inside. As you start your adventure you select a hero from a roster that slowly grows, each of whom begins with a quest of their own, some new line of clues to follow, some new artifact to hunt down and return home safely with, or some specific monster to slay. They each approach challenges with a unique attitude, and of course a set of unique skills.
I played through first as Alexandra of Blacksand, a decorated warhero, well educated and observant. In flavour text she went everywhere with confidence, her reputation preceded her and prevented a few fights, luck fell in her lap repeatedly, until it ran out barely a few feet into the labyrinth. My second character, Arran Gottspeed, was far more brazen and blunt, to the point where I began making wholly reckless decisions to the point where I ground through his vast store of hit points through sheer pig-headedness.
The mountain still bears the hallmarks of the ancient dwarves who filled it with caverns and ancient hallway, now overrun with orcs and vermin. The deeper you go, the stranger things become, halls of dead servants, magical mazes, and ever escalating threats. So far I haven’t found The Warlock, I’ve managed to get hold of one of the quest items, otherwise, it’s been death after death.
Tin Man Games went to every effort to make The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain emulate the tabletop style, an easy way of minimising the need for animation. Every character is fixed in a single stance and stuck to a black disk at the feet, actual miniatures bouncing around a map that materialises before your eyes. Every step causes chunks of maps to descend from the aether above, and t certain camera angles you can make out the wooden table surface beneath, a little detail that’s oddly satisfying to someone who enjoys the theme.
The narrative unwinds through written snippets that roll from above, describing in vivid detail what miniatures represent, creating story out of toys in the way I’ve been doing for a paltry ten years compared to the writers of the Fighting Fantasy books. Art brings characters to life, lends a realism to the plastic scenery and miniatures, much as it would in the books, but location based sound effects make a shocking difference compared the experience of an FF book. The sound of rushing water alongside the river, the warchanting of orcs in training, the skittering of nearby rats.
It is at the rolling narrative I must express one small grievance, especially as one who has attempted to gather screenshots of the game, I’m aware that there’s not a great deal of animation in the scenery, and the scrolling text is rather full abundant, fun to read of course – and important, the details can save your life – but I wish I had the option to scroll past it far enough to see more of the tabletop behind it. There were moments in the studies of the elemental masters where I wanted to see the miniatures, the bookshelves, the ornaments, but it’s all rather quickly covered up with paper, and only a few times are your options placed directly on the map rather than given as text-prompts.
The game itself is incredibly easy to pick up and play, everything is managed by clicking options, options that change situation to situation depending on your hero. Even combat is entirely click-based: select a space and decide which of your attacks to use, or move into it. Combat is a difficult affair, pieces wobble if they’re about to attack or stay still if they intend to move, but that doesn’t help a great deal, attacks may be placed where you stand or where you’re about to move, and when you face multiple enemies everywhere you stand is a losing move. I’m a little embittered about rats, why do you ask?
Every victory in combat acquires souls which can be used to purchase new heroes, and there’s a pretty heavy cost on some of them. On average I can acquire about a hundred souls in a game before I make some stupid blunder and die, and some of the characters I’ve dared look at cost north of four hundred, and more to unlock the Kickstarter exclusive heroes. I look forward to seeing what they’re capable of.
Heroes have stamina in place of hit points, recovered at rest points along the way. Everything else relies upon your skill – a single, general skill check – and the tides of fortune. Dice rolls impact how likely your skills are to be sufficient, or to determine how luck favours you.