One of the few fringe benefits of going out on your own is you get to catch up on a lot of games that have been moldering away in your “to play” pile forever. Given that my gaming history stretches back to 1977 though, that means that my “to play” pile includes titles that first came out on floppy discs back in the Clinton era. That’s why I like Gog.com. They’re a startup company that takes old games and makes them workable on modern hardware and sells them pretty damned cheap. Ever tried getting a really old DOS game to run on Windows XP or Vista that you’ve downloaded? Yeah, me too and I have the tear-stained t-shirts and furrows in my desk to prove it. That’s why I’m starting “GoG Thursday.” I’m going to pick out something on GoG.com that I’ve either never played and blast through it or something I have and talk about why it’s still awesome. And no. I’m not getting paid for this, although that would be nice.
This week’s GoG Thursday is the just released “Realms of Arkania 1 & 2″, the first two installments of an RPG series that never got the attention it was really due in North America. the games are based off a stat-intensive RPG series still popular in Germany called Die Schwarze Auge or “The Dark Eye,” a kind of Teutonic answer to Dungeons & Dragons. The Dark Eye series is a fairly standard RPG universe that becomes special in the way harks back to Tolkien’s inspiration in Germanic folklore. Orcs and goblins for example, are furry savage beastmen that haunt the forest rather than the pseudo primitive tribesmen that they usually are in modern fantasy. It’s also a pretty low-magic universe where enchantment is rare and special rather than a substitute for technology.
The first two games in the series will come as a bit of a shock to anyone whose RPG experience only stretches back as far as Bethesda’s Oblivion. Realms of Arkania is old-school RPG time with loads of stats for everything under then sun — including a characters personality traits. They all mix and match in a variety of ways to determine the player’s success at everything. That means if you’re not into min/maxing a character or delving deep into stats and math, you’re going to find this a really difficult game. If you’re not afraid of a little work though, there’s nothing better than this series for the obsessively nerdy RPG player. Back in the day, I lost WAY too much of my youth digging through really well-designed dungeons and battling the monsters in these games. Of the two, the second game in the series — Star Trail — is better. You really don’t have to play them in order to appreciate them though. Whichever one you start with, you won’t be disappointed.