The week marks the start of my new semi-regular column, “What’s this thing in my Steam Library?”. As a regular Humble Bundle consumer, as well as a subscriber to the monthly mystery bundle, I have amassed a giant collection of games in my Steam account, many of which I have never heard of. Rather than just letting things accumulate with no intention of ever playing the majority of my list, I figured that occasionally, I would randomly pick an unfamiliar title and take if for a spin. So, this weekend, I put on a blindfold, spun in place three times, and planted my finger on the monitor. And I ended up playing….
The Warlock of Firetop Mountain
Released by Tin Man Games in 2016, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is a modern-day adaptation of an adventure gamebook written by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone and published in 1982. I’m not familiar with the original book, but I do remember fumbling around with other titles in the Fighting Fantasy series that was kicked off by Warlock. The books were similar to Choose your own Adventure books, with an added gaming element that required readers to roll dice at certain junctions. The results of the dice rolls dictated the path the reader would take in the story. One bad roll and it was curtains. The books by nature were brutally unpredictable, sending the main character over cliffs and into the jaws of monsters with no warning or pity.
Interestingly, the game is much the same. The book has been translated into a story-book dungeon, with rooms springing to life - literally being built by the graphics engine - as the player enters. At every junction, the player is given a few choices, and the selections made dictate the player’s path through the branching story. And like the book, players can die in an instant.
The player is given a choice of four starting characters with slightly different skills and specs to take into the game’s dungeon. Killing monsters earns the player “souls”, which can be used to unlock additional characters. Each character has their own storyline and motivation for entering Firetop Mountain. That, combined with their stats and skill allow for variations in the storyline when they enter Firetop Mountain.
And there lies the rub. Firetop Mountain, being based on a book, is not procedurally generated. This means that every time the player enters the dungeon, they are faced with repeating the same opening areas. The sugar rush I got entering Firetop the first time quickly faded when I found myself repeating the same actions on my fifth run. It’s fun to see how the different characters react to various situations, but the layout of the caverns is the same for everyone. After the first few runs, the opening rooms become a bit of a snooze.
The graphics are a hoot. The player characters are represented by painted pewter miniatures, which bounce and hop through the world as though they were being moved about a game board by an invisible player. Rooms are constructed as the player progresses, slamming into place around your character as they enter. The graphics are punctuated by original illustrations from the book, which pop up and offer welcome detail and character to the story. My somewhat janky PC was able to handle things on the second highest settings without breaking a sweat.
Battle is an interesting take on grid-based tactical RPG combat. The battle areas are rather small, sometimes as little as 12-15 squares. Each player character has a slightly different move set to draw from. Enemies are represented by their own pewter figures, and the overall effect is rather charming. I don’t want to give the impression that simple = easy in regard to the battle system, though, as several enemies cleaned my clock before I figured out their patterns. I found the combat satisfying, but victories are often hollow, as the player gains little beyond the ability to move forward in the story. There is no progression to speak of, and when you run out of hit points (called Stamina in this context) you are toast. Losing a battle wins you a quick trip back to the character select screen.
I enjoyed my time with The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. I might not revisit it any time soon, but I left it on my hard drive for when the mood strikes. For a certain player (particularly those with knowledge and nostalgia for the source material), I can see this being a great diversion. For me, it made for an entertaining Saturday morning. And for a game that I would have never played otherwise, can I ask for much more?