Dragon Lore: The Legend Begins

Posted by Paul Shaffer.
First posted on 03 January 1998. Last updated on 15 May 2014.
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Dragon Lore: The Legend Begins
Breathtaking graphics build up the Dragon Lore universe.
Dragon Lore: The Legend Begins
The young Werner von Wallenrod must reclaim his place among the dragon knights.
Dragon Lore: The Legend Begins
Even a hero has a humble beginning.

Cryo Interactive Entertainment has been praised for the breathtaking graphics in its adventure games. Yet, such praise often cannot be said for the gameplay in these games. Dragon Lore: The Legend Begins, marks an early attempt by the developer to create a medieval fantasy that combines adventure with action and role-playing elements. While the game itself may represent a legendary beginning for the series, its poor gameplay has instead made it a legendary disappointment.

The world of Dragon Lore arises from the dream of a Father Dragon called Wyrm. This world is inhabited by many species, including dragons and humans. The 16 dragon knights and their dragons keep peace in this magical land. When the fierce orcs attack the kingdom, the wise magician Archmage summons a magical barrier to protect the people in the Valley. Unfortunately, when the evil Haagen von Diakonov kills the dragon knight Axel von Wallenrod, all peace is lost in the kingdom, along with Phlogiston—von Wallenrod's fire dragon.

You, young Werner von Wallenrod, have just reached your 18th birthday. You have just been told by your uncle that you are the son and only heir of Wallenrod. Naturally, you set out to claim your proper title. In order to establish your knighthood among the dragon knights, you must gain a majority of votes of approval from the other knights. During your quest to become a dragon knight, you also seek vengeance on whoever is responsible for your father's death.

At the time of its release, Dragon Lore: The Legend Begins is a title that pushes the technological boundaries. This is a game that you have to read the system requirements carefully to determine whether or not your system can handle it, albeit the graphics may be considered quite dated by today's standard. Graphically, there are 2 layers to this game—the cut scenes and background arts being the first, and the character-object interaction being the second. The cut scenes and background arts in this game are excellent. While the characters in the cut scenes stand stilled with no animated movements and appear somewhat blocky, the design team should be credited for at least attempting to wrestlie with human 3D renderings while the competition still chooses to stay clear. In the actual game, the 3D characters are pasted onto the painted backdrops which grow increasingly pixelated as you draw near. Unfortunately, these close-ups are the primary detractors of the game where improvements are needed. The music and voice acting are professional and dramatic, though the sound effects are sparse.

Control of the game is icon driven and very basic. You point and click in the direction you want to go on screen. The dragon cursor indicates the direction it is pointing to which ways you can proceed. This is not a 3D game in the sense that you have complete freedom of movement. Essentially, there is only north, east, south and west. Your cursor options are to pick up or use objects. You have a large inventory and a character screen where you can equip items by placing them in the hand of your character. There is also limited magic. You have a magic book and can collect a few spells that solve different obstacle you may encounter. In order to cast a spell, you must be holding the spell book. The puzzles typically have 2 solutions—physical or mental. At the end of the game, the supports or denouncements from other dragon knights of your claim are determined by the moral choices you make to solve the various puzzles of the game in either a violent or nonviolent fashion. Merits exist in either approach, since some of the dragon knights condole the use of violence while others prefer a peaceful style or a combination of both.

The first part of the game encompasses your travels to the castle. While interesting in an exploratory sort of way, this part seems somewhat disjointed and only mildly entertaining. The latter part begins as you arrive at the castle and this is where the major storyline of Dragon Lore takes place. The castle itself is several levels high, with puzzles across each level. What you find in the dungeon may be used on an upper level. The puzzles make sense generally (though there are a few leaps of logic) and are relatively tight. However, the icon based system tends to result in hotspot hunting—clicking on everything to see if something can be used. Yet, you can click on an object or area and get no response if you are not holding the proper item that activates that puzzle. If you are not thorough it is easy to overlook rooms which you have already searched because you now have an appropriate item may advance you further in the game.

This game tries to mix together adventure and action genres by having actual combat in the game. You have a limited amount of health, though just how much is not indicated. There is no sophisticated combat strategy other than a choice to advance or retreat. The save feature is important here since you can die quickly or get away without a scratch when encountering the same monster. There are only 4 slots to save games. Since these slots are not labeled, unless you take notes or have a good memory it is easy to forget what game progress is stored in each slot. Character interaction is restricted to a point and click experience without any option for your response. Click more than once and you may get more dialogs, so be sure to exhaust a conversation before you walk away. Unless they are hostile, characters typically walk aimlessly around until you click on them to start an interaction. It is often difficult to tell whether a character is friendly or hostile until the character is close enough to begin swinging at you. If you are nonviolent, game characters who are on the side of peace or neutrality will act friendly to you. If you are aggressive, the warmongers will befriend you instead. Each side provides you with support and different items, allowing you to approach and solve the same puzzles differently in the game.

On the positive side, the game consistently features good cut scenes and background arts. Puzzles, for the most part, are logical and obvious, rewarding you a feeling of accomplishment or "I am on a roll". The option of siding with passive or aggressive approaches to problem solving adds an extra dimension to the gaming experience not found in other adventure titles. The multiple solutions also give a greater sense of freedom to approaching the puzzles.

On the negative side, the icon system and clumsy environment interaction have a tendency to make even easy puzzles more difficult than they truly are. Objects right beside you can only be seen when facing certain directions. You can be clicking on an object that is vital to the progress of the game, but because you are not holding the correct item you may not get any indication that the object can be used at all. Moreover, there are a few system glitches—the largest being that sometimes if you possess certain items in your inventory and you go into different rooms inside the castle, you may not be allowed to reenter some areas. Unless you have an earlier saved game where you can play around by dropping different items and retrying your luck, you may have been up a creek without recourse. Character interaction is one-way, thus losing any true sense of immersion. When playing this game, you often experience the sensation of "I know what I need to do, but I just can't figure out how to get the game to understand it". The combat system is horrific. Not only can the hero not move during combat, it is nearly impossible for you to control the attack movements during the exchange. Combat merely amounts to a clicking frenzy or hack and slash. Likewise, although there is spell casting during combat, it is grossly underused and does not appear to have any substantial effect on the enemy. The purposes of some of the magic spells are also unclear.

An enhanced version of Dragon Lore: The Legend Begins features 80 new and additional animations, about 1,000 new and additional ambient sounds, and a number of bug fixes. In the end, this is a game that is just trying too hard to be an action, adventure, and role-playing game all in one, rather than aiming to just do one very well. For gamers who love eye candy, the graphics are the rewards. For gamers who love a good adventure, the castle has its moments. For gamers who are looking for action and role-playing, better look elsewhere.

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