If you thought Lords of Midnight was an epic game then prepare yourself for a shock when loading this because it has 6,000 locations: 2,000 more than its predecessor. It's played in exactly the same manner as Lords but is set in a new land with many new characters and features as well as some old ones.
The plot takes up where the last game left off with Doomdark (the bad guy) killed by Luxor (the good guy), and the ice crown (evil instrument of power) destroyed by Morkin (Luxor's son). We're treated to an audio-cassette rendition of the succeeding events from the Beyond team which is definitely not vintage Olivier and rather hard to follow at times, suffering from some awfully flowery and verbose prose. To cut a long story short, Doomdark's daughter Shareth has kidnapped Morldn, and Luxor and company have set off to rescue him from the land of Icemark.
You begin the game in control of three characters: Luxor the Moonprince, Rorthron the Wise and Tanthel the Fey (betrothed to Morkin). They begin in the south of the land of Icemark. Luxor and Rorthron at the Gate of Varenom where they have to return in order to achieve any kind of victory. There are various victories that can be achieved, but Morkin must always be rescued and return with Luxor to the Gate. Other achievements add to the level of the victory, including returning Rorthron and Tarithel to the Gate, taking the Crowns of the Icemark there, returning other objects of power, and of course the destruction of Shareth herself.
The screen shows the panoramic view of the character you are controlling or one of the many information and instruction screens. Each location has eight compass-point views on which will appear the 17 types of landscape feature and other characters. This doesn't consist of just a surface view anymore, because some locations allow you to enter a vast subterranean tunnel network that connects many areas on the map.
These don't have anything to look at but allow you to avoid some overland dangers, while risking some others.
If you've played Lords before then you'll have no trouble getting to grips with the game, discovering the new features and learning the new tactics. The newcomer should be guided reasonably well by the instructions but will take longer exploring and experimenting with things. As in Lords the two main tasks are to complete the quest part of the game (rescuing Morkin), and to build up a massive army for battles with any foe. However this part of the game where you deal with other characters has got more complicated.
There are five races in Icemark and none of them get on very well together -and they may not take a liking to you. It's no longer a simple matter of recruiting anyone you meet. You have to consider who's doing the recruiting and whether the character will stay with you once recruited. Each character will have an allegiance to another character and a foe. and also a list of personal characteristics. These should guide you on whom to get to approach and win over that character and how much you can trust him or her. Unsuccessful approaches to characters result in battles which can be very costly, so many games will be needed to develop a rewarding strategy.
As with Lords the game is split into day and night. The day is when you move the characters under your control, doing as much as you can but trying to keep them alive and strong. At night the computer
controls the other characters and decides the outcome of battles. Other controls allow you to check place, battle, army and person, select a character and choose from special options.
You could happily sit down and waste a whole day, if not a week, playing without ever wanting to leave the keyboard. The world created is so vast and absorbing that it presents a continual challenge and endless variation. It's much tougher to complete than Lords but just as rewarding to play whether you're new to the format or an old hand. There are more graphics, more locations, more characters, more objects and above all more enjoyment than ever. A true classic.
AMSTRAD ACTION n°13