Roadwarden – very old school gaming (pic: Assemble Entertainment)
One of the very oldest video game genres is revived for the modern age, as the text adventure proves it can still tell a compelling story.
Some of the world’s very first video games were text adventures, that let you pick your own path through their interactive fictions. Early landmarks such as Colossal Cave Adventure and Zork are both from the 1970s, before the term video game had even been coined. Naturally, with the advent of more complex graphics, the genre went out of fashion, which is why it’s so refreshing to play Roadwarden, a thoroughly 21st century text adventure.
Set in a downbeat fantasy world of magic, monsters, and grinding poverty, you’re a newly minted roadwarden responsible for patrolling the highways and byways of a peninsula. Part of your fuzzily defined mission is to keep fellow travellers safe by scaring off beasts and dealing with highwaymen, but you’re also tasked with exploring the land’s commercial possibilities for your shadowy paymasters far away in the big city. There’s also the open question of what happened to your predecessor, who nobody’s seen in quite a while.
Taking place in the 40 days before the onset of autumn, you need to manage your time cautiously if you want to get anything done, which it turns out is far from straightforward, for a range of reasons. The first problem is your lack of funding and equipment. You’ve got a trusty horse, a crossbow, and a few coins, but other than that you’re on your own, needing to figure everything out for yourself, beginning with basics like where you’re going to sleep each night.
Another problem is getting around. Starting from a single point on a blank map, your peregrinations gradually populate it, adding settlements, paths, and crossroads as you feel your way around, meeting traders and mayors, and discovering the distinct personality of each encampment and abandoned watchtower. The people you meet are often just as in the dark as you are, hungering for news from other villages.
The role you play in all this depends to some extent on your character class. A fighter relies on physical prowess and an axe; mages use pneuma, the foundation of the game’s magic, and can speak the secret language of magic users; while scholars are healers and alchemists, using their academic rigour to understand the peninsula’s mysteries. However, despite the familiar roles, nothing in Roadwarden plays out in conventional role-playing style.
For one thing, considering the number of dangerous beasts knocking about, you get into fights surprisingly infrequently. They do happen, but often you’ll be able to talk your way out of them or use inventory items to avoid them altogether. It’s just as well because every battle damages your armour, which costs money to repair, and throughout the game you’ll find coins extremely hard to come by.
That means your character spends a lot of their time looking dishevelled, poorly rested, and unwashed, which in …read more
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