Destiny Quest: The Legion of Shadow by Michael J. Ward
Published by Gollancz, May 2012.
ISBN: 978 0 575 11872 0
Review by Mark Yon
Here’s an unexpected surprise: a game book that’s both retro and forward looking.
From the start though, you pretty much know what you’re going to get: the cover shows a hooded, cloaked man, eyes aglow, stares at you with a horde of equally evil-looking warriors behind him. Around his left hand, a purple orb of glowing electricity, and in his right hand, an enormous staff, seething with arcane power.
So: evil armies, magic, things of great Power. This is a book that deals with the archetypes of Fantasy: Rogues, Knights, Warriors, Wizards, pickpockets, demons and magic. It’s not particularly original, but then that’s not the point. We’re dealing with a reader who knows what they like and this book panders to it.
For those devotees, there’s a lot here to like. The book is HUGE, with a number of possible quests and routes through it. There’s 939 paragraphs to play with, 150 of which are new to this edition. This gives you a lot of different possibilities. There’s also a colour insert in the middle, with maps and images to inspire.
For someone used to the Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone Fighting Fantasy game books from the 1980’s, or Dungeon and Dragons role-playing, you’ve pretty much got the idea of what goes on here. You start as an outcast with no memory of your background or history. This allows you to develop new characteristics as you develop, becoming one of the archetypes mentioned earlier such as a rogue, a mage and a warrior, and realising your destiny. There are quests and sub-quests, demons and monsters, good guys and bad. Ultimately your aim is to defeat the bad guy and his various allies, determined to do you and the world harm. Along the way, the choices you make (or are determined by the throw of a die) affect where you go and what you do.
So far, so nothing particularly new.
However things have moved on a long way since the 1980’s, and this book has upgraded many of the ideas of the original version. There are different levels of difficulty that you may choose, from Green quests for the complete novice, to Red quests for those who want a challenge. This allows readers from the young teen to the experienced gamer to choose an appropriate path to follow.
One of the annoyances of players in the past was that in order to build your strength, collect rewards, develop your endurance, add to your weapons arsenal and stay healthy was that you had to write your scores/progress down, often in your precious book. This newer version allows you to download Hero Sheets (at http://www.destiny-quest.com/downloads/ ) wallpapers for your computer, glossaries to use as a handy reference guide (though there is one at the back of the book), combat strategies and extra characters to both add to the game experience and keep your book pristine. It also allows you to play the game as often and as many times as you like.
Also as a nod to the current generation, in association with the book there’s a Facebook and Twitter link which encourages discussion and communication with fellow gamers, and a Phone App (at www.adventurecow.com/dq ) so you can play the game on your mobile.
Even with all these innovations, how does this vary or even compete with all those MMORPG’s (Massively Multi-player Online Role-Playing Games) for the computer? The author claims to do something the computer games do less well and that is emphasise plot, through an arcing story (ie: beat The Legion of Shadow). Not sure I’d totally agree with that myself, but I guess the pictures, in comparison with your computer screen, are as good as you can make them in your head. The bit that works for me is that although the final outcome is pretty much pre-determined, the journey is unknown.
Will it work? Well, after a quick play myself, I can say that it’s entertaining, not too complicated to work out and fairly straightforward to use. The story’s pretty much what you’d expect, so no scores for originality, but the dialogue’s fun, there’s a great variety of things to attack and kill, the clichés are not too creaky (although some of the character’s names are: Spink, anyone? Spink!?) and the world building in Valeron comprehensive without being too boringly detailed. There’s some nice travels about into both cities and the countryside as well as dark, shady caverns and magical enclaves.
In summary, you get a lot of what you’d expect with this book. I did enjoy a quick delve into my past, but I’m not sure how successful it will be with the younger generation, who presumably this is aimed at. It could either do very well or disappear as another attempt to rebrand an old favourite.
Nevertheless, the way that the book uses the traditions of Fantasy to create this imaginary world where the journey is as much fun as the ending, should enable readers and players of all ages to both identify with and engage with this still-enjoyable experience. It’s worked for Dungeons and Dragons for over 30 years, after all.
Personally I did enjoy the attempt!
Book Two, The Heart of Fire, is expected in November 2012.
Mark Yon, May/June 2012