Due to the plenty of journeys I took as a young adult and still do to this day, I always enjoyed having something to pass the time with while I am on the move. Usually games are my cup of tea, though I am also fond of reading about and creating RP-campaigns if my trip takes me to some old friends who have a specific set of dices. This led me to one day purchase Sorcery! on a long train-ride, as it really looked like my kind of game with a true love for the traditional tabletop RP. When I actually got around to check out who this Steve Jackson was, I found out that he co-founded Games Workshop with John Peak and Ian Livingstone and developed plenty of gamebooks such as Fighting Fantasy and the first interactive telephone role-playing game, F.I.S.T. Quite an impressive track-record! Though after playing the first installment in the Sorcery!-series (which is also based upon his gamebook series with the same name), it is not hard to see how dedicated he was to fantasy and roleplaying.
A story unfolds
After waking up from an interesting dream, you are set on a quest to reclaim the crown of the kings. Whether it is for glory, for peace, or other desires, is up to you. Yes, this might sound incredibly straightforward and vague, but this is really all I can give for an introduction as you, the protagonist, will make the choices you desire and thus: create your own story paths and it even starts at the beginning. Do you take the shortcut through forest and hope for the best or do you go to the nearest town and negotiate with townsfolk? Will you reason with forest-creatures or will you have your sword be your word, despite it dampening your reputation and possibly become your doom?
All of these choices replicate the familiar gamebook beautifully and exceeds thanks to how the choices can take you to different locations and make you meet new creatures, witness interesting events, or acquire useful and possibly magical items. All segments are also immersive thanks to the excellent writing with lovely descriptions of the varied creatures, areas, and events you will come across. The dialogues are also diverse and interesting, showcasing the writer having not just great imagination, but also understands how to make each conversation and person intriguing. It is all in written text with some illustrations accompanying certain parts, making this immersive as a fantasy adventure and as an tabletop game. Even the combat has different description for every single attack, which is incredibly entertaining and engaging to read.
Your journey will end by the town of Kahre and by then you will have met plenty of interesting humans, creatures, and possibly taken upon quests to acquire more tools to help you on your journey. With a vast world taking you from different natural locations and creating wonders with magic and tales, you are set on a fulfilling first chapter, that you might find yourself revisiting right away despite the next chapter being right at your doorstep.
Story Score: 10/10
Are you certain about your choices?
When you start the game you will be presented with an overworld, where you can drag your character towards the next destination, represented by a blue flag. With each step, you are given choices on how to proceed, depending on what events occur. Think of this as a visual novel or a gamebook with an overworld map and more interaction. Though the choices are important, there are plenty of other elements to take in consideration.
First of is your stamina, which can easily be described as your health. With every damage you take, you will lose a certain amount of points and when your stamina goes to zero, you can’t continue on. Gold is the currency for trading, and rations are for healing you and making sure you can continue on. You must eat every day and rest when you are too tired, so don’t think you can go without the bare necessities. These are pretty self explanatory elements, though the more magical and religious aspect to this journey, while also simple, are rather unique. On the top of the right corner, you will see the current starsign present at the moment. These can be prayed to and help you in dire situations such as avoiding boulders or heal you, should that be more efficient. Though you can only do this once and then it will take time before you can ask for anything more, so choose your wishes with care.
Each starsign is also unique due to the different magical letters they will provide you, which you need for casting spells. You see, whenever you want to cast a spell, you must combine three letters, which can help you in many settings should the regular choices not be enough. For example, LAW will control unintelligent creatures, ZAP will create lightning, and WAL will create an invisible barrier. There are a huge amount of spells you can create, giving you a vast variety of ways to deal with different situations, but they don’t come for free. You might lose some stamina for casting a spell or it might require an item to be used, giving you a reason to be careful with your choices and explore.
The game focuses heavily on you making choices and that each you make will have a consequence, both positive and negative. Most events will require careful plotting, figuring out how to approach on a social level or possibly using items. You can find anything from better weapons, armor, more spells, clues about your upcoming journey or items for specific use. Because of this, combat is not a heavy part and it is quickly shown that it should be avoided if possible, as even killing a creature can drop you in a dangerous situation.
Taking up the sword is engaging however. When you are set in combat, you will have an attack-meter on the left side which will determine how strong your swings with the sword can be. You and your opponent clash with an amount of your choosing and the one with the highest amount, will damage the opponent. However, the stronger attacks will drain more of your attack-meter, making it so you can’t deal stronger blows against your foe the next turn. Attacking as little as possible or defending for minimum damage, will restore more depending on the amount. This simple mechanic is fantastic and easy to understand, with great balance of both being aggressive and defensive depending on the opponent. You can’t see the opponent’s stamina, making you never safe and always on the edge. Each opponent will also differ in how they attack, such as a soldiers will be more defensive, while a beast will try to overpower you more quickly with constant attacks and some that can be devastating.
Despite all of these events that can lead to your doom or harsh struggles, death is just a slap on the wrist. You can rewind to any location with a meter on the bottom part of the screen or touch one of the markers you left, which represents the paths you have taken. Even falling in battle is not that bad, as you can simply retry it or choose another path. This is done to replicate the book-format in which you can do as you please and while it is easy to abuse, I never did this as the adventure is rich and eventful no matter what. Even those that put me in harm’s way, led me to something interesting that I would not have encountered had I not been reckless or made a less ideal choice. This is why I love Sorcery!: the choices you take matter and will provide unique stories if you stick with those choices. It is also understandable why they added this rewind-option as they wanted to replicate the book. This small questionable design-choice does not neglect what an amazing experience Sorcery! Is thanks to all the simple, but engaging interactions you can make in this world.
Gameplay Score: 8.5/10
Old School tabletop
Sorcery! sports one huge, colorful and interesting map with clear depths given to each environment, such as hills being bulkier. It is drawn with clear pencil-marks to make it seem like a legit map from the medieval ages, while your character is represented by a statue in black and white. This might seem like a strange design, though it was not uncommon to have colorful maps, while figures and portraits of characters, areas or events, were in black and white in the early 80s, which Sorcery! replicates as well. By going with this style, it recreates this lovely old RP-atmosphere and each picture and character is drawn with impressive attention to details.
It takes the artstyle from western-RP, meaning more realistic portraits and images seen in more traditional fantasy-RP, and they all look wonderful. This does not mean it outright copies, however, the traditional tabletop fantasy-worlds, but rather embraces it with original and creative monsters, creatures, and even humans from cities and tribes. With these simple illustrations and clear love for its source-material, it makes the world come to life and makes it more atmospheric by replicating old tabletop-gaming.
The game starts with a wonderful symphonic piece that sets the mood for the adventure, with magical or dangerous events such as casting spells being represented with a choir and combat focusing on heavy drums. The music is incredibly strong in these moments, as it contrast to the general adventure where you are presented with atmospheric sounds of nature or villages, such as birds chirping, beasts crawling towards you or busy townsfolk talking to each other. I have rarely seen this be done well to create an immersive setting, but Sorcery! is one of the few that mixes atmospheric sounds and an actual soundtrack so harmonic as here. This is thanks to not making musical pieces too rare to make atmospheric sounds repetitive, but also make sure you remember these events by not having them too common either. With a vast world, you are also going to witness different sounds around you, so you will never become bored on this journey.
Presentation Score: 9.5/10
For a different take on the adventure
By being a relatively short chapter, it is still packed with plenty of events, areas and more to discover, making it easy to get engaged and forget that this tale was only one or two hours. Due to the mentioned multiple paths to take and the support of the rewind-option if you choose to do so, replaying the game is incredibly easy and something you will definitely do from sheer curiosity alone. There are plenty of small and grand events to uncover and what you have accomplished will be carried over to the next game, which is a huge treat. Should the journey also prove too easy, New Game Plus will have you covered with even more secrets to be discovered.
Extra Score: 10/10
While this is just the first chapter of a series, it is a fantastic introduction. It promises so much for the series with engaging combat, difficult choices, a wonderful artstyle, great replay value and engaging tales where every dialogue is a treat. The developers did a fantastic job making this adaptation of Sorcery! a heavily interactive piece of media and still keep to the gamebook theme, which is impressive. Even if it did not get any more sequels, I would have loved this instalment too much to almost care, though the fact that the whole series now exists, I can’t wait to start on the next chapter.