The download consists of three scenarios and a teaser; it is a mix of RPG and RPS with FF elements. The story is fiction; the events take place in the kingdom of Ravell where the entire population of a city disappears. You play Vorden and Will, search for clues and journey to find out about the causes of the Dark Happenings.
Dark Happenings was played on fast speed and hard difficulty settings. The first scenario had a good city design with beta units and map copy, good looping music, interesting story and was about a search for clues. The objective was confusing, bring Vorden to the castle, and try all gates. Well, they were closed. To see an old man was in the hints to scroll and when you found him nothing happens, the area to fire the next trigger with Vorden is too small and the player has to move his units around to make it fire. The author should mention in the hints that Vorden activates the triggers. The only fight with the woodcutters and John was too easy and the long walks back and forth brought the playability down too. It didn't help game play that there was another long path with just a horse.
In the second scenario effort was missing, especially in the map design. The Hills of Halaam consisted of one elevation and cliffs, we only rate what we see, but right next to the road was already this pathetic, flat grass 1 "design" and tasking my units to the flagged area revealed more of the untouched editor blank grass 1 map. The excavation site was good design and saved this rating, the landslide was creative, but only noticeable when the player turns around, the search for clues didn't work in the sequence of barracks and then house or church, it had to be barrack, market, church, house and the hint section was blank. There were also long boring walks and the escape from the excavation site too easy, only six to kill one by one and the last enemies were missed by tasking my units on the mini map. The researcher, a yellow TK standing behind a yellow flag of a palisade, was difficult to find (the game is AoK not hide and seek) and when I did, Vorden was blocked between his men that changed ownership. Due to the not existing challenge I was missing a saved game and had to restart. The good story was still keeping my interest and the music helped.
In the third scenario were loopholes, an unplayable side quest and on three occasions it were again the too small selected areas for the object in area condition causing frustration. The scenario started well with a skirmish, before upgrades, which was challenging, followed by some wolves in a forest. I lost my hero Vorden, but did not loose the game, which is bad because Vorden is needed to activate all triggers. Later the health potions and weapon improvements made your units far too strong, you almost can't loose, because your enemies are not upgraded. The overall playability improved in the last scenario until I had to search an Eagle Warrior with a gate key whose speciality is to vanish and to rematerialize far away to take the improved playability right out of the game again. After doing almost the map twice, Marco Polo told me that he is in an area not accessible for the player, blocked by rocks to which the remove object trigger was forgotten. Clicking him provoked the third and final poof, not without telling that he hands over the key. The trigger "final poof" does not activate another trigger and as a result the gate stayed closed after all the effort. Again, with the Marco Polo cheat on, I clicked Bleedteal, Ballistix and changed diplomacy to destroy the gate, to use the trebuchet for the wall piece. Well, all that was not really necessary as the gate to that area of Cyra was open anyway and you could destroy the wall piece also from the inside. The player could walk into that area at all time, right to the end of the scenario. If you walk straight through the opening in the wall you might be stuck for a long time. The next trigger is activated by a small area along the wall to the left through Vorden, which you won't hit moving all your men and when the trigger activates you might be stuck again with some units as most of your men change ownership between groups of horses. The next station on your torture trip is being closed in by haycocks, with no clue what to do; the last objective was to destroy the wall piece. Finally I changed diplomacy again and destroyed a monastery to get to a secret entrance. In fact you need Vorden to move around the monastery which needs some skills, micromanagement and some tries to activate the trigger, which is the scenarios most challenging part. In the maze you kill the enemy one by one, for the final fight not all triggers run like intended and the player does not see the artefact before victory closes the curtain. The map design was below average, by tasking my units on the mini map to search the Eagle Warrior; they went cross country, revealing again a large, pathetic, flat, grass 1 map. The best part was the creativity, even if many things don't work as they should or as they are imagined, Danthered is talented, very creative and with some more experience he will design some great scenarios. Creative story; excellent music choice, which didn't loop all the way through the third scenario, the only sound was for the teaser; gold for kills; as reward an upgrade for a side quest; unit names like ballistix for a trebuchet; small events like castaway with financial problems and a hot tempered officer.
OVERALL: 2.8 rounding mostly up. Playability: 2+; Balance: 2-; Creativity: 4-; Map Design: 3-; Story/Instructions: 3-
OBSERVATIONS: This second installment was uploaded before sufficiently tested, ignoring helpful posts on the original comment site, clayperboy: "In the playable scn (3rd), i arrived in Cyra, rescued the elder, then was told to break down a wall by the flag. I accomplished that with little effort, walked around then found myself trapped behind some buildings while 50 or more ally army changed position , became enemy, then the game stopped. Tried a few times more, but just got annoying so i quit."
I was in exactly the same situation and had to use Utility ID 227 Age of Empires & Age of Kings Campaign Manager by Lloyd Kinsella to find the selected areas to make the triggers run and play the campaign to the end. There are discussions at the blacksmith to block the use of the above utility in the future. Designers should take into account that this review might have been less helpful and certainly lower in the overall rating without the use of the utility.
First scenario: Have somebody say after the castle gates that he knows an old man living in the forest or an objective to look for survivors. You need two more enemy units at the lumber camp, have a sign at the road fork saying north City of Tangeal, west Village of Carol, under construction no passing and place invisible cliffs or have as last objective to leave for Carol and place some enemy units, victory at the edge of the map. Change the object in area to click and talk, give the next signal when player units garrison in the castle or write to garrison and then ungarrison.
Second scenario: Work on your map, you have to design all areas accessible to the player. You need a sound file for the landslide (there are free sounds in the blacksmith utilities and the net: www.stonewashed.net/sfx.html), clues should work in all sequences, work on your balance, get the researcher off the yellow flag and the trade workshop to avoid blocking the units.
Third scenario: Replace the object in area trigger for the mercenaries, to click and talk; make the player loose when Vorden dies; work on balance and map design; remove the rocks in due time and task the Eagle Warrior to an area accessible to the player with some design; the "final poof" trigger should activate a trigger to open the gate for the trebuchet; close the other gates from the start, so destroying a wall piece makes sense; select a larger area after the open wall piece for Vorden and remove the horses; after being closed in by haycocks, there should be an objective or hint, set a click and talk trigger for the monk for example telling the monastery was build over the secret entrance and change it to enemy.
IN CLOSING: "Travelling with a small group can sometimes prevent the hero from being on a certain spot, especially if someone is already standing there."