Blacksun Beta Series Version The Last One, Dammit!
(Updated on 12/01/03
VERSION THE LAST ONE, DAMMIT!:
||Role Playing Strategy
|Number of scenarios:
Essential. The battle can now be won in Part III. No seriously, this time I don't even think I'm making an ass out of myself by saying that! The crash after the battle that Tanneur found by fixing the triggers has also been fixed. The gate bugs in Part 3 have been fixed. No new spelling corecctions have been made, though it is till definatley not error free.
VERSION BLAH BLAH BLAH:
Essential. Fixed bug in Part 3 that stopped you from advancing after the battle, (I think) slowed down the speed that the enemies attack you when fighting the final boss (for all of you that cheated to get there) and revised the diolauge in Part 1 and and the first conversation in Part 2. If I didn't really fix the bug, then by all means, rage at me.
I can't remember what I did.
VERSION SOMETHING OR OTHER: If you rescue the guys from the elephant in Part 4, they will now join you. The anti-cheating bug with the ship in Part 3 has also been fixed.
VERSION I HOPE THERE WON'T BE ANOTHER-
Not essential. Fixes some bugs in Part 4, changes the effects of finding a secret item in Part 3. Edited a certain line of diolauge in Part 4 by a request that I understood. The rest of the bad language stays. You can't censor art.
VERSION I'M OUT OF NAMES- Fixes crippling bug in part 3 after Arone is killed, disables the ability to garrison and illegally heal in Part 1. This version is also essential.
VERSION PANTHER FOOD- Same as version Who Cares, but bugs in Part II have been fixed (I think) and a story element has been changed. Unlike Who Cares, this version is essential.
VERSION WHO CARES- This is the same as the previous version, but with the spelling errors in Part 1 corrected and a few story holes filled over in the conversation with Ebric. If you have the older version, don't bother to upgrade.
For those of you who have never played Blacksun, it is a simple RPG-type campaign with a few fixed force elements in each chapter. The original version of Part one was released nearly two years ago, and since then, it has recived much praise from people other than myself (!).
WARNING: Contains liberal use of bad language throughout. Player descresion advised. (What am I SAYING? I could care less if I offend anyone). Besides, they're just words.
|Author||Reviews ( All | Comments Only | Reviews Only )|
It's been 3 years since I first played the popular campaign "Ulio" by star designer Ingo van Thiel. Since then, I thought I had seen the most epic thing ever created for AOK. Now, upon finishing this game, I am starting to question it.
I've made this introduction just to give you an idea of just how incredibly epic and awfully underdownloaded this campaign actually is. I had stumbled across it by mistake, and after receiving a very positive reference from Andanu, one of its playtesters back in the day, decided to give it a try. And I did not regret it. This is without question one of the most complex and enjoyable RPG's the Blacksmith has ever seen, and it comes from a time when insanely epic 6-scenario-long RPG campaigns actually got finished, though some of them faded into obscurity, as was the case here unfortunately.
Don't let the minus sign here fool you...this was one of the most enjoyable games I have ever played. It is an RPG that starts of with a very "Lord of the Rings" kind of premise, but soon develops into having a very personalized concept and style. The enjoyment that stems from it comes from all aspects of the game: a great and well-developed story, a beautifully detailed and varied map design, and a good balance. Though it is mostly RPG wherein you control two (sometimes three) characters, the game also has a few parts closer to fixed force gameplay, in which you control an entire army. Every scenario has its own merits and its own style. The first and the last are cinematics, the second puts some emphasis on pure RPG gameplay with lots of sidequests and items to discover, while the next two are more oriented towards the main quest, and the fifth is an excellently built-up final quest and final showdown, with a setting that fits in perfectly with the climax of the story. One element that unifies all of these scenarios is the similar upgrade system for the characters, in the form of items that you can find scattered through the map (armors, weapons, shields, amulets etc). They are optional but more often than not your fate depends on finding them. A great touch is the fact that they are all signaled in a similar way (broken cart), so after you find the first one you know you need to be on the lookout for them.
Now to explain the minus sign...It is mostly related to the fact that the gameplay itself gets repetitive at some point. In many cases it's about killing demons, as you get from one point to the other, but taking into account the beauty of the map design and the inventivity of the other quests that you run into, this is only a very slight drawback. A more serious one for me was the bug that I encountered close to the end of the third playable scenario ("Eternal Night"), during the elf-demon battle, and which killed my game in one instance. However, taking into account the vastness of this campaign and the huge amount of work that has made it virtually bugless apart from this moment, it is forgivable and I will not deduct an entire point because of it, especially since it might have been a random bug.
Unfortunately, the original sound files for this campaign are no longer available. I can easily imagine them adding to the playability, but to be honest this work speaks for itself very well even without them.
Generally speaking the balance was wonderful. There were however a few places in which it was a bit off. I found it great that the game starts off easier and it gets progressively tougher, in the spirit of a true RPG. However, during the first playable scenario things were a bit too easy, while on the second one it was sometimes incredibly hard to keep my heroes alive before I reached the elven port city, i had to save very often and be very careful not to attract enemy attention. Most of the time during the campaign, the author has made sure that the player is not outpowered, and there are many save points where monks that heal your wounds are provided for a short amount of time to replentish your forces before major clashes occur. Overall the balance has been very well studied.
This is without a doubt the part where the game shines the most. The level of creativity is really insane for AOK standards, and forces me again to make the Ulio comparison. There are many RPG-related aspects in which creativity is very visible, such as the items you find along the way and the sidequests. You will also discover map-design related originality such as a "moving forest" and a wonderfully well implemented active volcano. There are a lot of small but very creative objectives such as blowing up an enemy camp , or pushing a ship until it reaches the sea and becomes sailable ...I can't even remember all of them, but you will have a lot of fun discovering them by yourself. A very important aspect of an RPG's creativity is the atmosphere that it can convey, and Blacksun is very good in this department. Almost all of the NPC's you meet in cities and the likes will talk to you and will provide you either with good info, with a sidequest or with a good laugh, making you sometimes forget that you are playing Age of Kings and feel like you are really part of a fantasy world.
It must be said that profanity plays an important part in the dialogues, which means some people might be turned off by it. I however enjoyed it a lot. It was very refreshing, not to mention funny, to see the inhabitants of a fantasy Tolkien - like world act and act less pompously and closer to real-life behavior and language.
Map Design: 5
This particular aspect of the game was constantly good throughout, but I feel that it has slightly improved during the making of the 6 scenarios. This is not to say that the first scenario was badly designed, quite the contrary. All in all the author has managed to create a believable and quite beautiful fantasy world, and map design plays a huge part. It's diversity is great, but not overwhelming, maybe because every scenario preserves it's own atmosphere. The first scenario is set in the "human" realm, which presents a temperate climate kind of map, the next ones are in Elvish territory which is mostly jungle-like, and the last playable scenario presents a wonderful snowy design.
The highlight of the map design was for me the Elvish capitol , which I felt looked marvelous and could always be a contender in a "Pretty Town Contest".
Even though in the beginning it feels a little bit like a "Lord of the rings" cliche, the story soon finds a road of its own, and even though the similarities with the Tolkien works are still there, it is hard not to see the originality and merit of this particular narrative. There is a Chosen One, which needs of course to save the world by defeating the Evil One. This is by no means something new, or original, especially in the realm of RPG fantasy. However, the way in which the story unfolds, with a lot of cutscenes driving it forward and key playable moments, and the fun that you have playing it and discovering the plot makes it very fresh and prevents it from falling into cheap plagiarisms. The author even managed to sneak in a little bit of romance without being too cheesy. I will not give any spoilers as to the story itself, it's enough to say that this particular story basically has it all, and it is without a doubt one of the greatest ever told on an AOK platform. Ulio probably surpasses it in originality, but not in overall entertainment value.
Though I had initially given this category a full 5 mark, upon replaying it I couldn't help but notice quite a few imperfections as far as grammar is concerned. This, along with the fact that the plot is not really that original, has made me rethink the rating for this particular category, though I still feel that it is close to getting a 5, and it would get it if it were a little bit more polished.
If you are reading this, and if you've made it this far into this novel of a review, then you should know by now that you absolutely NEED to download this file. You will not regret it. I hope that this review is enough to convince you of that, and I honestly hope that this masterpiece will be finally given the credit that it deserves.
In one word: A masterpiece. Thank you , The Kestrel, for a most enjoyable experience.
[Edited on 12/27/11 @ 12:03 PM]
The Blacksun Series is a story about two men, Ramyon and Algarad, who become heroes in the fight against the dark lord that threatens to destroy the entire world they inhabit. We follow them throughout the war, across continents and fight with to the very end. While I wouldn't place it up there with Ulio, as my dear colleague panel did, The Blacksun Series is still grand in scope, epic in style, and a lot of fun to play through.
While I wouldn't put this in my top 10 best campaigns, I can almost guarantee that you will have a lot of fun throughout this campaign. The Blacksun Series is an epic in the original meaning of the word: a lengthy story with numerous plot twists, many side characters, and a long struggle between good and evil, with loads of heroic (and some not so heroic) deeds on the way. You fight against corrupt lords, monsters spawning from hell, and the Dark Lord himself.
Spanning four playable scenarios, as well as two cut-scenes, there is a lot to do in this campaign. Your heroes will travel across several nations, take on various enemies along the way, and meet with new heroes and heroines as they progress.
It is, however, not without its faults. There are several things that bring the entertainment down, the most prominent being the long walks. You are often required to walk back and forth across long distances without anything happening while you get from point A to point B. This happens most frequently in the third scenario, where you go in and out of the Elven capitol numerous times, and every walk back to the capitol is a slow borefest.
There is also one fight in one of the scenarios that was unbelievably boring. You are facing a Teutonic Knight with about 1,000 hitpoints, and you have to fight him with hit-and-run tactics with your arbalest hero, Ramyon, while your swordsman, Algarad, hacks him with a sword. This took about five straight minutes of running around in circles, which was anything but exhilarating.
Then there are some bugs, or glitches. In the third scenario, when you have brought you heroes up to the angels on the mountain, the game discontinues when a certain someone is supposed to be approaching. I had to type in "i r winner" to get past it. Similarly, in the fight against the Dark Lord, there appears to be some glitches (I'm not sure if they are intentional or not): You only have control over Algarad, while Ramyon only stands around taking hits from hellspawns. And at one point, the Dark Lord and Ramyon just kind of blast away for no apparent reason. I understand from the storyline that they were sucked into a void, never to return again, but it definitely wasn't very clear when it happened.
These and some other minor things do bring the entertainment level down, but, as a whole, this is still a very enjoyable campaign. Almost every part of the campaign is bug free, there is a lot of action and clever tricks being used, some quite rare even today. The story is not of Nobel prize quality, but it keeps you interested and always has you wanting to play it to the end. I give playability a weak five.
The game was generally well-balanced. There was hardly ever a moment when you couldn't figure out what to do. In some cases, the early fight of a scenario, when you had no upgrades, were very hard, but as you got more and more upgrades hey became easier. With strategically placed healing points throughout all scenarios, you were never faced with an impossible challenge. Some minor boss fights, like the one against the Teutonic Knight I mentioned earlier are not so much hard, as they were intended, but boring and frustrating. This, and some minor things, brings down the score a bit, but not enough to bring the score down below a five. I'd give it 4.5 if I could, but I can't and a straight four would be too low, so a weak five it is.
Taking into account that this scenario was created ten years ago, back when a lot of the tricks and design styles we take for granted today had not been discovered or developed yet, there is a lot of creative touches in this campaign. There are big things like varied landscapes, from big cities to snowy islands to swamps, as well as varied gameplay throughout the campaign. And there are smaller things, like the healing points, items to be found that improve your weapons and armour, pushing boats into the ocean and reusing them, teleportation spots (sort of), volcanoes (although you could argue it doesn't look too realistic :P), deities summoning water and creating the world the campaign takes place in, and much more. While it might not be as shining a beacon of creativity today as it was back then, rating it down because it's old would be moronic. In the words of Ingo van Thiel: "To mark the work down for that today would be as ignorant as saying 'the light bulb wasn't such an original thing to invent... I've seen it dangle from the ceiling in every household.'"
MAP DESIGN: 4
As a whole, the design of the campaign is solid, especially considering it is ten years old. But I wouldn't say it's flawless, far from it, or that it has stood the test of time. The forests are generally open and walkable, but often these forests contain everything from oaks to bamboo and scattered ice units. It doesn't look very pleasing. The cities and towns also have a rather odd design, with not very many buildings in them to be big cities, and quite often an excess of trees in them. These trees makes it look more as if the designer was trying to fill up the blank parts with some random objects, than it does make it look like city decorations.
Certain parts look really quite good, like the evil castle and certain forest paths, as well as most of the second playable scenario, but I wouldn't call it a designing masterpiece. It's good, it's solid, and it definitely shows that the designer put effort into it, but it's not top-notch.
STORY & INSTRUCTIONS: 4
While the story is epic and interesting enough to make you want to finish it all, it still has some severe weak points. The constant foul language is one of the main points. When kings and lords tell your character to go eff themselves, you can't really take their characters seriously. This is a big flaw throughout the campaign. The second is that the story often seems underdeveloped. While the mythology of the world is rather well explained, other aspects just flash by, like how the final fight against the Dark Lord ends abruptly, and how the supposed romance between Ramyon and Christine takes huge leaps without the player being notified before they're madly in love. Other things include how certain lords and others without much argument accept that your heroes are Chosen Ones that deserve control over their forces.
At times there is also a lack of instructions, directions specifically, where the game doesn't tell you clearly where to go to "finish the job" and such. Generally you can get there by following a road, but still, there is room for improvement.
There is also a LOT of spelling errors in this scenario. The author is probably a fast-typing writer, but he ought to have looked back at the dialogue as there are dozens of obvious spelling mistakes in each scenario. And there's no excuse for this since he's a native English speaker.
Despite all these flaws, there is still a lot of interesting twists and turns in the story, and while it is littered with clichés it still manages to hold your interest throughout the campaign. It's a solid, epic story, even though it might have benefited from a big polishing.
IN CONCLUSION: This forgotten epic, despite all its flaws, is definitely worth downloading. It's hours and hours of entertainment, especially if you enjoy RPG scenarios.
[Edited on 01/02/12 @ 12:08 PM]