Developer:    Legend Entertainment

Publisher:    Virgin Interactive

Released:   1995

PC Requirements:    486/33 or higher, 4MB RAM, CD-ROM, SVGA (VESA compatible) DOS 5.0 or Win 95, mouse





by Singer

Stop me if you've heard this tale before... When the fate of the world is threatened by a malevolent being of untold magical powers, it is up to a reluctant, ragtag band of elves, dwarves, and humans to begin an epic journey into the very heart of danger to vanquish the evil. Along the way, these unlikely heroes face trials of poisoned wounds, suspicious kings, and broken swords, while fending off vicious trolls, giant monster spiders, and the walking dead.

What am I saying?? Of COURSE you've heard of it. You may even have read one or more of the author's novels. Even if you're not a fan of fantasy, surely everyone knows all about ... ... Shannara, by Terry Brooks.

No?? You thought perhaps I was referring to a different story? Well, that's certainly understandable. But while that Tolkien fella's hobbit books get all the press, you may be missing out on one of the best fantasy adventure games this side of Middle Earth.

Released in 1995 by Legend Entertainment, Shannara is technically rock-solid. The game installed smoothly directly from Windows 98, and ran without a hiccup. No muss, no fuss, no tweaks, no glitches I'd like more games like this, please.

The first-person, point and click gameplay in Shannara (pronounced Shaw-ner-aw) is presented in a combination of hand drawn graphics and verb text options. The images are relatively static, but well done particularly the character models. However, you'll quickly find yourself reading more than looking at the graphics, as each action triggers a written description of the results, rather than a visual depiction. While I'd have loved to "see" more of the story unfold, I quickly became accustomed to the reading.

Shannara also has a great deal of dialogue. There is full speech to go with the subtitles, and I found the voice acting to be excellent. I'm sure the midi music was fine in its day, but the best that can be said for it now is that... well... it can be turned down or off.

There's little more to be said about the basic plot outline. The opening shows the evil warlock Brona being brought back to life through the magical powers of an ancient book. You begin the game as young Jak Ohmsford, son of the man who previously defeated Brona with the Sword of Shannara. In order to stop Brona again, Jak needs to retrieve the sword, now broken, and re-forge it through the use of magic artifacts belonging to elves, dwarves, trolls, and gnomes (none of whom get along, of course).

You're not alone for long. Early on, you are joined by the lovely Shella, and the two of you set out together. As the game proceeds, you are accompanied by several other characters, represented by icons at the bottom of the screen. Each has his or her own ideas and inventories, and interacting with them becomes vital to solving many of the puzzles. I very much liked the "party" aspect of the adventure. My only minor gripe is that on a couple rare occasions, a solution required a non-intuitive balance of character and gameworld interaction.

The supporting cast is also vital when it comes to the... shall we say... pacifism-challenged segments. All right, I'll say it plain: COMBAT. Yes, there's fighting in this game you didn't really think evil incarnate would just leave if we asked politely, did you? But relaaaaax. Shannara's battles require no quick reflexes or even much courage. In fact, you're advised to run away as often as possible (which is most of the time). When you're finally forced to stand your ground, a turn-based (untimed) combat mode begins, in which you issue commands from a separate menu. The menu hints at complex strategies, but the fighting is very basic stuff, and you'll quickly get the hang of it. Should you happen to "die", you're given the option to retry from the beginning of the fight. I didn't mind the combat sequences at all, but the menu system was needlessly cumbersome, which sucked out some of the excitement.

There are some "timed" sequences which may result in dying, too. Rather than being dependent on the clock, however, you are permitted a certain number of actions to get out of trouble. Personally, I find this somewhat annoying, but again, the game is very forgiving if you fail and returns to the beginning of the timed sequence.

Navigation comes in two forms. When in a specific location, a compass highlights the directions you can move. When moving between locations, you control your party on an overland map, dodging Brona's minions and picking your path. This latter method offered a change of pace, but fell completely flat in the "fun" department. Fortunately, very little time is spent on this unnecessary diversion.

The puzzles are logical and so well integrated that they really just feel like part of the story obstacles and challenges to be overcome as a matter of course. That's exactly how I like them.

While all these factors contribute to making Shannara a solid experience, the best feature of the game is the writing. This is easily one of the best written adventures I've ever played, which should come as no surprise. In addition to whatever input Brooks had in making the game, the game was designed by Lori and Corey Cole of Quest for Glory fame.

Shannara is a game with a conscience. I genuinely found myself CARING about each of the party members, which became all the more important as the game wore on, because I was required to make choices that affected them personally. Not only that, but my decisions were called into question this is no click and forget game. I was accountable; as the leader, I NEEDED to make the best choices for the greater good, and to take care of my friends as best I could. There are subtle branching paths depending on the most important decisions, should you want to replay the latter part of the game for alternate experiences. Ultimately, though, you'll discover that your motives are what is truly important. This level of character development gave Shannara a depth that few other games can rival.

Do you need to be a fan of fantasy fiction to appreciate this game? Not at all, as beneath the surface, Shannara is an altogether human drama, and a quality adventure to boot. The only things preventing me from giving this game my highest endorsement are the sparse use of graphics (even given its release date) and the awkward execution of the combat and timed sequences. You may have difficulty finding a copy these days, unfortunately, but if you get the chance, don't pass it up. If it's sitting on your shelf getting bypassed again and again, time to treat yourself to this little gem from yesteryear.

Final score: 76%

System Requirements

486/33 or better
VESA compatible Super VGA graphics card
Sound Blaster or compatible

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Please write to: Singer

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