Review by Waterview

Reviewed: 08/27/02 | Updated: 10/20/03

A fantastic blend of role-playing, story-telling and strategy.

King of Dragon Pass is a turn-based strategy game set in the richly detailed mythic world of Glorantha. After the rise of a tyrant Pharaoh, your clan has fled north to Dragon Pass to escape civil war. You will have to contend with other clans, unfamiliar territories and hostile creatures in order to muster enough power to form a tribe, and ultimately be crowned king or queen of Dragon Pass.

King of Dragon Pass includes three elements: a clan simulator; a series of random incidents; and heroquests, where nobles from your clan attempt to cross to the Godplane and ritually reenact myths.

Managing the Clan: Each gaming year is divided into five seasons, during which your clan can trade with other clans, forge political ties, conduct raids, explore new areas, and sacrifice to deities to gain various benefits. The clan is led by a ring of seven advisors who are assigned from a pool of clan nobles. Over time, the abilities of clan nobles may improve or decrease depending on their own actions and a number of external factors. Clan management is accomplished by navigating various screens; once the functions of each screen becomes familiar, the interface is clean and intuitive.
Random Encounters: During the course of the game the clan encounters many adventures. How you deal with these encounters will affect your clan's power and reputation. Some events are one-offs, while others may continue for years, with long-term implications for the clan's welfare. The encounters are presented as illustrations with descriptive text and multiple-choice responses.
Heroquesting: Before undertaking heroquests, it's necessary to learn the secrets of myths by interacting with other clans and sacrificing to deities. A clan noble can undertake a heroquest at any time, although certain circumstances will make success more likely. Heroquests are necessary to win the favor of the deities, and their successful completion can provide many benefits, from strengthening the abilities of your nobles to improving the fertility of your clan's livestock. However, even the best-prepared quester may encounter unexpected consequences, failure or death. Heroquests are told in a ''choose your own adventure'' form, with full-screen illustrations, text and multiple-choice options.

Judged purely as a kingdom simulator, King of Dragon Pass is a little lacking compared to the Civilization, KOEI or Master of Orion series. Because it focuses on small-scale simulation, King of Dragon Pass lacks the sense of dynamic, shifting territories that one finds in the best games of this genre. King of Dragon Pass also lacks a tech tree or a tactical combat simulator. Structure building is limited to defensive fortifications and temple upgrades to make deity blessing permanent. Important aspects of the game, such as the leveling up of clan nobles and the triggering of adventure sequences, occur off-screen and can seem a little too dependent on luck. This lack of transparent control may be frustrating to strategy gamers used to a more hands-on, micromanagement approach.

To an extent, these criticism can be explained by the demands of the game's plot and setting. The relative simplicity of the game's combat engine and clan simulation allow the game's narrative to flow without interruptions: the game wonderfully evokes the sense of being caught up in an epic myth where destiny and the favor of the Gods determine the clan's fate.
Rating: 8/10

There is no animation in King of Dragon Pass: the game is told entirely through a series of large static illustrations. The quality of the artwork is uniformly excellent. One nice touch is that each clan noble's portrait changes as s/he ages. Music consists of simple, looped folk/Celtic themes for each of the five seasons, with incidental music for special encounters. I found the audio to be pleasant and unobtrusive, but sounds can be switched off if they're not to your taste.
Rating: 7/10 (audio 6, video 8)

Because of its random nature, King of Dragon Pass is extremely replayable. Changing the clan's starting conditions will give a very different gaming experience: new allies and enemies, new Gods to honor, new clan strategies (peaceful or warlike), and so on. After a few games, character portraits, hero quests and random encounters may start to get repetitive, but each game is sure to have a surprise or two. King of Dragon Pass is a game you can return to months -- or years -- after your first game.
Rating: 8/10

Value for Money
I highly recommend King of Dragon Pass to fans of turn-based strategy games and narrative-driven role-playing games. The game delivers on its promise to provide a fantasy setting that's more than just backdrop: you have to understand the traditions, myths and personalities of the land to achieve success. People looking for spectacular graphics, full-motion video cut-scenes and instant thrills will be disappointed by the game. Those looking for a game that rewards patience and considered thought will love King of Dragon Pass.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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