My review for Steve Jackson's Sorcery! Part 3 (pc version)

[Note] You can find my review for Sorcery! Parts 1 & 2 here.

It is quite fascinating to see how much the Sorcery! series has changed from game to game. Part One is a fairly linear affair that offers you a choice between a variety of branching corridors, Part Two takes things a bit further by giving you a large open city to roam around in, and Part 3 completely rips off the training wheels by dumping you in a massive zone that you can explore in any direction, both in the present and the past.

The almost limitless freedom doesn't simply apply to the exploration aspects of Sorcery! Part 3, it also extends to the amount of choices you're able to make when interacting with other characters and solving problems. For example, in Sorcery! Part 1 if you get attacked by a bear you can use the LAW spell to pacify it and then quickly make your getaway. In Part 3, however, you can use the LAW spell to not just pacify the bear, but to use it as your own personal mount with which you can cross wast distances unimpeded, because let's face it, whose going to stop a guy riding a bear!

 

Nowhere is this open-ended nature of Sorcery! Part 3 shown better than in the main storyline which revolves around a deadly game of cat and mouse between you, a lone wanderer stuck in the middle of a nowhere with two berries and a sword for company, and seven deadly serpents that are each defined by one aspect of nature (such as fire, water, etc.) as well as an undying hatred for everything you-shaped.

Since your opponents aren't particularly keen on dying you will have to do a lot of running around in order to discover clues about not just their location, but also what you can use to even the odds as facing flying fire-breathing dragons tends to end poorly for those without wings. This seemingly overwhelming task is what you will spend the majority of your time in Sorcery! Part 3 with, so its a good thing indeed that its such an enjoyable quest.

Sorcery! Part 3 features an expansive map you can explore

Where to go... Where to go...

The process of gathering clues will take you across all the far corners of the map and will require you to interact with some rather peculiar characters, which is where my favorite part of Sorcery! comes in. I've mentioned this in my Part 1 & 2 review, but Sorcery! has one very special element that most other RPGs tend to ignore, realistic character behavior depending on the situation. As an example let's say you've found a hut in the middle of the forest that you suspects belongs to a witch, what do you think would happen if you broke down the door and entered with your sword raised high?

If the woman was a witch you would be turned in to a newt and the story would end there, and if she wasn't a witch she would at this point be absolutely mortified at the sight of a dirty, smelly bandit that just barged in to her hut and demanded to talk about some bloody serpents. This is the sort of stuff that Sorcery! pays attention to, something that almost no other game does, and its a damn shame because it makes the world feel so much more vibrant, and more importantly, realistic, despite the fact that invisible eagles frequently face off against giant bats in the night sky.

To take the same example again, if you would instead approach the hut as a normal, sane person and knock on the door you would almost certainly get a response. From there you can introduce yourself, get invited for a spot of tea, and through a long conversation discover that the woman is indeed a witch, and is more than willing to teach you new tricks in order to help you deal with the serpents she herself despises. Much like the real world, being polite, but still cautious, will open you many doors, some of which you never even knew existed.

Sorcery! part 3 has some interesting characters

Turns out everyone in the world isn't a bloodthirsty monster, who could've guessed!

My only issue with the choices you can make, and this problem returns from the previous Sorcery! games, is the fact that everything you do can is very easily rewound back to a previous point so you can keep bashing your head against the proverbial wall, not until you become smart enough to stop, but until your parents come in and tear it down for you. Given that you can do the same thing with combat it makes an otherwise foreboding story a complete joke as the serpents stop being this shadowy force you need to constantly keep a watchful eye for, and instead become a short roadblock, at best.

If you do decide to play Sorcery! Part 3, or any of the others, I would fully recommend that you stick with your choices, even if that means being forced to bear the shame of having your entire supply of food stolen, because when your actions and words have real meaning and weight behind them the story becomes a whole lot more compelling and intriguing to follow.

Sorcery! part 3 gives you some heavy choices

You will mess up, and it will hurt, but that's what makes a journey special

I mentioned previously that there is time travel involved in Sorcery! Part 3, and while that sentence is completely true, there are a few caveats to it. The way you travel through time is by using massive telescopes powered by strange blue crystals, and even though that sounds pants-on-head insane, its actually a nifty system. The telescope-like objects are capable of projecting a tight beam of light that distorts time itself, and allows you to access locations that might not be present in the timeline you're currently in.

What this means is that the already massive world of Sorcery! Part 3 is actually double its size as you can visit locations in the present, shine a time-bending light on them and then revisit them again for a completely different experience. Besides simple exploration there's also plenty of tricks you can accomplish through the use of time-bending, such as shifting only a tiny portion of a massive "highway" back in to the past so that you can easily climb what would otherwise be impossibly tall.

Sorcery! Part 4 features time-bending flashlights

A bridge caught between timelines

The reason you want to do all of this exploration and time manipulation is to find what exactly makes each of the seven serpents tick, how to track them down, and how to protect yourself against their deadly attacks. In most other RPGs a quest like this would be handled by having you search for "MacGuffin, Sword of Serpent Slaying", but in Sorcery! Part 3 things are a lot more complicated, and yet quite simpler at the same time.

The reason I say this is because finding all of the information on each of the serpents is a hard task, but its a task that you don't need to actually do if you employ even a tiny bit of rational thinking. Take for example the earth serpent who holds dominion of... well, the earth. His powers are clearly going to revolve around either throwing boulders at you, or having you fall in to a suddenly appearing crevasse, so how do you counter this?

Well, a FOF (force field) spell will negate most of the rock based attacks, while a ZEN (levitation) spell will negate anything that involves you having physical contact with the earth. When it comes to dealing with the serpent the same logic applies. Since it draws power from the earth you want to get him away from it, which can mean summoning a mighty gale and directing it squarely in its face. Once the serpent is off the ground its going to be completely powerless, and soon enough you will be through with your very first magical-aberration without doing even a single shred of research, just through a healthy dose of critical thinking, now that is some good game design.

Sorcery! Part 3 features some scary looking serpents

'tis merely a flesh wound

On the other hand, if you feel like playing through Sorcery! Part 3 on easy mode feel free to engage absolutely anything in combat, because the mechanics are just as exploitable as those found in the previous two parts. Why go through the effort of thinking up a clever solution to your problems when you can whip out your blade and beat the thing in to submission while only losing a couple of health against the most hardy of bosses.

This issue stems from the fact that enemy patterns are extremely obvious, so its very easy to defend against their big attacks, and overpower their weak attacks for massive, massive damage. I've said this before, and I'll say it again, but the whole combat system is a huge disappointment compared to what it could've been, especially when you consider how well written it is.

Every single strike, dodge and feint is described in such visceral detail that I can't help but get immersed in all of the action, but outside of the few "tutorial" battles the text will tell you next to nothing about the enemy's upcoming move which means you're going to be either guessing your way through the combat, or start noticing the same few easily-exploitable patterns emerge. I truly hope Part 4 fixes this up as the combat really is enjoyable, and has the potential to be quite deep, but is unfortunately far too trivial right now for something that should be a last resort.

Closing Thoughts

Sorcery! Part 3 is a combination of everything I adore about narrative driven games: some great writing that makes the world come alive, an interesting cast of characters that all behave in their own unique way, a wast region to explore in whichever fashion you chose, and most importantly, a story that gets your brain-gears turning as you attempt to find the best solution to each problem.

While certainly not a perfect game, Sorcery! Part 3: The Seven Serpents is an immensely enjoyable experience that I feel I can fully recommend to anyone that's interested in a story full of branching paths and interesting choices to make. If you do decide to get it, make sure you take the time to play through it multiple times, as you will only really come to appreciate your decisions when you see how things could've gone so, so wrong.

You can grab Sorcery! Part 3 on Steam, and If you're looking for some more information I've made a 20 minute long video cowering the first few areas of the game:

 

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