My detailed review of the first two parts of Steve Jackson's Sorcery!

Sorcery! is a faithful adaptation of Steve Jackson's Fighting Fantasy gamebooks of the same name and much like them it features an astoundingly well realized world filled with plenty of choices to make, monsters to bedazzle, werewolves to duel and mysteries to solve.

The first two parts of the Sorcery! quadrilogy will be arriving on Steam today with the third part following shortly and part 4 set for later this year. But for now let's focus on the first half and see how well it stands up to scrutiny on its own.

 

In Sorcery! your story starts like any other, a brave young hero from a tiny village in the middle of nowhere sets off on a grand mystical quest to retrieve a magical doodad and stop a tyrannical ruler from conquering the world. And while the premise might be as generic as it gets the locations you will explore and the people you will meet are anything but.

The size of world you get to explore is on first glance rather unimpressive but its actually so chock-full of locations you can potentially visit that there is absolutely no chance you'll be able to see them all even in a single playthrough, there is just so many of them. And the world map itself is styled as an actual physical map your character might be carrying with him which is a rather nice feature.

If you've grown up like me alongside Tolkien or other such writers that use those beautiful hand drawn maps filled with tiny details everywhere then you know exactly what Sorcery's map looks like. Best thing about it though is that you move your character from location to location by dragging him as if he was a DnD miniature. Its such a small thing but it made the whole experience much more immersive for me as it felt like I was playing a particularly well crafted DnD session with a dungeon master who thought about everything

Sorcery! on the PC has some beautiful maps

I'm a sucker for stylish art

And when I say everything I do mean everything. The choices you get to make in Sorcery! are quite diverse and allow you to play as a benevolent hero, merciless thug or anything in between with the game changing itself in realistic ways to accommodate your style of play. In a stark contrast to many games out there where NPCs can't wait to backstab you the people you meet in Sorcery! will usually respond to you in kind.

If you accidentally run in to a group of guards gambling you can simply apologize for the interruption, have a laugh about it and then either leave or potentially sit down with them. On the other hand if you enter the same dialogue with a condescending tone or act like a douchebag you bet they are going to beat you up and throw you in a cell for the night, to expect anything else would be silly.

The fact that so many people you meet are honest individuals trying to make their living in a harsh world makes the betrayals you experience all the more painful. Would you care if a random bandit you met alongside a road betrayed you? Probably not. On the other hand what would you feel if a poor peasant you helped before sold you out for enough money to keep his family fed for a year? Not so easy this time.

Needless to say the writing in Sorcery! is superb. I don't know if it was lifted from the gamebooks or written by the developers themselves but each character has a unique "voice and tone" despite never speaking a single word and the locations are so well described I couldn't help but to get myself immersed in all of it.

Sorcery!'s world is full of flavor

There is a lot of flavor in every scene

Besides simply talking your way through problems you can always ignore them and walk away or perhaps use your sword arm or even magic to solve them. The magic system in Sorcery! is rather tricky, giving you full access to 50 or so spells each of which have their own specific uses and limitations. Its completely up to you when, how and which spell you will use as Sorcery! doesn't hold your hand in this regard, not even a single bit.

For example the "DUM" spell will cause the targeted creature to become extremely clumsy making them almost unable to run or wield weaponry but if you use it against large beasts that rely on brute strength you'll accomplish nothing. The "LAW" spell will allow you to mentally control non-intelligent creatures which requires you to know whether a werewolf for example is intelligent or not or you might end up wasting your time casting a spell and get chomped on.

Aside from the inherent risk of knowing whether your spell will have the desired effect or not you will also spend your precious stamina points casting it. The ways you regenerate stamina are fairly obvious, have a good night's sleep at an inn, eat some food to keep up your strength up and so on. The one problem with stamina management is that its almost completely pointless if you're like me and roleplay the kind traveler since you then get access to a prayer that allows you to constantly top yourself off.

Even though Sorcery! makes a big deal out of you carrying provisions so you don't ever end up cold and hungry under a tree at night with no stamina I found food to be mostly useless in my playthrough since a combination of sleep & prayer was enough for me to stay in tip-top shape. Somehow I don't think your character being an ultra-monk was an intended part of the design but it unfortunately ended up like that because food just doesn't give enough stamina back for the gold cost involved.

Sorcery! evoking the power of the gods

If nothing else the gods in Sorcery! are very efficient

On the other hand, if your words fail you and your spells fizzle out you're going to have to rely on good ol' fashioned combat to save the day. As far as presentation goes the combat in Sorcery! is once again very reminiscent of an excellent DnD session with your DM (or in this case the game) giving you vivid and detailed descriptions of what's going on.

While the combat narrative will have you at the edge of your seat the actual combat mechanics are quite frankly lackluster at best, and completely broken at worst. You have two moves available to you: you can defend which reduces incoming damage to 1 or you can go on the offensive by selecting how much of your energy you're going to use up for an attack.

If you use more energy than your opponent you will overpower their blow thus dealing massive damage while taking none yourself. Constantly using powerful attacks doesn't work since your energy pool regenerates only a certain amount per turn so in theory you need to wisely combine offensive and defensive play in order to trick and deceive your enemy.

The problem here is that there is almost no way to know what your enemy will do without dying/losing a lot of health to them first. And once you know their exact pattern, which they will repeat every single time, even battles with the most powerful of creatures become a joke.

Instead of adapting your strategy to each and every enemy I managed to beat the entire game with this rotation: Medium Attack -> Defend -> Powerful Attack -> Medium Attack -> Defend -> Powerful Attack -> Medium Attack. There were very few creatures that seemingly had enough energy regeneration to keep up with my pace and overpower me so in general the supposedly difficult and risky option of fighting your way through problems turned out to be a fairly easy and reliable one.

Sorcery! battle vs a were wolf

I dare you to call him a good boy

Luckily you can almost always avoid combat by simply being either charismatic, clever or just downright paranoid and avoiding areas that might look like a trap, which is usually a good idea. It is this sort of decision making that truly sets Sorcery! apart from other such games.

As a little experiment I decided to try replaying Part 1 and choosing all of the options I originally ignored. The results were quite shocking as not only did the way I experience each location change drastically but my path across the map did so as well. I ended up going a completely different route than I did the first time and it was just as well written and fleshed out as the original one.

The only problem I really have with the choices is that Sorcery! is far too merciful to you by allowing you to turn back time any number of steps so you can choose a different outcome if you dislike what's currently happening. Personally I feel doing so cheapens the whole experience and ruins any sort of tension the story might have so if you do end up playing I'd fully recommend you ignore the feature and see how far you can get on your own.

Verdict

Sorcery! Parts 1 & 2 contain an incredibly well fleshed out world full of realistic characters, interesting locations and plenty of difficult choices to make which come with far reaching consequences. The combat system might be lackluster but the writing is absolutely top notch and the few issues Sorcery! has get easily forgotten once you're immersed in to the world.

As a big fan of RPGs I found myself greatly enjoying Sorcery! despite a couple of annoyances so if you're fan of narrative based games or visual novels in general I feel I can fully recommend Sorcery! to you. Just keep in mind that this is the sort of game you're supposed to play through multiple times in order to fully experience the world and all of the elements of the story.

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