I don’t know if I ever played Pool of Radiance. One of my most fond memories of high school is playing Dungeons and Dragons. I’ve already talked some about my memories with paper and pencil D&D. However, I also have extensive experience with the computer games as well.
The thing about the PC games is that I don’t have specific memories of which games I played. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I remember playing the Spelljammer game and I remember playing at least one of the Dark Sun games. I don’t know if I played any of the Dragonlance games, though I’m almost positive that I did at one point or another. It remains my favorite setting even today.
One game I’m almost positive that I never played was Pool of Radiance. Why, then, am I picking that game to feature? Well, according to my extensive research (a single Google search), it is the first of the PC games to feature the mechanics of D&D. So, it’s only fair that I pick that one as my first entry into the Way Back Machine. If it goes well, I might take a look at one of the Dark Sun games in a couple of weeks. If it goes poorly, I definitely will.
Decent Graphics – I know many of you will scoff at this. And, you might have a right to do so. However, compared to my expectations, this game blew them away. Granted, I’m not sure what my expectations were, but I clearly forgot about the capabilities of those early games. There were different sprites for the different monsters and you were able to customize your characters to some degree.
Surprisingly in depth – Again, I’m not sure what I was expecting. I mean, we’re not exactly in the prehistory of games, but 1988 is pretty early in the history. The Super Nintendo (when I really started to become involved in video games and consider to be the start of good graphics and consistently good gameplay) is still 3 or 4 years away. I guess the old PC gamer mentality of being a step ahead was true at the time. In addition to the character creation feeling almost (you don’t individually roll stats, but you do pick alignment) like pencil and paper, the features of the game are greater than the sum of their parts. Let’s talk about some of those features.
Intuitive – Granted, this isn’t pick up and play if you haven’t played Dungeons and Dragons before. It will take some getting used to. As I told Chris when he texted about flipping through a source book, “It’s a whole other language. However, like Magic, once you get used to it, it’s second nature.” This game is very much along those lines. Within a half an hour of (probably too in depth for a simple review article) character creation, I was into the game and wiping my party. (More on that in a bit)
Minimap – Again, those of you who have grown up in modern video game times might get a chuckle out of an oldbie like me thinking that the minimap is worth of mention in the article. But, hear me out. Being an oldbie pencil and paper D&D guy, I took about 5 minutes to look for some graph paper to start drawing my own map of the town before I realized there was a minimap built into the interface.
The Story – The story of Pool of Radiance isn’t bad. In fact, it’s actually pretty engaging and gets you into the action quickly. I’m not surprised because this is a TSR (the owners of the D&D license before WotC bought them) product. Even so, the story is pretty generic RPG stuff and isn’t engaging enough to keep me coming back for more. That’s to be expected since The Forgotten Realms is the most generic of D&D settings
Pool of Radiance is hard! – So, I went to the City Hall to find out what commissions I could collect. “Go to the ruins and help clear it of monsters.” Okay, sounds good. Let’s kill some monsters. First encounter in the ruins? A party of kobolds. No problem, right? Wrong. 2 party members dead. Crikey! Let’s rest. Nope. Interrupted by a party of monsters. Let’s rest in the city. Nope. It costs 1 platinum to rest in the inn. Let’s rest in an alley. Nope. Caught by the guards. WTF. Okay, how about a temple? 100 gold pieces for cure light wounds. Jesus. Fine. Now, back into the ruins. Second encounter is a party of orcs. And, we’re all dead. Well, that was fun.
Pool of Radiance is a game that definitely stands the test of time. Over 30 years later and I will probably keep going back to try to at least defeat that first dungeon. Who knows? Once I do that, I’m sure that I’ll be back to try to finish the rest of the game. Then, I’ll move on to other games in the series. I have been playing the game on this web based emulator. However, I recently discovered a place that has the game plus a bunch of others for only 10 bucks. I just have to vet the source to make sure that it is legit and not bloatware or virus ridden like the old Limewire files. In spite of the frustration of the game being hard, I suggest you give it a try.