Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Review - The Eye of Winter's Fury: Destiny Quest Book 3

The Eye of Winter's Fury - DestinyQuest 3Review by Richard Williams

By Michael J. Ward

Publisher: Gollancz

I'm going to start by saying that this is an impressive looking book. At over 700 pages long this is quite the weighty tome and people who are new to this type of adventure book might even be a little intimidated by it. Good old Fighting Fantasy looked doable whereas Destiny Quest challenges you to try. And it's a challenge worth taking.

Very quickly you can see why the book had to be so large. Other 'choose your own adventure' books kept simplicity at their core and trimmed down the excesses of regular RPGs. Destiny Quest says 'to hell with that' and crams the book with as many RPG elements as it can whilst still keeping the core mechanics surprisingly simple. The rules section is a mere 13 pages long and in that space tells you how to fill out your character sheet, undertake combat, manage your inventory, explains the key characteristics (Speed, Brawn, Magic, Armour, Health), special abilities, undertaking different quests, as well as character classes and careers. That's right, character classes and careers. Gone are the days of 'here's your fighter, go out and fight this specific bad guy'. Now you can decide if you're going to be a warrior, rogue or wizard and during the adventure(s) you can change your career, if you get the correct training, which gives you special bonuses.

You also read correctly when I mentioned 'undertaking different quests'. The book is broken down into two acts and in the front and back covers of the book are colour maps for each act. On these maps are colour coded shield symbols with a number next to them. The colour indicates how difficult the quest is while the number tells you where to turn to in the book. So while there is a central quest to complete there are also a number of sub-quests. Those 700 pages suddenly seem quite trim.

Character customisation is also well handled with this book. Between the class and career choices, as well as the massive selection of items to keep or discard, there won't be many readers with a character identical to anyone else's. This comes in particularly handy because Destiny Quest supports a kind of multi-player where several people can make a team (or even fight against one another!)

The dice required for combat and tests are D6 so those without a rack of multifaceted dice don't need to worry about not being able to play and there are no complicated tables needing referencing. In fact the combat is very much like the old Fighting Fantasy game books and involves rolling for your character, as well as the creature(s), and adding a relevant stat. There are also special abilities but those are explained with each encounter so you don't need to keep flipping back to a rules page each time you come across an enemy with a venom attack (or some such thing). If you do have a special ability yourself and forget what it does then you can quickly check the (very handy) glossary at the back of the book and then write it down on your character sheet.

Yes, of course, you will need a character sheet. You can either use the one provided in the front of the book or go online and download one because another great thing about Destiny Quest is the online support. There are a number of free downloads available, including item lists and the core rules, and it's great to see the creators put a lot of effort into supporting the players. There are some mainstream RPG companies (naming no names) that could learn a lesson or two from the folks of Destiny Quest.

However there is one gripe I must mention (but really only one). One of the key features of gaming books such as this is the notion of 'making YOU the hero'. References to the player should be generic and non-gender/race/age specific so that the reader can easily imagine themselves undertaking the quest. But with The Eye of Winter's Fury you are given a character, a young prince, which I feel is not an inconsiderable misstep. Female readers are obviously the ones most at odds with this but I also don't appreciate being told who my character is, no more than I would if I were rolling up a D&D character. For a game which boasts considerable customisation for the reader's character this flaw is quite a glaring one.

But all in all I find myself very impressed with Destiny Quest. It has managed to considerably increase the size and scope of the much-loved adventure game book format while still keeping it quick and simple to use. The online support and inclusion of team play is exactly what is needed in the modern market, with its focus on computer games, to tempt younger readers to give it a go while overall staying true enough to the old Fighting Fantasy books to keep older players happy.

If you're an old fan of Fighting Fantasy or want to introduce a younger reader to the world of gaming books then it would be hard to find a better purchase than Destiny Quest.

You can read a recent interview with the author here.