Ancient Domains of Mystery


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Alternate Titles:
Thomas Biskup
Unfinished / Text-based / Sword & Sorcery

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NetDanzr (2006-05-12) [hide]

Avatar If there is one game that professional developers and publishers hate, it's Ancient Domains of Mystery (ADOM). The final version (1.0) released in late 2002, this freeware role-playing game that fits on a single floppy offers an unprecedented depth of character development and a length of gameplay that easily matches the longest games ever released. In fact, ADOM offers more replay value than any game released in the 21st Century, and unlike many of those games, it remains fun no matter how often you replay it.

ADOM is most likely the most complex of rogue-like games. Rogue-like games draw their name from the game Rogue, and are being characterized by several basic features. Probably the most glaring feature is the lack of graphics; instead, ASCII characters form the world (viewed from top down) and represent different characters and monsters. By consensus, the main hero is characterized by a "@", while monsters by alphabetical letters. More modern rogue-like games also include different colors for different characters and monsters, allowing for almost unlimited variety of the latter. However, some games, such as Telengard, are considered to be rogue-like, even though they feature graphics. This is because of the second defining feature: a randomly generated dungeon, which the main character must complete in order to win the game.

Over the years since the original Rogue, the games developed, and finally stalled at the same point: offering roughly the same town, and vast, randomly generated dungeon underneath. Only the story slightly varied, as well as the interface. Moria started out as a black-and-white extension of Rogue, while Angband brought this niche to perfection by multi-window interface, colors and even multiplayer. ADOM is different, though: instead of a single random dungeon, ADOM offers a whole world, full of static and random dungeons, towns, forests, rivers, lakes of water and lava and much more. The game offers such a complex world filled with various quests, artifacts and story forks that it should be considered as something more than a rogue-like game.

In ADOM, you play a hero that finds his way into a closed valley, where Chaos is trying to take over the world. In fact, chaos is corrupting everything around, turning people into monsters and later into goo. The same will happen to you if you don't find a way to stop and destroy the origin of this chaos. Over the course of the game, you will visit several towns, will need to finish a multitude of quests and may opt for finishing a number of optional quests. Playing the game for the first time, it may take you several months to finish, without actually visiting all dungeons or completing all the quests.

What makes the game so unique is not only the size of the world, which if presented in graphics comparable to modern games, would take up a dozen or more CDs, but the freedom the player gets. You start with selecting a character, from a choice of over 200 combinations of race and class, with even more different combinations when you add the birthsign that slightly modifies your statistics. The classes range from your typical fighters, wizards and rangers to almost unheard-of in role-playing games, such as farmers and beastmasters. Each class, each race and each birthsign modifies your statistics. In addition to basic statistics, you will have to keep your eye on dozens of weapon and armor skills and special skills, which you will be able to upgrade over time. The latest versions of the game go even further, including special perks to your statistics upon reaching a certain level.

As you travel across the world, you will have your hands and eyes full, with following all these stats, and much more. In addition to your health, you will have to watch how hungry you are, and how much food you have in your inventory. More often you will die of hunger or poisoning than actually get killed. Speaking of killing, you will have your hands full here, as well. The game features over 400 monsters, many of which with missile capability or other special skills. Many of the higher level monsters can cast different spells, shoot or attack you from up close, and do a great job of selecting their best course of attack. To make the game even more complex, all monsters are edible, but eating them may have some adverse effects.

The complexity doesn't stop there, though. The game features over 600 different items, ranging from weapons and armor, through tools that would allow you to produce your own weapons, to various artifacts. There are dozens of different potions, scrolls and magic wands. All those items can exist in three different states - normal, cursed or blessed, which further modify their capabilities. In addition, the world is ruled by deities, and you will be able to please or anger them with prayers, demands or sacrifices. Yes, even human sacrifices are possible.

However, the bulk of the game still lies in character development. Such a complex game requires a very flexible character development system, and ADOM doesn't disappoint in this aspect. The basic character has a few primary statistics, secondary skills and weapon skills. The primary characteristics hardly change, and the only viable way to do so is to use different rare potions or enter a certain stage of the chaos corruption disease. Secondary skills are all up to the player - every time the character levels up, it is possible to improve three to four of these skills. They range from food preservation, through literacy, swimming and stealth to more obscure skills, such as bridge building. By improving these skills, the player is able to steer his character on a path he prefers. Weapon skills are dependent on how much a certain weapon is used; for each successful hit the skill improves by a point, and levels out from time to time. This allows for greater realism in the game.

As much as I like the game, there are still a few weak spots I ought to mention, though. First of all, the lack of graphics may be viewed by some as a deficit. The fact that there are over 400 monsters, each represented by a different letter and color makes the learning curve relatively high. This is not being helped by the interface, which is fully text-based, and which features so many commands that combinations of two or even three keys are common. In addition, this interface requires the use of the numpad, which makes the game quite hard to play on a laptop. Furthermore, the game is still DOS-based, and certain operating systems, especially Windows Me have problems running it (native versions for other operating systems are available on the official homepage). However, probably the biggest problem with the game is that once you die, it will not be possible to reload an older game; all your saves get wiped out. This may appeal to hardcore gamers, but the mainstream audience would get frustrated very quickly.

Overall, Ancient Domains of Mystery is one of the best games I have ever played. Game designers should take note of this game and finally realize that good balance and great content are more important than the presentation.

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Comments (1) [Post comment]

WhiteWolf (2006-12-16):

ADOM ist wirklich eines der besten Spiele, die ich je gespielt habe. Auch wenn ich mich manchmal selbst darüber wundere, aber die Spieltiefe ist unglaublich.
Es ist sicher frustrierend, wenn man tagelang seinen Charakter auflevelt und er dann stirbt - und nichts von ihm übrig bleibt, ausser einer Erinnerung. Aber : das macht auch einen gewissen Reiz aus, und ist eben sehr realistisch.

Auf jeden Fall ein Geheimtipp !

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