Ring Cycle
for PC (DOS)

Mr Creosote:
Alternate Titles: Ring der Nibelungen
Company: Maelstrom / Psygnosis
Year: 1996
Genre: RPG, Action
Theme: Fighting / Sword & Sorcery
Language: English, Deutsch, Francais
Licence: Commercial
Views: 7202
Review by Mr Creosote (2018-03-24)

Anyone who has ever complained about Lords of Midnight 3 should play Ring Cycle. Granted, that may not be such a large group since not all that many have played the former game. Or even heard of it. Nevertheless, these selected few should give this game an honest try. Even if it is only to make themselves feel better about LoM. Much better! Using the game engine already deployed in LoM, Ring Cycle strips away the strategic aspects and goes for a pretty pure roleplaying approach. Maybe with a little 3D shooter mixed in.

In the centre of it is a guy called Siegmund whom the player controls, though you will only initially learn his name from the game over screen. Meeting other characters, he reveals he does not know his own name. He seeks “his destiny”, but what that may be, he is blissfully unaware of. Maybe it is to escape from this game which he is trapped in?

No such luck as it turns out. Siegmund actually needs to locate ten artifacts. To learn that fact (and his name…) as well as the whereabouts of those artifacts, Siegmund need to pick up runes first. These lie around in random places on the map. Some can be picked up, others are engraved on large, talking boulders. Gradually, Siegmund learns more, enabling further interaction with other characters roaming around as well.

What is really nice about Ring Cycle is that it takes place in what is basically an open world. The player can pretty much walk everywhere; save for entering houses or dungeons, there are no fade-out and re-appearing somewhere entirely differently moments. The downside, of course, being that a walk from one end of the map to the other can take some uneventful time.

Graphics don't make such travelling particular attractive. Taking place in a world where everything looks the same and rendered in the engine which already made LoM look not all that great, the two detail settings don't save much, either. Whereas the lower one exposes the blocky voxels of the landscape quite strongly, the higher one mostly just blurs the ground textures for a “smoother” look, but still retains the low lever of detail for trees, houses and characters, making these objects stick out even worse from the landscape.

Gameplay, not expecting much in terms of plot, is a strangely unpleasant experience. Although much progress will finally be centered around character interaction, much of it is initially extremely formulaic, with almost moronic, non-skippable dialogue lines being the only selectable options. Mostly, it really amounts to absolutely nothing. In the worst case, meetings with other characters may turn into sword fights. Although on the map and in the dungeons, the sword (which Siegmung always carries ready in hand) cannot even be used, but different fireballs are used instead. For no good reason at all, really.

Inside houses or dungeons, the game then almost turns into a 3D shooter. Walking through mazes where aggressive ghosts are the only encounters, the fireball shooting becomes the main activity here. Or is it still an action RPG? Whatever the difference may be.

Questions like this one become moot when it comes to the game's biggest failing: its controls. Mouse movement is supposed to direct Siegmund's pace (up and down) and heading (left and right). This scheme makes it almost impossible to ever stop or set an exact direction. What happens is that Siegmund stumbles around like a cliché drunk. Much of the play time is actually wasted trying to pick something up or actually hitting a relevant entrance, as you may be passing it a couple of times before getting it right. If you think this is bad, wait until you enter the first dungeon where things become totally unplayable. And while the same observations could have been held against Lords of Midnight 3, it had little impact on the overall impression there, as it could be effectively avoided to even enter 3D mode and do everything from the map and the static character screens. In Ring Cycle, the highly problematic 3D mode is the whole game!

So what you're left with is a game where your “hero” walks around samey landscapes, having the same conversations over and over again while Wagner music booms from the speakers, with nothing happening to justify such “epic” style opera. Mike Singleton, who always wanted to do Lord of the Rings throughout his career, and only ever had one single shot throughout the decades, opted for a poor replacement here, not actually taking any of the drama inherent in the Germanic saga of the Nibelungs. What's even worse is that this remained Singleton's last work as main game designer. His illustrious career ended with such a dud!

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