Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain Review—A Deathtrap of a Dungeon
When Laughing Jackal announced the first title in their line of licensed Fighting Fantasy gamebook adaptions, I was a bit confused, because I had never heard of the title they had picked, Talisman of Death. It was the eleventh title in the series (of which there are almost sixty). Most previous conversions of Fighting Fantasy titles into electronic form started with the most widely known titles, which were generally just the first six or so. Even Wikipedia falls into this, with entries for only the first seven.
This time around, Laughing Jackal went with the first (and probably most popular) title in the series, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. It provides a more familiar title to players, but at the same time perhaps suffers from overexposure, as well as a more dated type of gameplay.
Strictly speaking, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain plays exactly the same as Talisman of Death. It’s still a “Choose Your Own Adventure”-style gamebook coupled with a very simple set of pen & paper RPG rules. You read a text entry, then pick which choice you want to make and turn to that virtual page. The game mechanics, as well as the new implementations of those mechanics that Laughing Jackal came up with (basically alternatives to dice rolling) are the same in both games. But, the big difference is in the scenario design itself, the story and obstacles of the game.
The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is purely a dungeon crawl. That is, you enter a labyrinth full of monsters and traps with the only goal being that of gaining loot. No story, no NPCs (non-player characters) really worth noting. It’s also a very tough one—virtually every time you open a door or do something, something bad happens to you. It’s almost like shock therapy. While dungeon crawls with loot can still be fun in this day and age, it’s mostly because of the loot you get and the advancement of your character. Unfortunately, none of that really applies here.
With that said, it does very much replicate the early pen & paper RPG experience that most people had in the golden age of pen & paper RPGs. When I first started playing this earlier in the year on my Kindle (where another company, World Weaver, has produced a handful of Fighting Fantasy titles), I was really geeking out at first. It kind of wears off, and I really appreciated the more evolved sort of gamebook that was in Talisman of Death, where you were on a quest with a story that took place in a city with at least some semblance of characters with personalities, if not exactly deep ones.
The other big problem is that with a dungeon-based scenario, you really need a map; otherwise you will get lost. There is no automap function here, so that means it’s up to you to draw one yourself—which means you need to play with a sheet of paper and a pen handy, and so you aren’t that far from just playing from the actual gamebook itself (while klunky, the Kindle adaptations of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks do have beautifully drawn automaps).
Still, the new combat system Laughing Jackal came up with is a big help. In the original books, you rolled two six-sided dice and added your “skill,” while the same went for your opponent. Whoever had the higher total won that combat round, and the other took two points of damage. The Laughing Jackal method pioneered in Talisman of Death basically turns it into 3-Card Monte; you have a number of hexagonal tiles that can either be owned by you or your opponent (the number varies based on your relative “skill” stat), and you simply pick one. If it’s yours, you do damage, and if it’s your opponent’s, you take damage.
With Talisman of Death, I wasn’t entirely sure if the tile placement was just random or if you could actually tell if you watched carefully. I did think it was the latter, but it was a fairly small sample size, as there wasn’t a lot of combat. In The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, there is a lot of fighting, and it’s either the case or I’ve been on an incredibly lucky streak (and I should have bought a lottery ticket this week). You can still use the original method, but good luck surviving using that.
While you have no map, you do have a lorebook, which keeps track of information about the monsters you encounter, the things you find, and the few people you meet (who are mostly crazy old men). But it’s something of an incentive to fill it up with every entry.
Since this is almost literally an electronic conversion of a book, graphics and sound don’t play much of a role, but the presentation is nice and fitting of the source material. The interface is a bit clunky at first, but you get used to it very quickly.
Much like Talisman of Death, if you like this sort of thing, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is pretty much a must-buy. While it’s essentially more of the same, that’s quite often a good thing. They also improved a few minor interface things over Talisman of Death, so that’s commendable. On the other hand, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain just feels more dated, and you pretty much do need to draw a map (unlike in Talisman of Death, where you could remember what you did pretty well), so it requires a lot more patience.