Dragon Wars Cover Art
by Azoloth in
Classic Gamer Corner Review

While sailing uncharted seas in search of the legendary paradise Dilmun the heroes are captured and deposited in the wretched city of Purgatory. Magick has been outlawed by King Drake of Phoebus. Accused of spellcasting and stripped of your worldly goods, you must escape from the wretched city. ..

This is an honorable mention in my Top 10 Favorite Games List. The only reason it did not make the Top 10 is because I have more nostalgia for The Bard’s Trilogy. So for the best gaming experience you may want to try this one. It may not be as pretty as the The Bard’s Tale Trilogy. However, it is much more entertaining to play and the storyline is much better.

Sargon’s Rating: 4.4 out of 5 stars (4.4 / 5)

Dragon Wars Cover Art
Dragon Wars Cover Art
Game Play:5 out of 5 stars (5.0 / 5)
Visuals:4 out of 5 stars (4.0 / 5)
Audio:3 out of 5 stars (3.0 / 5)
User Interface:5 out of 5 stars (5.0 / 5)
Story:4 out of 5 stars (4.0 / 5)

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Dragon Wars Rating 4.4

 

Dragon Wars is another of my all time favorite games. I received this from my Brother around 1999 in the Ultimate RP Archives. This is also how I received my own copy of The Bards Tale series as well. This game archive also included other classics I have come to love such as Wasteland, Ultima Underworld, and Stonekeep. However, Dragon wars is probably my favorite game out of all of them (With the exception of The Bard’s Tale games which I forgot were part of the Archives).

I will be honest with you, I was never able to complete this game when I played it. I got right up to the very end and then got stuck and distracted. Most likely another fancy new game came out and caught my attention. I plan to do a playthrough of this game soon so that I can see the ending and also share it with anyone interested in watching on Youtube.

Game play 5.0

The game plays much like The Bard’s Tale adventures. Character creation and skill usage are much more in depth than The Bard’s Tale was capable of. Each character can learn skills which can help them at various points in the game. Where games like The Bard’s Tale are very linear, Dragon Wars allows players to take different paths. Multiple solutions to many of the games puzzles exists. For a game released in 1989 players are given a remarkable amount of agency.

Spoiler ahead

One example of this is the escape from Purgatory. If you have the swim skill you can hide in a bunch of dead bodies and get thrown into the sea to swim to shore. You can find a secret exit from the city if you explore it completely. The daring may venture through the underworld and risk their lives there to escape. If you are feeling cowardly you can sell yourself to slavery then have to escape. I believe you can also win your freedom fighting as a Gladiator or have papers forged. It has been long enough since I have played the game I may have missed something or remembered wrong. However, this is just an example of how many possible solutions there can be to solve plot points.

Dragon Wars is not as grind heavy as some other games in this genre such as The Bard’s Tale. In Dragon Wars you feel like you are always working towards a goal, not just pointlessly grinding. The game features a rich story line as outlined below. Part of what made this possible was the inclusion of a paragraph book. With it you would be able to read out  large blocks of text, the game itself could not store and show you on its own, to give you clues, history, and a sense of the world around you.

This is one of the few games where I have never found a bug. While it can be difficult at times that just helps make it more enjoyable.

Visuals 4.0

The graphics are not completely unpleasant, yet the visual aspects of the game do not feel as polished as The Bard’s Tale. While not as polished as some of the games that came before it, Dragon Wars does have a very distinct art style which is not bad considering its age.

The imagery may not be as polished as other games of this time, however, it is far more varied. You have wilderness, dungeons, towns, and the underworld to name a few. As you travel through the game having so many graphically distinct areas makes the game feel bigger.

Many modern Gamers may not get this. However, if you play a lot of games from this era you will quickly find how the repeating and recolored textured made the world feel very artificial and small.

Audio 3.0

The music in my opinion is nowhere near as good as other games released around the same time. It feels to clunky and off putting to me. It is a real shame as some other games from this time period such as The Bard’s Tale shows what you can do with a good audio group even with the rudimentary computer equipment of the times.

I will still give it a score of three the sound effects for actions were pretty good. My main complaint is just the music the game offers. It is a shame because the music is the one major thing that  holds the entire game back. This is not a huge issue for me though as I rarely play with music enabled in games.

User Interface 5.0

The user interface is top notch for the time period this came out in. I have always found the game to be very easy to play. There was no learning curve with the interface. Everything is menu driven so you don’t have to memorize complex commands. The keys for features such as the minimap are common sense.

Story 5.0

Dragon Wars features many branching paths that give you a real feeling of agency in the world. There are plenty of twists and plots to discover. Unlike other games in this era, Dragon Wars came with a paragraph book that allowed them to give you a rich history and story. The story is will lead you through towns that seem free but hold dark secrets, towns that have been destroyed, and towns defended by dragons.

As you explore these ares the main story unfolds. Side stories also pop up. If you allow yourself to be sold into slavery you will venture through a whole new area you have no way to explore otherwise. How you build your character also changes how the story unfolds for you. You can pick various lore skills that will give you more in depth information as you travel through the land. Some of this lore can be critical to solving the game.

If you do not have the required skills for an area do not fear. You can pick up friendly NPCs to join your party as you travel through the world. These NPCs can aid your party in many ways. Some are stout warriors and others powerful mages. Each can contribute to your party in different ways.

The paragraph book can be a double edged sword. It has misleading entries and entire plots that can throw you off if you try to cheat and just read through the paragraphs. Some of those false hints can even get you killed if you are not careful. In one area it gives several hints on how to get an item you need. If you pick the wrong one your character can be killed, or you can spend hours trying to do what it tells you just to have it fail. Other fake entries hint at stories and plots that simply do not exist.

As you explore each area and solve each puzzle you can feel yourself growing more powerful and coming closer and closer to your goal.

Spoiler Ahead

Speaking of puzzles.. one of the puzzles you may come across early on requires you to fashion a tool. You have to gather parts for the tool such as a branch, a rock, and some shoe strings. You have to solve a mini puzzle to get each of these items. Then you combine them all together to make the item you need and move forward. This type of puzzle solving in games of this era is very rare in my experience. I really enjoyed it as it made the world feel more real to me.

Dragon Wars Summary

Dragon Wars has enough content to please the most demanding RPG players if they can get past the audio and visuals. Every RPG fan should at least give this hidden gem a try. It is a spiritual successor to The Bard’s Tale and if you have the original DOS versions of The Bard’s Tale you can even import your characters from there into this game. I always like to pretend my characters just finished The Bard’s Tale Trilogy and are heading to a new life in a new land when they are captured. It is hard to explain how suddenly your spells are no longer the same, however, I can overlook small issues like that.

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