Secret of the Silver Blades: Getting Started

So! Let’s get to it. The silver blades: what is their secret? I don’t know. I don’t even know what the silver blades are yet. The game opens with no mention of them, presumably because they’re secret. Instead, we have (ye gods) a something-evil-in-the-mines opening. Well, fair enough: the series hadn’t tackled this cliché yet.

First impressions: They’ve really devoted some attention to improving the engine this time around. The visual presentation hasn’t changed much (apart from reorganizing the character sheets and adding some new wall textures), but they’ve added support for two major pieces of add-on hardware.

One is the Ad Lib sound card — yes, just the original Ad Lib, not the Soundblaster, which means that we just get FM synthesis, not sampled sound effects. Laugh all you want. The Ad Lib was a tremendous improvement over the previous state of the art, the PC internal speaker. It doesn’t seem to get used much here, though: the only bit that really takes advantage of it is the intro sequence, which has background music. Still, even that little goes a long way toward making the game feel more professional than its predecessors.

The other new hardware is the mouse. This makes a big difference in a fundamentally menu-driven game. But then, the menu system had gone through something of an overhaul anyway, mostly for the better. Vertically-aligned menus are now navigated with the up/down keys instead of the difficult and unexpected home/end of the previous two games. Consequently, I’m having to retrain myself; I keep reaching for the wrong keys here. Of course, using the up/down keys like this means that you can’t scroll through a menu and use the up/down keys for movement within the world at the same time, and accordingly, movement has been separated out into its own mode. I complained about having to manually switch into movement mode in combat in Pool of Radiance, but it’s not so bad in this context, because once you’re in movement mode, you tend to stay in it for a long time. In combat, you had to switch back every round.

So I’m a bit disappointed to see that we’re back to having to manually switch into movement in combat as well, undoing one of CotAB‘s chief improvements to the UI. But you can’t have everything, I suppose.

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