Almost ten years after the first Pool of Radiance, we finally face its sequel. So much has been said about this game in the last couple of years that I find it quite surprising that the game turned out this much of a failure. I was personally very disappointed when I saw it as I could hardly wait for it to appear, thinking that its superior graphic design, better script and the implementation of AD&D third edition rules would make it far better than the Baldur's Gate serial. Unfortunately, apart from its good graphics engine, Pool of Radiance is just another "dungeon crawl" which doesn't require you to think while solving quests more than Diablo. This was a major blow to all true fans, which is best illustrated by the fact that the official game site shut down its forum one week after the game was published, because it was crowded with angry players' comments. All this never stopped Pool of Radiance to become a blockbuster. But let's look at the bright side of the entire affair: at least it made certain things clearer (i.e. what players want and do not want to see in an RPG), and we should expect better games in the future.
The story of Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor begins with reactivation of the extinguished Pool of Radiance below the city of New Phlan, which emits energy that turns living into the undead. This basically means that you will encounter a huge number of undead creatures roaming around the ruins, thanks to the pool. The whole thing had been orchestrated by the evil witch Kya, who plans to subdue the world with her undead horde. Grand wizard Elminster employed a team of adventurers to find out what is hiding in the ruins of the ancient elven city of Myth Drannor, as the evil seems to come from there, but the first expedition disappeared without a trace. Now, it is up to you to go through the portal, find out what transpired and eliminate the potential threat in Myth Drannor.
This is where we get to the extremely simple and intuitive character creation. You will also be able to choose from several predefined characters, but no self-respecting RPG player would ever go for those. The game features a standard array of classes: Fighter, Sorcerer, Cleric, Rogue, Paladin, Ranger, Monk and Barbarian, and dual-class combinations. There are no specialized mages in Pool of Radiance. The novelties include the Half-Orcs as player race and the possibility to advance 16 levels in a class. You will create four characters at the start of the game, and can pick up two more characters during the game. The thing that bothered me the most about NPCs is that once they join the party, they become your slaves, and do not utter a single word, even if you're on a quest that is closely connected to them (the best example for this is Jariel the wizard).
The very beginning of the game looks quite promising as you will first get to feast your eyes on the beautiful surroundings of Myth Drannor, but you will also get to know the specific combat system. Each of the characters has limited time (represented by a green bar) to perform an action. Be it casting a spell, running or hand-to-hand combat, the bar will slowly shrink. The problem with this system is that it relies too much on the player reflexes, and practically disregards characters' capabilities and levels. Higher levels will, in this respect, bring your character only more new action to perform. This semi-turn-based, semi real-time gameplay has been made even more difficult by the (irritatingly slow) way enemy characters move. By the time the enemy reaches your ranks, you will be quite fed up with battle. And that's not the end of it - even when they start fighting, and constantly missing each other, in spite of the fact that they are inches away, this combat system will become your main reason for you urge to uninstall Pool of Radiance. (Careful with uninstalling it though - Ed.)
There are few tactical challenges we had a chance to see in similar games; everything comes down to hacking and slashing. If you want to kill a mage just put your fighter next to him; he won't be able to run, nor cast! The only tactics that make sense in this game are to push your "John Rambo" characters in the front lines and make them eliminate any spell-casters, or what few stronger enemies appear in the game, and have the rest of the party support them. The next frustrating gameplay issue is the Windows-like interface with pop-up menus containing commands. Fortunately, all remotely useful commands can also be issued with hot-keys, which makes playing this game a lot easier.
Dungeon design is monotonous and plain - boring. The greatest enigma in the game was a pile of non-interactive barrels and boxes. As far as I can remember, the announcements said something about absolute object interactivity; that the monsters will have to break through boxes to get to you, but alas, thy just limp around them. Most objects are smashable, but if you are a real optimist, you can just as well go around right-clicking everything to see if any objects offer actions other than smash.
Another thing that is completely useless in the game is money. Nottle, the merchant, will be useful at the very beginning of the game, but as soon as you pass the Main Hall, your characters will have better equipment than Nottle could dream of. Well, maybe your characters will make use of the money after you finish the game, or what?
There are, on the other hand, several upsides to the game, which might make you want to finish it. First, there's the character advancement, which presents a sufficient motive to pass the next boring dungeon because of the XPs that will earn you. Second, the spell visual effects look really awesome, all from the simple magic missile or Melf's acid arrow to the advanced mage and cleric spells. It is a real pleasure watching the spells on screen. Pool of Radiance allows much more spell-casting than similar titles like Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale, and you and your wizards will have no trouble in casting multiple spells, both from their own repertoire and from the enchanted items they carry in a single turn.
Feats (gained characteristics) are an interesting new feature in AD&D third edition rules. For instance, my dwarf Fighter hacked down numerous opponents thanks to his Cleave feat, and my human Paladin resisted countless hold person casts, thanks to his Iron Will feat. There is about twenty feats altogether. Apart from that, the game also features class-dependent in-game acquired skills like: heal, open locks, hide, concentration, etc.
The armors and clothes are uninventive and monotonous. The armors are all silverish, and all magic boots and gloves are red. So, like, what happened to the rest of the colors? Only the wizards look colorful, but then again the developers should have let the players at least pick two or three color patterns in order to personalize the appearance of the character.
The main problems that flawed Pool of Radiance are its countless bugs. I only had the chance to experience several of them; apart from the setup program which refuses to install the game to any drive other than c:, I had a lot of trouble with virtual memory under Windows 2000/XP. It seems that the game devours immense quantities of virtual memory, which can eventually make the game or even the whole machine freeze. There are many other bugs (especially in the gameplay), and as Ubi Soft obviously realized what this can do to their finances, they started publishing patches on a daily bases...
Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor could simply be defined as disk full of bugs, striving to be a slow Diablo based on AD&D third edition rules.
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Great visual design of effects and spells, beautiful character animation, feats and skills;
Many, many bugs and a tedious and repetativa combat system.