Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! 2: Kharé, Cityport of Traps [VIDEO GAME REVIEW]

Sorcery! 2 CoverDeveloper: Inkle Studios
Distributor: Inkle Studios
Genre: Fantasy RPG
Unique Elements: Interactive Miniature Style RPG
Series: Sorcery!
Number in Series: #2
Systems: iOS, Android–Coming Soon!
Release Date: November 8th, 2013
Estimated Length: 10-12 hours of playtime
MSRP: $4.99
Website: Click Here
Purchase: App Store
Reviewed by: JT Hanke
Final Score: 5.0 Moons (out of 5)

For those of you new to the brilliant iOS re-imagining of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, Sorcery! from Steve Jackson, you’re in for a treat. (Not only are you in for a treat with Sorcery 2!, but you get the advantage of being able to go back and get the first chapter in the Sorcery! saga and not have to wait for the sequel!)

For the briefest of recaps (with a lot more in our previous review here), you are a magical warrior who has been entrusted with finding a stolen mystical crown and defeating an evil sorcerer in the process. In the first game, you survived the surrounding Shamutanti Hills and found your way to the gates of Kharé: Cityport of Traps!

Brilliant Moon Award

Now, you must survive Kharé, which will take some quick wits, a fast mind, and a love of exploration. (And, like any rambunctious four year old, you will also have to ignore a certain amount of what you’re told. People who play rigidly by rules will get nowhere fast–but break the wrong rules and you might have a sorcerous oracle refuse to tell you anything!)

In keeping with the lore about this fabled city, players explore a much more complex world than we were introduced to in the original Sorcery! game and get to plunder many more places in the process.

May not look so vast from up here, but it really is!

It may not look huge in the distance, but, just like the satellite view of Chicago, it gets much more complex when you get on the streets!

If the original Sorcery! (S!1) was an introduction to Steve Jackson’s world, designed to help you learn the general layout of the world and how you can explore it, then Sorcery! 2 (S!2) is the induction to many dark and twisted secrets which will rush through the riptide current to the concluding chapters.

Presentation

The ability to explore and retrace areas inside houses is really cool!

The ability to explore and retrace areas inside houses is really cool!

The look and presentation of S!2 are very similar to that of the first Sorcery game, but they’ve added a big twist in the form of collectible clues which can be scavenged from conversations and locations. Some of these just help with the context of “world-building,” while others will actually help you solve the city’s riddle or forewarn you about things you’ll have to do down the road. One of the biggest improvements in presentation is actually through a plot twist. I’ll briefly cover that in the gameplay section, without giving any of the specifics away. (If you’re not aware that it exists though, it could spoil the fun of the game for you, so do be sure to read the gameplay section so you don’t send me angry emails about how it’s impossible to beat the game! I take three times as long to beat any game as any person on the planet, so if I can beat it, so can you!)

To facilitate this search for clues is a brand new mini-game called Swindlestones, which is like a cross between craps and go-fish, with the clues you extract from other players being much more important than whether you win or lose. The concept is great, even if the gameplay could use some adjustment. (More on that in the gameplay section.)

Additionally, they’ve included interior locations that can be fully explored in Kharé. (While interiors sort of existed in S!1, your ability to freely explore them did not.)

Though there were many great things in the presentation, the complexity of the game made me yearn for a couple improvements in the way things can be done/undone and in how things are recalled.

  1. Redo. The ability to “undo” and go back to a previous waypoint is great, but it’s problematic without a “redo” ability to get back to your previous position. (Nothing is more frustrating than going back not a few steps, but half your journey by clicking on the wrong waypoint icon and losing half your cool new gear because of your mistake!)
  2. Numbered Waypoints. There’d be a lot fewer times you’d need to “redo” an “undo” if you could see that the flag you’re tapping on was #17 of your current #87 step journey.
  3. Conversation Journal. it would be great if each step on your journey were copied to a mini-notepad “journal” in the game, so you could go back and re-read all the info you’ve received. The clues are great and, by and large, the game does a good job of tracking important clues–but what about contextual information and specific conversations? Who were the members of those unsavory rogues you heard about in your first swindlestones game? There are times that it would be very helpful to be able to re-read verbatim–at least it would help make the game feel more immersive. (Games like Dragon Age Origin featured this sort of “page feed” for dialogue situations.)

Gameplay

As they moved into the newest chapter of Sorcery!, Inkle mentioned that they were shooting for gameplay in S!2 that would be an homage to “the magic of old-school text-adventures and point’n’click adventure games” but with “no getting stuck and no searching around for pixels or the right words to use.”

A very worthy goal and, truthfully, straight out of the gate, they got the first half right. However, because a few things weren’t clarified at the beginning, if you’re too literal with what you’re told, there’s a whole lot of getting stuck later on. (This is where the rulebreaking I mentioned earlier comes in.)

To avoid getting stuck, remember this mantra: always keep moving forward and don’t sweat it if you don’t have all the pieces.

Search the city, but keep moving forward--even when you're missing a few things!

Search the city, but keep moving forward–even when you’re missing a few things!

If you’ll just follow that, you will find this game to be delightful! (The game creators know the limitations of the core gameplay mechanics they’ve chosen for this game and know that you have to be able to find more things than these mechanics permit–without making the game overly convoluted. As such, they’ve found a clever way to work around those issues provided you don’t sweat the details too much.)

[Editor’s Note: Part of the reason that this review was delayed longer than I wished was because I and one of my colleagues at the magazine went around the city for over a month of sporadic gameplay trying to get all the pieces right–and getting more and more frustrated because it’s virtually impossible. (On enough plays through the game, you probably can get a “perfect” game–but you will get nothing but frustrated if you try to do that on the first time through and, honestly, you’d miss out on some really charming presentation elements if you could.)-JH]

High points of the game include the investigative process I mentioned earlier to try to work out some crucial mysteries of the city. (Most of the stuff can be figured out in game, but, to add a little metafun, there is one arcane element that can only be figured out on Inkle’s website.)

In the process of building Kharé for the iOS, the team at Inkle heavily augmented the story, until it was nearly four times as large as the original gamebook, so you’re getting a lot more gameplay because of this, as well. (Steve Jackson loved the idea, as the augmentation was in keeping with the premise of the story and was much more accessible in multimedia than in print.)

Additionally, you have the ability to repair some key items using (ie “sacrificing”) other useful items, commit capital crimes, create a mob riot in a shopping area, lead a slave rebellion, fight a mechanized giant, and break the space/time continuum almost as much as the Terminator franchise! All this on a friendly jaunt through a city of loving people who’re just doing their best to welcome–or loot and kill–you!

There are even more battles to be had in Sorcery! 2 than in the last game!

There are even more battles to be had in Sorcery! 2 than in the last game!

Despite all the great things in this game, are there some parts that don’t work so well? Sure, while it’s not enough to round down the final score, gameplay was dinged by a couple issues that became annoying after awhile.

  1. Lack of Non-Technical Version of Swindlestones. If you try to play Swindlestones to win (like I did for the better part of a month), you will likely become angry and disenchanted. As I mentioned earlier, this is not a game that you play to win–it’s a game you play to elicit information from the other person. In fact, people are more likely to clam up if you win, so losing–which is far easier to achieve anyway–is usually your goal. (Now, another of our writers who tested this said that the game can be won more consistently than I was able to, but even she said that the goal was basically to get information.)With that in mind, because Inkle did such a great job of getting rid of dice rolling by doing it behind the scenes for things like combat, I really wish they’d have provided an option for swindlestones that is all story driven, in which you simply choose questions to ask and the game tells you when you’ve randomly won a round or not. That would allow the visual feel of the game without the confusing rules that bog down the flow for more non-technical players.
  2. Inexorable Fate. This shows up in certain events that provide you with lots of choices that have, essentially, only a single outcome. These events try to trick you into believing they’re very open-ended, but end up smashing all your choices until you’re left with only one. For future chapters, with single outcome situations, I’d like them to simply pare down the choices for these events, so that a lot of time isn’t wasted replaying events with a single outcome. This is most uniquely notable in a certain encounter with a fortune teller and some poachers, but it is most universally notable any time you are given the “option” to “haggle” on any menu. (We’re already in a city that’s lying to us all the time, so additional subterfuge seems unnecessary and tedious.)

Gothic Fit

If you liked the first Sorcery!, there’s a high probability you’ll love Sorcery! 2, as its arcane exploration of the dark side of life continues into deeper places with more philosophical ponderings about power, paranoia, and greed. The dark mysteries and the intriguing plot twists will likely keep you up for a couple nights trying to work things out–and, after that, you’ll likely be replaying it through just trying to figure out the best path to get as much loot as possible. (As with the first game, the replay value is at least as high as the actual playthrough value–and maybe a bit higher, since things don’t feel as overwhelming on the second or third time through as they do on the first. Because of that fact, I already know what I’m going to do on my next play through, as there is a highly dangerous journey that’s best embraced quickly so that you can recoup your losses later!)

Closing Thoughts

Inkle continues to impress us with their amazing games and explorations of storytelling. (If you haven’t read our interview with them about this game and the Inklewriter software a few months back, I would encourage you to check it out!) As with the conclusion of the first chapter, we’re left champing at the bit for the next chapter–wondering what new things we can expect! (And if we’re finally going to be able to use those Borin Skin boots we felt we were so clever to find in the first chapter!)

Presentation: 5.0 Moons (out of 5.0)
Gameplay: 4.5 Moons (out of 5.0)
Gothic Fit: 5.0 Moons (out of 5.0)
Final Score (not an average): 5.0 Moons (out of 5.0)

Score: Five Moons

Author: JT Hanke

J.T. Hanke is the founder and former editor of DarkestGoth Magazine. Stepping down as editor in 2019, he currently serves as it's technical adviser and a contributing writer.

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