Name: The Summoning
Developed By: Event Horizon/Dreamforge
Published By: Strategic Simulations (SSI)
Description: The Summoning is quite probably one of the most underrated of the early 1990's RPG's, which somehow never got the recognition it deserves. It's a real-time action-RPG game from which games like Diablo probably drew part of their inspiration. You play the role of a champion chosen by a Council of Mages to enter into the Labyrinth beneath the dark mage Shadow Weaver's citadel, and go on a quest to learn the evil mage's plans and put a stop to them.
Notables: The game uses an isometric view similar to Pagan: Ultima VIII and Diablo, and has excellent (for its time anyhow) 256-color graphics. Gameplay and combat is intuitive and straightforward, and statistics and level building are simple and easy to understand. The game puzzles are of generally good quality, however a few have a contrived feel and can bring needless frustration (the levers in the Blue Knight's domain are one example). The world is fairly large, and there's a lot to see and explore.
My Opinion: The game's stress on action has hurt its RPG quality somewhat. While it is possible to interact with NPC's and talk to them, the world of The Summoning just doesn't seem to have the level of depth and richness that other RPG's of its time (notably Ultima VII) had. NPC's are generally flat, and the writing for their early hypertext-ish dialogue scripts was too terse, making Pseudo_Intellectual's characterization of the game in the Veil of Darkness (yet another game due to Event Horizon) wu as "atmosphereless" fairly accurate. The world doesn't live and breathe in the way fantasy worlds should, but this is a somewhat forgivable sin because of the setting--the dungeons beneath a dark wizard's citadel--so necessarily the characters you meet are generally vagabonds, thieves, soldiers in Shadow Weaver's horde, and supporting people for the army: generally not a very interesting supporting cast. I would have wanted to know more about the fantasy world in which The Summoning takes place... Maybe I should play Darkspyre then.
The game can become tiresome after a while, as traveling through the Labyrinth and sorting out its puzzles can sometimes become a chore, as previously mentioned. However, the presence (usually anyhow; there are at least two levels where it does not work) of an automapper in the form of a scroll known as the Palimpsest helps to ameliorate this mazerunning somewhat. The game also has the unique ability of being able to print out these game maps so you can see where you're headed and where you need to go (especially useful in a two-level map like that in End Four), although it's a feature I've never used.
All in all, despite these shortcomings the game is nevertheless highly enjoyable, with just the right blend of action and RPG elements.
Notes: As the game is no longer being actively supported or sold by SSI or Event Horizon/Dreamforge, it is technically abandonware. You can obtain it off the Internet off a site like http://www.the-underdogs.org/ as a 2MB download. It runs fine on modern hardware thanks to a good frame limiter, but oddly I've never gotten sound to work, at least under Windows (and I do have an original SoundBlaster 16, a card that was current in the game's era, and should be supported).
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Veil of Darkness