Pillars of Garendall is a single-player adventure game for Mac OS, Mac OS X, and Windows. It was created by Beenox as a prototype title for their Coldstone game engine, and distributed by well-known Macintosh shareware house Ambrosia Software. This review is based on Pillars version 1.01, including the Trinity enhancement pack.

Story: The kingdom of Garendall has the same problem kingdoms usually have in adventure games: it is under invasion by a horde of monsters. The capitol, Gidolan Keep, is under heavy siege, and only one soldier (that would be you) has escaped to warn the rest of the towns. This is your first mission, and leads into a score or so other missions, culminating in the driving-off of the invading creatures and the salvation of the kingdom.

Most of these missions follow the standard pattern of "find the dungeon, kill the monsters, and either rescue someone or bring back the artifact." This may compare well with Diablo (which Pillars superficially resembles) but it's hardly anything new in the genre.

There are only a few decision points in the story, all found in the menu-based NPC interaction. Unfortunately, they don't seem to actually matter very much. For instance, if you kill a thief in one of the first missions, his brother won't teach you a skill later on -- but you can loot the brother's treasure and find a scroll that teaches the skill.

If I've given the impression that the story is dry and uninvolving ... well, it is. Even the climax of the game is more of an anticlimax: one big monster with a lot of hit points. A tall, skinny Diablo done over in blue, really.

Gameplay: The basic playing style of Pillars strongly resembles a single-player Diablo game: isometric third-person perspective, real-time action, and a very basic set of commands.

Three character classes are available: the swordsman, ranger, and conjurer. Swordsmen have access to all melee weapons and armor, and can build up their attributes as they gain level, but have no spells. Rangers can use light weapons, missile weapons, and light armor, and gain alchemy abilities as they gain level. Conjurers are restricted to the lightest of armor and weapons, but can cast spells. In addition to level, you can also improve your character by completing certain quests or buying certain potions.

The command set basically comes to four or five commands: move; attack; block; use item; and cast spell, unless you're playing a swordsman. Unlike in Diablo, game action pauses while you select an item or a spell -- and there are no hotkeys available; you must poke through your inventory or spellbook to find the one you want. By blocking and attacking in the correct rhythm, most monsters can be defeated while you sustain little damage.

Combat is unsurprising: click on the monster you want to attack. What is surprising is how quickly this breaks down when you are surrounded by hostiles. Click where you like, but your character may well "choose" to swing at another creature entirely. This becomes a problem when you have worn one enemy down to 10% of its hit points and are then assaulted by another. About half the time, your character will turn to attack the new enemy, leaving the other one almost dead, but still quite capable of beating you up.

The weapons, armor, and other equipment available is rather limited. Very few pieces of equipment provide stat bonuses, so it's basically a matter of getting the best armor class or damage dice you can afford. Later in the game, certain forms of protection become important, but not for very long.

Graphics: Nothing to write home about, more's the pity. The art is quite well-done, but the interface is clunky. Characters are pre-rendered sprite graphics, able to face only in eight different directions. Player character graphics change with class and advancement, but do not reflect equipment in use: you can wield a sword or axe as a high-level conjurer, but your icon will still be carrying a staff. Spell and missile animations are jerky and limited at best.

As shareware games go, Pillars of Garendall is interesting for a while. The design is clean enough, the graphics pretty albeit basic, and some of the character abilities are interesting turns on old ideas. However, the storyline is rather simplistic, and its gameplay and graphics don't nearly make up for it.

What's more unfortunate is that many of these limitations are built into the Coldstone game engine, which Beenox and Ambrosia are marketing to cross-platform shareware game developers as a platform for future games. An adventure construction set, done well, is a flexible toolkit for the creation of original games. But if Pillars is the paradigm of what Coldstone can do, the engine as well as the game may be one to skip.