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About the StorySet in the universe of Zork, this game starts off in a monastery. The evil Anabis fools Brother Joseph into releasing him from his prison. He shatters the Rod of the Ancients, and the only way to save the order is to retrieve all the pieces and even confront the Implementors themselves...
[--blurb from The Z-Files Catalogue]
-- Carl Muckenhoupt
It's hard to discern what accounts for the enduring popularity of the games set in the Zork universe; that it was the first commercially available full-parser interactive fiction probably has something to do with it, but it's still remarkable that a game released in 1980 should still be inspiring sequels. For Daniel Yu's Spiritwrak is certainly a sequel--the magic system is suspiciously reminiscent of the Enchanter series, and the humor captures the Zork style. It's a well-crafted homage, sufficiently so that, if you liked the originals, you'll almost certainly enjoy this...
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The puzzles are generally not hard -- very few are close to the mind-benders in Sorcerer and SpellBreaker -- but many of them, particularly the new ones added for Release 2, are quite clever, if a bit gratuitous. Release 2 also removes a couple of the less-than-intuitive puzzles and adds more zorkmids for increased flexibility in riding the Great Underground Subway. Nearly everything is satisfyingly logical, and there is plenty to do -- the game itself is vast, with a wide area open for exploration from the inception (though Yu does take a few liberties with Zork geography).
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I'm giving it such a low score due to my rubric. The overall game design is mixed, with the most time spent in the least interesting areas, extreme amounts of waiting being required, and so on. The game feels fairly unpolished, and could have used more tester feedback. It's the kind of game that could use a group of people working together over time, sharing hints on the forums, more than one person solving it, which is probably why it was once so popular, especially since it was released before 1998 and the explosion in high-quality story-focused games with original storylines.
This game copies the format of Spellbreaker, with spells that you gnusto into a spellbook and cast, and which frequently fail. You spend a lot of the game wandering around a monastery, as well as investigating other parts of the Great Underground Empire.
If there is someone who is a fan of Infocom games, feels like current games are too easy, and loves picking over a difficult game during a period of weeks or months, keeping careful notes and a map, then this would be a 5 star game for them.
For everyone else, I wouldn't recommend this game in general.
It seems that Daniel S. Yu, the author, firmly believed in the adage that "Good artists borrow, great artists steal." This work treads a fine line between those paths, starting with a premise rooted in the climax of Infocom's Spellbreaker and playing like something that came right out of its development team. As Duncan Stevens notes in his SPAG review: "[T]he magic system is suspiciously reminiscent of the Enchanter series, and the humor captures the Zork style." However, Spiritwrak adds a heavy layer of originality to the geographical and mythological framework created by Infocom, allowing it to stand as an achievement in its own right.
Spiritwrak is extremely difficult. Even for an old-school piece, the puzzles can be brutal. Some puzzles are arguably fair but lack what would be considered the minimum reasonable hinting by modern standards. Other puzzles require feats of mind-reading of the type that would have sold a lot of Invisiclues™ back in the day.(Spoiler - click to show) (For example, can you guess how to hide behind some curtains when the "hide" verb is not implemented and opening them results in you immediately shutting them again? Can you guess the significance of a small boat's name, or which of the many topic-poor NPCs might be able to tell you about it? Can you guess that using your triplication spell on a certain item won't actually triplicate it, but instead produce variations of it that contain plot-necessary items?) A few puzzles appear to be virtual -- they halt progress like a designed puzzle but are probably due to flaws or limitations in the coding. This last group is especially frustrating because, in a game with so little hinting, it's easy to think you are missing key items or actions when in reality you have the right idea and everything you need(Spoiler - click to show), but are not holding the right objects "directly", i.e. in the top level of your inventory.
This is the kind of game that requires you to take notes, to draw maps, to learn by dying, to spend significant time pondering dead ends and red herrings, and to continually second-guess what you thought were solutions to the puzzles you've solved. For old-school aficionados, it's heaven! For everyone else, be prepared to seek hints -- though I highly recommend you do so via rec.games.int-fiction or IFMUD, as the "hint" files you can download here contain copious spoilers that are impossible to avoid.
Interestingly, this game claims to be released under the GNU Public License v2, which means that anyone should be able to expand and improve it. Unfortunately, however, it is not distributed with the source code (as required by GPL), and I was unable to locate the source online. If anyone else happens to come across it, please leave a comment here -- it would be interesting to explore cleaning up some bugs, making certain key descriptions of objects and action slightly clearer(Spoiler - click to show) (especially the brick puzzle in the endgame), and implementing an in-game hint system.
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This is version 11 of this page, edited by Daniel Gunnell on 2 February 2018 at 7:36am. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item