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Spellbreaker

by Dave Lebling

Episode 3 of The Enchanter series
Fantasy/Zorkian
1985

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Number of Reviews: 3
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Marvelous illusion of freedom, September 18, 2009
by Mike Ciul (Philadelphia)
Despite the fact that this game is incredibly linear, especially at the end, it has a remarkable way of making you feel like you can do anything.

Part of this is because your main form of transportation is a sort of teleportation. You can go to any area of the game you have previously visited, at any time - although certain rooms in that area may become inaccessible.

Many of these areas have scenes that play out when you arrive. If you go back too many times, this may start to seem silly and repetitious, but the nature of the story and the puzzles tends to keep this from being an issue.

Another reason the game feels so "open" is because so much of it is outdoors. A very small number of connections between outdoor locations makes it seem like you could travel anywhere even without the teleportation ability. Probing the environment reveals this to be an illusion, but most of the time it is a perfectly acceptable one. Occasionally this gets annoying, though. (Spoiler - click to show)One pet peeve of mine is that if you leave the Bazaar by carpet, and then immediately go straight back down, you can't return to the Bazaar. I suppose the reason is that you get lost in the clouds, but I don't find that entirely convincing.

I found Spellbreaker incredibly difficult - BOTH times I played it. The first time was 15 or 20 years ago. It's curious to examine which puzzles I found difficult and which were not so much. The matters of pure logic (Spoiler - click to show)(The Plain and the "weighing" problem in the Outer Vault) were no problem, but knowing which objects and locations needed more exploration were a complete mystery to me. I turned to hints for several of these: One puzzle is pretty straightforward once you are presented with all the pieces, but it is in a location I was discouraged from revisiting, because of the tedious precautions needed to get there without getting yourself stuck. (Spoiler - click to show)(returning to Mid-Ocean after you get the snavig spell)

I had to use hints on both plays in order to get through the "maze." (Spoiler - click to show)(The octagonal rooms) It's not quite a guess-the-verb puzzle, but it's the sort of thing where you know roughly what you need to do, and you're still completely unable to figure out what action will do it. Once you find the right action, there's still the actual traversal of the maze to solve, but being of a logical nature, I didn't find that part difficult at all.

I was as stumped as Peter about that inventory object with hidden uses. In fact, there were several aspects of Spellbreaker that might have made more sense with more room to explain. I don't think I'm giving away anything to say that the jindak spell works only on takeable objects in your location. Magical scenery and magical items in your possession will not register when you cast it. It took me quite a while to figure that out. Several puzzles in Spellbreaker depend critically on timing and repetition - if you don't do them just right, you might think you're barking up the wrong tree. I think Peter might have had this in mind when he said that Spellbreaker "messes with you!" On occasion, this makes it more fun, but it's a very fine line, and I think Spellbreaker crosses it more than once. Curiously, there's one occasion when this makes a puzzle easier in a way. (Spoiler - click to show)I didn't realize that the real cube in the Outer Vault might either glow less or more than the fakes. This makes the puzzle harder to do correctly, but I just assumed I'd made a mistake and went back to my savegame in the Inner Vault until I got the solution I expected. After I read the details in the hints, I went back and devised my own solution just for fun. Another thing I missed by using a savegame until I got the solution was that the alarm is only triggered by spellcasting and taking the treasure, not by taking turns or picking up cubes. The uncertainty gave the puzzle an imagined time pressure that didn't really exist.

There's one other timing issue at an early point in the game that I still haven't figured out. (Spoiler - click to show)If you go down from Packed Earth too early, you can fall to your death without the roc picking you up. I have absolutely no idea why.

I needed hints for the final puzzle in Spellbreaker the first time I played it, but the solution was so memorable that I couldn't forget it the second time around if I tried. In hindsight, it's so elegant that you almost forgive Lebling for failing to provide the slightest clue as to its nature...

Finally, Spellbreaker has the absolute best carryall object I've seen in any IF game. Not only is it a wacky brilliant idea, but it makes gameplay smoother in a way that doesn't break mimesis.