Review: Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! Part 2

SteveJacksonsSorcery2

Your browser has landed you here, in this crazed and colorful circus of possibilities. As you take a moment to recover your bearings, you begin to notice details coming into focus around you: Lists of black text. Rainbow icons depicting fire-breathing dragons, wide-eyed cartoon characters and pixelated, 3-D blocks.

And there, in the corner, you see it: an icon announcing what had been rumored, but now is apparent reality: Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! 2.

You feel the gold coins begin to burn warmly in the depths of your leather pouch.

Will you buy it?

Your answer to the payoff of this very special choose-you-own-adventure-style introduction may depend entirely on your reaction to the first part of this series, released on the App store last May. That’s because, to the surprise of exactly no one, Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! 2 is an awful lot like its predecessor—a narrative adventure gilded by gorgeous maps and drawings, with a sprinkling of interactive mini-games to spice things up a bit.

If you hacked and magicked your way through the first episode, you’re given the option to pick up the tale with the stats and stuff you accumulated when the story left off. If this is your maiden Sorcery! voyage, that’s okay, too—the narrative clues you in to the fact that you’re on the hunt for the Crown of Kings, and really, that’s almost all you need to know.

As you’d hope and expect, subtle and overt improvements have leavened the proceedings here. The spellcasting interface is now simpler and more interesting, in line with the updates applied to episode one: Your letter choices now hover on a celestial sphere, and the options to complete the spell reduce as you select each of the three letters. Other interactive elements have also been introduced to complement the slider-based fighting minigame. The characters you’ll meet on this eight-to-ten hour journey are all aficionados of a little game called Swindlestones, a dice-tossing diversion where you make bets based on the results of you and your opponents’ five-die rolls. Playing often nets you the chance to win (or lose) gold, but it also may yield important story clues if you play your conversational gambits correctly.

Part two also enjoys the itinerant benefit of, well, being part two. In other words, it isn’t bogged down with things like introductory exposition or the requisite start-of-the-journey scene where the hero sets out on his adventure from the tribal village. The proceedings here start with your imminent arrival to Kharé, the appropriately named City of Traps, a seedy place where nobody can be trusted and even the safest streets can suddenly turn deadly and dangerous. The range of threats you’ll deal with here easily rise to a Two Towers level of epic—there’s an opportunistic politico who’s shanghai-ing citizens to populate his werewolf army, a set of cursed and/or undead nobles who possess the lines to a powerful spell you need to obtain, and a ginormous underground army of goblins waiting to storm the city gates. And that’s just for starters. There are points where some of the story elements seem sorta cliche—oh, look, it’s a fairground boxing ring, just the perfect place to get pummeled and/or earn gold—but then again, this story is based on books that were originally written in the 1980s, so let’s cut a little nostalgic slack.

Some folks bemoaned the ability to rewind your story from an untimely death to any previous point in the story as a cop-out that removed any sense of consequence for bad choices. (As if that’s somehow any different than turning back to page 37 in the original books.) There’s even more opportunity to rewind here, and not all of it has to do with clicking an icon to take yourself back to the narrative juncture where you may have taken a wrong turn. There are points in the story that use choices to subtly nudge you back to a narrative strand you should probably have completed. This translates into points that feel like they should have ended in death, but instead just shift the locale so the story can continue. For instance, my hero made the mistake of bumping into a horde of goblins in the sewers beneath Kharé. By rights, I should have been instant goblin-meat; instead, I woke up tied to a stone platform and the story went on—well, at least until I made another bad decision ten minutes later.

When part one debuted, I openly wondered about its $5 price tag, largely because it seemed a little out of whack with the mass of three-bucks-or-less app options in the App store, most of which offer a lot more interactivity than Sorcery! does. Now that we’re deeper into the story, I’ve come to realize that the accurate point of comparison isn’t other apps, but other e-books. As in the first version, it’s the quality of the printed words, a factor that’s become such a rarity in the gaming universe, that carry the experience here. Looking at it differently makes the digital version of the Sorcery! series seem a much more worthwhile investment.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Slick, interactive presentation has been buffed and improved
+ In part two, we’ve hit the meat of the adventure
+ Anyone up for a game of Swindlestones?

Cons:
– Even more opportunities to retrace your steps, even if you haven’t just died
– Some of the story tropes feel a little cliched

Game Info:
Platform: iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch
Publisher: Inkle Studios
Developer: Inkle Studios
Release Date: 11/7/2013
Genre: Choose Your Own Adventure
Age Rating: 12+
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Aaron R. Conklin has been writing about games and games culture for more than 15 years. A former contributor to Computer Games Magazine and Massive Magazine, his writing has appeared on IGN.com and in newspapers and alt-weeklies across the country. Conklin's an unapologetic Minnesota sports fan living in Madison, Wisconsin, home of the Midwest's most underrated gaming vibe.