Spellbreaker - Zork VI

Reviewed by John Sweeney


Issue 25

Jan/Feb 87

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In the beginning was ZORK I. Then there came ZORK II, followed finally by ZORK III. Finally? But when, in the Scenic Vista room of ZORK III, the indicator on the wall said IV and you were magically transported to a strange altar, surely that was a preview of ZORK IV? Well, yes and no. The next fantasy game from Infocom was called Enchanter. But sure enough, deep in the middle of the Castle was that very altar (where you died yet again!), and if you check the diskette you will find the code Z4 on the corner of it.

Apparently the good people at Infocom discussed it long and hard before eventually deciding to move away from the name ZORK. They wanted to stress the fact that this was indeed a new series of adventures, with the protagonist cast as a Magic User rather than a Fighter. But the adventures continued to take place in the same mystic realm, indeed the young magician in Enchanter meets the adventurer from Zork I in his travels. Grues, Flatheads, and Frobozz Magic Items are everywhere. In Sorceror (Zork V) you even find an encyclopaedia and can read all about the history of this strange land, and you also reach the Western shore of the Great Underground Ocean. You wandered on the Eastern shores of it in Zork III. At the end of Sorceror the game promised that the trilogy would be completed in the not too distant future.


News, last year, that Infocom were releasing a new fantasy game entitled Wishbringer caused a great deal of speculation. But this turned out to be a Beginner Level game - hardly a worthy successor to the previous five? All becomes clear when you check the code on the diskette label - ZO! And, as an introduction to the series, an excellent game.

Finally, this year (last year if you have an ST or a friend in America), Spellbreaker appeared. It was well worth the wait. Enchanter is classed as Standard, Sorceror as Advanced, and Spellbreaker as Expert. Unless you are a real masochist it is probably worth playing some of the earlier adventures first, but if you wish to you can start with Spellbreaker. You don't need to have played the others first, but you will get more fun out of the references to people like your old mentor, Belboz, if you have. That said, Spellbreaker does tend to have less references to the rest of the series than most of the other games.

As far as the implementation is concerned, need I say more than that it is by Infocom? It understands English. It has as much text inside it as the average novel. It is extremely enjoyable to play. As the adventure starts you are at a meeting to discuss what is going wrong with magic. The fact that everyone in the room except you is suddenly turned into a reptile tends to confirm your fears that things are not quite right! Chasing a shadowy figure out of the Council Chamber you find yourself in the middle of your first problem - you are stuck in a thick and acrid cloud of orange smoke. Once you solve this you will find your first small white cube. Until you discover the secret of the cube you are stuck in a very small area. Unlocking the secret of the cube will take you to a strange place which leads to even stranger place - a cave inhabited by a sneezing ogre, an avalanche prone cliff side, an ancient ruin, and a giant snake, blocking three passages due to the fact that it is swallowing it's own tail! You will also start finding new spells.

As in the previous two parts of the trilogy, you own a spell book containing numerous spells, including old familiar ones like FROTZ for making light and YOMIN for mindprobing, as well as new ones such as JINDAK to detect magic and LESOCH to create a wind. You will need to supplement these with spells found on scrolls which, apart from the most powerful spells, can be GNUSTOed into your spell book and used over and over again.

If you succeed in making progress against any of the numerous problems which beset you, the one thing you are guaranteed about is that you will find more cubes! And they are all identical in appearance! The first couple you find you can keep track of, but as you get more and more you will find it impossible. Never fear! There is not just one, but two, ways of distinguishing between the cubes. And you will need to do so since there are no less than seventeen of them! (You don't, indeed can't, actually acquire all of them, but you don't really think I'm going to tell you how many YOU have to find do you ?)

Each cube opens up new locations for you to explore. At first it all seems very disjointed, but you should eventually discover that things do actually join together a bit better than at first appears. The spells, artifacts, locations, denizens, and puzzles are many and varied. Definitely not for the fainthearted and perhaps a little less humorous than some of the previous episodes, but solving all the puzzles and finally defeating the shadowy figure will be without doubt a joy for Zork-addicts and puzzle-fiends everywhere.

The author, Dave Lebling (make sure you read the glyphs on the pillar in the Grues' cave!), co-authored the original mainframe Zork (a strange and primitive mixture of what we now know as Zork I and Zork II), as well as Zork I, II, III and Enchanter. He also wrote Starcross and Suspect.

Spellbreaker was well worth the wait. Now that Infocom has finished their second Fantasy Trilogy - what next? Surely this can't be the end of the Grues?