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Dark Sun Overview
The Dark Sun campaign setting was sort of a flash in the pan when it came to the world of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. It was a fascinating desert-oriented world full of unique people, monsters, and creatures, but is perhaps best known for its widespread use of mind-controlling spell powers called psionics. Although the Dark Sun realm never really took off, it did manage to spawn a couple of popular computer role playing games back in the early 1990’s.
Dark Sun: Shattered Lands was the first Dark Sun game released for DOS-based PC’s in 1993. Its sequel, Dark Sun: Wake of the Ravager, was released in 1994. Both games were put out by Strategic Simulations Inc, better known simply as SSI, before the company was bought out by Mindscape. These games set forth some gameplay styles that are still in use today. You can get them individually, or as part of the AD&D Masterpiece Collection that was released in 1996. Unfortunately, they both have a reputation for being buggy.
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Dark Sun: Shattered Lands
Dark Sun: Shattered Lands has you control some gladiators who fight their way out of the arena and go on a mission to free slaves all over the desert land of Athlas. You could control up to four different player types, and it made a pretty big difference in gameplay depending on how you chose to populate your party. The game focused mainly on combat, but that didn’t make it any less fun. The opening battle sequence in the arena served as a great introduction to how the mouse-based interface worked, and you quickly learned that even the most basic encounters required some strategy to win.
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Dark Sun: Wake of the Ravager
Dark Sun: Wake of the Ravager continues where the first game left off, and in this one you spend a lot of time in the city of Tyr as you try to free it from warlords. This game featured slightly better graphics than the previous one, but for the most part it played the same way. It was also notorious for being so buggy that you couldn’t get past parts of the game, and I personally never got to finish it. Some of the worst bugs involved 'triggers' that failed to activate key portions of the game for moving the plot along, so you'd literally get stuck at a point where it would not let you play any more. This was an issue with the first game, but not nearly as bad as it was in this one.
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These games featured an overhead, slightly isometric view to show your party as you travelled through cities and open areas. Its use of the mouse, as opposed to the keyboard, also helped make gameplay much more enjoyable. When combat broke out, it went into a highly detailed turn mode involving fighting, spellcasting, and more. You were required to develop strategies for taking on foes, and this made for an incredibly satisfying gaming experience. Although much of how it worked is elementary by today’s standards, the gameplay tactics employed in this game were far greater than anything you could get in a console game.
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Buggy Games - The End of SSI
Although some issues were fixed in patches, neither of these games were ever fully corrected. When the second one was released on the market, you could barely even play the whole thing because of all the technical problems. You also have to keep in mind that these were released before the Internet was such commonplace, and you couldn’t just go to the SSI website and download a patch. Needless to say, these games left a lot of gamers furious, myself included, and SSI sold out shortly after its release.
I always felt like SSI dumped both of these unfinished games on the market just as way to drum up some extra cash because they foresaw the end of their business. That kind of practice is what made video game consoles so big during the transition from DOS to Windows, because people were tired of trying to play buggy computer games. Too bad some companies today still employ the ‘release now and patch later’ business model that really hurts the PC gaming industry as a whole.