Pool of Radiance
I distinctly remember when I bought my copy of Pool of Radiance to play on my old DOS-based PC. I bought it from a little software store down by the local mall, back when there was such a thing as software stores. This was the first Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) computer game and was released in 1988. It is the first of the ‘Gold Box’ games that got its name from the shiny golden color of the game box. Although the sequels were larger and more complicated, I still consider this one to be my favorite of yesteryear’s retro PC gaming.
The plot of the game involves you putting together a party of adventurers to help save the port city of Phlan from invaders. You’ll have to fight off a bunch of lizard men, clear an island of hordes of undead and even a spectre, and run into various other combatants along the way. The plot of this game is also covered in a novel of the same name that was published in 1989 by Jane Cooper Hong and James M. Ward.
Graphics and Sound (2 out of 5)
The graphics and sound of this game were of really low quality even by the standards of the time period in which it was released. Many video gamers were learning the ins and out of Super Mario Brothers on their Nintendo, and even most NES games have better graphics and sound than this. The lack of visual appeal still didn’t hurt things too much, as this game clearly opened the door for a new type of gameplay that wound be given gradual improvements over the next decade.
Gameplay (4 out of 5)
This was the kind of PC game where you’d need graph paper to use for notes. I had to map out the locations of certain shops and inns just because they were so hard to find. Due to the graphical limitations, traversing through city streets involved looking at a series of pseudo-3D walls over and over again, and they all looked very much alike. It was quite easy to get turned around or lost without keeping track of where you were going. It was to your benefit to get familiar with some of the key locations in town, as they were crucial to playing the game.
Combat employed a very nice turn-based format that worked quite well. Although the gameplay mechanics didn’t follow the AD&D rules to the letter, they still had the general idea pretty close, and it was better than anything else I’d played at the time. You’ll quickly learn that the right balance of character classes is necessary to facilitate an effective combat group. The battles in this game can often be very long and difficult, and some critics complained about the balance being off at times.
Overall (4 out of 5)
Pool of Radiance helped to launch a huge series of AD&D-based video games, with the pinnacle of them all being the original Baldur’s Gate. While many of today’s gamers would find the low-res graphics and buzzing sounds of this game practically intolerable, I think it is still worthy of remembrance in the great halls of computer gaming. It is, without a doubt, a classic role playing game.
In 2001, a sequel to this game called Pools of Radiance: The Ruins of Myth Dranor was released by UbiSoft. I never played the game, but always heard that it was plagued with technical problems, including one famous bug that deleted system files when you uninstalled it. It quickly went into the ‘bargain bin’ and was mostly ignored by gamers.