Thursday, 11 August 2011

Stormslayer and Howl of the Werewolf reviews

Stormslayer and Howl of the Werewolf were among the totally new Fighting Fantasy adventures I wrote for Wizard Books and benefited from much wisdom gained on my part since the Puffin era. Howl of the Werewolf in particular proved very popular but Stormslayer (written for the re-release in 2009) also garnered a fair bit of praise. What follows are a selection of readers' thoughts on both books.

Jonathan Green is one of my favorite Fighting Fantasy authors, and I was looking forward to seeing what he produced after Howl of the Werewolf, which is quite possibly the best Fighting Fantasy book out there. I don't think any FF will ever top Howl of the Werewolf, but Stormslayer reminds me my why I'm a fan of the author.

Stormslayer manages to capture a nice classic RPG kind of feel, with you on a quest to assemble a number of magical aids to topple the current all-powerful madman. While using the elements of nature as a theme is a bit overdone in my opinion, the book's writing is solid, the pacing decent and aside from handicaps imposed by low rolls during character creation, the book on the whole isn't overly challenging. Most of the settings were interesting and memorable. I especially enjoyed sneaking around the villain's ship at the end sabotaging bits of it until I managed to get his attention, and I liked how having a sidekick was implemented during the "earth" part of the quest.

The book introduces two previously unseen mechanics to the series (at least unseen to me, as most books in the new series have this first one), the first of which is three pre-generated characters in the back if you don't feel like rolling up one of your own. It's not a bad feature, although I've yet to actually feel like using it since I've spent twenty years rolling up a new character every time I play one of these books (unlike in say Swordquest, where rolling up your own character is possible, but the books are geared toward using the one they give you).

The second is keeping track of the day of the week. Unlike in some books where you have x-amount of days to find the villain before he becomes unbeatable, the reason this time is monsters of elemental types are slightly more powerful on the day matching their theme. I suppose it's a clever idea, but I've read the book three times and I think the day and the monster I was fighting may have synched up all of once. I wasn't even making a point to stay away from the volcano until Fireday was over or anything.

A lesser gripe stems from the fact that because a lot of the monsters are elemental creatures, the book starts you off with a magic weapon to sidestep any of those lame "without a magic weapon you cannot harm the creature and your quest ends here" jobbies. It specifically gives bonuses against dragon-type enemies. As this is your default weapon you never lose and the first time in Fighting Fantasy such a thing's been done, however, it would've been nice to have a little reminder against appropriate enemies, of which there are four or five scattered throughout the book. Again, after twenty years of my starting equipment aside from money and food rarely requiring special attention, it's a little jarring.

So while I wouldn't exactly call it a home run, Stormslayer is still well worth reading for anyone who likes Fighting Fantasy.

This book is probably my favourite Fighting Fantasy, alongside Legend of Zagor, House of Hell and Creature of Havoc.

The book is nice and chunky, every paragraph is fleshed out to squeeze the maximum atmosphere out of reading. It's also slightly longer than most FFs and beautifully un-linear (for lack of a better term).

Green has obviously done his research on the gothic and werewolf setting. There's some great monsters lurking in every corner, including vampires, mantises and highwaymen. The dark atmosphere is maintained well throughout the book. Somehow the book always manages to feel like a race against time, and you always feel like you are progressing throughout the book; it's pushing you forwards. That's a nice feeling that some FFs lack.

The world is literally vast and amazing. There's a huge number of side quests and different towns to visit every time using the codeword system, it's so fun. I seem to remember that the first 3 times I played this, I hardly repeated a reference. Even after about 7-8 plays, there will still be a number of places to find; I only found the spiders in the mountain on my 6th go or something.

It's fairly easy to get to the end but very difficult to survive the final encounter. I really like this; it adds a massive replay element. There's a huge world to explore, but only a few true ways through it which will take some thinking about.

The balancing is just spot on. This was one of the first books that I really felt was fair in terms of encounters, whatever stats you rolled up.

Great artwork and not a bad word.

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Really an excellent job! A good storyline, effective rules' changes which allow you to play with a well-balanced character, and lots of encounters, situations, NPCs and puzzles.

You have many routes to the main goal, along with various sub quests you can even fail without dying. And there are at least three methods to kill the final enemy too.

I'm not surprised this new FF book rapidly sold out and had to be reprinted. If there will be other new books with that great formula, I'm sure FF will catch a new generation of gamebooks readers.

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This book was written by Jonathan Green, author of two of my favorite Fighting Fantasy entries, Knights of Doom and Spellbreaker, so I was raring to go right out of the gate.

The premise isn't anything unexpected; you're bitten by a werewolf and have to slay the evildoer who did it before it's too late, but Howl of the Werewolf is one of those books that takes a predictable premise and does great things with it. The book has a gothic atmosphere more effective than I've ever seen in a gamebook. The locations are creepy and yet you want to see more. A lot of the monsters are other lycanthropes, and a lot of them are pretty tough. That might worry some readers when they see how the stat maximums in this book are rather lower than most Fighting Fantasy books. That leads to the good news about being a werewolf, though.

Every so often the transformation process will spike, your Skill and Stamina will go up and you'll be able to roll a die and gain a special power. I liked how the book balanced the curse like that. For instance, your fingernails become claws so you suffer no penalty for fighting without a weapon. This is balanced, of course, with having to keep track of how far your transformation has progressed and whether it gets the better of you from time to time. I seemed to find all the places that reduce your change score on my first try, though, and I didn't have much trouble with that. And a good thing, because almost nobody you meet has any sympathy for someone dealing with lycanthropy, no matter what their intentions.

Fighting Fantasy standby Martin McKenna did the illustrations for this book. While many of the were-creatures start looking the same after a while, on the whole I was impressed.

The writing is on the whole effective, with the use of codewords to track events throughout the plot and sometimes letters-to-numbers translation to make use of special knowledge or weapons, but it didn't beat that gimmick to death like Curse of the Mummy. I wouldn't call any of the book bone-chilling, but I really liked this book and the mini-world within it. With it being over 20% larger than your average Fighting Fantasy in terms of section count, there's more to explore so even after I stamped out evil, there was a strong feeling to go back and try out other paths. Howl of the Werewolf is an excellent Fighting Fantasy book and every enthusiast ought to track down a copy.

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You can pick up a copy of Stormslayer or Howl of the Werewolf here.

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