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Lora's CRPG Reviews: World of Xeen

World of Xeen (Game release date: 1994)
An oldie but goodie--unavoidably dated, but it stands on its own merits better than most classic CRPGs.

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Highlights: Huge gameworld, clever dungeons,
old-school nostalgia
Lowlights: Dated look, simplistic gameplay,
minimalist plot

This trilogy of classic CRPG's shows its age in its chunky isometric graphics and turn-based combat, but oddly enough it's still fun a decade later--and unlike many classic games, it plays straight out of the box (no MoSlo or painstaking reconfigurations of your computer necessary). The main plot is dull and most of the quests are fed-ex style, but there are several memorable exceptions (including building your own castle), and the dungeons are fun and plentiful. Worlds of Xeen is not one of those modern games you can play in a weekend; there are 48 map areas to explore on the two worlds combined, dozens of multi-level dungeons, hundreds of quests, and up to 250 levels to be gained. Then, if you're not Xeened out yet, the innovative fan-produced add-on Swords of Xeen comes with the set for free. Whew! If you're old-school, you can't help but like this one, and even if you're not, it's still good fun.

Style: World of Xeen is a classic CRPG with a first-person 2D interface. Movement is tile-based. You control and develop a six-person party. The plot is a role-playing adventure and there are fantasy and science fiction themes. The game is untimed and requires no manual dexterity. Combat is turn-based.

Series: Worlds of Xeen is part of a long-running series of adventure CRPG's that started back in 1986, developed by 3DO/New World Computing. Your characters are not portable from game to game, and no continuity of plot at all--these are simply campaigns that take place on different planets in the same game universe (and indeed, nearly every one ends with the trusty party discovering the spaceflight technology of the Ancients). You do not need to play any of them before playing the next. If you're interested in the Might and Magic series in general, though, you can purchase the entire collection in two convenient CD sets: Might and Magic Compilation (Might and Magic 1-5) and and Platinum Edition (Might and Magic 6-9). The earliest Might and Magic games (1-3) take an enthusiastic love of the classics to play; 4 and 5 (Worlds of Xeen) are dated but still fun, and 6-9 are more modern games with 3D graphics.

Finding Worlds of Xeen: There are three different CD sets that I know of featuring Worlds of Xeen. One of them, called "The Ultimate RPG Archives," bundles Worlds of Xeen together with other old favorites like Ultima Underworld and the Bard's Tale games, but unfortunately this collection is out of print now--friends and I bought a copy some five years ago, but these days it's overpriced if you can find it at all. Here are some copies for sale on Amazon, or try Ebay. The other two collections including the Xeen games are Might and Magic Compilation, which includes Might and Magic 1-5, and Might and Magic Millennium Edition, which includes Might and Magic 4-7. So which should you buy? Here's the deal: if you are a diehard Might and Magic fan and/or an enthusiastic player of classic CRPG's, you want the 1-5 set, because Might and Magic 6-9 are bundled together in a third set and you can get the whole collection this way. On the other hand, if you only want the very best this series has to offer, 4-7 is it. Might and Magic 1-3 are very dated games that require dedication to play, and Might and Magic 8 and 9 are basically just rehashes of Might and Magic 6 and 7.

Getting World of Xeen to Work: The good thing about buying old games bundled on CDs is that you don't have to worry about emulation issues. (-: The Xeen games run straight out of the box on Windows 95, 2000, or XP. The only bug I've found is with the sound--Xeen doesn't always successfully recognize modern sound cards. You're really not missing much playing with the sound turned off, though, and this speeds the gameplay as well.

Hints For World of Xeen: I have a page of World of Xeen hints up online, with a complete low-spoiler walkthrough for the game as well. If you need more, try some of these Xeen Links. You can also buy a Classic Might and Magic Hint Book, if you prefer.

Pitfalls In World of Xeen: There's nothing you need to be aware of before you start. If you want some spoiler-free party formation and general playing suggestions, click here.

Game Length: Up to 200 hours for the two games combined, depending how many side quests you investigate. Swords of Xeen, which comes bundled together with Worlds of Xeen these days, adds another 50 hours or so of play.

Age-Appropriateness: This game is rated T (for 13 years old and up), and I have absolutely no idea why. There is no sex, no bad language, no disturbing themes, and only 2D cartoon violence. Saturday morning cartoons are literally scarier than this. I'm playing Worlds of Xeen with my five-year-old son right now, as a point of reference.

Lora's Worlds of Xeen Review: (Pretty Good)

Plot and Quests: The main plot is basic, and although there are a lot of quests--probably twice as many as any previous CRPG had ever offered--almost all of them are simplistic requests to fetch an item. There are a few ground-breaking exceptions, including one quest to build your own castle and another to find a mythical city.
Puzzles and Mental Challenges: The dungeons of Xeen are genuinely fun to explore, full of secret doors, traps, and special features. Puzzles include a lot of wordplay and math problems; there are no visual or spatial puzzles in this game.
Characters: You get six PCs in this classic RPG format. Worlds of Xeen is a 1994 game, so if you want your characters to have any personality or reactions to each other or the gameworld, you'll have to supply it yourself. This makes for a real stripped-down gaming experience compared to modern games like Baldur's Gate 2 where the interpersonal interactions are complex and stunning; on the other hand, it's far less constraining and annoying than the many modern games who do interpersonal interactions badly, thus forcing your characters to have reactions you think are stupid. A blank slate is better than one with garbage written on it.
Gameworld: The milieu is a generic fantasy land peopled by the standard fantasy races, distinguishable as a Might and Magic realm primarily by the terrain squares (grassland, tundra, lava, and so forth) and the irritating intrusion of space age technology near the end of the game. There are redeeming features to the world of Xeen that cause it to rise above the level of some of the other Might and Magic games, however... particularly the innovative Clouds level above the land (which can be explored with the help of levitation) and the existence of a previously unknown second world on the dark side of the planet.
Gameplay (Leveling, Spells, etc.): Very basic. When Clouds of Xeen first came out, the only way to learn what spells did was to encounter them in the guild, or find them somewhere else. I thought this was a really nice touch--the thrill of finding a brand-new spell that isn't described to death in the game manual is something few games bother with anymore. However, either gamers complained or the designers figured the surprise was over by the second installment, because the Darkside of Xeen manual lists all the spells and such. So you're left with a pretty generic gameplay system, of which the most fun aspect is jockeying your characters' stats ever-higher.
Interface (Movement, Inventory Management, etc.): Not bad, especially considering this game's age. Fixing broken items is, oddly enough, much easier in this game than in its latest sequel nearly a decade later. Shuffling inventory around is also less irritating than in many modern games. Combat is very basic but non-problematic. The main problem is that the interface buttons and frame take up way too much screen space. You also can't remap any keyboard controls.
Ambience (Graphics, Sound, etc.): When I first played this game in the early 90's, I was blown away by the ambience. I remember playing it in the dark for effect in some areas. I remember my non-game-playing husband actually taking an interest in this one. Unfortunately, like watching Speed Racer reruns as an adult, replaying this game only reminds you how little it took to impress us back in the olden days. The graphics are dated but serviceable, the sound effects are stupid and the voicing is sporadic. Worlds of Xeen is definitely playable by gamers spoiled by modern graphics--this isn't Wizardry I on your Apple IIE, and neither is it a flawed early adapter of 3D animation, like Phantasmagoria or Doom, that is painful to watch. But you won't get any special thrills out of the visuals here, either.

Lora's Recommendations: This game was amazing at the time of its release, and has actually aged rather gracefully. You won't be lulled into forgetting it's a ten-year-old game at any point in the gameplay, but it's still an entertaining adventure even without the nostalgia factor. Of all the classic CRPGs, this one is probably the most accessible, the least aggravating, and the most lastingly fun. I recommend it to anyone who used to game in the 80's and early 90's, to enthusiasts of classic games, and to diehard CRPG fans; casual gamers without either nostalgic or aesthetic interest in older games would have more fun with a modern CRPG, like Shadows of Amn or Wizardry 8.

If You Loved Worlds of Xeen: My top recommendation to you is the Realms of Arkania trilogy, a quirky, clever series of German CRPG's from the 90's. They're great fun, especially Shadows Over Riva. If you can find a copy, you may also enjoy the Ultimate RPG Archive, which offers a cornucopia of classics including the venerable Bard's Tale games. Other collections of great classic CRPGs available on the market now include the Ultima Collection and Ultimate Wizardry Archive. Finally, two modern CRPG's that offer much of the same feel as Xeen did in its day are Shadows of Amn and Wizardry 8.

For a more detailed critique of Worlds of Xeen involving spoilers, please see my Backseat Game Designer page. Happy gaming!

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