Legends are slippery issues. One tells of Arthur, the as soon as and future King of Britain who united the realm in opposition to the Saxon invaders. Where historic reality is elusive, literary fancy has imagined Arthur’s idyllic courtroom of Camelot, its chambers populated with knights, wizards, and witches, its halls reverberating with chivalry, romance, and betrayal. In exploring the legend of Arthur, Pendragon mixes interactive fiction and tactical fight inside a short-form roguelike construction to inform myriad tales. As a examine of how myths are fashioned from numerous half-truths, it is efficient. But as a story journey, it feels slight, its extra admirable efforts undermined by repetition and an uneasy relationship with fight.
In this explicit rendition of Arthurian legend, the story all the time begins in 673 A.D., a few week earlier than Arthur reaches the fort of Camlann to face his son, Mordred, whose problem for the throne has ignited a civil warfare. Each time you roll a brand new recreation, you will play as one in all Arthur’s court–his estranged spouse Guinevere, her potential lover Sir Lancelot, the enigmatic Merlin, to call three of the extra acquainted characters–dashing throughout Britain to assist the king within the climactic showdown. En route, you’ll run into characters which you can persuade to trip along with your banner, others you will must put to the sword, and an alarming variety of wolves, snakes, big spiders, and rats to combat or flee from. Though relaxation and rations will assist the wounded get well, all members of your party–even your beginning character–can die completely, and the journey is over if everybody falls in battle. A whole run will usually take solely 20-30 minutes, relying on how shortly you discover Camlann.
The fast turnaround of a run serves to focus on the dynamic nature of Pendragon’s storytelling. By embarking on a brand new journey, you will shortly end up exploring a reconfigured map, discovering new areas and story occasions, and accumulating alternate views on the core myths of the land. And the sport does a exceptional job tying collectively the various disparate narrative threads you may comply with all through one run. In one run, I started as Morgana Le Fay earlier than assembly and recruiting Guinevere. Morgana was later wounded in battle whereas Guinevere fled, leaving me to play on because the latter. By the time I reached Camlann, Guinevere too had perished and so I ended up dealing with Mordred’s knights with simply Arthur’s brother, Sir Kay, and a strong-armed peasant blacksmith in tow. What’s spectacular is that the dialogue would not miss a beat; conversations really feel coherent and reactive to no matter selection and chaos has occurred alongside the way in which.
Of course, there are limits. By the time I used to be on my fifth or sixth journey, I recognised that sure eventualities have been repeating. I may inform, for instance, upon arriving on the burned-out village that this was the place I’d be capable to recruit that blacksmith. But whereas a few of the particular person elements do develop into acquainted over time, the unpredictable order by which they happen and the totally different selections you are in a position to make be certain that every journey, when thought of as an entire, feels distinctive.
Encounters, no matter whether or not they’re pleasant or hostile, play out on a small isometric grid, usually not more than half a dozen tiles squared. Characters swap between stances that inform their motion and obtainable actions; along with your weapon drawn you may assault however can transfer solely linearly, whereas diagonal motion is feasible solely along with your weapon sheathed. As a fight engine, it is comparatively easy but able to presenting fascinating challenges via some additional complexities. Outwitting a bunch of enemies–baiting them with one character whereas a second deploys a particular potential from the flank, or switching stances on the essential second to stop an attack–feels well-earned since each combat carries actual hazard. The condensed nature of a run means there is no grinding and little filler.
You’re additionally not all the time preventing. Indeed, many encounters conclude with none metal being drawn. Characters interact in dialog as they transfer forwards and backwards throughout the board, weighing up the scenario. This verbal sparring, at the side of the gliding actions as every participant adjusts their stance and demeanor, appears like some form of formal dance routine with every step accompanied by a witty riposte.
By distinction, such encounters underscore how Pendragon is at its weakest when not telling a narrative. Straight fight dulls the momentum of the journey. I had one run the place Merlin and his companion fled from a pack of wolves solely to satisfy one other they could not defeat. After fleeing from that, they bumped into one more pack and, with the flexibility to flee now eliminated, have been killed in a untimely and underwhelming finish to their quest.
In basic, the varied wolves and wild canines you meet, to not point out the enormous spiders, snakes, and rats, appear misplaced, a relic from one other extra combat-focused design. Encounters with cautious peasants or knights of unsure loyalty wring far higher pressure out of the fragile “Are we gonna fight or are we gonna talk?” steadiness inherent within the fight engine. The stakes are raised right here, and also you come away feeling higher knowledgeable concerning the politics of the world.
But even once you’re in a position to greatest admire Pendragon’s procedural storytelling, once you’re in a position to seize a handful of its narrative threads and weave them collectively throughout a number of half-hour playthroughs, the returns are diminishing. Each session is just too brief to permit for the results of your actions to hold actual weight. By the time you make it to Camlann, you are solely simply attending to know Lady Niambh or Sir Lancelot, and now it is farewell till you might be reunited on a future playthrough–minus any reminiscence of what you simply skilled collectively. And because the eventualities begin to repeat, you have to dig deeper to search out one thing recent.
Pendragon is an enchanting experiment in making an attempt to marry procedural storytelling to a roguelike construction. It does so with blended success. With sensible writing on the forefront, it delivers a wealthy and evocative world steeped in fantastical journey. But when its extra mundane methods intrude, you discover that actuality is a bit more prosaic.