The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain is a game that reminds me of a choose-your-own-adventure book (and has the creative pedigree of such works, also has some Dungeons & Dragons baggage). You play an adventurer that goes into a vast dungeon to try and accomplish some personal objective while avoiding traps, fighting monsters and exploring the bowels of the mountain. I thought the core concept was neat, but the finer mechanics didn’t click at all for me. For a game that you need to replay multiple times, it quickly becomes a chore and the battle system feels random and unfair.

The game starts with a nice meta-layer of storytelling where a game master explains the concept of the game to you, which adds a bit of flavor to the whole thing. You then select a character - which you can unlock more of by collecting souls from slain enemies - and then go into the dungeon. Each character has three basic stats - stamina, skill and luck - and they have special attributes that allow them to progress slightly differently into the dungeon. They also have a few attacks with specific ranges and sometimes added effects. Each character isn’t too different however, these attributes and attacks can really help out, but if you have to retry when you die and you might want to try other characters, it’ll all become a blur. Spotting a trap or not spotting it because of your inherent attributes won’t make a ton of difference, and most of the stuff I saw was similar to that.

The combat system plays in simultaneous turns. You select where you want to move or attack, then you and the enemies execute their actions at the same time. If you attacked an enemy that also attacks you, there’s a clash and you’ll roll two dice and add your Skill stat against theirs. If you win - or attack a foe that’s not also attacking - you deal damage to their Stamina. If your stamina runs out, you can get revived at the nearest bench you rested on, but you can’t get revived an infinite number of times. If you run out, you' have to start from the beginning. I didn’t enjoy the battle system, you’re supposed to be able to guess what enemies will do, but it’s not at all clear and fun. You don’t know in what way they’re going to attack nor move, so all you can do is guess. More often than not it’s possible to get it right and hit an enemy without getting hit, but other times you’re just maneuvering around foes without any chance to make it unscathed. I wish the battle system had been different - as it is right now I’m not sure how they could’ve changed it.

Otherwise you go through a neatly designed dungeon, reading textboxes after textboxes on the various things you’re seeing and interacting with. There’s a -lot- of reading and most of the text is pretty good, giving you vivid descriptions of your adventure. Puzzles are always the same - the left lever will be always trapped while the right one is the good choice - and the abilities of your characters will unlock (or lock) some paths. I really wish that the game would’ve allowed you to go fast through the spots you already visited and also to leave explicit information about things you’ve already seen. After the third time, having to remember whether something is dangerous or not was being kind of busywork.

And this is ultimately why I stopped playing after I died quite far - as much as I knew - and the prospect of having to redo the whole thing really wasn’t appealing to me. If I took the same character (and because I wanted to complete their story) I would’ve needed to redo exactly the same things to get back to where I died. Said like that, I feel like I should’ve been able to just retry forever, or be able to skip stuff I had already seen. The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain is well made and pretty interesting, but the format doesn’t lend itself very well to the amount of replayability it seemed to want from me.

AuthorJérémie Tessier