King of Dragon Pass traces its roots back to the PC, where it picked up a number of text-based adventure fans just before the ’90s petered out. But simply describing King of Dragon Pass as a text-based adventure game is like calling the Nile River a backyard brook. It was a mind-bogglingly deep game in 1999, and it’s no less engaging in 2011.
If you love chiseling civilizations out of your own moral choices, and if you love reading page after page of text outlining every move you make, and every consequence that follows, you will flip over King of Dragon Pass. If, however, you want top-of-the-line animation, or if you want constant action, or if you’re not interested in learning the lore and religious customs attached to gods with names like Urox the Storm Bull, you won’t get anything out of this tremendous fantasy game.
Did what to their tongues???
King of Dragon Pass begins by crowning you as the leader of a group of settlers that has made a home in the rugged province of Dragon Pass. You are wholly in charge of the clan’s direction, fortunes, and even its past: when you start a new game, you pick through a complex back story and decide how certain historical events affected the ancestors of your people. Which deity did they worship? Were their ancient enemies trolls or elves? Were they friends of the dragon race, or foes?
There is no idle answer. Everything you do and say in King of Dragon Pass will have an eventual consequence. However, there’s no wrong answer, either. The game loosely resembles an extremely complex “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, but there’s no sudden ending if you take the wrong path. Rather, the choices you make (usually by selecting one of several answers that are presented at the end of a scenario) shape your clan, and your status as a leader.
For instance, you can raid neighboring clans for goods and cattle, or you can make nice, open trade routes, and send over gifts. It’s all well and good to say, “Gosh gee, I’m gonna be a pleasant King!” Frankly, most games would reward you with prosperity for making peaceful choices, but King of Dragon Pass operates wholly in shades of grey (outside of the vibrant colors used on the static but gorgeous illustrations that accompany every scenario).
While you absolutely can rule over a peaceful clan, not everyone in the neighborhood will be happy with the choice. Your warriors will grumble, your council members will sensibly point out that you’re leaving the clan open to attack from nomads and monsters, and even some of the gods will turn their backs on you if you’re too much of a wuss. Without the gods’ favor, your clan’s magic will be weak, and you need magic to defend yourself, to heal your wounded and your sick, and to bless your crops and cattle. In other words, ruling peacefully doesn’t necessarily mean your people will sing your praises.
But a few paragraphs aren’t nearly sufficient to go over the mechanics of King of Dragon Pass. The game is accompanied by a digital manual that is necessary reading prior to starting the game. The in-game tutorial will show you the game’s basics, and while you can use that basic knowledge to meander through the adventure, your clan won’t thrive unless you know the ins and outs of diplomacy–or, if you like, the ins and outs of war and expansion.
Which turns back on a point that was made earlier: King of Dragon Pass is not a game that will impress everyone. If you’re not interested in high fantasy, or if you get stressed out when games ask you too many questions, or if you’re easily frustrated by setbacks, this title was not meant for you. In fact, King of Dragon Pass serves a very specific niche, and that’s okay because it serves that niche beautifully. If you’re interested in hearing more about the likes of Chanlana Arroy, the healing goddess, rejoice: Picking up King of Dragon Pass will feel just like coming home.