At long last, I have finished playing Betrayal at Krondor. I’ve had some time to reflect on the experience, and I’ll offer my thoughts about the game as a whole a little later. First, I should pick up where I left off. When I wrote my last post I was tackling some shorter, more story-focused chapters, but I predicted that the game would open up again afterwards. I was right; Chapter 6 is one of the biggest in the game, and full of interesting things to do and places to go. Unfortunately, it began with an abrupt and jarring plot reveal that seemed unrelated to anything that had happened up to that point. Stranger still, there was little in the way of further explanation until the huge, freely explorable chapter was over. Later, everything is tied together, and in hindsight the overall story is well thought out. But the pacing definitely faltered, and someone who hadn’t read Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar series could easily have been completely confused by the turn of events.
New readers may wish to read my History Lessons Introduction first. Also be sure to read part 1 and part 2 before continuing. When you’ve finished you may wish to read part 4. Other History Lessons posts can be found here.
It’s been a while since my last post about Betrayal at Krondor, but if it makes you feel better, I’ve gotten farther in the game this time. I was nearing the end of Chapter 2 then, now I’m just starting Chapter 5. And I’m glad I waited until now to talk about the game’s overarching narrative, because it got a lot more interesting right after Chapter 2 ended.
In part 2 I discussed how the game’s open world is designed to funnel players through certain narrative experiences, offering a series of clues and encounters along the roads the player must take when traveling. The result is an experience that feels organic and emergent while still providing a set story. Chapter 3 offers even more freedom than the first two, and is the best example of Betrayal at Krondor’s unique narrative design so far.
New readers may wish to read my History Lessons Introduction first. Also be sure to read part 1 before continuing. Later entries are here: part 3, part 4. Other History Lessons posts can be found here.
At the end of part 1, I was marveling at Betrayal at Krondor’s open world, which left me free to wander the length of the Kingdom instead of attending to my rather pressing business. This is certainly not an unfamiliar concept; most recently, Skyrim embraced the same philosophy, and I’ve written about it at length. But in 1993, when Betrayal at Krondor was released, it was a more novel notion. Or at least, providing a world that feels like a real place populated by real people was. Other role-playing games, like Might and Magic: Book One, gave the player a world to wander freely, but these were abstractions — Might and Magic’s tile-based world was a symbolic representation rather than a realistic one, full of random battles with strange beasts and a lot of other things that didn’t really make sense. Today’s games, like Skyrim, instead try to offer a believable place to explore, with a recognizable landscape and culture. I was quite impressed with Skyrim’s achievement in this regard. So playing Betrayal at Krondor, which was one of the first games to try it, has been fascinating.
It’s been too long since my last History Lesson post. Nearly a year! Time to get back in the swing of it. This time I decided to tackle a game I’ve been meaning to play for some time: Betrayal at Krondor, originally released back in 1993. It is fondly remembered by fans as one of the earliest attempts at an open-world role-playing game, and for its strong ties to Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar novels (Feist later novelized the game, officially accepting its events as canon in his fantasy world of Midkemia). Given the huge popularity of Skyrim and the other games in the Elder Scrolls series, known for their open-world role-playing design, I thought it would be interesting to look back at one of the first attempts at this type of game.
I actually tried to play Betrayal at Krondor a couple of times in the early ’90s. My first attempt was foiled by an insufficiently powerful computer, which could barely even load the game before crashing. Later, I borrowed a copy of the game from a friend to try on a newer machine, and managed to get a little ways into the game before hitting a game-stopping bug, probably due to some hardware incompatibility. In 1994, the game was re-released on CD-ROM (instead of 3 1/2″ floppy disks), but I never had a chance to try that version. Now, it’s conveniently for sale on GOG.com, bundled with its less popular semi-sequel, and pre-configured to run on modern machines using the DOSBox emulator. A good opportunity, then, to take another look.