Death Gate (1994)

Death Gate (1994), designed by Glen R. Dahlgren, based on the novels by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, published and developed by Legend Entertainment Company

Back in the 90's Legend Entertainment was that one adventure developer of which games I didn't really play. I knew of their games, but as they were doing mostly text adventures (well, to be fair, text adventures with graphics and mouse drive UI's), I never really did find their games appealing back then. Perhaps mostly because of my English, while already good enough for less text-heavy games, wasn't good enough to read pages of text. It's only now later that I've begun to find Legend's games.

In many ways, it is a good thing, as now, with a better grasp of the language, I can appreciate them more.

Death Gate, based upon somewhat mediocre fantasy musings of Hickman and Weis, is among more approachable titles from their library, especially if you are new to text adventures. It is, actually, more of a point 'n' click adventure with a heavy emphasis on text. You spend a lot of time talking to people as well as reading books and notes. Those give you hints on the puzzles you need to solve. And unlike in older Legend games, like Gateway, you don't even have to type in the commands.
If you are familiar with the book series by Weis and Hickman, the plot of the game is probably familiar to you: ages ago magical dogooder race Sartans ripped the world apart because of the lesser races - humans, elves and dwarves - weren't playing nice and kept killing each other in tiresome wars. And then there were Sartans evil counterpart race Patryns, who were trying to seize the power, so Sartans locked them up in a Labyrinth, which they thought would make decent folk of them. Obviously shit hits the fan and things go horribly wrong.

This is Xar, the first Patryn to get out from the Labyrinth.
For starters the Labyrinth gets out of control, starting to kill the Patryns, who over the decades become more and more bitter race of tough survivors. Meanwhile, on the mench (as the lesser races are called) worlds the wars keep going on, races keep being unequal and finely tuned plans of rehabilitation just generally backfire badly. All in all a terrible disappointment for the do-gooders, who also have gone completely AWOL in some of the newly created realms.

The hero of the show is a Patryn Haplo, who has managed to escape from the Labyrinth to the Nexus meant to be the home for all Patryn. There he meets Xar, the first Patryn to escape the Labyrinth and the one who has started to rescue his people and at the same time planning for vengeance. As Xar is impressed by Haplo's skills, he gives him a task of infiltrating the other realms with a help of a realm jumping ship, which can go through the Death Gate (so that's where the name of the game comes from) connecting the places. Haplo accepts and begins his trek of finding out what went wrong and how he can get his revenge.

And if you know your standard modern fantasy, things don't go as planned, as things never are what they seem to be.

I'd love to claim that Death Gate is a great game, but it's not. It's not a bad game by any means, and I'm sure if you like the book series it's based on, you might even like it more than I liked it, but for me, the bottom line is, that as it is such a text-heavy game, it's not that well written. It has this grand basic story about equality, which is all good and dandy, but it also manages to be so obnoxiously preachy about it. The message is underlined time and time again, especially in the world of Pryan, where a fragile coexistence between humans and elves is starting. It's been ages since I've read the books, but I do recall liking the second book, which is set on Pryan, the least as well. I just don't remember if it was as preachy with its message. What I do remember is, that I did find the characters in it to be mostly annoying, especially Zifnab the wizard.

What does save it for me is the puzzle design. Despite the script, the puzzle work is pretty solid and logical. You can find hints to even more challenging puzzles from the books or conversations and they do at times offer that nice "Aha!" feeling when you manage to solve something. As Haplo is a magic user, some of the puzzles require you to use magic as well as looted items or book learning. This brings in a nice array of puzzles in varying levels, of which some manage to be pretty challenging as well. On a bad side though, some of the puzzles are timed, so you'll do well to save often because of that or otherwise you might have a long hike ahead of you.

Graphically Death Gate is pretty solid work. As it was released in 1994 it doesn't use anything compared to modern resolutions, but still, the graphics do manage to be reasonably crisp and rich in details. Also, the character art is very nice and smoothly animated. A nice touch is a solid lip-syncing as the game is fully voice acted. And there's a lot of it.

Graphically the biggest beauty flaw of the game is some of the 3D rendered cinematics, which clashes with the nicely drawn game graphics pretty badly, especially because they're done with poorly modelled, low poly characters.

This isn't even the worst CGI cinematic. The ending one is hilariously horrible.

Voice acting is another aspect of the game which is pretty well done, especially for a game done in the mid 90's. What surprised me the most was, that not only were most voice actors pretty good, the recording quality of the voices was nice as well. There was very little of any kind of hissing or cracking present. 

I'd say Death Gate is an okay game to jump into Legend Entertainment style interactive fiction adventures. It's not the best of their games, but it does offer a bit easier method of access because of the simplified user interface. But if you're not afraid of typing, then the Gateway games might be a better way to go. 

Then again, if you liked the book series, this might be a game to try. Personally, I remember precious little of it besides thinking it wasn't really very well written series. But as far I recall, many characters from the book do show up in the game, just some of the situations might differ.

If you feel like giving Death Gate a spin, I'm sad to inform you that it's not on sale anywhere it can be found from GOG. If you want to buy a physical copy, eBay or Amazon might have some, but I'd wager those might be a tad expensive.