Dark Sun: Shattered Lands
It’s likely you know Baldur’s Gate 2 and the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, but there are other worlds than these. Athas is one of those, an apocalyptic arid world near a dying sun, ruled by evil wizards. That’s were Dark Sun takes place. And it’s totally amazing.
- Dark sun game setting: Mad Max meets BG. It can’t get better than that.
- Surprising: it’s a treacherous and wicked world, chaotic. Many events take place in a way that make feel the player isn’t totally at control.
- Quests are totally great, because the player has multiple ways to solve them. An example is escaping from the Arena: there are like 5 ways of accomplishing that and the riskier net better rewards. There are also ethic choices involved, like in the old Ultima games.
- Cheesy RPG fun:
- Uncommon magic classes: the most notable are the Psionicist class and divine magic classes like Preserver and Defiler. There are also druids and clerics.
- New races like Mul (half-dwarven) and Thri-Kreen (an insectoid race).
- Strange beasts and enemies.
- Versatile gameplay: easy multi-classing, no penalty at buy/sell, custom made party which may be reformed at any time and interesting spells like walls/force fields.
- The main plot is cool too, NPCs interesting and storytelling good. Maybe not so good as Planescape: Torment, but it’s very good indeed.
- Awesome start: directly with a fight in the arena and, after that, there is little time to relax until you escape. It’s better than Irenicus dungeon from BG2.
- Character progress and items are transferred to the sequel when you finish Shattered Lands.
- The soundtrack is good and situational. I enjoy the SB16 midi synth, but other sound drivers may improve the quality (check youtube). The sprite graphics are dated but look good enough.
- Combat is fun. Pure turn based.
- Bugs! There are many bugs going on (particularly on the sequel), so save often on separate slots. Stuck NPCs happens a lot, inventory item vanishing might occur too.
- The gameplay is a bit heterodox: there is a examine cursor like in point&click adventures and you even need to do pixel hunting.
- Battles are quick and hitpoints are important. The game can be cheesed to death with a party of semi-giants. Fighter/—/— multi-class are a must.
- The spells are a bit unbalanced. Some spells (Mass Domination, barriers, disintegration, buffs …) are overpowered while other aren’t useful.
- Class variety?: gladiator is just a fighter +1AC, druid and cleric are too similar and both rely on same elemental schools, only two mage classes.
- The game doesn’t let to choose placement at battle start, when spawning, which punishes weak characters (as they’re likely to be targeted first).
Why to play?
Dark sun is an unique game with an interesting setting that is likely to amaze you during your game journey. I’m not a fan of apocalyptic setting game and I don’t like Fallout but I loved this game.
How to acquire
Dark Sun: Shattered Lands may be bought with it’s sequel at www.gog.com. Even at full price is worth it. You’d need the manual (it’s included in gog) because the game is keyword protected (page x, line y, word number z starts by “”). Reading the manual also may be useful.
Version / Platform
The game runs on DosBOX perfectly fine, so the gog version is great. Just rise the CPU cycles (CTRL F12 few times at game start or tweak DosBOX settings) and you’ll be good.
My review is centered on the first game on the saga, Dark Sun: Shattered Lands. It’s the best title and the reason to do this review. But there is a sequel called Dark Sun: Wake of the Ravager, so you can extend your journey on Athas if you desire.
The Dark Sun saga made by SSI is closed. I am not aware of other RPG titles for this AD&D setting, but maybe there will be more. In any case, it’s unlikely we’re going to see anything better that Shattered Lands, so just enjoy it.
Games like Dark Sun
- Al-Qadim: Genie’s Curse. Like Dark Sun, this is an AD&D game made by SSI in a new campaign setting. There is exploration with mazes and great main plot. Awesome game. But this is an action RPG.
- Baldur’s Gate 2. Other amazing AD&D game. Escape from Irenicus’ dungeon again!
- Fallout. A very popular post-apocalyptic game, but no AD&D here.
- Ultima IX: Ascension. Following Ultima VIII: Pagan, the avatar goes back to Britannia, which is going through an apocalypse because of the conspiracy of an old enemy.
There are many cool AD&D games but, between all them, Dark Sun is a hidden (and unpolished) gem.