Before you lies a review for inkle’s Sorcery 3. It appears to begin with some sort of strange homage to the game itself, what do you do?
1. Close down the review?
2. Continue reading?
3. Cast a spell?
I know, I wish I could choose the cast a spell option too, but here we are. In any case, thank you for choosing the second option. Anyway, I’ll get on with the review.
Simply put, Sorcery! 3 provides some of the best value for money when it comes to mobile gaming for a long time. For under $5, you get an interactive gamebook that has charming visuals, fantastic writing and some of the best decision-consequence gameplay I’ve come across. A word of warning, though – if you aren’t much for reading, then Sorcery! 3 probably isn’t for you. What we have here is a mainly text-based adventure, one which brings life to its worlds through the written word rather than fancy-smancy polygons. By the end of Sorcery! 3 you’ll have read nearly the equivalent of an entire book; and while that might put off a lot of people, the game is all the better for it.
As the name suggests, this is the third installment in the Sorcery! franchise, which is based on Steve Jackson’s Choose-your-own-adventure books of the same name from the mid 1980’s. Although Sorcery! 3 does work as a standalone game, I don’t recommend playing it without first playing the other two. In the first two games, you make many decisions that effect what shape your character will be in for their next adventure. If you end one of the games with no gold, having burnt your spellbook and without any food (this never happened to me, I swear) then you’d better believe that using that save will lead to a quick death for your character.
I made sure to play through the other two games first, attempting to get as positive an outcome as I could. Because of this, I was able to start Sorcery! 3 with all sorts of magical goodies and powerful weapons. I also had a much better understanding of what was happening in the story. So, all in all, I recommend picking up and playing the first two games before playing this one (both are also very cheap).
The aesthetics of all three games are much the same. The visuals (especially the hand-drawn illustrations) are beautiful and the music and sound effects are perfect for building up the atmosphere. Everything did seem to run more smoothly in Sorcery! 3 though, but I’m honestly not sure whether or not that was just my imagination. These similarities could confuse you into thinking that Sorcery! 3 is much the same as the other two titles, but you’d be wrong.
There are various gameplay elements that have appeared in all three installments of Sorcery! too, and for those unfamiliar with the franchise, I can give a brief overview of them. As mentioned before, most of the game is text-based. Whether it’s deciding on your next course of action, or having conversations with NPCs, it’s mostly done using text. Lots and lots of text. Then there are the spells, which can be used various points in the game when you’re given the “Cast a spell!” option. These spells are made up of three letters that can be combined in various ways to give different spell effects. Each of the basic spells can be viewed in the spellbook, but the game will only give you a certain selection of spells to use in a given scenario (based on whether or not the spell is relevant). It’s also important to note that some spells are only made available to you when you own a particular magical item. You can create fireballs, fire lightning, open locks, make yourself incredibly large, the list goes on. One that I found incredibly useful though (especially in Sorcery! 3) was SUS. It allows you to sense danger and anticipate attacks, and in a game that’s trying to kill you at every turn, this is very useful.
If your spells don’t do the job, then you can usually rely on honest steel to do the work for you. The combat system in Sorcery! is fairly simple. You and your enemy will strike at the same time, and you slide your character a given distance to the right, depending on how powerful you want your attack to be (the more powerful the attack, the more it exerts you). This power is measured by a number, and if your number is greater than your opponents, you’ll damage them, and vice versa. The option to defend is also there, if you feel that you have no chance of overpowering them (due to low energy). The game text will let you know the body language of your opponent, so you have some idea of how powerful you should make your attack, or if you should just defend.
There’s also a dice minigame called Swindlestones, which was introduced in Sorcery! 2. The option to play it pops up every once in a while in Sorcery! 3, but thankfully (for me at least) it doesn’t feature as much as it did in Sorcery! 2 (you end up playing it for hours on end in the second game). It’s usually played for gold – each player rolls a set number of dice and each take turns trying to guess how many dice of a particular number have been rolled. As you can only see your own dice, this involves a lot of bluffing and guesswork.
When compared to the other two games, the main difference in Sorcery! 3 is the world map. Unlike the first two games, which were linear for the most part, Sorcery! 3 is actually open world (more-or-less). I can assure you, this is very unexpected and a little overwhelming at first. You’re given the option to constantly backtrack on yourself, checking for anything you might have missed. There’s even a day/night cycle, and elements of resource management. For an interactive gamebook this is really something. Thankfully Sorcery! 3 still features the rewind option from the previous titles, meaning that nothing you do is set in stone. Without this feature, you’d probably be left curled up in a ball weeping, as your character died horribly over and over (again, this never happened to me, I swear).
Alongside the open world, another huge change in this installment of Sorcery! is the time-travel element. There are six towers scattered throughout the Baklands which have strange devices on top of them. These devices can be used to cast their light over the land (in a similar fashion to a lighthouse) and any areas under the light are whisked back in time, to a millenium before the events of Sorcery! 3. This leads to some very interesting puzzles and adds a whole new dimension to the exploration of the world. These towers can also be used as fast-travel points, probably due to the immense size of the world map in Sorcery! 3.
In terms of the story, Sorcery! 3 vastly improves upon the first two games. It tracks your hero’s journey through the Baklands, having already traversed the foothills and Kharé. Your overall quest in the series is to recover the Crown of Kings from an evil archmage, but your specific goal in Sorcery! 3 is to traverse the deadly expanse of land, while trying to slay seven serpents that are trying to warn the archmage of your plan to steal back the crown. Finding those serpents is incredibly difficult, so you’ll have to scour every inch of the Baklands to make sure you find all seven. The more of them you leave alive, the harder the fourth Sorcery! game is going to be for you. The choices you’re given throughout also feel weightier in this installment.
I seriously can’t sing the praises of Sorcery! 3 enough, inkle has managed to hone their craft into an artform with this game. In appearance, it’s very similar to the first two games. But the more you play, the more you realize that the level of depth in this installment is vast in comparison with the others. My only criticism is that because it’s on your phone, you may never actually stop playing it. But, as a reviewer, that’s a nice criticism to have.
I think it’s about time you put on your wizards hat and started off on your quest, there’s an archmage to be stopped.