Enter the Wheel of Time...
...And dare to seize ultimate power. Based on Robert Jordan's best-selling series of fantasy novels, THE WHEEL OF TIME is a gaming experience that will become your world. A first person action/strategy game with story-rich elements set in a lush, high resolution universe of mystery and wonder. A single player quest through mystical and expansive environments. Unique multiplayer dynamics with three game types. All with strategic spell combat. Because power is not given... TAKE IT!
- Seize power by the strategic use of over 40 mystical artifacts.
- Turn your castle into a citadel of war with multiple floor plans full of troops and booby traps!
- Totally immersive 3D environments with rich, state-of-the-art graphics.
- Enhanced Unreal technology in blazing real-time!
- Three multiplayer game types that challenge and enthrall.
- The richly-textured world of Robert Jordan's hugely populare novels brought to life!
~ from the back of the box
With the Wheel of Time series currently streaming on Amazon Prime, Id thought I'd revisit the computer game adaptation from 1999. Unlike most of Legend Entertainment's other output, this drastic departure from their usual fare is not an adventure game - it's a first-person-shooter.
It was around this time that GT Interactive bought the company, a move that likely instigated this change. This coupled with the dwindling popularity of adventure games as a whole and a growing friendship with one of the founders of Epic prompted the company to go all in with the first-person-shooter. After testing the waters with an Unreal mission pack, The Wheel of Time was to be their first attempt at a full-length FPS, keeping their ethos of literary adaptations intact. It became a big critical success, if not as big a financial one which proved disappointing for their new owners. On the back of this, they completely cut any remaining ties with the company's original identity and developed the action-heavy Unreal 2 before being shut down by that game's commercial failure.
My very biased view on all this is that Legend's adventurous game design is not a great fit for the masses expecting a chaotic first-person-shooter. This is evidenced in full force here; there are no guns, its protagonist is a feminine woman and it has a rich story told in lenghty pre-rendered cutscenes. When the biggest names in the genre were Quake or Doom, it was a big departure. It is also a little bit of a strategy game. The first half plunders along as you'd expect with some well-designed if fairly linear levels populated by angry orc-like trollocs and the occasional puzzle. Later levels demand you know your surroundings, place traps and summon allies to give you the best opportunity to survive the incoming hoard. On easy, you can pretty much ignore this feature for the most part, but unless you're super skilled they're a necessity on higher difficulties.
On the action side of thigs, you have a wide variety of spells to blast at the horrors in the dark. Your starting weapon won't do much, though. It is one of the most pitiful attacks I've ever seen in a video game; ice breath. This undiminishing attack requires you to go up close to enemies and breathe on them. It is weak and a little weird for the uninitiated but you'll soon discover more useful weapons by collecting magical artefacts known as Ter' Angreal. The most plentiful is the Dart, a quick burst of energy that projects directly in front of you. You can also find Fireballs that'll give more damage, even doing some to those within its blast radius (which can include you!). Then there's a selection of homing balls of energy and much, much more. The variety is certainly unique and a fresh of (ice) breath air when the alternatives only carry variations of rifles, rocket launchers and laser pistols.
Ter' Angreal cover more than just offensive attacks. Numerous shields can protect you from different types of damage, while the Light Sphere will follow you around lighting up the dark. You can also summon minions, guardians or place decoys giving a variety of ways to approach any given situation. Be aware that health is most commonly cured in this way too, which takes time to equip and use if your in a rush. There are instant use herbs scattered around that slowly replenish health for a short period, but these are few and far between.
The levels themselves are all nothing short of spectacular. It really shows off what the Unreal Engine could do at the time, from real-time lighting effects to high-resolution texture work and level geometry. It holds up remarkably well to this day, with only the cardboard cutout trees and bushes really showing their age. Each area has a presence to them, feeling less like levels and more like locations. You begin in the lush setting of the Manetherendrelle river banks before entering the creepy, crumbling streets of the fallen city of Shadar Logoth. You'll later venture into other areas familiar to those who've read the books or seen the show and it is interesting to see how they compare.
While much more up my alley than the usual FPS fare, these unique design choices are perhaps off-putting to action-gamers coming out of the likes of Unreal, Sin or Thief. Even those fresh from the narrative-driven Half-Life could conceivably baulk at the sudden introduction of strategic elements. In my eyes, this is exactly what makes Wheel of Time special. It dares to be different in a setting I personally can't get enough of and if you share my tastes, get ready for one of the most underrated games of the 90s. A must play.
As of 6th April 2022, the The Wheel of Time is now available to buy on GOG.
Buy from GOG
The Wheel of Time is © Legend Entertainment & GT Interactive
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me