From: "Stephen Granade" (sgranade@phy.duke.edu)

NAME: The Windhall Chronicles I: Path To Fortune PARSER: Inform's usual
AUTHOR: Jeff Cassidy and C.E. Forman PLOT: Spacious
EMAIL: ceforma@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu ATMOSPHERE: Well done
AVAILABILITY: Shareware, GMD WRITING: Slightly uneven
PUZZLES: From enjoyable to illogical SUPPORTS: Inform Ports
CHARACTERS: Static DIFFICULTY: Medium+

Path to Fortune (PTF) is the first in the Windhall Chronicles series. In it, you play Aerin, "a simple blacksmith's apprentice, nothing more." However, by a bizarre bit of reasoning on your village's part, you are chosen to save the village from taxation without representation by finding the treasure horde of Kirizith, a huge dragon.

The game begins with most of the world available for exploration, and the world is large and complex. There are many places to explore and many puzzles to attempt, which helps if you are stumped by one particular puzzle. It would have been nice had the game not shown its whole hand at the beginning; additional areas which you can explore only after solving a puzzle hold my interest more than being able to visit (almost) everywhere at the beginning. There were only three areas I couldn't visit without solving a puzzle, and all three involved at most two rooms. After enough tromping about Windhall, I was ready for something new to explore. Of course, "enough" is a relative term--as large as Windhall is, it took a long time before I was familiar with it.

The open design of PTF weakened its plot somewhat. At times I felt as if I were slogging through endless puzzles, marking time until I could find the dragon. If you ask Denvil the elf about the fish dinner he wants you to supply, he says something to the effect that it is just one of those sub-plots adventurers are always fulfilling. A lot of the game felt like that--sub-plots I had to finish in order to get to the dragon. More direction towards the end goal was needed.

The initial puzzles' difficulty range from fairly easy to slightly more difficult. However, as time went on, I found the puzzles becoming more and more illogical, possibly due to my solving the logical ones early on. The puzzle involving a werewolf and ogre locked in battle struck me as completely unmotivated, even after I was helped by someone who had already finished the game. Too often I had to resort to the brute force approach of trying every object out on every other object; I would have much rather reasoned how to solve the puzzles.

The main strengths of the game, its size and number of NPCs, are also its main weaknesses. Due to the size of the game and the number of NPCs, it felt as if none of the NPCs were fully realized. The NPCs reacted to a large number of questions, but all were of the "ask xxx about yyy" category. None of the NPCs had a life of their own. Every day Baezil cursed over his unlit stove; every day Mielon and Idah stayed in their house. There are an ogre and werewolf who are fighting to the death, day in and day out, for as long as you are willing to watch. The NPCs could have been improved by having motivations of their own.

I enjoyed playing PTF immensely, the above nitpicks notwithstanding. The game is an excellent addition to the growing pantheon of Inform games, and well worth the time spent. I look forward to seeing the next installment in the series.