ZX Spectrum The Lords of Midnight
When The Lords of Midnight was released in August of 1984 it caused a huge stir in the ZX Spectrum gaming community.
With this game Beyond Software (and Mike Singleton) had produced a game of immense complexity that went over and above the simple word-matching of mainstream adventure games. In many respects, Lords of Midnight was a strategy war game and adventure game rolled into one.
Nothing like it had ever been seen on the Sinclair Spectrum before, and it is well remembered by many people to this day.
Many features of the game were totally new (at the time) and the attention to detail and grand scale of the game set new high standards in Spectrum (and 8-bit) software.
Before I really get going here, I must warn you that this review will probably be longer than our average game reviews. It's the only way to do justice to the depth and atmosphere that Lords of Midnight offered.
First off - the game cassette was accompanied by a lavish booklet detailling thorough playing instructions. You really did need these instructions, the pages contained valuable hints which would aid you in the realm of Midnight. This was already a clue to us gamers of the level of invention which surrounded the whole project.
A superb back story really set the scene and got you into the game.
The evil Doomdark had woken from his slumber plunging the lands of Midnight into winter. This Solstice was the peak of Doomdarks power and he had to be defeated.
The computer played the role of Doomdark which intelligently pitted the evil forces against you. The Citadel of Ushgarak emitted a 'cold blast of fear', which blew across the Plains of Despair, moving southwards to where you were located.
Eliminating Luxor the Moonprince (you) and Morkin would hand victory to Doomdark.
Alternatively Doomdark could creep south into the peaceful land of the Free, striking at its figurehead of serenity and happiness - the Citadel of Xajorkith.
"As Luxor you have the Power of Vision and the Power of Command which enable you to control other characters loyal to you, move through the land of Midnight and look through their eyes. The closer a character or army is to Luxor and his Moon Ring the less demoralising is the effect of the Ice Fear that emanates from the Plains of Darkness as the ring radiates the strength and warmth of his mind."
Morkin (your son) was your most trusted companion, and probably most important person in the quest. Morkin was half human and half fey. By virtue of his unique ancestry Morkin could withstand the utter coldness of the Ice Fear which was increasingly directed at him as he approached the Citadel of Ushgarak - and his ability to absorb this fear lifted some of the burden upon the armies of the free.
You began the game with four characters who had suitably mystical names such as Luxor the Moonprince, Rorthron the Wise, Corleth the Fey, and Morkin. It was up to you to recruit further Lords (Ithrorn, Xajorkith, Shadows, The Utarg of Utarg were some of the other lords) to your cause - the quest to destroy Doomdark (the Witchking of Midnight).
To astound us gamers further, the game could be played in three different ways. Firstly it could be played as a straight adventure game, where your focus was on Morkin's quest to destroy the Ice Crown, which was the source of Doomdark's power.
Secondly you could play Lords as a wargame, ignoring Morkin's quest and concentrating on recruiting lords and troops to battle Doomdark's armies eventually taking the fight to him. Thirdly it was possible to play both variations simultaneously. Already the depth to the game was apparent.
Instead of the usual adventure style text input, with Lords of Midnight you had a set of keywords at your disposal. LOOK displayed a (breathtaking) vista with details of where a character stood. At the top right of the screen a heraldic sheild let you know through whose eyes you were looking.
A character could be turned to look in another direction by pressing the appropriate direction key.
THINK gave you more details regarding the character and any army he controlled (such as strength).
CHOOSE could lead to searching, hiding, attacking an enemy or repairing defences. These options were filtered with different characters and circumstances. For example a cowardly character was not likely to volunteer for a raid.
SELECT allowed access to all of the characters under your control.
The graphics depicting the realm of Midnight were absolutely stunning. Panoramic views were drawn in full perspective - consecutive moves would show mountains, forests, citadels, turrets and fortresses rising in stature as you approached them or fading into the distance as you moved further and further away.
The technique to accomplish this was called landscaping and would be employed in the sequel, Doomdark's Revenge.
The screen was very well presented overall: the graphic style suited the fantasy role playing genre to a tee. Each superb view was blended with the descriptive text which was written in a nice medieval font and the heraldic shield depicted the crest to which your current character has pledged his allegiance. Atmosphere oozed from the visuals.
The human player had a slight advantage in that only one of two objectives was required to defeat Doomdark. If the Ice Crown was destroyed or Doomdark's home citadel of Ushgarak fell, then you had won the game.
For Doomdark to win, he had to complete two objectives. Firstly Morkin had to be killed; as long as Morkin was alive the game would continue.
Secondly he had to subdue the armies of the Free. He could achieve this by either killing Luxor the Moonprince (you) or conquering Xajorkith which was the capital citadel of the Free lands. Preventing either of these occurences was sometimes easier said than done.
Never before had there been real life characters in a game who reacted to the current situation and environment. The open ended nature of the game and amount of characters made The Lords of Midnight a unique title that really opened up the adventure and role playing genre of gaming in the mid-eighties.
Thoroughly absorbing, thoroughly brilliant - Lords had the ability to make you lose track of time as you played well into the night, amassing your armies, planing your strategy, marshalling your defences and exploring the mystical land of Midnight.
As we have already stated, when The Lords of Midnight was released it was a true landmark in ZX Spectrum gaming (and adventure gaming). Everything about the game had an air of class; the cassette and booklet, the back story, the unique graphical style (the landscaping technique was an amazing way to render the land of Midnight) and the varying characters made Mike Singleton's game almost perfect in every detail. Crash magazine awared it with 'Crash Smash' status, and the game built up a steady following over the next few months. Fans would post different methods and tactics to complete the game - a whole community of Midnighters was built up due to it. The Lords of Midnight really was an instant classic game. The then high price of £9.95 was justified due to the depth of the game, polished presentation and glossy booklet that accompanied the cassette.
The test of time:
Here in the land of Spectrum games we cannot praise this game highly enough. It was an absorbing experience back when it was released, and is still a good game to play today. The atmoshphere is still there and the game can draw you in. Once you are in - you won't want to come back out until Doomdark (or yourself) have been defeated. The Lords of Midnight was a truly stunning game and a landmark acheivment on the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.
Brush up on a bit of Tolkein or C.S Lewis and load this one up. Oh and don't forget the pot of coffee to see you through the night.
We recommend getting hold of the real hardware but if not then download a ZX Spectrum emulator and download The Lords of Midnight for the ZX Spectrum. Alternatively you could try and play it online.
GENRE: Strategy Game / Adventure game
RELEASE DATE: Late summer of 1984
RELEASED BY: Beyond Software
DEVELOPER(S): Mike Singleton
PRICE: £9.95 - UK
Rothron the Wise looks towards the Forest of Shadows in Lords of Midnight:
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