(The fifth in the Alaric Blackmoon series. I played and loved the first three. This one is not nearly as well designed: The Lost Children - Details (ifdb.org))
Duke Alaric dukes it out with the trolls.
It had been a long time since I ventured into Hecate, the land of Alaric Blackmoon. I was immediately drawn back in. I love the high-on-questing/low-on-magic setting. Alaric is a down-to-earth veteran who got appointed Duke for saving Hecate in the first game, Axe of Kolt . Since then he has been roaming the lands to help his people where he can.
In The Lost Children the children of Hecate are being kidnapped by the trolls, who are normally friendly commercial partners. Might there be some magical coercion behind their changed behavior?
The story of The Lost Children is standard but great fun. Alaric goes on a straightforward, unironic quest to save the missing children, solving problems and puzzles on his way. The first area, west of the Fireheart Mountains, involves two fetch-quests. One is particularly weird/hilarious. The mother of one of the missing children has information Alaric needs, but she demands that he fix her leaking roof first. The fact that she’s an Elf who knows through a psychic connection that her son is alive and well might help explain her warped priorities, but still…
The puzzles here range from the very simple find-object-use-object kind to more elaborate obstacles where our hero must obtain the right information first and go through a multi-step plan to get what he needs.
It is during one of these fetch-quests that the player encounters a magnificent puzzle where they have to take stock of their inventory, the geography of multiple locations and make a mental leap that would come natural for a playing child. The moment it clicks is fantastic. (Skipping to the cave across the cove.)
The area east of the mountains offers a whole other set of obstacles. Here Alaric comes face to face with the trolls and must find ways to deceive, kill or in some other way go around them. There is certainly some learn-by-dying involved in the endgame, where the player has to figure out which steps to take and then restore and execute those steps in as few moves as possible, or else be caught by trolls or pulverized by wizard-fire. In a game as proudly oldschool as this one, I had not one bit of a problem with that.
The problems with The Lost Children mostly lie in a lack of gatekeeping between the two areas. It is exceedingly easy to move through the tunnels under the Fireheart Mountains to the valley of the trolls from which there is no return, and only then notice that you lack a necessary object to kill the ogre.
Indeed, there are many, many ways to get the game into walking-dead terrain. Too many. That’s a shame, because the good oldschool features (I learned to like a well-thought-through try-die-repeat puzzle) of the game threaten to be buried under the frustration that comes with too many restores and lack of clues and guidance.
I enjoyed playing through this game with a massive amount of hints and explicit help. Without that, I would recommend playing another Alaric Blackmoon-game like Die Feuerfaust instead.