Ah, ADRIFT. I don’t think I’ve played an ADRIFT game in maybe a decade? Stone of Wisdom has influences that stretch even further back (like maybe three times that?).
The preamble includes some well-worn fantasy game tropes: after the queen gives you a final quest to earn your freedom, you visit a wizard and are handed some adventuring items and told about each of them. This all takes place before the game starts, and I found it slightly odd reading in narrative prose all this stuff that I’d normally expect would happen in-game, in dialogue boxes and status screens as you walked around a castle and spoke to NPCs. Not a complaint, and it’s a good decision overall; skip the fluff, start the player right at the cave entrance, armed already with the requisite sword and lamp and Quest for a Thing. The game also tells me it takes exactly nine hours to get from castle to cave, instead of using “soon/later/at midday/time passes…”, and I think I just like taking note of when small things like these are tweaked slightly enough from convention that I notice.
Anyways, I don’t know if it’s the ADRIFT engine that’s improved, or this game in particular that does a lot of work, but my memory of playing ADRIFT games was that they generally felt under-implemented and didn’t respond to some commands as expected the way many of the other engines did, but this game doesn’t have those problems. Other than, annoyingly, SE and S always auto-completing to SEARCH (ADRIFT has auto-complete). But it does have an in-game map, which was very helpful.
Everything’s well implemented here. It’s clear what I’m supposed to be doing. The map’s laid out nicely. Puzzle’s aren’t difficult. The world-building/setting doesn’t feel very cohesive or deep, sort of ornamental-feeling, but the individual locations and descriptions are filled out decently well.
For example, the two villages, the dwarves and creatures, are located nearby each other. Outside of the thief/captor, are these races antagonistic,are they ignoring each other, are they friendly? What are they all doing inside a forest inside a hole underneath a mine? You’re not told. Everyone you meet comes across as a bit artificial, as NPCs rooted in place waiting to do their parts in your quest. And other games do this too, but here it’s two distinct villages with dissimilar fantasy races, and I think that raised more questions for me than usual; I expected conflict, or some sort of relationship. You’re walking around where they live after all, so it felt like I’d learn some things about them. But gameplay wise, all these NPCs do a good job letting you know what they all do, they’re spread out well in the area, and they’re all distinctive enough to be easy to track as you progress, so just as parts of a quest, they function well, and they’re stock enough that you can fill in gaps (do the village dwarves do anything? No, but you can imagine what they might be doing, running around with say hammers in hand).
No attempts to just replicate the standard turn-based RPG combat either which was appreciated, because I don’t think I’ve tried any interactive fiction yet that’s convinced me there’s a way to do that super well in text-only.
So: if a fairly brisk, old school fantasy adventure that sticks entirely to script is your thing, then this one might be up your alley.