Sorry this has taken so long to finish: I’ve been very ill.
I’ve now played through much of Knight Orc (1987), largely following a walkthrough for speed, but also having sessions exploring sections separately myself. I ended up mainly playing the Spectrum version. Though I got an Amiga graphics version to work in Gargoyle it didn’t cope well with transitions between game parts. Whereas the Speccy has parts 1, 2 and 3 game files I can play separately in a Speccy emulator. Note you need a copy (digital or print) of the originally included novella and instructions to answer a copy protection question at a key point.
There are 3 main parts to the game, and I’m mainly going to talk about part 1, where you are an orc running around a multi-NPC world. Things change a lot in part 2, but I’m going to avoid major spoilers in my discussion. Part 1 was most interesting for me.
Part 1 is manic! It’s like playing a Multi User Dungeon (MUD) game. I played a lot of these at university in the early 1990s, as well as a little by dialup phone in the 1980s, and the sense of familiarity was uncannily strong. The world is a medieval Arthurian esque one, filled with other adventurer characters, who interact separately from you, can complicate your play, and you can even hear them shouting out to each other in the distance. So MUD like. You are a lowly orc, their target in many ways, though you can partly disguise yourself. Their goal is to get shiny gold treasure. Yours is different.
You can even be killed in the game, and if that happens you are resurrected in a mystical area, then returned to the game. Even this is like playing a MUD. That’s how MUDs cope with player death. And like them the objects you were carrying are left where you died. It’s just MUD all over.
A really nice thing about the game is it has lots of player shortcuts. You can type FIND LOCATION to find somewhere you know about but haven’t been to yet. Or GO TO LOCATION to go somewhere. Or to get there fast (there are times where this is handy) RUN TO LOCATION. You can even FOLLOW CHARACTER e.g. FOLLOW GOAT, if that’s useful (it is occasionally). All this means you don’t have to draw a map as you play. And if anything it adds to the sheer hectic and manic nature of the game.
The puzzles are minimal in this opening part. You end up having to gather a large number of certain kind of item. And there are a few challenges along the way, as well as just finding things. However the puzzles are clever, and amusing, and wittily written.
After a certain point the game play shifts, and it starts to become clearer why the game is designed to work in the way it does. I am not going to go into detailed spoilers here. The later parts also have vastly trickier puzzles, extra complicated by the emergent gameplay from the other NPCs. Everything is ramped up to a whole new level of manicness, and the potential of NPCs to mess plans up grows vastly. Even with a walkthrough you are typically unable to do things as expected. Nor can you necessarily repeat the same moves in a later game. Fortunately if your character dies they can come back to life and try again. But it’s still fraught. And you absolutely need the parser’s extra commands to follow other characters, and get around very fast.
I got about 2/3 through but was struggling with the unpredictable nature of the game, and a walkthrough that didn’t quite match the Spectrum version I was playing. I could have persevered, but it stopped being a lot of fun. And my time and energy are limited.
So in a nutshell, a very interesting game, but extremely hard in places, and phenomenally unpredictable. If you think Melbourne House’s The Hobbit has wacky NPCs that can mess things up that game has nothing on this one. If you’re the type of player that gets exasperated replaying the same stuff over and over again yet things going wrong then this probably isn’t the game for you. But if you like the idea of an old style game full of wacky ideas and bonkers NPC interactions give it a go. Oh and if like me you’ve ever played MUDs this is a must check out.