Swords and Sorcery - Underworld Gold is the debut effort from OlderBytes, which means it's largely the work of a single programmer / writer named Charles Clerc. Clerc is apparently a fan of old school RPGs like Eye of the Beholder and the SSI Gold Box games, because Underworld Gold goes out of its way to emulate them. The question is, though, does it merely evoke fond memories of earlier games, or does it manage to generate any of its own? Keep reading to find out.
In Underworld Gold, you create a party of six adventurers. Conveniently, there are six classes available -- Archer, Knight, Paladin, Priest, Rogue, and Sorcerer -- and selecting one of each gives you a balanced attack. Each character is defined by a series of attributes, including Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence, and the attributes -- as well as the classes -- do about what you'd expect, making it easy to jump into the game and start playing.
When creating your characters, you have to roll their attributes, but you're allowed as many tries as you want until you get something you're happy with. Then, interestingly, each time your characters gain a level (which requires them to visit a trainer and pay a fee), they earn a random bonus to all of their attributes. The potential problem with this is that it makes the game more difficult to balance, because the game has to remain playable for characters with good rolls and bad, but Underworld Gold manages to stay challenging throughout. I did some saving and loading to guarantee good rolls in a few places, but even so the final sequence in the game was tough and required some thought.
Underworld Gold is played on a series of 15x15 maps. Three of the maps are towns, where you can go shopping and pick up quests, and the others are underground dungeons where you fight a variety of monsters, including mummies, goblins, and dragons. Everything in the game is turn-based, so when you explore you move from one grid square to another, and when you fight you have to wait until one of your characters has a turn.
Combat is fairly frequent in the game because enemies spawn regularly. When a fight breaks out, the combatants are ordered according to their Speed attribute, and then on each turn they're allowed to cast a spell (there are 40 spells in total), make an attack (including melee or ranged), or use an item (such as "magic spices" to heal a companion). Characters can also advance closer to the fight to put themselves into melee range, or drop back to move out of harm's way. The leader of your party can also move up the entire party or drop it back, and so you're given a lot of options on your turns.
Unfortunately, at least for me, I didn't especially like the combat engine. The only defensive stat in the game is Armor, which has a drastic effect on physical attacks but only a minor effect on magical attacks. Worse, physical attacks can sometimes miss (based on the Accuracy attribute) while spells always hit. That means Sorcerers are your damage workhorses, while the other classes sometimes can't do any damage at all and might as well not even be in the fight. This is especially true for the hybrid Paladin class, which can't do enough damage to be an effective Knight or heal enough to be an effective Priest. For the other classes, they get some skills to even the odds a little (Rogues in particular get the deadly Bleed skill), and they receive dramatically overpowered weapons late in the game. Still, if the game had kept track, I bet my Sorcerer would have accounted for over half of the damage I dealt.
Also unfortunately, a lot of the battles are nearly identical. For example, late in the game you explore some dragon realms, where every battle pits you against a single dragon and several elementals. These battles all proceed in the same way -- cast the Prison spell on the dragon and then whittle away the elementals -- and repeating them over and over again gets a little boring. Underworld Gold isn't really a game where you're going to want to wander around and grind extra experience; just the necessary battles are likely to give you your fill of combat.