Gollancz, $26.95, ISBN 978-0-575-09558-8
The Eye of Winter’s Fury, the third entry in the gamebook series DestinyQuest, continues to build on a lore that is slowly taking form after the adventures in The Legion of Shadow and The Heart of Fire. It’s not possible to go into more detail without going into big spoilers, but if you bother to pay attention and keep notes of the story in the previous two gamebooks, you may make a few connections here and there while reading the synopsis of this particular gamebook.
In this one, you are Arran, the second heir to the throne of Valeron. Your elder brother is MIA, and right now, your kingdom is besieged by the Wiccans, who clearly want to show you who the real boss of the land is. You are, unfortunately, not the sort to pick up a sword and stomp all in your way. In fact, you are more into studying and sulking, and you end up running with your tail between your legs in the opening act. You can’t run for long, however, and soon it’s up to you to stumble upon a ragtag group of companions and make your way to save the kingdom. Maybe there’s a hero in you yet…
At its core, The Eye of Winter’s Fury still uses the same DestinyQuest model with some enhancements added in terms of skills. For example, you can now perform Death Moves that can wipe out remaining mooks after you’ve taken out the big one in one or two rolls of the dice. At the end of the day, it is still about looting, min-maxing, and killing things with some puzzle-solving tossed in to break the monotony. The whole campaign still resembles a fantasy RPG video game put on paper. There is very little customizing option here though because everything – from sex, name, personality, and even the lines that come out of your character’s mouth – is predetermined for you. You can only decide what to do or where to go – not exactly what you’d call a role-playing game, surely. This is an RPG the same way Diablo games are RPG – they are called RPG because they are marketed as such, when they are actually closer to hack-and-slash beat ’em up in spirit. Therefore, apart from rolling dice and picking options, there isn’t much here in terms of role-playing immersion.
And yet, the story here is a pretty intriguing one. Put together with the story of the previous gamebooks, there is some fascinating tale building up here. It’s a shame that you’d have to wade through monotonous hack-kill-loot moments to get to the exposition entries. This is one story that would have worked far better as a fantasy novel. The mechanics and structure of the DestinyQuest gamebooks work against the story Mr Ward is trying to tell. The setting is pretty solid, too, adding to wasted potential of this gamebook.
As of now, Michael J Ward still hasn’t given a convincing reason as to why one should play this gamebook when it’s far more convenient and entertaining to play a video game that offers the same things, only in a bigger scope and without the annoyances of dice rolling and number crunching. He has given plenty of good reasons why DestinyQuest would have been better off as a fantasy novel series, but I don’t think that’s what he’s aiming for here. That’s quite the shame, alas.