Wizard Books, £4.99, ISBN 1-8046-436-4
Fantasy, 2003 (Reissue)
Armies of Death is a sequel to Trial of Champions, although author Ian Livingstone has retconned things a little, so instead of now marshaling an army to conquer the lands, you, the hero, now marshal an army to defeat the armies of the evil Shadow Demon named Agglax. That’s pretty much the plot. You start out with an army, you have to expand the number in your rank, and discover the super secret special way to defeat Agglax.
Despite being given a few different paths now and then, this story is very linear. Like most of Ian Livingstone’s gamebooks, this one is very superficial, with no background provided for anything. Agglax is just evil, bent on world domination because that’s what all evil guys want to do, apparently. Monsters show up in random context, combat encounters happen without rhyme or reason, and you find potentially useful items in places or on people in such a random manner rarely related to the situation where these items come in handy.
Most importantly, you will need some items to triumph, and the items are actually very easily found. The problem here is that you are not given any clue as to the importance of these items when you stumble upon them. It’s like walking through a room littered with junk, with you picking up stuff at random, only to be told after a few hours later that you have failed because you forgot to pick up a particular item that you didn’t bother with.
There is a unique battle system here, called skirmish, where your army can duke it out with groups of enemies. It’s a disappointingly unimaginative system though. Soldiers die in fixed groups of five (if you lose one round, five of your soldiers die – same with the enemies) so this is pretty much the standard Fighting Fantasy combat system, only instead of losing two stamina points, you lose five soldiers each time you lose a combat round. Oh, and if all your soldiers are decimated, you automatically lose. It is dangerously easy to lose your soldiers even when your army is equal in strength to theirs, and you cannot sustain much losses throughout the story if you wish to win at the end of the day. It’s all mostly due to luck more than anything, winning a skirmish.
Armies of Death is a disappointingly dull and unimaginative story especially when compared to the other titles published around its time. Those titles can boast detailed world-building and complex story lines, but it seems like Mr Livingstone is still stuck in some kind of limbo.
Oh, and how on earth did spandex end up in the world of Titan?