Red Fox, £4.99, ISBN 0-09-935900-6
Fire on the Water is the second gamebook in the Lone Wolf series, and as such, contains spoilers for the first gamebook. Not that being spoiled will make this one any less enjoyable, if you ask me, since the previous gamebook did not have exactly a strong story line.
Anyway, when this stage of the campaign begins, you, as Lone Wolf the last of the Kai, have succeeded in making your way to King Ulnar in the capital city of Holmgard to inform him that all the Kai except you had been wiped out by the forces of Darklord Zagarna. The same evil forces are now hell bent to take over the rest of your country of Sommerlund. What does your king plan to do now?
Well, you will love this one. A long time ago, to cement an alliance with the neighboring country of Durenor, Sommerlund sends over a magical sword called the Sommerswerd (yes, it’s “swerd”, not “sword”) as a token of goodwill. The Sommerswerd is now kept in a showcase room in Hammerdall, the capital city. And get this: the Sommerswerd is the only thing that can destroy a Darklord. Your country had exchanged the only weapon it has against its marauding neighbors for a lousy seal. Why oh why would the stupid King give away this sword as if it’s a diplomatic coin, only Ishir will know. At any rate, guess who will have to travel all the way to Hammerdall to retrieve the Sommerswerd. Of course, it’s not going to be a peaceful trip. The forces of Darklord Zagarna and Vonotar the Traitor are looking for you as well as the Sommerswerd. This is going to be fun.
This gamebook introduces the Sommerswerd, a pretty good weapon that confers an impressive additional eight points to your Combat Skill with additional bonuses against undead and evil opponents. Since you can carry over Special Items to future gamebooks in this series, obtaining the Sommerswerd is a good reason alone to play this one. However, I have better warn you: the Sommerswerd can be a curse as well as a blessing. Due to the additional bonuses conferred by this sword, the opponents you face when you use it get a boost in the stats to compensate for the bonuses. Not only that, sometimes there are other ways to get around a tough combat encounter without lifting a finger, and having the Sommerswerd actually closes off those options from you. At the end of the day, common wisdom suggests that you shouldn’t rely on the Sommerswerd all the time – I won’t even recommend bringing it with you in the later gamebooks in the series unless you are certain you will be facing a Darklord. All this has nothing to do with Fire on the Water, but I may as well mention all this here since it is related to the Sommerswerd!
Fire on the Water, like most gamebooks in this series, is a very linear one, but that doesn’t mean it is boring. From the thrilling chase through the mountain tunnel of Tarnalin to the whodunnit mystery at an inn (most people won’t care for the actual killer and just aim for the poor merchant though, heh, because he carries the most Gold Crowns with him!) to the naval showdown between you and a fleet of zombie-crewed ships, this gamebook is one big blast of a brawl from the start right up to the unexpectedly simple but thrilling conclusion.
Combat encounters range from easy to hard (predictably, it gets tougher as you go along), but the toughest thing here isn’t the combat encounters as much as the choices you have to make. The introduction of the Helghast, a shape-changing fiend that can only be killed by magical weapons, complicates much of the adventure – you can’t just hack your way through everything anymore! This author actually punishes you for being honorable at the expense of your own survivability, a rare incident indeed when most gamebooks would insist that you behave in a stupid good manner. If you have played this one, you will know which moment I am talking about, heh. You can be honorable at that moment, but you will need a specific Kai skill then to survive your action. Then again, that skill is a useful one considering the environment you will be getting into, so you should already have the skill in the first place, if you ask me.
Fire on the Water is much better than the previous gamebook, and not only that, it kicks start the party with a bang.