Macmillan, £5.99, ISBN 0-330-34173-1
The Plains of Howling Darkness is the fourth book in an ambitious gamebook series called Fabled Lands, although you can play the gamebooks in this series in any order. Designed to be similar in many ways to an MMORPG game, you will “live” out your adventures in a world of fantasy and magic. Instead of an overlying mission arc, you will, like ordinary folks too, take up mini-quests, get a job, buy a house, and even obtain a ship to sail off to faraway lands and trade. Basically, you can do a lot of mundane things here except making whoopee and doing other naughty things not sanctioned in a PG-rated gamebook. Therefore, you can easily start off in this gamebook and make your way back or forth to other gamebooks in this series. Things are flexible like that in Fabled Lands.
In The Plains of Howling Darkness, you wander around the snow-covered Great Steppes and surrounding areas, including a city founded by exiled samurais from distant Akatsurai. There are plenty of opportunities to get involved with skirmishes between the samurais of Yarimura and the nomad tribes of the Steppes as well in the many skirmishes among the nomad tribes. You can also visit the Isle of Mystery, check out the mysterious Ruby Citadel, and even scale the Peaks at the Edge of the World or enter a gateway into the Underworld. Some quests are class-specific and even specific to which deity your character worships, so there is some replay value when you come back to this place in the future as a different character.
As an open-ended gamebook, there are also many options that will take you to other gamebooks in this series, so having them by your side is always a good idea. Like everything else about Fabled Lands, this one will be fun if you don’t mind the constant note-taking and the lack of overlying plot line. You are, after all, living out a campaign here and you are pretty much playing a written version of an MMORPG game. There is probably nothing much here to wow someone who prefers the effervescence afforded by World of Warcraft, but gamebook enthusiasts may find ample novelty value in this experiment to savor.