Review by Enigma
We adventure gamers tend to be loyal to our genre. We're peaceful
souls, opposed to killing anything. I was among those gentle folks
until I stumbled onto Nethergate, a fun, funny and exciting
"retro-RPG" from the little shareware company, Spiderweb
Software. It converted me. C'mon adventurers! RPGs are our sister
game category. They're not shooters. If you think you can't or
don't want to try a simple one, let me try to convince you otherwise.
But hey, why should peaceful adventurers want to go around just
killing monsters? Well, it's true that there's abundant combat
in Nethergate and lots of it is pretty exciting, but that's
far from the only thing you'll be doing in the game. You'll be
exploring all over a mysterious valley, meeting weird characters,
venturing into spooky dungeons, finding hidden treasures, walking
through walls into secret chambers that hide lots of tempting
goodies, and figuring out how to complete dozens of quests.
Add a sprinkle of wry humor to that mix, and you've got a recipe
for one fun game. Nethergate was made by Jeff Vogel, the
Grumpy Gamer columnist at Computer
Games Magazine. It turns out to be a wonderful
way for adventure gamers to learn how to play RPGs and, perhaps,
overcome those annoying peaceful instincts.
What a Bargain, and Historical (Sort of) Too!
Set in ancient Britain in about 60 A.D., Nethergate is
two games in one. You can play as either the Celts or the Romans,
doing battle with the mysterious forces of Shadowvale. If you
spend some time with either or both factions, you're going to
have some fun. I played Nethergate several years ago and
went on to play most of Spiderweb's other games. Now I'm just
flat-out hooked on Jeff Vogel's games and cannot wait for him
to finish the next one.
Spiderweb operates as a shareware company. You can download the
game and play the first quarter of it for free-and that's a lotta
game. Vogel has an intelligent concept there. You try it for no
risk, then you get addicted and have to register the game in order
to finish. By all reports, he's making money.
Despite its magical premise, you'll find lots of historical references
in Nethergate, although Vogel misinterpreted the birth
and death statistics. Yes, lots of people died young back in 60
A.D., but they weren't elderly in their thirties. Barring that
rather amusing mistake, you'll find plenty of interesting historical
references in the game, although most of it is just a fun fantasy
There's Something Strange About Shadowvale
Shadowvale is a grassy, wooded valley somewhere in ancient Britain,
and it's inhabited by a large assortment of magical creatures.
You'll meet elegant fairies and mischievous sprites, crafty witches,
brutish goblins and Formorians, dangerous rats and lizards, wise
dragons, hostile ghosts and a variety of giant spiders. Most of
these things will try to kill you at one time or another. These
magical beings are trying to escape the world and its increasing
dominance by humans. If you play the Celts, your main goal will
be to help them. If you're the Romans, your main goal will be
to stop the Celts. Throughout the game, playing as either party,
you'll find references to the other group until you finally meet
at the end. Both groups use the same territory and have similar
quests but very different goals. This really is two games in one,
and each episode will keep you busy for weeks.
You move toward the final goal through a series of ever more
difficult quests that usually involve finding special objects.
These objects tend to be well hidden and defended in various towns
and lairs full of enemies that you'll have to trick, avoid, or
There are those of us adventurers who just don't have the hand-eye
coordination to do the kind of combat action games demand. That's
not a problem in Nethergate. It's turn-based combat. You
have all the time you want to plot your moves before the monsters
get their turn to slaughter you.
When I first played Nethergate, I found it to be quite
difficult but extremely exciting. I started with the Celts and
found myself with a four-person party of two fighters and two
druids. If I'd wanted to I could have changed these characters,
renamed them, altered their strengths and weaknesses, and even
chosen different graphics for them. As a rank amateur in RPGs,
I decided to let the game give me a nicely balanced group, so
I stuck with the originals.
After exploring my starting village in good adventure style,
talking to folks and finding stuff, off I went on my first quest.
Along the way I was attacked by a party of goblins who were also
wandering about. My peaceful instincts made me want to avoid the
fight, but because the goblins seemed quite determined to kill
me, I struck my first blow.
All right, so you're going to fight! How do you do it? Your fighters
hit with swords, or they stick 'em with spears, or smash 'em over
the head with clubs. All you have to do is walk into the enemy
and your guy will hit or miss, however the computer rolls the
dice for you. Your physically weaker druids fight by throwing
a "lance of fire," or "darts of ice," or lots
of other spells, as they stand back behind the fray.
As you kill more monsters you earn points, which you can spend
to increase your skills and strength. By the end of the game you'll
be pretty strong, but you'll also be coming up against more and
more difficult foes.
That's a lot of options, allowing each player to develop an individual
style. You can get yourself into some tight spots, though. When
I made the mistake of entering the goblins' temple and found myself
mobbed by goblins, and I was running out of spell energy and my
fighters were losing health, and I'd saved my game in the wrong
place, I found myself in a heart-pounding dilemma. How could I
get out of this? Well, I managed to do it, and in the process
I developed bloodlust. I felt like Arlo Guthrie during his Army
physical in the movie of Alice's Restaurant.
Now, as I replay the game, I'm finding the combat far too easy.
Having subsequently played Spiderweb's major series, the Avernum
games, I've really learned how to do the fighting. However,
that's not the only feature, by far, in Nethergate. All
over the place you'll find interesting objects and treasures you
can use or sell, to get money to buy even more spells, food, and
other useful stuff. Actually, there are many times more stuff
than you'll ever actually use, but it sure feels good to grab
I found that my major goal in the game, along with completing
every quest I could find, was finding every spell available. As
I replayed it, I found stuff I didn't find the first time, such
as "Sylak's nourishing bowl," which comes in handy when
you're venturing through the underworld and can't eat anything
there. If you find "Sylak's talking skull" you'll get
even more useful clues and game playing tips, along with a sort
of Borsht Belt style of humor.
Little Tiny People
Nethergate is a "retro-RPG" because it focuses
on lengthy, exciting and amusing gameplay, not on graphics. Your
little characters are small indeed, and they patter around in
a large world. You view everything from above, and you read all
the dialogue and all the story developments. In fact, Sylak's
talking skull is the only thing in the game that audibly speaks.
You'll hear lots of ambient sounds, such as yells from your characters
when you cast a "battle rage" spell on them, and clangs
of swords, and short sound effects when you cast spells or earn
The marvelous opening music deserves a mention here, too. I sometimes
load the game just to hear that theme.
There's a nice map feature, although it's hard to position the
map so that it doesn't cover up other things you need to see.
With my favorite spell, "piercing sight," you'll be
able to find lots of secret passages and chambers that lead to
unexpected discoveries. You can find these areas just by walking
into solid walls, but you won't miss them if you use piercing
sight with the map frequently.
While the graphics are irredeemably primitive, most of the time
they're quite enough to enhance the gameplay. That said, it's
sometimes difficult to see some characters, especially the yellow
goblins, when they're positioned over a similar-colored background.
Along with all the combat and suspenseful exploration, you'll
have lots of encounters with Jeff Vogel's humor. From childlike,
friendly giant spiders to excitable sprites to huge, bestial Formorians
who've converted to nonviolence, Nethergate's characters
had me chuckling throughout the game. Vogel's descriptions of
various items and characters also contain lots of humor, one of
the most attractive aspects of his games.
Just occasionally, if I let the game sit for too long some of
the sprites would blur, although the game remained playable. Quitting
and reloading solved the problem every time. Other than that,
except for giant spiders, I encountered no bugs at all in Nethergate
as I played the Mac version.
Nethergate offers a fun and exciting entry into the world
of RPGs for novices to the genre. It incorporates many elements
of pure adventures: plenty of thoughtful play, including a few
puzzles and riddles, abundant exploration and quirky humor, all
sprung from Jeff Vogel's bubbling imagination. True, the game
will be easy for veteran RPGers, but the exploration, suspense,
interesting storyline, length of play and humor more than make
up for that limitation. Novices probably won't think it's at all
Nethergate is just a whole lot of fun. Go ahead, download
the free demo and give it a try! Be careful, though. You may develop
Okay, enough of writing reviews. I've finished the CeltsI've
gotta get back to the Romans!
Release Date: 1998
Four Fat Chicks Links
8 MB free RAM
8 MB free RAM
Where to Find It