Spirit of Excalibur
|Spirit of Excalibur|
|Publisher(s)||Virgin Mastertronic, Inc.|
|Distribution||3½-inch floppy disk|
As the title suggests, the game is based on Arthurian legend. Both fictional and historical sources are used to recreate the atmosphere of the age of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and to draw out characters' names, history and relationships. The game's sources include medieval works such as Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, modern ones such as Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon, and a number of historical treatises on Arthur of the late 1980s. Spirit of Excalibur is a role-playing game in which the player is in control of a host of characters, rather than a single one, and as such he has to explore with them Arthurian England in an attempt to solve quests the game is made of and reach the final goal of uniting Britain under a single king.
The game was followed by a sequel, Vengeance of Excalibur, in 1991.
The game is set in the year 539, shortly after the Battle of Camlann at which King Arthur has been mortally wounded by the traitorous Mordred. Britain urgently needs a new king who can reunite its scattered realms and bring the Round Table back to its former glory. Arthur left a successor in the person of Lord Constantine the Crown Regent.
During the game the player first leads Constantine to Camelot where he can claim Arthur's throne, then gathers forces to defeat both the Saxon invaders and the sons of Mordred who seek to usurp the throne just as their father did. As the game progresses, enchanted beings threaten Constantine's kingdom and the player must find the magical means to stop these menaces as well, up to the final confrontation with Arthur's half-sister Morgan le Fay. The game is won if the player can successfully keep Constantine alive past the last episode and unite all the fragmented kingdoms of Britain, as Morgan is sent to hell and all her evil magics are undone.
While most of the elements and characters of the Arthurian legend the game refers to are derived from fictional or classical sources on the subject, the game contains a number of historical inconsistencies: the knights wear armor reminiscent of the medieval period rather than that of the 6th century. Cities and regions are named after modern English locations, some of which did not exist in Arthurian Britain (e.g. Arundel Castle appears as the fortress of the lord of Sussex, but the castle was not built in the form depicted in the game until Norman conquest in 1066).
The geographical setting for Spirit of Excalibur is a depiction of actual southern England with its cities, castles, villages, churches and other locations scattered throughout the land. The player starts by controlling a single character, Lord Constantine, but as the game proceeds he will be able to control many other knights and the armies they lead, not to mention Arthur's best friend and magician Merlin. All action takes place at two different levels: a so-called "map level" and a "scene level".
As its name implies, the "map level" shows a multi-screen overview map of Britain, which the player can explore by scrolling. The computer- and player-controlled characters move across the map from place to place and are usually marked by a shield icon with the knight or character's own insignia. To solve the puzzles and mysteries which allow him to proceed through the game, the player must visit key locations and interact with various characters, sometimes enlisting their help and sometimes fighting them. These types of action take place at the "scene level". When two different groups meet, the player is shown a scene depicting a side view of all characters present at that location. Dialogs, individual combat, exchanges of objects, and requests for information all take place at the scene level. During the fights on this level, one of the player controlled characters combats one of the enemies. The fight ends when all the elements of a group are dead or have withdrawn. The player can choose whether to activate an automatic control or fight manually and he can also have any of his characters use an object or a magician cast a spell. Individual combat ensues between characters who are not supported by an army, but upon a meeting between two hostile armies a specific combat screen opens. If the player has control over one of the two sides, he can issue commands to his units, for example ordering a group of soldiers to charge the enemy, some knights to flank the adversary of have one of the Knights of the Round Table use an object.
All characters have specific characteristics listed in a status display: numerical values identify the character health status, his/her magical or combat abilities, the strength of his/her defences and the nobility and faith levels. While combat skill or health level are quite self-explanatory, nobility and faith play a slightly subtle role: these virtues are fundamental to each character, so much that extremely low levels of nobility or faith will have the specific knight turn evil and the player will lose control over such character. The player can lower a knight's nobility value for example by committing inappropriate actions for a noble (e.g. attacking innocent people), but he can also enhance such value by committing good deeds like helping a damsel in distress. Faith values can be altered quite similarly: in presence of supernatural creatures or tools faith can be reduced, but having a character spend some time in a church will make his/her faith stronger.
Spirit of Excalibur consists of five different episodes each with its main quest and a number of lesser ones to solve both to achieve the episode main goal and the game aim of reuniting Britain.
Episode 1 - "The kingmaking"
The starting episode opens with Lord Constantine visiting the ruler of Northumberland in the northernmost part of England and he is urgently required to return to the south to Camelot in order to claim Arthur's throne. Along the way Constantine encounters different people: travellers who bring news, citizens, monks or druids giving him advice. During the trip Constantine also has to tackle some challenges which will help cement some of his alliances with other lords who were loyal to Arthur. Upon reaching Camelot, Constantine is proclaimed king if the player has been able to win the challenges he has been presented with. This episode mostly acts as a tutorial, to teach the player the basics of the game.
Episode 2 - "The return of Lancelot du Lac"
After he has been made king, Constantine has to face a serious crisis: the Saxons are on the verge of threatening London and Mordred's sons, Melehan and Morgolon, have raised a very large army that is slowly but steadily moving from the north down to Camelot. Constantine's armies are not strong enough to face these enemies, so the player must take a number of knights across England in order to find Sir Lancelot. Arthur's champion has gone into hiding and has taken with him a large number of Arthur's men. Only with Lancelot at his side can Constantine marshall the forces required to stop the Saxons and Melehan and Morgolon.
Episode 3 - "The enigmatic giant"
By defeating the Saxons and Mordred's sons, Constantine has reunited part of Britain under his command. However during a meeting of the Knights of the Round Table a mysterious giant appears at the gates of Camelot challenging all the knights to a fight. Everyone who accepts the giant's challenge is slain or has to flee the fight putting his/her honour in danger, since the creature appears invulnerable to common weapons and magic. With the vast majority of his knights bottled in Camelot, Constantine has to rely on the few characters who were already outside the castle to find a weapon powerful enough to defeat the giant. To make things worse, large bands of rogues are attacking villages and Melehan and Morgolon have returned with a new army and are marching against Camelot. If the giant is not defeated in time for the Knights of the Round Table to summon their armies, then the kingdom will be lost.
Episode 4 - "The enchanted knights of the Forest Sauvage"
The destruction of the giant and the death of Melehan and Morgolon has brought peace across Britain for years. But suddenly news reports from various locations of Britain alert Constantine and his knights of a new threat. A band of "Enchanted Knights" led by the "Brown Knight" have taken residence in the Forest Sauvage and are terrorizing the lands. The player has to direct the Knights of the Round Table to find someone powerful enough to break the spell of these "Enchanted Knights" and, at the same time, he will have to keep his eyes open for a new Saxon invasion.
Episode 5 - "Morgan le Fay's revenge"
Thanks to Merlin's timely intervention, the demon behind the dark power of the Brown Knight and his men has been defeated. Apparently all is well across Britain, until new reports of demon sightings reach Camelot. This time Morgan le Fay has unleashed all her power to destroy Constantine and the Round Table. The player needs to find where Morgan is hiding and defeat her while ensuring at the same time that the last independent kingdoms swear fealty to Constantine, so that he can successfully reunite Britain.
Computer Gaming World praised Excalibur's VGA graphics and described it as a "technical wonder", but criticized the documentation and game for not explaining the goal. The game received 4 out of 5 stars in Dragon.
- Threadgill, Todd (May 1991). "Arthur, Arthur!". Computer Gaming World. p. 62. Retrieved 17 November 2013.
- Lesser, Hartley; Lesser, Patricia; Lesser, Kirk (July 1991). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (171): 57–64.