A lengthy parser game, written in ADRIFT, Anno 1700 advertises itself as ‘longer than 2 hours’. It’s right. I play for 2 hours, but don’t reach an ending. I quickly turn to the walkthrough. This game is big. And very difficult. Often, I feel, somewhat unfairly.
We play as a student on a years sabbatical working in an old hotel on the Gulf of Mexico. We are a history major, and the area has been linked with pirate activity since the 1700’s.
I would argue that this game makes a rather important mis-step. There are a set of hard and (I felt) somewhat unfair puzzles to actually find the narrative. The real story of the game doesn’t really kick off until after the player has found the secrets in their room. I only found them with the aid of the walkthrough, because the game makes no effort to help the player over these first hurdles.
This is very definitely a thing in the world of the parser. The game needs to engage the player from the start. Were I just a general player, I might have wandered around aimlessly for a while, then given up. Had I not had the walkthrough to hand, I would never have seen 90% of this game.
The game really needs to direct the player through these first set of puzzles to get them into the game. In order to be at least a little bit useful, here’s what I found, with my interactions :
Right at the start, the very first room, we have a crooked tree. Right. x tree. You see a hole. x hole. “It’s a natural hole, formed as the tree grew over the years. It looks like a squirrel has moved in.” Cool. But then, it turns out, from the walkthrough, you have to ‘get nuts’? Huh? What nuts? Others might find this a fair puzzle. I did not. Without the walkthrough, I would have never, ever found the skeleton key. Just a “the hole is full of nuts.” would have been sufficient. In addition, ‘acorn’ is not recognized. The squirrel is not carrying a nut, it’s carrying an acorn. I tried “reach into hole” “feel inside hole” “put hand in hole”.
When I meet a young woman, I try and talk to her about stuff. She doesn’t understand anything I say. I go to the walkthrough. I have to explicitly say hello. What can’t I ask her about the key? My job? Me? Her? She doesn’t do anything. The problem is, she’s asked me something “What can I do for you?” – I’m trying to respond to her question for quite a while. It never occurs to me to say hello. This is a case where a little bit of help text for the player wouldn’t hurt – just to get us into the mechanics. Other games do this – embedded in the text “When you meet new people, why not try saying ‘hello ‘ to them.” sort of thing.
I’ve examined the closet, but I really can’t find anything to do with it. There’s a hole. When I review the walkthrough, it turns out I need to ‘look in closet’ to see the thing I was supposed to see. That’s just annoying. Without the walkthrough, because examine had uncovered the hole, I would have never realized that ‘look in’ would be a different action and thus would never have done it.
I examined the candle holder. I thought it was scenery. I would have never thought to try and take it because the text doesn’t cue me. Just a simple “The candle holder feels loose.” would have cued me. Or even, as this is the beginning of the game : “The candle holder comes away from the wall into your hand.” when you examine it.
Once I find the secret passage, I become engaged with the game. However, I have turned to the walkthrough at this point. The remainder of the puzzles I engage with seem to have similar issues. But I will stop there. I think this needs a couple more rounds of testing from a really experienced Beta tester.
There is obviously a lot of work gone into this game. But it does need another set of eyes on it – the puzzles need to be fairer and more cued – I wish the people I meet had more life to them. I wish I had gotten further into the game. I would definitely play again if these issues were resolved and the game was re-released. 5/10.