Strategic Simulations Incorporated (SSI) followed up its excellent Pool of Radiance game with a sequel called Curse of the Azure Bonds, and indeed there was much to enjoy with this Dungeons and Dragons game. It continues the use of the Gold Box engine, being turn-based with first person exploration and a top-down look during tactical combat. It also improves on the formula, with sharper graphics and font, some interface tweaks for the better, and allowing for additional character classes such as the paladin. You can transfer your old characters from Pool of Radiance or create a new character advanced in levels as this is a game with more challenging enemies than its predecessor and first level characters would not survive the initial dungeon. Characters can advance to 12th level in Curse of the Azure Bonds and sling fifth level spells. For those not familiar with Dungeons and Dragons, it basically means that your characters will go from slinging damaging area of effect spells and moderate healing spells at the start of the game, to being able to freeze groups of giant monsters and bringing dead companions back to life by the end of the game. Finally, unlike the previous game where you were based out of one city, Curse of the Azure Bonds will have your characters travelling abroad to different regions and meeting different people with competing goals.
So with all these positive changes you would think that I find Curse of the Azure Bonds to be the better game, but that assumption would be quite wrong. The first thing that Curse of the Azure Bonds does wrong is the handling of random encounters. For the most part, if you killed enough monsters in a dungeon area in Pool of Radiance random encounters would cease. In Curse of the Azure Bonds most areas have random encounters that will continue to waylay your party, making exploration less desirable and more tedious. Second, imported characters start with all their equipment stolen, a trope I could never stand in a game series. Also, the plot of Curse of the Azure Bonds is not as grounded as its predecessor and makes little sense. Your characters are ambushed and subdued prior to the game starting, then branded with five blue magical brands on their forearms. Five different factions now control the party and attempt to use them as an assassination team. These five factions are completely incompetent, failing in their plots the entire time and allowing the party to get far enough away that the heroes are able to work on removing each of the brands that bond them. Also, the villains have no shortage of minions equal in level to the characters at the start of the game and with the same kind of magical power available, making me wonder why they didn’t kill the party once they captured them and send out their more reliable and loyal minions to do the assassinating.
That plot annoyance aside, the other thing the player will notice is that they’ll fight the same kind of humanoid enemies throughout the game, and a high number of enemy clerics and magic-users. This causes a commonality where victory in battle results in which side gets a suppressive fireball or hold person spell off before the other guy. Tactically speaking, your melee characters are less important than they were before, though you still need them to block the enemy from interrupting your casters.
Ok, so I’ve made my point about why I like this game a little less than Pool of Radiance, but despite my criticism it is still an excellent game and well worth playing. The graphical upgrades and interface tweaks are most welcome, as is the fact that you can now have a paladin or a ranger. I definitely recommend that you take time to play Curse of the Azure Bonds, even if you never tried a Gold Box game before.
Part of the Dungeons & Dragons games Series
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