Betrayal in Antara Preview

Sierra attempts to build on their adventure heritage, but this time they're designing without a license

I've had occasion to say some pretty nasty things about Sierra in the least year or two, and just lately I've found some of those words to be rather a high-fiber diet. I coughed a little on Silent Thunder, had to have the Heimlich over Red Baron II, and now Betrayal in Antara might warrant a call to Jenny Craig. Betrayal in Antara offers possibly one of the heaviest, most detailed backplots of any RPG to come on the scene in a long time. Not only that, it's graphically gorgeous; not over-the-top, but full of rich, 3-D modeled worlds (640x480/256), experienced in a first person viewpoint and spanning some thousands of game-scale square miles.

Sequel (and noticeably similar) to the earlier Betrayal at Krondor, Betrayal in Antara tells the rather twisty tale of the ancient Antaran Empire, created in the distant past with the most benevolent of intentions, and since fallen prey to widespread decay and political corruption. Players assume the roles of four speaking characters (of a game total of about 50) caught in a web of political intrigue, secret societies, racial hatred, and (of course) personal discovery. One thing gamers of the non-hard core variety should appreciate is the "novelization" of the game - its division into interconnected chapters of experience, including a really nifty "flashback" bookkeeping feature - which effectively sidesteps the wander-and-yawn frustration sometimes found in role-playing games that have an especially wide focus.

BiA also features a fair number of side quests and sub-plots, which often determine whether the quest gamer feels either empowered or railroaded. While most of the interaction is first person, Antara also features third person, turn-based strategic combat (comprising perhaps the most noticeable "break" in an otherwise admirably seamless game experience, but heck, I guess it had to come somewhere). Players partial to magic will appreciate BiA's skill-based magic system: not only does it allow one to "research" new spells, but takes the rather stunningly obvious, Nietzsche-esque step of allowing the poor wandering rake who's just been trashed by a fireball or Hammer of Incredible Rudeness to learn the basics of the magical attack just used against him - with the allowance that he lived through the experience in the first place. While similar in matters of interface and general plot depth to its predecessor, Betrayal in Antara does not, I repeat not continue the storyline from Betrayal at Krondor, but offers an entirely new one, comparable in depth but years ahead in playability.

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