Lands of Lore: Guardians of Destiny is a mélange of epic proportions. It combines graphic adventuring with an off-beat attitude a la Return to Zork; first-person, 3D action/fighting a la Realms of the Haunting; and character and story-driven role-playing a la Betrayal at Krondor. It's a jack-of-all-trades and a master of nearly none, but taken as a whole, it is a remarkable achievement and a game that many will savor and struggle with for weeks and weeks.
Westwood left out nothing and thought of everything. Simply listing all its attributes, options, and characteristics would consume more than my allotted space. At best I can only whet your appetite.
The plot is complex and full of magic, demons, oracles, and bizarre characters. You play Luther: a bold, brash, wisecracking young man with a curse. He involuntarily and at random moments shape-shifts into a tiny dinosaur or a large ogre. Your initial quest is to find a cure. That will take you on a fantastical journey to jungles, caves, ancient ruins, snowy mountains, and magical cities. In a first-person, Doom-like, faux-3D environment you'll do a lot of roaming and plenty of standard adventuring by picking up anything not tied down, combining items to form healing potions, and meeting, greeting, or fighting a multiplicity of beings. Your weapons include standard medieval fare plus many magic spells and powers.
True role-playing game elements are scarce. You can adjust Luther's abilities by choosing how you deal with the beings you meet. Defeat weaklings with your brute force and you gain nothing. Take on more powerful beasts using cunning and clever weapon combinations (rub a poison sack on your sword for extra killing strength) and you become more powerful. But hard-core RPG gamers looking for customized protagonist creation or a carefully selected band of trusted compadres will be disappointed. Luther acts alone. What gives LOL II its RPG label is its fanciful (albeit confusing) back story and plethora of colorful characters who prefer chatting to fighting.
Player options are more numerous than any game I've seen. You can customize all your movement, inventory, and fighting controls (more than 50 keyboard commands), adjust graphic and audio levels and styles, set an auto-save timer, leave messages on an auto-mapper, skip conversations, and change difficulty levels.
As an adventure LOL II breaks new ground. There are innumerable optional paths, passageways, and character interactions that can move your quest forward. Many gamers may finish the game without visiting the Draracle's (the Dragon Oracle's) secret museum, the tree dwellings of the wild ones, or the Dark Army's sealed and long forgotten hallways. You can choose to befriend those you meet, slash and thrash your way through the minions, or some iteration between the two. Your actions will affect future encounters.
On the downside, those fighting animations are weak, aiming is mainly automatic, and the interface, with all its options, takes some getting used to. The game is an amazing resource hog. Would you believe a minimum install of 130MB, plus 80MB more for music, one or two MB for each save, and a substantial disk cache file? The graphics run the gamut from chunky, pixelated scenery, to stunningly beautiful, 3D, motion-captured animated cutscenes. Some of the script writing is pedantic, most of the dialogues are overloaded with pregnant pauses, and the acting is occasionally pathetic. But the frequent snippets of humor along with some truly spine-tingling encounters overcome most of these issues.
What you get with LOL II is an ambitious and immersive action-adventure loaded with challenging puzzles, cool secrets, and multiple means to arrive at its conclusion. It may not be the epic RPG fans of Throne of Chaos hoped for, but it's still a commendable piece of work with a great deal of longevity.