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Game Review: Herald of Oblivion (And a look at the Origins of Games Workshop)

 

Developed By: Tinman Games

Platform(s): Microsoft Windows, iOS, Android

Genre: Choose Your Own Adventure

 

Overview

 

Herald of Oblivion is a Choose your Own Adventure interactive digital novel, in which you play the role of an Imperial Fists First Company Terminator Brother Nabor. Your mission is to explore the derelict Space Hulk Herald of Oblivion and discover what secrets it holds! I normally wouldn’t review something like a gamebook as a full article, but there is some history here which interests me, so I hope you find it interesting as well!

I’ve always been a big fan of choose your own adventure books. I’ve read all of the Lone Wolf books (penned by the Late Joe Dever), as well as some miscellaneous titles here and there (like the Knightmare series, or the Legends of Skyfall). My favorites though, will always be the Fighting Fantasy series.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fighting Fantasy series was started by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. If those names are familiar to you, its because they were two of the co-founders of Games Workshop. Obviously we all know Games Workshop in the present day to be a juggernaut of miniatures gaming, but back during its inception (before its creation of Citadel Miniatures) it was involved in systems such as Dungeons and Dragons. I’m speculating here, but it’s probably fair to say that this served as early inspiration for the Fighting Fantasy Series.

For those of you who haven’t played any of the fighting fantasy series, Tin Man games (who also created Herald of Oblivion) have several of them available on Google Play (not sure about the App Store) – I highly recommend checking them out! E-Bay is also saturated with old copies of these treasures. In most Fighting Fantasy games, you generate a character (using a D6) to determine their SKILL, LUCK, and STAMINA. Some later editions introduced other mechanics, such as FAITH, or TIME. Your character would then proceed through the quest, making decisions, picking up clues and battling the monsters (although of course, cheating by auto-winning and using finger bookmarks was also par for the course)!

As a young gamer, I was infinitely excited by these games, and I was gutted when they stopped being produced. Thankfully with the advent of the smartphone, many of these games (including some of the Lone Wolf games) have started making their way back into the world. Herald of Oblivion was a game of particular interest to me – not only because i’m a fan of 40k, but due to it’s origins in Fighting Fantasy as well.

I also didn’t actually realize (until i started writing this article) that this was a hard copy book, written by Jonathan Green – so thanks very much for putting this book out here for us to enjoy!

Gameplay

As a choose your own adventure book, the actual gameplay is limited (with the story being more important here) – but these mechanics serve the reader well in terms of getting around the in-game universe.

When you reach the end of an entry, you will be prompted to either continue (if there is only one option), or make a decision which progresses the story.

Some options may be blocked out (which means that you have missed a prerequisite to unlock that path, such as picking up an item or achieving a particular objective). This is a neat feature, as it essentially stops cheating. This was always an interesting mechanic in the paper based books – usually key items or actions would carry some sort of number code with them, advising the reader where to turn to next.

Fear not cheaters however, as the excellent Free Choice option unlocks all entries on the current section. This offers the best of both worlds, as if you’re reading this purely as a 40k story (and don’t care about the combat), you can skip ahead and continue on – whilst also giving the fair and square players the framework that they require to have a fair game.

Also available to the player are Heal Me (which brings them back to full health), and an unlimited number of bookmarks which they can use to save a checkpoint for later use. Basically the game is designed to be really friendly, and if you’re getting stuck there are plenty of ways to get re-engaged.

One of the key mechanics (other than the combat attributes which we will discuss shortly) is Purity. Purity is an indicator of how heroic and inspiring Nabor is at any given moment. Having a particularly high or low purity score can open or close certain narrative options to the player. In addition, certain selections will cause you to gain or lose purity – make sure to fully take stock of your actions before you proceed!

 

Another interesting mechanic is Wheels of Fate. Wheels of fate is essentially a random outcome generator (which I suspect would have been achieved with dice in the physical book). You spin the slots to test your fate, and each slot can either show an Imperial Fists insignia, or a Skull. In most cases, you need 2 out of 3 insignia to obtain a favorable outcome. I didn’t come across any “unfair” outcomes as a result of this mechanic, i.e. on spins that I lost the worst that i’d have to contend with was an additional combat as opposed to being automatically dead. Instant death was a staple of many a Choose your own Adventure books, and thankfully it’s not overutilized here. That being said however, there are definitely some cases where you can lose instantly if you pick the wrong option – always pay attention to the story!

Combat is handled in a very interesting way. You can be equipped with multiple weapons (but only one heavy weapon at a time), both melee and ranged. When you enter a combat situation, you will (most of the time) start far away from your enemy. You can then use your ranged weapon to attack, or opt to move closer. You have a limited number of actions per turn, and both moving and attacking uses these up – once you’ve used them all your attack round is over.

Every attack that you make has a % chance to hit the target, but you can increase this by using Focus. Focus consumes an action point, but adds a big boost to your chance to hit. The range of weapons you can access is varied as well, giving a wide range of damage and accuracy options. You can usually opt to skip combat as well (using the Free Choice option), but I think that the combat is actually pretty fun, and is a good improvement on the standard Fighting Fantasy style combat system.

For those achievement hunters among you, there’s content for you here too. To be honest achievement hunting isn’t something that I really bother with, but here it’s neat, as it adds replayability as you try to strive for the story based achievments that you missed. When I read the list that I collected after the first playthrough and compared it to what I missed, I was actually really surprised – I thought I had been comprehensive in my story, but apparently not!

Story

I’m going to try and not elaborate too much on the story given the nature of this game – if I spoil it all there’s no reason for you to play it! In brief summary, Nabor and his squad teleport to the Space Hulk, only to become separated. Nabor must try to find his missing squadmates, while also uncovering the secrets of the Space Hulk.

The story and linking narrative is written really well, and I found it easy to become immersed in the game, and visualize the carnage that the Imperial Fists had walked into. The larger part of the story is also non-linear. The beginning and end are definitive, but the middle part of the story has 3 main sections – Orks, Tyranids, and Necrons (to limit the spoilers). There is a benefit to completing these sections in a specific order, but it’s not mandatory or essential for completing the game.

Each of these sections had a good amount of exploration and tasks for Nabor to accomplish, and the enemy roster was varied and comprehensive in each of the Xenos sections. There are also some antagonists who have a decent amount of dialog and interaction with you, and this is always handled in an entertaining manner as well. Overall I found the environment atmospheric and true to the character of the 41st Millennium, and I think that this has ported over really well digitally.

Roundup

 

As a unique blend of Choose Your Own Adventure and 40k, this was an instant hit for me. It’s fun, easy to get into, and the story is pretty decent as far as 40k tales go. If you’re a fan of this kind of gamebook, you absolutely need to pick this up!

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