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Stu: Lords of Midnight - Sinclair ZX Spectrum

If Zelda was the only game I ever queued up for, this is the only game I skived from school to play. I only did it the once, mind, and I did feel really, really bad about it, but I’d become so obsessed with perfecting my strategy to defeat the evil Doomdark at the siege of Xajorkith that I simply couldn’t help it. This was, for me, the first game that bought the kind of high fantasy that I loved as a kid to life. Beyond, the company behind it, sold it not as a graphic adventure but as an Epic; a trans-genre game that could combine adventure with strategy in one blockbusting package. Looking back, it did so in a pretty primitive way, with only the most basic combat and no real puzzles to speak of. However, at the time it really didn’t matter.

The secret was in the game’s mixture of style and high ambition. You started with Luxor the Moonprince, his son Morkin, Corleath the Fey and Rothron the Wise – the last defenders of the lands of Midnight, a realm depicted in static, panoramic screens redrawn for each move through the game world. Steadily, you picked your way around the map, attacking foes, finding magic swords, and doing your best to avoid the vanguard of Doomdark’s encroaching armies. Eventually, you might find the towers and citadels ruled by the other Lords and personalities of Midnight, and given the right persuasion by the right emissary, they and their armies could be bought over to your cause. Building a host to conquer Doomdark was one way to the win the game.

The other was to send Morkin North to capture the secret of Doomdark’s power, the Ice Crown. This was as close to Tolkien as eight-bit gaming got, the battles and sieges capturing the large-scale warfare of Helm’s Deep and Pellenor Fields – albeit more in your imagination than in the actual game – while Morkin’s quest had a little of Frodo and the ring about it. And the simple fact that, as the game wore on, you may be handling a whole mass of heroes in turn-based fashion gave the game a massive, epic feel. Lords had personality, even if the AI was only rudimentary, and your main taste of combat was that classic message, “Midnight has fallen and the foul are abroad. The bloody sword of battle brings death to Shimeril, Blood and etc, etc, etc”

Most amazingly, the game even managed to fit in an emotional component. As your emissaries wandered they would become tired, despondent and gloomy under the influence of Doomdark’s most fiendish weapon, the Ice Fear. Only Morkin was immune, remaining bold even at the darkest of times. Perhaps it’s this combination of technical innovation and – for the time – magnificent storytelling that ensures Lords of Midnight will always have a place in my heart. And judging by the fact that there are still people on the Web trying to build modern 3D remakes, I know I’m not the only one.

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