The Warlock of Firetop Mountain Review
Tin Man Games’ bold adaptation of a classic paperback is a risky gambit that pays off well, bringing the gamebook’s world to life by producing an enchanting adventure with plenty to explore and discover.
If you’re like me and grew up reading the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, you probably have fond memories of them; I started with Citadel of Chaos and was quickly hooked by the idea of interactive books, flipping back and forth through pages as decisions were made and battles were fought. Much of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain‘s core audience will be those who’ve enjoyed the books in the past, and will have very high expectations from this new interpretation of the title.
Choose your adventure
Warlock is a bold idea where developers Tin Man Games have taken the adventure of the gamebook and brought it to life in a boardgame-esque 3D format, with your chosen hero represented by a figurine moving around a lovingly crafted map, pieces falling into place as if played on a tabletop, a game master placing pieces as you lift your figurine from step to step.
The core gameplay borrows heavily from its roots, a series of parchment storytelling punctuated by choices such as which direction to take, which objects to examine, or how to respond to another character. Your decisions will be important; whether or not you manage to collect vital objects or find your character’s specific quest goals will depend on exploration, though danger is ever present.
The labyrinthine catacombs you venture through, while unchanging across multiple playthroughs, serve well as one colossal deathtrap. Dungeon denizens, vicious traps, and crumbling architecture all manage to regularly deplete your small health pool, and checkpoints from which dead characters may resurrect are few in number. Travelling through new areas carries a foreboding sense of danger, as you could be one misstep away from a grizzly demise.
Memory fails me on how much text is verbatim from the original Warlock gamebook though illustrations from the book have been lovingly recreated. Not only do these look as great as they did on paper, but you’re able to select whether to have them shown colored or as the original line-art.
At the start of each playthrough you’ll be able to choose from different heroes to quest through the mountain, each with different stat distributions, skills, and goals; where one character is on the look-out for reclaiming an old locket stolen from him, another seeks fantastic treasure that warlock Zagor is rumored to hoard. Keen-eyed players who are familiar with other Fighting Fantasy gamebooks may notice a few old faces here, as heroes from other titles can be chosen to roam Firetop instead.
A great feature of having multiple characters to choose from is how they interact with the world in different ways — they may have pre-emptive knowledge that helps bypass traps, or can befriend (or intimidate) particular enemies which otherwise would’ve been troublesome. While four are available to start with, many more are unlockable by spending souls, a currency collected by successfully killing creatures in battle.
Slice and dice
When you run into a combat situation — and there are plenty of them — the game transitions to a small grid in which your figurine goes against those of the enemy. Battles are turn-based but have simultaneous execution: once you’ve chosen which tile to move to or attack, your action and those of enemies are carried out concurrently.
Each creature encountered has its own rules for moving and attacking in battle. Some may only attack tiles diagonal to them, where others may have far-reaching ranged strikes, or apply negative effects such as temporarily poisoning or immobilising your character.
A large chunk of Warlock comes down to learning how various monsters behave in battle, in order to best defeat them. Do they strike the direction they face or behind them, do they move to their right after each attack? As you venture further into the dungeon, enemies become smarter and more powerful, bringing attacks that cleave multiple tiles or preventing you from attacking.
As a clever little addition, if you were a big cheater with the original gamebooks — “let’s just say I won that fight“, “why yes, I do happen to have the Gem of Charm” — then Warlock‘s Free Read mode is for you, allowing you to freely make any choice and win every battle in order to progress and explore as you see fit. It’s an interesting little nod to how you could simply game the old books (at least, until their puzzles became smarter!).
The Warlock of Firetop Mountain brings the original gamebook to life as an interesting tabletop interpretation with plenty of charm and difficulty. I can speak on behalf of Fighting Fantasy fans everywhere when I say that this is, to date, the most enjoyable and definitive adaptation of the gamebook; if you enjoyed the book, you’ll enjoy the game.