The Lords of Midnight dared to buck trends and attempt things in the strategy genre that had not been tried before when it was made in 1984. Developed by designer Mike Singleton and published initially on the ZX Spectrum by Beyond Software, the title was surprise success. Going on to win rave reviews and awards, the game was followed by two more follow-ups and a loyal following which still remains active. To this day the title is still considered one of the most innovative strategy games ever made.
The enduring popularity of The Lords of Midnight has resulted recently in a new remake being made by Chilli Hugger Software which also comes out a year after the death of its original creator Mike Singleton. Enhanced and optimized for modern home operating systems, the newest iteration of the classic 1984 game aims to appeal to players new and old while preserving the look and spirit of the original. It’s a nostalgic return to the past that turns out surprisingly well, there are chinks in its armor.
The Lords of Midnight takes place in the fictional fantasy world of Midnight. The story focuses on four characters: Luxor the Moonprince, Rorthron the Wise, Corleth the Fey, and Morkin. All four, along with the forces at their disposal, are at war with Doomdark: the Witchking of Midnight. Doomdark, powered by a mysterious power, threatens to take over their kingdom. Tasked with defeating Doomdark, players control all four to amass aid and organize a final strike against the tyrant.
Much of the game’s story is told in the official novella which can be downloaded from the game’s official website or is sometimes packaged with the game depending on where it’s purchased from. Besides being a very well written introduction to the game, the method of encouraging players to read it first before playing the game is a very subtle throwback to days when the bulk of a story was told not in the game but in the documents which came with it.
As for the story in the game itself, while not as in-depth as the novella, is still very enthralling. Everything gamers do with their characters from resting, fighting and exploring is meticulously detailed. The effect is that players are essentially creating their own legend in their battles against Doomdark.
With every defeat and victory you endured while playing will not just have consequences affecting both sides, the effects of both are meticulously reported via very descriptive text. Players are not just crafting a story on their actions but can find themselves sucked into the wartime drama too. Despite it’s age it’s this kind of storytelling that is so rare to find in many mainstream games today.
Just like the original Lords of Midnight, the remake utilizes strategy intermingled with adventure. Players must traverse a huge world as a group of four characters. Navigating in a first person perspective across the world in a turn based format, players must fight the forces of Doomdark, organize armies and eventual topple the said villain in his lair or, using just Morkin, destroy the source of his immense power. To accomplish these tasks Players must organize forces, protect strongholds and route enemies to eventually gain the upper hand to defeat Doomdark.
As complex as accomplish those goals may sound, the game is very simple to play. Moving and interacting with the world of Midnight is amazingly easy to get into. The design of this game and the rules are easy to understand making for a very low learning curve. This is thanks to the inclusion of new enhanced features the original lacked included the option to use a mouse in addition to the keyboard. Supplemented with a new streamlined interface, players can control armies and control the actions of their selected characters with little hassle.
The game takes place in a huge world which, even by today’s standards, is huge. Players can be sure to encounter many interesting characters ranging from enemies, potential allies and places to explore. This isn’t a stagnant world as it’s always active as enemies, allies and other entities move about it. Where you’ll find enemies one day they’ll be somewhere else which could in some cases be attacking one of your strongholds. Such activity in a 1984 game is incredibly innovative by today’s standards and adds life to the game’s virtual kingdom.
There are many ways to defeat Doomdark providing many reasons to replay the game to discover all possibilities. However it’s game over. There are many ways to ensure that doesn’t happen as well as defeating Doomdark. Whether players choose to use strategy to usurp him or traveling across the game’s huge expansive world to eradicating Doomdark’s source of power, the game offers huge replay value while possessing the challenge of the original intact.
Visually very little has changed in this iteration of the Lords of Midnight which still looks very much as the 8-bit original. The few new changes include illustrated menu screens, smoothed out graphics, a 2.5D environment and animated transitions that play when you move your character. Beyond that the game looks almost just as it did in 1984 from the illustrations right to the original color schemes.
With the enhancements the game doesn’t push any visual boundaries. By today’s standards the game looks very dated but in this case that is intentional. It’s meant instead to appeal to nostalgic tastes and doesn’t push any boundaries. After a while the sameness and somewhat tedious monotony of the environment and characters will likely start to become an eyesore for some players who are unimpressed by older graphics.
Still, it’s rare to come across a game that tries to improve upon originals but goes to great effort to maintain its looks while at the same time enhancing them enough to be acceptable to modern gaming audiences. The level of effort that’s gone into recreating the game’s classic looks is impressive. That effort alone results in this game looking very above average.
Because there has been such a devotion to preserving the feel of the original game many of its faults have been imported as well. One of the biggest is made apparent when the game begins and that is that there’s no sound at all. Through the entire game from the main menu to the game’s final ending screens, no music or effects will ever be heard. This is intentional as the original 1984 game did not have any sound as well. The all encompassing silence present is meant to preserve the feeling of playing the original.
Though understandable that the developers have not added any sound to better emulate the original, it’s still just as much a flaw as it was in that version as it is in this one. To make a remake the game and not do something to correct this glaring omission is none the less puzzling. As such it is a huge draw back and an area of the game that is one of this game’s weakest points. There’s just no reason why options to remedy this issue were not included considering this is a remake.
The remake of The Lords of Midnight is a decent encore of a game that even today is still unique and innovative. The refusal though of the developers to correct flaws ported over from the original and going further in their efforts to enhance the game are stumbling points that sadly prevent it from being a truly remarkable title. The strengths the game possesses enable it to be an above average experience that will very likely be relished by fans, gamers who enjoy strategy games and players pining for a fun nostalgic experience. But for anyone expecting anything new or groundbreaking, this game will potentially disappoint them.