1995 – Mordor: Depths of Dejenol

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Mordor: Depths of Dejenol is a MUD-inspired dungeon crawler created by David Allen. Having gone largely unnoticed at the time of its release, it has since attained cult status and spawned a series of reiterations, the latest of which is Demise: Ascension, a polished, expanded and refined experience with Mordor still deeply at heart.

Although a lackluster story drives the game forward, the core principle that keeps you playing is the prospect of tackling a foreboding, labyrinthine dungeon complex in a number of diverse play styles, all with their strengths and shortcomings. To get the most out of Mordor you need to plan your progression in advance, even lay the groundwork with disposable characters you don’t mind abandoning once they’ve picked up their share of tomes and potions.

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Starting up your first game is a daunting task – the several races, stats, alignments and guilds all make a difference between a successful progression and an essentially flawed character that just won’t cut it at the deeper levels. Mordor swiftly and mercilessly punishes the ignorant, cocky or unprepared adventurer.

Unlike with some other titles, you’d best read the manual before going in. Even then, death is a novice’s companion. The guilds help with resurrection costs at the start, but unprepared players might find themselves with dead characters they’ve put dozens of hours into with no immediate means of getting them back.

Your adventures start in a town which provides equipment, leveling and questing opportunities as well as places to store your hard earned gold, raise dead comrades and heal wounds. These only offer a brief respite, as you will be spending most of your time exploring the massive dungeon.

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Mordor has only one dungeon, but it spans 15 large floors, each 30×30 squares wide. Add anti-magic and underwater areas, teleporters, quicksand you can lose your items in, buff-stripping squares and, of course, a plethora of trapped chests that can do anything from displacing or poisoning party members to killing them outright, and you have a playing field that needs to be tread upon lightly.

The staple of Mordor’s gameplay is its semi-automatic RTwP combat. Its most basic form consists of simply watching the battle log until either side dies. Bigger groups and harder foes require a more active approach however. Fights that would be impossible to win by hitting away and hoping for the best become manageable once you pause the combat in order to cast the right spells, assign different targets and defend weaker party members.

Encounters range from standard fantasy fare to more obscure foes like balls of energy – all beautifully illustrated in a unique art style. Some are timid, others cast spells or can instantly kill you by decapitation or stoning. There are even some that will talk to you or join and become companions – which can also be purchased (and sold) as slaves in town.

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Your characters improve by gaining levels in their respective guilds and by finding better loot. There isn’t much diversity to the items you’ll find, especially when starting out, but each serves a purpose and there are no fillers or randomly generated ones. Some are cursed of course, but that’s a different matter.

Foresight is vital when managing your party. A single character can potentially join all the guilds their alignment and race allow, but that becomes prohibitive due to the huge XP requirements later on. Guild levels go up into the hundreds, even thousands, and neglecting one guild while focusing on another results in severe penalties later on. A balanced party mitigates this, but the weakness of individual members makes for slow delving in return. Whichever way you pursue, be prepared for A LOT of grinding.

After the release of Mordor, David Allen began working on a sequel – Mordor 2: Darkness Awakening, blending 3D environments with 2D monsters.

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He then made a deal with Interplay to publish it, renaming it Infinite Worlds, but unfortunately the partnership didn’t work out. In 1999 the game finally came out, now as Demise: Rise of the Ku’tan.

Demise featured fully 3D graphics, multiplayer and expanded the dungeon to 30 massive levels, each 45×45 squares wide, with specific tile sets and unique locations like beaches, swamps and graveyards.

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While critics unanimously bashed the game, it developed a cult following. David Allen went on to work on MMOs, but sold the game’s license to a fan, who continues to patch and expand the game – the latest version being Demise: Ascension.

Mordor and Demise are an acquired taste. The planning, vast amount of grind and possibility of a major setback whenever you descend are certainly not for everyone. Nevertheless, they have a unique, addicting feel that constantly drives the determined adventurer ever deeper. Outmind

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