Steve Jackson's Sorcery Part 4 is a Welcome Finale to an Excellent Series
An adventure three years in the making
Sorcery! on iOS (and from what I'm learning in researching for this article, Steam and Google Play as well) is definitely a labor of love. It's not a new property, having come out in something they call "Books" in the far-flung land of 1983. It has been lovingly crafted on mobile phones for a while now: I found my original review of Part 1 had been released over three years ago on the now defunct GoozerNation website, so I can't even provide you with a link. Regardless, this series has kept my attention, from 2013 to the fourth and final release in October of this year. Sorcery is an RPG distilled down to it's purest form: text and imagination. Each entry in this series provides you with a map. Moving around the (well detailed and regularly three dimensional) maps results in advancing the story, quite literally, with the text scrolling in providing a gloriously detailed description of the events taking place on the field. As the story gives you choices, you will find yourself crafting your own tale of adventure to defeat the evil within the land.
Part 4 builds on the story found in the other three, this time culminating in the epic conclusion. While the game can be played as a stand-alone, it benefits from more than just the knowledge of the previous games' storylines. On my first playthrough, I didn't take the time to import my save file (foolish, I know, I wanted to give a comprehensive review). I encountered beasts, and hoped to use spells I remembered from the previous games. Some of them required physical items: items that I found in previous games, and had in my inventory, but were notably missing. It reminded me of a previous game's startup where I ran into a shadowy figure that ended up being a powerful ally. Had I not played the previous entry, where I had met them previously and befriended them, it would have been considered a nothing-passing-glance instead ofthe support I truly appreciated.
When the time comes for combat, instead of the dice in the original books you are presented with a strategic risk-versus-reward system. A slide towards the enemy dictates how much offense/defense you do for the battle. Your meter doesn't fill back up all the way after the turn, so taking a big swing will leave you wide open for an attack. Paying attention to the text, seeing the emotion and demeanor of your enemy, will help you predict their attacks and power through to victory. If you are a fan of dice games, a "Liar's Dice" called Swindlestones is available to play. It serves a double purpose, because as you play for entertainment, you can chat your way to new information from your opponent.
In previous editions of the story, you could rectify major story problems quickly and easily by doing a quick rewind. Like leafing backwards in a Choose Your Own Adventure book, it allowed you to notice an egregious error you made and go along your preferred path. Perhaps to add a bit more weight to your choices, Sorcery! 4 only allows you to rewind to the beginning of your current section. Yes, this holds more true to a real adventure, but if you are curious as to what happens if you choose a different path, it simply isn't as easy as in previous installments. Hopefully the full "rewind" trick is unlocked upon completion, or it could be patched in as an optional choice at some other point in the future, but for now you are locked into a more straightforward route. This is understandable: after all, you've been pushing toward this goal for three games now. One benefit is most of the side adventures I've been on so far (at least in the branches I'm taking) find me back on the main road close to where I left. Games like this can be a terrible catch-22, though, as true fans will want to see everything, which will require them to do more of the repetition, making it a bit more boring the second time through for the most diehard of fans to see a slight difference in the story.
Sorcery! is an amazing series, fun for anyone with an imagination and a love of reading. My biggest gripe comes in the option to start later in the series. While the freedom is nice, you really are robbing yourself of a full, rich experience by not starting at the beginning. At $4.99 each on the iOS store, true fans will have already purchased the previous three and have no reason not to buy this one, culminating their entire adventure and allowing you to finally thwart the evil in the land. If you are new to the series, I can't help but suggest you start with Part 1. It may lack a bit of polish and not have the level of thrills present in the newest game, but the story points will hit that much harder if you know where they came from. I'd like to see an "ultimate edition" that puts the polish of the new titles on the old games and put better impetus into going through the entire epic storyline.
With Sorcery under their belt, I'm curious to see where inkle goes from here. I'd love to see them get ahold of Bantam/Random House/ChooseCo/Whoever owns the old Choose your Own Adventure Book licenses and bring some of them back for nostalgia's sake. They could create more new stories, such as Down Among the Dead Men, which I was able to review. I was imagining the greatness of going though classic literature with a chance to change the outcome, when I learned inkle's "been there, done that" with Frankenstein. I've enjoyed my time with inkle's Sorcery! series and am excited to see more games that allow me to stretch my imagination and love of reading in ways I hadn't thought possible.
Thanks to the developers for providing a copy of the iOS edition for review.
Final Review Score: 4.5/5