Diehard GameFAN Hall of Shame Nomination: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes of the Lance

Every week, we will present a new game to be nominated for the Diehard GameFAN Hall of Fame and Hall of Shame. These nominations will occur every Monday and Friday, respectively. Our standards are just like the Baseball Hall of Fame: every game will be voted on by members of the staff, and any game that gets 75% of the vote – with a minimum of four votes – will be accepted – or thrown – into their respective Hall.

Game: Advanced Dungeons and Dragons: Heroes of the Lance
Developer:U.S. Gold
Publisher:SSI
Release Date:1988 (exact date is lost)
Systems Released On: NES, Sinclair Spectrum, Amiga, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, MSX, PC
Genre:2-D Action

Who Nominated The Game:Yours truly, the Editor in Chief of Diehard GameFAN – Alexander Lucard

Why Was It Nominated: In 1984, TSR published the first Dragonlance novel, Dragons of Autumn Twilight. This book would go on to start one of the biggest fantasy franchises in all of literature. People were hooked from page one and Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (the creators and authors of the series) made a mint until they finally destroyed their own creation by going to the well once too often. However the series has never fared well when turned into other mediums. Most recently, we had the god awful animated feature of Dragons of Autumn Twilight that was hated by nearly everyone that saw it. However this was neither the first horrible adaptation of this book, nor was it the worst. That “honour” goes to Heroes of the Lance. HotL was developed by U.S. Gold, which was oddly enough a BRITISH company. It was also one of the first two AD&D titles published by Strategic Simulations Inc. Historians debate whether HotL or Pool of Radiance came first, but really it doesn’t matter: one is considered one of the worst games of all time, while the other is hailed as a PC RPG classic.

Heroes of the Lance is oft cited as THE worst NES game of all time, and the various other versions didn’t receive a very positive rating either (save from Computer Gaming World). I know from personal experience that Picked up the NES version in early 1990 and I was so hopeful. I had just discovered Dungeons and Dragons. I fell in love with Ravenloft and other people I knew kept telling me to try Dragonlance. I didn’t like it as much as Ravenloft, but it was neat. Then I learned about the video game and since I knew I loved RPGs and I had played Pool of Radiance and really liked that, I thought there was no way this game could be anything but awesome.

It wasn’t. It still remains one of the ten worst experiences I have had with a video game in my life. Heroes of the Lance was god awful in every way. I have never truly recovered from my experience with this horrific piece of crap and I was more than happy to see who else hated this game as much as myself.

All in Favour:

Ashe Collins – While I love most of the SSI titles I’ve played (more thanks to my wife who has them collected for the PC) this one, based off Dragonlance, is not so good. In fact I’d have to go so far as to call it terrible. I remember playing some of Curse of the Azure Bonds when I was younger and wondered if there was more and my cousin had this one for his computer so I figured I’d give it a shot. Big mistake.

While I don’t mind a departure in a game setting to an action title or platformer with the flavor of the series, hell even a brawler, this was not a successful translation to any of these other genres. The learning curve was beyond terrible, and the game far from fun. I’m very glad SSI went and turned around to making more traditional D&D titles because I don’t think I could have played more like this one.

Alex Lucard – For my money, there was not a better developer/publisher for the PC in the late 80s to early 1990s than the late, lamented SSI, AKA Strategic Simulations Inc. Look at the games they put out during that time. Pool of Radience. Eye of the Beholder. Curse of the Azure Bonds. Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday. Death Knights of Krynn. The original (and better) Neverwinter Nights. Shadow Sorcerer. Strahd’s Possession. Spelljammer. And that’s just a smattering off the top of my head – AND only their AD&D titles. If I had to name the best RPG maker/publisher in the history of PC gaming, SSI would win hand’s down and without any real challenger.

But we all have to start somewhere. Heroes of the Lance, SSI’s first AD&D title was not only their worst, it’s arguably the worst Dungeons and Dragons title ever made. Yes, worse than Ravenloft: Iron & Blood.

Heroes of the Lance was a side scrolling action game where you controlled your characters in what felt like a never ending walk fest as you dealt with traps and monsters alike. or rather it would feel that way if you could take more than five steps without dying. Now Heroes of the Lance isn’t unplayable, but it’s close, with arguably the highest learning curve ever for a game in terms of just walking or staying alive for more than a few seconds. Trying to move your character is awkward but trying to actually attack or aim is even worse. Once you get the hang of how to actually move or attack then, you can start to play the game. However then you get to experience the hell that is combat and things like nigh unkillable dwarves, Draconian that look more like Deep Ones and other strange horrors that will leave you swearing like a sailor on shore leave that just learned he has syphilis.

Once you “master” combat and memorize where all the traps are and the like, you still have to map out which paths to take and try to keep your characters alive through it all. Then and only then, you can actually reach the end of the game, which will only take you ten minutes. Note this is after days of just trying to figure out the nonsensical controls. Oh my god is it just a horrible experience from beginning to end.

The funny thing is that somehow this game actually spawned two sequels. Dragons of Flame and Shadow Sorcerer. DoF is pretty much the same thing while Shadow Sorcerer is actually pretty fun.

I honestly can’t think of a worse gaming experience that I had as a child than AD&D: Heroes of the Lance. This was pretty much the epitome of awful 8-bit console gaming for me and I can at least take solace that SSI learned from their mistakes big time and gave use the Gold Box games after this horrorshow.

Mark B. – So, I was never a fan of the Dragonlance series of books, and as such, I am more than likely not the target audience for such a game. As such, if the game is something that’s “for the fans,” and I’m simply missing out on this fact, I feel that I cannot be blamed for this thing, on account of not giving a shit about the series. Sorry. On the other hand, this also means that if the game is truly as bad as I believe it to be, which we will discuss in a moment, I am also not going to be nearly as offended about the game as someone who has a bookshelf full of the books, dubbed “my collection” in casual discussion, and as such, cannot manufacture the appropriate rage about how terrible the game is because it, again, ruins a franchise I don’t give a shit about.

Okay? Okay.

That said, Heroes of the Lance is an unplayable mess at the best of times. Movement is cumbersome and annoying, combat is purely random and utterly un-enjoyable, the game is ugly even for an NES game, and there’s simply no personality to the experience whatsoever. This is a game that REALLY would have been best designed as an ACTUAL RPG instead of the odd side-scrolling action/adventure/RPG hybrid mess it became, considering the product it was based on CAME FROM an actual RPG, but the developers apparently thought otherwise, and more’s the pity. Instead of playing what probably would have been an interesting, for its time, RPG based on characters fans of the genre might have been familiar with, we were instead given a game that is, frankly, u-nenjoyable, unexciting, and unplayable, so I’m willing to say “In it goes” and call it a day.

James Hatton – When I think of HALL OF SHAME, I can come up with quite a few titles that fit the bill. There are the clearly obvious games like E.T. and Deadly Towers that have been driven into the ground over the years as to how horrendous they are. There are games like Battletoads that have a near legendary status in their unbalance. Then there are games that have slipped through the cracks like the original NES X-Men and AD&D: Heroes of the Lance.

When I was 14, I devoured all things Dragonlance. I still have a crate of ‘Lance books that moves with me from house to house like a katamari of geekdom. So when I found myself a copy of ‘Heroes’ for my C64, I couldn’t wait to be immersed into Krynn.

Then I walked right for an hour, dying enough times that I would have to use scientific notation to give you the number, removed the disk from my disk drive, and swore to never ever try it again. A vow I’ve kept to this day. This game makes my youth weep.

All Opposed:

Christopher Bowen – If this was just about the NES version, this would be a yes, because that might be the worst NES game of all time. But we have to consider all of the versions here, and the old PC versions – while DEFINITELY showing their age nowadays – aren’t that bad, and weren’t that bad for the era in which they came out. PC games were hit or miss affairs back in the Amiga days, but Heroes of the Lance did a good job on the PC.

While it doesn’t excuse the time I wasted with the NES game, it does save this game from the depths of our lowest hell.

Result: 4 In Favour, 1 Opposed, 80% Approval = SHAMED

Conclusion: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes of the Lance becomes the third game to officially enter the Hall of Shame. I guess if there is one thing can give it solace is that it’s the first game to not get in with a unanimous vote. It still

Next Week: We look at a game that was not only controversial in its subject matter, but it also inspired Uwe Boll to make a movie out of it. Is the game Hall of Shame worthy? Join us then.

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