From pitched battles and headlong charges against evil servants of the Darklords, to frantic scrambles over hillsides, forests, tunnels and caves in your quest to reach the transient safety of the city of Holmgard, Flight from the Dark is a frantic and atmospheric introduction to Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf gamebook series.
The story is driven by a simple plotline: you are a young Kai Lord who has sworn vengeance upon the Darklords after they launch an overwhelming assault against the monastery where all the Kai have gathered for a feast. As the sole survivor of the massacre, it falls to you to avenge your kin and carry a warning to the King of Sommerlund. It’s a simple premise that sets in motion a desperate dash across a land marred by death and convulsed by war.
The adventure itself is also fairly straightforward and at no times will you find yourself failing to complete it due to missing a vital piece of information or a key object. Instead, the greatest threat you’ll face is the sheer number of enemies, wild beasts or monsters that you will likely encounter. These foes include the servants of evil, such as the giant, reptilian winged KRAAN and the cackling, yellow-eyed GIAK who ride them, or the more powerful VORDAK riders, the lieutenants of the Darklords. DOOMWOLVES and DRAKKARIM rove the lands around the city of Holmgard, and on one occasion you encounter a huge reptilian GOURGAZ locked in combat with none other than the King’s son himself! Despite being fairly derivative creature types with a distinctly Tolkienesque feel, they are so vividly described and terrifying that it is tempting (perhaps recommended) to keep out of their way. But where is the fun in that? If you choose to do battle against these enemies, then you will need to attend to your combat skills and special abilities. Only then will it be possible to take on these creatures and have a good chance of emerging triumphant.
Flight from the Dark uses Combat Skill, Endurance and the Random Number Generator (removing the need for dice) to determine the results of a fight. There are also five Kai disciplines for you to choose, which can make a real difference between success and failure. Choosing your Kai Disciplines is a rather tricky task, as they are all extremely useful. You are forced to make your choices and then live (or die) with the consequences!
A variety of grisly ends await you: from having your throat cut by an evil druid, being torn apart by Doomwolves, finding yourself crushed into the ground by a gigantic granite block, to falling into a pit and being shot full of arrows. But the most outstanding death-scene has to be when you break your ankle and lose consciousness from the pain, promptly to be informed that your severed head ‘…is now adorning the saddle of a Kraan.’ Ignominy and entertainment go hand in hand in Flight from the Dark!
There is also a strong element of chance included within the book that is based on what is effectively a d10 roll. This will determine what weapons or equipment you might find in the ruined monastery, or whether you are lucky or not. These random possibilities add to the charm of the adventure, giving the reader the sense of being a fugitive who is heavily dependent on the vicissitudes of fate. The odds often seem to be stacked against you, and there is an overwhelming sense of isolation, devastation and doom.
Apart from the inherent risks of combat, the book fails to offer any real sense of challenge. Assuming that you do not do anything absurd (like pressing on into a swampy, snake-filled forest, or breaking cover when the skies are filled with Kraan), you are likely to complete the mission with ease. Even so, the book offers a high level of replayability. As you explore different routes and pathways you will be treated to some truly mesmerising scenes. You might find yourself racing to the aid of an apprentice magician hurling bolts of lightning at a pack of jeering GIAKS, rescuing a king’s soldier from being burned alive, stumbling upon the remains of a village of massacred charcoal diggers, and racing to the aid of a wounded prince. As to gaining entrance to the city of Holmgard, there are three routes to take, each of which is satisfying and distinct, though all of them were relatively easy to negotiate.
For all its virtues, Dever’s writing in Flight from the Dark is not completely perfect. There are some (rare) occasions when the narrative fails to make complete sense, and there is at least one instance where an apparent choice leads to near identical outcomes. Also, minor characters in the story sometimes disappear without clear explanation as to their fate, which is mildly frustrating when you have done everything in your power to save them. Once, I found myself dying for attempting an action which seemed entirely reasonable (would you prefer to creep up on a powerful VORDAK, or give it fair warning of your approach?). Then, there is the illustration that depicts a Darklord storming through a barricade of sharpened logs (shown above, centre), even though you never actually meet a Darklord at this point – or any during the adventure! But perhaps this is a foreshadowing of some future encounter…
Ultimately, these minor gripes are few and far between, and do little to detract from what is a classic gamebook full of great heart and hope. Flight from the Dark is both an exhilarating and engaging beginning for your ongoing journey in Joe Dever’s world of Lone Wolf.
STORYLINE: After witnessing the annihilation of your brethren, you are now the last surviving Kai Lord. Swearing vengeance, you embark on a perilous journey to the city of Holmgard to warn the King of this impending doom!
GAMEPLAY: Although the adventure is fairly simple to navigate, there are powerful enemies everywhere that will keep you guessing! The Kai Disciplines add an enjoyable dimension to the gameplay, as does the backpack and weapon carrying limitations.
PRESENTATION: Based on the Project Aon e-copy of Flight from the Dark, the book is neatly presented and very typical of its time. The cover and interior art by Gary Chalk is illustrated in a style that undoubtedly fitted the book’s original target audience rather well.
REPLAY VALUE: You will almost certainly find yourself wanting to replay this adventure several times after completing your first playthrough. The many paths, scenes and combats in this gamebook allow you to indulge your curiosity about the land of Sommerlund, and there are shocks and surprises lurking around every corner. Read, read, and then read again for maximum enjoyment!
Review by KJ Shadmand