[Cleaning the Backlog] Anvil of Dawn

Anvil of Dawn is perhaps not the best dungeon crawler ever made, but it’s undoubtedly one of the most streamlined and accessible. As one of the evolutional peaks of the genre, the game optimizes its essential aspects while filtering out everything unnecessary, excessive, and burdensome. Additionally, Anvil of Dawn is one of the most beautiful, stylish, and charming games I’ve ever played.

It’s a shame that I failed so hard to capture screenshots during my playthrough (remembering hotkeys is hard), and I can’t demonstrate the most beautiful and wild fruits of imagination you can find here. As a dungeon crawler Anvil of Dawn takes place mostly in dungeons, keeps, labyrinths, caves, etc. But it breathes color! The in-game world of Tempest is a cruel place to live, but it’s never grim and gloomy: if there’s darkness—it’s saturated; if there’s blood—it’s vivid; if there’s some sort of shit demon—it’s utterly disgusting in a broad palette of shades.

Based on the looks, one can think that Anvil of Dawn is Westwood’s game. But the game was developed by DreamForge and published by New World Computing, which at that time—as it’s been speculated—had searched for a new potential universe to focus their next franchise upon before changing their mind.

If, however, NWC had decided in favor of the world of Tempest, it would be able to compete with Might & Magic regarding the weirdness of worldbuilding—no doubt about that! Enjoy roaming through the Underground City, where residents had their blood drained from their bodies and turned into blood golems; have a visit to the Temple of the Moon, but beware the monks—they became disfigured eldritch monsters; meet a poor sod whose body was enlarged within a fortress to serve as living doors on three floors simultaneously. In short, have a look at the map of the game world and see how weird it is—a pure fantasy delight.

Image credit: http://www.vigerp.com/

But unlike Might & Magic games, Anvil of Dawn won’t let you roam free. Your journey is a relatively linear sequence of various peculiar dungeons connected with node-to-node pre-rendered outdoor transits. It’s not an entirely negative characteristic—you won’t find yourself wandering into a location your character isn’t quite ready for, and the whole playthrough experience has a strong sense of focus and direction.

Mechanically, the game’s motto is probably something in the vein of «simplicity is everything.» You have only one character to control (five to choose from), and most actions in the game may be performed with only one left mouse button. The progression system is of the simplest kind—you level up the skills you actively use, magic is used as it is without too much tinkering, and the drag-and-drop inventory system isn’t even tile-based—so you pile things together as any real adventurer would do.

The game saves your time dealing with all of the technicalities—auto-map, neat journal, tooltips—leaving your mind free for puzzle-solving and minor decision-making throughout the plotline. Basically, when I said that Anvil of Dawn is streamlined and accessible, I meant this more modern approach to the dungeon crawler game design—less busywork, more ass-kicking. Although, it doesn’t mean that you won’t grind. It’s still a dungeon crawler—there’s lots of grinding to do! But it’s a fun, enjoyable grinding like hack’n’slashing in Diablo—a grinding that is an inherent part of the gameplay and not an artificial superstructure merely inflating the playthrough time.

I highly recommend trying out Anvil of Dawn. You come for the looks and stay for comfort. It’s an old enough game to make you experience the classic feeling of dungeon crawling and modern enough to spare you from excessive outdated busywork.

P.S. I bet you will never reach a good ending without checking the guide!

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