I swear, I could recite the opening dialogue between Dupre and Lord British by heart, not just the words but the intonations as well. Many fans made fun of the fact that apparently it only takes 18 months before someone thinks of searching through Batlin’s belongings, and I can’t deny, it really does sound dumb. It also cracks me up that despite the dramatic cry, stand back! neither LB nor Dupre budge an inch when the Guardian scroll is activated.
Serpent Isle pleasingly gives you six portrait options to pick from, but I think I’ve only ever played with three: the dark-haired guy, the blond girl and the black girl, who is my current pick. The rest I never found appealing, the blond male Avatar in particular has something of an Aussie bogan about him. Speaking of portraits, large character portraits taking up more than a third of the screen’s height are a very welcome upgrade from The Black Gate and they still look pretty damn great.
Soon after my arrival, the magical storm takes away my companions and fills my backpack with useless junk. Thoxa appears and after asking some annoying copy protection questions, she gives me the Hourglass of Fate and unleashes an information dump that must have been a nightmare to try to absorb on my first play. After she and Karnax had their magical fight, I found Shamino and visited the secret cave behind the red bush. The scroll on the Ophidian philosophy, with the foreboding music playing as you read it, is a nice touch; I always appreciated the way SI hints on the future storylines early on. I assume that the body in the cave is Erstam’s girlfriend Drogeni who is mentioned later in the game – the scroll is addressed to her and the serpent scales you find on the body is something a mage would carry.
Another good upgrade from TBG is the improved paper doll system. My inner six-year-old girl who loved playing with paper dolls wishes I could dress up my Avatar beyond the armour in gowns, skirts etc., but I had to be satisfied with dressing Shamino in slippers, stockings and the fancy breastplate:
In Monitor, I had my one and only (coherent) conversation with Cantra, and got the permission from Lord Marsten to attempt the Test of the Knights. He was also the first person to mention Beast British; conversations in SI do tend to be longer and branch out more. I got reunited with Dupre, but poor Iolo had disrupted the funeral services for a deceased Pikeman and so has to languish in jail until I become a Knight.
There wasn’t any point in dilly-dallying so I headed straight for the Test. The lightning that always hits the same spot on the left of the highway whenever you walk past is fun to watch. Sometimes I’d walk past it and back again just to see if something useful turns up – once I got a pair of magic boots!
While I had to leave my friends behind and head off into the dark unknown barefoot and wearing no armour but a leather vest, Dupre’s only thought is of getting drunk.
Schmed the traitor had laid a bunch of magical traps in the Test, and it wasn’t too long before I got killed in my first fight with the gremlins and got to chat to Karnax, who kindly resurrected me along with the rest of the Xenkan Monks. Karnax’s attitude to Xenka is not exactly reverent; he believes in the truth of her visions but reckons that the lady herself was a pain in the ass. He also gives you the Amulet of Balance, but I think I might play The Silver Seed much later in the story.
Building the stone staircase is a fun part of the Test, though the snake bites are not.
Eventually I got bitten to death and required resurrection again. Overall, I managed to die seven times over in the Test: 1) gremlins 2) cyclops 3) snakes 4) invisible knight 5) my totem animal the wolf 6) Schmed 7) Schmed again, who had the unfair advantage of a two-handed sword. Those poor hard-working Xenkan monks must have been so thoroughly sick of the sight of me, oh no she dies again??
I went back into the Test to retrieve the body of the dead knight, because dead Pikemen = money! I always found the graphic for the dead bodies rather creepy – maybe it’s the weirdly prominent buttocks.
After I gave the wolf’s body to Cellia the furrier, I had a full day to kill before my wolf cloak was ready. Most of the Monitorians let me know in polite terms or otherwise that you’re nothing in this town unless you’re a knight. In revenge, I went around their houses grabbing anything useful I could find, though stealing in SI is a tad harder and you can’t do it with the NPCs around. Looking into a mirror leads to an amusing spat between Shamino and Dupre:
Standarr the armourer wins the award for the most laconic conversation in Monitor: the options with him are literally either “buy” or “bye”.
I got myself a room at The Sleeping Soldier, which I usually use to dump the stuff I have no use for yet, like the Amulet of Balance or the winter wear. I tried some Fawnish Ale, the favourite drink of Simon the innkeeper, and prompty threw up on the carpet; Simon mentions having to clean it up but I think that the vomit just stays there for the remainder of the game. On the plus side, I found Batlin and Gwenno’s trails from the conversation with Simon.
There were still hours left, so I explored the cave to the south of the city, where I found another valuable Pikeman body before I wandered in too far and died of the blistering heat. Sorry again, Xenkan monks!