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RPG Codex Retrospective Review: Gorasul: The Legacy of the Dragon

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RPG Codex Retrospective Review: Gorasul: The Legacy of the Dragon

Codex Review - posted by Darth Roxor on Tue 9 January 2024, 17:34:49

Tags: Gorasul: The Legacy of the Dragon; Silver Style

[Review by lukaszek]


2023 was a year that surprised us with many high-profile RPG titles. Yet how do they hold up to the top formula of old? With Gorasul recently gaining popularity on the Codex, I decided to revisit this game inspired by BG2 and PST – for once, this claim actually holds true as well.

An RPG where you are a dragon and wield a sentient weapon? You won’t need fingers on your hand to count those on the market. But can you really trust a codexer’s recommendation?

Obtaining a copy of Gorasul is a quest in its own right. Back in the day it came on four discs. In Poland it was distributed by CDPR, with great VO by Marek Obertyn. Yet if you ask around, you’ll hear a common testimony: in a local supermarket, behind the cabbage stand, in a basket full of random game boxes, there was this game for 20 PLN. Cheaper than a bottle of vodka, an RPG on 4 CDs was clearly attractive, as at that time only BG2 could compare.

Now it’s yet another abandonware, absent from GOG even though CDPR was clearly involved with it. Be it through the power of the Internet or by securing a physical copy, it can run on a modern rig with win11 – use ddrawcompat and a dx8 wrapper. Be warned though – there are stability issues in combat, so quick save often.

Tl;dr; combat better than PST but worse story, with somewhat similar graphics.

Story

You are Roszondas, abandoned as an infant at some cabin in the woods… which happened to be inhabited by a great dragon. It was cold outside, perhaps you were dying? So the wyrm infused you with draconic mojo, making you the only human with draconic powers ever since. After childhood of playing catch with your scaly father and burning butterflies with your fiery breath, you finish your turbulent puberty by becoming humanity’s greatest hero.

However, the world of Gorasul is invaded by demons from another dimension, and after a long war you die.

Ten years later you are resurrected with most of your memories missing and ready to save the world, again.

It's quite a grand scale that’s toned a bit down by the fact that you mostly roam around villages and small towns. You see, the demons won and steamrolled over humanity’s greatest cities. Your childhood islands were spared as they are remote and no one bothered with them, yet. Also, it turns out that someone put up a barrier that’s stopping people from dying but instead turning them into undead that are slowly taking over the islands.

After this setup, the rest of the story is about Roszondas becoming a hero yet again, while navigating around cut content, trying to piece together his lost memories (the game loses focus on this part along the way) and to find 4 other mages to destroy the barrier.

Yes, you are considered one of the greatest mages even if you’re a warrior, thanks to your draconic mojo.

The storytelling consists of both in-engine character talking and walking that you might remember from BG2, as well as plenty of cinematics of a quality resembling MM6:


There’s quite a bit of those and they’re likely the actual culprit as to why the game needs four CDs. What’s more, there are plenty of minigames too, and they’re used exactly once. Below is an example of a simple wargame. If I were to guess, the large number of these is the reason for all the cut content. There are lots of scripted events as well, much like in other IE games.


Your draconic father died two years prior to your resurrection. After that is revealed, he’s never mentioned again. Even though it should serve as a clear opener when meeting one of the great dragons.


In the first city you enter, you’ll find a mysterious obelisk with an equally mysterious NPC saying that you’re not ready. You will finish the game and still not be ready. The pinnacle of all your efforts is assembling the white mages of the islands and having them save the world by casting a pentagram:


The music is very good, in terms of comparisons it’s like Arcanum meets Tzar. The Polish VO by Marek Obertyn is superb, and it should be included among the greatest Polish VO in the games of that era. However, it lacked the budget of PST to hire more actors.

Clearly, the Polish translators also had a blast and did their best to handle the German humor, as evidenced by a quest that started like Red Riding Hood and ended with a Witcher investigating a hot sorceress.



Character generation

Every great story starts with the careful planning of your character. Reading wikis, DND playbooks, game manuals… we don’t do that here. It’s like playing Arcanum with all those abbreviations while never having them explained in the manual.


To start with, there are six classes to choose from, and none bestows any in-game description upon you. In general, the game offers very little in terms of mechanical explanation. There was a manual once, but right now the only one you can get is in German (https://www.mogelpower.de/manuals/Gorasul_Handbuch.pdf) and you’ll quickly learn that it doesn’t offer much, however it does indirectly show class differences through a few tables.

As such, I shall grace you with vomit my newly acquired knowledge all over the place.

It’s not clear at the beginning, but you start at level 5, you pick a single class and never change it. There are no restrictions in terms of items. Each class limits certain attributes, but you can safely disregard that, as even if you play a mage and put most level-ups into STR, you’re not likely to reach the cap of 40.

The second difference comes from the free attribute at level-up – for example, the mage gets +1 INT. I guess it’s a good place to talk a bit about the various attributes. There are five of them and they’re not equal.
  • CHA is useless, hence the priest class is useless too
  • CON provides HP per each point. Moreover, you have natural regen that is based on your missing HP percentage(the closer to death the more you regen). Expect to put a single point here on each level-up
  • INT handles max mana. The majority of mage level-ups will go here
  • DEX handles attack and defense, at a ratio of 1 per 2. It’s worth mentioning that I couldn’t figure out how meaningful there are, along with AC
  • STR improves weapon damage, by about +1 per 4 points
With 3 points per level, basically warriors distribute them equally among STR/DEX/CON, while mages go with INT/CON.

The third and actually important difference involves magic penalties. There are six magic schools, and everyone except the mage gets various, severe penalties for them that force you to spend more mana. The mage is the only class with no penalties to damaging spells, hence along with the +1 INT on level-ups, it’s the only valid option for a magic heavy playthrough.

I’ll discuss magic in a separate paragraph, but if you plan on using it at all, you should just go ahead and pick the mage, as I’ve already mentioned that you shouldn’t be bothered by things like the strength cap.

This leaves us with warrior classes. They are all equally bad at magic, and each gets different STR/DEX/CON bonuses at level-up, so I’d say – it doesn’t matter what you choose. Just go with flavor, and for example pick ‘sword judge’ if you’re feeling edgy today.

But what about rangers? Rogues? There is no thievery. Opening chests is handled via magic, so if you want to be a rogue – play a mage. Word of warning – after the starting location, there’s only a single unlockable chest at the very end of the game (it’s quite funny though). Meanwhile bow damage is handled by STR, so you can change ranged/melee at will.

Attributes are followed by dragon powers. Dragon eyes expand your viewing radius, and this power is the only one that is turned on permanently. It quickly goes past what’s displayed on the screen, and you can’t cast spells/shoot an arrow that far anyway, so there’s no reason to max this. The reason why the minimap is turned on in the screenshots I provide is because it’s the only way I found to utilize that extra LoS/FoV.

Other powers trigger when your HP reaches a certain threshold. If you improve that power, both the threshold and the power’s efficiency increase. These include draconic might, which raises your attack and strength. Draconic fear is a straightforward AoE centered at you that makes enemies run away, and which seems to work against everyone, though its duration can be shortened. Last is dragon breath. It’s a ranged, single-target attack/spell that never misses. Quite annoying as you can’t turn that off – even at its lowest level it will replace your much stronger regular attack. Quite good on mages though.

Next you’ll be picking your sentient weapon.


Again, without a manual it’s hard to pick the right one. As far as I can tell, each has the same attack speed, yet they vary in the damage range and how much XP they need for levelling up. I don’t know the XP curves, so no idea if they end up around the same max level or not.

An interesting piece of information is which enemies the weapon fears/hates. Hated enemies take extra critical hits, while feared foes will make your weapon hide in your backpack (at the end of it, to make things more annoying). Like many mechanics in Gorasul, it’s really a gimmick, for all the weapons’ hated/feared enemies are rare. For example, the gorog for the bow above exists only in a single location (in a group of five in total) and I faced only a single forest demon.

As for the stats: their usefulness is questionable, as I was unable to confirm that they actually work. Take INT for example – it states that it makes your weapon contribute more to talking as well as mana regen. I’ve tested that dialogue part, and it’s both not true at all and also inconsequential. As for the mana regen, my test showed that even if it provides any effect, it’s negligible. In theory, the dagger makes the best weapon for a mage as it gets both +1 INT at level-ups and also levels up the fastest, but then I’m questioning the use of INT on a sentient weapon.

Courage handles critical hit chance and the likelihood of running away. True enough, I wasn’t dealing crits when I designated this to be my dump stat, and as mentioned the hate/fear mechanic is not that important to begin with.

As such I’ve focused on Accuracy and CON, although I have no idea how well they influence anything. In theory CON is extremely important as weapons are the only piece of equipment that breaks and sentient weapons are expensive to repair.

Finally, there’s EGO, which claims that it’s about the weapon making its own decisions if you’re not strong enough. It goes up together with levels and I was never able to witness any effect for it.

All in all, the best is either the axe or bow, depending on how you want to play.

Be warned though, the path of bow & arrow is a hard one. I’ve decided to complete the game with it and settled to fork my experience into a separate paragraph.

The last choice you’ll be making is your difficulty, which is divided into two parts: the story/combat axis and the combat difficulty. The latter is straight forward, but the former requires some explanation: it’s nothing like modern story mode where you just breeze through and do mostly reading. Gorasul has plenty of puzzles, and while on story difficulty you must type the answers to them with your keyboard, on combat difficulty there are no puzzles at all. The difficulty in between offers a bit of both – you’ll have to pick an answer from 6+ available choices. This gained quite a bit of infamy. Supposedly the English translation was so bad that the puzzles were nearly impossible to solve. In Polish, it’s doable to spot the right answer when presented with various choices, although sometimes you do see easy instances like: “How many xxx” with the only single possible answer being a number. The story difficulty is likely for Germans alone.

General gameplay

Exploration is a mix of BG1 and BG2. Clearly the devs couldn’t decide which one they liked more. Locations will appear on your map based on your interactions with NPCs. Sometimes however it will be a wilderness location and you’ll first have to enter that one and leave via a proper exit. A few times, locations will disappear as devs are goading you to do x/y/z first. As you travel, you might run into a standard ambush – a wilderness area with trees that is recycled on each encounter. Technically you can easily farm XP in them as the enemies there can be quite high level. However, your weapon will wear down quickly and you also won’t find any good loot there. As such it’s only something that mage characters can do freely.


Areas are quite diverse and the eye candy can rival PST. However, PST received the love of the community over the years, and you can now admire its areas in higher resolution in their full glory. Meanwhile here everything is annoyingly zoomed in so making proper screenshots was hard.


Luckily you don’t need to gather your party before venturing forth. For the controls are horrible, and thankfully the game can easily be finished solo. Most of the time at least. There are 3 instances of temporary dudes following you. The first time is great – say hello to Elminster:


The dude is not fully controllable and turns out to be invincible. Sadly, the same was not implemented for an elf chick and a mandatory encounter with a frost dragon:


Before every boss encounter, Roszondas and all his party members like to be in the kissing distance. Clearly, he has read too many Geralt-centered stories. I’d advice caution in doing so when it comes to dragons.

As a result you always start combat with bosses in melee range. Your units don’t respond to separate commands too well. If you order one of them to go somewhere – the others will follow. At best you can assign several formations.

In theory there are strategies to pick from, but ‘keep your distance’ means not jumping into melee. A mage will never try to gain distance. In the above fight I had to reload plenty of times to somehow keep the dragon’s aggro on the archer.

One more thing to consider when it comes to grouping up is how defense/AC work. Obviously, it isn’t ever explained but you’ll quickly notice that whenever you engage with 2 or more enemies – you start taking damage quickly. My guess is that AC acts as a damage threshold, but the moment you’re not in a 1:1 fight, both AC and defense become void. It also works the other way – if you a get companion to attack with you, you’ll quickly down an enemy.

There is yet another reason why groups are dangerous. Living enemies will run away when low on HP. If fighting in groups, it will be hard to finish them off when they hide behind their comrades. All the projectiles (spells and arrows) fly harmlessly through friendly units and damage the first enemy they encounter.

Pair that with regeneration – everyone regains small doses of HP based on missing health, meaning that on death’s door you gain it back faster. What’s more – it speeds up for unengaged enemies. If you stand your ground against the group, they will likely ‘rotate’ and you’ll never win. Hence you need to position yourself. You might need to carefully aim your spells too – based on the terrain, a fleeing enemy might be zigzagging and you’ll need to aim your spell well. Being paralyzed/frightened does not seem to affect the chance to hit either.

As an aside, there are a few important features that can be found only if you carefully scroll through all the hotkeys. One is auto running, another is quick save – which is mapped under ctrl+s so you can feel like you’re at work – the proper German experience. It also overwrites your active save, which is a curious implementation.

While Gorasul is focused on combat, it’s not an encounter-driven game. There is a strong narrative and plenty of dialog involved. It’s all quite a pleasurable read even though it doesn’t offer much in terms of C&C. Not of a book/masterpiece variety, more like a short, high fantasy story that you read before you hit the bed.

In fact, you might get into trouble with a munchkin/murderhobo mindset. In the following encounter:


You’re having your ‘You shall not pass’ moment against an enemy army in a mountain pass. You’re facing an endless stream of enemies and in fact you’re supposed to use an obscure item that will split the ground and resolve this problem permanently. The faster you realize it, the better – the more of the dwarven troops survive the more experience you gain.

Gorasul likes to mingle combat with puzzles, and throw hard encounters at you with easy solutions that present themselves if you use your brain. Perhaps you didn’t talk properly with an NPC, perhaps you missed some clue? There was one particularly hard encounter with a boss wraith for which I still wonder if I somehow missed the easy way out.

As you explore, you’ll find plenty of objects to interact with. Is it cut content or did the devs hire too many writers as opposed to programmers? Most of those result only in some comment from the protagonist. Each line is unique and while in the beginning I was scratching my head at this – it grew on me. Roszondas is going out of his way not to ‘do the thing’ and here are a few examples:


This one was really annoying as it was at a time when I needed a lot of money for arrows, but Roszondas would just refuse to pick it all up.


Of course, Roszondas is also too good for the local brothel.

Magic

Magic offers the most satisfactory mechanics in Gorasul.

You cast spells by spending mana. However, its regeneration is not linear. It’s quite rapid when depleted and abysmally slow when nearly full. If you have 50 max mana and want to cast a 50 mana spell, expect to do it once per map without using potions. It’s also a weird design decision to not regen your mana/HP when changing locations, even though that strips you of temporary buffs.

This forces you towards a somewhat unique playstyle: starting with a bang, then spamming the cheapest thing available. Remember when I mentioned that enemies regenerate while not engaged? You need to stand your ground and keep spamming spells, or otherwise prepare to spam potions. Mages have no money sink in this game (enchantments are useless), so remember to blow all your money on mana potions.

Every single spell is channeled, and you gradually deplete mana until you reach the required amount. The rate appears to be based on your max mana, so the larger the pool, the faster you can cast lower level spells. At any point you can be interrupted and lose the mana already spent. Not sure how the interruption mechanics work, although being hit is not required. Or maybe I was hit but my AC lowered the damage to 0? It’s hard to say with this game’s combat log.

You unlock spells whenever your max mana reaches a spell’s cost. In most cases it means raising INT at level-up, but there are items which can increase it temporarily as well.


There are six spell schools to choose from and apart from class penalties there is no specialization available.

While there is a fairly large variety of spells, they don’t hold up under scrutiny. You learn early on that mana/damage efficiency is the most important, and for that reason only 3 out of 7 combat spells are useful. Necromancy offers both damage and summoning spells, but as you can imagine they are inferior, so you disregard them too. There is however a wraith mage summon that perhaps would be useful in the hands of a tanky mage.

Summoning is a mixed bag for me. Most of the enemies you encounter are some forms of demon spawn. As such they can be summoned by you. By going all in for INT early you will be able to summon even draconic larvae thingies or large demons that you normally encounter in the last 2-3 hours of the game. However, in my tests those were weaker than their real counterparts. Summons are quite useful at finishing off fleeing enemies though, and as I stated previously – it’s a major problem when facing a large group as a mage.

There are a bunch of buff spells that in my tests were fairly useful for warriors, provided you splash a bit of INT into your build. These can raise your speed/AC/STR, and while they don’t improve over time, they’re still extremely useful during the first half of the game. In fact, I wish my Archer was of Mage class, as I enjoyed casting them, but the cost penalties were at 200% for me.

The last school are various Tricks, ranging from opening chests (not that many), through identification to illusion. Identification is worth mentioning as it’s not a service provided by any merchant. If you can’t cast it – you must try the item out. Eat a random mushroom – you will see if it’s poisonous. You’ll quickly learn not to pick up any mushrooms in the woods, though herbs are fine. Once you ‘identify’ something, its future copies will be known to you. There are no poisonous elixirs but be warned about items – they can be hexed. You won’t be able to remove them unless you obtain a potion for 300 gold. Hexed items can’t be sold either.

Yes, in the end you will just reload and drop them on the ground.

Sneak archery

Non-mages be warned: the repair costs of your weapons are no joke. Right after leaving tutorial, you will arrive in your first city hub. At that time, your repair bill is already 100 gold (while you have like 30). Not everything is lost though! Thanks to metagaming, I rush a nearby dragon quest, do some save scumming to receive a monetary reward, and I’m 750 g richer.

Except at that point the repair bill went up to 350 (there is no partial option) and I had to pay 400 to replace my used arrows.

That payout was clearly an exception, so I had to seek other countermeasures to the brutal economy. There is no difference in building your PC around bows vs melee, though if you use a different weapon, your sentient one will no longer gain experience.

However, I did eventually learn that the only thing that matters is wielding the sentient weapon when an enemy dies. As such you can switch to it for the last hit or finish the enemy off with a spell and earn full XP. The fact that you can swap weapons under pause and that it’s an instant action makes the whole ordeal somewhat easy. Furthermore, weapon wear & tear does not affect its price, and thus my new way of playing was born: to keep switching between swords and bow + replace the swords as they wear down. I had to suffer like half the game this way and yes – on many occasions I questioned why I didn’t just restart with an axe, but at this point I wanted to see how bad/better it would get.

And it kept on delivering… the second city had no arrows in bulk (as in they were selling only 10).

Neither did the third city for that matter. Or any other. The pattern was clear. At one point I realized that arrows are not present as loot either.

As such coming back all the way to the first town became a necessity since it was the only place where I could buy 400 arrows.

Still, I did notice that while specialty arrows are few to buy, they are not very expensive, and I could easily dump them on harder enemies. On top of that, while the repair cost seems to be affected by the weapon level, it’s barely noticeable. Eventually you start finding artifacts worth 1k+ gold and you can switch to using bow full time again (provided you’re willing to make more trips to the rookie village). Yes, it’s clear that archery wasn’t properly tested, but then I wouldn’t call this game polished.

Finally, my life reached a point when I had plenty of gold, so it was the right time to introduce a money sink: weapon enchanting. Any weapon can be enchanted (sentient too), you can stack as many enchantments as you want and their price is 1-5k. Effects range from elemental damage to paralysis and instant death. Each has a different chance of occurring, and it’s one of the few features that can be found explained in the manual – though you won’t understand what it is when you read it for the first time, and you’ll encounter this mechanic long after you forget of the manual’s existence. What’s also worth noting is that instant death’s chance is 5% but it can down even bosses.

I was rich, had a fully enchanted bow and 400 arrows. I was putting 2/3 of my points into weapon durability. I went to the mines because… it seems like every RPG has a mine location where you investigate some sort of disease/poisoning/missing miners. Anyway, halfway through my bow broke and I ran out of arrows.


Once I finished the game, it was time for reflections: clearly that’s the most annoying way of playing (unless you want to play with party members) but was putting up with it worth it?

The answer is hard – while I wouldn’t say that you should do it, archery is superior in damage output. Specialty arrows more than make up for the difference between the starting bow and axe while also providing extra enchantments. The bow levels up the fastest. There appear to be no penalties for shooting at point blank and running + shooting is a strategy that can be effectively utilized.

Finishing words

Gorasul’s development is a rare example of overreaching that yet somehow manages to cross the finish line. Clearly, it’s not a polished product and you might often wonder what was cut from it.

Yet it’s enjoyable and provides some unique gaming experience. In a world of Infinity Engine era copycats, it did its own thing, and therefore it can’t be described in simple terms like ‘Baldur’s Gate but mainly about combat’.

In fact, it’s mandatory experience for every RPG cliché enjoyer out there.

It’s hard for me to estimate how long a single playthrough is, since I can’t rely on Steam and was experimenting a bit. If you’re armed with knowledge from this piece, you’ll likely finish it in 10 hours. For Gorasul does not waste your time with boring encounters only to drop a key at the end of a corridor.

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