In 1983, Infocom saw four new games by three neophyte implementors, styled in the literary genres of science fiction, adventure fiction, and mystery. The old guard behind Zork, though, weren't yet ready to ascend to fulltime hands off middle management. Mark Blank and Dave Lebling, who last worked together on Zork III, would collaborate one last time on Enchanter, which they initially conceived as Zork IV, and some players still regard it as such.
The original folio packaging of Enchanter came with a wax-sealed letter from the Circle of Enchanters addressed to you, an apprentice, prophesying your destiny to defeat a powerful warlock. Zork II had let us dabble with magic near its end after retrieving the wizard's wand, and could cast several different spells, all beginning with the letter "F," but only one was useful. Here, magic spells are the focus, and we begin with three - Frotz to light up dark rooms, Nitfol to speak with animals, and Blorb for item protection, and more are learned throughout the quest.
The manual takes the form of a guild directory. Other Infocom games would preface their manual with an in-universe document but eventually break the kayfabe, but not here. Instructions on spellcasting come on a page for the Thaumaturgic Guild, parser instructions from the Orators Guild, mapping guidance from The Guild of Cartographers, even a Fletchers Guild page with notes on "loading" and "scoring."
The most important section here is the Thaumaturgic Guild's notes on spellcasting; the spell "Gnusto" is used to transcribe newly found incantations into your spellbook from which it may be cast indefinitely. As in D&D, spells must be memorized before they can be cast, but this is a simple action that can be performed any time and works immediately; I'm not even sure why this step is necessary. The more powerful spells can't be transcribed or memorized, but are cast from disposable scrolls which deplete after a single use.
I started the game, which opened with a brief prologue.
must be the warlock Krill. The odd disappearances, the mysterious
dissolution of regions sacred to the Circle, the lessening of the Powers
-- these could only be his handiwork. The Circle gathers and its
leader, the esteemed Belboz, reveals to them an ancient document which
portends evil days much like our own.
"Krill's evil must be unmade," he begins, "but to send a powerful Enchanter is ill-omened. It would be ruinous to reveal oversoon our full powers." A ripple of concern spreads over the face of each Enchanter. Belboz pauses, and collects his resolve. "Have hope! This has been written by a hand far wiser than mine!"
He recites a short spell and you appear. Belboz approaches, transfixing you with his gaze, and hands you the document. The other Enchanters await his decree. "These words, written ages ago, can have only one meaning. You, a novice Enchanter with but a few simple spells in your Book, must seek out Krill, explore the Castle he has overthrown, and learn his secrets. Only then may his vast evil be lessened or, with good fortune, destroyed."
The Circle rises and intones a richly woven spell, whose many textures imbue the small, darkened chamber with warmth and hope. There is a surge of power; you are Sent.
I found myself at a road fork from which I could see the Lonely Mountain to the east, and hills to the west. As always, I began by Trizborting.
To the west was a long road winding back to civilization, dotted with a series of signs not so subtly hinting that this is the wrong direction. In fact, it goes on forever. The fork branches to the east into a network of trails which, in that Zorkian fashion, make mapping difficult by connecting in non-orthographic ways. The sun rose as I explored, showing that Enchanter does simulate the passage of time throughout the day. An abandoned shack near the fork contains a busted lantern - a red herring I'm sure and a nod to the fact that with magic you don't need one - an oven with a loaf of bread inside, and an empty jug.
Trails continued eastward through patches of brambles, eventually leading up to a castle secured by a locked iron gate.
It didn't take long for my character to start feeling thirsty, then parched, and then hungry as well. Shortly after the sun set, I died of thirst for the first time, though the council reluctantly resurrected me and sent me back. Nearby the eastern side of the mountain was brook where I could drink water and fill my jug.
The other side of the road fork led down a dusty trail, through a loop, and to the base of the Lonely Mountain, which could be climbed but to no obvious purpose. South of the mountain lay a deserted village, where its last citizen offered a gift as I entered her hovel.
It is dark and smoky
in here, but this is a place of great disorder, and its odor is
indescribable. A pile of rags sits near a small pot which is bubbling
and steaming over a tiny fire. The pile of rags sports a gnarled hand
which busies itself with the noisome stew. A closer look reveals a
withered crone at the other end of the hand.
The creature looks you over keenly and speaks: "I should have thought they would send someone more ... more ..." She laughs in an unsettling way. "They've all left! A great storm is brewing in the east, my friend, and all have fled before it!" She starts to chuckle. "Take this and begone!" With a wave of her hand, you find yourself reeling out of the door of the hovel, holding some sort of scroll in your hand.
This scroll was the spell rezrov, capable of opening locks. Continuing past the village to the northeast was a path through the outskirts, merging back with the trail to the iron gate.
The map of this starting region complete, I restarted and efficiently gathered my provisions, and went to the gate to rezrov it open.
Within the castle I explored more and saw some sights within. The castle loops around a wide, multi-room courtyard, which itself loops around a sinister looking temple, which is almost instantly fatal to enter - the priests performing their ghastly rituals there will see to it. A junction east of the courtyard, connecting it to the north and south gates on the eastern side, is likewise fatal to enter, as patrolling goons are sure to cross through and seize you without warning. I died no fewer than three times this way by entering this junction from each of the adjacent corridors.
Other features in and around the castle I found were:
- A pebbled path leading north to a dark tower, which I could explore safely after Frotzing my own spellbook. At the top of this tower I found a jewel room whose sole remaining treasure was a jewel-studded egg, which opened after manipulating the various gemstones surrounding it, revealing a shredded scroll.
- A four-room wide hall of mirrors, in which the mirrors were described as windows to another world, and an adventurer with a brass lantern and elvish sword could be seen, peering back.
- The North Gate, which yields to rezrov, and leads to a forest and swamp region where I found a scroll "krebf" for repairing damage, and a "cleesh" spell for turning creatures into newts. Krebf worked on the shredded scroll, providing me with a "zifmia"for summoning beings. I tried summoning Krill to see what would happen, and it worked too well. Zifmia also worked on the adventurer seen in the mirrors, but to no obvious purpose.
- A door past the north gate sealed with living chains and a five-headed beast embedded in its frame that would not yield to rezrov.
- A library of burned books, with one remaining tome with only a few legible words within.
- A closet room between the courtyard and the southern hall, in which a jeweled box is secured with a Gordian knot.
- Another tower in the southwest of the castle, with a bedroom at the top.
- A banquet hall spread with magical food and cutlery, and an adjoining kitchen in a state of extreme dilapidation.
- A third tower in the southeast of the castle. At the top is an engine room, where a passage to the southeast may be entered, but doing so activates a crushing trap that makes returning impossible. The room there holds an array of arcane controls and a "kulcad" spell of dispel magic which cannot be gnusto'd.
- A pathway out of the castle's
southern gate, through a meadow, down to a beach where a multi-hued
turtle crawls, and can be spoken to with nitfol, but says nothing
- An oubliette leading down to a MOTLP of
translucent rooms made distinguishable from one another by their
descriptions. I found nothing useful down here, and no way out except
the way I came in.
I discovered a secret passage in the dungeon, revealed by pushing on a loose block, concealing an unfinished escape route, and a spell "exex" for making things faster. I tried seeing if I could exex myself and pass through the trapped engine room passage with the kulcad scroll. The game acknowledged the attempt, noting I could now zip through all of the smashing hammers and grinding gears, but a spear trap skewered me all the same.
At this point, my map felt reasonably complete, I had discovered quite a few challenges, and solved a few of them, though several more remained unsolved. Notably, so far not a single puzzle was solved by using inventory items. That isn't to say there aren't any purely mechanical puzzles here - magic, after all, can't solve all of your problems - but Enchanter still presents a step away from the materialism inherent to the genre and so especially prevalent in classic Zork.