Currently Playing : The Citadel of Chaos (1983)
Upcoming : Telengard (1983)
Recently Finished : Gateway to Apshai*, Dunzhin

Monday, April 11, 2016

Game 2 : Gateway to Apshai (1983) (**Finished)

Title :  Gateway to Apshai
Release Year : 1983
Publisher : Epyx

   Looking at my list of titles released in 1983, one series seems to stand out in terms of sheer quantity--the Dunjonquest series. According to MobyGames, 9 games appeared in the Dunjonquest series, excluding the Apshai trilogy release. Ironically, the Apshai games never really reached the notoriety of some other C64 RPG franchises, but nevertheless was a big financial success for publisher Epyx.

  Gateway to Apshai is actually the last game released in the series, but I didn't know that going in. I assumed with the title being "Gateway" to Apshai that this was the first game, a precursor to Temple of Apshai, but I was mistaken.

Title screen

  My biggest disappointment though was finding out that Gateway to Apshai has no true ending. I am glad I researched the game a little before playing it, because it saved me a lot of time of unnecessary grinding in an attempt to reach an ending that didn't exist.

  I figured a fair way to do this session would be to play for around 3 hours, see what the game has to offer, calculate up a score, and move on. If the game had an ending things would be different, but I figure I can see all the game has to offer within a 3 hour window.

Stat time

  Gateway to Apshai is a RPG technically, but focuses much more on action than other titles in the genre. The game uses the joystick as it's primary form of control, with the function keys on the C64 used to issue various commands. At it's core, it feels very much like an arcade game, with the only real goal to amass as many points as possible. I will get to that a little bit later, but for now let's get to the story.

  The main quest is told in the game manual, which describes our nameless hero being taken by force from his home, under the eyes of his screaming mother, and dropped outside of a cave. From here, we learn that our hero is....wait for it....part of an ancient prophecy!

  It seems that the lost Temple of Apshai is the key to solving all the problems in the lands, but only an heir to an ancient warrior's bloodline (who is now deceased) can enter the temple. Predictably, our avatar is that heir, and has now arrived at the Gateway to Apshai in hopes of finding the elusive temple.

The starting room

  My first step was starting up a new game. There is no character customization to speak of, but we are given a base set of stats including strength, agility, and luck. We are also given a health rating and "lives". Gateway has no save feature, so once your lives are gone the game is over. This gives the game a very distinct arcade feel, and dumbs down the game to what is essentially an action title. After being given some leather armor and a short sword we are off to the dungeon.

  This is where one of the oddest features of the game rears it's ugly head. Before starting, we are allowed to choose which dungeon to play in. There are a total of 16 dungeons with 8 levels in each one. In my 3 hours of playing I was able to reach level 8 easily. In the top right corner is a timer that goes downward from 99 to 0. Once at 0, you go to the next level...unless of course you choose to go to the next level on your own.

One big door.

  That's right, you can manually skip levels--so getting to the 8th level of any dungeon requires no skill at all. Yes, monsters are stronger the deeper you get and the items you can pick up are better, but what is the point? I can only kill so many spiders, rats and ghouls without purpose before I start getting annoyed that there really is no goal other than a high score.

  At the end of each level you are randomly given stat boosts or a health boost. I am not sure if your bonus is determined by how much you killed on the previous level, how much treasure you found, how long you survived the clock, or all three combined into some weird algorithm. Regardless, character development is completely out of your control, and is very restrictive.

  Many people have claimed Gateway to Apshai is a rogue-like, but that is not necessarily true. Gateway has pre-designed levels and set encounters, as well as hand placed treasure and items. Equipment is nice with shields, potions, armors and weapons to be found scattered throughout the dungeon, with the ability to equip, use and drop items.

  Combat is an arcade fare, as you can imagine, and is reduced to a button mashing affair. You can attack with a melee weapon, a ranged weapon or a spell scroll--all while taking advantage of the *horrid* monster AI. Yes, it's that bad. Pressing your button initiates the attack and, well, that's about it. The best tactic I found was to keep my distance and unload arrows at every opportunity.

A ghoul chasing me means one thing...I am about to die.

  It really is a shame that Gateway is such a shallow game. Graphically the game looks pretty good, and animations are top notch for a 1983 title. Overall, the game plays pretty smoothly and is programmed very well. It just strikes me way too much as an arcade game more than an RPG, so I think it is best to move on.

  I couldn't really live with myself if I didn't see all the game had to offer. I decided to start up my character and play down to level 8 and try to survive until the timer ran out on each level, exploring as much as I could. I died quite a bit, but before long I found surviving to not be too difficult.

  Published by Epyx, I couldn't find any information on the designers of the game other than "The Connelley Group". Apparently, Gateway is far more action oriented than the previous Apshai games, and I am much more anxious to try those games out now. There is a basis for a really good RPG here, but with no ending...I can't stick with this one.

Bugs. I hate bugs.

  Let's wrap this one up.

  •   3.5 points for graphics and sounds. The game looks pretty good, and animates beautifully. Sound effects are pretty well done too, although there is no music to speak of.
  •   1 point for character development. You cannot create your character and have no control of their growth. Although there are some stats, they are very basic at best.
  •   1 point for combat and encounters. Combat is like an arcade game, and there is no creativity or consistency with the encounters. Monsters are very generic and have no special abilities--defeating them doesn't feel rewarding enough.
  •   0.5 points for story and writing. There are no NPCs at all, no mention of the main quest once the game starts and no descriptions or text to add flavor to the gameworld. Worst of ending.
  •   0.5 points for the gameworld. There is no atmosphere, and the repetitive nature of the dungeons gets old quick. The ability to go to any dungeon level is a ridiculous idea, and there really is no depth or lore to the world.
  •   3 points for items and equipment. There is a pretty good selection of items to obtain, and it's fun to use them in various ways to figure out their purpose. Items never drop on monsters though, and there are no shops or places to sell your goods.
  Overall, this gives Gateway to Apshai a total of 9.5, which is slightly higher than my previous played game Dunzhin. Admittedly, I am a little shocked by that one, as I felt Dunzhin was more enjoyable that Gateway, but the score stands. I couldn't fathom giving Gateway any bonus points for anything, so on we move.

  I am looking forward to my next title, The Citadel of Chaos, based on the Fighting Fantasy series of gamebooks by Steve Jackson. Thankfully, I know that game has an ending. I will probably jump into the game in the next couple of days.

  Total Session Time : 3 hours and 1 minute


  1. Nice review. Read the whole thing. Well written and entertaining. Concise, but not too brief. Very good.

    Might I suggest that if your current method of scoring games doesn't quite accurately represent your feelings, ajust your scoring method. With only two games, and both fresh in your mind, now is a good time to do so.

    Looking forward to more reviews!

  2. Richard,

    Thanks a lot for the kind words. And yes, it was hard for me to accept Gateway as a better RPG than Dunzhin. I think the tipping of the scales came from the graphics and sound category, as Gateway was so much better than Dunzhin in that regard.

    I may look into changing a few things. I am going to give Citadel of Chaos and Telengard a go, then re-evaluate from there.

    Thanks for reading!