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Retro D&D RPG ‘Menzoberranzan’ is Upsettingly Immersive

5 Minute Read
Apr 2 2024

Usually immersive is a good thing, but some of Menzoberranzan gives flashbacks to all the bad DMs I’ve ever played with.

Retro D&D RPG video games are on the rise! At least, I hope so. We previously talked about my comfort food games like DungeonHack and my struggles with the Risk-like Fantasy Empires. Let’s keep it going and dive into the Drow city of Menzoberranzan.

Menzoberranzan Overview

In the Forgotten Realms, Menzoberranzan is a major Drow city, and Menzoberranzan follows the novelization of the Forgotten Realms, as written most notably by R.A. Salvatore in his Legend of Drizzt series.

Welcome back. It’s under the cloud.

Gameplay in Menzoberranzan is similar to titles like Eye of The Beholder, with some advantages and disadvantages. It often goes to great lengths to make the game as true and authentic as playing a tabletop RPG. But, this ends up being as much a hindrance as a benefit.

The Good

Menzoberranzan is very open in its character creation. You’re offered multiple races and classes to choose from, and the game 100% does not care what you do with stats. It’s your game and they let you do whatever you want. Check out how statted Joey is.

Ignore that Emily and Baldy are dead. We’ll get to that later.

Unlike in many previous titles, in Menzoberranzan, there is free movement. You’re not snapping from one game square to the next in incremental chunks. However, you do have that option if you prefer. This makes navigating much more fluid when you won’t suddenly become disoriented by accidentally hitting Turn Left.

The Bad

It’s unfair to say the graphics are bad, so the game is bad. That’s not what I want to say.

But it is close. Can you even tell what I’m fighting here?

Emily and Baldy died so I could capture this screenshot.

It can be just a very dark game. Even with the brightness settings cranked to the max, it’s impossible to see anything. “But, it’s nighttime!” you cry. “It should be dark!”. And that’s my main gripe with the game. It’s too immersive in those sorts of ways.

The benefit of playing a video game is not having to deal with a lot of that sort of minutia. Those little things that typically come with not only tabletop RPGs but also reality. I can appreciate a game for having a day/night cycle. But when the gameplay turns into stopping to click the Rest Until Morning button every few minutes (which this game does not even have), you’ve lost the point of why you should include certain mechanics.

It’s not all bad. The game will automatically fill in a map as you explore, and that’s great.

What really pushes Menzoberranzan into the realm of “too fiddly” is the inclusion of a Clue Book. If you buy the game on Steam, it comes with a Clue Book which is something of a walkthrough. If you’re going to play through this game, you need to be following the Clue Book to get through with any sort of expediency.

While playing through Menzoberranzan I was reminded of the times I played with DMs who refused to hand wave anything away.

“We go to the local tavern.” -The Party
“You don’t know where it is.” -DM
“We ask around.” -Party
“Who do you ask?” -DM

There’s a certain amount of handwaving that makes games flow a lot better. Unfortunately, Menzoberranzan is not interested in handwaving. For example, the first thing you do in the game is douse a burning building with buckets of water. You’re required to walk back and forth with buckets of water to put out every individual fire, then go back to fill up your buckets to do it again.

Back to the topic of questionable graphics: Did you notice that the building in the first picture in this article is on fire? I bet you didn’t. Go back and check. I’ll wait.

“Adventureing” by Menzoberranzan

Then, they tell you to go to the Guardhouse, but they don’t tell you where the Guardhouse is. You have to go bump into every building until you find the one without locked doors. The game has a lot of that.

“Figure it out” is the motto of Menzoberranzan.

Is That Even Really So Bad?

No, I don’t think that at all. Even though the folks who don’t read past the headline will tell you that is what I think.

I think the designers knew what they were doing and did exactly what they set out to do. They wanted a game that required players to wander around and talk and figure out what to do and where to go. It really has a ton of depth, like tracking weight limits and being able to take notes on the map.

If you’re someone who loves “having” to take notes during a game, you will love Menzoberranzan.

You just can’t reason with Gnolls.

However, if you prefer games to do some of the work for you so that you don’t have to, this might not be your speed. You’re expected to do a lot of extra work to keep the game moving forward.

Still, it is a very solid game with a lot going for it. It’s an absolute classic. Just one I personally won’t be returning to anytime soon.


Author: Matt Sall
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