Preview | Baron Wittard: Nemesis of Ragnarok Hands-On
Odin back the tears
Format: PC | Genre: Point & click adventure | Publisher: Iceberg Interactive | Developer: Wax Lyrical Games | ETA: Feb 2011
Mike Yeoman is intimidated but intrigued by BARON WITTARD: NEMESIS OF RAGNAROK.
IT IS called Utopia. Built by the eccentric architect Baron Wittard it was intended to be the perfect city complex all under one roof. However, as with any planned paradise, and especially when that paradise is dreamt by one man (we’re looking at you Andrew Ryan) things have wrong – terribly wrong.
You play as a photographer, assigned to take photos of Utopia for a magazine assignment. As far as you know the local council closed Utopia for being unsound although your editor Kate drops enough hints that this is not the full story. It only takes a few moments of gameplay to become aware that there are darker things afoot than the machinations of a local council.
Baron Wittard is an adventure game where powers of observation and puzzle solving ability are key with the focus mainly on the latter. In the developers’ diary (a team of two, Alan Thorn and Marlies Maalderink) it states ‘it is likely to be intimidating because the game features puzzles; lots and lots of puzzles.’ Replace the phrase ‘be intimidating’ with ‘induce hissy-fits of frustration that would not be out of place for a five year old’ then it might come closer to defining my experience with the game. But, and let me emphasise this, my experience with the game at its worst.
Some of the puzzles are hard, it’s true. These puzzles require pad and pen (or Excel spreadsheet in my case) and a desperate searching through long lost memories of fundamental mathematics. Some are also very easy and for that reprieve let us be thankful. Solving either level of puzzle can be immensely rewarding. But Baron Wittard also has a range of puzzles that are truly mystifying. The equivalent of handing someone a Sudoku puzzle for the first time without the instructions on how to complete them. When solving these, I did not feel gratified or relieved, just slightly embittered that I was left alone to work out not just how to solve the puzzle but also what the puzzle actually was.
However, Baron Wittard is a grand achievement particularly in light of the small development team. In its current state, there are so many things right about the game particularly in the look and the feel of Utopia. It’s atmospheric and, despite its old school slide-show navigation, can be quite immersive. The plotline is compelling, with revelations delivered slowly and each one raising even more questions to the mystery of Utopia. It certainly feels like a full bodied world and one I would dearly love to sink my teeth into.
But enjoyment is always the key measure of a game and currently Baron Wittard sells itself a little short . Although I admire the stance that Baron Wittard has – its hands off approach to game progression – I also like the fact that games have moved on a long way from the sometimes unforgiving, unseen rules of olden days. I like the fact that developers have decided that a teensy bit of spoon feeding can sometimes be a good thing.
Regrettably, all too often, I felt left out in the void with Baron Wittard. Did the switch I flick have any effect? What is the purpose of turning those three valves? Does the order I turn them in have any effect? I honestly had no idea. And when investigating the world of Utopia I was allowed to inspect and interact with the strangest things and denied access to others. Could I look at the Indian take-away menu? Yes. Could I interact with the torch on the floor. No. It may be that later the take-away menu becomes a crucial plot point but somehow I doubt it.
Despite all this I can imagine travelling back to the world of Baron Wittard – it’s just too fascinating a mystery to pass up. There are certainly a whole slew of people I know who would enjoy both the mysterious world of Utopia and it’s sometimes ruthless puzzles. For my part I would have to return armed not only with a pad and pen but also with the ultimate failsafe that all gamers use only in utmost emergencies – the online walkthrough! And in this instance, I say that with little shame.