The Nethergate instruction book is printed in grayscale on 8.5x11 paper folded in half and stapled, with a thicker cover for durability.
The CD is in a jewel case and has a color cover featuring a Roman warrior in full armor battling a Celt covered in woad. The back cover has a game blurb, screenshots, system requirements, and company information. The CD contains the game, the demo version of the game (essentially the same thing, but players can only progress to a certain point in the storyline), the software license, the press release for the game, and four official screenshots. The copy I purchased in 2000 contains demos of all Spiderweb games released prior to 1999 (Exile 1, 2, and 3, Blades of Exile, and Ocean Bound). A CD bought today could include demos of later Spiderweb games.
The instruction booklet which explains how to play, and a Book of Answers (hintbook) is also available.
Installing the game produces a Nethergate folder on your hard drive which includes the game, software license, a short ReadMe file, and documentation (which does include a few features such as the bibliography which are referenced in the printed guide).
PowerPC Macintosh (minimum 80Mhz, 8 MB free RAM, 16 bit color) running Mac OS 9.2.2 or earlier (while the game is not native to the current OS 10.x, it can be run in classic mode) or a PC running Windows 95/98/NT/2000.
I was unable to access a Windows XP computer to test it on, and it may not run on a very new Mac with Intel-based hardware. This means that the game may be unplayable on very new computers, however it is very easy to test this by simply downloading the free demo from the Spiderweb website and seeing if it will run on a newer machine.
Nethergate is a fantasy computer role-playing game which can be played on wither a Macintosh or Windows computer. It is shareware, which means it was not produced by a commercial company with a large budget, but rather made almost entirely by one individual and marketed via a "try it then buy it" method. As such, there is large demo available to try for free and purchasing the product costs a little over half as much as purchasing a game in the same genre from a computer game store. The ease of trying out the game and the low cost of purchase make Nethegate a product of interest to libraries.
But will it be of interest to patrons? The game is nearly six years old and does not have the graphics or sound that was common in big budget games from that time, let alone the technology of computer games produced today. Yet the game is still being played and downloaded from the Spiderweb website, as is evidenced by the fact that the official message board for this game still gets a couple of new questions a month.
Nethergate is still of interest because it has a long and involved storyline, and a premise that is unique. The game is set in ancient Britain as the Roman Empire fights to subjugate the native Celtic tribes. As is typical for a role-playing game, the player controls a small group of characters or adventurers and explores an area fighting enemies and picking up treasure, weapons, and other items. While many role-playing games have very similar plots (an evil force is trying to take over the world), Nethergate’s Celts versus Romans is refreshingly different. The most unique aspect of the game is being able to play both sides of the conflict. Playing as the Romans will reveal half the plot- you learn that the local Celts seem to be involved in an agreement with some weird beings called the Sidhe (faeries) and every time your group of soldiers manages to get one of the artifacts that the locals are after, it gets stolen by a clever band of Celtic warriors. It is only by later playing the game again as the Celts that you learn what the Sidhe are up to (and get to steal your artifacts back from those pesky Romans). Playing Nethergate twice may sound redundant, but each side does get a different storyline and different allies- characters that are helpful to the Celts will sometimes try to kill a party of Romans on sight. Additionally, a player may find that they prefer the fighting style of one side as opposed to that of the other: the Celts have a tradition lf magic and start the game with much better spells, while the Romans have superior weapons training and are far better physical fighters.
Nethergate includes a lot of information about the time period. While there are notable historical inaccuracies (druids and other mages can cast magic spells), the creator did work to research the period and include his findings in the game, including quotes from Roman documents at the beginning of each section of the storyline, historical items and explanations of what they were used for (including the toga, papyrus, stirgil, stola, torc, and woad), and a section in the game documentation devoted to why some historical details were changed. The section in the game documentation includes a nine item bibliography for those interested in researching the Celts and Romans. The mythology of other cultures also appears in the game- at one point the adventurers run into a creature from across the sea calling itself Raven.
The plotline (which is long and involved), the ability to play as either side, and a setting which varies from a generic fantasyland are all qualities which will catch a potential player’s attention. However, as stated earlier, the graphical and sound quality is not what a modern game player is used to, and this may mean that some patrons just won’t give Nethergate more than a passing glance. The graphics are not 3D, they are two-dimensional images drawn from an angled viewpoint (known as isometric graphics). This gives the game a somewhat cartoon-ish appearance and can make navigating difficult for some (as the main screen is displayed at a forty-five degree angle and the area maps are not). While in a town or in combat mode the main screen is zoomed in on either the town or the fighting area, and the graphics are legible. When your group of adventurers walks or rides horses from town to town the screen zooms out and your adventurers are tiny compared to everything else.
Celtic warriors approach a powerful Sidhe in a throne room.
Celtic warriors in the home of large talking spiders.
Roman warriors explore a basement storeroom. Note that two additional characters have joined the group.
The sound effects are basic, and there is no background music in this game, something that is unheard of in games produced today. For more information on Nethergate’s sound, please listen to this MP3 file. SORRY, the sound file is no longer available as it is very large and I need the file space for other assignments. I will try to make a smaller file soon (11/16/2006).
It should be noted that Spiderweb Software’s games are very popular with "retro" gamers, individuals who enjoyed classic computer games from the 1980’s like Ultima and Wizardry. These retro gamers like the fact that the game reminds them of ones they played in their childhoods and consider the sound and graphics to be a selling point.
While Nethergate looks to be aimed at adults and teens, the graphics are not overly bloody or terribly realistic, and there is no sexual activity or adult language. The Celts in this game do make a human sacrifice (a burning man with cattle thieves inside) which is described in text only. Parents of younger children who may be interested in playing the game should be made aware of this. Even so, the game is very PG-13 (to use the common movie ratings system), and as such children as young as 8 may well enjoy it (and learn the interface faster than their adult counterparts).
Other Reviews (from websites focused on computer games):
Nethergate would be an excellent buy for any library looking to have computer games available to patrons. It will run on older computers (which many libraries have), and takes up little hard drive space compared to newer or commercially made games. Lending out CDs with the demo on them will allow patrons to try out the game without violating the game designer’s copyrights and will make the game accessible to those with no internet connection. Nethergate can also be tied into library programs on various topics, including the Roman Empire, the Celts, British history, and world mythology.
Robin Sanford is a library science student who has played or watched cousins and friends play computer games too numerous to count and also has been known to read and explore the mythology of various European cultures.
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