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Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Pools of Darkness is the fourth and last chapter of SSI's first AD&D Gold Box RPG series. The epic storyline that began with Pool of Radiance, and continued in Curse of the Azure Bonds and Secret of the Silver Blades, ends here. From humble origins, characters have quested for years to rid the land of evil and become great heroes known throughout the Forgotten Realms' world, and even powerful deities have taken notice.
Pools of Darkness presents the six-character party with their greatest challenge yet. The fate of an entire continent hangs in the balance, as they must confront a god in his own domain. As in previous games in the series, exploration and NPC interaction is viewed from a first-person perspective, while battles are strategically fought using a turn-based isometric combat mode.
The game suffers gameplay balance problems stemming from the faithful reproduction of AD&D rules, which break down at the high levels eventually attained by the characters. Mages become vastly overpowering compared to other classes at the highest levels, making up for being the most useless characters in the party at the lower levels. Non-human races are restricted in advancement by level caps, which can result in some not gaining any levels at all. Even if limited advancement occurs, they're non-factors in most battles. Non-human mages are affected most severely, as they're saddled with all the disadvantages of human mages but can acquire none of the powerful advanced spells.
Despite the problems, Pools of Darkness is satisfying as both an individual RPG and as the finale of the series. The epic storyline is complemented by a degree of nonlinear gameplay, and features intense strategic battles with a variety of very powerful enemies. First timers to the series, as well as veterans familiar with the AD&D rule set, will enjoy the experience, but the game's high level play may be too complex for those not familiar with rules. Veterans who import primarily non-human parties from previous games will be upset by limitations on character advancement.
OVERALL RATING: 5 ~ Kyle Knight, All Game Guide