Added to the lair: 5/4/19
Genre: Point-And-Click Adventure / 1st person
Developer: Legend Entertainment Company
Emulator: DOSBox Daum / Retroarch
Wikipedia: Death Gate
As we sunder it, so do we sunder the world...
I'm a fan of Legend Entertainment's adventure games. Their early text-parser adventures like Spellcasting 101, Gateway, and Eric the Unready, were full of wonder, whimsy, and no shortage of humor.
Later they would go on to create a number of more "modern" graphic adventure games, like Companions of Xanth, Shannara, Callahan's Crosstime Saloon and Death Gate. Death Gate is probably my favorite of these. Despite never having read the books, I became completely absorbed by the creativity on display, which transported me to strange worlds with beautiful artwork and a bevy of interesting ideas.
When it comes to story, Death Gate throws a lot at you at once. It's very exposition-heavy, which I'm ordinarily not a fan of, but it's probably necessary here to explain a wide array of concepts - including spins on existing fantasy tropes as well as some entirely new ideas. I probably should get around to reading the source material some day because there are a lot of really intriguing concepts underneath the surface that really help flesh out the world. There's a ton of lore here. Having just replayed through it again, it was more text-heavy than I remembered, but the good news is that the writing is good enough and the story interesting enough that it still maintains your interest regardless. I don't want to go into any specific detail, as I don't want to ruin anything, but suffice it to say that there's a lot of consistently fascinating story to take in here.
The voice acting is generally pretty good, though there are a few exceptions to this. It's all hammed-up for dramatic effect, but it works within context; in fact, the more over the top characters often greatly outshine the comparatively subdued ones. Xar and Zaplo are some real standouts. Haplo, the protagonist, is thankfully pretty solid and the dialogue choices give him quite a few opportunities to really play up some serious douche-bagginess which is usually pretty entertaining. Given his situation and what he's been through, this can admittedly result in some tonal inconsistency, but somehow it still works. Tonal inconsistency, if you choose to see it that way, is actually present throughout a fair bit of the game - one moment you'll be talking to someone about slavery or evil magic and the next someone will be cracking a joke about some fantasy cliche or making a pun. Based on a bit of research, I get the impression that this is fairly consistent with the source material. You could argue that it undermines itself by doing this, but I think the moments of levity actually help the serious notes hit even harder. I really enjoyed the story, overall, to the point that it actually does make me want to read the book; especially since you can tell some things have been truncated for time.
The puzzles are perhaps a little on the easy side, but I actually found this to be a breath of fresh air because the truth is that the vast majority of solutions simply make sense. This is a great asset, in my opinion. Despite how typically common it is for this type of game, there's very little arbitrary and obtuse "puzzle game logic" on display here, and the vast majority of puzzles can be reasoned out with just a bit of consideration. There are a handful of exceptions to this, but I could literally count them on one hand over the course of the entire game.
The music is very solid, and really helps accentuate the mood from whimsical to foreboding. Arguably it's a bit on the "generic fantasy music" side of things, but I'd probably just describe it as "It works."; and pretty well, at that.
Probably my single largest complaint is that the end of the game feels quite rushed - you spend a great deal of time in the first few worlds and then the last few areas go by at a blistering pace, culminating in an ending that mostly just "happens" and subsequently presents you with a very brief text description of events taking place after the final moments of the game. The relative brevity of the ending seems particularly odd given the frequently long-winded nature of the rest of the story. It ends up making things feel rather lopsided. I suspect this was due to budgetary or time constraints, or some combination of the two. It's an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise excellent game, but not one significant enough to ruin the experience overall.
I really like Death Gate. It's a very solid and enjoyable adventure game that fans of the genre or just fans of fantasy in general should definitely check out. Highly recommended!
One final note: Death Gate was available very briefly on GOG - literally about two months. It was then taken down for undisclosed reasons and has yet to be made available again (in over a year since), with the official statement being that there is no guarantee that it ever will be available again. If it is made available again (and I hope that it is) I will gladly replace this package with a patch-only version that doesn't include the game.