Aleshar: World of Ice is one of the best shareware RPGs ever made, although it remains very obscure due to lack of publicity or marketing (and perhaps high cost of registration as well ;)). The game is set in a distant island of Aleshar, where it's always winter and cold. Your goal is to find ways to harness and use the Elemental Powers within you, while avoiding prosecution by the powerful Cult of Wisdom (the only legal user of magic) that hunted and executed your grandfather who refused to become a priest.
The game is played from an overhead perspective, much like old Ultima games, except the game uses isometric graphics instead of 2D tiles. The game plays like a standard RPG, with some nice touches and unique skils. For example, high skiing skill allows you to travel faster, and high climbing skill will make you move faster on snow slopes. Magic plays an important role in the game: once you learn how to use magic, you will use a combination of runes and elements to cast spells in the game. You can adjust the power of each spell by varying the number of runes used. One of the best things about the magic system in Aleshar is that each spell has two modes: hostile and friendly. When you aim the spell against an enemy, it will be harmful. When you cast the same combination over an ally or yourself, it will be helpful. Discovering what both modes mean for different spells is always fun and interesting.
Don't be mistaken by the game's shareware (and now freeware, thanks to the designers) status-- Aleshar is not a simplistic RPG you can finish in a few evenings. The gameworld is huge, the combat always challenging, and you will have to pay attention to real-world factors such as hunger and fatigue level. You can hunt for food, but you may die of starvation if you're not successful. The graphics are a bit too small for my taste, but once you get used to it, it's not that bad. Overall, Aleshar is a quality shareware underdog that is well worth a try for all RPG fans, especially anyone who likes long game and challenging fights. Two thumbs up!Reviewed by: Underdogs