Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Bard's Tale: Pleasingly Difficult
The night before last, shortly after encountering the above-pictured beast, I found out what happens when your entire party dies in The Bard's Tale. It isn't so bad and yet at the same time it sucks incredibly. Instead of losing your entire party to the dungeon depths, as in Wizardry, your entire party returns to the Guild of Adventurers, dead but with all of the items, gold, and experience they've accumulated. Doesn't sound too shabby.
The problem is, it costs a lot to resurrect a dead character, especially a high-level dead character. Resurrecting six dead characters cost way more than I had at this point. I had to create a dummy character just to exit the Guild. I was able to resurrect one character immediately, but to get the other five, I had to build up my savings. It took a good three hours before they were all happy and healthy again.
It sounds horrible, especially to modern gamers, but I actually really, really like this aspect of The Bard's Tale. Death isn't a game-killer the way it is in Wizardry, but boy does it have consequences. Since you can only save in the Guild of Adventurers, every dungeon foray is a risk, creating a palpable tension as you wander your way through the passages. And every once in a while, you stumble into an encounter like this one (there were actually two more on this same level, with a dragon and a high-powered wizard) that makes your stomach drop and an expletive escape your lips.
Modern games make it far too easy. In something like Baldur's Gate, you would save every five or ten minutes. If you stumble on to a soul sucker, you might treat the first battle against him like a test run. If your characters die--or, heck, even just lose more hit points than you want to spare--no problem. Just reload and run the encounter again with the experience at your back. Even that was too tough for the creators of Neverwinter Nights, though. In that game, you could just use your Stone of Recall to take a time-out, get healed up, and return to battle fresh. What a bunch of wusses we've become.
Because of the frequent save points, modern games depend on the difficulty of individual battles to make the games challenging. In The Bard's Tale, Wizardry, and other games of the era I'm playing, there are plenty of difficult individual battles, but it's the totality of the expedition that brings the difficulty. You must constantly strategize. How much gold do I need to get from this encounter to make the "trap zap" spell worthwhile? What should I set as my bottom hit point threshold before I return to the surface? Do I want to expend 15 spell points on this group of wights, or take the risk that they'll turn me into a crippling old man with one touch? I've only got 15 squares left to map on this level, but my characters only have 1/2 their hit points. Should I press on or go back?
Exhilarating. Fortunately, I have a lot of games like this left to play.
I finished mapping and exploring the Mad God's catacombs last night, finding in the process his eye (which is equippable, but I don't know what it does). An inscription on a wall told me to "seek the Mad One's stoney self in Harkyn's domain," while another one more cryptically told me, "to the flower fly the mad one die once lost an eye!" In any event, this suggests that the third dungeon is one of the towers in the corners of the Skara Brae map. Since there are three of them, I'm guessing I'm about 2/5 done with the game.
Made a really dumb mistake last night. Because I don't have a rogue, I have to cast "trap zap" on every chest after battle, which depletes the spell points of my conjurer fairly quickly. Last night, my conjurer and magician reached their seventh spell level, so I decided to dual them to other classes to start gaining additional spells. The intelligent thing to do would have been to dual my magician to a conjurer so he could have "trap zap" too, and my conjurer to a sorcerer. Instead, I dualed my magician to a sorcerer and my conjurer to a magician. I know this sounds complicated, but trust me, I'm an idiot.