Here's an important lesson learned for the month of November: I cannot play multiple games over the course of a week, offering at least one, sometimes two, postings per day, without getting so far behind in my work that I have to swear off CRPGs for an entire week just to catch up. I suspect that my regular readers--if I still have any left--would prefer a moderate pace of one posting every two days to this feast-or-famine trap I seem to have fallen into.
Getting back into Dungeon Master after a week off was tough, but it was even tougher coming up with enough material to make a blog posting. What did I say about the game a week ago? "Pretty awesome?" It's amazing how fast one's opinion can change. Somewhere in the midst of mapping Level 4 or 5, I realized that this was probably as good as it was going to get. If five levels haven't offered me any NPCs, plot points, interesting vistas, big bosses, or puzzles involving anything more advanced than a pressure plate, probably the next five aren't, either. It's taking me about 3-4 hours per level, but getting a little longer on each one. Based on trudodyr's depressing revelation last week that the dungeon has 14 levels, I suspect I have another--ulp--30-40 hours of gameplay left on this one.
This is the problem with Dungeon Master: it's all style and no substance; an endless slog through the same corridors fighting the same monsters. From a gameplay perspective, it's great; I only wish this engine had been used by Might & Magic or even Wizardry. From an RPG perspective, it's...well, barely an RPG. Granted, Wizardry didn't have a lot of story to it, either, but at least it had the decency to be only 10 levels, and about half the size of Dungeon Master's labyrinths.
All right. Enough whining. Let's get to the new stuff.
In the comments to my first posting, reader tekeli-li told me about something that I can't decide whether it's a "feature" or a "bug" in the game: if you lure monsters into doorways and press the "close door" switch, the door keeps bashing down on them until they die or flee. If you keep attacking the monsters while this is happening, they don't last very long. When I first read the comment, I thought it was an amusing little diversion that I probably wouldn't use much, so as not to rob my characters of the skill bonuses associated with killing monsters. Well, little did I know. Without the door-closing trick, I never would have made it through the endless armies of giant worms on Level 4. My characters still haven't recovered from that experience.
The tactics of combat and magic have forced a revision of how I see my characters. I was regarding my first character, Leyla, as primarily a ninja, and giving her lots of stuff to throw when enemies first appear. But once the enemies close in, it took too long to switch to melee weapons. So now I'm trying to develop the ninja levels of my two rear characters and the spellcasting levels of my two forward ones. Based on the comments I'm receiving, though, I pretty much need to regard all the characters as generalists and have each of them get levels in all four classes.
|The only way we know how to look for secret doors is bash face-first into the wall. I picture the monsters laughing at me.|
Secret doors continue to annoy me a bit. I'm paranoid about missing them, so I've taken to bashing every wall--my characters taking damage while doing so--just to make sure there isn't one there.
Happily, Dungeon Master defies the conventions of most CRPGs by refusing to include poison. No! Just kidding! Wouldn't that be disappointing? Actually, pretty much everything poisons my characters starting on Level 4: worms, flying snake things, the occasional trap. Curing it involves mixing up a batch of antidote which, to be fair, increases my character's priest skills, so it's not all bad--just a bit annoying, as poison always is.
The biggest annoyance in the game continues to be a lack of information about the different pieces of equipment I find. It was bad enough when I had to try to figure out the relative merit of different weapons and armor, but now I'm finding magic items--or, at least, what I think are magic items--such as an "Ekkhard Cross" and a "Gem of Ages." If you look at the screen shot above, the game provides you a way to look at your items and get information about them, but all you learn is the name and the weight. What does it do? There's a whole bunch of blank space under the weight where they could put this information, but they don't. I just have to stick it on a random character and hope it does something. This is pretty much unforgivable.
Missile weapons are pretty useful, but picking up missile weapons after hurling them all in combat is getting pretty annoying. You have to click on each item on the ground, then open the character portrait, stick the item in the proper inventory slot, close the character portrait, and pick up the next item.
Dungeon Master, I should mention, features missile weapons like bows and slings, but it also requires you to have associated ammunition. Games are divided on this issue. The Might & Magic folks just assume you can pick up arrows anywhere, I guess, and thus provide you with unlimited ammo. In Baldur's Gate, you can by 40 arrows for a single gold piece and yet you still have to buy them. Ultima doesn't track arrows; The Elder Scrolls does. It's a trade-off between realism and avoiding the annoyance of inventory micromanagement. I can't say for sure what side I fall on.
I don't fall on the side of Dungeon Master, which requires you to have ammunition but only gives you five slots to hold it and doesn't stack like objects. That means each character can shoot or throw only five times before having to go pick up his stuff or switch to a melee weapon. Any realism it gains by doing this, it sacrifices by having your ammo never break; all arrows are re-usable.
And that's about the size of it. Here's me fighting some sort of reaper or something:
We must always be conscious of the effects of our moods on our enjoyment of things. I've been up for close to 30 hours straight and played my last round of Dungeon Master after writing 20 pages on the differences between ethnography and phenomenology. It's possible that tomorrow, in a refreshed mood, the game will regain its former level of addiction and enjoyment. If not, I may take a detour to Faery Tale Adventure, but have no fear: I shall finish Dungeon Master simply because it seems like a game that a CRPG addict ought to finish.