Some of you may have noticed that I've been a bit manic lately. In January, I had 29 postings--a monthly record for me--and I covered 11 games. Truth be told, I've probably been devoting too much time to playing CRPGs this month--to the detriment of my real work. Thus, The Bard's Tale III came along just in time.
Let me explain. Spell points are vital to the survival of your characters. In fact, if the rest of the dungeons go like the first one did, I'm going to regret not just creating an all-spellcaster party. You need them for healing, buffing spells, exploration spells, and defensive spells, and all of the necessary exploration spells (magic compass, greater revelation, levitation, mystic shield) take up about 1/3 of your spell points right there. So when you go exploring and you start to run out of magic, it's time to get out of Dodge.
The first two games had a shop called Roscoe's Energy Emporium where you could pay to get your spell points recharged. But in III, Roscoe's was destroyed by the Mad God. Thus, the only way to recharge your mana (that I can tell) is to hang around outside. This only works in the daytime, too, so if it happens to be night when you emerge from the dungeon, you have to wait.
A full recharge takes about 20-30 in real time, even with the bard song called "The Rhyme of Duotime" playing in the background. This time only gets longer as my levels (and, thus, max spell points) increase. Consequently, I'm getting a lot of work done on my "to do" list when I'm supposed to be playing the game. Explore the dungeon. Write a few pages for a report. Finish mapping Level 1. Check in on my online classes. Map half of Level 2. Design a database form. This really is just the kind of game I need. In fact, it gives me an idea: all computer games ought to come with built-in timers. When you create your character, you tell the game how long it should allow you to play and how long a break you should take in between playing sessions. Want to override those settings? Fine, but you'll have to restart from the beginning.
Based on comments I got from yesterday's posting, there are things called "harmonic gems" that recharge your spell points, but I haven't found them yet.
I managed to map four levels of Tarjan's dungeon since my last posting It's slow-going. The game throws encounters at you on every other square, it seems, and you never "clear" a level, so it's relentless. With "Sir Robin's Tune" playing, I can avoid most of the fights if I want to, but obviously the point of the dungeon is to increase my experience. My characters are Level 13/14 and my spellcasters have rolled over into their second classes. I had to find a word on Level 2 ("CHAOS") to allow access to Level 3, and on Level 3 there was a riddle ("The tint of melancholy paves the way" and "A splash of noble's blood colors the exit"; answer: BLUE) to pass to Level 4.
Here are my notes from the last day's sessions:
- In a departure from the first two games, monsters do not attack while you wait, only when you actually turn or move. This makes my strategy above possible.
- The game has introduced a new way to cast spells, and it's so annoying that I don't know what the developers were intending. Instead of typing in the four-letter code for the spell, you now have to choose the spell from a list. A long list, especially as your spellcasters achieve multiple classes.
- There are a lot of ways to get NPC assistants in the game. I've found half a dozen figurines that will summon them, sometimes wandering monsters offer to join me, and there are several spells that conjure them. What I've noticed is that these monsters are nigh indestructible. A figurine gave me a "Molten Man" with an AC of -12 and 146 hit points. I've had him for two levels and he hasn't come close to dying.
- The ability to save in the dungeons, while beneficial on the surface, potentially removes a lot of the challenge inherent in the first game. There, you felt a real tension as you explored the dungeons, taking care not to stray too far too fast, watching your hit points and spell points. While I have been forcing myself to take slain characters for resurrection rather than reloading the game, I decided that when my entire party is wiped out, I'll allow myself to reload rather than trying to create dummy characters and resurrect them all from the adventurer's guild.
- Along these lines, one level of the dungeon had a couple of doors that said, "Those who enter this door will never leave through it." Entering takes you to a dark level with no exit in which you take constant damage while moving. Lesson learned: heed the warnings on doors.
- I don't know if the creators were afraid of copyright infringement suits or something, but none of the monsters from I or II appear in this game. This game features a slate of creatures found in no other game. So far, I've counted about 15 different monster portraits, with each portrait standing for at least half a dozen monsters. For instance, the goofy looking thing below is shown as a "Hookfang," but the same portrait serves for "Blackclaws" and "Greenclaws" as well. Since these creatures are all unique to The Bard's Tale III, I suppose a dedicated player would keep track of their names, toughness, and special abilities to help better plan combat tactics. Alas, I have lacked such motivation.
- In another departure from previous games, not all of the dungeon levels are the same size. The first level was only 13x13, for instance, while the second was 22x22.
- There is precious little in the levels, aside from random encounters, traps, dark squares, spinners, and other such dangers. The first two levels of the dungeon, for all of their twists and turns, served only one purpose: to tell me that the word CHAOS, when spoken to the Mad God's priests, would allow me access to the deeper levels. This whole "message-scrawled-on-the-wall" thing is a staple of early CRPGs, found in Wizardry, The Bard's Tale, and Might & Magic, among others. But it does break the immersion a bit, doesn't it? I mean, why would the bad guys go and write their code words on the walls?
- The game theoretically introduces an automap feature. I say "theoretically" because it doesn't really work. I think it's supposed to black out places you haven't been, but calling up the automap seems to either 1) show me the entire map of the level regardless of whether I've been there; 2) show a map with random parts--including places I've been--blacked out. I haven't abandoned my Excel maps.
|This is what the automap showed me before I had even gone anywhere.|
- The rogue's attack abilities are a nice touch. I'm not sure if they're new to this game since I didn't have a rogue in the first Bard's Tale. Essentially, the rogue can take one combat round to hide in shadows. If successful, he can attempt a sneak attack against a foe on the next round. The sneak attack has a decent chance of being a critical hit (instant death). He can also do this from the fifth rank--a rank from which you can normally not attack. Also related to the rogue, the game follows Wizardry's tradition of having the rogue first identify the trap and then attempt to disarm it by typing in the trap's name. This can get annoying during repeat failures, when Ihave to type "poison blades" six or seven times. Inevitably, I screw it up ("pison blades") and set it off.
I'm actually a little disturbed by how quickly I'm leveling up. I guess I had the erroneous impression that III restarted all characters at Level 1 for a reason, but the game seems bent on ensuring that I'll have Level 20 characters and arch-mages (spellcasters with all spell levels in all spellcasting classes) before the end of the first dungeon.
In this posting, I probably haven't been able to successfully conceal my disappointment. I don't know why, but I was really looking forward to this game. Somehow I thought it would be a lot different than II, but it's not. The lack of scripted encounters, the needlessly large dungeons, the constant combat, and the insanely rapid leveling have conspired to create a game that is fundamentally boring. The first Bard's Tale wasn't a whole lot different in gameplay, but it was somehow different in quality. It was more compact, for one thing. There were more NPCs and scripted encounters in dungeons, and the maps had a little more thematic sense to them. Compare the largely random map above to this one from the first game, for instance:
See how you can discern a pattern in this map? There was a consistent theme on this level with undead, and the walls led you inextricably to the location of the level's main encounter. Not so in the maps so far in The Bard's Tale III.
But the forced waiting has been a real benefit to me during a couple of days when I had to get some real work done, so in that sense, it's been just want I needed. And perhaps I'm being a bit premature--I understand that after this starter dungeon, I get to explore other worlds and stuff. That must be cool, right?