The ruined temple, which I had just entered at the end of my last posting, turned out to serve up the main quest. First, I witnessed an ancient conversation, replayed between two ghosts. One ended up sacrificing the other to his "god," who was stuck in a dormant volcano. I accidentally skipped part of the conversation, but the neat thing is that the game has a "(r)ead description" command that lets you re-view any text you encounter; sort-of a spiritual ancestor to games that let you re-watch cut scenes.
Soon I ran into Jesric of the High Temple of Malifon (the name making its appearance in-game for the first time) who said he was seeking the Demon Crystal. (Thanks, Jesric! I wouldn't have even known to look for it otherwise!) He attacked me by himself, and I was able to use my "surround him with my four best fighters and pummel him to death" strategy. He served up a lot of experience (1000) for not being so tough, plus a "heavy amulet."
A nearby cave contained a "prayer scroll," and towards the bottom of the dungeon, I found an ice door with a hole in it, which turned out to accept the icicle I had found yesterday. This teleported me to an altar room, where using the prayer scroll summoned an ancient god who gave me the main quest.
It transpires that some beings or gods called Ancients imprisoned Malifon under the mountain with a spell. The spell weakened over time, and with "outside help" (presumably Lanfear and the other Foresaken), the spell has been broken. Unless he is bound again, he will "sweep Ymros clean of life." Fortunately, an ancient order called the White Knights created an Orb of Great Power that can channel the One Power of the Ancients and create a new binding. I needed to go get it from the Vault of the White Knights.
I had done pretty poorly on my first trip to the Vault, which was only one level ago, so I decided to hang around a port town and do some level-grinding, alternating between ship combats (which give the most experience but no gold) and land combats (which give paltry experience but are the only way to get gold). The number of experience points needed to advance ended up getting so large, though (>10,000) that after a couple of hours, I had only gained one level. Fortunately, it was enough to get Fire Runes for my wizard (at last) and get one of my other characters skilled in Spirit Runes so I have two healers.
I also explored a huge continent on the western side of the map that, near as I could tell, had only a couple towns and a dungeon and otherwise mostly empty space. Like Faery Tale Adventure, the game brags about its size ("32 times larger than Shard of Spring," the manual says), but like Faery Tale Adventure, I find the world to be mostly empty and boring. To be fair, the enemies change with the terrain, which would be a positive if the enemies themselves were more memorable.
Even though I didn't feel quite ready, my crew headed back to the Vault of the White Knights to obtain this Orb. The Vault was the largest and most interesting dungeon in the game so far. A spirit guarding the Orb of Evertime told me that I needed to pass a number of tests to prove myself worthy of it.
The tests all involved single combat for each of my five characters against a foe specific to that character. My wizard had to fight an imp, my barbarian a dragon, my monk a "karate master," and so on. None of them was terribly difficult, except for the ranger, who isn't very skilled at...well, anything.
There were rooms for characters I don't have, and the spirits in those rooms just "let me pass." I'm curious what foes the game would have provided for scholars and visionaries. At the end of the combats, the spirit let me march up and take the Orb.
Except for one battle with some high-level magic users, the game didn't throw many tough combats at me, meaning my first visit must have been a fluke. I should have held to my old Might & Magic credo: wait until an area kills you three times before you declare defeat.
Next up, I guess, is a trip back to the ruined temple so I can give the Orb to the ancient god.
A few other miscellaneous things:
- The day/night cycle is starting to annoy me a bit. Every 200 moves or so, the game world closes in on you to simulate getting dark, and the game forces you to camp and sleep. Triple that number of moves would have been nicer.
- I just discovered today that you can flee combat. I did it accidentally, while moving a character near the edge of the screen. This will make traveling by ship a little more feasible.
- Of my five characters, the most useless is probably my ranger. His hunting ability became moot once I started to make money, and his vaunted "monster lore" ability is really pretty useless. He sucks in combat (partly because I didn't hold out for a high strength score). If I wasn't so far into the game, I'd ditch him for another monk.
- Getting the Kung-Fu skill turned my monk into a real bad-ass. Now he ends up stunning his opponent on about 30% of his hits.
- Enemy spellcasters keep freezing my characters, a condition that lasts permanently until you cast the "melt" spell, which I didn't have until after the ruined temple because I didn't save enough intelligence points to get my wizard Fire Runes. Every freezing means a trip back to a town with a healer. Another common problem is to be bound in chains, the antidote to which is a "break bonds" spell, but it's part of Metal Runes, which I also don't have.
- Final judgment: there are a random number of moves in between land battles but a fixed number in between dungeon battles.
- A weird buggish thing: when I enter a dungeon, only the few squares around me are visible, presumably because it's "dark" and the game wants me to use a torch or a "magic torch" spell. But if I just go into camp and exit again, everything is lit up and visible.
- A few times, when desperate, my monk has prayed to his god. Not once has this had any results. The game manual and all the churches in the game make a lot out of a religious system that has virtually no effect in terms of actual game play.
I wish I had some idea of where I stood in terms of total game progress. In some ways, I feel like I'm just beginning, but there aren't that many dungeons on the map!
One final, somewhat amusing, note: although I've done surprisingly well following my rules (especially the no spoilers rule), today I found myself exercising an obvious loophole. My rules say that I can't quit and reload just because I don't like a certain result. If a character dies in battle, I need to raise him myself, have him raised in a town, or replace him. Naturally, this is something of a pain in the neck when it happens deep in a dungeon.
If my entire party dies, on the other hand, not much choice there. I need to reload. You can see where this is going. If a battle goes poorly and I lose a couple of characters, suddenly my other characters lack a certain motivation for victory. You could even say that their depression makes them distressingly suicidal. This hasn't cropped up in a lot of other games because most of them are either single-character or limited-save. In Might & Magic, when I could only save in towns, it was always worth it to haul dead characters back to a temple, lest I lose all that adventuring time. But in games where you can save every step, like Demon's Winter, the dynamic changes.
In modern games, like Oblivion and Baldur's Gate, I get around the problem by forcing myself to only use auto-saves. If the last auto-save was 30 minutes ago, no way am I going through all that again just to avoid spending the 3000 gold to raise Jaheira. In this era, without auto-saves, I either have to establish a rule limiting my saves or just force myself to try to keep my party alive, no matter how convenient it would be if they all died.