Since I last wrote, all I've really done is explore the 16 x 16 dungeon beneath Middlegate, and I have so much stuff to tell you, I hardly know where to begin. Let me try to organize it as best I can.
1. The Plot
Aside from finding a few cryptic messages in the dungeons, I don't know that I did much to advance the main quest. As in Might & Magic I, I don't really have any idea what the main quest is. But I did ultimately find the wizard's golden goblet in the lair of some goblins, and when I returned it to him, he was suitably grateful:
Nordon then sent me on to his sister, Nordonna, who had another problem to deal with:
Drog and Hyron turned out to be the "children" that the tavern tale indicated were at coordinates 0,15. I slew the kobolds and released them from their shackles.
When I returned to Nordonna, she told me that I could hire her sons at the inn. More important, she gave me another quest: to visit all the towns, donate at the temples, and return to the Feldecarb Fountain in Middlegate. I found this when I was exploring the town. The fountain asks if I want to "flick a farthing," and when I say yes, it says, "Fool! You have no farthing to flick!" Presumably donating at the temples gets me a farthing. I don't know if that is has anything to do with the main quest, but I was going to visit each of the towns in order anyway, so it squares with my existing plan.
Meanwhile, I picked up Drog (a barbarian) and Sir Hyron (a knight) at the inn, rounding out my party with eight members. The more members you have, the less experience each member gets, but this limitation is far outweighed by the value of having a couple more fighters near the front ranks. Now my archer and robber can hang back and snipe enemies with arrows while hardy fighters take the brunt of the attacks.
Disappointingly (to me), a return visit to Nordon has him ask me to retrieve the golden goblet again from the goblins in the dungeon. You can keep re-doing this quest indefinitely (but not Nordonna's). I'd rather have the sense that I was making permanent changes to the game world.
2. The Party
All my characters are about Level 8 at this point. I understand that Level 7 is the maximum level that characters imported from Might & Magic I can achieve. So the gameplay so far has basically just been to get my characters into fighting shape.
Oddly, the hirelings seem to both train and heal for free, which makes me wonder if a good strategy would be to create a single character of your own and then populate the rest of the party with hirelings (presuming there are that many). I'm not interested in doing that just to save some gold, but it's an intriguing thought.
Glendower lacks energy blast, eagle eye, Lloyd's beacon, protection from magic, acid stream, lightning bolt, and wizard eye.
My two spellcasters already have spell level 4 out of 9, which strikes me as a lot of advancement this early in the game. This is mitigated, though, by the fact that neither clerics nor sorcerers get all of the potential spells when they achieve new levels. They get some of them, and the rest they either have to achieve as quest rewards (I got "eagle eye" from Nordon) or purchase from a temple or the mage's guild. The guilds in Middlegate only had a few of them.
At first, I was astonished to see that Lloyd's Beacon, a powerful teleportation spell that I remember from Might & Magic VI, is only a second-level spell here! But then again, you have to find it. I suspect I'll need to get it from Lloyd himself, whose location was offered in a clue in the Middlegate dungeon: "Lloyd, of Lloyd's Beacon fame, was last seen in Corak's Cave at 7,11." I have no idea where Corak's Cave is, but I'm sure this spell will be a true reward when I find it.
Believe it or not, I did manage to get out of the dungeon after this. I had to resurrect 5 out of 6 characters, but I made it.
My characters have died a lot, both from tough enemies (see below), but also because my useless thief (do I ever get any other kind?) keeps setting off exploding traps. Aelfric reminded me that it was important to buy a thief's pick from the shop...
...and I did so, but even after that, he only succeeds about half the time (which I guess makes sense given that his "thievery" skill is 50%. What is particularly annoying is that when you fail to disarm a trap, and it goes off, the trap remains active. It's not unusual for me to get hit three or four times by the same trap before I finally disarm it.
Still, we're making progress. I suffer full-party death in about 30% of my expeditions right now, as opposed to about 60% when I first started playing. Of course, I have yet to explore the great outdoors.
3. The Dungeon
For a dungeon of only 256 squares, Middlegate sure does pack a lot in it. There were two signposts, nine messages scrawled on the walls, the golden goblet, the captive NPCs, some buried treasure, 13 secret doors, and at least 29 squares with fixed encounters. There was one small zone of darkness and one 4 x 4 anti-magic zone with an encounter in each square.
I insisted on mapping it even though the cartography skill creates an automap for me. I could have relied on the automap to see where I still needed to explore, and just written down the messages. I may do this eventually, but for now it's just fun creating the maps. The automap, of course, doesn't note special encounters or messages or even secret doors.
The messages came in two types: 1) signposts, like this one...
...and 2) messages on the walls, like this one...
There were nine such wall-scrawlings, and eight of them seemed to be clues of some sort. I'm going to reproduce them below because I'm sure they're germane to the main plot:
- "Green interleave. One letter after another, 2-1-3-4." This seems to have something to do with how I arrange mysterious messages that I'll undoubtedly find in other dungeons, just like in the first game (see item 3 in this posting).
- "Seek Earth Encasement at 14,1 in the proper plane. Do walk about first." Earth Encasement is a Level 7 cleric spell that "encases the target in a field of earth, inflicting 40 points of damage per combat round."
- "Win the blackest of battles, and you are halfway to an audience with Queen Lamanda." Lamanda is the current (failing) queen, and I suspect "blackest of battles" has to do with the Arena. I forgot to mention this yesterday, but the Arena is a section of Middlegate where, if you enter with a ticket, you fight some random group of monsters. The blacksmith's shop in the town sells green tickets, so I'm guessing I have to find a black ticket somewhere.
- "The moon phase of Cron lasts 60 days." Duly noted, though I'm not sure where that will come in handy.
- "There are only 180 days per year." Ditto.
- "Lloyd, of Lloyd's Beacon fame, was last seen in Corak's Cave at 7,11." I'm sure I'll need to find him to get the spell. I don't know where Corak's Cave is yet.
- "Castle Pinehurst keeps a multitude of J-26 Fluxers at 7,6." No idea. Something about the time travel that the manual insists I will have to engage in?
- "The water disc rests at 15,0 within Castle Xabran." I'm not sure why I'll need the water disc, but I'm guessing there's a disc for each element.
- "Lord Haart's famous ancestor, the Long One, hangs out in the 8th century in E2 at 5,4." Also no idea, but I'm guessing by the time I have to time-travel, I'll know why.
I won't reprint all the dungeon messages as I play the game, but this gives a good sense of the variety. One important thing, though, for those of you thinking about playing: the messages only show up when you're facing the correct wall. There were at least two on the south side of east-west corridors--walls that you would otherwise have no reason to turn and look at. Thus, in exploring the dungeons, I have to make sure I face all four directions on each square to make sure I don't miss a clue.
My only real complaint is that the messages sort of break the role-playing immersion. First, the coordinates violate the fourth wall; do the citizens of Cron really think in terms of map squares and 16 x 16 coordinates? Second, who went around writing all of these messages on the wall in the first place, and how are they so informed about the secret locations of major treasures and people?
Might & Magic II throws a large variety of creatures at you, almost all of them unique to the game. Part of the fun of the game--just like in NetHack--is learning all of their strengths, weaknesses, and special attacks; learning which creatures to heartily engage, and which to run from in numb horror.
I have a new hated enemy, even worse than the jugglers I mentioned yesterday: crazed dwarves. A funny thing happened when I first encountered a party of them. My blood chilled, and I immediately hit the "run" command, hoping to flee to safety. It was not to be:
Crazed dwarves have a special attack called "frenzy," which damages every single one of your party members--significantly--while simultaneously killing the dwarf. If I encounter a party of more than three of them, I might as well shut down and restart.
The mystery is how I knew, instinctively, that they were bad news. I just Googled them, and they seem only to appear in this game, not the first one or any subsequent ones. My best guess is that I did play Might & Magic II once before, probably when it was new, and while I don't remember any of the plot or gameplay, I still have a knee-jerk reaction to this enemy. If you ever read a newspaper article about a bald man running away, screaming, from an LPA convention, that's probably me.
Crazed dwarves aren't the only tough foe, though. You remember how I felt about sprites. Well, Might & Magic II has...drum roll...
Fortunately, their "curse" spell doesn't seem quite as effective as the regular sprites in I.
We should also talk about the number of enemies. In one place in the dungeon, I rounded a corner and was faced with a cave full of bats:
That's 60 creatures in one encounter. I wonder what the maximum is. I suspect I will find out.
Surprisingly, I'm already making use of CTRL-A, an auto-battle command. When you hold down this key combination, every character makes his best attack (or blocks if he or she is not in attack range). It's a way to quickly deal with low-level monsters--or even with high level monsters if you want to apply brute force tactics. I would give a lot for The Bard's Tale III to have this option.
In my review of the first game, I gave it a high score in the "equipment" category for the wide variety of stuff you could find, use, and wield. It just gets better in II. First, with eight characters to outfit, almost every major encounter yields an equipment upgrade.
Some of the weapons have spells attached to them. My archer is currently equipped with a "voltage bow," which not only shoots some damaging arrows but also casts the "lightning bolt" spell.
There are also a lot of bits of equipment that cast a single spell. Magic herbs to increase spell points, healing herbs to restore hit points, flares to take the place of the "light" spell, rope & hooks to move you forward one square like the "jump" spell, attribute-boosting potions, sextants to stand in for "location," and so on. My only complaint is that these items don't work in anti-magic zones any more than spells do.
Unlike many games, the blacksmith's shop continues to be useful after Level 1. In addition to the generic selection of low-level gear that he sells, there's an option for "today's specials," with five items that change every day. Sometimes they're slings and short swords, but sometimes he has +4 weapons and armor. You can never tell.
It says a lot about the game that I can get this much material out of a single 256-square dungeon crawl. The Might & Magic games are just packed with stuff. Practically ever corridor has a clue, a special encounter, or a quest item. Every house in the city has a quest, or a skill to learn, or an NPC, or some other reason for the house to exist. Again, contrast this to The Bard's Tale games, which have dozens of houses, only about four of which have anything interesting in them. You never feel like you're just slogging along in Might & Magic; you're always finding interesting things.
Onward to the next city!