|My enhanced "RECON" skills allow me to see armories and elevators on the map, but it still didn't help much with this interminable battle station.|
Games, like life, ought to make you work for your rewards. But there are different kinds of work. There's the kind where you work all day to build a shed, and then you get cleaned up and go out for a nice dinner, but while the dinner is the technical "reward," having a completed shed is the real reward. And then there's the kind where you have the same dinner after spending a day digging holes only to fill them in again. This isn't a metaphor; I've experienced them both lately. The holes were a result of my futile attempts to find my septic tank. I spent an entire day digging in root- and rock-filled clay and couldn't find it. I had dinner at the same place after both projects, but it sure tasted better after the shed.
Going through the dungeons of Sentinel Worlds feels like digging holes, mostly because, like my hole-digging project, I wasn't sure there was anything to find where I was digging. The dungeons in the game are unnaturally large and unconscionably empty. I spent most of the last two days trying to figure out the raiders' battle station, which has a succession of dozens of maps that repeat the same design, so you're never sure whether you're on a new map or revisiting an old one. I kept thinking the maps were doubling back on themselves, but suddenly I'd find a new exit or an elevator (in the same position as the elevator on an identical map) that went to a different spot.
This would have been only boring if I hadn't been constantly assailed by raider troops in every hallway. Games that do what Sentinel Worlds does--constantly re-spawn monsters at the periphery of the map, so you never "clear" an area or even set them back enough to take a breath--are mercifully rare. Ultima II is the first example I can think of, where every map seems to have a fixed number of monsters at any given time, and if you kill one in one area, a new one spawns off-screen. But Lands of Lore is the earliest game I can recall that was truly obscene about it. You'd kill six enemies ahead of you, backtrack for a few steps to get your bearing, turn around, and find six new enemies on the same path. Sentinel Worlds is like that.
|Tigers line up to be slaughtered.|
Now you might recall that I normally like re-spawning for the purposes of grinding, and indeed I might find some value here except that character development has effectively ceased. My characters are lieutenant commanders and commanders--13 and 14 out of 20 possible levels--but leveling no longer provides the same rewards. The skill system that I liked when I started the game turns out to have a maximum skill level of 7. Having achieved that a long time ago in every character's primary weapon class and major secondary skills (recon, observation, bribery, gunnery, etc.), I'm now just assigning random skills like blunt weapons and ATV repair.
Let me back up and explain how I came to the raiders' base. In my last entry, I had just found the Key of Thor, who filled me in one some of the back story related to the Sentinels. Armed with this knowledge, I began revisiting NPCs in the game and asking about the Sentinels. One of them, a guy in a bar on Caldorre named Ruawl, told me (after two bribes) that there were some folks on Norjaenn who used that name, and that I could get more information from a Jason Depard.
It took me a while to find Jason Depard; he was in a third bar that I had missed on my first visit. He agreed to help if I could settle the feud between ranchers and farmers. When I returned to the ranchers' and farmers' bars, all the previous NPCs were gone. A random farmer told me that their leader, Grayper, had formed a posse and taken it to Striker Rift to retrieve a kidnapped boy. It transpired that the ranchers had also lost a boy and were blaming the farmers.
Amidst a cave full of "dark gorillas" and "fire cats," the two posses were camped. I convinced them to stay put, explored the cave, and ran into someone named "Shadar the Cruel" after killing a bunch of his thugs. Shadar claimed that the kidnapping of the children was part of a "master plan" and confessed he was behind the crop-burnings and cattle-slayings that had the two factions at each others' throats. At this point, a weird "energy battle" ensued, and I have no idea what was happening or what I was supposed to do...
|I can't even bring myself to make fun of this dialogue.|
...but in any event, it was interrupted by Jason Depard. Seeing him, Shadar took off, and Jason explained that Shadar was actually his brother, Paul, and that Paul's "evil master" had given him the name "Shadar." Friends, if this is all sounding kind of stupid, it is. The game is starting to feel like a science fiction story relayed spontaneously by seven-year-olds. This is an honest-to-god quote from Depard:
Our paths will cross again someday. It is our destiny. When it does, I hope to be ready for him. For now, he fears me greatly although with his knowledge of the dark arts his evil master has taught him he could surely kill me. Yet he fears me. He tried to get me to go with him, to talk to this 'Master' of his, but I didn't. He said I had the Light or some such mumbo jumbo, but I told him I wasn't interested in hearing about it. All I know is that someday he's going to have to face up to the mischief he's created or face up to me, his brother.
When HBO options this, you all be sure to let me know.
|Isn't this heartwarming?|
In any event, the boys were returned, the ranchers and farmers made up, and Depard gave me the location of the Sentinels, who once healed him when he broke his leg. I went to their caves and found them guarded by Koshols, the same Alien aliens I had previously met digging a tunnel on Caldorre. Their caves were a long maze, and I was infuriated after I got to the end and spoke to the Sentinels that I would have to turn around and walk the same path back out. I guess I got spoiled by Skyrim.
|Says Apsae, as if it's something that we should have heard of before.|
The Sentinels, who appear to be Native American, didn't have a lot to say. Being in the presence of the Key of Thor healed their minds, but they still needed their book of spells, which was in the possession of Malcolm Trandle.
|"All new vigor."|
The leader of the Sentinels, Kedro, gave me access to some powers--spells, basically--including healing, the ability to find other "energy users," mind-probing, and "erase attacker skill." The latter of which might come in handy if combat wasn't usually over before I could get the menu launched.
|This is, I assume, the "magic" of the subtitle.|
Kedro told me that the book of spells is on Earth(!), but I can get there through a teleporter in Malcolm's raider base. He recommended that I board a raider ship and use my new telepathic abilities to find the coordinates of the base. That part wasn't too hard, except that I had to disarm all of my crew members because they kept killing the raiders before I could read their minds. I found that I had to first fly my ship to one pair of coordinates and then hyperspace to another pair. Soon enough, I found myself on the raider base.
|How handy that the raiders think in coordinates.|
Now, all of the above took only about one-quarter of the game time since my last posting. The other three-quarters was spent wandering around the infuriating raider base. The maps were so confusing and enemy-filled that I had to leave several times to restock on ammo. The one good thing is that I found several armories and loaded up on the best weapons and armor in the game, as well as several random items that sold for a lot of cash and helped pay for further stat boosts.
It took me five visits and almost twice as many hours to finally find the spell book. Before that, I found Malcolm's throne room and looted his treasury. It was much deeper in the raider base than the eventual location that I found the spell book, and it was at the end of a large level that otherwise seemed to have no purpose. This should have been ominous at the time.
|Apsae momentarily forgets that she's a public servant.|
The book turned out to be hidden in a level that I had originally declined to continue through because one of the corridors was blocked by Taylor, one of the NPCs from Norjaeen, apparently a spy or traitor. She was standing at the end of a long hallway with a thermocaster--a very high-end weapon. She slaughtered my entire party before I could get close to her. Nothing I could think of (and frankly there aren't that many tactics in the game) would get me past her. I spent about 30 minutes trying, but I couldn't get any character to survive combat with her, let alone all five. Ultimately, I figured she must be guarding something unnecessary, or perhaps some place I had to visit later in the game.
|What's her problem, anyway?|
After exploring the rest of the base, gaining several levels and better guns, I took another run at her but suffered the same fate. The ultimate solution would put the worst save-scummer to shame: I saved, moved forward just enough to engage her for one shot, turned tail and ran, and--if none of my characters died--saved again. If anyone died, I reloaded. About 18 rounds of this, and she was finally dead. I have no idea what the game was trying to prove by putting such an impossible boss there. I'm looking forward to reading some walkthroughs and watching Amy's "let's play" after I finish, so I can find out if there was another way to deal with her.
At last, I reached the book and, oddly enough, like the Key of Thor, it was sentient. It promised me new abilities if I could get it back to the Sentinels.
|Yes, he's a congenial fellow, he is.|
Fine. A long slog out of the raider's base. A long slog back to the Sentinels (not to mention the same slog back from the Sentinels). And what do I get?
That's right: I have to go back to the raiders' base, go through the billion screens again, and find Malcolm. At least I have a pretty good idea of where he is. And I've got some new "spells," including confuse, charm, and "count nearby lifeforms," which works exactly as advertised, to no possible purpose that I can see.
Feels like the end is near.