It would be difficult for me to overemphasize--and this should come as no surprise to my regular readers--exactly how much this is not my kind of game. I like CRPGs for the stories, NPCs, role-playing opportunities, tactical combat, economies, and quests, none of which are really present in Chaos Strikes Back.
Instead, this game offers a series of things that would make me tear out my hair if I had any hair to begin with. This game is about navigational obstacles. Force fields, secret doors, pits, pressure plates, grates, teleportation fields, one-way doors, spinners, and every other trick to obfuscate mapping are present in joyous excess. There are people that practically wet themselves with glee over this kind of challenge, but it's just not my thing. I realize that doesn't make the game objectively "bad."
|The beginning of the game leaves me with lots of worm meat.|
To illustrate, consider the opening sections of the game. I start in a roughly 7 x 7 room with several giant worms nearby. They're not hard to take care of as long as I avoid the pressure plate that generates more of them every time I step on it. There's a secret door leading off this room to some armor, which is nice, and force fields preventing access to some alcoves with various bits of equipment. Coins in the room, inserted into slots next to the force field, lower them--but there aren't enough to lower all of them, so I have to choose carefully (in my restart, I chose to get a sword and ignore the FUL bombs).
|I did take the magic boxes. I remember how useful they were.|
A key opens a grate, but to pass it, I have to step on the pressure plate, creating more worms in my backpath. Three steps south and several steps west, and I'm in a long corridor ending in a T-junction with a pit in the middle of the junction. A pressure plate in the corridor briefly closes the pit, so I use it to skirt the pit and dart north, but I find myself blocked by another pit. There's a pressure plate on the other side, but I can't reach it (throwing worm rounds at it just sends the worm rounds sailing down the corridor). With no choice but to fall down one of the pits, I choose the one ahead of me.
|Trying to hurl bits of worm onto the pressure plate proves fruitless.|
I find myself in a 3 x 3 area. There's an exit to the west, two squares wide, but one of the squares is a pit and the other is a pressure plate. When I step on the plate, a teleportation field rises in front of me. Having to choose either that or the pit, I find myself transported to an unknown area, standing on top of a spinner that resolutely keeps facing me to the north. I walk two steps and find that the corridor has closed behind me. A few steps east and north, and I'm on a trap that throws endless daggers at me--which I suppose is a good thing because hey, free daggers.
|I haven't been able to figure out the meaning of the message yet.|
At that point, no more than a 20 steps from where I started the game, I have faced one secret door, four force fields, four pressure plates, two pits, a teleportation field, a spinner, a one-way corridor, and a trap. I'm thoroughly lost.
|Are the slots on the wall anything I should be concerned with?|
The unknown level served up monsters who were a bit too tough for me, so I went the only way I could and dropped down to a lower one. I've actually got a fair bit of that one mapped, though I keep getting swarmed by giant worms and I still don't have any idea where I am.
A few other notes on navigation and gameplay:
- Secret doors can be found by clicking on the walls; if there's a secret door there, it doesn't make a sound. This is preferable to my usual method of walking into the wall because my characters are too stupid to walk into walls gently. The run into them at full speed and take several hit points damage.
- The compass (one of the items I found in the starting area) is broken. If I'm facing north and turn right it shows me facing west instead of east. I'm not sure whether the north/south or east/west directional is the one that's broken, but I've been assuming that north is correct. I may be mapping everything upside down. [Later edit: as pointed out in this comment thread, the compass is behaving the way actual compasses behave: always pointing north. I'm too used to CRPG compasses that point in the direction you're facing.]
- I'm reminded about one of the things I hated the most about Dungeon Master: you have no clue what kind of armor class you're getting from armor, what kind of damage different weapons do, or the effects of things like rings, brooches, and amulets. In the early game, that's not a big problem because it's clear that the mail aketon outperforms the tunic, but as I start having to make more choices between bits of equipment, the lack of any statistics or description is annoying.
|It's great to know the mail aketon's weight, but what kind of protection does it offer?|
- I also forgot how annoying it is to have a couple characters hurl braces of daggers at an opponent, then have to pick them up.
|The pile of throwing items I need to pick up after every combat.|
- Torches don't seem to last as long as in Dungeon Master, or else I just forgot how quickly they burned out.
- I only have one decent weapon at this point, and I'm finding that my melee and throwing attacks are almost entirely ineffective against every creature I face. I keep using copious fireballs as my go-to strategy.
Aside from the navigation difficulty, the monsters I've encountered so far have been pretty hard, too--primarily because of my lack of equipment. I keep finding paths I cannot progress down not because the The armored figures below slaughter me mercilessly. Maybe I should have spent more time grinding against the respawning worms.
There are secondary elements to the game that I find fun. I like the idea of starting with extremely limited equipment and slowly piecing together a motley inventory; I just wish the game had come up with some plausible explanation for why I entered the dungeon naked. I still admire the combat system of the game (see my posting on the original here), even if I generally prefer turn-based combat.
|The rock monsters are back. Note Leyla's selection of possibilities with the sword.|
I liked but didn't love the original Dungeon Master, and with the admiration I had for the first game, I have to agree with what Corey Cole said about this one: "I felt that FTL made CSB 'hard for hard's sake' and lost the great game balance and progressive challenge that characterized [Dungeon Master]." Nonetheless, I'll try to play it to the end and see if I can get into the game's groove, or see if it throws any surprises at me.
You may see a few NetHack postings in here, though. I've been playing a little NetHack every week and getting progressively better. I feel like I'll soon be able to report that I've at least seen the Amulet of Yendor even if I don't escape the dungeon with it.
Finally, I should note that as this game is simply an extension of Dungeon Master, I probably won't spend a lot of time discussing the controls and conventions in detail. I strongly recommend that you take a look at my series of postings on the first game if you want to know more about the interface and gameplay.