|Demon dogs assailed me on my most recent level. They drop food when they die.|
In my last outing, I talked about how I liked the integrated combat and movement system of Chaos Strikes Back and many other games. By allowing you to retreat, strafe, and flank your opponents, such games add options for victory that depend lesson the attributes of the characters and more on the agility and intelligence of the player. This often allows even low-level characters to win impossible combats.
This particular engine allowed three particular combat tactics in Dungeon Master:
- Lead the enemy to a set of stairs. Go up or down (he doesn't follow). Regroup, heal, prepare spells. Go back to the enemy, let loose with spells and attacks, retreat along the stairs again before he can retaliate.
- Dance around the enemy. Take advantage of the fact that it takes the enemy a couple of seconds to turn and move to flank him, get behind him, and pummel him with attacks. Jump out of the way before he can return the attacks.
|Yes, I know I'd be more effective at this if I learned to use "strafe" properly. I get too confused between strafing and turning in the moment and invariably walk into a wall.|
- Lead your enemy to a portcullis. Wait until he's under it, activate the switch, and fight him while the door repeatedly slams on his head.
We can debate endlessly about which of these tactics is an "exploit," which are cheating, and which are legitimate. I maintain that the game is essentially unwinnable without at least the second one, as was Bloodwych, and I don't see any purpose to the game's real-time engine if you're not meant to do it to some degree. The first and third are unarguably a little lamer, but if they're exploits, FTL didn't do much to discourage them. They also come with their costs in time (and, consequently, hunger and thirst) an boredom. I don't mind resorting to them when I don't see any other way.
As I mentioned, though, Chaos Strikes Back screws with you on these tried and true tactics. As I closed my second-to-last posting, I was using the stair trick on a group of salamander demons on the "Diabolical Demon Director" level, but they wouldn't stop coming. Little did I know I was regenerating them every time I went up the stairs.
I want you to look at this small map of the area as I describe what happened next and its consequent affects on my maneuverability.
The stairs I was coming up are just to the west of E. Every time you go up and down these stairs, salamander demons generate in an area north of C and D, debris monsters generate in an area south of A, and black flames generate around H. The northern corridor between E and G is essentially impassable because of the black flames--it takes my party a long time to kill them with "Disrupt" spells, and one of them continually regenerates at H--so while things are actively attack you, your only real choice is the southern corridor past A and B. The pit between B and C only opens when you step on C, and it closes when you step on it again. I think pits also open south of A when you step on C, but I can't see them.
When I beat the area for the first time, I did this: waited until the salamander demon was south of B. Ran past him and the debris monsters to C. Waited until the salamander demon was standing on top of the pit between B and C and then stepped on C. Both he and the debris monsters dropped down to the level below. Very satisfying.
Later, I happened to fall down to that level myself. I found the remnants of the debris monsters along with a bunch of items and dragon steaks that indicated a dragon had been there and was killed. I'm not sure how that happened. Maybe I dropped the debris monsters on top of him, and it was enough to kill him. Either way, it was a great boon. Unfortunately, amidst all of this, I neglected to save.
When I reloaded, I did something different: I took a flask that was in a niche on the wall above A. That opened a pit at A that dropped me down to the dragon. I mapped this area, didn't defeat the dragon before leaving via a staircase, and stupidly saved the game. From then on, every time I returned to this area, there was a big difference: the pit at A prevented any maneuverability around the level. I couldn't do the pit trick or anything. I had to defeat both the debris monsters and the salamander demons face-to-face, and it took quite a while.
That single square makes an enormous difference in maneuverability, just like a single empty square in a sliding puzzle allows you to solve it. The developers knew this, of course, and introduced this trap to screw with the player.
To take another example, let's look at the level below, containing the dragon. It's him you can see me fighting in one of the GIFs above. It's a small level.
If I want to do my flanking trick to dart around and behind the dragon, where can I do it on this limited level? The chamber to the west is impossible because of the pit. That leaves only the four-square chamber around F. That would be fine, except F sits on top of a pit that opens after you've crossed it half a dozen times. The developers knew this was the only place on the level that you could do that combat trick, and they deliberately programmed a bomb into the process. (In case you're wondering, no, you can't do either the door or stair trick here. D and E are pressure plates that open the doors, but they close behind you permanently, and you can't open them again if you come back down the stairs.)
I ultimately solved these problems, of course. With the dragon, I found another access point to the area through a secret door, and was ultimately able to use the stair trick on him. (It took forever as it was, so if there was a "non-exploitative" way to do it, I'd love to hear it.) In the case of the pit, I found an obscure button nearby that closed it. But I sure swore a lot at the game during the last few days.
|Killing the dragon with the stair trick and poison clouds|
Among other treats to this same level was a ridiculously long series of corridors that led to a dead end. To be fair, a message on the wall at the beginning did read "Dead End," but it was still horribly annoying to have to search every wall for secret doors. Getting into the area took a "solid key," so it's hard to believe there wasn't more to find, but all I found was a party of death knights. I killed them with repeated fireballs as I backed down the long corridors.
|This level was a bit ridiculous.|
In a comment that she ROT13ed, Amy gave me a series of tips on how to navigate this area, and I fear I succumbed to studying them. I would have figured out the monster-on-the-pressure plate on my own, I think (It was a clue when I stepped on it and nothing happened). Luring a debris monster on it caused a pit to close and allow me access to another area.
|A debris monster helps me out by slithering onto a pressure plate.|
But I probably never would have figured out that the way to close an invisible pit just beyond--a pit that drops you into a room full of poison in which you almost immediately die--was to cast "open" on a grate, thus allowing a salamander-demon that was hiding out behind it to move off a switch that was keeping the invisible pit open.
The next puzzle I was happy to figure out on my own. There was a pressure plate next to a message reading "Value in exchange for valuables." I saved the game and tried several items on it before I hit the right combination of coins and magic items to cause a secret wall to open and reveal not only all of the items I had donated, but a "Cross Key" as well, which opened a nearby door.
You'd be bored to tears if I tried to recount all the keyholes, triggers, teleporters, stairways, pits, and other navigational puzzles I've mapped on these levels, but I have to confess that in doing so, I've abandoned all pretense of minimal saves. I try different things, and if I don't like the result, I fireball myself to death and try something else.
Unfortunately, I've reached a point at which I'm stuck. I know there's more to explore on the level mapped above, but I can't seem to get past a pit to the northeast (I can approach it from the north via a staircase from the level above, or from the south, but I can't get east of it.) There's a keyhole on this level next to a message reading "PAIN" that I don't have the key to open. There's a "Skeleton Key" hole on the level above, but I don't have the skeleton key.
I can always go back to the Junction of the Ways and take a different path, but my understanding is that there's corbum ore to find on every path, so I don't want to leave this one until I've found it. Can anyone confirm whether I'm right or wrong about that?