|Plotting my attack against a little spellcasting Jawa around the corner.|
Games that seamlessly integrate regular gameplay and combat have a special place in my heart, and it was one of the things I enjoyed about Dungeon Master.
Most CRPGs treat combat as a separate "event," leading you to a special combat screen in which you have far more limited movement than in the regular gameplay screen. You can only get out of the combat screen by winning, dying, or fleeing--and winning is obviously the only satisfying outcome.
Such games have to introduce combat very carefully. If they make the monsters too difficult too soon, it can be very discouraging to players. With games that treat combat and gameplay as unique elements, it's easy to construct a combat scenario in which players cannot win at their current levels or even at all. See, for example, the early troll battle in Pool of Radiance, or the (optional) battle with demon lords at the end of Might & Magic II, or the battle against the Mulmaster Beholder Corps (sans Dust of Disappearance) in Curse of the Azure Bonds.
But games that don't treat combat separately from gameplay feature a very different dynamic. In such games, you can retreat without "fleeing," take some time to heal, hide and sneak, use obstacles to obstruct enemies, flank them, lead them into traps, and (in some games) find allies to help. These games make combats enormously tactical, though in a different way than, say, the Gold Box series. They also allow for more challenging encounters at earlier levels.
There aren't many of them. The Elder Scrolls series, Might & Magic VI-VIII, the Ultima series after VI , and the two Dungeon Master games are the best examples that I've played. With time, effort, luck, and skill, there's virtually no creature that you cannot defeat at any level in these games. Higher levels make things easier, of course, but a Level 1 party in Might & Magic VII can kill the dragon in the opening area as long as they keep running and time their bow shots in between the dragon attacks. In Skyrim, you have a ton of options for defeating any enemy, including running, hiding, and using sneak attacks; summoning monsters; retreating into areas they can't access and wearing them down with bows or spells; enlisting NPCs; leading them to other monsters (leading an elder dragon to the Karthspire Camp was some of the most fun I had in the game); and using a well-placed FUS RO DAH to send them flying off a cliff.
|Killing the Emerald Isle dragon in Might & Magic VII took a lot of patience, but rewarded you with a nice artifact early in the game.|
Dungeon Master and Chaos Strikes Back don't have a ton of options, but they still feature this dynamic. As I was closing the last posting, I defeated four "death knights" by luring them one-by-one into a looping corridor, darting in and out of their attack range while landing blows of my own, and using the door-closing trick to damage them as we fought. If they knocked my health down too much, I could always flee to a remote part of the level and heal up. I used similar tactics to defeat a dragon on a lower level.
|Flanking the dragon and striking from the rear.|
Unfortunately, knowing these things are possible tends to slow down the gameplay. When I encountered an impossible (or near-impossible) combat in Might & Magic, I'd annotate the location on the map, go explore somewhere else, and return later. In Dungeon Master, because I knew I could defeat those death knights or giant spiders if I just find the right combination of skills, I'd keep at it until I did--even if it took hours.
But as one might expect, Chaos Strikes Back has to screw with you on the normal conventions of this style of combat. Here are some ways:
- Locking you in confined areas with a large number of enemies, limiting movement and flight options. The game in fact starts this way.
- Including enemies that continually respawn (often in response to walking over an unavoidable square), so you can never actually "clear" them.
- Fiddling with the magic; through the KU area I've been exploring, spells bounce back at me or otherwise don't do what I expect from them.
- Having enemies spawn in the only return path from a dead-end corridor.
- Including nigh-unkillable enemies.
Okay, to be honest, I'm not 100% sure on that last point. But shortly after my last posting, I ran into a little Jawa thing that I remembered from Dungeon Master. I remember it being tough, but not impossibly tough. I did well over 600 damage to it before it finally killed all of my characters with spells. If it's not invincible, I'm not sure what the issue is. I had to abandon the area for later.
|Jawas aren't supposed to be able to use the Force.|
Shortly after my last posting, I discovered that I was even more hopelessly lost than I had thought. The teleporter leading to "the junction of the ways" had already gotten me lost enough, but even after that, in the midst of mapping the level of the junction, I found corridors that twisted back on areas I'd already mapped, meaning either the game doesn't respect the Laws of Mapping, or I screwed something up, or I was unknowingly teleported at some point. I hate not knowing what level I'm on. Instead of a neat set of maps, I have a whole mess of fragments. I suppose some of the staircases or pits might be dropping me or elevating me more than one level at a time, which throws another huge wrench into things.
The rest of this level--whatever it was--featured an area full of mummies. As one of the first creatures you encounter in Dungeon Master, they're not very tough, but they seemed endless. After what felt like an eternity of hacking and fireballs, I cleared them.
|It looks like I've blasted open the door to a nightclub.|
On the level below that, I killed a dragon. The damned thing must have had 3,000 hit points. It took me almost 45 minutes of dodging around him to kill him. When he died, he left a bunch of dragon steaks and some armor pieces to replace the ones I had to toss after Amy clued me in that they were cursed. He also had a "solid key."
I'm thinking this dragon level might be the lowest level because there were no pits nor down staircases. I also think it might join up with an area I mapped in a previous game (a common teleport field goes to the same place). I tentatively merged the two areas on my map (below), but I also could be way off.
I left the area via the teleportation field, which returned me to the "junction of the ways." I didn't think I was done exploring KU (I thought there was a hunk of corbum ore in each one), so I returned and found myself in an entirely different place than the first time, which I guess validates my idea that some weird teleportation thing is happening even after I leave the junction. The new area eventually connected to the area I was familiar with, via two small levels of ant warriors and giant spiders, most of whom I defeated by using the trick of darting downstairs, attacking, and darting back up.
A few levels up, and I found the sign for the "Diabolical Demon Director" that I've heard so much about. I found myself assailed by some salamander-demon things, and I kept using the downstairs/upstairs trick to defeat them while taking minimal damage. Little did I know that going up and down the stairs was simply causing more of them to spawn (thanks for the hint, Amy). So when I next fire up the game, I have to find some other way to defeat them.
Some other random notes:
- I realized a combat strategy that was probably obvious to everyone but me. Only the two characters facing the enemy can engage in melee combat, so if you don't have any ranged weapons or spell points, two characters are always standing around doing nothing. But you can make use of them by spinning around in the middle of combat and having them attack to your rear. You can't see the enemy while you're doing this, but the attacks do connect.
|Fighting worms behind me.|
- On the dragon level, the game reminded me of one of the things I loved about Dungeon Master: the barely-visible button. This turned out to open up a pretty key area, full of magic items.
- There were a bunch of wooden doors I couldn't figure out how to pass before I remembered that you can just destroy them.
- There are hidden pits in the game: floors that look perfectly normal, but when you step on them, you go screaming to the next level. That's just evil.
- I think one of my characters gained a fighter level early in this gameplay, but otherwise no one's really been increasing, no matter how many battles I fight, spells I cast, or potions I make. I'm "expert" in everything.
- So far, I haven't had much of a problem with food, but I'm starting to get a little worried about water. Aside from a fountain near the starting area, I haven't found any.
|Navi's food and water levels are a little low for my preferences.|
- On a higher level, I found a scroll that reads "fighters charge." It doesn't appear I can "use" it in any way, and I'm not sure what it was trying to tell me.
Gameplay sessions with Chaos Strikes Back are really exhausting. Expect numerous interlocutory postings (like yesterday's) before I finish.