|The game's outer world.|
Given the acid with which I started my first post on Keef the Thief, my opinion of the game had nowhere to go but up. I'm not saying it's become part of my soul or anything, but in the last session I found it, if not enjoyable, at least tolerable. The trick is to avoid reading as much of the text as possible.
|Thank heaven for small favors.|
The game features a character development system similar to Hero's Quest, where attributes and skills increase incrementally as you use them. It's not quite as good as Hero's Quest, I hasten to add, since there are far fewer skills in Keef, and far fewer ways to develop them. Still, I like games that in which character development is so smooth and consistent, in which every use of a skill exercises and bolsters it.
I enjoyed the process of mapping the outer world, too. This is the part of the game where you navigate by turning in the direction you want to face and moving forward, as in the standard dungeon crawler--in contrast to the cities where you navigate through static screens and the up arrow moves you north instead of forward. The switch between the two is often abrupt and I spent a few turns going the wrong direction before I remember the controls do different things now.
Anyway, I often settle into a comfortable routine with adventure games, or adventure-RPG hybrids, in which I first concentrate on mapping the extent of the world, noting its key locations, and annotating the puzzles I must later revisit. Then, in the second "half" of the game, I concentrate on those puzzles. You saw me approach The Third Courier through this basic process. The physical worlds of adventure games are almost always smaller than those of RPGs, and I ultimately find them a bit too artificially confining, but for the occasional game this routine works well, and I find it satisfying as a process even if I don't really enjoy the game.
|One more square mapped in the game world.|
As we started to explore yesterday, thievery is a big part of Keef. I had to shake off my role-playing paradigm of the "thief" as more of a master craftsman who helps fighters and mages with traps and sneaking and such, and recall that in its most basic sense, a "thief" steals things. Thus, I spent a long time cleaning out each house in Same Mercon and stealing various items from the shopkeepers.
In its thievery system, Keef seems to simply assume that you're going to do a lot of experimenting and reloading. Especially at the earliest stages, when your skills are low, traps are so difficult and lethal that there's no way (that I can see) to approach them without effectively save-scumming. It's easy to tell when an area or item is trapped because the "remove traps" command suddenly becomes available. When you click on it, you're presented with several options for attempting to remove the trap. Only one of them is effective--all the others damage or kill you in some way--and the game offers no clue as to which is which. Even when you select the correct disarm option, there's a decent chance that it will fail and you'll die.
|Trying to choose the right disarm option. There's a second page of them, too.|
Disarming the trap is only half the battle. After that, you must successfully steal the item, and no, its theft is not a foregone conclusion despite the fact that you're alone in an untrapped house. It's somehow possible to fall and sustain a fatal injury while trying to pick up a necklace.
|This screen appears a lot.|
Thus, through a long process of testing and reloading, I burglarized every residence in the city and sold most of the proceeds to a collector and merchant in one of the bars. The net gain--around 4,000 gold pieces--was enough to have every conversation in town but one. I should also note that the thefts merge well with the game's lore; there's a book on antiques that describes some of the most valuable artifacts in town.
The consequences of stealing from merchants are a little less severe. If you fail, you either injure yourself or get attacked by a single guard who's relatively easy to defeat once you've achieved a few levels. If you kill him, everything goes back to normal--no bounties, no more guards, no banishment from shops--but I've typically been reloading because I don't like the idea of having killed a guard. Anyway, through a long process of stealing, I managed to get a bunch of books and magic reagents. I even managed to seal a horse (a Clydesdale worth 9,999 gold pieces) from the Bavarian Horse Works. The game doesn't show you riding the horse--it just shows up in the inventory--so it wasn't much use until later.
As I indicated, the books and conversations started to uncover a little of the game's lore, and some of it is interesting except that you have to maddeningly separate it from the game's goofy interpolations. As I noted in my previous post, the game world is the remnants of an empire that collapsed when the "god-king," Telloc, disappeared. Much of the game's lore deals with the intellectual struggle over whether Telloc was fundamentally good or evil.
|This is the kind of game where you don't know if a reference to "the Antichrist" is supposed to be a joke or what.|
A book of lore says that Telloc was the son of a peasant farmer and rose to power through a mastery of magic, using it to assassinate the old king of Mercon, assume his throne, and rule for 666 years. The writer of the book notes that Telloc also had enormous charisma, and despite the way he started his reign, 665 of his years were prosperous and relatively peaceful. His disappearance occurred during widespread unrest brought on by a famine, but there's a rumor that his friends betrayed him, not the common people. His generals and mages retreated to the city of Tel Hande, where one of them, "the Magician King," seems to be on the verge of rediscovering the source of Telloc's power. All of this is interesting and handled relatively straight.
During my explorations, I found a mermaid bathing in a waterfall, and she told me that Telloc was "her love," and that because of their love, Telloc wasn't as evil as he otherwise could have been. Of course, the game manages to spoil what might have otherwise been an interesting plot point with a bunch of flapdoodle.
|Not only do I know all the lyrics, I know that the song title doesn't have a comma.|
Thanks to my theft of reagents, I was also able to start exploring the magic system. It's similar to Ultima IV and Ultima V in that you mix reagents of various properties to create ready spells which you invoke when needed. Casting a prepared spell costs a certain number of magic points.
|Mixing reagents to create a healing spell.|
The interesting twist is that there's no master list of spell recipes anywhere; instead, you have to find them on various scrolls and in books. The further twist is that even when you find them, the formulas aren't explicit. For instance, the "Scroll of Unity" indicates that the basic healing spell, called--groan--"Bandus Aidus," is composed of "the flower named for the Greek boy" and "the garden plant whose flavor is used so often to mask unpleasant taste." You have to do a little analysis of the ingredients to realize it's talking about narcissus root and a peppermint sprig.
|This one seems to require dragon's drool, glow grass, and eye of owl.|
There's a "Book of Bad Poetry" that seems to consist solely of spell hints, and I haven't fully parsed it yet. My progress is partly hampered by the extremely slow process of stealing reagents one-by-one from the herbalist; I may resort to simply buying them for speed's sake.
My exploration of the outer world featured plenty of combat, rendered easier by my purchase of good armor and my theft of a magic sword called "Charles" from one of the residences. The enemies are as varied as undead (skeletons, ghosts), goblins of various levels, anthropomorphic plants, and local fauna (bears, giant chickens). None are terribly hard, and there aren't many tactics to use against them except to charge up swinging. You can try to maneuver around the battlefield in such a way that you draw them out one-by-one, but I have trouble getting this strategy to work well. I've yet to encounter a single fixed or plot-relevant combat, but I haven't done much indoor exploration yet.
|Maybe the baby ogre and baby eater could just go after each other.|
Combats occasionally provide bits of equipment. I have a long list of weapons and armor in my inventory, ordered by power (easily assessable by viewing the resulting weapon and weapon speed scores), and as far as I know there's no way to sell or drop unneeded items. I guess it doesn't make any difference, since there's no weight score. I bought a decent selection of thief's equipment--lock picks, a rope, oil, a knife, flint and steel--from a shady character in the bazaar. I steal whatever I can and try to save my money for conversation options.
|Equipping items requires double-clicking on them, but the mouse mapping is a bit off in this game, and you end up having to click slightly above the item you want to equip.|
I'm just getting started on the puzzles. My conversations with the king's daughter suggested that she prized gifts. When I tried to give her some roses, she swatted them out of my hand, so I returned with the more expensive Mem Flower, and she was happy--happy enough to give me access to the palace treasury. The enemies there have proven too difficult to fully explore. Similarly, in the wilderness, I ran into a hermit named Al Handratta, who told me he was looking for a Clydesdale to replace his dead and fondly-remembered horse. Since I happened to have one, I turned it over, and was given a key to access to his maze.
In other areas, the mermaid wants me to recover a ring from a cave behind the waterfalls, the curator at the temple of Mem wants me to recover a holy relic. In general, most of the puzzles in the game seem to involve mini-mazes. You either get access to the mazes as a reward for solving the puzzles, or you must explore them to find items that the quest-givers want. Anyway, now that I've sketched my map of the world, it's time to get serious about these puzzles. I still don't have a thread on anything like a "main quest."
|A location I've yet to explore.|
A few other notes:
- As you explore, you have to carefully watch three meters: health, sleep, and food. Health regenerates (slowly) as you walk around; you can use spells or pay for healing to get a quicker boost. Food can be purchased in only a couple of places, and it's annoying that you can't take any in your pack for the road, but the meter depletes quite slowly. You can sleep absolutely anywhere. I think when the sleep meter gets low, it starts affecting your performance on things like combat and disarming traps.
- You can save just about anywhere in the game, but not in the indoor areas and mazes.
- The game has no sense of time. You can spend hours wandering back and forth along a street to regenerate your hit points. You can sleep any time. It never gets dark. Shops never close. I guess most adventure games and adventure-RPG hybrids don't have day/night cycles, but it's been a long time since I played one that didn't. Hero's Quest, B.A.T., and The Third Courier all had time considerations.
- There's a tree in the wilderness that seems to offer unlimited opportunities to improve disarming and stealing skills in an attempt to steal a "phoenix egg" (a spell reagent). Every time you climb up, there's another one there. It's pretty hard to steal without damage, though, so your quickly-declining health meter discourages you from spending too much time grinding at this one location.
I'll be surprised (and annoyed) if it takes more than one more post to win this one.