When I wrapped up last time, I didn't realize I was as close to the end as I was. There were only three small maps and about half a dozen fixed battles.
Gold dragons had just delivered me to one of two skykeeps being operated by the forces of Myrtani. I battled my way through the first one, up a tower, and into a control room, where Tasslehoff took over the controls.
After a fight against some red dragons and Draconians, he crashed the skykeep into its sister.
We ended up in the courtyard of the other keep. The combined keeps were falling out of the sky, and our top priority was to get out of them. We worked our way downward and came upon a party of evil humans bickering about who was going to get off the keep first. We slaughtered them all and stole their uniforms. The game made a point of noting that since the enemy didn't have Kender among them, Tasslehoff and Coral would have to pretend to be prisoners.
When we reached the exit, a group of red dragons, noting our uniforms, gave us a ride down to the city of Kernen, where Myrtani had his headquarters.
I later read in a walkthrough that if I'd declined to put on the uniforms, I would have had to ride the skykeep down to the ground, suffering 30-180 hit points of damage per character (with no temple to raise anyone who died from this damage).
Wandering Kernen was fun. The main objective was to get through a gate into Myrtani's fortress, and I could do this by just charging the gate and fighting a horde of Draconians, or by slyly siphoning some of them away first. The game offered several opportunities to do this, including hooking up with my ogre allies...
...starting fires in Draconian barracks so that they'd be occupied fighting the fire...
...convincing a group of humans disillusioned with Myrtani's leadership to rebel...
|I wonder what would have happened if I'd "warned the Draconians."|
...and fooling an aged, senile red dragon into attacking the keep.
By the time I reached the gates, the guards had been reduced to a paltry group of one red dragon, one Sivak Draconian, and two Bozak Draconians.
There were a handful of other encounters in town in which my disguise fooled various human and Draconian parties, and I was awarded small amounts of experience for each successful deceit. Fortunately, one of the buildings in town contained a training barracks, or all the experience I'd been gaining since the Temple of Duerghast would have gone to waste.
One thing became clear as I explored the city, read the journal entries, and heard about the humans' (doomed) plot to overthrow Myrtani: Myrtani was a Draconian. I suppose this was obvious to everyone but me already. I don't know if I missed a key piece of intelligence earlier in the game, but I never heard it explicitly stated, and all of the screenshots that supposedly featured Myrtani also featured a bunch of other creatures so it wasn't possible to determine which one was him. For some reason, I had this idea that he was a human mage.
Once inside the keep, the battles increased in difficulty thanks to the appearance of Aurak Draconians. These bastards require a special strategy. If you don't damage them every round, they cast "Fire Shield" as their first spell. "Fire Shield" shrouds the caster in fire, and every attack against him returns double to the attacker. Since Auraks have permanent invisibility on them and thus cannot be targeted at range, once the fire shield goes up, the party either has to suck it up and take the damage (often resulting in death) or wait it out while the Aurak casts energy bolts and fireballs and uses self-immolation to damage everyone around him.
Once the Aurak dies the first time, he resurrects with 20 hit points and continues to use special attacks and melee attacks. When he's slain for the second time, he resurrects again, but this time invulnerable to all attacks for three rounds, at which point he explodes in a fireball. Fortunately, for most of the keep I had ogre allies with me, and they could take the brunt of the damage while my party members cleared out.
|Sorry, Mr. Ogre. I'd warn you if the game gave me a mechanism to do that.|
Thus, fighting Auraks is a process of killing their first two lives as quickly as possible, then trying to finish off their allies in the next three rounds so you can get away before they explode. I realized belatedly that "Detect Invisibility" probably would have allowed me to target them at range.
Myrtani's chambers had a trifling puzzle. To get by a "guardian" blocking the door to his inner chambers, I had to assemble a protective salve, first by finding a key in his bedroom, then using it to unlock a tome with the salve's recipe, then mixing the salve in an alchemy chamber. It didn't take long.
I lost my ogre allies when I broke into Myrtani's treasure vault and they began arguing over the treasure. It consisted of thousands of platinum, bronze, steel, and copper pieces that I would have had to be crazy to load myself up with. (Treasure weighs you down and reduces movement speed in combat.)
|I feel like this is to make things more difficult for idiot players.|
There were three difficult battles before the end. The first was with Myrtani's "Dragon Master," leading five red dragons. They wiped me out the first time, but after a re-load, I knew enough to cast "resist fire" on everyone before the battle. A hastened, blessed, high-level Dragonlance wielder is vital in this kind of battle, since he can theoretically kill four dragons in a single round.
The last two battles were back-to-back, first against Myrtani (an Aurak) and his Draconian allies, and second against three huge red dragons preparing to decimate the good armies. I lost both of these before I learned the proper combination of buffing spells and remembered I had a "Protection from Dragon Breath" scroll.
|Buffed for the final battle.|
Myrtani was as smug and obnoxious as all his underlings, pretending that my bringing the good armies to his doorstep was exactly what he wanted all along.
He had taken Maya prisoner after she foolishly attacked his base by herself, and he taunted me with her before attacking with three Sivaks (tough melee fighters), four Bozaks (spellcasters who explode for minor damage when slain), and five Baaz (pawns who turn to stone upon death and may trap your weapons). They seemed more immune to magic than the typical Draconian force, and my "Fireball" and "Ice Storm" spells didn't have the effect I'd hoped. But my buffed and hastened party was able to take everyone down with melee attacks and individual spell attacks eventually.
Afterwards, despite the fact that I saw him explode in the middle of the combat, Myrtani still had a smug death speech, indicating that the "messengers will still fly." The "messengers" were three large red dragons, whom I engaged before they could leave the base.
|I don't really understand this plot point, but whatever.|
I realized belatedly that since my leader, Midsummer, had the Dragonlance and the Scroll of Protection from Dragon's Breath active, she probably could have taken on all three dragons by herself while the rest of the party huddled in a corner. But it wasn't a big deal anyway. With "Resist Fire" active, all my characters could last at least one round, and I killed all three dragons with a combination of melee attacks, magic missiles, and lightning bolts.
|They lined up just perfectly.|
The endgame began with the least exciting message ever...
|Not even an exclamation point?|
...but then preceded to a more interesting group of screens and text, which in total, read:
The Solamnic knights arrive on dragon back. They land and bow before you. "You have prevented the destruction of our armies. Your valient fighting and great wisdom are inspirations to us all."
"With the threat of evil abated in these lands, you can pass your responsibilities on to others. You may take a well deserved rest. You have given us the tools needed for the fight elsewhere."
You give your major items to the knights, to aid them in other battles.
"Thank you again for your dedication to duty. You must accept these medallions. You are now members of the Special Solamnic Order of the Champions of Krynn. You will be honored in song and legend forever."
Maya is helped forward. She smiles. "I wanted to thank you personally for your heroism. You have honored the memory of Sir Karl. You are truly heroes."
In the distance beyond the cheering crowd is a single glowering figure. A whisper comes on the wind. "I am impressed. But do not think that this will help against me." Lord Soth turns and leaves. The knights fly you back to the outpost.
I guess the appearance of "Lord Soth" was supposed to be a bit of a shocking twist for Dragonlance fans, just like Thanos's cameo at the end of The Avengers was to Marvel fans. It was lost on me until I looked it up in the wiki and discovered that he's the epitome of the death knight, enemy of the Heroes of the Lance in the novels, who though evil is possessed with a sense of honor from his days as a Knight of Solamnia. He was so popular he apparently crossed into the Ravenloft setting for a time. I look forward to meeting him in Death Knights of Krynn.
|I like that these knights aren't a bunch of stiff teetotalers like the paladins of the Forgotten Realms.|
The game let me continue playing at this point, and I used the time to see if I was due any new levels (I wasn't), check out what equipment the game made me hand over to the knights (the Dragonlance, my Girdle of Giant Strength, both Gauntlets of Ogre Power, the Necklace of Missiles, several other things), identify the stuff I'd gathered in the keep, and I guess wander around and fight random encounters. I ended the game with all my characters one level below their maximums, which is good. I hate when I hit experience caps and feel like I'm fighting for nothing.
What I also like is that in the post-game wandering, the world acknowledges your victory and the changes you wrought on the landscape. There are parties in bars in the outposts, the commandants' offices have victory messages instead of quest logs, and if you take the time to haul your party all the way across the map to Kernen, the knights cleaning up the mess throw an impromptu celebration.
|Note that there's no point to half the map.|
As usual, I had fun reading the "false" journal entries at the end of the game. There were a lot of them that simply didn't make any sense; that suggested a context that never arose in the game, such as the party contemplating murdering the "odious minister" to a knight named Sir Era, and a whole series of them involving a vampire. There were a few meant to suggest that Maya was evil and had ensorcelled Sir Karl, and one that had the party "dooming" the outpost by killing the commandant. My favorite was this one, which would have led the player to make some horrible choices in Neraka:
As you work to free the slaves, their shackles seem to come off too easily. Before you can react, they whip out weapons and prepare to attack. One laughs, "The one you saw die before you was not Sir Karl, it was a Sivak. There are no slaves here. It was only a story to lure you to your doom. They begin to close in.
In general, there was a lot more disinformation in the fake entries than in the previous games, and any place in which the game offered a serious role-playing choice, there was a fake entry to mislead the player.
A few final notes before we wrap up:
- Towards the end of the game, in contrast to my post a few days ago, my knights suddenly became a lot more effective. When they hit seventh level, they got two attacks per round, and both equipment and leveling upgrades put their THAC0s around 7 or 8. I think it would be a lot of fun--and a significant challenge--to replay the game with an all-knight party mowing through the enemies.
- I think I said this in Curse of the Azure Bonds, too, but "Fix" and "Rest" clearly operate under different rules. In theory, "Fix" should just be a keyboard shortcut for memorizing all the "Cure [Whatever] Wounds" spells available, casting them, and re-memorizing the original spells. In practice, "Fix" usually works without any interruptions by enemy combats, even in the busiest places, when memorizing spells isn't otherwise remotely possible.
- After I had won the game, I wanted to test the differences in the difficulty levels. The manual says that the level affects both the enemy's hit points and the experience you get for each battle, but in the few trials I attempted, it only affected hit points. Quite significantly, I should add: Myrtani had 27 hit points at "Novice" and 82 at "Champion." Anyway, the more interesting thing is that I apparently played the entire game on "Adept," the second-highest, despite the default supposedly being "Veteran," in the middle. I'm not sure how that happened.
- Having two thieves was fantastic. I loved putting them opposite the same enemy; this virtually guaranteed a backstab each round.
- I'm going to have an awfully cleric-heavy party going into the next game. Five of my six characters are capable of casting some level of clerical spells.