|The opening screen of the second version. That's some awful verse. Dalagash better stick to raising vampires.|
Within the last 48 hours, either I or Blogspot have managed to completely lose two entire posts I typed about Vampyr. The two posts took me right up to the final battle with Vampyr and chronicled my rapid descent into absolutely hating the game.
Nothing like this has happened in four years of using Blogspot as my blog host, and I can't begin to account for it. One post is simply completely missing from my drafts. Another somehow got overwritten with notes from a different post. The trust I'd developed with the service is now broken, and I'll have to type my posts in some application on my computer first. I don't know if I use Word whether encoding issues will screw things up when I paste the text to Blogger. I guess we'll see.
In any event, I don't have the heart or stomach to type everything again, so I'm just going to have to provide a summary. This is really depressing. I had channeled a lot of rage and frustration into those two postings. I had a nice discussion of iconographic, tile-based games, some thoughts on game music, and some good examples about the differences between games that are challenging and games that are just difficult. I can't seem to re-conjure any of it now.
To start, thanks to HunterZ's comment, I sought out the second version of the game, which fixed many of the bugs I discussed in my first post. In addition to this, it offered a slightly different opening screen, naming the game's villain, and some additional music. (The first version opens with a PC speaker version of Bach's toccata and fugue in D-minor for organ; the second adds the first couple dozen measures of Beethoven's fifth symphony.)
When I finished my first post, I had completed the first quest and had received a second one to find out who Dalagash is. No other help. I used the excuse to explore the land, discovering that it occupies about 80 squares north-south and 100 east-west, plus some additional islands. The land doesn't wrap on itself; instead, the north, east, and west borders have impassable mountains and the south is blocked by the ocean. You can hire boats to take you to the islands but there's no way to sail on the ocean yourself.
|Arriving at one of the island towns.|
The towns are all very similar, offering weapons, armor, transport, and training. The training is the big difference among them, as different trainers allow development in different skills. The town of Myron, however, allowed training in all the skills, so I generally tried to go there when I could level up. You get 45 skill points to distribute with each level-up, except a couple of times when I got 12 or 0, and I think this was a game bug.
|Purchasing some armor.|
The game is a lot like Ultima II and Ultima III in that you can steal chests in the towns, kill NPCs, and massacre guards, and not only do you suffer no permanent karma, the towns completely re-set when you leave and return. As with those games, such crimes are a legitimate way to grind for both experience and gold.
The quests were as follows:
1. Find out about Dalagash. I accomplished this by learning about someone called "The Bard" who was being held in the town of Zachul. I found him in a locked area guarded by an evil cleric and a vampire. He told me that Dalagash is a powerful mage who has discovered the location of the tomb of Vampyr (note that this is a proper name) and plans to raise him.
|Perhaps the most verbose NPC in the game.|
2. Free the town of Myron, which had been invaded by evil clerics. The developers created a new map for the town in which all the town's NPCs were huddled in hiding spaces and secret areas, and evil clerics were wandering around proclaiming their victory. (One shouted "I'm the new mayor!" while the real mayor hid nearby in a secret area.) I tried but failed to defeat every single group of evil clerics in battle--their magic missiles were quite deadly--but it turned out that all I had to do was kill their leader, a vampire, in the northwest corner. NPCs directed me to his location.
|A town resident hides while I do the dirty work.|
|I confront the invasion's leader.|
3. King Tevon discovered that Dalagash would need the Talisman of Invocation to raise Vampyr. He told me to retrieve it from a dragon's lair "up north." I hadn't found any other dungeons "up north," but I checked again and realized that one of the mountain tiles had a tiny hole indicating an opening in it.
|Would you have noticed that?|
I was unable to get anywhere in the dungeon with my Level 8 character, so I settled in for a long grinding session. Because I wanted to train in Myron, I decided to do it there, but as an island, enemies spawn rarely. Instead, I grinded myself against guards. There's no penalty for killing them in the game, they provide decent experience, and once you leave the town and return, they come back to life and have forgotten your previous massacre. You'll have to imagine all of this couched in jokes about Ultima and Questron and such.
|Killing NPCs for profit.|
Even with my new level--13--the dragon's dungeon was extremely hard, and I lost my character multiple times while just trying to find my way around. Rust monsters kept destroying my armor, and other enemies pounded down my hit points in single combat. At some point, I accepted death, went to Heaven, and bought a +3 weapon and armor there, as they're the best in the game. (In this version, the "gods" occasionally send you back, and they did for me.) This barely helped.
An entire floor, with an obvious path to something significant, requiring me to walk through lava, turned out to be a red herring. It might have been a funny joke if it wasn't so annoying to get there.
|I hate you.|
I ultimately found the dragon in a secret area on the second level. He was capable of breathing fireballs that did devastating damage, but the "Protection from Spells" spell helped a little. After a few tries in which he killed me, I was able to defeat him and return the talisman to the king.
|The dragon looks a bit like a dog to me.|
4. The king then asked me to find a sage who had gone missing. He gave me no hints where to find him, but I only had one dungeon I hadn't explored. It was full of parties of giants who pounded me to goo. I returned to grinding but found that the game has a level cap at 15, so I didn't get far. Getting through the dungeon was an enormously frustrating process helped only by the "Exit to Land" spell which would whisk me out of there when my hit points got too low. In the end, I just barely made it to the sage alive and got his information: Vampyr's tomb is on the island of Calatiki but I need to get a "keystone" from Dalagash before I can enter his tomb.
|Note the two giants--cleverly dressed in one-strap green togas like the Green Giant--poised to attack me as soon as I'm done with the conversation. Fortunately, I saved just enough spell points for the "Exit to Land" spell.|
5. When I returned to the king, he told me that Dalagash's minions had raided the castle and stolen the talisman (seriously?! You had one job to do. It would have been safer with the dragon!), so he gave me the final quest to go to Calatiki and stop Dalagash. I knew how to get there from some NPC dialogue: hire a captain named Marsus in the city of Maninox.
|I should have sent it to the Marx Brothers.|
I'll cover the final dungeon (or what I assume is the final dungeon) in a moment, but let's deal with my frustrations with the game, which are legion:
- The monsters are ridiculously hard, particularly the giants, evil clerics, and vampires. One group of them was capable of killing my maxed-level character with the best equipment in the game, and you have to fight dozens of groups in each dungeon.
|10% of my hit points blasted away--just the sort of message you want when you're trying to get through a dungeon to the boss.|
- The combat system doesn't offer any tactics to help compensate for this difficulty. Your sole advantage is bad pathfinding, so if you face a group, you can run to the far left or far right, and they'll reliably line up and take you on one at a time. This isn't enough to save you.
- There's no way to save, rest, or restore magic points in dungeons, so you've got to get through them with the magic and spell points you had at the beginning. They also reset when you leave. You could easily spend hours exploring a dungeon only to die, or have to flee, and find that you've made no progress.
- There are a number of spells in the game that are potentially helpful, but you soon find that it's irresponsible to spend spell points on anything but healing. For instance, a useful mass-damage spell called "disintegrate" can clear the battlefield--but at a cost of 16 spell points, or more than a quarter of what I had at my highest level. This same number could cast five "cure light wounds" spells. You face too many groups of enemies for the ability to kill one of them to be consequential.
- There are no inventory items, like potions or scrolls, to help you, either.
- Given all the above, the level cap is unforgivable. With no items or tactics to mitigate the difficulty, increased hit points and spell points are all you have going for you besides blind luck.
|It's not "the" Vampyr, it's just "Vampyr." And I'm trying.|
- In dungeons, enemies spawn by just literally appearing in your path. You might think you have three empty squares between you and your goal, but these could easily hold three combats with creatures that don't even show up until you take a step forward. It makes it extremely frustrating to navigate through dungeons.
- Monsters can move on the diagonal, but you can't. That means there's essentially no way to outrun them.
There were NPCs who warned me about the bite of rust monsters and the touch of vampires. What did they warn me for? There's no way to avoid them, no way to outrun them, and no way to sneak by them. In combat, you could theoretically get a couple of missile weapon shots at them before they come into melee range, but swapping weapons wastes a round, so you don't gain much. You basically just have to hope for lucky combat rolls.
|I didn't get one here.|
When you enter Vampyr's castle, you're greeted with a sign welcoming you to your "dome." This didn't bode well.
The Vampyr's lair consists of three levels. You first have to go from the ground floor to the second level to confront Dalagash in his chambers. He laughs and disappears the moment you show up, but until you confront him, he doesn't use his "keystone" to open the walls to the lower level.
|Dalagash vanishes while one of his evil clerics approaches from the west.|
The lower level consists of a series of caves with bats, evil clerics, vampires, and giants spiders. It's not very long, but the creatures wear you down quite quickly, and there are a couple of places where you have to waste hit points walking through lava.
|Healing myself after wading through molten rock.|
If you're lucky, you have enough spell points available for a "Protection from Spells" spell when you confront Dalagash. He shoots fireballs that can wipe out a third of your hit points in a single attack. The spell mitigates this a bit, but I still lost to him seven or eight times before I was able to defeat him.
Unfortunately, defeating him doesn't stop the resurrection of Vampyr, who you must now face with your crippled hit point and spell point total. He'd be a hard enough foe no matter what, but what's worse is his attacks are capable of killing you instantly, and they succeed almost all the time.
|Can anyone figure out what "merika sheree vee geia favi uri seputa kree hyce xiz" is supposed to mean?|
I've been in the castle about 30 times now. Only 12 times did I make it to Dalagash and Vampyr--the rest of the times, I was slain by random enemies or it became clear before I got to the end that I'd never make it, and I just reloaded. Eight times, I was defeated by Dalagash. The other four times, I engaged Vampyr but was killed within three rounds by his instant-death melee attack.
|I took out my rage on the angels. It wasn't a good idea.|
Late in the process of writing this updated post, I think I solved the final piece of the puzzle. Commenter Nate Subra offered a "semi-spoiler" about a "blue rose" that you find in Heaven. I thought I had searched everywhere and talked to everyone without finding it, so I didn't pay much attention, but it later occurred to me that this might be important. I returned to Heaven and found a previously-overlooked NPC selling it. I purchased it and got the "gods" to send me back to the mortal coil. I can't imagine the rose does anything but protect against Vampyr's attacks, but to find out, I first have to navigate back to him and survive the battle with Dalagash again. Either way, my next post will be my final.