Thalion Software (developer and publisher)
Date Started: 6 June 2014
Date Ended: 2 July 2014
Date Ended: 2 July 2014
Total Hours: 58
Difficulty: Moderate (3/5)
Final Rating: 36
Ranking at Time of Posting: 103/150 (69%)
Final Rating: 36
Ranking at Time of Posting: 103/150 (69%)
All right. Screw this game. I've made it to the endgame, I have all the items needed, I have all the damned spells, but the game just takes me to the "game over" screen, with no explanation, the moment I enter the final area. I don't even care what the answer is. I've wasted too much time on this game to spend even another second.
It wouldn't have been a clean win anyway. Since my last post, I grew so sick of the game that I cheated by looking at dungeon maps online. I don't regret it one bit. The five remaining dungeons were massive--navigational nightmares of secret doors, teleporters, traps, weird fungi that make you charge off in random directions, and hundreds of endless, pointless combats. Even using cheats, it's taken me more than 17 hours since the last post. Without them--mapping every single dungeon exhaustively--it would have taken me well over 40.
These were the plot developments towards the end:
1. The pieces of Eltam: They turned out to make a wand. It was kind of nice because it was the only missile weapon my mage could use, but it wasn't that great. It certainly wasn't necessary to complete the game.
|Oh, and you have to mess around with different ways to assemble it. One of the ways supposedly opens locked doors, but I couldn't get that to work.|
2. Mastyk: The former headquarters of the black magicians. Other than spells and monsters, the giant dungeon mostly just had hints. One of the hints was that the "Shadow" is actually the "final phase of transformation which Murstor the Angry has gone through." Murstor was the founder of the school of black magic. This would be an interesting nod to the lore if Murstor had appeared in the back story, but he doesn't. The mouth says that "no one knows his aims or understands his actions," and they never became clearer.
|I also never encountered him again. Maybe he was supposed to show up at the end game.|
3. The map: Finished it thanks to some hints. There's a guy in Scatterbone who has two map pieces, but I'm not sure how you were supposed to discover that in-game. Probably some NPC that I missed said so.
|Ta-da: The endgame area, the Dragon Valley, is the continent to the southwest. If the main continent is a dragon, the Dragon Valley is . . . what?. . . its egg? Let's go with egg.|
4. The mushroom phial: You have to eat it in a particular part of the forest on the "dragon's jaw." Once you do, the area goes all wonky and a hidden dungeon entrance appears. I have no idea how players are supposed to know that this is where they eat the phial. (In the ST version, if I ate it anywhere else, the game crashed.) Anyway, at the bottom of the hidden dungeon, I found the "fragment" I needed to shatter the crystal holding the unicorn captive.
5. The Book of Knowledge: Long explanation on this one:
There was this guy in Trolian who wouldn't talk to me unless I had an "open mind." Thanks to trudodyr, I learned that this was a bad translation, and a better one was "generous heart." I realized he wanted me to elevate my character points. This is done most easily by giving scrolls to the university in Pegana.
Magic has played such a generally weak role in this game, and nowhere has there been a spell that was absolutely required. Figuring I didn't need any new spells, even if I didn't already have them, I just gave all my scrolls to the university, including one that had a "nameless spell." The manual indicated that the spell did mass damage to enemies, but I was already doing just fine in that regard without it, and it was a "black" spell anyway. I didn't figure I'd miss it.
|There must be a better way to say this.|
With my elevated character points, I went back to the NPC in Thalion. His name was Netaldur, and I had a "list" of his that I'd recovered from Kolbralon, the dungeon in the ice continent. When the characters explained about the attempts to restore magic at the university, he was delighted, and he gave me a "Book of Knowledge" that balanced black and white magic and removed the need to specialize in one or the other.
The book also told me about four spells that I'd need at the end of the game: "Healing Trance," "Fear," "Lightning," and the very "Nameless Spell" that I'd given away to get Netaldur to talk with me in the first place.
Lots of swearing followed, as well as a draft of this post that said "screw it" and refused to go back into the dungeons hunting for the spell.
But after a day of calming down, I sucked it up and re-explored two dungeons before I found the one (Aboltyk) that had contained the "Nameless" spells. It turned out to be a reasonably good mass damage spell. More important, I finally had all the spells needed for the endgame. Gleefully, I headed to the Dragon Valley.
One blow from my "fragment" shattered the crystal holding the unicorn captive and she went galloping off in the sunshine.
|"When the last eagle flies over the last crumbling mountain . . ."|
Then there was a brief maze culminating in a dungeon door. Entering produces this message:
A mighty gate blocks the entrance to a cave. It is surrounded by a magic glow. But when all of you use the spell from the Book of Wisdom it disappears into the ground. You enter the darkness of the mighty cave. Dobranur lights a torch and in its light you see evidence of a horrible fight. This must be the place where the battle between the magicians took place. A faint glow from the end of the cave attracts your attention. Just in between of some earthbounds [sic] elements, the air seems to become more solid. A sphere of pure magic energy exists there.
At this point, the game immediately goes to the "full party death" "end of all hope" screen. Before anyone asks, yes, I do have the four necessary spells prepared in the spellbooks. Is the solution that the characters have to have them memorized in a particular character order? If so, screw that. I'm not slogging around more dungeons so I can find "Healing Trance" for Bladus, "Nameless" for Dobranur, and "Lightning" for Andariel, which is what I would have to do.
Gerry Müller-Bruhnke's "Thalion Source" web site (previously linked by several commenters) has a few screenshots of what's supposed to happen. The party casts the spells in the correct order, and a dragon comes flying out of a portal. He congratulates the party and indicates that it was Lord Avaram (the orc king who lead the black magicians during the time of the war) who had banished the dragons. He says that the dragons have used their time in exile to become proficient with magic, which they will now use to serve the good of the land and the humanoid races.
|This is, alas, not my shot.|
I was close enough. It wasn't my fault. I'm calling it a "win."
Let me go back to complaining for a moment. I used the word "pointless" to describe the combats for a few reasons. First, as we covered last time, I hit an experience cap and was no longer getting any character development from all the combats. Second, I didn't need any more character development in the first place. The hardest "normal" enemy in the game is the balron, and my characters were more than capable of taking on waves and waves of them.
|"Guardians" wipe out all but one of my party members.|
There were a couple of "abnormal" enemies: statues and guardians. Both only die from the "Staff of Stone" I found in the Shadow's cavern. The staff has to be loaded with a gemstone prior to each combat, and it basically shoots gems at the statues, killing them instantly. Without the staff, victory is impossible; with it, there's no danger from statues whatsoever. Guardians are another matter. They kill characters instantly unless they're wearing Dragonrings. Unfortunately, you encounter these bastards long before everyone has a Dragonring. (There's a single dungeon with a Dragonring and no guardians, so I suppose you could wait for it to respawn three times, but that would have made an already-tedious game much worse.) The result was I had to finish a couple of dungeons with only one or two characters alive, then resurrect everyone else at a temple. It's another testament to the pointlessness of the combats when a single character can finish a late-game dungeon.
|Not just a single character--the weakest character in the group.|
There were a number of other things that make the late game maddening. Monsters roaming the wilderness increase exponentially, so I had to keep stopping and fighting energy balls, ghosts, and "beasts" while just trying to get from one place to another. The later dungeons ate up keys by the dozens, forcing me to leave a few times to re-stock, even when I thought I'd brought plenty. Perhaps realizing that the enemies weren't challenging enough, the developers made traps that do thousands of hit points in damage, forcing me to constantly stop and heal. Many of the levels had complicated teleporter mazes that take you to identical-looking areas, defying mapping solutions.
|Cue a long, exasperated sigh.|
The Staff of Stone is the only thing that kills guardians and statues, as I said, but it's useless against anyone else (and you wouldn't want to waste the gems anyway). You can't change weapons in combat, and sometimes there would be two rooms in a row, one with say, balrons, and the next with statues. I'd have to fight the first one, leave, save, change weapons, and then go into the second room. Having to re-charge the staff in between combats was equally annoying, and more often than not, I forgot, entered combat with statues, found my staff was dead, and had to re-load.
By the time I was done with the dungeons, I wanted to find the developers, hang them upside down by their lederhosen, and demand to know exactly what, for %$@'s sake, they thought they were doing. The second half of the game is absolutely jaw-dropping in its hubris--in its disregard for the player's time or enjoyment. For most of my time with Dragonflight, I've been calling it "average," but no game that deserves even that lofty label if it makes the player expend so much time for so little reward.
Let me GIMLET the thing and be done with it.
- 5 points for the game world. The back story tells a fairly original tale of lost dragons and lost magic, and the party's quest is generally clear, although it takes a while for the various pieces to come together. There were some small touches that gave the sense of an evolving gameworld, such as the mushroom potion making permanent changes to the terrain and orcs disappearing as enemies once the orc treaty is signed.
|This NPC encounter, too.|
- 3 points for character creation and development. There's no creation at all. As the characters gain experience, they increase in health, strength, combat movements, and magic power, and until the middle of the game, when you hit the experience cap, these improvements are generally rewarding. The level cap, and the rapidity with which you reach it, are completely inexcusable.
- 4 points for NPC interaction. You talk to NPCs in houses and wandering through towns, and their intelligence definitely advances the plot of the game and fleshes out the game world. There aren't really any dialogue options, though, and role-playing is limited to whether you give gold to beggars.
- 4 points for encounters and foes. There aren't any classic RPG encounters--just a couple of light puzzles. Enemies are somewhat boilerplate, though described well in the manual, and differentiated in combat by attack type and power.
- 3 points for magic and combat. The combat screen is creative, but not really in a good way. Combat offers few tactics, especially since you can't change spells or weapons after combat begins. Magic is of the typical spell/mana variety, with few offensive spells offering much benefit over physical attacks. Listening at doors to prepare offers the only real strategy.
|Battling some "beasts." Rinakles has just turned one to ash with the "Nameless" spell.|
- 4 points for equipment. There isn't much in the way of weapons and armor. Basically, there's one magic weapon for each character, obtained by solving a side-quest, and so you generally only get one or two weapon upgrades in the game. There are a few types of armor, lots of potions, some quest items, and a variety of treasures to sell. The potions--including the ability to mix them--would have been more interesting if they had been more necessary, but combat and exploration were easy enough without them.
|I'm having flashbacks to my bachelor party.|
- 4 points for economy. For the first half of the game, it's pretty good. You're selling individual mushrooms for a little extra gold and desperately trying to save up for that first ship. Late in the game, the economy breaks. My characters ended the game each with 9,999 gold (the maximum) and hundreds of unsold treasures.
- 4 points for quests. The main quest was interesting, with multiple steps along the way. I'm having a hard time figuring out what quests were authentic "side-quests," but there were a few. There's no role-playing or alternate outcomes.
- 3 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The graphics are nice enough, but there's no sound except for repetitive music, which I turned off. The mouse-driven interface was easy enough to figure out, but as usual I'm subtracting points for not making any use of the keyboard except when moving. There's no reason that "T" couldn't have activated the "Talk" button or "C" the "Cast" button instead of forcing me to awkwardly walk with my left hand while trying to click the buttons with my right.
- 2 points for gameplay. It has a strong and welcome non-linearity. But as we've seen, the game is way, way, way too long, with too many large dungeons, too many combats, and too much backtracking around the game world. Dragonflight has absolutely no sense of pacing. And while the game was too long, it was also too easy, with the foes offering virtually no challenge in the latter two-thirds of the game.
Add 'em up and we get a final score of 36. I usually consider a game "recommended" at 35. In this case, I recommend that you play it for a few hours to experience an unusual contribution from some developers who would become famous for other games, but for the love of all that's holy, don't bother to try to win it. There are better things to do with our short years on Earth.
You'll never catch me saying that Dragonflight isn't creative and original. It's just that most of its variations from the norm felt "foreign" rather than "innovative." For instance, in 150 previous games, I've never had to worry whether an NPC was "home" when I knocked on his door. While I grant that NPCs who sometimes answer the door and sometimes don't is a creative contribution, it isn't one that made me feel positively about the game. It rather felt like the game was wasting my time.
The game offers an innovative system for mixing potions, but renders it completely useless. The back story is detailed to the point of being unnecessarily detailed. The combat screen is one of the most unusual I've ever seen, and yet it offers fewer options and tactics than games from a decade prior. Many, many other elements--ships that won't sail where you want them to go and disappear if you walk too far away; "common" spells that the game will let you memorize but you never need them; the "character points" system; the mushrooms that you find by the boatload but that don't do anything; the temples and "temple teleportation" system; the numbering of each city's houses; the ridiculously fatal traps; the traps that make chests or your weapons disappear; the magic mouths; the enemies unkillable except with the Staff of Stones; having to bribe guards with alcohol; the method of finding secret doors--all make you go "huh," but not admiringly. The things Dragonflight does differently make for a weird gameplay experience, not a better one.
We'll encounter the Thalion crew again, with Amberstar in 1992 and Ambermoon in 1993, and from what I've read, they build on the Dragonflight interface but offer a better RPG experience. I look forward to them. If nothing else, Dragonflight suggests a team of developers who had promise but needed a more practice.
Back now to Fallthru, another game that seems to enjoy prolonging itself. We need a few more quick one-offs, like King's Bounty, in 1990.