|Encountering the first boss-level enemy, at the apex of "Perion's Place."|
Having Brian and Tim visit the blog and comment on their 24-year-old game has made it more interesting than it would be by gameplay alone. They've offered some fun stories about the development process and have taken my negative comments with aplomb. This earned Dragon Sword at least another 10%; since my last post, I've completed three more levels.
Unfortunately, what I said at the end of the last posting turned out not to be true: Tim's investigations have shown that they did not, in fact, implement limited gameplay in the unregistered version. It does appear that all 30 levels are available to us. Again, it's hard to see myself playing 24 more, but Dragon Sword has become a little more interesting as I see what the developers were doing.
Essentially, you can think of Dragon Sword as consisting of five separate chapters, all stemming from the town. I had assumed that the dungeon would keep growing in levels, all the way to 30. I was wrong. Instead, the initially-accessible dungeon, "Perion's Place," is 5 levels. In that dungeon, you get the code necessary to unlock the second one back in town. I assume somewhere in there, I'll get a code for the third one, and so forth, all the way to "The Lair," which must consist of levels 26-30. Because each dungeon is only five levels off the main town, it minimizes how much time it takes to get back to town after a successful expedition.
|Level 4 of "Perion's Place." About half of it consisted of dark squares.|
Level 4 of "Perion's Place" was half-shrouded in darkness. It offered a few more teleportation squares (which always screw-up mapping unless you notice right away that you've been teleported) and a couple of "jumping" squares that move you a few squares away. Navigating the darkness wasn't too bad; you just have to feel for walls. In one of the squares in the middle of the dark zone, I encountered a riddle: "On wings of fire, eyes full of hate, flies the dragon named . . ." Only someone who hadn't been paying the least bit of attention wouldn't know that the answer is OIJNGATE. Answering it returned the message that "the Dark Mage awaits" and unlocked the stairs to Level 5.
Level 5 was more of a classic maze. The monsters got a lot harder, but there were so many magic-recharging squares that I never felt I was in a lot of danger. The maze culminated in a battle with Perion himself, surrounded by two packs of "moon dogs," in the center square. Perion was capable of instant-kill spells, but at this point so was I. Killing him produced a "Wand of Death" and a big pile of experience points.
|The first boss dies.|
The level had two message squares that opened up the path to the next dungeon. One said, "A man named Galt, thief tried and true, lurks in a pit hidden from view. A secret word to enter, one must speak, and that word, I'm afraid, is always bleak." The second warned me that I needed to "speak thrice the word to open the pit."
|Level 5 of "Perion's Place." A previous message had told me that he was behind a "wall of darkness," which turned out to be that sequence of 8 dark squares.|
Back in town, I checked out the several squares where I'd been asked for a password during my first explorations. None of them specifically asked for anything from Perion's Place, but there was a voice in the southwest corner just asking for a password. I've played enough cryptic crosswords with "obvious clues" to know that the password was, in fact, BLEAK. I entered it three times and opened up the way to the first level of Galt's Home.
There wasn't much to the level: tough monsters, a couple teleport squares, one spinner, and a few messages about traps, including this absolutely incomprehensible one:
I only explored the first level. The up staircase beckons to the other four.
|Level 1 of "Galt's Home."|
Both my cleric and mage reached Level 5 in spells before starting Galt's Home. The spells are quite awesome. "Party Heal" heals all damage to the party. I finally got "Raise Dead," which, unlike the Wizardry version, never fails. "Destroy" and "Disintegrate" are powerful Level 5 mage spells that affect single enemies; "Ice Storm" and "Swarm" are powerful mage spells that do up to 100 points of damage to all enemies in all groups--usually killing every one of them, at least at my current dungeon levels.
There are a few mysteries. "Recall" would seem to return the characters to the adventurer's guild in town, but upon leaving the guild, the party finds itself not in town, but on the same dungeon level that they cast the spell--yet at the guild's coordinates. I don't know if this is a bug or what. "Teleport to Stairs," a cleric spell, doesn't seem to work at all. The mage's "Teleport" works like MALOR in Wizardry, allowing you to specify a number of moves along the X, Y, and Z coordinates--but you have to be in combat to cast it. Once combat finishes, then it executes. Weird.
|Casting "Teleport" in the midst of battle.|
In general, the game does a good job balancing power with cost. "Ice Storm" and "Swarm" would be game-breakers if they didn't eat up 15% of my spell points with every casting. Just like in Wizardry, you have to economize and only cast when necessary. What makes Dragon Sword a little easier, however, is the ubiquitous presence of magic-recharging squares. If there was only one or two per level, it would still be very challenging, but the first level of "Galt's Home" had four locations (and 11 total squares) that recharged. While I love being near magic-rechargers and knowing I can sling about powerful spells with impunity, it does make the levels a little less tactically challenging.
There are a staggering number of monsters in the game. I started keeping track in the middle of Perion's Place, and I've catalogued more than 100 already. Most are used for only 1 or 2 levels, then supplanted by higher-level monsters. 20 new monsters were introduced on the first level of Galt's Home alone: bandits, bloodworms, burlgars, creeping coins, driders, gnolls, gray oozes, harpies, lizard men, minotaurs, mobats, murderers, piercers, robbers, ropers, superheroes, swordmasters, taers, and trappers. Many of these are, of course, drawn from D&D.
|What kind of superhero hangs out with a bunch of murderers?!|
The creators did a decent job implementing special attacks. I discussed poison- and sleep-causing monsters the last time. Several (e.g., assassin bugs, murderers) are capable of instant kills. Some, like creeping coins and piercers, can "call for help" and boost their numbers. "Moon dogs" have magic immunity and "ropers" can turn you to stone. Lots of creatures can steal from you, and the first level of Galt's Home had a message offering a tip for how to prevent good stuff from being taken.
|Kids: poetry is about meter as much as rhyme.|
Pixies are perhaps the most varied creatures, capable of calling for help, paralyzing, stealing, and turning you to stone. They receive first priority for mass-damage spells when I meet them.
Finally, before I go, I'll note that each level has offered incremental equipment upgrades. I've slowly outfitted my party with +1 armor, shields, boots, gauntlets, and helmets. I still haven't found any magic weapons during combat, and it's still a little annoying to have to periodically clear the automatically-taken junk from my inventory.
|Abacan's current inventory. That flail can go.|
Some miscellaneous notes:
- As Brian noted in a comment, hitting ALT-T, ALT-B, or ALT-J brings up little homages to the developers.
- The game has music, composed by Brian's then-girlfriend, now-wife, Jennifer Anderson. I'm sure it was beautiful on the piano, but rendered on a constant loop through the PC speaker, it's what I imagine music in Hell is like. Naturally, I play with the sound off.
- Until the last level, all of my characters were going up at least one character level for every one dungeon level I explored. That appears to have ended with the continual doubling of needed experience points.
|Right now, battles are producing an average of 1,500 experience points. It'll be over 300 battles to the next level.|
- Adding to the bugs: the game seems to freeze most times that an enemy with thieving abilities (e.g., rogue, pixie, burglar) steals something from one of my packs.
- My armor class frequently fluctuates by 1 or 2 points for what appears to be no reason.
- In an e-mail to me, Brian said he was disappointed that I didn't show the opening screen shot of the game--the first view outside the adventurer's guild--which caused many early players to ask him why they'd drawn an image of two crayons pointing at each other. It took me forever to understand what he was talking about--mostly because I've gotten so used to wireframe dungeons that my mind automatically interprets them in 3D.
|It's like a reverse "Magic Eye."|
I suppose it's time to stop procrastinating and get on to Crystals of Arborea. I'll have to offer at least one more post on Dragon Sword, though, to give it a GIMLET. I'll probably complete Galt's Home--another four levels--and move on.