All right. We got the kinks worked out from last time. It turns out that there are at least two ways--probably three--to win the game, and none of them are completely bugged. (Thanks to Peter, Nathan, and asimpkins in the last post for helping with all of this.)
- First, you can defeat Variz in his dungeon. Yes, I encountered a bug where it incorrectly identified a storm giant as Variz, but Variz is still there, just in a room I didn't find. It's notable that if I had found the room on my first pass, winning the game would have come as a complete surprise, since I thought I was in the dungeon for a different purpose and the text doesn't give you any impression you're about to fight the final battle.
- Second, you can wait until the "Armageddon" date when Variz leads his forces in an attack on Lanathor. For me, this was August 22, 1035; I don't know if this is fixed or rolled randomly when you start the game.
- Third, according to a message board post, you can win by conquering the cities of Rathadon, but only if you do it with your armies, not by assassinating the rulers with your party. I wasn't able to verify this one.
I tried the second option first. I had been deliberately passing time, hoping that Variz would attack, but to no avail. Now, there are only a couple of ways to pass time in the game. One is to go to your quarters in the Disciples of Steel guild or a castle and rest the party. You can do this for 120 hours, or 5 days, at a time, but you have to keep doing it manually. The second is to take the party to a dungeon with no random encounters and weigh down the "S" (search) key while you take a shower or watch television or something. You have to acknowledge messages at the end of each month and the occasional birthday, but this method requires the least user input.
Doing it this way, I failed to notice for a while that the calendar wasn't advancing past August 22. The time would advance around the clock, but the date never changed. Only when I left the city I was in and returned did I get the messages that brought on the endgame.
I should point out that I started letting time pass in February, so that was six extra months I could have used to make money, improve my characters, and so forth. Since I did a lot of grinding and backtracking during the game proper, I feel there was plenty of time to solve all the quests before the game-enforced final battle. I just think the player should get a little more notice.
As I tried to enter the city, this is the notice I received:
In the distance, you see a rider galloping toward you. You wait for him to approach and after several moments, he is reining in his horse to a stop in front of you. He is out of breath, but he speaks in hurried gasps, "The forces of darkness march across the mountains and spread into the plains northwest of Farnus. You must unite the people of Lanathor and march our forces to defeat this evil horde."For several days, you send runners out to the various kingdoms to see who will join you and your troops as you head to the Farnus flatlands. As you prepare to meet the evil wizard Variz and his army, your runners return with word from the other realms.
Following this is a roll call of all the kingdoms that you didn't take over but did reach the end of their questlines. In my case, all of them--Kitari, Hollengard, Cartha, Aragual, and Pallasade--offered to send help. The game told me that I would make my stand in Pallasade.
As the battle began, I had 96 armies to allocate around the battlefield, which took long enough, but it turned out that the enemy had around 145. After allocation, the battle plays much like a classic strategy game, not terribly dissimilar to Sword of Aragon. You can charge enemy armies, fire bows, or defend, and for each unit you can take a detailed look at its equipment, training and morale. It's a pretty impressive system given that it hardly ever gets used in gameplay.
|My units attack the enemy. Note the equipment, troop count, and training rank in the lower-right. I guess it would have made more sense to let them come through the gate.|
I fought for a while, but with so many units, it takes a long time. Each unit had an average of 100 soldiers, and a single attack between units might kill only 15 at a time. Add this up for more than 100 units per round, and you're looking at a multi-hour battle of slowly whittling down the enemy forces.
|An end-of-round report from early in the battle. I like neither my chances nor the amount of time this is going to take.|
I would have stuck with it, but the early battle reports were grim. I clearly needed to enter the endgame with more parity between my army and the enemy's, which would mean reloading the February save and spending those intervening months building units and micromanaging funds. I found this prospect less interesting than taking my party back to Variz's dungeon and trying to find him again.
|This is where the storm giant's speech would have made sense.|
On the third level, behind a secret door that I'd missed the first time, I found him and his army of giants and hellhounds. Upon entering the room, the game told me only that I faced "Rathadon high command within the rifts." I started to defeat them without "Wrath of God," but when the frost giants decimated my party with "Ice Storm" spells and Variz knocked us out for a round with "Time Stop," I pulled out my nuclear option and ended things in one casting.
After the battle, I got a quick animation of a knight standing next to a castle wall in a rainstorm and a notice that "the forces of good are victorious!"
|I suspect if we'd really put out minds to it, we could have come up with a more interesting and appropriate end-game animation.|
After that, the game let me keep playing. If I exited and re-entered the square where I encountered Variz, I faced the same encounter again. When I exited the dungeon and visited some of the cities, the lords still spoke as if the big final battle was ahead of us. I suspect if I wait until August 22 again, the land will get attacked as if I had never defeated Variz in the first place.
Thus, a bit of a buggy, let-down ending to a long and complex game, although I do appreciate the ability to win the game multiple ways.
A GIMLET is up next. I'm going to have to do some careful analysis on Disciples of Steel, so I didn't want to conflate this post with the final rating. But because it's so short, consider this an "extra" post that doesn't count within my normal three-day rotation.