|The hero crosses over the Rainbow Bridge to Midgard as Heimdal stands watch.|
For the last 5 or 6 years, I've been slowly working my way backwards in the New York Times crossword puzzle archive. Two nights ago, I came to December 30, 2001 and broke out laughing when I saw the clue for a six-letter down answer: "Son of Odin." If I'd reached the clue one week earlier, I would have briefly wondered if the answer was some alternate spelling--THORRE?--before moving on to the next one. Thanks to this game, I knew right away that I was looking for BALDUR. Thanks, Dusk of the Gods!
This is indicative of the game as a whole. So far, it feels more like I've been taking a course in Norse mythology than playing a game. That isn't necessarily a complaint. It's been interesting, filling in a lot of gaps in both my knowledge and references I've seen in other RPGs. I now know what Yggdrasil--the weird "code word" given to you at the end of The Black Onyx--refers to. I know the source of Baldur in Baldur's Gate. I know that Norse mythology adopted the concept of "three fates" from Greek mythology--or they both got it from an earlier source. Having seen this game's depiction of Heimdal guarding the Rainbow Bridge, I can appreciate what they did with the concept in Thor.
Everything in Norse mythology--it seems moreso than other mythologies I've studied--has an individual name. Everyone's weapons are uniquely named. Horses all have names. Odin's throne has a name, as do various individual rooms in Valholl. The two freaking chains that bound Fenrir have names.
|I stand in Idavoll, a chamber in Valholl, in which the High Thingstead meets. Odin's golden throne is called Hlidsklalf. I've been warned not to sit in it, but fortunately the game doesn't provide a mechanism for sitting on things.|
But, as I noted last time, there's been a lot of typing. My notes document is up to 10 single-spaced pages now, though a bit artificially inflated since I insisted on putting all the terms in the manual's 28-page glossary in there, too--a process that took me longer than actual game time since the last posting.
At the end of my first post, I thought I'd thoroughly explored Asgard, but I was wrong. There were another 8 or 9 PCs on the western outskirts, plus the three fates--Skuld, Urd, and Verandi--occupying a little island in space outside Asgard's walls. Urd gave me a helm, shield, and battle axe--all better equipment than I'd received from Inghen. Verandi told me about a vision she'd had about Thor's hammer re-forged, but Thor getting attacked by Jormungandr, the World Serpent, and losing the battle because a line snapped or something. I think that's probably a quest lead--find a way to strengthen his line. Similarly, Skuld had a vision of Ragnarok in which Loke turned into a horned beast. Heimdal beheaded him, but his horns pierced Heimdal's breastplate and killed him.
|Talking with one of the fates as the void surrounds me.|
With my new equipment, and bolstered by return visits to Eil for healing, I defeated a pack of wolves in the southern forest, defeated four warriors who were just hanging around looking for a fight, and killed two bears and got their sinews.
|Fighting a bear in the woods.|
Combat in the game is pretty boring. You just stand face-to-face with enemies, swing your weapons, wait for the cool-down period to end, and swing them again. Each weapon has a regular attack and a special attack--usually a stronger attack that takes double the time to cool down. An equipped shield can be used as a secondary weapon, so you spend most of the time just clicking between them. So far, the extra damage done by the special attacks hasn't been worth the longer cool-down period, particularly since both types of attacks usually miss.
|I kill some warriors that seem to exist soley for the purpose of practicing combat. Note that my axe, which has two attacks, is in "cooldown" mode. I can attack with my shield, though.|
You can theoretically throw any weapon, and later I got a bow and some arrows, but I find that it's too hard to line up missile shots to be worth it, particularly since enemies come at you quickly, and often on erratic paths.
Occasionally, after a successful combat, your "warrior" skill will increase by 5 points. I don't know whether this is random occurrence or whether the game keeps track of previous victories behind the scenes and awards the increases at defined intervals.
|My skill increases after I kill a wolf.|
After defeating these few enemies around Asgard, I left Asgard and returned a few times, and the enemies didn't respawn. It does not appear that any enemies in the game respawn.
A couple of interesting things came out of further NPC conversations. First, I had read in the glossary that Frey had a magic warship called Skidbladnir. It could shrink to the size of a napkin but magically expand when needed, and it was accompanied by magical winds called Oskabyrr. I asked Frey about these keywords and he ended up giving me his ship. For a while, I thought this was a fun Easter egg, accessible only to players who bothered to read the manual, but later another NPC suggested that I ask him about it.
|The hero discovers that presumption pays off.|
Second, Freya seemed to be so in love with her cats that I thought she might have some insight into a "cat's footfall" that I had to retrieve for Odin. She said she'd get it for me if I could steal the necklace Brisingamen from a bunch of dwarves. She was otherwise going to have to sleep with them to get the necklace.
Finally, I figured out how to open chests and bags by putting them in my left hand. I went around Asgard and picked up all the chests I'd previous left alone. In most of them, I found perfume--this turned out to be a suitable gift at gods' altars (see below). In a basket in a large meeting room, I found a head labeled "Mimer's Head." According to the glossary, Mimer was a giant who was slain during the war between the Aesir and Vanir. Odin had the head embalmed so his "wisdom was not lost" and would frequently speak to the head to get advice. So far, the head hasn't said anything to me.
|Chjestyr is cured of the desire to open random chests.|
When I was ready to leave Asgard, I had a dozen quests, or at least things that I think are quests:
- Find Hyrokkin in Jotunheim and speak to her about Ragnarok.
- Help King Nitheri rescue his abducted daughter from the giant TreeSmiter.
- Steal the Mead of Consequence from the giant Surt and bring it to Hoenir.
- Find the head of Thor's hammer and bring it back to him.
- Wake Brynhild from a magic slumber.
- Retrieve either the Rod of Subduing or the Wand of Charming from Hela, use them on the giantess Gerd so she'll marry Frey without Frey having to give the Sword of Victory to her father.
- Find a magic torc and give it to blind Hodur so he can avoid death at the hands of Baldur's brother, Vale.
- Find a way to strengthen Heimdal's breastplate and Thor's line so they will avoid a later death.
- Locate a ship captain named Ragnar and give him a message from his father, Gorm.
- Steal the necklace Brisingamen from the dwarves and bring it to Freya so she will give me a cat's footfall.
|Or you could just give it to me to stop the end of the world.|
- Find the rest of the items needed to chain Fenrir: spittle of birds, a woman's beard, breath of fish, mountain's root.
- Find the Horn of Fate, Gjaller, for Heimdal.
When I was ready to set out, I headed west and crossed the Rainbow Bridge, also known as the Bif-Rost, which I had always imagined was partitioned "bi-frost" instead. I found myself in a cave--I had to equip a torch--with three warriors who immediately attacked me, but they weren't hard. One of them had a better axe than the one given to me by Urd, so I equipped it. Among the others, I found some random loot: a "Fehu" rune, a couple of golden idols, and a couple of iron coins. More on the rune and idols in a bit.
The cave ended up splitting into two exits to Midgard, one south and one north. I took the south exit. The land on the other side was quite large--maybe 10-15 screens east-west and north-south. I was reminded how annoying it is to explore large, open outdoor areas when you don't have an automap and no small-scale map came with the game (see Lord of the Rings, vol. I for another example). I'm always paranoid that I'm going to miss something. I tried to explore in a pattern, but mountain ranges and bodies of water made it difficult.
|Beginning to explore Midgard.|
There were thankfully fewer NPCs on the map than in Asgard--less than 10 total, and most of them had only brief dialogue. A woman named Drifa told me the properties of the various roots and fruits that I'd been finding. For instance, Apples of Vigor heal you, Baldur's Brow cures poison, and Stonecrop protects against lightning.
I fought and killed a bunch of wolves and random warriors. This one wolf kept killing me, and when I finally was able to destroy it after about 8 reloads, it turned out it wasn't a wolf at all but a person wearing a "Wolf Cloak." When I put it on, it turned me into a wolf temporarily. I assume it will have some use later.
|The corpse of someone I just killed. I'm wearing the wolf cloak.|
Scattered about Midgard are temples to various gods. It took me some trial and error to figure out what to do here. You have to sacrifice certain items to get a god's favor. So far, I've determined that perfume, golden idols, and magic items work for everyone, but I generally want to keep my magic items. After each sacrifice, you get a spell, represented by a rune in the lower-right part of the character sheet. Some of the runes represent spells that remain active for a while, like protection. Others are spells that you cast by clicking on them. I'll talk about this more later when I have better experience.
|Sacrificing an item to a god. Note that I already have an active spell. I think clicking on it increases my "sage" ability.|
As my inventory swiftly grew, I began getting "encumbered" messages as well as out-of-space messages, which I had to solve by ditching extra weapons (I hope these don't break like they do in DarkSpyre) and putting things in carried bags and chests, respectively. I had hoped to sell the excess weapons at stores, but frankly I don't know if stores exist. The only economy in the game seems to be little iron pieces, but these are tracked as individual items, so clearly I'll never amass thousands of them like in most RPGs.
I picked up another quest when I wandered into the court of King Beowulf. He wants me to kill a dragon terrorizing the area and bring him its head. This seems a little advanced for my current character, but I'll give it a shot.
Eventually, I found my way to the hall ruled by King Nitheri, who told me about his abducted daughter. TreeSmiter and his band of giants were living in a building right next door.
|Chjestyr the Giant Slayer.|
I had to return to Asgard twice to get healed during the process, but I managed to kill both TreeSmiter and the surrounding giants. Nitheri's daughter was grateful for the rescue.
|The grateful damsel.|
In TreeSmiter's home, I found an awesome sword called Blutgang that's both light (meaning it can attack more often) and does as much damage as any other weapon found so far. Its special attack is some kind of fireball spell. There was also a cloak called a Cloak of Obscurity that makes me invisible--I'm sure it will come in handy later.
Returning to Nitheri, I was rewarded with his shield, called LifeGiver, which quickly restores hit points when you hold it. It seems a little too easy; I suspect it only has a limited number of uses. Anyway, my other shield does damage in combat and LifeGiver doesn't, so I'll only equip LifeGiver when I really need it.
|Finishing my first quest.|
After that, I was feeling pretty good about my chances with a dragon, so I went looking for it. I found it in the mountains to the south of Beowulf's castle. Its head poked out of its lair, and it spewed a series of fireballs in unpredictable intervals. To defeat it, I had to run up, slash it a couple of times with my sword, and run back to safety before it started spitting fireballs. It took a few reloads before I got into the hang of the pattern, but after that I was able to kill him without much problem.
|Waiting for the dragon to stop blowing fireballs so I can attack.|
I got the dragon's head, heart (this apparently allows you to talk to birds), several vials of its blood, several ship's tokens (another sacrificial item) and iron coins, several chests full of Freya's tears (no idea), and a dragon hauberk and leggings to replace my leather. I left so over-encumbered that I could barely walk (the game slows you down when you're over-encumbered), and even dropping off the dragon's head with Beowulf didn't do much to alleviate it. Clearly, I'm going to need a place to store stuff I don't currently need until later. In particular, the dragon hauberk and leggings will have to wait until I'm stronger, as they weigh 110 pounds combined versus the 12 pounds of what I was already wearing.
|The very over-encumbered hero.|
Anyway, Beowulf took the head and gave me an even cooler longsword, Hrunting, that does more damage than Blutgang and shoots lightning.
- If the game has any sound other than music, it's rare. No sound appears in combat. As I've mentioned before, I don't like music constantly playing in the background, no matter how good, so I've just turned the sound off. I hope we're reaching the end of the era in which developers prized music over sound effects and the two couldn't be separated in the preferences.
- I accidentally attacked Inghen, the guy who gave me my first set of equipment, while I was trying to figure out how to equip the spear. Even though I've left Asgard and returned a couple of times, he's still sore about it. He refuses to talk to me, and he attacks the moment I enter his hut. I hope I don't need him for anything later. I probably should have started over.
- Like in DarkSpyre, enemies flee when their hit points get too low. Actually, they don't flee so much as run around the area randomly. You have to run up to them and start swinging to get them back into combat.
- The in-game clock tells you the current date and time in the real world. I don't understand what utility this was supposed to have.
|Did early 1990s players not otherwise have clocks?|
- I don't know how to get the magic boat Skidbladnir to work. If I drop it, it just sits there. If I try to put it in my hand to "use" it, there's no option to do so. I suspect that maybe it'll just get used automatically when needed, and I can't actually use it to sail over generic bodies of water.
- There is a day/night cycle in the game, but fortunately "night" is accompanied by the screen just getting darker, not closing in around you like so many 1980s-early 1990s games.
I like Dusk of the Gods, but it's less an RPG and more an adventure game with a few combats in between NPCs and inventory puzzles. In that, it feels more like Quest for Glory than DarkSpyre, but without Quest for Glory's more robust character development system. On the other hand, it's rare that I really learn something from an RPG, so even if the game gets a little boring at times, it's worth continuing to play--if only because it improves my standings at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.