Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Gateway to the Savage Frontier: More Detailed but Less Interesting

One down.
Since the last post, I've completed at least one-quarter of the main quest by finding one of the four statuettes in the Host Tower of the Arcane in Luskan. (I keep wanting to spell that "Luksan," but that was Dargo's race in Farscape.) I'm finding Gateway to the Savage Frontier pleasant enough, but although it adds some more detail to the game world (as we'll discuss), it feels a lot more trite than the previous Gold Box games, and I fear it isn't destined to rank comparative well in the final tally.

Before I returned to finish up Luskan, I had some unfinished business in Yartar. I returned to the city after being reminded (in the process of composing my last post) that Amanitas had suggested I go there. Nothing happened at first, but when I tried to leave the city, I was attacked and captured by the Zhent General Vaalgamon. He taunted me and then said he would "leave the trivial task of killing [us] to [our] Kraken hosts!"
I suspect you're going to wish you killed me yourself.
In due order, with the help of my NPC friend, Krevish, I escaped my cell, fought through a host of lizard men and Kraken cultists, and escaped back to Yartar. On the way, I recovered a long sword +2 that had supposedly been stolen from my party before the game began. I also had to fight a couple of giant squids in chest-deep water. I think this is the first time in a Gold Box game that this has happened.
They look ferocious, but they weren't so hard.
At some point, I had found a dagger +1,  too, so at this point 4 of my 7 characters had magic weapons. I figured this was enough to try taking on the margoyles in Luskan again. The basic setup of Luskan was that the city is ruled by five retired pirates, and I arrived in town just as they were receiving tributes from other ships' captains. I invaded all five of their estates, killed the pirates and their margoyle allies, and retrieved the proffered tributes. The final battle netted me a +1 sword that does cold damage, called the Sword of Icewind Dale. Neat to see an Icewind Dale reference 9 years before its titular game.
The rest of the city had a few random combats with scrags, or sea trolls, which I think I'm facing for the first time here.
I guess raiding the high captains' houses and fighting scrags was all optional. The core part of the Luskan was the Host Tower of the Arcane, shown here in a nice image:
I figured I was in for a long, multi-leveled fortress, but it turns out that all of the action in the host tower is on the ground level. There were some stairs that spiraled upwards, with increasingly difficult combats with owlbears along the way, but that just led to a dead end.
I'm not sure I like the game putting stupid jokes in the mouths of my characters.
In one room, I found some owlbears--this game is really heavy on owlbears; margoyles, too--torturing a chained mage named Brinshaar. I freed him and he joined my party as an NPC. He was occasionally useful, but he had terrible AI and more often than not wasted spells like "Hold Person" and "Charm Person" on owlbears and displacer beasts.
I'm not sure I like the look of this guy...
On the far side of a combat with some mages and displacer beasts, I found the first of the statuettes. Brinshaar took off at that point, only to show up again at the exit. He revealed himself as a Zhent agent--which I had suspected almost immediately--and attacked me with some displacer beasts.
This didn't work out very well for him.
I headed back to Neverwinter to level up, where my mage reached the most important milestone in the life of a mage:
Before I move on to the next map, I want to note that the developers of Gateway did six things to liven up the bland 3D world offered in between combats, journal entries, and cut scenes. All had been done to some degree by previous Gold Box titles, but I think these strategies reach their apex here.

First, they did a good job creating more detailed wall, ceiling, and floor textures throughout the maps. The engine still doesn't allow for monsters, encounters, or even furniture to appear in the environment, but at least we get arches, foliage, water, and the like.
Second, they stepped up the number of "atmospheric messages" that appear as you explore the game. I commented on the value of these messages in Disciples of Steel, which featured similarly bland and repetitive graphics. They really enhance the sense of playing a computer-based D&D module.
These atmospheric messages extend to combats. Just about every fixed combat is preceded by at least a paragraph of text explaining what's happening and adding some additional flavor to exploration.
This is a lot more fun than just getting "attacked by scrags."
Third, they increased the number of optional "side encounters" on each map that aren't technically necessary to the main quest. These aren't as likely to result in special experience rewards or even loot as in previous games, but there are more of them and like the atmospheric messages, they make the maps seem more like real places.
Rescuing some women from pirates wasn't necessary, but it was fun.
Fourth, they gave every shop its own name and customized signboard hanging outside. No more generic "weapons shops."
Fifth, we have a lot more illustrated cut scenes in between the maps.
Finally, the developers made more interesting shapes with the terrain than in previous games. Luskan is supposed to be an archipelago city, with bridges and causeways leading to various items, and this is depicted well on the map. The designers didn't feel like they needed to fill in every box in the 16 x 16 grid. Maps are more compact, but they also have a better ratio of encounters to empty space.

All of these features help compensate a bit for the game's primary weakness: a bland story that doesn't seem to be going anywhere original.

Moving on, I decided to explore the islands next, for no other reason that they were west of my current position and I knew that the final battles would be in the east. I caught a boat to the island of Tuern from Luskan. In a rare example of time mattering in a Gold Box game, I had to enter the terminal at exactly 08:00.
Tuern was a small town surrounded by ruins and chasms (but contained on the same 16 x 16 map). I'm a little confused about where it is, as I couldn't find it on the online maps of the Realms that I consulted. In any event, the king told me that the island had recently been struck by a meteor, and many adventurers had been coming through hoping to find the ore. I added myself to this quest. 

The "outdoor" area was full of pirates, "northmen," fire giants, and efreets--the Sword of Icewind Dale, wielded by a fighter under the effect of "Enlarge," helped a lot with the latter two. After a lot of fighting and mapping, I had the meteorite ore in my possession.
Pirates and a fire giant.
I had remembered that a smith back in Neverwinter offered to make weapons out of exotic ore, so I took the ship back to the mainland and visited him. He turned it into a long sword +3 that does double damage against stone-based creatures. This helped with the margoyles later on.
More use of time elements.
The final map I explored was the isle of Gundarlun, accessible from Tuern. I guess the main quest of the island involved rescuing the king's daughter, Jagaerda, from some pirates. The problem is, owing to the way I mapped, I rescued the girl--a Valkyrie-looking fighter--before getting the request from her father, so I suspect I missed some associated journal entries. She joined my party.
My party acts like they've heard of her despite missing the encounter that would have given this quest.
In reward, the king told me that I could probably find the statuette at the Purple Rocks, a set of islands ruled by the Kraken Society. I needed to head back to Tuern to find passage. This is where I closed this session.

Now it's time for some hate. What does the Addict despise more than anything else in a CRPG? Hitting level caps too early! In this case, I'm starting to hit them way too early, with everyone at Level 6. I must have at least half the game to go, and my two clerics and mage have not only hit their caps, they probably have enough to immediately go to Level 7 in the sequel. My ranger has one more level to go; my paladin and fighter can get two more. Not providing enough leveling "space" is an unforgivable sin in an RPG, and it's going to hit this game hard in the "character development" category.
Miscellaneous notes:

  • The economy loosened up pretty fast. I'm no longer suffering for training gold, and I've begun to amass a stockpile of gems and jewelry to sell later for those Gauntlets of Dexterity (and other magic items). A lot of the battles are delivering thousands of silver pieces, which are weighty to carry.
And so it begins.
  • As is the norm for Gold Box games, there are a fixed number of "random" combats per map. Defeat a handful of "northmen" in Tuern or pirates in Gundarlun and the map is effectively "clear."
  • It sure would be nice if you could purchase arrows more than 10 at a time and darts more than 4 at a time. My mage goes through about 40 darts per combat. Getting her re-stocked means purchasing them in groups of 4 until my inventory is "overloaded," then going into the inventory and "joining" all the darts into one stack, and then purchasing more, repeating the cycle until I get bored with it.
  • I thought I remembered fighters and paladins getting a second attack at around Level 4 or 5, but I'm level 6 and still swinging only once per round. 
  • Also in combat-related news, I've never seen my characters miss so often in a Gold Box game. Around 60% of my attacks just go "swish." Combats tend to be fairly easy in this game, so I'm not exactly complaining, but I'd rather have had harder monsters that were easier to hit. 
  • I can't figure out any way to center "Fireball." The "Center" command used by Death Knights of Krynn doesn't appear here, and the old space-bar trick doesn't work.

Gateway has the advantage of the Gold Box engine, which I still love, but it isn't as interesting or challenging as previous titles, and it might be my least favorite so far. Unless you're all really enjoying the detailed discussion of individual game maps, I might push forward to the end this week.

Time so far: 13 hours
Reload count: 4  


  1. Icewind Dale is the setting of the novel "The Crystal Shard", which introduced Drizzt Do'urden to the world. It's kind of miraculous that it took so long for it to appear in a game at all (and the developers should be commended on their remarkable restraint in not including Drizzt as an NPC).

    Regarding the centering of Fireballs, are you using a number pad? I seem to recall that the number 5 can be used for this.

    1. I think Menzo might be his first appearance in CRPGs?

    2. Alas, no, the 5 key doesn't work either. I'm having a real hard time targeting fireballs. I either hit my own characters or miss a lot of enemies.

      I'm pretty sure I read all three of the Drzzt trilogies about 10 years ago, and I can barely remember anything about them. I know Salvatore's work gets a lot of praise, but I'm afraid I found them instantly forgettable.

    3. I should add that I remember the writing being just fine. I think the issue is more my ambivalence towards the FR in general.

    4. I think those books have to hit you at a certain age. I was ten when I read the first one, and it was the coolest damn shit I had ever seen.

    5. Agreed, Salvatore is an average writer with some outstanding characters. He is also one of the few writers to include detailed and creative combat descriptions using spells and monsters that are recognizable from the AD&D world. That was rare back in the day.

    6. I loved those books as a kid, but looking back on them...hoo boy are they bad. Apparently ten-year-old me just really, REALLY liked the endless, pornographically-detailed battle scenes, but Salvatore is just a horrible writer.

    7. I agree, good books to read aged 10, very simple sword and sorcery stuff with cool good guys and bad guys. I think this holds true for the majority of FR books, DL books were a bit more mature.

    8. I never read these books, but I had quazi-similar (but with a twist!) experience with Robert E. Howard's hero named Conan, maybe you've heard of him. Anyway, I read it when I was around 9 or 10 and I was ready to defend claim that Howard's books are easily best prose EVER written. When I was in my middle twenties, I tried to read it again, but found it incredibly boring. And now The Twist: I read it maybe two years ago, so I were 35, and I found out that I quite enjoy it. What I remembered simply wasn't true - I had an impression that Conan was killing hundreds of guys single handed, was barely literate and communicated using short barks. It isn't the case. I can't read it without smirking, but when I keep in mind that it was written nearly hundred years ago, it isn't THAT bad, what more Conan is not the Destroyer that I remembered - there are moments when he prefers running to fighting, even when faced with two or three foes. Of course if you want a good laugh, try reading "The Hour of the Dragon", namely meeting with Akivasha. Boy, is it bad.

    9. The first 3 Drizzt books (ice wind dale trilogy) was pretty much a bog standard AD&D book but the next prequel trilogy that detailed how Drizzt escaped to surface (dark elf trilogy) was actually pretty good along with 2-3 other sequel books (the one where they defended the mithrill hall from the drow) that got made were also pretty good.
      I feel Salvatore's quality in writing has dropped considerably after those and the last Drizzt book That I read (1000 orcs) felt really lacking in comparison.

    10. That's primarily because he wanted to write something else, but was told that, as due to their popularity the series would not be ended, either he wrote more Drizz't books, or they'd be given to another author.

    11. While I haven't read all of Salvatore's stories, I have read several, from multiple settings, and they're all pretty much the same.

      He has excellent characters, good plot, and enough witty one-liners to be quotable. His writing style is sadly mediocre, and he insists on giving detailed descriptions of the combat when he has obviously never held a sword in his life, let alone engaged in a duel with one.

      Overall it balances out on the "worth reading" side, at least for me, but I often find myself skimming the combat sections due to them not adding much to the story and describing tactics that even a beginner would know not to use. (Which I wouldn't mind, except that he's supposedly describing master duelists.)

  2. I think the extra fighter attacks start arriving at level 7, excluding sweeping low level monsters. IIRC, at that point you alternate one round with two attacks with one round of one attack. Level 12 in sequels gets you 2 every round.

    The extra flavor text is noticeable in pretty much every screen shot you've taken so far. It does seem to make the world more immersive which is a plus, although I agree that it can only do so much to make up for a lackluster story.

    1. 3/2 at 7th level was the AD&D standard for all the fighter sub-classes back before specialization and other changes were made to differentiate the fighters.

  3. Correct. Fighters and Paladins get a second attack every other round starting at level 7. Iirc Rangers get them at 8 but I don't have a book in front of me.

    Chet, you're missing a lot on your attacks as lower level 1E characters, without high strength, have a fairly low chance to hit, even with magical weapons.

    A level 6 fighter, with a +3 sword, without a very high (17+) strength, only hits an AC of 0 on a roll of 12 or better on a D20, so they miss 55% of the time.

    Don't know if you recall the Scorpia review of Curse and the response from SSI. TL;DR SSI admitted that in some combats they give the party penalties to hit, to reflect environmental hazards. It's possible you're seeing some of that here which would further complicate things.

    It's kind of broken how much strength effects combat prowess in 1e. A level 1 fighter with a 15 strength and a long sword hits ac 5 30% of the time and does 1-8 points of damage for an average of 4.5 per hit. Which gives an average damage per round of 1.35 points vs that target.

    A level 1 fighter with an 18(100) strength hits ac 5 45% of the time and does 1-8+6 points of damage. An average of 10.5 points of damage per hit. Average damage per round of 4.75 vs. that target.

    That’s a 350% increase in effectiveness, just due to one stat.

    IIRC there aren’t any strength boosting items in this game to even things out, unlike almost every other Gold Box game, so outside of Strength and Enlarge spells you end up behind if you *don’t* cheat and give your fighters 18(100) strength via the Modify option.

    1. Sorry, "behind" is inaccurate.

      You end up thinking "Gee, I miss a lot" unless you modify your Strength or re-roll until you have a strength above about 18(51) or so on every fighter.

    2. Fighters are the boring suits of armor standing between your spellcasters and the monsters. I guess they save the mages from wasting spell slots on Monster Summoning.

      This changed somewhat in 3rd Ed, and completely in 4th Ed.

    3. Well too bad that also ruined mages utterly in the process with bullshit MMO esque powers and giving everyone equal powers that were different only in a name and each battle ended killing monsters with "reaping strike" ad nauseam since you inevitably failed that one power roll.

      But hey at lvl 10 you made 2x damage but monsters received 2x the hp oh joy what a progress and you power were still the same as before ...

      Let's just say that if one word describes 4eh ed it would be "pointless".

      No class can shine but hey no class is left behind either since main difference between the classes is in flavor text only and everyone is even maxed out on skills from the get go.

      Frankly I'm not the least surprised that most of the maker got sacked once the sales figures began to clear up in WoTC.

    4. I don't think the 4th edition designers understood that not everything has to be perfectly balanced. In the olden days, mages were incredibly weak starting out with their 1d4 hit points and 1 spell they get- but they ended up being incredibly powerful if you could survive the early levels.

      As for fighters, I think sometimes people just want to play a meat-shield who just rolls a d20 on their turn. It's nothing to be ashamed of.

    5. Agreed. In the campaign I played with friends over the course of 6 years, we had a guy who really just wanted to chill and smash things. He played straight fighter and loved it. The rest of got all complex with dual and multi-class characters and kits but he just wanted to hit things real hard with his two-handed sword.

    6. The conservative treasure distribution in this one might be compounding the to-hit and damage issue. The difference between a long sword +1 and a long sword +4 is an extra 15% chance to hit, along with an extra 3 damage when you do hit.

    7. I've always been a 'gamer' more than a 'roleplayer'. 4th Ed was closest to a boardgame, so I liked it more. I agree that classes lost some of their identity, but they still felt plenty different in my opinion.

    8. It's true that the early D&D versions assumed that mages and fighters were balanced if you considered the entire spectrum of low to high levels.

      The potential problem in that approach is that at any given point in time / level, one class is horribly underpowered compared to the other (mages at low levels, fighters at high levels), so if you judge "fun" as a player as being able to contribute meaningfully to combats, at least one player in the group is not having "fun" every session (excluding a limited sweet spot in levels around 5-8 where classes are balanced).

      I think the 4th edition designers wanted to eliminate that. Of course, some people were fine with the old system and really didn't like the changes. I think the system did have some issues, but I liked the balancing of the power systems, even if it didn't always make narrative sense (why can a fighter only attempt this physical maneuver once a day?).

    9. Quirkz--in that sense, it's probably a good thing. I've been doing victory laps around my hotel room with every +1 mace. It's been a while since tiny equipment upgrades were this gratifying. Still haven't found a single piece of magic armor.

    10. Yeah, the stupid balancing thing was made it so that each character can do solo missions from the get-go.

      They forgot that this is a ROLE-PLAYING GAME; as in each character had a ROLE to PLAY.

      In Amercian Football terms, Warriors are the Offensive Line; stopping the opponents from reaching their Quarterbacks (who would be the mages).

      Clerics would play the role of Fullbacks; supporting the team while forming a second line of defense to the Quarterbacks.

      Rogues would play the role of Halfbacks; going for sneak attacks while supporting the Quarterbacks behind the Warriors.

      AD&D RPG is a TEAM game.

    11. "Well, since you explained it using football metaphors, everything is clear now!" -- No RPG player ever.

    12. But it works the other way. I've never understood american football - somehow, it seems a bit clearer now.

    13. The big problem with the balance over time solution is that it assumes every game lasts that long. I know most of my D&D games only go a few levels, and a lot of games with experienced games start at mid or high levels to skip over the early levels with few options.

  4. I found GSF somehow soulless compared to other goldbox titles despite having more realised environs. It just didn't compel me to continue.

    1. That's pretty much what I was getting at. But I hasten to add that I still think it's better than 80% of the RPGs out there in the era. It suffers in comparison to other GB games, but if GSF was the ONLY GB game, it would be a revelation in comparison to most of the other 1990 and 1991 games I'm facing.

    2. The feel is somewhat lighter--there are jokes all over the place. Pool, Curse, and Secret are full of ruins, and Champions and Death Knights have prisons full of torture and reanimating dead lovers to fight against their old flames. It's a much lighter tone.

  5. Tuern isn't a town but an island as (barely) seen in the furthest left hand corner of the 2nd edition map and supposedly a home to several red dragons, 2northmen2 and raiding fire giants.

    My guess is that devs needed an island and settled with Tuern since they likely wanted something obscure but still in canon for a locale at the sea.

  6. Yep. Even back in the day pretty much everyone agreed that this is when the series started going downhill.

    It felt like they had ran out of creavitity, and were just pushing out new gold box games for easy profit.

  7. 3 pure characters in the by far earliest capped classes in spite of all the dual- and multiclassing options, it's almost as if you were running against the XP Cap wall willfully. ;-)

    1. I'm not up on my dual-classing knowledge, but multi-class characters are terribly weak in the Gold Box games, at least previous to this one. If the XP cap in Savage Frontier was such that dual-class and multi-class characters are more viable then it should have been mentioned in the manual or something.

    2. Multi-classing is problematic because of race caps. I do have one multi-classed character, but he's as close to his level caps as everyone else.

      Dual-classing is difficult because until you've played the game once, it's hard to tell exactly when to do it. And only certain character classes (and only humans) can do it. If I dual-class my two clerics to fighters, for instance, I have no one that I can then dual to clerics.

      If there weren't race caps or restrictions on humans multi-classing, I'd be happy to make everyone fighter/mage/thieves or fighter/cleric/mages to avoid level caps, but the options aren't that flexible.

    3. Oh, and Level 6 is a little too early to dual anyway. The cleric hasn't even received Level 4 spells yet. One more level would have been enough, but I suspect the developers deliberately capped clerics at 6 so they wouldn't have to program fourth-level spells.

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    5. @Raifield: The level caps and XP tables are in the manual.
      They are almost the same as in Pool of Radiance.
      Multiclasses are very powerful there.
      In the Gateway manual there's even a sample party where none of the clerics or mages are single class.

    6. I don't think lazy programming was the reason for the caster level caps, the spells were already there and implemented in Curse of the Azure Bonds. Maybe it was for balancing reasons, a level 6 fireball can cause far more damage than any fighter and a hold person can disable 3 foes per round.

      The game has a lot of viable options for multiclassing, the problem is that most of them don't work in the sequel.
      So the experience here gets somewhat ruined for starting more powerful and better equipped in Treasures.

    7. I do stand corrected: the Gateway Journal has a XP table that literally says "Highest Level Available in Gateway to the Savage Frontier". I guess the only fault here is in how quickly single-class characters reach that cap, but I am amused that I suggested such information be in the manual when it actually IS explicitly in the manual.

      I should have RTFM first :(

    8. One of the issues is that parties designed to succeed in the first game of a series are very different to parties designed to succeed in later games in the series - and that's largely due to level caps. It really subtracts a lot of the excitement generated by playing through an entire series with a single party.

    9. The maximum levels in the sequel are:

      Fighter / Thief - 12
      Paladin / Ranger / Mage - 11
      Cleric - 10

      It might have been a good idea to have an Elf Mage/Thief and Fighter/Mage since an Elf with 18 Int can go to lvl 11 as a mage.

      I probably would pick human Paladin, Ranger, and 2 Clerics for the rest.

  8. Gateway is the one gold box series I never felt any desire to replay. I remember the early treasure issues, and I also remember Krevish filling up his inventory with all that silver until he was stuck with a move of 3 and no way to upgrade equipment.

    I never did play Treasures.

    I was sad that they never expanded the class lists to include more options - I mean, they had the 1st-3rd level druid spells coded for rangers so it seems like they could have included druids, for example. It would be awesome to be able to play these games with druids, assassins and monks.

    1. Yup, Bards and Half-Orcs were also in 1st edition but cannot be found in any of the Gold Box games. This was also the time when 2nd Edition was coming out, which removed some of the player options.
      I think the more likely explanation is that TSR wanted to keep the computer games simpler so as to sell more books once people got hooked on the computer games.

    2. ryric, I had the same problem with NPCs and treasure, but it turns out you can force them to drop the coins.

    3. Bards were only sort of in 1stEd, They were an optional, hugely unbalanced proto-prestige class, that required you to triple-class from fighter to thief to druid.

      On the other hand assassins, druids, monks and illusionists were all standard classes in 1stEd that went unused in goldbox. Of those four, druids and illusionists would have been interesting additions to the roster; assassins don't really fit and monks were pathetically weak.

    4. I agree with you that Druids and illusionists would fit best of the set, but they were probably left out for the same core reason: their spell lists are extremely heavy with spells that were difficult to translate into CRPG gameplay. Making illusions useful (especially when compared to a Fireball) requires on-the-spot interpretation that the Gold Box engine was in way way capable of. Similarly, like three quarters of the Druid list targets or affects the environment or objects rather than creatures: figuring out which enemies could be affected by Warp Wood and how would be a nightmare, and that's assuming you don't program in the ability to affect doors, etc. that make it useful in a tabletop environment.

      Basically, trying to wrangle into the Gold Box system would make them similar but much less effective mages and clerics.

    5. At least they left out cavaliers. In fact, didn't they leave out all of Unearthed Arcana?

  9. treasures was better game, but this duo wasnt a bad end cap to the GB series (imagine if they left it with secret of the silverblades? omg ugh!)

  10. This post reminded me of many of Gateway's annoying features, and while they're not unique to this game, they seem amplified here.

    Exhibit A. Brinshaar. He's fought alongside your party and seen you hack your way through an entire tower of monsters. And he thought showing up at the front door with a handful of displacer beasts (whom he nobly protects by standing in front of - why??) was going to cut it? He couldn't hide behind a bookcase and cast a fireball or something? For someone whose Intelligence score indicates a near genius (and whose Wisdom score suggests average common sense), he sure dropped the ball there. Of course, this way allows the game to do the Big Reveal trope, so...

    By the way, if you didn't let him join, he would have joined the final battle in the Hosttower where an extra mage with several Charm and Hold Person spells would have been problematic, so letting him join is definitely the better choice, even if the daft AI leads to appalling spell choice. In fact, I'm pretty sure in all the subsequent Gold Box games, you get to control NPCs in combat. Not before time.

    As has been often discussed, we again hit the problem of characters suddenly becoming powerful because of the often baffling amounts of treasure that certain monsters carry. Why do fire giants have thousands of gold pieces? The low level limits for clerics and mages are daft. The plot is generic and uninspiring. The behaviour of Vaalgamon is built around dramatic speeches rather than any kind of logic. This series (and this game in particular - Treasures is better) got so many little things right, but so many others badly wrong.

  11. The owlbear joke featured in your screen shot may have been bad, but it also illustrates something I thought was a nice piece of flavor: using not one but two of your character names, essentially letting them banter with each other. I agree it doesn't work as well as, say, the inter-character banter in Dragon Age, in part because those characters have their own distinct personalities instead of all being imagined by you, but it's still a nice touch. Particularly compared to Silver Blades, where you're lucky to get a comment like "the dwarf detects something" without specifying which character it even is.

    I did enjoy the flavor text in a lot of the encounters, though I think they did sometimes miss the mark. There were entirely too many bits of text that went something like, "You walk into a nice quiet, empty room. Empty except for the ravening hordes of monsters, that is!" I felt like that style of intro fell short of being funny, and with the monster picture inevitably showing on the left, it didn't succeed at being suspenseful, either.

  12. I just wanted to say I'm so happy to see you reviewing a Gold Box game again. These are always fun reads and elicit fond memories.

  13. Chet, I think you may have missed a few magic items here or there.

    Specifically, I just started a play through and I got a set of Chain Mail +1 and a Mace +1 from the fight that gives you the +2 Ring of Protection.

    IIRC you also should have more than that single set of magic armor by the point you're at. It's sometimes hard to tell what's magical in these games without constantly spamming Detect Magic after every non-random fight.

  14. I'm surprised you don't like Gateway too well so far. I agree the story is a little trite, and the level cap thing hurts (I never played through series with the same party, preferring to start over in every new game). But apart from that, I found Gateway to be much more colorful, literally as well as metaphorically speaking, than the other GB games. Treasures I liked even better, and consider a fitting conclusion to the series. I played through Gateway twice and started over a third time finishing about half of it. I always thought it provided a sense of what the whole FR setting is really about: being colorful, slightly tongue-in-cheek, with lots of variety, contrived plots, secret societies galore, and an overload on the more stupid D&D monsters (Owlbears, Displacer Beasts...). In a word, light-hearted fun that still grips you and pulls you in. And in the latter department, Gateway really delivers with its tons of flavor text and nice graphics.

    All in all, Gateway (and even more, Treasures) did a better job at being pure unadulterated fun than the other GB games in my opinion. Even Pool of Radiance, admittedly the best experience in the series overall, often felt like work to me in comparison.

    Anybody else feel like Gateway is one of the best, not worst, among the GB games?

    1. I'd agree with Chet's assessment.

      If it was released in a vacuum it would have been one of the best games of all time. Since it was the 6th or 7th GB game released it's instead towards the bottom of the list.

      It's less challenging than any of the games that preceded it. Less open than PoR by far.

      It starts characters at level 2 (nearly 3 for Clerics) so you skip that really tough Level 1 => Level 2 grind.

      It's honestly a great game, and I agree with your stance, but those bells and whistles don't make it a better game, in terms of game play, than the ones that came before it. Imho.

    2. It also may make sense to understand that when Pool of Radiance and Curse were released the Realms weren't whimsical really yet.

      You really didn't see folks like, say, the Harpells, until 1990 or 1991 or so in novels. Well after PoR was released. That aspect of the realms kinda showed up later.

      Most of the earlier material, e.g. the first boxed set, the Moonshae Isles stuff, is serious as a funeral. So that tonal shift is likely more due to timing.

    3. At the same time, Ed Greenwood was writing things like Pages from the Mages as early as 1982, which has Elminster choosing Ed Greenwood and getting him about magic whole eating Pizza and drinking beer.

  15. PetrusOctavianusApril 1, 2016 at 9:40 AM

    Gateway is definitely my least favourite of the fantasy GB games (Matix Cubed being the least good of the lot).
    I wrote a long post about it here (warning, contains spoilers if you haven't finished the game):

    Despite some improvements, Gateway was a disappointment for me. The worst thing about it was the encounter design; except for the final battle there's no memorable battles, and the randome encounter lack variation.
    Also, the game is overall too wasy for an experience GB gamer. It's so it easy that the final battle may come as a shock to you if lulled into a false sense of security.
    The lack of any thing at all to find on that attractive looking wilderness map was also a major turn-off for me.

  16. Hey Addict, wanna fool around a little? You can remove characters from Curse of the Azure Bonds and add them to Gateway. Yup, the 4th and 5th level spells are programmed in.

    You can do the same with Pools of Darkness and Treasures of the Savage Frontier.

    Have fun!

    1. Really? That's very weird. I think it would have the effect of making an already-easy game WAY too easy.

    2. Sure, but once you're done you can see all the spells do their job. I thought as a Gold Box connoisseur you might enjoy the sheer weirdness of it. Whatever floats your boat. ;)

    3. Oh, and you could also theoretically take the same characters through all six Forgotten Realms games, or avoid playing Secret.

    4. Actually, you just gave me an awesome idea. You'll read about it in the "final rating" post. Thanks!

    5. So you can import and use the same party through 6 of the Gold Box games? Wouldn't that work strangely with the level caps?

    6. I suppose that level caps work by not allowing leveling up when character's level is at cap (so e.g. level 6) or higher. Since in games it is desirable that all mobiles (which includes playable characters, enemies, monsters, NPCs and so on and so forth) are treated identically, this is quite probably done in least demanding way. And for example checking for levels higher than N and reducing mobile's level is much harder than simply checking if it is lower than some value.

    7. Well, I just checked it out, and you can definitely go from Curse to Gateway and back again. I guess the key question is whether you can go from Treasures to Curse. If so, then yes, you could take the same party through both series. The best order, for both plot and leveling reasons, would probably be POR - CotAB just long enough to import and then export the characters - GSF - TSF - CotAB - SSB - POD. The order works reasonably well in plot terms.

      But yes, you'd have virtually no character development for a huge part of the series. Most characters would come from POR to GSF already capped in the latter game. They'd rise in TSF but then have no development back in CotAB. GSF and CotAB would both end up being way too easy.

    8. It'd be awesomely crazy if this worked with the Buck Rodgers gold box games too. The real key is whether they could bring their guns over. You could be cleaning those owlbears out with rocket launchers. Please give this a try.

    9. Doubtful; BR had extended attributes for each character that you'd completely lack in the D&D games. It's possible they'd import without error and you could apply skill points when you level, but...yeah probably not.

      To be honest, this does make me personally want to try a Gold Box play through that just comprises GSF => TSF => POD, with SB thrown in, if needed.

      I've played everything but TSF a million times, always enjoy a POD run, and have been surprised with how little I remember of the game on my current GSF play through.

      I would postulate that you would likely encounter the "best of" in terms of the game interface, plot development, etc, doing that.

      For a modern gamer that honestly might be the best way to experience the GB games, as the interface issues in PoR and are kind of a pain. It and Curse are both a bit more open ended than a modern gamer is used to. SSB is, as we know, a bit unimaginative, and IMO tends to feel like a bit of a slog by your 1,000th identical dungeon room.

    10. I respect your opinion, but I could never in a million years condone a play recommendation that excluded Pool of Radiance.


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