|Talking to snakes produces an expected reaction.|
I kept getting killed in the catacombs, so on advice from readers, I returned to the outdoors to explore the area, find treasures, and level up. I had no idea what I was in for. The starting area, encapsulated by mountains (that's why I have to solve the quest to fix the "Cavetrain"), occupies about 100 x 100 squares, giving me 10,000 squares to map. Now before you argue that Fate doesn't actually use all those squares, consider that the twisty, irregular-shaped, impenetrable mountain ranges and copses of trees take considerably more time to map than empty space or rectangular corridors.
|The wilderness so far. I've mapped all the roadways and I'm trying to get the perimeter.|
In fact, the game fundamentally seems too big to map--and yet I've found just enough stuff in those pockets of wilderness that I feel like I have to keep doing it. Among my discoveries in the roughly 1/3 of the starting outdoor area so far:
- A deep pit with a dead man lying at the bottom. My characters can climb down the hole, but none are strong enough to bring out the body. (I assume I want to try to resurrect him.) I need to build strength or find a stronger NPC to join for a brief time.
- A fountain that heals all wounds and conditions.
- The ruins of the inn whose destruction started the game. There were some miscellaneous treasures nearby.
- A "station" that probably won't be accessible until I solve that Cavetrain quest.
- Another city, called Laronnes, much smaller than Larvin. I explored and mapped it but didn't find any additional hints or quests.
|The odd-shaped Laronnes.|
- An area called "Herman's Wood" where a banshee roams as a protector. I couldn't get anything to happen here but I assume it's important for a later quest.
|Kenny, you're up.|
- Numerous magic treasures, including the Icesword, Icegloves, a crystal bow, and a magic helm.
Every time I'm about to say, "this is ridiculous" and give up, I find one more thing that keeps me mapping.
As I mentioned before, the game's use of sound is excellent and atmospheric, with realistic thunder and rain effects during storms, and birds, crickets, and frogs depending on the time of day. One particular looping tree frog effect sounds like the frogs are saying, "That's basic hazing" over and over. I might be going a bit mad.
Winwood is up to Level 9 and most of his companions are close. Combats in the wilderness are feast or famine. I might go an hour or more without encountering a single enemy, but then all of a sudden the game will fall in love with one particular type of foe--thieves, mages, rats, or snakes--and just keep hammering you with them. I'll typically win 6 or 8 of these encounters before someone gets an unlucky roll and dies, and I'll reload, which causes the map to reset, and the monsters leave me alone again for a while.
|Winwood levels up after a battle with some rats.|
In a typical longer game, I might offer one blog entry that primarily covers combat. I'm doing that here, but with the understanding that with a game this long, I'll probably have to offer another midway through the game, as more options and tactics become available. Right now, I'm not using a lot of the options.
Combat is only one potential outcome of an encounter. The other major possibilities are a conversation--the mechanics of which I'll discuss next time--and just walking away. Aside from obvious rules, like you can't talk to animals, the game draws a blurry line between "enemies" and "NPCs." I routinely find that classes who are clearly primarily supposed to be enemies--robbers, thieves, padfoots, murderers, assassins, gral wizards, rain witches, and so on--are happy to occasionally have a chat instead. Some even offer hints or help one my characters increase an attribute. I rather like the approach and wish more games adopted it. It seem silly that literally every bandit or forsworn in Skyrim comes charging at you the moment he sees you.
|Usually, this is what happens--but not always.|
The initial encounter menu gives you three options that correspond to the three major outcomes described above: "Fight," "Talk," and "Disengage." "Disengage" brings up its own sub-menu, with options to "Run Away," "Ignore," "Hide," "Pray," "Bribe," "Chant," and "Joke." I haven't really spent a lot of time exploring these options, mostly because I usually want the experience or benefits that come with talking and fighting.
There are two other options on this main menu: "Forward" for times when foes start further away, and "Action." "Action" brings up options to "Mock," "Warcry," (use a) "Scroll," "Suicide," "Dig in," "Close Eyes," and "Laugh." I've played with these a bit. I guess "Mock" and "Warcry" are both legitimate options to influence the subsequent statistics in your favor. I haven't found a scroll to use yet, and the rest of the options just seem to produce silly results.
|This ought to help.|
Once combat begins, characters and foes seem to go in an initiative order determined by dexterity. Winwood goes first much of the time because NPCs have been increasing his dexterity. During their turns, characters can attack, cast a spell, use an item, shoot a missile weapon, throw a weapon, defend, change their weapon, or engage in a number of "special" actions I'll describe in a minute. If there are multiple groups of enemies, you have to specialize the group.
The way that the game handles throwing is unique and fun. Almost every weapon or shield can be thrown a short distance--maybe 6 to 10 yards. It's a great option when enemies start outside of melee range. The best part about it is that characters automatically pick up and re-equip the items post-combat. I would have given real money to see that happen in Dungeon Master or Eye of the Beholder. Oh, and if I want to reclaim those weapons during combat, my warlock has a spell called "Getback" that does it.
At this point in the game, combat tends to be pretty quick. Most of my attacks hit, and most of them kill the enemy in a single hit. Unfortunately, enemies get lucky this way too, sometimes. A thief's thrown dagger might immediately kill one of my lower-hit point characters, like my cleric. But if all goes well, the typical combat against half a dozen foes generally only lasts a couple rounds and less than a minute of real time. Given the sheer number of combats in the game, that's a welcome speed, although it keeps things (so far) from getting very tactical.
Magic is simply going to have to wait for a later discussion. I have three spellcasters--a priestess, a magician, and a warlock. I'm still trying to get a witch and a banshee to join me. The priestess has four extremely useful status spells: "Heal 5," "Cleanse," "Cure," and "Sober." She mostly attacks in combat. My magician has "Entangle," "Armor," and "Paralyse." The latter is occasionally useful, but I really need him to get a direct-damage spell. My warlock gets a lot of use out of "Mageclub," an offensive spell, but not so much out of "Warpower."
I'm still trying to figure out if the options on the "Special" menu are worth it. Maybe they will be at higher levels. "Warcry" can cause enemies to flee. "Steal" gives you the ability to pickpocket your foe during combat--I don't know why I'd do this instead of just killing him and getting his stuff that way. "Mock" has the effect of "enraging" opponents; I assume that makes them clumsier. "Grope" has never worked, and I don't even know if I want to know. "Dupe" and "Enchant" never seem to work for me, and my characters always refuse to "Hide" ("I'm not a coward!" they say).
|My priestess reviews her "special" abilities.|
After a successful combat, you either get one equipment item or money (piaster), never both.
Equipment will also have to wait for a later posting, but for now let me say that the game outperforms almost every other title of the era by giving you a set of precise statistics and facts when you "Examine" items. The screen even clearly tells you which current characters in your party can use the item. Brilliant.
Not much to report on the main quest, since that's going to involve me clearing out the catacombs and figuring out the "Cavetrain" quest first. I'm thinking maybe I'll go back to that now instead of continuing to map the wilderness.
Lots of miscellaneous notes:
- I keep losing little bits of progress because I forget to shut down the game and emulator properly, which causes my saves to not actually save.
- Just a random thing here:
- Inns offer a variety of different lodging types (e.g., stables, cot, room, suite) and time periods. No matter what I choose, my characters seem to get fully restored when they sleep. Maybe this isn't true at higher levels with more hit points to restore.
- Here's something I won't mind a spoiler about: are there ever "secret doors" outside? I'm wasting a lot of time walking headlong into every tree and mountain if not.
- Characters get experience for casting spells outside of combat, as well as for talking with NPCs. That's a great system.
- A fun thing happened in Laronnes. I found a fountain that immediately killed a character who drank from it. After that, none of my other characters would drink even when I told them to.
- Although I've leveled up many times, I haven't been using the guilds to improve because I haven't figured out the best way to do it yet. Non-spoiler advice welcome.
- NPCs only ever seem to improve wisdom, intelligence, and dexterity. Do I ever find any who improve strength, charisma, stamina, or skill?
- The game has a kind-of automap feature using "magic jewels" that you can find or buy. Using them and then reloading is, of course, the height of lameness.
|Making sure I didn't miss anything in Laronnes.|
- Every time I try to buy keys in a shop, the shopkeeper says they've all been stolen by a thief. So far I haven't run into anything that requires keys anyway.
Let's be frank: Fate simply doesn't have enough features to justify its size and length. But it reliably passes the time, and I don't mind continuing to make progress in between brisker games--a designation that I hope applies to The Magic Candle II.
Time so far: 29 hours
Reload count: 28