Monday, October 24, 2016

Fate: Exploring the Catacombs

"Hang myself with it" is alas not an option.
    
Last time I blogged about Fate: Gates of Dawn, I had pledged not to write again until I solved the Cavetrain quest. (This is the first quest, mind you. I'm over 40 hours and 6 postings into the game, and I haven't solved the first quest.) Little did I know how long it would take. I've reached a point where if I don't offer an intermediate posting, I'll forget what's happening by the time I finish the whole Cavetrain business. If I ever do.
    
Fate postings are going to be dispersed enough that I should probably start every one with a recap, so here goes. Inspired by the truncated Alternate Reality series, the developers of Fate deliberately set out to create an enormous living world with numerous logistical challenges for the characters, like hunger, fatigue, thirst, disease, and morale. The main character is Winwood, a 20th-century record store owner who finds himself sucked into a fantasy realm via some kind of dark magic. He escapes the grasp of an evil wizard named Thardan and goes about exploring his world and collecting NPC companions from the various random encounters in the wilderness and towns.
    
Just a fun message.
     
The opening wilderness area occupies around 10,000 squares. It is cut off from the rest of the game map, which promises to be much larger, by mountains and water. The major city in the opening area, Larvin, is over 3000 squares of shops, temples, taverns, inns, and numerous random encounters. As you explore Larvin, you can pick up NPCs of a variety of classes as well as get other NPCs to help you and give you hints. Hints stack upon each other in various threads, with particular NPC classes always having the next hint in the thread.
    
Several sections of one of the catacomb levels.
   
As I explored Larvin, I heard that the city is isolated from the rest of the world, with access only by something called a Cavetrain. It's broken, and King Garloth is offering a reward to anyone who can reactivate it. The Cavetrain is powered by the "Shade Ghosts," who in turn have been corrupted either by a wizard named Miras Athran or some creatures called Mongtards. To solve the mystery, I'm going to have to descend into the Catacombs, which has multiple entrances and exits. One of the exits apparently leads to a hidden area in the southeast of the city, otherwise inaccessible, where a druid named Mulradin might have some more secrets.
     
Any chance I can just sit back and let this guy solve the quest?
    
In exploring the town and wilderness, I managed to get most of my characters up to Levels 10-12 and I assembled a good collection of starting gear. My full party of 7 characters contains Winwood, a fighter, a witch, a priestess, a banshee, an assassin, and a warlock. I know I'll have to give at least one up for a particular NPC at some point, but I'm not sure when that will happen. When characters level up, they get points to spend on skills or spells in the various guilds, but I've been advised not to spend any until the rest of the world opens up and I can make sure I go to the most valuable guilds.
    
The Catacombs are a perfect example of how obnoxiously huge Fate is. So far, I've mapped parts of 8 levels, and each level has multiple stairways up and down, multiple independent sections, maybe 2000 squares already. All levels are swarming with spellcasters and fighters--some hostile, some willing to talk--and they get harder and more numerous the further you descend.
     
Anyone can be friendly.
     
The developers show awareness of other dungeon crawlers like Wizardry, The Bard's Tale, or Might & Magic in the various encounters that pepper the dungeons, including fountains that sometimes heal, sometimes poison, cryptic messages scrawled on the walls, teleporters, treasures, and traps. Traps are only occasionally avoidable--I think dependent on the lead character's dexterity.
    
The developers pay homage to Might & Magic or Ultima IV.
   
Anyone want to take a crack at this?
     
When I last blogged, I hadn't explored very far, and I was stymied by a boulder that was clearly important but I couldn't do anything productive with. It turns out I needed to be testing every wall for secret doors because there were a huge number in the area. Most of them led to switches on the walls, and one of the switches caused the boulder to move, revealing more stairs going down.
    
Well, no...it moved because I pulled a switch.
    
These stairs led to a very large Level 3, which in turn led to stairs back up to new areas of Levels 2 and 1, finally depositing me on the secret island in the southeast area of Larvin. That sentence represents about 5 hours of gameplay.
    
For some reason, I had expected to find Mulradin in a house, so I was surprised when the small area contained nothing more than a guild, an inn, a tavern, a chapel, and more stairs down to the Catacombs. Eventually, I realized Mulradin must be a wandering NPC, so I explored around--dismissing other NPCs--until he spawned.
    
Mulradin had more to say than any other NPC in the game so far. His speech went:
      
Athran is an evil mage who's been on the evil side since his earliest days. He used his force to absorb all of the peaceful Shade Ghosts into his mind. Now his spiritual power is greater than ever! In this way Athran caused the malfunction of  the Cave Train to imprison the mysterious World Wanderer here in Larvin. All of our hopes are with you now. Find Miras Athran and free the Shade Ghosts. But beware of him; you can't destroy him in fight. Athran has surrounded himself with an aura of evil, and each attack will only strengthen his force. There's only one way to break this aura. Only an innocent being without any hate in mind and heart is able to annihilate the dark sphere of Athran. The contact of this being with Athran's aura will kill him, but the Shade Ghosts will share his demise. To prevent this you have to carry the magical Staff of Gathalak. Gathalak will snatch the Shade Ghosts at the moment of Athran's death. I hope you are now able to accomplish your task. Good luck.
    
He said this, too, but I forget where.
     
Okay, then. It turns out I'm the reason for the Cavetrain's disrepair; Thardan wants to keep me in a confined area. I have to somehow find a being "without hate in mind and heart" and this Staff of Gathalak as sub-steps on the way to finishing this Cavetrain quest. At that point, I'll have completed a small fraction of the game!
    
My characters aren't able to survive many combats on the lower levels, which suggests I may have to do some grinding in addition to all this exploring. Fortunately--if you want to look at it from that perspective--I have lots of areas left to explore, including at least 4 staircases I haven't taken, several teleporters, and a hint that an entirely different stairway can be found in a tavern called the Lich's Inn.
    
A typical encounter at lower levels of the dungeon.
    
One of the unexplored areas seems to be called the Alarian Vaults. A message said I should visit them and "be enlightened." Another suggested that the "Alarian Altair" (whatever that is) will reward my deeds, but still another said I should get "royal permission" before I go there. I suspect I have to get that from King Garloth, who I haven't met yet because his castle is on an island in the middle of the map. Perhaps some other exit from the Catacombs will lead me there.
    
A few miscellaneous notes:
      
  • Lamps last about an hour of game time, or around 10-12 minutes real time. They start to get dim a few minutes before that. I learned the hard way to load up on a lot of lamps before going exploring.
  • Magic jewels, which map the surrounding area (an homage to the Ultima series?), are useful but don't reveal areas behind secret doors.
     
       
  • I had a hint that magic diamonds, of which I've found a few, strip mages of spells. I haven't really figured out how to use them yet. 
  • Enemy archmages have spells that make you lose your equipment permanently. I can't remember any other game doing this, but it sucks.
  • Something drove my characters mad, leading to these portraits, but I can't remember what it was. I played a few weeks ago.
    
     
  • It occurred to me at some point that almost all the enemies in the game have been people. Aside from some rats and snakes in the wilderness, it's rare to encounter an enemy who couldn't also be an NPC on a better day.
  • If you bargain too hard in shops, you get kicked out for a day or so.
    
     
A lot of hours went in the scant material that I assembled for this posting. I don't expect this to change.

Time so far: 45 hours


46 comments:

  1. While I can see the appeal of such a large world-building exercise, I don't think I will ever play this. I salute your continued drive to see Fate through to the end!

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    1. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. I'm committed to seeing it through to a certain point. I don't know if it's "the end" yet.

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    2. Well if you ever decide to quit, I'd be willing to offer a few guest posts about the rest of the game. While I'd love to see how someone with no maps and walkthrough tackles some of the really obscure puzzles in this game, at this pace it's going to hog one of your "slots" for at least another year if not more, so I'd understand if you wanted to skip it and go ahead for less, ahem, padded games.

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  2. Wow. This is pretty impressive given the era. I wonder how they fit it all on disks? Possibly some sort of algorithmic generation, plus manual editing?

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    1. That and heavy compression. The game is 3,8 MB compressed to two 880 KB disks.

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  3. I thought Big Is Beautiful was an American concept. Evidently it's not the case when it comes to CRPGs.

    Reading about this game makes me want to play something short and sweet like Wizardry 4...

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  4. If my glasses were always that crooked I'd be pretty mad too.

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  5. As far as I can see (having played for less than an hour) it is possible to split your party.
    You can have four (full) parties.
    I do not know if splitting is necessary (or has drawbacks) or what happens when a party without Winwood gets killed.

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    1. It is necessary for certain parts where someone must go in alone to perform a certain tasks. There are also a few pressure plate and switch puzzles.

      There aren't any particular drawbacks, but it isn't really necessary to have more than 7 regular people. Every member of all parties get equal amounts experience no matter where they are when enemies are killed, though the character dealing the killing blow gets a lot more.

      If a party gets completely killed it is immediately deleted from the game. All its members disappear without a trace, including any quest items they might've had.

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    2. > If a party gets completely killed it is immediately deleted from the game. All its members disappear without a trace, including any quest items they might've had.

      Oh, that's rage quit material, right there.

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    3. I wouldn't say it'd cause rage-quitting.
      More like walking-dead scenarios.

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    4. In a game where the first quest is taking 40+ hours, I think finding out you've unwittingly been in a walking dead scenario for 10-15 hours would definitely make me rage quit.

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    5. I thought Sierra games and KGB had absurd levels of unwinnable scenarios, but that is verging on Infocom territory.

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    6. Getting too many NPCs is not a wise move. Yes, even uninvolved NPCs get XP, but they don't get combat stats like magical or nonmagical hits and effects. And these do make a significant difference later in the game! I'll usually stick with a single party, or possibly a secondary party that essentially holds good equipment that I can't use right now but might be handy for NPCs I pick up later.

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    7. It's not as bad as sounds, if you take proper care of your party. But there are a couple more fuck yous that could happen:

      - There's nothing preventing you from dropping quest items and kicking characters.
      - Dead characters decompose and disappear if not resurrected in time (a few days?) There's a spell appropriately called Mummy that prevents this for some time.
      - Characters complain and eventually leave the party forever if certain problems are not addressed. A spell called Soulbind temporarily helps.
      -- Dying 15 times or more. There's a place that resets this to zero.
      -- Not getting a proper rest in an inn (to prevent rest-scumming in dungeons)
      -- Just a guess, but there are hints that not eating a hot meal in an inn (only eating rations) for some time would cause complaints, as there are items and spells that restore a character's "vitamins." I've never heard of anyone getting this one though and it never happened to me either, so I guess it's unimplemented or bugged.

      Olaf certainly tried to make his game seem more realistic, but as it often happens in games, realistic doesn't always mean fun.

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    8. Hmm, splitting the party, little regard for keeping quest-specific items, heavy emphasis on keeping everyone fed and happy, few if any pointers what to do next, possibility of walking dead scenarios... sounds as if the developers of the "Realms of Arkania" series ("Das Schwarze Auge" in the original German) took a page out of Fate's book.

      I only played the second for a meaningful amount of time, but that was one hard and unforgiving game! Very much fun, after all is said and done, and I cherish the memories, even digging it out again every few years - but those days, people really followed a different design philosophy. A bit like the Dark Souls mindset of "Can't figure it out? Die a lot? Well that's not our problem. Git gud, noob." Like that, but more hardcore...

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    9. Dark Souls, pfft, casual nonsense. At least if you see the "YOU DIED" screen you know for certain that you've failed. But a dead man scenario? Much, much worse. That's one thing I don't miss in modern games.

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    10. I'd like to point that in the only Dark Souls that I play main character is supposed to be dead or something along these lines, so I guess that it kinda *IS* dead man scenario...

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    11. Well, Torment did that first.

      But I'd classify that as Dead Man Fighting.

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    12. > Just a guess, but there are hints that not eating a hot meal in an inn (only eating rations) for some time would cause complaints, as there are items and spells that restore a character's "vitamins."

      That would be somewhat realistic, actually. It would be a model of scurvy, which while unlikely on land, depending on the rations and how they were prepared, might happen[1].

      "The expedition proper ate fresh meat regularly at least once a day in the shape of polar bear. The people on the ship had, however, a prejudice against this food, which certainly was not particularly palatable, and insisted, against all advice, upon eating their preserved and salted meat. This meat I occasionally noticed to be somewhat "high" or "gamey", and afterwards heard that it was often so. The result was that, though I visited the ship every day, and personally saw that each man swallowed his dose of lime juice (which was made compulsory, and was of the best quality), the whole ship’s company were tainted with scurvy, and two died."

      That whole blog post is rather interesting.

      1: http://idlewords.com/2010/03/scott_and_scurvy.htm

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  6. I could see making a blog on Fate alone. This is the first CRPG for which the word "sprawl" seems appropriate. I appreciate that you are continuing with the same party and not just starting all over. That is a temptation I know well. Thank you for showing us this.

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  7. "I know I'll have to give at least one up for a particular NPC at some point, but I'm not sure when that will happen."

    The dead guy in the pit (get him already) should replace one of your characters (I'd drop the assassin), but he's not a quest NPC, just a powerful mage.

    Getting an Enchanter would also solve your secret door and lamp problems, but I've said this so many times already :)

    "Traps are only occasionally avoidable--I think dependent on the lead character's dexterity."

    Nope, as the manual says, traps are detected by the Magic Eye stat (highest in the party counts). The dead guy is all you need, his is fairly high.

    "I had a hint that magic diamonds, of which I've found a few, strip mages of spells. I haven't really figured out how to use them yet."

    They will come up in conversation later, there's no way to figure it out if your characters haven't heard about them. By the way, that's true for most of the game, you can't just look in a walkthrough and go straight for the solution if your party doesn't know what to look for.

    "Enemy archmages have spells that make you lose your equipment permanently. I can't remember any other game doing this, but it sucks."

    Fortunately they just de-equip them. It does suck having to recheck and re-equip everyone.

    "Something drove my characters mad, leading to these portraits, but I can't remember what it was. I played a few weeks ago."

    Spells, maybe traps can do that. I certainly haven't heard of a game which calls insanity "gaga."

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    1. I wonder if there are Perfect Illusion spells, Bad Romance hexes or charms that make people go Poker Faced.

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    2. I was reluctant to screw around with my party composition much more, but I eventually did get an enchanter and get the guy out of the pit. More on that next time.

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  8. Gaga is German slang for "crazy", so it fits. Not that I would have expected to see it in a video game.

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  9. I'd generally regard "unfeasibly long" or "insufficient content to fluff ratio" as reasons to mark a game unplayable, but then my tolerance for such things is quite low unless the fluff is inherently quite enjoyable - I got highly grumpy with Dragon Age Inquisition over its content-to-fluff ratio and that's a comparitively great game in a franchise that I really love.

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  10. "Something drove my characters mad, leading to these portraits."

    Why complain? You have a party full of Harry Potters.

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  11. This reminds me of how the hugeness of Daggerfall was a major selling point. Except in Daggerfall's case you can stick to just the small amount needed for quest progression and leave the rest as a sandbox. Here it sounds like you're going to have to see most of it to beat the game.

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    1. Even if I haven't played the game myself I've heard it's a bit lopsided. A bit like System Shock where the first two levels are more intricate and large than everything else.

      So I'd guess by the time he complete the first quest in Fate he would be 25% or 30% done, or something close to that.

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  12. "Enemy archmages have spells that make you lose your equipment permanently. I can't remember any other game doing this, but it sucks."

    Amulets & Armor has wizards with ranged acid attacks that destroy random items from your inventory. If you're lucky, it's just a carrot, if not, it might be your hardened steel mail. But that game's still a ways off.

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    1. Coming up much sooner is Darklands where enemy alchemists throw acid potions across the map with 100% accuracy that ruin your armor. Good thing inventory is practically unlimited and unequipped items weigh nothing, so you can bring a few spare sets.

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    2. Obdurate Hater of Rhythm gamesOctober 25, 2016 at 12:24 PM

      Darklands is a game I want to love, but I hate: The inside of towns has a great storybook style, but once you get outside, you have to deal with boring wandering and a horrible combat system where it is never clear whether anything you do affects anything.

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    3. If you're very unlucky with A&A, the random item will be a quest item. Fortunately the game format limits the damage that will do.

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  13. "If you bargain too hard in shops, you get kicked out for a day or so."

    I remember same thing happening in the Betrayal at Krondor, Realms of Arkania and TES: Arena.

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    1. Oburate Hater of Rhythm GamesOctober 25, 2016 at 1:30 PM

      Arena was a Bethesda game though, and so the horrendous bugs often caused characters to shift their opinion of you at random.

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    2. Like I said above, the Realms of Arkania series shares quite a few traits with Fate... hadn't noticed this one, though.

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    3. Demon's Winter, anybody? No? Am I the only one who remembers it?

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  14. I've been trying to find out what the inscription on the wall means for about an hour and have finally found the answer from the (late) programmer on an old german fansite: It doesn't mean anything and was just added to annoy players.

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    1. He he, "added" to annoy players.

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    2. I actually kind of figured that. An ode to IRKM DESMET DAEM in The Bard's Tale.

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  15. Replies
    1. They are supposedly the stronger cousins of the Basrels.

      But due to dubious lineage and a family tree with untraceable roots, no one can say for sure.

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  16. Longtime lurker here....

    Blimey this seems to be a large game (which I somehow hadn't heard about before you started on it). 45 hrs in and it's still just the beginning. Is this going to be Daggerfall size?

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  17. A pretty low BOTHR, then?

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  18. I put the message into my codebreaker, and I believe it is a simple substitution cipher using the codebook
    {a->e,c->u,f->l,l->o,m->i,r->v,s->r,t->s,u->b,z->t}

    Armf sltmas Uczt
    Evil rosier Buts

    Perhaps there's some kind of quest you can go on to boost that statistic.

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