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.|
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