|I have chosen...wisely.|
Knightmare, or my reaction to it, has fascinated me over the last week. Over the weekend, I started writing a "final rating" post, thinking I couldn't possibly bring myself to play for three more levels. Then I decided to at least check out the second quest, and once I started, I couldn't tear myself away from it. I finally had to force myself to stop and go to bed Monday morning at about 05:00. But later on Monday, and then again on Tuesday, I couldn't force myself to start it up again. There ought to be a term for this: a game that's both extremely hard to start playing, and extremely hard to stop playing.
Then again, this is perhaps my typical reaction to Dungeon Master-style games. I never really love the gameplay, but I find parts of it addictive: the mapping, the satisfaction from solving puzzles, the way enemies dissolve into bursts of blood. You find mixed messages in my reviews of Dungeon Master, Chaos Strikes Back, and Captive, too.
If you had presented me this game without telling me anything about the developer or back story, I would have assumed it was a sequel to Dungeon Master. It adopts most of the conventions of the DM line and hardly none of those specific to Captive. It is particularly reminiscent of Chaos Strikes Back, and if you're a CSB fan, I can't see why you wouldn't like Knightmare, which offers the same style of gameplay but with a more sensible framing story.
|"Pits & Pressure Plates" would have been a perfectly accurate alternate title for this series of games.|
In my final rating for Chaos Strikes Back, I wrote:
There are only so many things that the Dungeon Master engine allows, but Chaos Strikes Back uses all of them to construct its puzzles. Once you know the possibilities of the engine, you have all the information you need to suss out the solution to the puzzles.
The same is true of Knightmare. There is a persistent logic in the way that, say, pressure plates operate. Stepping on them causes some mechanical action to occur somewhere else in the vicinity. Sometimes you have to hold them down for that action to be persistent. If they're already being held down, walking on them produces no result. When you use a teleporter, you always end up facing the same direction as when you entered. Once you figure out rules like this, you can deduce the solution to most of the game's puzzles.
Quest #2, for instance, featured one area in which a pit was surrounded by three pressure plates. I had to throw things on the plates to open up certain walls, but I couldn't access them because of the pit. Meanwhile, a nearby teleporter, accessible from all four directions, warped me to the square with the pit, immediately dropping me in.
The solution was to throw objects into the teleporter from various directions. Since you (and objects) always exit the teleporter facing the same way they went in, I could control which way the objects exited the teleporter, and thus which pressure plates they landed on. The solution didn't come to me immediately, but once it did, it seemed obvious. There have been many times that I thought a Dungeon Master, Chaos Strikes Back, or Knightmare puzzle was hard or long, but there's never been a time that I felt it was unfair.
|I can toss an item to that plate, but there are plates to the right and left that I can't reach from here. I have to use a teleporter instead.|
Antony Crowther's previous game, Captive, didn't feature puzzles like this because the levels were all procedurally-generated. There were some doors that required codes and pressure plates that closed walls behind you, requiring you to find a switch to re-open them, and so forth, but the nature of the procedural generation made these all rote and obvious. Here, where the levels are hand-crafted, Crowther had the ability to design much more intricate puzzles, and if he didn't take inspiration directly from Chaos Strikes Back, I'll eat my mouse.
|The second quest had 5 of these "weeping doors" in a row that had to be unlocked with golden keys.|
To enter Quest #2, I had to toss the shield from Quest #1 at the tree who said he had lost his "cover." The shield disappeared when I did that, making me wonder if a party couldn't just immediately go to the final quest if they could kill the tree blocking it. Anyway, once I entered Quest #2, I immediately noticed there was no exit portal. I was locked in the dungeon until I found the regular exit, which means it was a good thing I brought plenty of rabbit pies. I nearly ran out anyway.
Near the entrance was a field of 9 pressure plates arranged in a 3 x 3 grid, each of which launched one or more fireballs at the party when they stepped on the plates. There might have been a way for a dexterous player to maneuver across the field without getting hit, but I couldn't find it. I eventually solved the puzzle by tossing items onto the pressure plates from afar and weighing them down. Then, I could cross without setting off the fireballs.
|This is going to hurt.|
The map had a succession of five doors that required golden keys, and I had to run around collecting those keys. The puzzles the game threw at me in the meantime included:
- A wall on wheels. This is one thing from Captive that other Dungeon Master-style games don't offer. In this case, I had to push the wall down a long corridor, releasing various monsters and opening up passages as I did so. It took me forever to remember that the way you move a wall-on-wheels is to right-click on the forward arrow.
|It's easy to miss this.|
- An area full of pits and pressure plates that opened and closed various pits. It was time-consuming but not hard to figure out a path through the area.
- Several teleporter/pressure plate puzzles that required throwing items onto plates, often through teleporters, to open up the right succession of gates or walls.
- Numerous illusory walls. You have to test for these by walking into them. The game's maps are of the "worm tunnel" variety, where no two passages or rooms share the same wall, but it otherwise tends to use up every possible square. So when you close a block of squares in which one or more squares could conceivably fit, it pays to test those walls for secret doors.
- An area full of invisible walls. I had to navigate through by trial-and-error, bumping into them and taking minor damage, although I could have tried throwing objects, too.
- A mini-maze with lots of teleporters. In addition to figuring out where the teleporters were depositing me (no easy task with no coordinates or compasses), I also had to find a path through them that avoided hitting any of them. This involved going through a series of illusory walls.
|Just the sort of message that you want to see after you've already spent 8 hours on a level.|
- An area with a couple of spinners. They were devilishly placed. You encounter them right after you finish the whole teleportation maze, so when you step on a square and the view ahead of you suddenly changes, you assume you've been teleported. I spent a long time trying to figure out where I was ending up before I realized the game had just turned me clockwise instead of teleporting me.
Of course, there were plenty of monsters, too. The level started off with groups of what I called "mini-minotaurs" that weren't too hard. There were some dwarf and walking tree holdovers from the first quest. About mid-level, I started encountering snakes, and boy do they move fast. Doing the waltz with them really tested the endurance of my fingers, but if they hit you, they cause poison, which is a pain to cure. There were also a few wizard types able to blast the party from afar.
|The cutest minotaurs.|
|A giant snake poisons me.|
|A shirtless spellcaster. Note the pile of missile weapons at his feet.|
Late in the level, a talking head announced that I was entering "Golem's Land," and sure enough the area beyond was full of brutish creatures. They were very easy to kill, which made me wonder what I was missing. It was clear soon enough: they respawned at a rate of about 1 every 15 seconds and never stopped. I wondered why the dungeon wasn't completely full of them, but it became clear that the golems also attack and kill each other, which was a fun twist. Unfortunately, they kept getting in the way of my waltzes with tougher creatures.
Golem's Land was a great place for grinding, but eventually had to move on, and I shut a door behind me to keep them from following.
There were some equipment upgrades, naturally. I've settled into my mage using a blowgun (which shoots darts) when he's not casting spells. My cleric uses a bow and arrows. The two front characters, I keep dual-armed with whatever seems like the best set of melee weapons (the game gives you no statistics, another Dungeon Master staple), which by the end of this session was a short sword, something called a "sheath" that's actually a weapon, and two kitchen knives.
For armor, we've advanced to jean jackets, slacks, boots, a couple of baseball caps, and a trilby. I'm not sure why the game is so eager to keep the clothing 20th-century while the weapons are decidedly medieval.
The problem with weapons is that the game assigns them to a particular class, but the assignment doesn't make any particular logical sense and there's no way to tell until you see the character gaining levels in a new class. My lead character had been gaining "adventurer" levels with his knives, but I guess his short sword is a "gladiator" weapon because he suddenly started developing there. Ulla became a proficient samurai for some reason. Tharat, my elf, managed to develop a couple of adventuer and gladiator levels, but I'm not sure which his blowgun is assigned to. The bow is clearly a samurai weapon because Armea is "adept" there.
|My characters and their inventory at the end of this session.|
I don't know if it's possible to develop magical skill levels if you don't start with them. Both Chestr and Ulla have magic points, and I've been occasionally having them use the magic wands and staves I've found hoping to develop levels there, but they never seem to gain any. This makes it hard to heal Armea, since clerics can't cast spells on themselves except in the rare case of a reflecting wall or door.
I was remembering that in Dungeon Master, it was a good idea to diversify your characters and develop skills in all four of the game's classes, but I honestly don't remember why. Here, it seems to make more sense to specialize and get really good at a few things instead of just mediocre at lots of them.
|Giant bats appeared for the endgame.|
Quest #2 ended in a small area of lever and button puzzles. Each one opened a new door or section of wall and released enemies, including the aforementioned wizards and snakes, but also a bunch of giant bats. Once I'd slain all of them, I was able to grab the Cup of Life. After a final battle with a small dragon, I was out of the level and back into the forest. I assume the cup opens the way to Quest #3.
|The final battle of the level. He looks kind of cute. He looks like Figment.|
- I think I figured out why my party members sometimes lose stamina--even to the point of death--while they're sleeping. Casting spells depletes both magic and stamina, and if stamina is pretty low when you cast a high-level spell, you end up with a stamina deficit. At that point, if you go to sleep, you lose stamina as quickly as you gain it and take hit point damage when it falls to 0. Eventually, you erase the deficit and start regaining it, but you might die in the meantime if the deficit is particularly large.
- Nudity is becoming more common in RPGs. I guess Crowther didn't want to be left out.
|This painting otherwise has no purpose.|
- Picking up all the missiles from missile weapons after a combat is as annoying as ever. I'm so glad Fate has it happen automatically.
- Each level features one "Spring of Life." If you toss the heart of a slain character into the spring, the character is resurrected.
|Resurrecting a dead character.|
- Somewhere on the level, I found a single die. I think I died afterwards, reloaded, and forgot to get it again. Either way, I don't have it at the end of this level. Does anyone know what it does? I don't want to have to go back for it unless it's really necessary.
A commenter named Quido sent me his maps for the game, and I was tempted to use them to just get through the next couple of quests so I can wrap this up. But after thinking about it, I realized that without mapping and problem-solving, the game would probably lose any interest for me at all, as its only challenge would be the sort of action-oriented combat that I've never really liked. Thus, I'll press forward the long way after a little break. Or I might test my theory that I can go directly to Quest #4.
Time so far: 19 hours
Reload count: 12
Time so far: 19 hours
Reload count: 12
For my upcoming Thanksgiving weekend, however, I plan to spend most of it on the couch playing Dishonored 2 while Irene bakes pies. At the same time, I wanted to ask my readers for a recommendation for a second game. I want a sort of chaotic, open-map warfare game in which you can cycle through a variety of character classes like Star Wars: Battlefront I and II--but with a single-player only mode (i.e., everyone else is bots). I was excited when I heard that Battlefield 1 had a campaign mode, so I bought it, but I was disappointed that the gameplay in campaign mode is very restrictive: you have to accomplish particular steps, in order, using a fairly limited part of the map and limited mechanics. I want something where I can just spawn and run around shooting. Any recommendations?
While we're on Battlefield 1, though, I have to say this. Truffaut famously said that it's impossible to make an anti-war film because any attempt to film war naturally glorifies it. If this is true of film, it's doubly true of games. You play games like Battlefield 1 to revel in shooting people and blowing things up, not to meditate on the horrors of war. And yet the game spends every cut scene telling you how much war sucks, and how much you suck for enjoying it. The change in tone is hilarious at times.
Game (during gameplay): Open the crate of grenades! Blow up the tank! Man the machine gun! Mow down the Germans!
You: Yeah! Ha ha! Take that! Boo-ya!
Game (during cut scene): Those were real mean...with real families...with hopes and dreams suddenly cut short...at age 20.