Thursday, April 26, 2018

Silvern Castle: Good Mechanics in a Boring Setting

I wish this game was half the size.
          
I had really hoped to win this one in a third entry, but the levels are just too large and playing takes too long. Not a lot has changed. It's still a pretty good game as wireframe Wizardry clones go, in plenty of ways outperforming the original.

Character development remains consistent and strong. As an anonymous commenter pointed out last time, attributes max at 18, meaning that if several are already at 18, you may be wasting opportunities to improve. The smart thing to do, mostly, is visit the "proving grounds" before leveling up to "sell" a point off any attribute above 17 and use it to buy points on attributes below 17, maximizing the bonuses awarded when leveling up. This is true, at least, except for the spellcasters, who get major spell point bonuses if their prime requisites are at 18 and lose them if you lower this score.

You can buy your way to 19 and above, but it takes a lot of effort. To get from 17 to 18 require 16 points. To get from 18 to 19 requires 99. You basically have to sell 17s and 18s off of 6 other attributes to raise a single score from 18 to 19. It sounds like it isn't worth it, but again, once you have 18s in everything you're just wasting level-ups. Whatever you sell to get something to 19 will probably be reclaimed in 2 or 3 levels anyway. Plus, I think getting every attribute to 21 is the only way to create a "Mystic" character, which has the abilities of every class.

I have made some easier promotions, changing my two fighters to ranger and monk when they had the requisite attributes, and changing my thief to an assassin. This started them all back over at Level 1 but kept their attributes and hit points, and within a few high-experience point combats, they were 2/3 of the way to their old levels anyway. The monk is a pretty effective fighter bare-handed (although he can wield some magic weapons in case he's up against an enemy only damaged by magic) and by Level 10, he has the unarmored equivalent of plate mail. He can also cast some cleric spells; it's nice to have someone else with healing. The ranger and assassin can eventually cast mage spells.
          
Obetyne promotes to an "assassin."
        
My cleric is waiting to hit one more level as a cleric before she can get promoted to druid, and my two mages both need several levels before they're powerful enough to become wizards. The other promotions are based mostly on attributes, but druids and wizards have a minimum level requirement.
          
The monk does good unarmed damage against an enemy fighter.
           
Amazingly, the economy is still very tight. Towards the end of this session, I was able to splurge on a couple of magic weapons for characters who haven't found any yet, but I still can't afford half of the spells available to me, and there are several magic items (plus the ability to enchant items) that are way out of my reach. This far in to the game, it still makes economic sense to carry short swords back to the shop for sale.
        
My ranger's character sheet at the end of the session.
           
The combats remain suitably challenging, although there haven't been a lot of interesting new enemies. What I really like is the diversity of equipment. Although based in appearance on Wizardry, for equipment the game takes much more inspiration from The Bard's Tale and its huge inventory of poorly-documented gear. A lot of what I'm finding contradicts the official rules. For instance, the cleric can only use blunt weapons, just like a typical Dungeons and Dragons cleric--except for the Holy Sword. Mages can't use shields unless they happen to find a Mage's Shield. There are one-use potions galore, rings with powerful castings of most spells, and a few items whose purpose I don't know, like the "elfstone."
            
Was this one copied from anyone?
            
I also like that you keep finding more powerful versions of spells. There isn't just a "Sleep" spell; there's regular "Sleep" and "Sleep +1" and "Sleep +2," and I don't know how many other pluses.

I've mapped all of levels 1-5, most of levels 6 and 7, and some of 8 and 9. They haven't gotten any more interesting in design, and if the game has a major flaw, it's unnecessarily large, boring levels to house just a few key encounters and random combats. Exploration opened up a lot when I found a "Teleport" scroll and achieved a high enough level to cast it. Now I can warp right from the castle to wherever I left off mapping, making the expedition-and-return system much less of a pain.

Incidentally, "Teleport" proves that the unused wall chunks aren't just closed off from the rest of the map (like they are in Might and Magic); they're just entirely solid. If you try to warp into one of these solid spaces, you get a message that you're being bounced to a random location.
         
At least it doesn't automatically kill you with a trip to solid rock.
       
As for the plot, there's not much development. I keep finding doors for which no key will open, and I have several annotated on the first six levels. I have found a couple of keys, but so far they've been mostly useful for opening random locked doors that began showing up on Level 6. Usually, there's nothing behind them.
            
And most of the doors have apple symbols.
          
In a room on Level 5, I met the ghost of Drachma's old master (Drachma is the villain of the game). He simply reiterated that retrieving the Crystal Orb from Drachma is the goal of the game. He gave me a crystal talisman that he said would help.
     
An artifact item from a rare NPC.
          
There were miscellaneous messages about broken elven tools, an underwater cavern, and demons guarding the stairs between Levels 9 and 10. A wishing well asked for money, but I didn't notice that anything happened even when I gave it the max amount.

In one weird Level 6 encounter, I met a group of 8 arch-mages, 5 clerics, and a thief. A message popped up saying "Castle Guards. Pay tax?" I chose "no" and ended up in combat. It was a weirdly unwinnable combat, with none of my characters able to hit the clerics and none of my spells (offensive or defensive) doing any good. Basically, I couldn't do any damage to my foes. Neither could I flee I had to reboot to escape. I guess next time I'll pay the tax?

Sorry for the brief entry, but it was all the long game delivered in several hours. I'm sure I can win this by next time.

Time so far: 17 hours


10 comments:

  1. You planning on playing any of the other scenarios this game has, Chet? Maybe those might offer some more engaging adventures.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I might quickly peak at them, but really this game has already been on the board long enough. Unfortunately, you can only play the other scenarios once you've won the first one.

      Delete
  2. > Was this one copied from anyone?

    Giant: Wizardry I for PC
    Enchanter: Wizardry I for Apple II

    I was surprised to see the Apple II graphic in there -- everything else so far has been lifted from the PC version.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, that was super chunky compared to the other graphics.

      Delete
    2. There's a fair amount of borrowing from Wizardry I and II. You can see the full set of graphics here:

      https://ibb.co/n4vD4H

      While I understand that this was written back in the day but I'm surprised that you could sell this to a company like SoftDisk with that much borrowing. Perhaps the original release had different graphics?

      Delete
  3. "I met the ghost of Drachma's old mater"

    I bet he hasn't called her in ages.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think he means Mater, the protagonist of Cars...

      Delete
  4. It's funny that the dev managed to balance character progression and gameworld economy well enough to have them running in the long term but have nothing to look forward to.

    ReplyDelete
  5. And then there are games that have great content, but fail to get the basic mechanics right. If only these half-game teams could have found each other and made one game instead of two.

    It makes me think there's a fun article to be written that imagines which specific games should have been merged, and what could have been the result.

    ReplyDelete
  6. As far as the wishing wells and altars go, they grant increases in attributes, permanent reduction of armor class, or drops in age. You might not have noticed any effect if you had the CPU cranked up to maximum. I tried playing the game at maximum and setting the delays super high but it still caused certain messages to go so fast as to be unnoticeable. So I lowered the CPU speed to just under maximum and have worked with that.

    At maximum CPU speed, the encounters take place immediately almost always but you miss messages. At just under, the encounters might still take a bit to load (especially in lairs) but you can still read every message.

    As for wishing wells, altars, and lairs, you might not have found many because they're random each time a level is loaded. Early on, I found a Scroll of Finding which, when used, shows the location of all specials, stairs, lairs, chests, and wells in relation to the party. I've thoroughly abused the wishing wells and grind at lairs so often, I still haven't explored level 8.

    As for the Castle Guards, there are a few different random encounters like that. They're basically encounters with other parties and seem much tougher than regular battles against the same types of creatures. You had trouble because, according to your screenshots, your party was extremely underpowered at the level you were on.

    This game has kept me up all night on several occasions, just like the original Wizardry used to do. Every time I come out of the dungeon, I think, "One more expedition to loot a dragon's lair and see what goodies I can find!" It captures the feeling and excitement and tension of the original game. It's more about exploring, finding loot, and leveling your party than actually playing out a story and getting to the end game.

    I've played a number of Wizardry clones over the years and they always wound up boring me. This one feels like the original with many vast improvements. Great game!

    ReplyDelete

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