Monday, May 21, 2018

Legend: Picking Up

Seventy percent of all evil-killing is done in the library.
I nearly called this one "Summary and Rating," except for one thing: I started having a lot more fun with the game. Not epic levels of fun, mind you, but more fun. I started to think of it as a game that takes a while to digest, but picks up momentum at the midpoint. Then I investigated how much of the game I had left, and I realized I was nowhere near the "midpoint."

It's taken me nearly 30 hours to clear 6 dungeon levels, and there are 22 dungeon levels in the game. At that rate, by the time I finish, it will be the third-longest played game on my list, at over 100 hours. That's okay for a game with a lot of plot, but Legend is largely the same thing, room after room. If I don't quit, you'll have to suffer through 15 more entries of a couple paragraphs each, amounting to "cleared another level, solved this puzzle, found a magic sword." But I have enough good material for this entry, at least, so I'll give it just a little longer. It would be a shame to stop at the point that I'm finally getting into it.

Let's talk about why I've started to have more fun. First, the accumulation of more runes, enough spell reagents that I don't have to scrimp, scrolls to give me ideas, and my commenters' advice has made the spell system "click" in a way that it didn't before. In my defense, the spell system starts out slow, but then again, I suppose it has to, since it's so complicated. Mixing runes and reagents can be confusing enough without adding "Heal-Missile-Teleport" to the equation.

I learned that casting "Antimagic-Surround-Antimagic" every once in a while (it lasts for a few rooms, at least) meant that I don't have to be afraid of my own spells. (In one of the game's annoyances, you can't just mix "Surround" and the spell, because that only applies to the three characters around the runemaster. You have to cast "Spell-Surround-Spell" to get it to apply to everyone.) In the way that "Fireball" never gets old in the Gold Box games, I swiftly found that "Surround-Damage-Missile-Damage-Surround-Damage," also known as "fill the room with fire," never failed to put a smile on my face--and started seriously compensating for the experience point imbalance that the mage had been experiencing.
This is also known as the "Overkill" spell.
Now I find myself looking forward to other combinations. I've barely used "Continuous" at all. What happens if I string a "Missile-Surround-Paralyze" to the spell above? That sort of thing.

I also started finding so many magic items--helms, scrolls, wands, rings, potions--that I was constantly trying to find ways to use them. This made combat more tactical than before. For instance, I gave my assassin a "Cloud Ring," which teleports to a square of the player's choosing, and started looking for opportunities to better position him for backstabbing. My troubadour gained a "Holy Helm," which causes the enemies around him to become enslaved and fight their comrades. Combined with a "Missile-Teleport" spell from my runemaster, I can put the troubadour on the other side of a room and then immediately convert several enemies to her side.

Finally, and perhaps most important, I found an option at the Guild that I had missed before, allowing you to "re-clothe" your characters by changing their colors. The default colors made three of the characters look the same to me, but with some tweaks here, I can now actually pick them out of the chaos of combat.
Finally: something I can see!
I don't mean for a second to suggest that these additional options excuse the aforementioned chaos. There are still plenty of problems. Pathfinding remains abysmal; characters and enemies frequently pass a few minutes running randomly around the room because they've decided they want to attack particular foes and those foes have set their sights on different characters. There's no way to tell a character to attack a particular enemy; you have to get him close and hope for the best. A lot of enemies are capable of self-teleporting, which simply prolongs combat as they poof around the room. And as I've said before, enemies are unnamed and don't necessarily behave reliably based on color or icon. There's no way (that I can tell) to distinguish a dangerous priority from a low-level mook. When enemies cast spells, you have to figure out what they're doing from visual effects rather than any text (some players wouldn't mind this, but it's tough with my colorblindness and general difficulty with purely-visual signals).

One issue I haven't talked about is the difficulty targeting. When you target an enemy or character (or, for that matter, target an object to open or loot), you have to make sure to click on the base square--where his feet are planted. Because of the oblique angle, his head is probably over a different square, and some other enemy's (or character's) head is over his base square. It's very easy to get this wrong.
The "Make Weapon" rune is an odd one that simply makes a magic weapon. Since it can be dispelled by spell-casting enemies, I'm not sure it's a good investment. But I wonder if you can sell them.
Still, you could see how, with a few tweaks, the combat system could be better. Allow selection of characters and issuance of orders while in "pause." Give the enemies names, and show their actions, as well as the characters', in the message window. Increase the field of combat and improve pathfinding. Highlight the target when you hover the mouse over it. When you were done, you'd have something that looks a lot like the Infinity Engine system.

In this session, I explored a couple levels of Kilijan's Dark Tower. I was pleased with my solutions to a couple of challenging puzzles. In the room below, for instance, there's a rune in the northeast corner that I needed to hit with a "Heal" spell to stop the spikes on the bridge. The problem is, the table blocks the spell from reaching the rune. It turns out that the square to its left is targetable, but only from the square in the southwest corner (you have to have a clear diagonal shot like a bishop on a chessboard). So the solution was to mix up "Missile-Surround-Heal" and cast it on that blank square, assuring that the effect hit the healing square.
Owing to targeting issues, I accidentally hit the wrong square on this casting.
This one took a while. The rune in the southwest corner wanted a "Teleport" spell. This caused the teleporter on the east side of the south end of the room to activate, sending the character across the water--and then immediately back again. Now, I knew from previous experience that teleporters don't work if someone is standing on the destination pad, so the trick was to get another character to immediately move on to the eastern transport pad after it was activated, preventing the first character's return. That, in turn, meant that I had to cast "Missile-Teleport" from as far away as possible so I had time to select the second character and click frantically on the pad so she'd move to it as soon as the first character teleported. Later, I had to fill up all the pads with characters to prevent the one in front of the lever from teleporting anyone.
Teleport pads in real life would be so cool.
The second level of the tower brought what I think are the first non-humanoid enemies in the game--not that it matters since they still have no names. A message in an early room noted that "Anything that vanishes in a puff of blue smoke deserves to die!," which seems to be a joke about how slain enemies disappear in this game.
This seems tautological.
The level ended with perhaps the most challenging puzzle to date. I had to experiment a lot to solve it, and I was just on the cusp of looking for a hint when I figured it out. You can see there are four doors. To open them, you have to hit each of four "Damage" runes on the strip on the north side of the room. But you can't just use "Missile-Damage" because spells don't cross chasms.
A difficult puzzle room.
It turns out that the rune on the east side of the room, behind the pillar, teleports any spell cast upon it and causes it to come jetting out of the pillar to the west of the northern rune strip. So I had to get a "Damage" spell to hit that rune. But there was no way to target it directly because it was behind a pillar. What I had to do was cast a spell starting with "Missile-Surround-Missile." This causes a missile to land at a targeted location and then spawn four more missiles in the cardinal directions around it. Three of these were wasted, but the fourth coasted up the eastern wall to hit the rune. After that, it was a matter of appending the right number of "Damage" spells. "Missile-Surround-Missile-Damage" hit the first rune in the strip. "Missile-Surround-Missile-Damage-Damage" hit the second, and so forth.

Part of the reason that the solution took me so long is that it doesn't look like I should have been able to cast the spell on the southeast "chasm" square. You generally can't target blank chasms. But you can target regular depressions with water or ground at the bottom, and since we can't see what's at the bottom of those squares, it's probable there's solid ground there.

A few hours ago, I never would have solved that because I wouldn't have understood the spell system well enough. There's a lot that you have to intuit when it comes to these puzzles, such as the directions that "Missiles" take when you pair them with a "Surround."

There's still a lot that confuses me. For instance, take a look at the screen below--the last screen on Level 2 before going upstairs. It isn't a puzzle room; it's just a regular room that had a few monsters and treasures. Why are there four squares that look like teleport squares? They don't actually teleport. They're just inert. A lot of other rooms have squares with rune symbols that similarly don't do anything.
Why are there inert teleport squares here?
And what's the point of the compass rose in this room that has rune symbols in the corners?
I'm trying to decide now whether to hike out of the dungeon and divest myself of excess goods, plus level up and replenish "Luck," or press on. The thought of fighting all those random encounters on the way out is a bit exhausting, but I'm going to run out of inventory space if there are too many more levels (plus, I'm dangerously low on brimstone). Either way, I suspect by next time--which may be the final entry--I'll have conquered the Dark Tower.

Time so far: 29 hours


  1. From this entry alone I get the urge to give this game a go but it just looks like such a nightmare in combat. I got through it in Ultima VII but here it just looks like too much of a hassle. At least you're having some fun with it now.

  2. Another great entry keep up the good work

  3. This seems like a game that would be really, really good if the real-time with pause combat allowed you to actually issue orders while it's paused, like Baldur's Gate.

    I wonder, is this the first RPG to have this kind of combat system? I've been following your blog for a while but don't remember any others that had a RTwP combat system, so unless I've missed something, this should be the first game to have it.

    1. According to wikipedia, it was released in September 92, a few months later than Ultima 7. Couldn't find the release month for Darklands though, maybe it could take the credit instead. Though given how many RTwP RPGs were released in 92 out of the blue, I suspect they all had some non-RPG ancestor.

    2. According to my notes Darklands was released on August 10.

    3. Hmm, should be Darklands then, since I don't remember Ultima VII to have a pausing system (and it doesn't have direct control over your companions lik the typical RtwP game has, anyway).

      Either that, or we'll stumble upon something else from 92 that did it first!

      But yeah, it's possible the combat system originated outside of the RPG genre. Maybe strategy?

    4. IIRC, Ultima 7 paused the combat when you opened inventory, and you could give some commands from that screen - cast spell, use item, switch between action modes etc. What it didn't have (I think) is targeting options except for spells.

    5. Crescent Hawks Revenge came out in 1990 and had RTwP combat. Not strictly an RPG, but certainly RPG adjacent being part of the Battletech franchise. Like Baldur's Gate you could clearly see the turn structure of its parent ruleset beneath the real time combat.

    6. Another RTwP RPG from 92 is Challenge of the Five Realms. Steam puts the original release date at Jan 1, but that just can't be right.

    7. Centurion: Defender of Rome had a RTwP combat in 1990. It is a strategy game.

    8. I played the shit outta Centurion. I've not seen any strategy game with that much minigames and side-activity.

    9. Centurion must be one of the first games I played on the IBM PC. The fanfare that starts battles is still stuck in my head.

      I had trouble with anything but the easiest settings, though.

    10. I always associated "real-time with pause" with those Sim Whatever games from Maxis (they're not RPG's -- in fact I had never heard of a real-time with pause RPG before finding your Web site!) Though I found there was no reason to pause as even the fastest speed was quite slow (at least on my Super Famicom).

      The first one of them was "Sim City" which was first released in Japan in 1990 March.

  4. That magic system must've been a hard thing to balance for its developers, who clearly had a lot of ideas for it but were compelled to roll those ideas out in a gradual way that wouldn't confuse or intimidate its players from the offset.

    A friend of mine has been playing (and suffering through) Final Fantasy XIII, which has a fairly sophisticated combat system that it takes waaaaaay too long to demonstrate in full. You spend something like 15-20 hours in that game before the last training wheel comes off and you have full access to the system and the related character customization.

    (Unrelated, but I just completed a playthrough of Ultima Underworld 2, having played the original for the first time last year. I'm looking forward to your future coverage and how it addresses the increased scope.)

    1. I get that FF13 is different from the rest of the series, but I don't get the hate. I liked the complicated combat, and really enjoyed feeling as though I had mastered it by the end after working with it for so long. Kind of an experimental approach to the FF system (then again, every game in the series builds on and experiments with the combat, so it made sense to me)

    2. Also, it sounds like Chet's experience with Legend is similar, a difficult and slow burn with a lot of payoff. I really enjoy games that start off with the most basic steps, little by little build towards something that only makes sense to you if you've been playing for a while, but looks impossible if you're looking at it from the outside. I think action games do it more

  5. This game looks like a mix of RPG and puzzle game.

  6. Funny that Chet is talking about the first non-humanoid enemies in the game - because the thing I actually remember most from playing it on my Amiga back in the day is the cute colourful little stegasauri! I think they were mostly in the outdoor armies, though, which Chet is not tackling much.

    Chet, you are figuring out the nukes - at some point you will switch out 'Damage' in favour of 'Disrupt', and that will be your weaon of choice until the end of the game or whenever you finish.

  7. Neat! This game looks like Diablo hopped into a time machine, went back a few years, and had a baby with Populous.

  8. The magic system in this game is like a gradual mind-blow; some Leprechaun crawling into your ear and every time you figure out a facet of spellcasting, it gives a pump of air into a tiny balloon... until when you fully grasp the system, BA-BLAM! Your skull fractures and brain bits get splattered across the floor from that sick balloon.

  9. I suspect I will be in the clear minority but I would love to see this game finished, rather than abandoned early. I completely understand why you'd go with the latter option, though.

    1. Since I consider this to be one of the best 10 RPGs ever made, I would absolutely love to see it finished too :)

    2. Sorry, guys. I do link to a good video series in my final entry.

    3. i don't really mind, I finished it anyway. It just makes me want to finish it again, if my 59-year-old knuckles can manage it.

    4. I never finished it myself, but I loved the plot twist very near the end! Hope Chet gets that far.

  10. btw using the "chicken" button you can normally run off a dungeon from wherever you are without having to battle anything. You'd have to have lots of bad luck and get blocked at a door at the precise moment you're exiting a room (and even so, I believe that if at least 2 characters exit, your party exits automatically)

    1. The monsters continuously follow you, though, and inevitably I have to fight them in some choked room with terrain much less favorable than the room in which they first attacked me.

    2. You may find this some times works to your advantage, like being able to create a chokepoint on the doorway where your berserk can pick them clean one by one.
      Hammering the Return key cancels the chicken mode and brings the party together


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