Saturday, August 10, 2019

SpellCraft: I Can't Always

This session saw me kill four "minions," some of whom cursed their masters.
        
One of the notable features of CRPGs in contrast to some other genres is that they almost always support a Plan B. When one way of playing doesn't work out, you can almost always resort to a more boring, more banal, grindier method of getting something done. I tend to mentally preface these fallback plans with "I can always . . . ." Having a tough time with the final battle? "I can always reload again and again until the initiative rolls go my way." Can't overcome the evil wizard at your current level? "I can always grind." Running out of resources? "I can always retreat from the dungeon, head back to town and buy a ton of healing potions."

Some games subvert the most common possibilities but usually leave you a way out. NetHack, being a roguelike, doesn't allow saving and reloading, but even there, "I can always mess around on lower, easier levels until I assemble my ascension kit." Sometimes what comes after "I can always" is an exploit: "I can always do the import/export trick to make copies of my best equipment and then try the final battle again." For some, it's a blatant cheat: "I can always hex edit my character." "I can always kill the enemy with console commands."
         
During this session, I nearly acquired the full complement of "aspects."
          
There's almost always some way to finish that sentence because of the nature of the genre, in which you are the only player. Oh, it may seem like you have an "opponent" in the game and its artificial intelligence, but it doesn't really care. It was made to be won, after all. You can't really lose a CRPG any more than you can lose a maze or a crossword puzzle. You can only stop trying. 

The most frustrating moments in CRPGs are when you suddenly find yourself with no way to finish "I can always"--when there is no Plan B, when luck alone will never save you, when there isn't even a long way around. I think of the baffling final battle in, say, Dungeons of Avalon (1991), and I wonder how anyone was ever supposed to win it, or the helplessness I initially felt at the final battle in Pools of Darkness (1991), where you have to fight three combats without saving, and the second two take your magic away.
          
Swarmed by orcs, some of which don't seem to die no matter what I do. Is there any color difference?
         
SpellCraft got very frustrating this session because it negated my Plans B. It's also forced me to confront a sobering fact: I'm a lazy tactician. I like to have a lot of tactical options, but I want the same thing to work 95% of the time. I appreciate all the spells that the Gold Box engine offers, but I want "Fireball" to solve most of my problems. When it doesn't work, I want to be able to reload, cast "Bless," "Prayer," and "Haste," and then rely on "Fireball" again. Oh, I do occasionally love those battles that take you out of this comfort zone, that require you to explore uncomfortable weapons and unusual spells and different ways of outsmarting the enemy, but I want this to occur maybe once or twice per game.

SpellCraft, in short, is not what I want. It offers about 85 different spells, and you'd better damned well know the ins and outs of every one of them, because some don't work in different domains, and some don't work against different enemies, and some don't work in various circumstances. You can't rely on a standard set of combinations. You can't even, as I had been doing until now, rely on your sword and endless batch of healing spells.
            
Messed up an Earth spell!
         
Last session, we already saw how the wizards--or simulacra thereof--defied expectations by creating an endless supply of minions. The process I had used for clearing the maps--find a clear corner, engage enemies one at a time, retreat to the corner to wait and heal--is useless when the enemies never stop. 

Simulacra and then wizards' apprentices continued to be problems during this session, but they were supplemented by a worse one: magical obelisks that generate a constant stream of enemies. I had to destroy eight of these obelisks in a row; this is the kind of game that has no problem giving you a mission to destroy four obelisks, one in each realm, and then upon victory saying, "Well done. Now go destroy four more obelisks!"
        
Trying to approach an obelisk "generator" as it continues to create more enemies.
         
The obelisks generate enemies faster than you can kill them--but only just so, so you keep getting to the point that you can nearly approach the damned things unimpeded. You can theoretically destroy them with your weapon, but it takes forever and you get pushed away by newly-generated enemies after a few whacks. The better solution is to destroy them with spells, but spells are so damned hard to target in this game, and a lot of damage spells you can't target at all with adjacent enemies. Meanwhile, enemies are surrounding you shoving you this way and that, so you've got to watch your position and make sure you don't get shoved into a chasm, or that your hit points don't dwindle too much, all while switching between various spells to figure out how to damage the damned obelisk. Each map took me hours as I tried various spells to confuse or block enemies while I dealt with the obelisks and wizards. I had to abandon maps more times that I can count.
           
I trick a NUKE into falling into a chasm. The pathfinding of this particular enemy is very direct.
          
Then the game went and introduced NUKEs--"nigh-unkillable enemies." That is, enemies that mysteriously don't respond to the same attacks and spells as other enemies that look just like them. (There might have been a red/green difference, but I can't see it.) I mostly encountered them in the Earth Domain: regular orcs who suddenly wouldn't die. I had to lead them to chasms and trick them into falling in to kill them. There were plenty of times in which these enemies swarmed me and made it impossible to progress anywhere. I could do nothing but watch them whittle away my hit points until I gave in and warped off the map.
            
These enemies have cornered me in the water. I can't get out because of their presence. I can't attack or cast because I'm in water.
          
The obelisks and NUKEs together killed both of my previous "I can always" statements. I can't always rely on copious numbers of healing spells when there's an object capable of generating infinite enemies, and I can't rely on killing enemies one at a time with my sword when they won't die by the sword.

The game has otherwise progressed as before. Garwayen keeps giving me different missions in the different domains. After a few, the lord of the Earth Domain showed up personally to challenge me, and introduced the concept of obelisks, or "generators." After I destroyed each one, the Earth Domain lord had something to say, generally suggesting that they were deliberate made too easy to test my mettle or something.
          
The Earth Domain wizard's reaction after I destroyed his generators for the time being.
        
After the obelisks, minions started showing up. They look and act the same as the previous simulacra, casting a constant stream of spells until I find and kill them. The minions themselves were interesting, often not looking much like wizards in their portraits. The Earth Domain lord employed a woodcutter named John Cartwright who, upon death, cursed his own master for making him face me. "Stop them all!" he added.
          
Well, now I feel bad.
        
The Air Domain minion was a woman named Anya Bavarich, dressed in 18th-century garb, who also cursed all wizards and wished me well when I killed her.
            
Garwayen has a little something to say about every minion I defeat.
          
The Fire Domain minion was named Timmy Flanagan, and both his garb and speech indicated that he had been a member of Al Capone's gang.
              
He doesn't seem much like a wizard's apprentice.
           
The Water Domain continues to be the most annoying because of the need to cast "Water Breath." The wizard's minion was named Mahmoud, and he was the easiest to defeat. 
             
Fighting the water wizard's minion. I somehow got close to him with no enemies around.
          
As I destroyed each minion, I got the third words of their elemental schools, an extra 25 maximum hit points, and their "totems," which I have yet to figure out how to use.

As I explored each realm and got the special treasure chests, my weapon and armor items improved, allowing me to sell the old ones to various NPCs for much-needed cash. I found a ton of spell clues, and got more from the NPCs, and continued to build my spell arsenal. New additions include "Icy Storm," which supposedly damages everyone on the map and "Explosion," which does a lot of damage but I can't figure out how to target correctly. I had to learn "Read Map" and "Revelation" to see treasures and enemies on the game map again, but once you mix these spells once, their effect is permanent.
           
A weapon upgrade! It still doesn't do anything against the NUKEs.
         
I've learned a lot of spells that modify terrain, such as "Create Lake," "Remove Lake," "Gel Water," "Create Lava," and "Remove Lava." Enemy wizards are always casting spells like these, and it is one of the more interesting aspects of the game that you can mess around with the mission maps to your tactical benefit, or nullify enemies' attempts to do the same.

Easily my favorite new spell is "Create Dragon," which does what the name suggests. Unfortunately, the created dragons have minds of their own and often just fly off to engage enemies on the other side of the map rather than attack the ones that are currently bothering me. 
           
My summoned dragon breathes fire at my enemies--but continues on before destroying all of them.
         
Each batch of missions puts special treasure chests in the Death Domain, too, so at least once per set of missions, you want to kill yourself so you can explore this domain. Garwayen then makes fun of you for getting yourself killed.

My maximum health keeps increasing, but at fixed intervals based on the missions I've completed. It would be all the false starts and the extra grinding they entail were paying off in character development, but they don't. They do pay off in extra reagents and funds, however. I suppose one new "Plan B" might be "I can always grind until I have so many reagents that I can mix so many spells that it doesn't matter how ineptly I use them."
           
My character towards the end of the session.
           
Mixing spells wrong started killing me outright, so I stopped experimenting as freely with the mixtures. I've found that you usually get two sets of hints for each spell, so if there are too many unknown factors with the first set, you just wait until you get another corroborating hint. For instance, one hint may say something like, "A second-level water spell uses stones, powders, and jewels." I find a likely candidate in the spell list, which has a "12" in the "powders" column and question marks for the other reagents. It tells me that the spell's "aspect" is cats' feet. There are too many potential combinations of the reagents for me to start messing around, but later I get a hint that says, "To freeze enemies, use cats' feet and 9, 12, and 15. So now I know the spell either uses 9 stones and 15 jewels or vice versa, which narrows it down enough to give it a shot.
            
A chest offers some spell clues.
          
I've been upgrading spells every time I learn new magic words. I kept the old "levels" for a while before realizing that they were just cluttering up my spellbook and I'd probably never use them again.
           
No point keeping all three levels of "Lightning." I'll probably never use the first two again.
        
On Earth, there was some light plot progression with my NPC friends. They gave me spell clues and occasionally items of equipment. Several of them gave me sets of numbers that seem to be clues for a puzzle that hasn't been presented to me yet. A new NPC named Pendragon Clerke showed up in Istanbul; he gave me a clue about a weapon called the Damascene Sword. As this session went on, some of the NPCs started to suggest that they were getting harassed by the elemental wizards and might have to eventually disappear for their own safety. "Last night a rainstorm caused a flash flood that swept away our pickups," said the Albertan paleontologist. "And today the side of the hill almost buried my crew." In Salem, Selina says that someone tried to "torch the museum."
            
Pendragone Clerke, who I just met, threatens to leave.
        
Before sending me off to explore each of the domains and defeat the four minions, Garwayen had told me to look for a magic orb that allows teleportation or something. But I still hadn't found it when I defeated the last minion. (I assumed it would be in one of the special chests.) After I defeated Mahmoud, Garwayen noted that I hadn't found the orb and then said:
               
You will never be able to complete the quest I set for you. You have shown yourself to be deaf to my advice, and so I denounce you! Go! Back to your boring world of Terra! Let the Lords have you and your world! I am finished! Farewell, Robert. I expect to never see you again!
              
This was followed by a screen that told me I lost and invited me to reload and start over. Wow, that was pretty mean. Garwayen tells me repeatedly I'm the "chosen one" and then fires me because I didn't do things in a particular order. As some commenters have pointed out, he's probably going to turn out to be worse than the other wizards.
         
I'm really tempted to end it here. SpellCraft is one of the most original and interesting games I've played in a while, but it's also extremely frustrating, seems to be taking forever, and grows in difficulty with every mission. If it gets much harder, I think I'm just going to be paralyzed when I visit the domains, unable to clear enough enemies fast enough to destroy the wizards and obelisks generating them.

On the other hand, I could probably make things easier by changing my tactics. I rarely do this, but because I had such a difficult time with this session, I watched a few LP videos from YouTuber Garg Gobbler. This one is a good representation. Until I watched the video, I didn't really "get" the purpose of the stone circles in each domain, which is specifically to serve as a place of refuge for me. Enemies can't enter, and they get destroyed if they try (although the circles can take damage, which is why they have a health bar). I've also been under-utilizing the "Magic Wings" spell to get around maps quickly, and I've made things more difficult for myself by insisting on "clearing" each map rather than just accomplishing the mission. Apparently, for instance, I could have just killed each of the minions and gotten out of there--I didn't have to destroy the generators.

I'll try, but win or lose, I think the next entry will be the last.

Time so far: 21 hours


38 comments:

  1. I don't see any color difference between killable and unkillable the orks either.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There doesn't seem to be one. They all look green to me on the screenshots

      Delete
    2. That theory is out the window, then.

      Delete
  2. The Pendragon Clerke character name seems to be based on the sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke. The surname it is just the same, and the Pendragon probably comes from King Arthur, who was also known as "Arthur Pendragon". Although the image used seems to be based on an Isaac Asimov photo.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The greatest trick the devil Asimov ever pulled was convincing the world Arthur C. Clarke existed.

      Delete
  3. The mechanics and theme of this game remind me of the DS game LostMagic, which I also found tactically exhausting to play.

    ReplyDelete
  4. 'Damascus Steel' is a popular material in historical fiction. No doubt mythologised, but in the ancient world, blades from Syria, made with steel developed by the Tamils, were thought to be the sharpest around. Examples exist, but we don't know how to replicate it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, it's a pattern welding technique but the iron used (from India and Sri Lanka) was an unknown quality that affected the blade quality. In recent years they believe plant material may have been used to introduce nanotube carbon to make them more flexible and strong.

      Delete
  5. I was saved by Nethack.

    You see, I was struggling to re-phrase my comment so it won't sound like a long-winded version of "git gud" - slowly growing to realize that's exactly what it is - when I noticed you mentioned Nethack.

    You managed to beat Nethack. A feat few people seriously attempt, let alone achieve; I'm certainly not one of them. Your "gud" standing is thus cemented for all time.

    Thing is, this accomplishment belies - or at the very least qualifies - your statement about being a "lazy tactician"; all serious Roguelikes demand tactical flexibility, and attempting the same solution for different problems is a sure-fire path to the gameover screen. You COULDN'T have played Nethack lazily, or you'd have never won! I think the question here is why you tend to play certain games in a complacent fashion, and others not.

    So, putting that mystery aside for now, I must say your criticism regarding the game's difficulty caught me by surprise. I WAS expecting complaints about combat being repetitive; as I remember it, you're fighting mostly the same enemies in mostly the same battlefields. You'll recall I also commented that I did not feel like the game overstayed its welcome. I was trying to reconcile those conflicting memories, and after reading your play-through I'm reminded of the answer: The challenge keeps ramping up, and you must come up with fresh strategies to stay on top. I simply didn't have the leisure to get bored.

    A common complaint of mine regarding computer games - esp. RPGs or those with "RPG elements" - is how they tend to offer a boatload of nifty upgrades and special powers... which you end up never using, because the basic sword thrust and defensive roll will get you around 95% of the fights. Why do the developers bother? I cherish the odd, rare game that actually makes me use everything in my arsenal. You will not be surprised, then, that I regard lines like "It offers about 85 different spells, and you'd better damned well know the ins and outs of every one of them" as an endorsement rather than otherwise.

    Having said that, I don't think Spellcraft goes quite that far. In the manner of (indeed!) Roguelikes, you've got a lot of flexibility as to how you go about Doing Things Right, as long as you avoid some - very specific - ways of Doing Things Wrong.

    Namely, the "choose your fights" mentality so vital when playing Roguelikes is in full effect here. As you've figured out, one needs to minimize engagements with mobs and focus on quickly dispatching the generators/wizards. Basically - "avoid/distract then nuke".

    The flying spell is vitally important, allowing you to bypass land-bound enemies. One of the clearest memories I have of the game is trying to keep my character off-ground as much as possible. Also, you need to master totems as they are a GREAT help, allowing you to quickly and freely cast multiple versions of your favorite spells. Especially useful during the nuke phase, when you want to output as much damage as possible without losing precious health.

    Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sounds like the game is fair, but the tactics need some figuring out.

      It may be difficult for CRPGs to convey the need for this when most of them don't need it, though (even those that pretend they do).

      Delete
    2. See my comment below about good game teaching their complexity. Player engagement with complexity is more a function of game design than it is of player character.

      Dark Souls isn't for everyone, but for the people it *is* for, it's not ultimately enjoyable because it demands skill - there's lots of boring things that are hard - but because it *teaches* that skill, and does a good job of making players constantly feel that while the *overall( challenge is momentous, the *next* goal is one they can achieve with a bit more practice.

      Delete
    3. Interesting you chose to mention Dark Souls of all games - did I prime you with my "git gud" comment? :)

      I have some thoughts on the subject. I'll put them below your game design comment so as to avoid splitting our discussion.

      Delete
    4. "I think the question here is why you tend to play certain games in a complacent fashion, and others not." Honestly, I'm probably suggesting permanent attributes for things that are only temporal. There are a lot of temporary things that affect how tactical I want to be, or how much intellectual effort I spend on a game. I won NetHack over the course of playing on and off for a year, whereas I'm trying to wrap up this game in a more defined series of x postings.

      Delete
  6. Regarding the targeting of Explosion, I remember that spell is good against stationary targets like the generators, due to how the spell's pathfinding. For mages, look for spells which have a chance to stun them. Or try to push them off the edge, they will die instantly if you get them to fall into a chasm.

    ReplyDelete
  7. The Earth Domain wizard, the woodcutter minion and the gangster minion look like they're brothers. Similar faces, and the exact same mustache.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It looks to me like they're based on the same drawing (probably traced from a photograph) but with different clothes and expressions drawn in.

      Delete
    2. Quite likely. It's a good way to save production costs, just how modern 3D games re-use models. But still, the impression it leaves on the player is that they're all related :D

      Delete
  8. Just a regular reminder that when a game has a complex system, and you find yourself not wanting to engage with it but instead rely on a simple one-size-fits-most solution, that's not a failing of you, the player - it's a failing of the game design.

    The purpose of games isn't to build systems, it's to build enjoyable systems. Good games teach you their complexity in engaging ways, encourage you to use the full range of it long before they demand that you do, and reward you for exploring and engaging with that complexity at your own pace.

    The iconic example, in a *slightly* different field of gaming, is Portal. That game is *endlessly* accessible to basically anyone who can handle a first-person control scheme (which is admittedly less people than hardcore gamers think). And everyone who walks into it says it makes them feel like a genius.

    And that's because of the *exceptional* way it teaches its visual language, its toolset, and its puzzle design aesthetic, in subtle ways that keep encouraging and rewarding the player's own exploration of their environment and their capabilities, while at the same time constantly providing well-disguised "padded walls" that nudge players back on track when they're barking up the wrong tree.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Another game that did a spectacular job of communicating its rules in a non-obtrusive, organic way - "The Witness". Doubly impressive, as the game eschews language completely. I watched as a couple of 6 year olds, with little gaming experience, quickly mastered the controls and puzzle logic. No adult help.

      That said, something just occurred to me. Both our examples are of games that use ONE, simple to grasp mechanic as their core. The challenge and complexity arise from a thorough exploration of that single mechanic in a changing environment. So I wonder: Does the elegant, gradual teaching you describe lend itself to less abstract games? Those that try to simulate multiple, interlinked systems?

      Two of my favorite non-crpg games - "Kerbal Space Program" and "Oxygen not Included" - are often blamed for having an extremely steep learning curve. It's true. They take ages to master. Both rely on good-old "learn by failure" to do their teaching for them. Seemingly, a glaring design flow.

      I admit I don't see a way to do it better.

      Delete
    2. I used Dark Souls as an example further up the page. It's complex, it's hard, but the next goal always feels within reach, if you're willing to keep practicing. There's never that quantum jump of needing to completely evolve to a higher level of complexity all at once. (Dark Souls isn't a game for everyone - it's not for me, for instance - but it's a great example of making difficulty fun, fair, and structured.)

      There's nothing wrong with "learn by failure" as a mechanic, as long as it's *learning* by failure, rather than punishing you for not knowing something you couldn't learn. Good learn-by-failure games make it clear how you died, how you could have avoided it, and let you get back to trying it again quickly. (Rather than, for example, making you restart the game, or making the game even harder because you lost an irreplaceable resource.)

      In terms of complex multi-system games that teach well, Bayonetta (and particularly Bayonetta 2) is a good example in the action space. You start the game just button mashing, then you start needing to know particular subsets of moves for particular enemies, then you get boss fights that require you to demonstrate one particular skill - blocking, or witch time, or whatever - then you get the Muspelheim challenges that again hone in on demonstrating one particular mastery, so that by the time you've done them you've got a good understanding of your entire moveset... and at that point you can be done, or you can start the game on one of the *hard* difficulties, and now you're going to need to *know* all that moveset to make any progress. But you can go back to the Muspelheims if you want to know more, plus the in-game help on what your moves do, and look like, etc is really good.

      Again, it's that focus on feeling like you'll *never* master *everything* - but you *can* master the NEXT thing, and you can just keep mastering the next thing until actually you have mastered everything.

      The Monster Hunter series tends to be another good example.

      The key is really in giving you that incentive to try new things, even if only briefly, long before you *have* to try them, and being really clear in explaining at the time that you try them what the strengths of those options are, and their weaknesses, so you have a good idea of where they might be used again and remember to actually use them.

      It's also worth noting that the other issue Chet's having with the "fireball" example - moreso in the Gold Box games than Spellcraft - is it's *reliable*. It's always going to do some damage, in a reliable pattern, to a reliable group of enemies, which makes it inherently more satisfying than a Power Word: Kill or something, which has a chance of doing absolutely nothing, plus enemies can randomly just be immune to it in ways that aren't quite as predictable as fire resistance is. It's tough to encourage someone to use an ability when you have to say, "Okay, but when you use it wrongly and nothing happens, that actually looks the same sometimes as when you use it correctly and nothing happens." It's just good game design to reward intent, and make a good idea always look like a good idea even if the specifics of the RNG screw you.

      Delete
    3. So. Dark Souls. A game not unlike a difficult BM; You don't enjoy the struggle, but little compares to your joy and relief when finally victorious.

      However, I don't think its lauded difficulty is what made Dark Souls into gaming's ur-example of "not for everyone". As you've said, it's easy to make something that's hard and boring. No, Dark Souls' developers made some design choices dealing with the very thing we're discussing - conveying information and complexities to the player - and this is why the game has such a large fandom... And hatedom.

      *Dark Souls is adamantly, unyiedingly old-school in its refusal to share info with the player. Overtly or covertly.*

      It's practically the antithesis of Portal in that regard. You often have little to no idea if your choices are beneficial or not - regarding character build, weapon choice, playing style - even navigation choices. There's an infamous point near the beginning of DS, where a player can choose to either enter the city proper or descend into a cave below it. Choosing to do the latter is dramatically harder - ultimately futile, as the murderous skeletons that beset you become impossible to kill without weapons from the other path - But you'll realize this only after a few hours of struggling against their marginally more defeatable brethren. The game makes no attempt to convey this, perhaps assuming the enemies being
      punishingly hard is clue enough - unfortunately wasted on players just starting on a game infamous for its difficulty.

      The point I'm trying to make (perhaps trivially) is that there isn't a right or wrong way to go, design-wise, when teaching a player about a game's systems. I believe a gamer's personality IS a major factor in what works for them or does not. One player's gentle-introduction-of-mechanics is another's hand-holding.

      As unintuitive as it might be, obtuseness can be a selling point, especially in an industry that tends to err in the other direction, deathly afraid of a potential player Not Getting It.

      Delete
    4. Just to make it clear, I wrote my last comment without seeing the one preceding it. I was not ignoring your points on purpose.

      Delete
    5. I enjoyed Dark Souls and find its difficulty to be wildly exaggerated. Yes, it's hard, especially in this modern gaming world where handholding features like the quest compass have become standard (which I absolutely despise, those constant markers in your face completely ruin exploration and immersion and if a game allows it, I switch them off - only to get lost because it wasn't designed to offer hints, other than the painfully obvious marker itself). It's probably an even harder game for me than for most people because I insist on using the mouse and keyboard, which everyone says is worse than using a controller. But I'm so terrible at using these awkward things, I couldn't beat the tutorial with one.

      There are harder games than DS out there. The arcade games of the 80s and early 90s were often much worse. But DS is mostly fair in the challenges it offers. What makes it interesting is also not merely the challenge, but the lack of handholding. Stillq already mentioned it above, how Dark Souls allows the player to enter much harder areas far above his level and fail, without telling explicitly this isn't the way to go. It's this allowing of failure, and allowing the player to get lost, which adds to the difficulty and the appeal of the game. You're left to your own devices to figure out how to progress. This is fun, and quite liberating in the face of modern game design's insistence on never allowing the player to get lost.

      As for the possibility of teaching complex game mechanics piecemeal, yes, it's quite possible. I'm a fan of complex strategy and wargames, and those tend to have many different mechanics you have to consider simultaneously, which makes the barrier to entry quite high. Most of these come with detailed step by step tutorials nowadays, though, which guide you through the game's concepts by starting you out on an easy map with popup messages telling you what to do, then progressing to ever harder maps that teach you more intricate tactics.

      Delete
    6. Isn't the difficulty of dark souls dependent on your weapon choice? I'm pretty bad at most ARPGs, and playing DS with a 2h I got nowhere. Switched to spear and shield and fights I couldn't beat became a piece of cake.

      I grew up with a NES, and my brother got me the rerelease for Christmas. Some of the games are definitely brutal (eg Gradius, Ice Climbers), and earn the moniker 'Nintendo Hard', but most of them feel pretty fair.

      Part of the reason games had to be harder back then, is that they were short. When a playthrough takes 20-30 mins, you need to make sure it's relatively hard to master, else you've spent $50 in 1989 money for under an hour of fun.

      Delete
    7. Not quite. Every weapon category in Dark Souls is equally suited toward completing the game with. The issue is that each class requires a significantly different playstyle, and most people find one or two such styles far more congenial than others.

      The problem is compounded by the fact that some styles require good use of the somewhat finicky Jump Attack or Kick controls, and others rely on getting the timing right on the Parry and Roll functions.

      The "Best" setup in the first game is "2 handed weapon with light armor, pump everything into Strength", but making use of that requires you to be able to Jump Attack at will and roll perfectly to dodge everything (which is where the light armor/no armor comes in - the heavier your gear is, the fewer frames of invincibility you get when rolling), but that can be tricky to pull off and requires you to actually know some of the more obscure aspects of the game (for example, it isn't immediately obvious that rolling isn't just to move away from enemy attacks, but actually makes you invincible while you are rolling).

      That's the one area I thing DS really falls down in. There's several core mechanics that are badly explained in-game.

      Delete
    8. Kerbal Space Program works because it makes failure fun. And while it has a steep learning curve, there are many intermediate steps that you can enjoy. I distinctly remember getting my first rocket into space, then into orbit, then at least getting to the mun, then actually getting back, my first rendevouz in space, the first docking maneuvre, up to interplanetary travel and building a space station. And, to be fair, it's not really that hard - at least compared to a flight simulator or something like Orbiter.

      "That's not a failing of you, the player - it's a failing of the game design."

      I'd say in most cases it's neither. You can't cater to all tastes. I've lost interest in many games that seem to be pretty popular (Baldurs Gate, HoMM3, ...) because the mechanics, story or characters never worked for me. This game seems like you would enjoy it better if you were more into strategy games. From the description, it reads more like a mission based strategy game than an RPG.

      Delete
    9. Interesting that you bring up the spear+shield combo. I had played through Demons Souls that way, and tried to play Dark Souls the same way. I found it much more difficult in Dark Souls. They had changed enough small things about spears that I could no longer play that way; I had to learn a whole new style. That ended up being great for me! Now I can play a variety of styles, including no shield at all. But it really is a trial-and-error experience.

      Delete
  9. I vaguely remember this point in the game, because it is the point where you have to change tactics. It's the point where you realize that your task is not to kill every enemy - it's just to destroy the obelisks (or kill the opposing wizard) and loot the chests (I assume the orb was in a chest somewhere - I recall picking up everything, not just the special ones). I also recall Magic Wings being a key spell in this game - from here on out I recall flying all the time, everywhere - some of the realms / maps basically require it. I'm not actually sure that the game requires you to know each and every spell...you can get by with just about a dozen of them - but it just might not be the same few spells / tactics that you've been using. For better or worse, the game might be a bit more like an adventure game / puzzle where you have to figure out the right tactic / combo for the problem in front of you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, I kept going a little bit, and the game did get a bit easier once I let myself complete the main objective without necessarily completely clearing every map. It's also good that you can enter the same map repeatedly to get the special chests. Perhaps the problem was that I was playing too "traditionally."

      Delete
  10. A part of me wants to admire this game for making its entire grimoire useful and vital to use in different situations, but another part of me wonders if they created this expansive tactical panoply at the expense of fun.

    Because while this game seems interesting, perhaps admirable, it sure doesn't seem fun.

    -Alex (from The Adventure Gamer)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello other Alex (I think from now on I ought to pick a different name for commenting here...)

      It seems like the initial idea overran the developer's talents for actually designing a game. The wealth of options (especially all the terrain manipulation) could have all kinds of possibilities, but it's like the developer didn't have any ideas for increasing difficulty besides making endless swarms of monsters with boatloads of health.

      Delete
    2. As both me and Calthaer mention above, the Addict's claim about needing to "master all 85 spells" might be... just that tiny bit exaggerated

      For better or worse, there ARE effective, simple spell combos that can get you through most of the fights. It's just a matter of experimenting until you find them.

      As to the subject of fun: What way was your reaction to the preceding paragraph? Does it sound like something you'd want to do, or like a chore? If the former, you'll probably enjoy the game. If the latter... Not so much.

      On that note, I'm still hopeful our host will come around, pull himself out of the tactical rut he's in, and grow more forgiving of this unusual, underappreciated game.

      (And if that does happen, Chet, might I suggest "I think I can" as the title for the next entry?)

      Delete
    3. @Alex

      No need to change your name! As I blog occasionally at TAG, including a concurrent playthrough of Quest for Glory III with Chet, I just use "from TAG" to differentiate myself. No worries.)

      @Stillq

      I'm just going based on Chet's description of the gameplay in this post. As the other Alex mentioned, swarms of NUKEs doesn't seem like a fun design choice. And yeah, maybe "mastering" all 85 spells is an exaggeration, but never having played the game, I'm basing my impression on this post.

      I LIKE the idea of every spell being useful! So many RPGs, computer and otherwise, have a whole grimoire but the player finds himself using a select handful. Having many useful spells is a great idea. Perhaps Spellcraft DOES pull it off better than Chet has found so far. We'll have to wait and see.

      Delete
    4. (And if that does happen, Chet, might I suggest "I think I can" as the title for the next entry?)

      I kinda suspect we've been set up for a final entry whose title is "I Can't Even".

      Delete
    5. :) Guess we'll know soon enough.

      Delete
    6. "For better or worse, there ARE effective, simple spell combos that can get you through most of the fights. It's just a matter of experimenting until you find them." That sounds to me a lot like having to know the ins and outs of all your spells. I didn't say they'd all be useful. I was just saying that you have to do a lot of experimentation under various circumstances.

      Delete

  11. I wonder if idea of the obelisks that generate enemies was inspired by the arcade game Gauntlet (released in 1985) and its multiple sequels. That is the only other game I have seen that uses the same mechanic.

    ReplyDelete

I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters.

3. Please don't comment anonymously. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. Choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

Also, Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

As of January 2019, I will be deleting any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.