Friday, February 28, 2020

Ragnarok: Won! (with Summary and Rating)

I'd say that's better than getting membership in a guild.
         
Ragnarok
United States
Norsehelm Productions (developer and publisher); distributed in Europe as Valhalla by Optyk
Released 1992 for DOS
Date Started: 28 January 2020
Date Ended: 26 February 2020
Total Hours: 23
Difficulty: Moderate-Hard (3.5/5)
Final Rating: 50
Ranking at Time of Posting: 329/360 (91%)
        
Summary:
Ragnarok is an excellent freeware game with a roguelike base. Veterans of Rogue or NetHack will soon become familiar with the partly-randomized game maps and the game's 47 keyboard commands such as (A)ttack, (i)nventory, (q)uaff a potion, and (Q)uit and save, but they will also appreciate the original and varied things that the developers did with potions, scrolls, wands, and other inventory items, as well as the interface upgrades. The story is also richer here than in most roguelikes, requiring the player to solve a series of quests that will turn things in the gods' favor at Ragnarok. Character development, inventory, monsters, and combat tactics are particularly strong, but as with most roguelikes, there isn't much "role-playing." The game allows saving every 200 turns, which takes the edge of the permadeath of other roguelikes but still requires the player to act judiciously.

*****

What a ride. I was up late with this one Wednesday night, and even though I had to play through the endgame a couple of times, I never got bored with it. Ragnarok is one of the best games of 1992 and my blog in general. A lack of any real "role-playing," including NPCs, will prevent it from reaching the absolute top spot, but it's excellent for what it does.
            
The game warns me to stop wasting time.
          
Late in my last session, Heimdall had warned that Ragnarok was at hand. Relying on one commenter's statement that there was no time limit, I ignored Heimdall and kept exploring around the River Vid, which wraps around the base of the world. As I was screwing around, a comment happened to come through from Thomas Boyd that there is, in fact, a time limit. Right about then, Odin appeared before me and his voice came booming from his astral form:
          
Many days will the gods battle fiercely with the forces of death. Make haste to reach Asgard but take care as well. You are the only hope that we have left. Aid us and join the ranks of mortals who have been honored with greatness. Fail and the universe shall perish. First, take Gjall to Heimdall at Bifrost or we shall be overwhelmed. We await you at Vigrid.
            
At this point, I only had solved two of the six quests: I had found Freyr's sword, Mimming, and Odin's spear, Gungir. I knew where the Miner's Well was to solve the third quest, and I had Thokk's soul in a ring, which would allow me to solve the fourth if I could find Hela in Niflheim. I hadn't heard a word about Mjollnir or a weapon that would allow Tyr to fight with one arm.

I headed back to Mimer's Well and used my Wand of Wishing to generate a Scroll of Knowledge, which teaches you one skill or ability. I think it selects at random, so I took a save just before using it, prepared to save scum for the "Swimming" ability, but I got it on the first try. This allowed me to enter Mimer's Well, where I promptly sank to the bottom, couldn't move, and was soon slain by the serpent Aspenth. Apparently, I had to divest myself of heavy items first.
            
Mimer's Well had a fun title screen even though it was only a small area.
          
I reloaded, and suddenly the game had never heard of "Swimming." It took me about 12 reloads before I finally got the skill a second time, dropped most of my heavy stuff, and entered the well again. This time, I was able to maneuver. I drank a couple of Potions of Speed and attacked the serpent in melee range, killing him in about four blows. He dropped Gjall, Heimdall's horn, and I snagged it.

Worried about time, I figured 50% of the quests was good enough to try. I made my way back along the River Vid to the Bifrost, which occupies its own map. Heimdall was standing at the end. He gratefully took the horn and blew it to call warriors to the final battle, then disappeared. I followed him north off the bridge and into Asgard, at which point the game told me that the Bifrost collapsed and I wouldn't be able to use it to return.
            
Not so much a "rainbow" bridge as a Romanian bridge.
           
Asgard was under attack, with enemies and allies everywhere. I didn't last long. In addition to hel dragons and draugr, which killed me in single blows, the map was swarming with a handful of unique demons. One of them had a piercing wail like the zardons I'd made extinct. Another could sap my strength from a distance.
           
I didn't last long in this crush of enemies.
         
I reloaded an old save, from before I wasted so much time exploring the River Vid, and considered my options. Clearly, I needed to develop my character a bit more, with whatever time I had remaining, but also perhaps get some better equipment. Character and inventory development in Ragnarok are both consistent and rewarding because there are so many different methods. These include:
        
  • Regular experience and leveling.
  • Finding and quaffing Potions of Experience.
  • Raising your strength with Potions of Strength.
  • Raising your constitution with Potions of Constitution.
  • Raising your luck with Holy Water.
  • Finding better items of equipment.
  • Improving your primary weapon or any piece of armor with Scrolls of Enchantment (preferably blessed).
  • Improving your constitution by eating hel dragons.
         
Hel, yeah!
       
  • Improving your speed by eating blurs (this is temporary but long-lasting)
  • Improving levels, for a while, and then maximum hit points by eating dead wraiths.
             
If you explore an area that generates a lot of monsters of different types, like the dungeons, it's nearly impossible that something on this list isn't going to happen every few minutes. Thus, I spent some time back in the forest and dungeon just hewing through monsters and finding items. I saved every 200 turns unless I hadn't accomplished anything in those 200 turns, at which point I loaded the previous save and tried a new area.
          
Speed is worth a note. A high speed allows you to attack multiple times for every one attack from an enemy, and I found that it was absolutely necessary for some high-level enemies like hel dragons. The character has 10 by default and can boost it up to 60 or 70 with potions, dead blurs (a monster), and the Amulet of Quickening. Above 70 runs the risk of killing you. Unlike all the other attributes, I don't think there's any way to make the increase permanent. Potions and blurs wear off and even the amulet eventually loses its power and becomes an Eye of Sertrud (it turns out you need five of these to retrieve Mjollnir). Thus, it becomes important, particularly towards the endgame, to load up on speed-granting items. Since potions don't stack but dead bodies do, at some point I used one of my wishes for 10 dead blurs. It worked, and that supply kept me speedy for most of the rest of the game.
        
At some point, I figured I'd try to re-visit Niflheim and see if I could make it to Hera. I was feeling pretty strong, and I had a Wand of Wishing with 5 charges and no particular idea of how to spend it. Niflheim turned out to be as hard as I remembered, but I learned how to use speed to keep ahead of hel dragons. I'd attack them, dart away, wait for them to close, then attack again. Eating their corpses significantly boosted my constitution.
         
Taking out a hel dragon with throwing weapons.
        
Niflheim consists of 9 maps arranged in a 3 x 3 grid. Each one is ruled by a demon lord, and I recognized a lot of their names from the battle at Asgard. Apparently, if you don't kill them in Niflheim, they show up in Asgard. Thus, I took my time trying to kill them here. It wasn't easy; they're all immune to wands and have a variety of special attacks. Here's the rundown:
           
  • Konr Rig: a powerful fighter-type demon. He can drive you insane, so you have to kill him before that happens. He's immune to wands and missile weapons. I had to get my speed up to the highest levels and kill him with a few melee blows.
  • Vanseril: Hardest of them, I think. He has a psionic attack that he uses every few rounds, and it will damage you for several hundred points anywhere on the map. I had to look up an online hint to see that the only protection was a Disperser Helm, which hadn't shown up in the game for me. I ended up wishing for one. But even then, he can drain your strength from anywhere on the visible map. It took me almost an hour to kill him with hit and run tactics using missile weapons and speed.
           
When wishing for things, you can wish for a "+" equal to your current luck.
       
  • Plog: Easiest of them. He summons monsters and drains wands, but I learned to just drop my wands and wait until he came into melee range.
  • Emanon: An annoying demon who takes your equipped weapons and armor. I killed him with throwing weapons.
  • Anxarcule: Second-hardest. He can steal your equipped weapon, create copies of you that fight you, and eat your legs. And he's also immune to wands. As with the others, I used a combination of speed and missile weapons to kill him.
           
Speed and missile weapons are the key to this whole area.
            
  • Nidhogg: Not only is he immune to wands, he removes all their charges if you try to use them anywhere on his level. (That was a reload.) He also messes with the items in your backpack, turning them into useless items. Again, it was missile weapons and speed that finally did him in.
  • Gulveig: This guy was easy. Two whacks.
          
Hela occupies the final section, and when I first approached, she took Thokk's soul and asked what soul I wanted released in return. I said BALDER (the game's spelling) and she complied. I then attacked her and was surprised when she died in just a few blows. She dropped a magic scythe, apparently one of the most powerful weapons in the game. Once I enchanted it a few times, hardly any enemy lasted more than one blow.
          
Solving the fourth quest.
       
Much stronger now, I returned to Asgard and started punching my way through the battle to the eastern exit. With the demons dead, I only had to worry about hel dragon and draugr. Draugrs return to life a few rounds after you kill them unless you (uck) eat their corpses.
             
The chaotic final battle in Asgard. You must make your way from the left side of the screen to the right.
         
Asgard has several buildings. One of them, in the mid-south, had stairs up. On the second level, three rooms held stacks of almost all the items in the game, including blessed versions of every scroll and potion--15 of them! I gorged myself on Potions of Strength, Holy Water, Scrolls of Enchantment, Potions of Constitution, and the like. I rendered a dozen creatures extinct (including most of those fighting below, but draugr and hel dragons are too powerful). I used Potions of Endurance to pump up my temporary health to ungodly levels. I loaded every free inventory slot with blessed Potions of Curing. Scrolls of Knowledge filled in every skill I didn't have.
         
 A bonanza of items just before the end.
        
It all turned out to be useless. A few steps later, I was off the Asgard map and onto Vigrid, site of the final battle. The game immediately started telling me that Heimdall was fighting Loki, Odin was attacking Fenrir, and so forth.
            
The character joins the battle in progress.
      
Giving the weapons I'd recovered to Odin and Freyr involved simply walking up to them. However, there was nothing else I could do. If I tried to attack any of the evil gods or monsters--if I even caught their attention--they would kill me from afar.
           
Sometimes it's best not to be noticed.
             
Thus, all the bonuses I'd gained in Asgard served for nothing. I just wandered back and forth until I got a message that the gods had won the battle and I was welcomed into Valhalla. This was accompanied by a nice image.
           
A real paradise would have more outlets near those tables.
          
So you only need to solve some of the quests. I'm not sure you'd even have time to solve them all. I guess the fewer you solve, the less likely the gods are to win at Ragnarok, but I frankly couldn't even make a loss happen. When I reloaded from my first step into Vigrid and refused to hand over the weapons this time, the gods still won. This happened on two more reloads.
          
I guess they really just needed Heimdall.
         
In addition to the two major areas I never explored and the two quests I didn't solve, there are many aspects of the game I didn't experience, including:
          
  • Making use of spells or psionics (apparently, every time you pick up a "diamond needle," you get better at psionics).
  • Dimension traveling. I got the ability when I ate a breleor, but I wasn't sure how it worked and never had occasion to use it. Apparently it makes traveling between the major areas much faster.
         
"The Crossroads" lets you travel between different planes. I only even visited for this screenshot.
          
  • Potion making and potion-mixing. The alchemist was the last class I tried. He can mix potions into combinations otherwise not found in the game.
  • Ironworking. I guess I could have had a very powerful weapon (the runesword) long before I took Hela's scythe.
          
Blacksmiths can make things out of other things.
          
  • Polymorphing, which can grant skills not available to regular classes. 
  • Taming animals or creating golems.
  • Writing my own scrolls, a sage ability.
  • Helping my allies. You can give equipment, potions, and other useful items to any human fighting alongside you at any point in the game. I didn't explore this.
           
But unlike some players who prefer the so-called "completionist" approach, I enjoy leaving a game with plenty of content to be explored. It gives me an excuse to replay.
            
The various areas of Ragnarok. Although I played for 23 hours, I still missed a lot of the maps.
        
On my GIMLET, the game earns:
               
  • 5 points for the game world. We've had other games use Norse mythology--notably Dusk of the Gods, which has the same plot. But it's still relatively original among RPGs.
  • 5 points for character creation and development. Development is satisfying, rewarding, and constant, as we saw. I don't think the different classes matter as much as they should, though. Since they're all capable of using the same items, the only real purpose of the classes is to work your way up to the highest level and get the class-specific skills. More benefits and restrictions would have made a more interesting game.
      
My character at the game's end.
        
  • 2 point for NPC Interaction. It gets this for the hint-delivering Ravens and the occasional NPC ally that you can help. It's too bad there are no dialogue options with any NPCs.
  • 5 points for encounters and foes. There are no non-combat encounters or puzzles, but the bestiary is as original and varied as its source material while not being completely derivative of it. I enjoyed learning their strengths and weaknesses and adapting my own tactics in response.
  • 6 points for magic and combat. As with most roguelikes, combat seems somewhat blunt but is surprisingly tactical. I was underwhelmed by the magic system, though.
  • 8 points for equipment. Easily the best part of the game. Ragnarok doesn't feature quite as many item interactions as NetHack, but it still has a wide variety of things to find, use, and equip. You can even make your own items as a blacksmith, sage, or alchemist.
          
Dragons always drop a wealth of treasure.
         
  • 4 points for the economy. You stop thinking about it, or bothering to collect gold, about halfway through the game. But during the portion when you find the occasional shop (the forest and the dungeon), it has a reasonable amount of relevance.
  • 3 points for a main quest with multiple parts, some optional, but no side quests nor role-playing choices or alternate endings.
           
An "alternate ending."
         
  • 4 points for graphics, sound, and interface. It gets almost all of it for the excellent interface. One command=one key, logically mapped, but with a mouse backup. I like the way the main interface shows both a large-scale and small-scale area. Graphics are a step up from most roguelikes; sound is sparse and only okay.
  • 8 points for gameplay. It's mostly nonlinear and quite replayable. It offers the challenge of a roguelike without the insanity of permadeath. Limiting saves to once every 200 turns is just about perfect. The game lasted exactly as long as its content supported.
        
That gives us a final score of 50, six points higher than I gave NetHack. Omega (1988) remains the best roguelike I've played so far, but Ragnarok is a close second, and frankly a better game for a player who wants a tighter storyline.
          
A slick ad for what was essentially a shareware game.
        
As we now know, Ragnarok was a passion project of two California-based college friends, Thomas Boyd and Robert Vawter, and I thank both of them for offering comments and recollections during my coverage. Norsehelm was their company, meaning they self-published and self-distributed the game in the United States, albeit with (as we see above) commercial production values. Their London publisher, Optyk, apparently never sent them any royalties, so the duo decided to offer it as freeware after a few years of modest income.

I couldn't find any contemporary American reviews. European magazines mostly weren't kind. The lowest score came from the February 1993 PC Joker, where the reviewer compared it to a flight simulator and seemed to find the number of keyboard commands bewildering despite mouse buttons, including a help menu, right on the screen. Other reviews simply suggested that the reviewer wasn't really aware of roguelike history and was looking for fancy graphics and sound. PC Games (March 1993) had the only complimentary review, recommending it for its replayability and challenging strategy.

It's too bad that Norsehelm never produced another game. Mr. Vawter hinted in an e-mail to me that they started one based on the Seven Wonders of the World but didn't get very far. Both seem to have done well for themselves, however, with successful technology careers in the San Francisco Bay area.

I gave the choice of the next game to commenter Lance M., who's helped me a lot lately with "lost" games. Lance wanted me to play GayBlade, one of the games he managed to turn up. This led to a confusing bit of research. GayBlade is listed as a 1992 game on a lot of sites, but I've found comments from the author that he based it on DragonBlade (1993), and moreover only released it after he got into a rights battle with the publisher of his Citadel of the Dead (1994). My attempts to contact the author have not been answered. For now, I have to assume DragonBlade came first and play it first.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Game 358: Ishar: Legend of the Fortress (1992)

            
Ishar: Legend of the Fortress
France
Silmarils (developer and publisher)
Released 1992 for DOS, Amiga, and Atari ST
Date Started: 22 February 2020

I've been wanting to play Ishar for a while now, partly because I bought the entire series in 2014, and partly because while I thought Crystals of Arborea (1990) was pretty awful, I also thought it had some lovely graphics. Until they reach a certain point, I don't get excited about graphics. I mostly want them to be functional--show me where the enemies are and help me figure out what door I need to enter. If your graphics are just repeating textures, to me they're not much better than wireframes.
             
Walking through some pretty BIRCH trees.
      
When we get to the era in which graphics actually establish an ambiance and pull me into the setting, that's when I get excited. And Ishar's are almost there. Like Arborea's, they border on impressionistic. The opening screen shows a field lush with grass and flowers, a tree filled with branches and leaves, wispy clouds on the horizon, and other trees, dimmer, further away, partly hidden in a mist. I'm not prepared to say that they're the best graphics we've seen, but they certainly come close.
             
Some of the best water graphics we've seen so far. They don't move or anything.
           
Ishar is first of a trilogy for which Arborea was a kind-of prologue. In that game, you play Jarel, Prince of the Elves, and your goal was to find four crystals and use them to raise the island of Arborea--the only land left after the gods destroyed the world. Along the way, you had to kill the fallen angel Morgoth. You were aided by five companions.

The backstory of Ishar tells us that Jarel renamed the land Kendoria. He ruled for a while but was killed in a hunting accident. After his death, the land fell into anarchy. A "shady and powerful figure" named Krogh took advantage of the chaos, gathered wealth and power, and built a temple on the borders of Kendoria. The temple's name, Ishar, means "unknown" in Elvish. Your mission is, I guess, to stop Krogh. Honestly, the backstory took the bloom off the graphics almost immediately. Aside from being overly derivative of Tolkien (I don't know what I expected from a developer called "Silmarils"), it explained essentially nothing, including who the main character is.
             
The starting character.
          
There is no character creation process. You start as a human warrior called Aramir, presumably the third son of Denethor. He carries a sword, 2000 gold, and has no other inventory. He has 16 strength, 14 constitution, 16 agility, 12 intelligence, 11 wisdom, and 12 vitality. Temporary statistics are physical power and mental power. Statistics for "level" and "experience" at least assure me there will be some character development. Clicking around, I find that I also have skills: lockpicking, orientation, first aid, one-handed weapons, two-handed weapons, throwing, shooting, and languages. Aramir is best at the two weapon categories and worst at "Languages."

The game comes with no kind of map or even description of the world. Am I on an island? Are there towns? There's a guy standing in front of me in the field, so I head towards him. He greets me with a nonsensical phrase ("Warm Tear!") and tells me about a village to the south, "in Angarahn country," where there's a tavern called "The Thirsty Barbarian." I try to recruit him and it works. His name is Borminh, and he comes with a dagger, single-digit attributes, and strong skill in lockpicking. The manual suggests that micromanaging the relationships among my NPC companions is a big part of the game. They can reject and dismiss each other and apparently murder each other.
           
The first NPC has a nonsensical greeting.
         
Following Borminh's instructions, I head south and soon come to a town. In the first shop, my 2000 gold suddenly doesn't seem all that much. A light helmet sells for 1,200 and a suit of leather armor sells for 1,800. Even a loaf of bread is 320, which makes me think the economy is really out of whack. The shopkeeper also bids me "warm tear" when I leave the shop. What the hell.
            
These prices don't make a lot of sense in proportion.
          
Orcs attack as I explore the village, and I'm disappointed to see that the series has changed the flawed-but-intriguing tactical grid used in Arborea for real-time combat in the style of Dungeon Master. There's nothing particularly wrong with Dungeon Master combat, I hasten to add, but it's not well-adapted here. The spell menu is harder to get into than it should be, and cool-down periods are not made obvious by the graphics. I also soon find that the famous "combat waltz" doesn't work at all; enemies don't even appear if they're not facing you.
             
First-person combat means hitting the "attack" buttons repeatedly.
             
Nonetheless, I successfully kill the orcs and loot their gold, spending some of it to rest at the tavern and recover some lost hit points. The tavern serves as a location for rumors; this one tells me that one of Jarel's companions lives in the village. You can also recruit NPCs in taverns; this one offers only one, a warrior named Kyrian. When I select him, Aramir and Borminh both "vote" and agree to let him into the party.

The town has a place where I can train strength, and later I find another one where I can train agility. I also find a hut occupied by Akeer, who seems to give me the main quest:
          
My name is Akeer. I am one of Jarel's mates, who once braved, then destroyed the evil dark lord Morgoth. But today, we have to face a brand new danger . . . This threat has a name: Krogh. He murdered our good prince Jarel [so much for him dying in a hunting accident] and sat on his throne in Ishar, an evil temple unleashing hordes of monsters all over our beloved land. Now the time has come for revenge. If you manage to destroy Krogh, you'll be able to use Ishar's tremendous powers, and soon you will reign over the whole kingdom . . . The companions are old, but they still may help you. In Lotharia, near the Four Birches, Azalghorm the Spirit could give you some advice . . . Warm tear, my friends . . .
            
When I'm king, I'm going to abolish that stupid phrase, whatever it's supposed to mean.

I spend some time trying to get oriented. The "action" menu allows me to bring up a map of Kendoria, but it doesn't show our current place on it. It does show the starting position, on the far west side of either an island or peninsula crisscrossed by rivers. It looks like the starting area has two bridges that cross an eastern river to new territories.

I soon find that one of the bridges leads to another town, and this one is guarded by a hulking barbarian. But my party of three manages to defeat him.
            
A tough enemy, but it was three-on-one.
            
The town consists of a bunch of buildings situated on docks. In the tavern, I learn that Krogh may be Morgoth's son. As Morgoth was a withered skeletal creature, ick. This tavern has five NPCs to recruit. I first try a lizard-looking thing named Xylaz but everyone votes "no." I'm not sure how I feel about my own characters overriding my orders. I try again and everyone agrees to a mage named Dorian and a warrior named Golnal. 
             
A bunch of damned racists, that's what you guys are.
           
I explore the area a while longer, killing some orcs and bandits and bears, finding loose gold strewn in bushes and empty huts. I walk into a teleporter at one point, but it didn't take me very far because I soon found myself in the same basic area. I lose some characters in a fight against werewolves and then I suffer a full-party death against some bandits.
            
Is that supposed to be Krogh? That's messed up.
          
Dying has significant consequences in this game because you have to pay 1,000 gold pieces to save. We just left a game where it cost experience points to save (Blade of Destiny) and I'm concurrently playing another game with saving limited by turns (Ragnarok). It's interesting to see three different approaches in three consecutive games. I'm all for making things more challenging in this way, but it cuts particular deep here where things cost so much and you start with comparatively so little gold. From what I can tell, monsters do seem to respawn, so at least there's some way to keep earning money.
          
Ouch.
          
I can also report positive things about the interface. The developers clearly want you to use the mouse, but unlike Arborea, they've given an analogous keyboard command to every mouse click. The commands aren't as intuitive as some games, but they're there. I've complained repeatedly about having to click the buttons in Dungeon Master-style combat, and here finally is a game where you just have to hit a series of F-keys in quick succession if you prefer not to use the mouse.

Also, the sound complements the graphics superbly. I'm a sucker for a game that offers good ambient sound, and here we have it: the chirping of birds, the swell of water near the river, the croaks of frogs, the murmur of background conversation when I enter the tavern. Even if I don't end up liking gameplay much, Ishar at least looks and sounds pretty.

I think I'll start over and see about mapping the island. A rough estimate based on the map would put the island at around 100 x 400. That's big but not unmappable. I want to be able to annotate what I find and what I don't understand. After the first few hours, it's clear that it's more of a game than Arborea, but I don't know if it's necessarily a better one.

Time so far: 3 hours

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Ragnarok: Gods and Giants

About how it goes every time I face a new monster.
           
Playing Ragnarok is a process of repeatedly convincing yourself that your character is getting stronger and you're getting better and then suddenly getting torn apart--quite literally--by the next level of foe. That's not quite a complaint, but it's inescapable that while the main game is about as difficult as NetHack, its worst foes would have the Wizard of Yendor for lunch.

I spent the bulk of this last session finishing up the dungeon beneath the opening forest. The dungeon consisted of 3 levels and 27 screens, and the key plot reason to be there was to obtain Odin's spear, Gungnir, from Vidur. As I closed my last session, I was having no luck even scratching Vidur let alone killing him. I tried it hastened with Potions of Speed; I tried it invisible; I tried it under the influence of a Potion of Phasing, which doubles your armor class. He still kept killing me in one round.
         
Maybe don't eat random mushrooms.
       
I took time to explore the rest of the dungeon to strengthen my character and hopefully find more valuable items. Some notes from that process:

  • The levels aren't all randomly generated. Even when they are, there are rules set on some of them to avoid exits on certain sides of the map. The Temple of Vidur on Level 3 is only supposed to be accessible from a hole on Level 2, not any of the other Level 3 maps. However, a Wand of Tunneling or a pick-axe can undo such intentions--sometimes.
  • More intrinsics: fire dragons confer fire resistance; "blurs" make you faster (although I think just temporarily); wraiths give you level increases, although at a certain point they stopped working. Through other means that I didn't fully note, I have also acquired resistances to petrification and death rays.
        
This sounds so unappealing.
       
  • There's one mushroom that fills you up when you eat it. The others are not worth experimenting with.
  • Kalvins are horrid, hateful monsters who swipe one of your eyes out with every hit. It turns out that a blessed potion of curing will regrow an eye, but I was so traumatized by my temporary blindness that the next time I found a Scroll of Extinction, I used it on Kalvins.
  • Worse than Kalvins are Zardons. They can send out a piercing wail that hits you for about 50 hit points at a time from anywhere within the dungeon level. Guess what else soon went extinct? 
           
I'm not sure I should have this kind of power.
        
  • One damned hit from a werewolf is enough to give you lycanthropy, which requires a blessed Potion of Curing to cure. Scrolls of Blessing aren't so common that I like wasting them on this.
  • On the matter of Scrolls of Extinction, I can't be the only roguelike player who has secretly thought that if I just find enough of them, I can genocide every monster in the game. 
  • I keep finding Amulets of Quickening, which double my speed and are thus incredibly useful. But they have limited duration, and then they run out, they turn into something called "Eyes of Sertrud." I have no idea if they do anything in their "Sertrud" form.
  • A couple of enemy types are capable of reproducing faster than you can kill them. One is these little tiny things called "secitts." The second are tree creatures called "faleryns." I had to abandon a dungeon level to the latter creature when they wouldn't stop multiplying, but I gained about 15 levels trying to kill them all. If I need to grind, I'm going back there.
        
You guys can have this dungeon level. I'm just trying to get to the stairs.
        
  • The best spell scroll combination I've found is a Scroll of Blessing with a Scroll of Enhancement. Use the former on the latter and then the latter on a piece of armor or a weapon, and you soon have a +13 (or higher) item. I'm carrying a +14 mirror shield and a +13 silver sword because of that combination.
  • Some of the scrolls are "diaries," which give you hints. 
         
Glad I got this hint because I would have thought this was bad.
         
  • Something weird happened with my strength. For a long time, it was stuck at 18.99, and I figured that was the highest, but at some point it rolled over to 19-something and has been continuing to grow towards 20 ever since.
  • At some point, I acquired the "Psi Blast" power. I have no idea when it happened or why. It doesn't seem to do very much damage.
            
When I hit Level 20, I got the "Fletching" skill, which allows me to make arrows out of woods. Since "Terraforming" allows me to turn any square into woods, I basically have all the arrows I want. Anyway, I took the game's offer to change classes and changed to a conjurer. I spent 20 levels as a conjurer, skipping the first offer to change, because I hardly gained any spells. Even after 20 levels, I can only cast "Set Recall" (which only helps if you have a Scroll of Recall), "Reflect," "Draw Life," and "Illusory Self."
        
Casting spells. I thought I'd have cooler spells.
        
At Level 40, I changed to a blacksmith. Somewhere along the way, I read a couple of Scrolls of Knowledge and obtained the "Fennling" skill, an extremely useful skill that lets you combine the charges of two wands of the same type. I also got "Relocation," which lets me teleport on demand, "Ironworking," and "Taming." I haven't really experimented yet with the latter two. 

When I was done exploring, I went back to the Temple of Vidur. He still killed me instantly, but this time I had one new item: a Wand of Death. It only had two charges, but one of them took care of Vidur nicely (unfortunately, not before he killed my new companion, whose release so enraged Vidur in the first place). Gungnir was on his body, and apparently I'm too weak to wield it.
         
The first god falls.
       
I headed back to the surface and found the forest absolutely swarming with monsters. They're low level, and no danger, but they're so thick that I can barely move. Thankfully, my teleportation abilities get me through. They seem to respawn as fast as I kill them. I wondered if Ragnarok had started while I was in the dungeon or whether carrying Gungnir brings them to me.
            
My reputation must have taken a hit while I was underground.
          
While I was in the forest, I happened to note an icon I hadn't seen before. I (L)ooked at it and the game told me it was Thokk, the giantess who refused to cry for Baldur, meaning I'd have to bring her soul to Hela to get Baldur out of hell. I slipped on my Ring of Soul Trapping and killed her with a single blow. I made the mistake of not taking off the ring afterwards, and her soul was immediately replaced by the new slain enemies'. That required me to reload a significantly older game and replay Vidur's temple again. The second time, I found Thokk in the same area and took off the ring after capturing her soul.
        
Part of one quest down!
        
Lacking guidance on exactly where to go, I escaped the monster horde by jumping through a portal. It took me to Slaeter's Sea and some other outdoor maps that kind of wrap around the opening forest, including the River Vid and the River Gioll. I can just stroll across the water because I have Skidbladnir (the magic boat) in my pocket.
           
The River Vid is mostly water.
        
I soon found out that if you go the wrong way out of these areas, you wind up in the open ocean and you immediately get attacked by Jormungand. The first time I found him, he damaged me for -60302 hit points. (I had a maximum of 452 at the time.) I tried the Wand of Death on him but it didn't work. He's also inescapable. I suspect you're just not meant to go into these areas.
          
I suppose if I could kill Jormungand, I wouldn't need to do anything else.
        
But there's an enemy that roams the rivers and lakes of this "outer rim" that's almost as deadly as Jormungand: the lorkesth. He gets like 5 attacks per round and does massive damage. He's the reason I can't just blithely stroll through the areas (the other enemies are relatively easy at my level). I have to watch very carefully for their appearance and use my teleportation ability to get to a safe square of land. There's no outrunning them, since they can move three times for every move I make. If I stand one square away from the water, I can defeat them with throwing weapons and wands, but like any monster they may auto-generate at any time. If I get another Scroll of Extinction, they're going to be strong candidates.
         
I like to think I'm skipping these shurikens along the water.
          
To the west, the world ended at the Bifrost. (Which I have been unable to take seriously since I discovered it's properly pronounced "beef roast," although I think it's cool that the Norse conceived it as a rainbow. So many things in mythology are dark and dreary.) I figured it was too soon to go to Asgard, so I went the other way. Mapping in this game is complicated; I'll explain more thoroughly in my next entry. Suffice to say that the particular section of maps I was in ended to the west at the Bifrost and east at the River Gioll. The Gioll map had some patches covered in fog and a river swarming with lorkesths, but oddly no other enemies or items on the map. For some reason, my Ring of Locus Mastery doesn't work, meaning when I teleport, I just teleport to a random place. Something is also causing me to teleport frequently even if I take off my Ring of Relocation.

In the middle of a patch of fog on the east side, I ran into a character named Harbard. He was rooted in place and didn't pursue me, but if I walked up to him, he killed me in a couple of blows. So I stood a couple squares away from him and hit him with the second and last charge in my Wand of Death. His body disappeared in the fog, but when I walked and stood upon it, the game told me that there was a staircase. Taking it led me to Niflheim.
          
Hell looks a lot like Maine in April.
         
I immediately had one of those moments that I described in the opening. I had been killing fire dragons and frost dragons in single blows, so I wasn't bothered by the "hel dragon" heading in my direction--not, at least, before he killed me in one attack that left me with -1,006 hit points.
             
My brief foray into hell.
         
Upon reloading, I tried again, taking pains to avoid the dragon, and I did come across some luck when I stumbled on a Wand of Wishing with three charges. I immediately wished for another Wand of Death, and while it worked fine against the next hel dragon, it did nothing against the unique enemies of the area, including Konr Rig and Plog. I reluctantly returned to the surface and decided to try again when I was stronger, although given the fact that I've already maxed in most of the game's classes and I have incredibly powerful equipment and near-max strength (I assume, since it's now going up by decimals instead of integers), I don't know what "stronger" is going to look like.

Still, I moved north from the River Gioll to what turned out to be the mountainous realm of Jotenheim. I expected to meet a lot of giants but mostly found the same creatures from previous areas, including a lot of faleryns, who fortunately didn't seem to be as interested as replicating as they were in the dungeon. Teleport control still doesn't work, which makes it hard to explore systematically.
        
The transition to Jotenheim.
       
After I cleared most of the map, there remained an impenetrable rectangle of mountains and trees. Figuring it must hold something interesting, I used my "Terraforming" ability to change a tree into regular ground. Inside the rectangle was a small building populated by a large foe named Gymir. He had the decency not to kill me in a single blow, but his attacks were capable of doing more than 100 damage each. I quaffed a Potion of Speed and a Potion of Curing and proceeded to kill him in legitimate combat. He left behind Mimming, Freyr's sword. I'm too weak to wield it.
          
My character doesn't just chop down trees; he changes the very nature of the landscape.
          
Jotenheim continued for two maps to the north. To the north of that was "Mimer's Realm," a map of mountains, lava pools, and fog. A new monster called "iridorns" were introduced. They can kill in a single hit by ripping off your head, although they die pretty easily if you can strike them first.
          
With Mimer's Realm, I found Mimer's Well, mentioned in the backstory as the residence of the serpent Aspenth, the transformed version of Gjall, Heimdall's horn. But I need the "Swimming" ability to navigate there and I don't have it yet.
           
My character at the end of this session.
          
At some point, while exploring Jotenheim, Heimdall's voice bellowed from the sky:
              
O great heroes of the world! I must have Gjall to rally the forces of good. Time begins to grow short. The sea rages with the anger of Jormungand. The earth quakes mightily. Loki seems ready to burst his bonds. The moon and sun shall soon be swallowed by the mighty wolves Fenrir and Garm. Surtr is honing his sword of destruction. The evil ones are gathering their forces.

To speed you in your quest, I will use my powers over nature. The lesser creatures of the realm shall grow weary and despair. They shall no longer wish to battle against your might.
              
This announcement suggests the game has a time limit (and also that Heimdall just removed my ability to easily grind). I'm going to explore to the north a little further, but if nothing pans out, I'll use my Wand of Wishes for Scrolls of Knowledge and see if I can pick up the swimming ability. At this point, I have three of the six quest items. If I can get one more, it might be worth heading to Asgard.


Time so far: 15 hours

*****

B.A.T. II: The Koshan Conspiracy was going to be next, but I'm not sure how it got on my list in the first place. None of my sources call it an RPG, not even a hybrid. I can't find evidence that any commenter defended it as an RPG. I'm dumping it unless someone can make a persuasive case. The Adventure Gamer already covered it if you really need to read about it.

That means we get to our first random roll for the next game on the list! Pulling up the list, adding a "Random" column, filtering out games I've already played or rejected, we get . . . Xenus II: White Gold (2008). But of course I'm not going to play a game before its predecessor, which in this case is Boiling Point: Road to Hell (2005). That's also the first game on my list from Ukraine. I can't find mention of any other necessary precursors. But I'm just kidding because I'm not going to let myself jump that far ahead in one go. The actual next game needs to be in the next year I have not yet played, and a random selection from that year brings us to Shadowkeep 1: The Search by the same author as the Bandor series. Meanwhile, Planet's Edge gets moved up a notch to Game 358, but I'm having trouble with that one. DOSBox crashes every time I try to leave the intro screen. So the real next game might be Ishar while I try to solve that problem.