Friday, May 20, 2022

Lands of Lore: Alien Logic

Conrad tries to be reasonable. It didn't work out.
We open with a bit of a mystery. I had closed the last session with Scotia appearing in the forest, disguised as Dawn, trying to trick us into giving her Dawn's key. She turned into a dinosaur when I refused her. I was having trouble defeating her, so I just decided to wrap it up and figure it out next time. "Next time" turned out to be two weeks later. When I reloaded my last save, the party was in the city of Yvel. I went out into the forest and couldn't find Scotia anywhere. Does she only show up sometimes? Did I defeat her and not remember? I spent the rest of the game worried that I wouldn't be able to win because of something I was supposed to get at that battle. Fortunately, it wasn't a problem, but the last few hours were angstier than usual.
I couldn't figure out anything else to do, so I returned to the chamberlain's little headquarters at the north end of Yvel. As I arrived, Geron shouted that "Yvel must not fall!" and said the city's fate was in my hands. I had just come through the entire city, so that it was in any danger was news to me.
Nonetheless, as I started circling the city again, I encountered parties of giant orcs and armored figures called "cabal warriors." They were a little easier than the ones I'd killed in the forest, or else I was just feeling the effects of my leveling up. I slowly made my way around the city, resting in buildings when necessary, and cleared out the orcs. Eventually, Conrad said that he could hear the "retreat horns" and thus "the battle has been won!"
Someone should have told the 200 orcs that were still crawling around the city after this.
We returned to Geron's building only to find it abandoned. He'd left a note on the door that someone had stolen his key during the attack. "I suspect the thief sought refuge in the Catwalk Caverns!" he wrote, adding that, "A passage may exist near Bruno's Lodge." I wasted a bunch of time looking for a passage "near" the tavern when it turns out that the passage is in the tavern, behind a door that had been closed before.
I always wondered where that door went in the show.
The caverns were full of cabal warriors. The manual says that they "continue fighting after death," but fortunately that doesn't seem to be true. 
Cabal warriors . . .
I had only been in the caverns a short time before I walked into a room in which a group of Scotia's generals was meeting around a table. The leader, in gold armor, introduced himself as Frendor. His associate, "First Envoy of the Dark Path," was named Mylek. Victor, the king's blacksmith, had apparently joined the enemies.
. . . and the cabal.
Frendor suggested that we had passed a test. "Join us now and we shall rule eternal," Mylek said. Victor even chimed in: "Dark Army too powerful to beat." The game didn't even give me the chance, though. All three characters rejected the offer, expressing allegiance to Richard.

"Then you shall die!" Frendor snarled, and the game took us out of the cut scene and into combat. Frendor was the only unique enemy in the ensuing battle. I'm not sure if the other two cabal warriors were supposed to be Mylek and Victor or if they fled. Frendor was quite hard to hit, and he used a deadly long-bladed claw. But there was a pillar in the room, so I just did the trick where I backpedaled around it, attacking when he came into range and not giving him a chance to turn and strike me. He didn't last long.
He was a little too easy to kill. Perhaps he was just someone posing as Frendor--a "Frendor faux," if you will.
Frendor had Geron's key, a statuette (which opened a nearby wall), and a gauntlet. When I tried to wear it, it didn't erupt into long claws like it did for Frendor, but it did cast the "Hand of Fate" spell, which slaps some enemies back a square. I didn't find this very useful at the time. However, the gauntlet was also the key to opening several doors on this level.
How do people get around if they're not Frendor?
Throughout the rest of the level, I faced extremely weird and annoying enemies that presented as small balls of electricity--so small that I could barely see them, let alone discern their exact position. They made a buzzing sound when they were near. If they got close, they were capable of sapping a character's entire mana bar with a single hit, after which they did damage to his health. They were completely immune to normal weapons. The only thing that seemed to damage them was the "Spark" spell, which of course I could only cast if they didn't neutralize my magical ability first. I ended up fleeing and sleeping a lot on the level.
Believe it or not, there is an enemy in front of me.
The rest of the level was a maze of teleporters, spinners, one-way doors, secret doors, and secret one-way doors. The corridors had the effect of repeatedly funneling me to a room with two locked doors and two keyholes, so I had to find the two keys during my explorations. 
One notable area had some kind of item-replicator. It was offline when I found it. Three nearby corridors dead-ended in squares with electrical nodes on both walls. I eventually realized that what I needed to do was use the gauntlet to force the little electric wisps down the corridors, where they would get trapped between the nodes and thus charge the device. Unfortunately, I killed the damned things before I realized I needed them. I kept returning to the area throughout the level, and one wisp did respawn once, allowing me to confirm my theory, but I was never able to get the other two. Fortunately, it was unnecessary, but I can imagine it would have been useful to create copies of some powerful items.
A partial map of the area.
As it happened, I was overflowing with inventory at the time, so I'm not sure I would have welcomed yet another item, even a powerful one. Part of the problem was the same issue we all have with all RPGs--I was hoarding potentially-useful equipment for some hypothetical final battle where I "really needed them." These included about eight "Bannon's Reserve" potions, which fully replenish magic, a Wand of Death, and a handful of "Guardians"--globes that you can use once to summon a phantom sword that immediately kills or nearly-kills any enemy. I also had four magic playing cards, each of which cast a different spell, although at the time I wasn't sure that they weren't quest items.
I kept finding new weapons and armor, and I continue to simply evaluate them by their effects on my offense and defense statistics. I had to discard most of the others, even though I thought some of them had special abilities. I mostly gave up on missile weapons and throwing weapons; it just became too annoying to pick up the latter, and my thief skills were hardly increasing.
On this level, I found the sixth (and, as it turned out, last) spell: "Mist of Doom." The spell does the same thing as a Wand of Death, casting a mass-damage spell that causes specters to erupt from the ground and damage multiple enemies. The animation for this is perhaps the best animation we've had in RPG history up to this point. 
Despite my hyperbole, I forgot to take a video of the animation. Here it is in progress, though.
"Mist of Doom" helped a little in subsequent areas, but I never got to the point that I was able to cast it at Level 3, let alone the highest levels. I'm not sure I even ever made it to Level 4 with "Fireball." I wonder, does starting the game with the defined "mage" character make a huge difference? If not, I'm not sure how you really play the game as a mage. (This is also an issue I'm having with Ultima Underworld II.) The spells simply deplete your mana too fast. If you wanted to try to kill most of your enemies with spells, you'd have to spend an awful lot of time resting--which I feel I already did anyway. Moreover, I think you'd either have to try to play all the characters as mages or all (as I did) primarily as fighters. Since all characters refresh at the same rate as one character when you rest, it would be a waste of time to do all that resting just to replenish a single character.
I finally found the two keys to the final doors and exited the area. What followed was a relatively senseless diversion in a game that was already a bit too long. It didn't even make sense thematically. The final chamber had two creatures, a giant tentacled snail with a single eye (Xeobs) and a blue bearded face with a huge exposed brain (Knowles). (Some of my commenters have suggested that these creatures are aliens, but I don't think there was anything in the game that suggested that. They're not much weirder than the regular monsters you face in some areas. But I agree that it doesn't make sense that they are where they are.) They both said that their people had selected Conrad as their champion, and they both offered untold riches should we choose to fight for their side. Conrad naturally objected that he didn't have any reason to choose either side.
My general rule is: when someone forces you to choose something, choose against the person who's forcing you to choose. In this case, that's both of them.
My inclination was opposite: kill all of them. Unfortunately, I didn't have that option. I had to pick one of the two by going through a particular teleporter. I decided that the Knowles were slightly more obnoxious than the Xeobs, plus I once knew a guy whose last name was Knowles that I didn't like.
The teleporter took me to a new level titled simply "Dungeons." It was full of Knowles, horribly annoying foes. Their attacks could destroy my armor, so I had to take that off early (after reloading the first time). They also had a "tremor" attack that caused my characters to drop all their weapons. After lots of frustration and some experimentation, I settled in with a system of trying to kill them with weapons if they attacked individually and using "Mist of Doom" when they were collective. I could only cast three of those spells, so I retreated through secret doors to rest (enemies don't follow through secret doors) when my mana or health was down.
Misting the Knowles.
The dungeon had two important items. The first was Nathanial's key, found in a niche on the wall. It looked like all the other keys I needed to open Richard's shield, but a) I have no idea what it was doing among these weirdos; and b) I have no idea who "Nathanial" is. If his name has been mentioned before, I can't find it in the screen shots. The best I can figure is that he was the royal herbalist. The second important item was a diamond.
I kept making my way through the dungeon, opening chests, fighting with my inventory, committing genocide against Knowles for no reason. I found the headquarters of the Xeobs at one point and had the option to turn my attacks on them, but I didn't.
I don't suppose that means you'll fight with me against Scotia?
I kept fighting Knowles until I couldn't find any more, then returned to the Xeobs. They rewarded us by advancing everyone a fighter level (bringing them to Levels 8, 8, and 7) and giving us 50 gold, a weapon I don't remember, another Vaelan's Cube, and a key out of this place.
The key opened a door that led to a stairway that brought us to the main level of Castle Cimmeria, Scotia's castle. So somehow Scotia allowed those two weird races to live in her basement and wage their private war in the middle of her takeover of the world.
Disembodied axes attack in Scotia's ornate halls.
Vaelan's Cube was immediately useful, as Castle Cimmeria was swarming with phantom cabal warriors (ah, I get it now). I hadn't known how to use the cube in the White Tower, but I knew how to use it here, and it makes such a difference that most of my complaints about the White Tower have to be dismissed. It not only kills the phantoms; it turns their life essence into mana that can be transferred to a character. You can keep up an unending cycle of enemy damage and self-healing when facing undead foes. The Cube did not, alas, work against disembodied phantom axes, but those responded to physical attacks and "Spark."
In an early room, I found Dawn imprisoned in a glass globe. The diamond shattered it and freed her. She said she'd "gather our forces" and zipped off.
"Baccata! Go @#$* yourself!"
Elsewhere on the level, I found two figurines--cobra and dragon--that turned out to be important. To get to the second level, I had to solve a long puzzle that I want to highlight here. It was probably the most complex puzzle of the game (although, admittedly, there were some optional ones that I never solved). It took place in a 7 x 7 room, as below. As I entered the room, the game stripped away my automap and made the compass go wonky so I could never be sure if it was pointing in the right direction.

Cimmeria's Level 1 puzzle area.
The objective was to first get into the southeast corridor, where I found the dragon figurine. I then had to get into the middle-south corridor and its stairway upward. The difficulty is that the room was full of teleporters (both 1* squares bring you to *1), spinners (@), and pits (white circles). There were four pressure plates (black squares) that I had to weigh down; together, they closed the pits on the squares marked in gray.
This isn't a bad puzzle. I always think of this kind of puzzle like a maze. You try a variety of paths, many of which lead to dead ends, before you figure out the right sequence. Of course, you have to map to make sure you've stepped on each square and noted the consequences. The teleporter maze in the final dungeon of Crusaders of the Dark Savant is the same type of puzzle. With enough time and a pen and paper, you can figure it out. It's not unsatisfying when you do, but it doesn't call to mind any creativity, or lateral thinking. Something like a riddle or word puzzle is the exact opposite of this.
Dungeon Master, in my memory, excelled at a rare type of puzzle--mechanical puzzles that do call into play creativity and lateral thinking. (There is an extent to which I may be conflating Dungeon Master and Chaos Strikes Back.) The closest that Lore ever comes is in that optional puzzle where you force the electric wisps into servitude as power sources, and even that one I think was cribbed from a similar one in Chaos. One of my frequent complaints about Dungeon Master clones is that they never seem to rise above purely mechanical puzzles. Then again, I've thought that so often that perhaps I have a tendency to forget the exceptions.
Well, this is getting pretty long, so I'll wrap up here and cover the endgame (with summary and rating) next time. There's definitely some good stuff in these final hours, even if the alien business was a bit unnecessary.
Time so far: 30 hours


  1. The 'alien' section is so out of left field and poorly shoe-horned (shoved right under Scotia's castle... really, Westwood?). It almost feels like something from some other unrealized game that they figured they'd use to pad this game.

    1. Also, they offer "untold riches" and end up giving you 50 gold pieces. I mean, really?

    2. Well, 50 gold is an example of of riches, or so I'm told...

    3. So, it's more like "told riches," then?

  2. Here I am trying to relax before bed and I read "Frendor Faux" which sends me into a fit of giggling...

    1. Glad I had just set down a very hot cup of joe and wasn't drinking when I read that awesome pun! Bathing my sinuses in the elixir of life would have been a no goody!

    2. I concur - that was a brilliant pun.

    3. As far as I know, "faux" is French for "fake" and "frendor" is Latin for "gnashing teeth". Obviosuly, the English translation has nothing to do with the pun.

      Can you axplain the pun to those, like me, who are not native English-speakers? Thanks in advance! :)

    4. >>what Ken said

      I don't know if this is specifically what Chester had in mind, but:

  3. "The animation for this is perhaps the best animation we've had in RPG history up to this point."

    I was always very partial to Mad God's Rage in Betrayal at Krondor, but yeah Lands of Lore has beautiful spell animations. I loved how Hand of Fate seems to grab all monsters

    1. In the end, it comes down to personal taste, but I think we could expand that statement to 'the graphics for this game are perhaps the best graphics we've had in RPG history up to this point'.

      Not just the animations, but the backgrounds, portraits, monster sprites, cutscenes, you name it.

    2. I also like the spooky sound of the specters.

    3. Agreed, Bestie. As discussed before, I think the contributions of artist Rick Parks were worth his weight in gold to the productions from Westwood during this period.

    4. I just finished playing the Eye of the Beholder games back to back and I have to agree, as the third game's visuals really lack the crispness and vibrancy of the earlier ones from Westwood.

  4. For the alien genocide section of the game, my working hypothesis is that they had to keep a level designer intern busy.

  5. Top notch implementation of that Travolta gif.

    I really struggle with games that give you a ton of items all with a vague amount of utility. Inventory angst sucks.

    1. Actually, Pulp Fiction was released only a year after Lands of Lore, and FMV was at full-swing then, so in a parallel universe Westwood could have perfectly hired Travolta to star in the game.

  6. Lands of Lore was nearing production deadlines and the final area shows it. I suspect the devs had other plans for Knowles and Xeobs but there was no time to implement them, so we're stuck with this half-baked implementation using ill-fitting assets (the Xeobs' home area looks like it belongs in the dungeon but the Knowles' definitely doesn't!).

    Also, Dawn was supposed to be a playable character - there are unused assets for her in the game files. Judging from the dialogue it looks like she was going to replace Baccata as a party member. I wonder is it because Baccata was originally supposed to die? I hope not, because he's great.

  7. Level 1 and 2 Mist of Doom can be seen in action just after the 5 minute mark in this video.

    1. Kikoskia introduced me to so many great RPGs and games in general.

  8. In any case, the "aliens" (or beings from an "alien" plane) was just a popular trope at the time, especially with the "hero sucked in to fix their alien problems" paradigm. We just had that last week in UU2 with that world of Talorids and Vorz. We get remnants of this as far as Baldur's gate (like the interplanar prison theatre troupe thing...) I think designers/players found it genuinly funny/off-beat, but standards evolved into much more coherent/believable worlds. I think part of the objective is to show that the current "mundane" quests the party is doing, even if it's saving the world, are just of fraction of some grand universe beyond understanding. It's intended to give a cool sence of scope and scale. The implementation here does lack subtility of course, probably due to production deadlines like others said.

  9. I think in a powergaming move, I always help the Knowles against the Xeobs, simply because instead of a fighter level everyone gets a mage level, which are much harder to get and help solve that problem that 'I can't cast any of these freaking spells'.

    I played as Kieran, the cat guy, and I recall being able to cast the highest level of most spells by the end of the game, but not the latest two, I think only the dedicated wizard can manage that by virtue of getting the largest mana pool on mage level up. Kieran I think has the 2nd most MP, Conrad 3rd, and the fighter guy the worst mana.

    1. Is there any way to discern from within the game that those are the rewards?

    2. There is not. Had they made the Xeobs more brawny you could've taken a guess, but there's nothing that dictates you get a different reward until the fact. You do get the best or second best weapon in the game out of siding with them, which you could also buy at Victor's second store in Yvel. I always clone that in the.. clone-o-matic that needs the zappy orbs, ending the game with at least 2 of them. Baccata may be a wizard, but he tends to devolve into a bloodthirsty dervish when I get my hands on him, handing him the impossible sibling swords.

    3. Yeah, unfortunately other than seeing the Knowles are giant brain things and thinking they might be castery there's nothing to say it.

      Baccata, despite starting at Mage 3, Fighter 1, is clearly _not_ a Mage. I think literally every other character even the fighter protagonist has more MP at Mage 3 than Baccata does, and I don't think Mage level affects anything but your MP in the first place. He's clearly the team bashy guy, and Paulson does pretty good at that too which is why with the benefit of hindsight it seems smartest to take a wizard PC of some kind.

      But.. game's easily beatable as anyone so as I said, just powergaming nonsense.

  10. I think the cloning device works only once. It's nice but not essential.
    I sided with the Xeobs too for the same reasons you did - well except for knowing someone with the last name Knowles. The level always felt like padding to me. You said the game is a bit too long but I think for a major 1993 game I think it's more on the short side.
    With Ak'shel I could cast Mist of Doom at the highest level twice at the end of the game, without the Knowles level bonus and excessive grinding. But yes, playing a mage means lots of resting.

    1. I mean "too long" more for its own depth of content and approach. I agree that objectively it's not very long.

    2. I was wondering about that as well, so thanks for the clarification. You certainly have a point there...

    3. It's not a long game, but by the end it definately starts feeling like one.

  11. Just wanted to say that the "Frendor faux" line was a 10/10 and a thing of beauty.

  12. I know we've talked about the inventory hoarding problem before in a previous post, and maybe something like this was already mentioned. But I was thinking a nice solution would be instead of giving you one-time consumables, that you unlock the ability to slowly auto-"craft" these items in the background up to a low limit. So you are free to use them because they will eventually restore themselves, but if you use them too frequently you'll find yourself running out. That seems to strike a nice balance of encouraging judicious use without feeling like you're giving up future power.

    1. Estus flasks work a bit like that in Dark Souls and the sub-genre it spawned, where you have a set number of healing potions essentially per rest. It works really well because you're never in a situation where you've got no heals and need to farm for them and nor can you end up in a situation where you have so many heals that you end up invincible. It's quite nice for leveling the playing field and making it easier for the game to throw an appropriate amount of challenge at the player.

    2. Dumb as it was, even Diablo III managed to kind of fix this problem by providing you with endless health potions but limiting your ability to drink them to at most one per every thirty seconds.

  13. I think Knowles and Xeobs only look alien and out of place if you forget that you have a 6-limbed reptile in your party and your MC choices included a cat-man and whatever Ak'shel is.

  14. Dungeon Master II (the third entry in the series) was disapointing to many, but it still had some of the good physical puzzles. I think Chet will like it about as much as the previous two.

  15. Frendor looked like he could've been an end of level boss in a Golden Axe game imho.Just had to point that out.Death Adder's poor cousin maybe.

  16. >"You do not, in fact ever see any experience points at all, which is a pleasant change from most CRPGs." What makes it pleasant? Why is knowing how much I'm earning from specific actions a bad thing? She similarly praises the lack of traditional attributes.

    This is a theme I see in games journalism from that era. On the Amiga side, the .info writers were endlessly griping about games that still had 'outdated' stuff like hit points and experience points. It's somewhat more surprising to see it coming from someone like Scorpia, but I think people were so in love with the rapidly expanding audiovisual potential in games that they disparaged anything that felt too number-crunchy or statistical, as opposed to immersive. It's interesting that in e.g. the later Elder Scrolls or other modern CRPGs you have graphics and sound that '90s critics could barely imagine, but there are still experience points and hit points. (Of course, everything in a videogame comes down to numbers, so it really just is a question of whether you want to show those numbers to the player.)

    I think if you want to model things well in CRPGs you need to tack a lot of numbers onto stuff. Which ones are visible to the player is ultimately a design choice but like you I get frustrated when too much is going on under the hood that I can't see.

    1. I think you meant to add this comment to my more recent entry on the game. Either way, I suspect Scorpia even didn't believe what she was saying. I've been guilty of occasionally writing something that I didn't really mean just to tie off a sentence. Later, I come back and think, "Why did I say pleasant change? It's not particularly 'pleasant.' I should have said 'interesting' or something."

    2. Yep, wrong blog entry for the comment, sorry about that.


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