Sunday, October 16, 2022

Dungeon Master II: Crazy from the Heat

Code enforcement is lax in this universe.
The session began with the party in the caverns beneath Skullkeep, fighting skeletons and poisonous beasties, trying to find the square key that had been knocked down from an upper level. I forgot to mention last time that the underground has numerous gem veins in the walls that give you green or blue gems--blues are the most valuable currency in the game. At some point, I found a Kalan Gauntlet, which I'd had my eye on in the magic shop. It enhances hand-to-hand (ninja) combat.
The lowest level of the caverns was a small, twisty area with fumaroles at various points on the floor. The fumaroles were not dangerous themselves, but some of them repeatedly expelled these little fire fiends that charged the party and exploded. They were immune to normal weapons but could be damaged by the same DES EW spell that works on ghosts and tornadoes. Still, it was tough to get off a spell before they exploded, and I spent a lot of time healing from injuries.
The little bastard prepares to explode and burn us all.
The caverns also had a couple of places where the walls collapsed, and I had to swing at them with weapons to clear the collapsed area. Doing so created some more gems and pyro rocks. In the end, there really was nothing important in this set of caverns except the gems.
Beating at a rock wall with a sword seems like a good way to dull the sword. By the way, capturing a screenshot at the moment the damage is shown is no easy feat.
Having mapped the available underground and still not found the key, I decided to head back up to Skullkeep and toss the party into the same hole that the key fell down. It took a while to get there. Some of the Jawas had respawned and I had to go through the fireball corridor and gear corridor again.
I took a save before dropping down the pit. I'm sure one of these unidentified spells is "Feather Fall" or something, but honestly, as long as something doesn't kill me, it doesn't bother me all that much to heal the party. It's how I build cleric skills. Anyway, the fall damage wasn't bad. At the bottom of the pit, I found the key. It was in a corner of an area that I had explored and mapped, but the key didn't stand out enough against the background unless I knew I was looking for it specifically. I later realized that there's a perfect correspondence between ladder and pit locations on each level (I should have remembered this from the first two Dungeon Master games), so I could have more easily identified the key's location by just counting the horizontal and vertical spaces from the pit to the ladder that I originally took.
My cursor is pointing at the key. Would you have noticed it?
With no way back up to Skullkeep from the caverns, I had to go through the main entrance yet again. The worst part is the gear corridor, where a little mistiming sends the party on a one-way trip to the basement. Once I was through, I used the key in the second door and finally opened the way to the last part of the level. 
The rooms beyond had two more ladders down, two more portals in the walls, and a scout map. The way out of the area was blocked by a pressure plate with a pit on the other side. Standing on the plate caused a constant stream of spells to come out of a side corridor, each one alternately opening and closing the pit. I now understand that these are ZO ("Open/Close") spells, although I didn't realize they worked on pits.
One of the ladders down just led to a small area beneath the pit. The second turned out to be one-way (there was no ladder back up below), and it led to a network of corridors with shimmering mists at every intersection. Something kept giggling, and I kept getting blasted with fireballs no matter where I stood. It took me a while to figure out what was happening. Apparently, the mists caused anything entering them to deflect at a 90-degree angle. There were buttons on the walls that sent fireballs shooting from various launchers. Because of the mists, every fireball launched made a continuous loop around the corridors until it encountered something--like the party. Some little robed gremlin was running around the corridors hitting the buttons.
This was alas the only screenshot I took in this area.
It took me several reloads to identify a couple of safe squares on the level and even longer to launch hit-and-run attacks on the gremlin from those safe squares without getting blasted to smithereens. The gremlin's death opened a gate, behind which was a button that lowered the ladder. All I got for this insanity was a healing potion, a FUL bomb, and a magic box (the kind that freezes time).
Back on the main level, I figured that the scout map, found only one square from the pressure plate, must be the key to the pit puzzle. Specifically, I had to send the scout to block the stream of ZO spells. I've been under-utilizing the scout map--under-utilizing all the maps, frankly--so I had to frig with it for a while to recall how it worked. You hit a button to summon a spherical, flying "scout," after which you can click on the various parts of the map to send it to certain locations. I had to time it just right so the scout blocked the spells when the pit was closed rather than open. When I was finally able to cross the pit, I found a door back to an earlier part of the level (before the gear corridor) and (finally) a ladder up to Level 2.
Sending a scout to absorb the ZO spells.
In all, the coordinates of Level 1 of the keep run to 31 x 31, but at least half of that is unused. There are maybe 475 active squares. I don't think I've ever played a game that packed so much content in such a small space. And I'm not remotely done with it. There are generators and computers to re-visit once I've turned on the water valves on Level 3. Oh, hell--I just remembered that one of the signs said the "furnace on level below must be stoked and burning." I annotated something that might be a furnace, but I didn't do anything with it. I suppose I'll have to head back.
Level 1 of the keep. It is, alas, upside down.
For now, I continued up to Level 2. Upon arrival, in a corridor full of pillars, I met some kind of horned slug with a bow and arrow set. He was fond of running up and punching us, but he also shot a continuous stream of slayer arrows at us. After I killed him, I filled a quiver with them and kept others for resale.
These guys kept respawning, but they weren't so hard once I confiscated all their arrows.
A scroll in a niche advised me to "invoke ZO to close portals that evil minions have opened." A commenter said the same thing. I tried, but it just opened again. I swear I saw a treasure chest flying through the air at one point, but I couldn't find it later when I'd finished with the combats.
There was another gear, and another receptacle for the gear. Two different grates out of the area wouldn't open. One of them opened when I placed the vacuum fuse I'd purchased at the eastern village into a receptacle. This area had a "master key" that got me through the other door plus a later one in the level. After that, there was just an easy lever puzzle that got me through a bunch of closed doors and to the final area of the level.
Completing a circuit with a vacuum fuse.
The central chamber in the level had some kind of machinery that looked like bellows. Levers next to them activated them. There was yet another receptacle requiring a vacuum fuse--fortunately, I'd found another one in a barrel I smashed--and another lever that lowered a ladder down to the previous level. It took me to the room with the generators and computers, so it's good to know there will be easy access to this point.
People are always concerned about video games teaching violence, but what about them teaching you to turn on random machines?
What I didn't find is any stairway or ladder up. I had to loop around the level to find a keyhole I'd missed. Activating it with the cross key caused a ladder to drop from the ceiling, leading to Level 3.
I arrived on Level 3 to find a mess of tables in the small room at the top of the ladder. I'm sure I was supposed to work my way through the room by moving the tables around, like one of those sliding puzzles. Instead, I just smashed my way through them.
When in doubt, smash.
Beyond the levers was an area full of pits. Pistons with rams heads came thrusting out of the walls, shoving anyone adjacent to them into the pits. It took me a long time to solve this puzzle, partly because the graphics are a bit misleading. You would think that you would want to try to run past the pistons while they're retracting, as they only stay in the wall (fully retracted) for half a second. But if you step into the pistons' squares when they're anything but fully retracted, you get shoved into the pit, even if the piston was on its way "back" to the wall when you stepped in. I hope that makes sense. To get past them, you have to wait until the moment they're completely retracted, then run past. I spent a lot of time trying to damage them or evade them before I got the timing right.
I'm not sure why I can't just swing my sword and cut these in half.
The southeast section of the level had roaming teleporters that I had to elude, although the consequences of being teleported (the destinations are all in the same area) were not severe. There was a pressure plate puzzle on the other side of the teleporters that I felt quite proud for solving. The plate was surrounded by pits, and it was clear that I had to throw something on the plate. The problem was that everything I threw went sailing over the plate. The level was full of minion objects--little packages that activate minions as if you had cast the spell. ("Minion" is apparently the proper name for what I was calling a "probe" in the previous entries.) I figured they must have something to do with the puzzle. I summoned a scout minion and sent it over to the pressure plate, which did nothing. But then I tossed an item at the scout. Sure enough, it bonked off of him and fell onto the plate. It later occurred to me that the minion you can summon with the minion map probably could have just dropped something on the square directly. Either way, I got a little thrill.
Equally satisfying was a puzzle in the northeast section of the level. There were a bunch of reflector dishes on the north and south sides of a pit. You come in from the north side. You can move and turn the dishes on the south side however you want. Unable to reach the north side, you can only move and turn them with three levers, each of which rotates a dish and moves it backwards or forwards. A pressure plate on the south side of a pillar launches a fireball to the north of the pillar. By manipulating the reflectors, you have to get the fireball to circle the room and return to its source. Destroying the launcher closes the pits and allows you to progress to the northern part of the room. The hardest part of the puzzle was figuring out the intended destination of the fireball. I thought the point was to get it to strike a particular door, so I wasted a lot of time angling the reflectors to that end. When that didn't work, the origin seemed like the only remaining possibility.
A fireball heads for a reflector. It's going to bounce off that and continue past me on the left.
There was a ladder up in the northeast corner. The master key from the previous level opened the way into the center of the level, where again I found a bunch of contraptions and a lever activating a ladder down. There were four valves in the room, two of which opened some water pipes and two of which caused flames to come roaring from two lower pipes to heat something above them.
Turning on the water valves.
After activating everything I could find, I returned to the boiler on Level 1. The computers indicated that the water was flowing but the furnace wasn't activated. I dropped back down into the basement and found an evil minion parked in front of the furnace. After I killed it, I started picking up pyros to toss into the furnace, but it turns out that's the stone cyclopes' job. They were only hostile if I got near them. Otherwise, they kept gathering pyro pieces and feeding the furnace with them. Just another way that the AI of other creatures in this game is relatively advanced.
The automatons service the furnace.
Again, I had to get back to the boiler room on Level 1 the long way. When I did, I had to clear out half a dozen minions. But when I was all finished, I pulled the lever for the boiler, and it roared to life. My only question now is: what for?
Miscellaneous notes:
  • The evil minions are getting more and more annoying as time passes. When I started this session, I had to fight one every minute or two. By the end, at any given moment I either was fighting one or could hear one coming for me from a distance.
These damned things are going on my list.
  • Level 3 was full of the "packages" of guard and attack minions. I didn't find any obvious place to use them, but perhaps I'm supposed to be setting them up at key places (like outside the portals) to intercept the evil minions before they can reach me.
  • I've been faithfully mapping everything, but I wish this game had some mechanism for clearly identifying north, and I wish it had explicit coordinates. I'm always more motivated to make complete, good-looking maps when the game world features both.
  • It wasn't until this session that I realized you can smash furniture, including barrels, with your weapons. Some of the barrels have useful items in them.
  • I'm doing my best to cast more spells, but mostly I'm relying on just a few standards: "Healing Potion," "Light," "Fireball," "Cure Poison Potion," whatever DES EW is called ("Kill Noncorporeal Enemies?"), and the one that raises everyone's strength with a sparkly field around them. I still don't really know what about half the spells on the list do.
  • I've found pieces of three valuable suits of armor. The first begins with "Tech" (Techhelm, Techplate, etc.); the second begins with the runes for RA and SAR (light and dark); the third begins with "Fire" (Fire Poleyn, Fire Greaves). Some of them elevate statistics. The little meters suggest that the "Tech" objects offer more protection than the RA SAR objects, and RA SAR out-protects "Fire," but I'm not sure I'm interpreting things right. I really wish this game just gave you explicit statistics for items. This is doubly true for weapons as, unlike the first game, the damage you inflict flashes too quickly to discern.
Finding a nearly-full set of "Fire" gear.
The levels all seem to have the same basic shape. I like that they're not just square. Instead, the geography suggests a central tower with six turrets. This is in line with the image of the keep on the title screen.
Skullkeep's Level 2.
  • Thirty hours into the game, I'm still accidentally clicking on the weapons in the characters' hands in the top row instead of the right panel when I want to attack.
  • As mentioned earlier, the "combat waltz" doesn't really work in this game because enemies move in unpredictable patterns. But after a few dozen hours of practice, I've gotten good at dodging and weaving around most enemies regardless of how they move. 
  • I barely gained any levels this session. It takes a long time to go from "Expert" to "Master," and I'm not sure what if anything is beyond that. 
  • I have way too many usable items--staffs, magic boxes, FUL bombs, and potions whose purpose I don't even know. Time to start consuming them. 
  • I like having an economy in a Dungeon Master game, and I like the specific mechanics of the economy, but I think I'm done with it. I've bought everything I want to buy, and my characters are constantly at the cusp of over-encumbrance, so I'm not keeping extra stuff to sell. Pretty much all I buy these days is food, and I don't really need to buy that.
  • The food and drink system has been a non-issue the entire game. The meters deplete slowly, and sources for both are plentiful.
Refreshing at one of many water fountains.
Now that the boiler is running--whatever that does for me--I'll be heading up to the next level. I honestly don't know if there are two more levels or twenty more. I'm hoping the game wraps up at about 40 hours, which will be a perfect length.
Time so far: 30 hours


  1. The stream of guard minions harassing the player does get very frustrating by the end of the game. As suggested before, you can reduce their numbers by regularly closing all the portals, but sadly, as you noted, they keep reopening, so it's a hassle either way. You can use e.g. the fireball/mirror puzzle to take a group of them down quickly.

    On a positive side, it sounds like you are getting closer to the end of the game.

    1. For me these minions are the worst part of the game, it would be so much better if you could actually close the bloody portals for good.

    2. A wild guess. How about closing the portal and then putting an ally minion in that square? It won't work?

    3. I think this could work, but I am not sure that your minions are permanent. They probably vanish after some time. The power of the spell should affect the duration, the same for the closing spell. But I would like to know what would happen if you moved a table or a candelabra or something in front of a portal to plug it. That would be a neat trick.

    4. Nobody likes the minions. That was my main reason to not overplay this like DM. From a balancing perspective, they were probably the replacement for food and water, since that was abundant and basically impossible to limit anyways, having shops, regrowing food in the wilderness and respawns. The best counter I found were own minions.

    5. None of these strategies works. DM2 doesn't have the same rules that DM1 has about enemies not being able to occupy the same square--or if it does, minions are an exception. They fly over tables. If I try to block the portal with something bigger, like a reflector, they just push it out of the way.

      Summoning guard probes at the portal points might work a bit, but they either "expire" or the minions eventually kill them. And closing portals even with the most powerful spell only closes them for about a minute. Since the levels are interconnected in the central rooms, where most of the portals are, stopping them on one level doesn't do anything because they can just come up the ladder holes from other levels.

      I spent about an hour running around trying to close, block, and guard all the portals, and in that time I didn't see an appreciable drop in the number of minions attacking me.

    6. Own minions don't solve the problem, but at least act as a distraction. I just spammed a few as training. In the worst case, you can sleep in the starting area.

  2. "the key didn't stand out enough against the background unless I knew I was looking for it specifically."

    That's because of your colorblindness. The key is pretty obvious to anyone with normal color vision.

    1. Yes, this. "You mean the super obvious green square on the red floor? Yes I would have noticed it."

    2. Yeah, the yellow stands out pretty strongly against the brown for me... but it doesn't look like a key at all!

    3. oops, sorry for commenting as Anonymous, I wasn't logged in for some reason!

    4. In Chester's defense, that key IS really tiny, a rather thin outline, and only the handle is visible.

  3. "Level 1 of the keep. It is, alas, upside down."

    Still looking splendid!

  4. "Again, I had to get back to the boiler room on Level 1 the long way" -> if I remember well, there's a ladder you can slide down from the computer room that goes right into the furnace level. All the levels are vertically connected around there.

    1. Yeah, you're right. I was thinking the ladder was only one-way. There is one somewhere that's one-way, but I guess the one to the boiler room isn't it.

  5. "The gremlin's death opened a gate, behind which was a button that lowered the ladder. All I got for this insanity was a healing potion, a FUL bomb, and a magic box (the kind that freezes time)."

    The combat with that giggling gremlin put a big smile on my face. It's hilarious how this monster is able to activate the traps in order to attack the party -- something that in almost all games, only the player is able to do!

    "You hit a button to summon a spherical, flying "scout," after which you can click on the various parts of the map to send it to certain locations. I had to time it just right so the scout blocked the spells when the pit was closed rather than open."

    Another solution is to move the scout above the pit, then cast a ZO spell, which impacts on the scout and will close the pit underneath.

    "A scroll in a niche advised me to "invoke ZO to close portals that evil minions have opened." A commenter said the same thing. I tried, but it just opened again."

    I think a higher-powered ZO spell closes the portal for a little bit longer, but not much. Your idea of creating minions in front of portals might also work.

    (ROT13) Zvtug guvf cerirag gur rarzl zvavbaf sebz fcnjavat ng nyy, vs gurer'f nyernql n cynlre-perngrq thneq zvavba qverpgyl va sebag bs gur cbegny? V guvax gung gjb zvavbaf pnaabg bpphcl gur fnzr fcnpr.

    "I've been faithfully mapping everything, but I wish this game had some mechanism for clearly identifying north"

    The tavern has a compass for sale!

    "I still don't really know what about half the spells on the list do."

    I just finished DM2 yesterday, again (the last time was years ago). When I started playing, I only remembered the major spells (healing potion, light, fireball, weaken nonmaterial beings). While DM1 teaches the player all spells via scrolls with descriptions, DM2 is kind of "wordless" and expects you to learn the spells from the magic items you find. I didn't do any systematic experimentation of all the rune combinations and tried to go along with it. In the end, I learned 30 symbol combinations (out of 34 spells in the game) and deduced the meaning of 25, leaving 5 spells with question marks and 4 completely unknown spells that I found online afterwards. The system worked fine and it was fun. Usually the meaning becomes clearer due to the item from which you learn the rune combination.

    (However, people who have never played DM1 might feel a bit lost. And it's boring for players who use their notes from DM1 because they only get to learn a few new spells.)

    "It takes a long time to go from "Expert" to "Master," and I'm not sure what if anything is beyond that."

    There are 6 "Master" levels, named after the 6 "power level" symbols, and there's an "Archmaster" level after that. I think a party that beat DM1 and is imported into Chaos Strikes Back will reach some of these levels.

    "As mentioned earlier, the "combat waltz" doesn't really work in this game because enemies move in unpredictable patterns. But after a few dozen hours of practice, I've gotten good at dodging and weaving around most enemies regardless of how they move."

    Nice! I'd be very interested to hear your current / potentially updated opinion on this combat system, if you like (whether here in the comments or in the next/last posting).

    I didn't know that you use the term "combat waltz" only for a certain predictable movement pattern, not for dodging in realtime DM style games in general.

    It feels like DM2 really taps the potential of this combat system, and while I like it and have defended it in the past, after finishing DM2 I'm also a bit ambivalent. It feels like it is really difficult for the designers to present suitably high challenges to those players who are good at moving around the enemies, while keeping the game fun for those players who are not that dexterous.

    1. I remember missing the compass in the first DM, which made mapping it much more challenging.

      Probably the Eye of the Beholder series got it right in embedding it in the UI, the chance of the player missing such a key item really affects the overall experience.

    2. A lot of puzzles wouldnt have worked if the compass was visible all the time. So for DM 1 it was a good choice.
      Cant recall any turning puzzles in DM 2 though...

    3. Lands of Lore solved that by visibly breaking the compass in those areas (I think it was only one area, though).

    4. You didn't really need the compass in DM1. though. I found it but I only used it very situationally to find out which way I was facing. I preferred to have eight hands full of weapons...

    5. Thanks for all the feedback, Bitmap. It is a mark of a good game that there are so many different ways to solve its puzzles.

      Yes, I do consider some kind of regular, repeatable pattern to be a part of the definition of the "waltz."

    6. Closing the pit with the Zo spell was the part I couldn't solve back then. This change of rules somehow went over my head. In hindsight, it makes sense and has enough clues.

      There are other pits you can make passable by moving something big enough below. I like how they integrated pits in DM2 without making them a simple hazard like in DM or an invitation to fireball a wall in CSB.

  6. Great CRPG moments: finding an item that you were planning to buy.

    Not so great CRPG moments: finding an item that you just bought.

    1. Just had that exact experience in Final Fantasy IV yesterday.

  7. This game overall structure is kind of weird, you have this initial part of huge wilderness with very little going on, and the latter part with a cramped dungeon where you stumble on a puzzle at every step.

    Ironically, what it seems to be missing is some old-fashioned dungeon crawling, navigating twisty corridors while fighting monsters.

    "I swear I saw a treasure chest flying through the air at one point, but I couldn't find it later when I'd finished with the combats."

    I think there is a (satisfying) puzzle involving a floating chest and three pressure plates, maybe in the northest room of your level 2 map?

  8. And if the world goes down the drain, our beloved CRPG addict will play old Rpgs, come what may. You are like an anchor in a world gone crazy.

    1. I look forward to reading about all the differences between Wasteland and the actual post-apocalyptic hellscape.

    2. I think it's how in Wasteland the money will settle on bottle-caps, but in the true post-apocalyptic wasteland we won't know what to use.

    3. Trading NFTs in THIS post-apocalypse. Sure, they all called it a Ponzi scheme because it WAS a Ponzi scheme, but who's laughing now? Nobody, because this future sucks, that's who.

  9. Flying Chest: That exist and is worth pusuing IIRC
    Minion: Most annyoing part. You need to put up guard minion s if you want to sleep at one point but yes, its basically a timer the game doesnt tell you about. Its also somewhat diminishing the trade-mechanic, since you have to hurry some more.
    Guy hitting buttons: I was incredible annoyed, but I really like the concept. Dungeon Master 2 really is less about the teleporter/plate puzzles (they exist, but far fewer than in DM 1 - I gues Chaos strikes back has covered that front extensivly) and more about "Dealing with specific types of monsters", which is an interesting choice.

  10. You've mentioned the high difficulty of DM2's final battle in your newer post about The Power Stones of Ard. Maybe some of these hints might help, though I don't know if any of these will be new to you. Note that the hints are a bit spoilery, but I'll keep real spoilers and spell combinations to the ROT13 text.

    1. First, there are two difficult battles at the end, and one of them is not important. In fact, (ROT13) vg'f pbzcyrgryl bcgvbany naq qbrfa'g rira tvir nal erjneq. Vg'f whfg sbe crbcyr jub rawbl vg. V'z ersreevat gb gur znff onggyr ba gur ebbs.

    2. Do your melee weapons do significant damage against the final foe? Maybe check with different weapons, including some from the shops. Melee attacks are one of the possible ways to win the final fight. (ROT13) Sbe rknzcyr, znlor purpx vs lbh trg zber qnzntr jvgu gur Ibenk nkrf (ninvynoyr va n fubc) naq gurve "Oremrex" nggnpx fglyr.

    3. You can increase the power of your melee attacks significantly. There's a spell that increases the strength of the whole party and you can prepare and drink a lot of strength potions (at maximum power level) before the fight. You can find out which of your unidentified spells have this effect by comparing your characters' statistics before and after. (ROT13) Gur fgeratgu cbgvba vf Shy Oeb Xh naq gur nhen bs fgeratgu vf Bu Rj Xh.

    4. There are some other spells that look like protection spells, and they probably help even if you don't know exactly what they do. :) (ROT13) Ln Ve vf n cnegl-jvqr fuvryq. Shy Oeb Argn vf n cnegl-jvqr sver fuvryq. Ln Ve Qnva vf n fcryy fuvryq.)

    5. Obviously, a lot of healing potions and mana potions will help. Maybe the tavern still sells some empty flasks you can use. (ROT13) N znan cbgvba vf znqr jvgu Mb Oeb En. Hfvat gur Urny npgvba bs gur Rzrenyq Beo pna or snfgre guna hfvat cbgvbaf.

    6. You can summon quite a few guard minions and attack minions. You can learn the spells from the corresponding items. However, the fight might become very chaotic then, and you'll suffer from friendly fire. But I think you should be able to summon some guard minions in the corridor leading to the final fight, slowing down enemy minions that will continually join the battle. Or you can try to let the attack minions do their job and stay back out of range, then close in to finish the fight. (ROT13) Mb Rj Argn sbe n Thneq zvavba, Mb Rj Xh sbe na Nggnpx zvavba.

    6. Not sure if these might help: "Freeze" spells from certain items, and "Invisibility". (ROT13) Gur ynggre pna or pnfg ol gur EN FNE fuvryq naq ivn Bu Rj Fne.

    8. Do you fall off the platform often? I have no idea if this will help, but maybe littering the floor with items can show you how close to the edge you are?

    9. Your foe might regenerate if he goes to a certain portal. (I don't know if he really regenerates, I've read this on the web.)

    10. I think that your characters should have sufficiently high levels, and I hope that with preparation, practice, and calm movement, the final fight will not be too hard.

    1. I appreciate all the tips. I did manage to achieve a technical win late last night, but I'm not happy with how I did it, and I need to try again for the summary and rating.

    2. I looked up for tips unashamedly when playing myself and getting to the final fight, one of the tips was that the boss will summon minions in response to yours, overall making the combat much worse, so that you'll better off without summons.

      It did make the combat easier for me, but it was still a lot of save scumming and falling off the platform to recover (the boss does not regenerate HPs if you leave the area I think).

      I agree that it's a huge and kind of gratuitous difficulty hike (also the probes get much stronger after you reach the top floor, the whole last part was a slog for me).

    3. I am bothered by the fact that many of these tips boil down to "have you figured out the spell system", when this spell system is (1) wholly undocumented, (2) largely gives no in-game feedback on what a spell actually does, and (3) most spells are completely unnecessary before the final battle.

      All of this just *screams* "you can't win unless you buy the official hint book".

    4. I'd disagree with that... I'd agree that DM2 doesn't have good pacing, and I'd say that the way the game gives information about the spells is certainly not explicit and can lead to difficulties.

      But first, these were tips that might be helpful, but they are not necessary to win the final battle. I mostly used melee attacks (with "Vorax" axes) against the end boss, fireballs against the minions, a couple of strength potions (that were probably not necessary -- without them the combat would have taken just a bit more time), and healing potions. The battle didn't take long. My party was probably less leveled-up than Chet's. Generally, I found the game too easy and enjoyed the two difficult combats at the end. If they had not been that difficult, I would have enjoyed the end of the game less. I think it's a problem of this action-RPG genre: the designers need to balance both for players who are skilled at action-game-like movement, and for players who are less dexterous.

      Secondly, yes, it's a difficulty spike where many players will be required to improve how well they utilize spells and items. But I think that the effects of the majority of the spells can be deduced pretty easily. So while DM2's system is certainly less friendly than DM1's (where found scrolls describe almost all spells), and it can be quite boring if you use or remember a complete spell list from DM1 (then there are only few new spells to learn) -- two significant disadvantages --, nevertheless, it can be actually quite interesting if you don't know most spells (anymore) and are willing to find out.

      When you find red "Ful Bro Ku" potions, check your character's statistics, drink one of the potions, check the statistics again, and you'll see that the strength stat is increased and marked red. So it must be a strength potion. Now you can create them yourself by entering the symbols "Ful Bro Ku".

      When you find a yellow "Zo Bro Ra" potion, you'll see that it refills mana. You can now create these potions by invoking their name.

      When you find the Shield of Fire, you'll see that one of its actions is a "Oh Ew Ku" spell. Check your characters' statistics before and after using this action and you'll see that the strength values of all party members are increased and marked red. You can now cast this spell yourself without needing the shield.

      The spells to summon Attack minions and Guard minions are derived from the corresponding items' actions, like with the Shield of Fire.

      The invisibility spell can be learned from the Ra Sar shield. The party members are pretty clearly displayed as transparent.

      Admittedly, the three different "shield" spells I mentioned are not verifiable by looking at the statistics, I think. Their graphics (colored dots around the party members) do look "shield"-like, but it could mean anything. I don't know if there are other ways to deduce what these spells do, like deducing their meaning from some items that can cast these spells. Of course it's always possible to take damage with and without these spells active and check the difference, but that's admittedly cumbersome.

      This means that 3 of the 9 spells I mentioned have no easy way to deduce their meaning, but the other 6 can be deduced pretty easily, no? And the 3 are not necessary to win.

      I get the impression that players who prefer explicit statistics are playing this game with a vague sense of frustration about the spell system, might not experiment much, and might miss even very useful spells that can be easily deduced.

      Funnily enough, in the case of puzzles, players are fine with experimenting. Why not with spells and items? Well, it's a matter of taste.

      I really want to disagree with the assumption that the developers did this to encourage sales of the hint book. Personally I think that DM2 is less well-rounded than DM1, but still a great game. It has some excellent combat design and artificial intelligence, puzzles, and level design. The developers must have honestly tried to improve upon Dungeon Master as much as they could.

  11. Does the Boiler need to do anything, other than provide heating for the denizens of Skullkeep as they plot your demise? Maybe this one's not about you, and simply the greater good? ;-) Though I highly doubt it...


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