Saturday, January 20, 2024

Worlds of Legend: Mortar and Pestle

This game requires a lot of grinding.
The third dungeon of the game, Iyoto, was only two levels and thus a bit shorter than the previous one. I like that. When you have a "Disassembulet of Yendor" type main quest, the various pieces should never be overly predictable. Ultima VI has perhaps the best example. In assembling the map pieces, you find some almost instantly and others at the bottoms of large dungeons. Amberstar is another good example. In Worlds of Legend, with only four pieces, things are a little more predictable, but at least the authors didn't put the first piece in a one-level dungeon, the second in a two-level dungeon, and so forth. 
Heading to the city of Iyoto.
There was nothing revolutionary in dungeon design. Like the previous dungeons, it was nonlinear in architecture but linear in progression. In this particular dungeon, I had to find 16 keys (not including another mysterious "lost key" that didn't go to anything in the dungeon), and I don't think there was any potential variance in the order in which they were found. You almost never have more than one key in your possession at any given time; each one is immediately needed to get through a door to find the next key. I'm frankly not sure why this is necessary except to ensure that the player has to traverse through almost all the rooms.
As I fight enemies in this game, I do try to make some mental notes about each one and what powers they seem to have, but something about this game's graphics makes my eyes just slide off of them. I routinely mix up my own party members even though I've set their respective colors to ones I can differentiate. The end result is that I can describe enemies only in the broadest archetypes (e.g., skeletons, spellcasters, beasts, goblins) even though I know there's a lot more variance. I don't understand why the authors didn't just name their monsters. The message scroll at the bottom gives you a blow-by-blow account of the damage you're doing and taking; why couldn't it have said a monster's name instead of just "monster"?
Some spiny beast attacks as soon as we enter.
So I can tell you that this dungeon had a lot of skeletons, some new four-legged beasts, and a lot of spellcasters. They were quite a bit harder than the previous dungeon. I had a few full-party deaths and a lot of runemaster deaths, each of which required a reload because there was no resurrection chamber in Iyoto.
You don't have to be mean about it.
The difficulty required me to spend a lot more time with spells, which is a good thing, as the game's spell system is perhaps its most notable strength. I've remarked in the past that spellcasting in many universes makes little sense, offering extremely deterministic outcomes instead of the flexible range of size and intensity that you'd expect would come from true mastery of elemental forces. Legend allows for those kinds of variances. 
Chloe stabs what? Meschiya smashes who?
Mixing spells in Legend is a process of combining "director" runes and "effector" runes. Each rune requires between 1 and 3 reagents. The directors are:
  • Forward: Casts in front of the runemaster.
  • Surround: Casts in an 8-square radius around the runemaster.
  • Missile: Allows the runemaster to click on the screen to target the spell.
  • Continuous: Creates a field at the runemaster's location. It remains until hit with "Dispell" or the party leaves the room.
If no director is specified, the spell casts on the runemaster. One of the oddities of the game is that if you want to heal everyone, you have to do something like "Heal-Surround-Heal" so that it casts on both the caster and the surrounding squares.
Chloe hits everyone with a "Healing-Surround-Healing" or something.
The effectors are:
  • Damage
  • Healing
  • Dispell
  • Speed
  • Paralyze
  • Antimagic
  • Thrall (converts enemies to allies)
  • Make Weapon (an odd one that creates a temporary magic weapon in the target's inventory)
  • Teleport
  • Regeneration
  • Disrupt (a costlier form of "Damage")
  • Vivify (resurrect)
The different directors and effectors, and the reagents required.
The manual helps you practice with simple combinations like "Forward-Damage" and "Missile-Heal," but with the help of scrolls and, I guess, commenters, you slowly realize that amazing sequences are possible. For instance, you can mix up the ultimate buffing spell by combining "Speed-Antimagic-Regeneration-Surround-Speed-Antimagic-Regeneration." You can absolutely destroy the creature in front of you with "Forward-Disrupt-Disrupt-Disrupt-Disrupt." Want the ultimate healing spell for when the runemaster gets low in health? Try something like "Healing-Healing-Healing-Healing-Regeneration-Continuous-Healing," which heals the character four times and then puts her in a field of continuous healing with regeneration at the same time.
Some of the effects of stringing together runes are a little unintuitive. If I hadn't watched some videos during the original Legend, I would haven't realized that a "Surround-Missile" combination causes missiles to shoot in the four cardinal directions from the targeted square. When included at the beginning of a spell, "Missile" asks the player to target the spell, but when included in the middle of a spell, it does different things depending on the other runes around it.
My early-game spell list was pretty basic.
By the time I left the dungeon, these were the 10 spells I had mixed:
  • Missile-Healing-Healing-Healing-Healing-Healing-Healing. A post-combat spell that hits a targeted ally with massive healing. It can work on anyone since the runemaster can target herself with a missile spell. I had played with variants of "Healing-Healing-Surround-Healing-Healing" to heal everyone at once, but I found that it was rare that I needed to heal everyone the same amount. This takes longer but is more precise.
  • Missile-Damage-Surround-Damage-Damage-Missile-Damage-Damage. This was my attempt to create a "fill the room with fire" spell that damages just about every enemy. The problem is that it damages allies, too, so I developed a habit of sending my spellcaster through the doorway first and immediately hitting the spell's hotkey followed by "pause." If there were no enemies in the room, I could back out. Otherwise, I could launch it after taking my time to identify a place to aim that wouldn't be intercepted by an obstacle--a big problem with missile spells.
  • Regenerate-Healing-Healing-Healing-Healing-Healing. Basically the same as the first one except it's just for the runemaster, who takes a lot more damage than the other characters.
  • Regenerate-Surround-Regenerate. I often cast this post-combat when everyone needs to spend some time healing. "Regenerate" is ultimately more powerful than "Healing," but longer.
  • Missile-Continuous-Healing. This allows me to create a healing field anywhere I can shoot a missile. I thought I'd use it at the beginnings of combats to set up a healing field in the corner, then use "Missile-Teleport" to get characters out of combat and into the field when they most needed it. In practice, the difficulty targeting a specific character in combat has made this less useful than I thought. 
Chloe, in the southwest corner, enjoys the benefit of a "Continuous-Healing" field while Meschiya searches for treasure.
  • Missile-Teleport. When it doesn't work for the purpose described above, it's often useful (or even required) in puzzle rooms.
  • Antimagic-Surround-Antimagic. This is a pre-combat spell to deal with wizards or to protect my characters against my own damage spells. Again, it's a good idea in theory. In practice, the "Antimagic" sometimes doesn't last longer than the enemy's first "Dispell." I don't notice it's been dispelled and I end up hitting my own characters with damage spells anyway.
  • Forward-Disrupt-Disrupt. Turns the runemaster into the MVP of a battle. In a game where I have so much trouble maneuvering my characters and targeting missile spells, it's nice to have a spell for which there is no question where it will cast and who will be damaged.
  • Speed-Magic Weapon-Surround-Speed-Magic Weapon. A buffing spell. Magic weapons generated by the spell are (so far) better than my permanent magic weapons. I don't know if this will always be the case.
  • Forward-Vivify. A resurrection spell. I almost never need it because my runemaster usually dies before any other character.
Later in the session, my list got a lot more complex.
As you see, I haven't done much experimentation with "Thrall" or "Paralysis," mostly because neither leaves enough visual cues that they're working for it to help in the chaos of combat. In that same chaos, I can't imagine getting myself into the right position to cast something like "Dispell" on another character.
You can create some crazy combinations that don't help you very much. For instance, "Continuous-Paralyze" immediately puts the caster into a paralysis field from which she cannot escape until someone else in the party leaves the room. You could fill a room with "Healing" the same way that you fill it with "Damage," healing all the monsters. I'm not sure what happens if you cast "Make Weapon" on monsters or "Thrall" on your own characters. I'll have to try that next time.
I love the idea of the spell system, but I find that in practice, it's usually ruined by the combat system and other aspects of the interface, including the lack of ability to do anything while paused except target the single most recent action. Targeting missiles is particularly vexing--any object or character in the way will interrupt them. The game is on the verge of an excellent tactical combat system if it had just allowed you to target your characters directly instead of requiring a missile and if it allowed you to switch between characters and issue other orders while paused. Then you could have fun teleporting characters to key parts of the battlefield, lifting them out of combat and into healing fields, and strategically placing paralysis fields at choke points. Maybe some players are capable of doing that anyway. I mostly watch helplessly as my targeting healing spell hits a monster, my characters refuse to go where I tell them and engage who I tell them, and my offensive spells damage my characters more than the monsters.
An enemy spellcaster has his own version of "fill the room with fire."
Adding another wrench to all of this, I ran very low on reagents while I was in Iyoto and had to be conservative towards the end of the trip. I ran out of hedgehog venom completely, a reagent used in both "Healing" and "Disrupt." That meant standing around waiting for regeneration in a few rooms instead of casting multiple instances of "Healing." 
When you cast "Teleport" on a character, she doesn't teleport immediately. Instead, she glows blue (or whatever) until you activate the character and then click on the destination square. Last session, I talked about a point of confusion: Sometimes, at the end of battle, my characters are glowing with the effects of "Teleport" even though I haven't cast it. I realized this session that enemy spellcasters have access to all the directors and effectors that the player does (except perhaps "Thrall"), and sometimes they use them in completely random (and, ultimately, unhelpful to them) combinations. This session, I found that in addition to "Teleport," enemy spellcasters sometimes hit me with "Make Weapon" in the middle of combat, giving me a magic weapon. But most often, they hit me with "Dispell," making my attempts at buffing completely useless.
I think this is an example. All my characters are glowing blue for some reason.
There were a few puzzle rooms in Iyoto. Puzzles continue to be a strength. The first one, I think I solved in a way that the game didn't intend. You can see it in the screenshot below. The runes in the southwest corner direct you to cast a "Missile-Surround-Missile-Paralysis" at the tile in the southwest corner. The "Surround-Missile" part causes another missile to shoot out to the north and hit the "Paralysis" rune on the floor. This causes the gate in front of the western teleporter to lower. But my ultimate solution didn't make use of that lowered gate. I just cast "Missile-Teleport" on a character to get her in front of the chest, where I found a key to the southern door.
My description of this room omits some things going on with teleportation that I didn't understand.
This room was also fun. The inscription on the pillar says,  "Do you feel like a game of leapfrog?" To get to the east, north, and west doors in this room, you have to cross the blue buttons. But trying to step on them just causes you to get teleported to one of the "skull" squares behind the button. As usual, if there are characters on all the destination squares, the teleportation doesn't work. The first two doors are easy to get to, as you just need to line up three characters on the skull squares and then send the fourth across the button. But to get to the western door, you have to line up three characters on the northern skull squares, then send the fourth to stand on the button, holding it down, then teleport each character across the button to the west side so they can ultimately occupy the three skull squares over there. Yeah, I know that doesn't make any sense. This is one of those games where the puzzles don't make a lot of sense until you play them. The point is that the puzzles give me just the right amount of angst before I figure out the solutions. I hope that holds.
Skeletons amass behind me as I try to get through this puzzle room.
I didn't get as many equipment upgrades this session. I found something called an Emperor Blade, which is a pretty good sword, but almost everything else was a usable item, some of which I used immediately or in the next battles, others of which I later sold. I found a second "lost key"; I'm not sure where they go.
The final room was a puzzle room in which I had to hit a variety of floor runes with "Damage" and play around with a button that shot "Damage" from a nearby pillar to get to a chest. The chest held the second amulet shard. 
Halfway done! (Hopefully.)
I made my way out of the dungeon, and I then visited several towns to sell my excess inventory and replenish my reagents. Chloe's luck had gotten low, so I donated a bunch of gold at a temple to restore it. I spent a little too much gold, as when  I returned to the mad monks, I only had enough to train three of my characters in new levels. Fortunately, my berserker hadn't earned enough experience in Iyoto to level up.
That isn't what I prayed for.
I can't remember what town I was in at the time, but an artificer in some town gave me a lead on a possible side quest: "I may have discovered an item to aid your quest," she said. "I first need the bones of an ancient mage." I guess I'll look out for them.
I can think of a couple ways.
Finally, I took the amulet shard back to Sushiana, who told me to go to the city of Tokiama next. Unlike the first two dungeons, she didn't give me a key to this one, so it might have always been available, which makes the game a little less linear than I thought.
I still think she's going to turn out to be the evil mastermind.
Miscellaneous notes:
  • I don't really understand the "luck" system. In theory, when your hit points get so low that the next blow will kill you, a high "luck" score can save you from the killing blow, but at the expense of a luck point. You can restore luck by paying money to temples. In practice, if your hit points get so low that you're relying on luck to save you from the final blow, your luck will just deplete quickly and the killing blow will come anyway. 
  • When it comes to reagents, I wish the game had followed the example of Ultima VII and just deducted the reagents you need when you cast the spell. Having an intermediate "mixing" step is needlessly annoying. You can do it in the middle of combat, so it's not like it requires the player to do careful planning.
  • Another bit of annoying micromanaging: When the party transitions between rooms, the selection of the active character shifts to whichever character enters the room first, instead of which character was selected in the previous room. I can't tell you how many times I got my runemaster ready to cast a spell only to find that the focus had shifted to my troubadour instead.
  • And another: As far as I can tell, there's no way to cancel leaving a room. I'm constantly directing my characters to leave the room, then noticing a bag on the floor, then hitting ESC to cancel their movement. ESC does that in a lot of games, but not this one. Here, it causes the party to enter "flight" mode, so soon the characters are fleeing in panic through a succession of rooms, taking me far away from my objective, when all I wanted to do was pick up a bag of gold.
  • The reagent "hedgehog venom" gave me a chuckle. As I started to write about this, I thought I'd do a little Googling to verify that hedgehogs are not, in fact, venomous. It turns out they aren't, but they will sometimes use venom from other creatures, like toads, to coat their spines. Also, some shrews, moles, and slow lorises are venomous. Another thing learned from RPGs!
I think I'll spend some more time cataloging the overworld before entering the next dungeon. Experimenting with spells made me enjoy this session more than most with Legend, but it still has the problem where the combats are alternately frustrating and boring. I really hope the game comes to a swift end after the fourth amulet piece and doesn't require a bunch of other screwing around.
Time so far: 19 hours


  1. The lost keys gave me a chuckle, because of the old board game Magic Realm that I used to play a lot. It has region names like the Lost City and the Lost Castle, and one particular item called the Lost Keys, which is supposed to be evocative, but what it evokes is looking all over the house so I can start the car.

  2. "Surround-Thrall" sounds like it should be helpful if your runemaster mostly gets killed in physical combat.

    1. TBH, it sounds like figuring out the thrall rune more might help with that problem in general. Assuming other enemies don't prioritize the runemaster afterwards anyway.

  3. The game seems to have a Play Doh approach to spellcasting, and I'm loving it.

  4. So, would this game be better if it were designed around being played as a solo runemaster? The magic system and magic-based puzzles seem to be the most interesting and enjoyable parts.

    1. Also sounds like having a single character would make combat more manageable--but ironically, the puzzles often require multiple characters.

  5. Be thankful that ESC doesn't take you directly back to the main menu without any confirmation (but with many loading screens!) like most Amiga games do.

  6. You can combine the spells even more though. Something lke antimagic-surround-antimagic-forward-missile-disrupt-surround-damage-missile-damage. To fill the room with fire, while protecting your party from it.

    1. Yeah, but then I have to have a separate one with just the second half for subsequent castings. I'd rather just cast two spells. Plus, I don't have much luck casting buffing spells except in an empty room where I can manually control the formation. They always miss one or more characters if I try to cast them at the beginning of combat.

    2. "Yeah, but then I have to have a separate one with just the second half for subsequent castings." -- Or you can just put "continuous" before "missile" and enjoy the fireworks.

      "I don't have much luck casting buffing spells except in an empty room where I can manually control the formation" -- Are you using the rally function? It's been couple decades since I played this, but theoretically it should call your party to the active character, combat or no combat.

    3. "Continuous-Missile" really works? I'll have to give that a try.

      I use "Rally," but the characters are easily distracted from it and generally engage enemies before making a perfect formation. Maybe I just need more practice, but I really can never coax the characters into any specific position or formation once battle has already started.

    4. I don't remember, but I believe it should. The manual lists the combo "Heal, Antimage, Surround, Paralyse, Continuous, Damage, Missile, Damage" as an example of a complex spell, saying explicitly that "Continuous" applies to everything that follows it.

  7. Regarding those mysterious lost keys you keep finding, they ner hfrq gb bcra qbbef ng gur znq zbaxf' ybpngvba.

  8. Missile-Continuous-Healing is great when your barbarian is holding a chokepoint in a dungeon room.

    Luck is just like the lives in an arcade game really. Bumping up luck to 255 to not be bothered about the combat might be the most enjoyable way to play this game and its predecessor :)

    1. Can you do that legitimately? Like if I keep donating at the temple, I can get it to go that high? That might be worth grinding for if it trivializes combat.

    2. Oh, and good point about a chokepoint. I'll look for those opportunities.

    3. I think there's a legitimate limit to luck, iirc it was 12 in Legend.

      When I was younger I had some fun "hacking" away at stats on a RPG so yes, it's a single byte value so 255 was the max, and that's what I did to get through most of the game.

    4. I'm curious, which version did you do that on? Because it'd be nice to play the game again myself and actually get through it this time.

    5. PC version, probably used something like PC Tools to do the hex editing

  9. I don't think it's a spoiler to tell you that you already have found the bones of an ancient mage - you maybe just didn't pick them up at the time.

  10. I somehow never knew that what is a "Lori" in German is a "loris" in English, and thus German "Loris" are English "lorises". Another thing learned from learning about RPGs.


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