Saturday, April 16, 2011

Might & Magic II: Castles and Quests

This didn't end well.

My exploration of Cron has not been going so well. On every map, I kept stumbling into fights that were way beyond my ability, whether a trio of Cuisinarts, 250 cat corpses led by a "Cat from Hell," various high-level elementals, impossible-to-hit undead, or a pile of "cosmic sludge."

My characters experimented briefly with L.S.D.

Ultimately, I decided I was approaching it the wrong way. Working my way systematically through each map, in order, was poor role-playing. The thing to do, rather, was to explore the game world by terrain feature. Naturally, real characters would walk the roads and visit the various towns and castles first. Thus, after a particularly hard battle with a "Jouster" that left my party slaughtered, I shook myself off, re-started in Middlegate, and headed out the front door to fully explore the road network.

The path east from Middlegate took me to a ferryboat crossing, which I paid even though I could have used "Water Walk." It ultimately worked its way south, through maps I had not yet explored, where the path forked, with the easternmost heading towards Sandsobar (where I had been) and the southermost towards Castle Hillstone (where I had not).

My normal inclination was to explore the castle much like any dungeon, following the rightmost path and mapping in detail. But I decided to do this one in more of a role-playing spirit, and thus when I saw two doors, one which said "No entry!" and one which said "Slayer's Palace," I took the latter. I worked my way down the corridor that seemed most likely to lead to the ruler's throne room, passing a horribly unfunny jester along the way.

I actually miss Chuckles.

In no time, I was before Lord Slayer in his throne room. "Heads of monstrous beasts" adorned his walls, and he wanted me to collect more. Offering me a choice of quests at four levels (page, squire, knight, lord), I got a quest to find and destroy a Crazed Dwarf. That shouldn't be too hard. Although I don't know of any certain location for them, I remember encountering them in Middlegate's dungeon.

Of course, I couldn't leave it at this: I needed to fully explore the castle. And this is where the role-playing broke down a bit. In corridor after corridor, I encountered packs of Castle Guards and mercilessly slaughtered them--they left me no choice, attacking the moment I stepped into their squares. But it was important to explore, because at one point I found a N-19 Capitor, which I need for...something.

Oddly, this didn't seem to affect the lords' dispositions towards me.

Let me back up on quests. This was the first official quest I had received, and this is only possible because one of my characters has the "crusader" skill, which allows quests to be bestowed upon the party. One of the oddities of both this game and its predecessor is that once you have been awarded a quest, you can't accept any others until it is completed. Fortunately, if you get a quest that proves too difficult, helpful guards in each of the castles...

...sell "Uncle Spudly's New and Improved Quest Removal Elixir," which does what it suggests, allowing you to get a new quest from the same lord or a different one. This would be helpful if, for instance, I had trouble tracking down a crazed dwarf. From a story standpoint, it makes no sense, of course, and this gets back to what I was saying in my third posting about the game about it not taking itself seriously. While I welcome humor in games, I don't welcome goofiness, and Might & Magic II, while offering excellent gameplay, is simply full of goofiness like this.

I just hope he didn't mount the head on the wall.

It didn't take me long to find and kill a crazed dwarf, and when I returned to Lord Slayer, I got 4000 experience and a new quest to find a Bonehead. I know I've encountered them before, but I can't remember where, so I just continued exploring.

My travels also brought me to a different castle, Woodhaven, and it was much the same. There, the lord also offered four levels of quests, only in his case it was to retrieve specific items, not to kill monsters. In both castles, I found an imprisoned bishop, and the colored keys I'd bought in towns freed them from their chains. Although both granted me experience for freeing them, a note indicated that I'd have a lot more experience if I'd been a "triple crown winner" of the bishop's color. I expect this means I have to win three arena battles of each color. I hope the bishops are re-imprisoned when I return; otherwise, I've missed out on a lot of potential experience.

Each castle also had a dungeon that I haven't yet explored.

At one point, in Castle Hillstone, I fought my way through an entire hall of monsters and got this cryptic message. I have no idea what it means, but I think I got it, under similar circumstances, in other Might & Magic games. I'm afraid of spoilers if I try to confirm.

More goofiness.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Might & Magic II: Touring the Countryside

Not quite as picturesque as the Andes.
Over the last 10 days, I have been traveling constantly through South America and, at the same time, fitfully through the land of Cron. Travel through Cron is rendered easier with a number of spells, any of which I would have liked to cast in real life. Consider:

  • "Water Walking," obtained in MM2 from a man walking on a river near Middlegate, allows exploration of oceans and lakes. With it, I could have strolled across Rio de La Plata between Buenos Aires and Montevideo, instead of taking a noisome ferry.
  • "Fly" instantly whisks you to one of Cron's 20 maps, dropping you in a safe zone (unless you've eaten peasant). The real flight from Boston to Buenos Aires was interminable, and I would have appreciated a quicker method. I'm pretty sure I haven't eaten any Argentinan peasants, although a hamburger I had on the edge of the Palermo District definitely wasn't beef.
  • Lloyd, who was in Corak's Cave just as the message in the Middlegate dungeon said he was, taught me "Lloyd's Beacon," which allows me to mark a spot and recall myself to it later. This would definitely be useful for returning home each evening, where my air conditioning actually works.
  • "Surface" provides a quick escape from dungeons. In real life, I'd use this to avoid the two-mile walk and four-hour wait at customs in Atlanta.
  • "Time Distortion" provides quick escape from encounters, allowing you to regroup and try again before re-engaging 3 GATE AGENTS or 17 COLLEGE STUDENTS WHO THINK IT IS ACCEPTABLE TO WEAR PAJAMAS TO THE AIRPORT.

This is either a screenshot or a photograph I took outside San Esteban in Chile.
  • "Teleport" moves you up to 9 squares in any direction, thus bypassing long security lines and fellow travelers seeking to shove piano-sized suitcases into overhead bins.

I don't have "Town Portal" yet, but this would be the best real-life spell. Travel between Boston and Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires and Santiago, Santiago and Bogota, with the ability to go home every night. I won't bore you with anything else about my South America excursion except one tip: La Avenida 11 de Septiembre in Santiago does
not commemorate the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, and if you suggest as much to your attache, you will wish for simultaneous castings of "Time Distortion," "Erase Memory," and "Instantaneous Death" (on yourself).

The availability of so many spells means that towns, and safety, are usually a short jaunt away. I am suffering fewer full-party deaths than I remember in the first game. If a single character survives, I can usually limp my way back to a town and heal. If I run up against a group of foes I know I can't defeat, "Time Distortion" usually works to get me away--I just need my sorcerer to survive the first round.

The overall MM2 game map. The elemental bits in the corner aren't just decorations; you actually find the elemental planes in those corners.

The outdoor world of
Might & Magic II consists of 20 maps arranged in a 5 x 4 grid. Each map, like the dungeons, is 256 squares, and each is easily accessible with the "Fly" spell. The maps quite notably correspond with the pictures on the game map. So in the lower left, where you see water and islands and such, the 16 x 16 map looks like this:

The lower left corner isn't exactly the Elemental Plane of Water, but rather an issuance from it. In the far corner of each corner map is a portal to the related elemental plane. I'm not strong enough to begin to explore these.

Exploring randomly in
Might & Magic II is just as dangerous as in the first game. Difficulty varies considerably even on the same map. On one square you're fighting a gathering of orcs, and on the next you run into one of the most difficult monsters in the game.

And you die.

Aside from the dangers, moving around the game world in
MM2 is fundamentally different than MM1. Outdoor areas in the first game were essentially dungeons with different textures. Forests and mountains formed "walls," and there were even secret passages through them. In contrast, in MM2, there are no "barriers" to your progress through the outdoor maps (as long as you have the pathfinding and mountaineering skills and the "Water Walk" spell, anyway). Forests, mountains, water, and other landscape features form the texture of the squares themselves.

Might & Magic series is known for the depth of its quests and special encounters, and this game is no exception. Special encounters in the outdoor maps take several forms:

  • Difficult, fixed monsters. You see my ill-fated battle with the Cuisinarts above. Other fixed battles have included an impossible-to-hit "Mist Rider," a convention of 250 orcs, a group of "white knights" that only males can damage, a "Mist Warrior" who gave me the "Dancing Sword" spell; a group of high-level undead at a shipwreck; and some "cosmic sludge" dripping from the sky. Most of these enemies I have been unable to defeat, but my prowess is growing.

I disrupted their convention.

  • Fountains. All the Might & Magic games seem to feature fountains that temporarily boost your statistics. I've found several that boost one statistic, and one, near Atlantium, that boosts all seven of the stats to 100. It's only good for one battle, but it has been useful against the water elementals on the same map, which offer high experience. In conjunction with the "Fly" or "Lloyd's Beacon" spells, the fountain serves as a useful shot-in-the-arm before particularly hard battles. Some fountains poison or kill you, though.
  • Castles and Caves. Each map has two or three entrances to castles, dungeons, and other indoor maps.

Pinehurst and Peabody are both communities in Massachusetts, fairly close to each other. Coincidence?

  • Natural disasters. In the four "elemental" maps, and those adjacent, you run into blizzards, earthquakes, tidal waves, and other natural disasters that do significant damage and sweep you to some other square on the map, making mapping difficult. At first, I thought these were random, but later I realized they always occur on certain squares.

  • Messages. I keep encountering signposts like this one, which ultimately will reveal a message once I figure out the interleave. As I said last week, this breaks the immersion of the game a bit. It's hard to imagine someone taking the trouble to make these posts and stick them around Cron, and that no one damages or removes them. You can just imagine a farmer finding this in his field, scratching his head, and chopping it down for firewood. Other signs indicate routes to castles and towns.

"Wat" was my reaction, too.

  • Spells. You "find" spells in abandoned keeps and ruins sometimes, rounding out those you get automatically when you advance. Incidentally, my paladin and archer are starting to pick up spell levels, making them more useful.
  • Other special encounters include a test of strength with some lumberjacks; a "gourmet" who wants to speak to someone who has tried every meal in every tavern; prisoners staked to small islands; a "guardian pegasus" who wants me to find her name; a "magic monster pit" that produces random encounters; and a sparkling pool, bathing in which melts all of the objects in my backpack.

As in dungeons, the way you're facing sometimes determines whether you find the encounter on the square or not. It's important to look at the map and make sure you're facing north when the path ends at a north-facing dead end. The only other option is to literally approach every square from all four directions.

As I explore outdoors, I'm also popping into some dungeons (which I'll write about next) and trying to figure out the main quest (which I'll write about in two postings). Right now, my only real complaint about the game is that I have nothing to spend my rapidly-accumulating money on, but we'll see if that holds.