Monday, June 10, 2013

Dragon Wars: Won!

I love that my guys seem to be celebrating in the background.

"Administering the conquest of the world is a bitch. If I'd known how much work this was going to take, I doubt I ever would have started." -- Namtar, Journal Entry 131

So I did that thing I often do where I get so involved in a game that I don't stop to compile my notes and write a blog entry when I should, which means my coverage of Dragon Wars feels a little rushed, especially for those of you who are fans. I played for about 16 hours over the weekend, and I was so frustrated by the time the end came that I was stabbing the keyboard; "Involved in" the game didn't necessarily mean I was loving it.

The problem with Dragon Wars, like every Interplay game to date, is the relentlessness and repetitiveness of the combats. It's a bit of a paradox because we play CRPGs in part for the battles, but nobody wants to fight this much. The bad thing about this game in particular is that spell power is limited by the available dragon stones and dragon's eyes, and you can easily find yourself burning through your supply on a series of stupid, random combats. This is especially true towards the end of the game, when so many enemies are capable of attacks that damage you from a distance. You're trying to cross the battlefield to engage them, and you have to stop and cast "Cure All" every other round and use a valuable dragon stone every three or four rounds.

At some point, I'd realized that fixed encounters don't necessarily produce the same number or type of enemies every time, so I found that if I fled from them and returned, I might get a more favorable slate of foes. But towards the end of the game, it even started messing with this dynamic, not allowing some of my characters to flee and getting them stunned or killed instead.

The endgame area got deceptively quiet in terms of combats--random or fixed--but then I met Namtar, who I was forced to fight five separate times, including one three-combat sequence with no way to save in between. It took me, conservatively, 20-25 tries before I was able to win, but somehow I preferred that to the idea of grinding for hours to gain 2 or 4 more skill points.

Ah, but I get ahead of myself. Let's cover the half to two-thirds of the game that, since my last posting, led me to the end. I'll break it up by section. I'm very sorry for the length; this should have been two or three postings.


When I ended my last entry, I had just returned to Phoebus after a long detour to the siege of Byzanople. My return trip didn't last long. I entered the Temple of the Sun and was attacked by 10 Strosstrupen who I was unable to defeat. They captured me and threw me in jail.

This cell looks a little cramped for six days of captivity with a mixed-gender party.

A fifth columnist who identified herself as Berengaria unlocked my door and got the guard drunk. (I had to use "hide" for the only time in the game to sneak past him.) Her note said to meet her in the tavern in the city. Unfortunately, that meeting never took place. I came across the city's dragon and interrupted its feeding to save a prisoner. The dragon became enraged, broke its bonds, and destroyed the city. Good riddance, I said. Phoebus kept jerking me around.

I mean, if you're playing a "good" party, you basically have to say "no" here, right?

I have no idea what would have happened if I'd met the woman or fought the high priest, Mystalvision, myself. Also, there was an area that required some kind of password to get by, and I never found out what was behind there.

This didn't work. I'll have to remember to look up spoilers.

Mystic Wood

This area was on the same island as Phoebus, and it provided a "Nexus" that allowed fast transportation to other islands.This came in extremely handy for the rest of the game.

There was an island in the woods that I couldn't cross to until sometime later, when I got a pair of jumping boots at the City of the Yellow Mud Toad. When I got there, I did something (I forget what) to get a statue of the god Enkidu, which I never used anywhere in the game.

Quag and the City of the Yellow Mud Toad

Quag was an island a little further on, populated by annoying "Murk Trees" that caused a lot of death and reloading. This island was an important centerpoint to travel, as a destination from the Mystic Woods nexus and the origin point for a ship I was later able to acquire. Because fixed encounters respawn every time you leave an area and return, I found myself fighting the damned trees constantly.

They didn't quite get an entry on the "most annoying CRPG enemies" list, but they were close.

The City of the Yellow Mud Toad--perhaps the most originally-named location I've encountered in a CRPG--had two quests to solve: the city was slowly sinking in the mud, and a statue of their patron, Lanac'toor, had been dismembered. I had been finding pieces all over the islands. (Actually, I guess it wasn't a statue; it was Lanac'toor himself, turned to stone by Namtar.)

I solved the sinking problem by casting "Create Wall" at a location where the water was coming in. I can't remember where I got the spell. For this, the priests of the city gave me the "golden boots" that allowed me to leap over water and chasms. Also in the city, I bought an ankh from a souvenir shop. This turned out to be a big deal later. My "climb" skill got me over some loose rubble and to some treasure. One of the items was a "Mountain Sword" that no one could use.
I used to think "keel-haul" was just a fancy way to say "kill."

The second location on the same island was called "Smugglers' Cove," and it contained a band of bloodthirsty pirates who, once I'd demonstrated I was a thief, were happy to give me a lift to the city of Necropolis. They attacked me and killed me when I tried to go out a different door, but I later returned (when stronger), killed them, and got use of their boat, which was vital for traveling to different parts of the islands. I don't know if there was a way to do it without killing them.


Billed as the "city of the dead," Necropolis was filled with spirits, ghouls, skeletons, and other creatures, many capable of attacking from a distance. It was in this city that I started to get seriously annoyed with the random combats.

1 point of damage is reasonably significant in this game, especially when it accumulates and causes more damage than that to the "stun" bar.

There was one area in which I fought through about a dozen individual spider battles only to get transported back to Purgatory at the end of it! I had to painstakingly make my way back to Necropolis.

The things people worship in these islands...

The main purpose of the city seemed to be to visit the god Nergal (following a huge battle with undead), who told me he was hungry and wanted me to feed him. I gave him some mushrooms I'd found in the Mystic Woods. He then made me select a character to "serve" him, and there was this weird scene in which he ate the character's head, but the character was still okay afterwards. I don't know if it did anything permanent. In any event, he gave me a silver key I needed to free another goddess, Irkalla.

More important, the basement of Necropolis held a well of souls, where I was finally able to resurrect Louie! He'd been dead since the first island.

The second time I used the teleporter to leave Necropolis, it landed me near Lansk. Remembering the dragon caged inside, whose puzzle I had yet to solve, I decided to pay a visit and see if spamming all my skills and items would help. (It often does in this game.) He reacted to the ankh I'd purchased in the City of the Yellow Mud Toad and gave me a "dragon gem" that turned out to be vital later. I'm glad I stopped.


I knew of two places where I needed to use the jumping boots I got in the City of the Yellow Mud Toad: the mystic forest (where I got the statue as recounted above) and the goddess Irkalla's lair in the underworld. Irkalla needed a silver key to free her from captivity.

Once I go the key from Nergal, I returned and set her loose. She rewarded me with a potion that would allow me to breathe water, and she charged me to find the skull of her son, Roba.

It's not really a reward if you're sending me on a quest, is it?


The next island I had to explore was one I crossed briefly on the way back from Byzanople: King's Island, home of the capital, Kingshome. No sooner had I stepped onto the island than...


I was caught and thrown immediately into a dungeon, but it was curiously unlocked, and I was able to make my way up to the city with only a few battles. In the old king's throne room, I encountered Namtar, but it wasn't the final battle. He just wearily told me about his troubles trying to conquer the world but said it was his destiny, as the son of gods. He told me to find him on the Mountain of Salvation and disappeared.

There were lots of hints that King Drake was already dead.


There were some outdoor areas not worth recounting before I found a place where I could take a ship to Freeport, one of two cities to continue to resist Namtar. There were hardly any battles in the city. I had been told it was my destiny to find the Sword of Freedom here, but when I jumped to its island in the harbor and took hold of it, it turned out to be a trap and killed my lead character. I fear I reloaded rather than hauling him back to Necropolis.

It was a trap!

One building held the exiled government of Tars--the ruined city I visited way back at the beginning. The leader indicated that Namtar had found some way to control the dragons, which is why none of them did any good against Namtar's conquest.

These spells took most of the last of my gold, and then I ended up finding most of them later. Grrr.

In the city, I bought some spells, including the vital "Soften Stone," and found the last of the pieces necessary to reassemble the statue in the City of the Yellow Mud Toad.

I don't even know why I'm killing these guys. And the game is totally nonchalant about it.

Yellow Mud Toad Again and College of Mages

Reassembling the statue revealed a passageway under the city, where I found Lanac'toor's laboratory. His notes indicated that he'd made liberal use of "Soften Stone" (which disintegrates walls) and "Create Wall" in constructing it. I used the former to slowly deconstruct the dungeon and found his treasures, including some spectacles I needed to get into the College of Mages on a different island. There were a lot of annoying combats in his chambers.

The College of Mages produced a series of spell-based puzzles which were rather fun. I began by countering a column of fire by casting a cold spell, but a second column of fire refused to give way until I cast "Reveal Glamour" to find out it was really a wall of ice.

Some of the other uses were obvious, like "Disarm Trap" to get over a tripwire. When I was done, the head of the college, Utnapishtim (I know where they got that name thanks to Rivers of Light!), rewarded me with a selection of treasure. Taking a cue from his body language, I chose something called a "Soul Bowl" which I never used anywhere during the rest of the game. (As far as I can tell, the Soul Bowl was the only thing I got out of the college and the spectacles that got me into the college was the only thing I got out of Lanac'toor's place. This means the whole exercise of assembling the statue was a bit of a waste of time, though it's possible I found crucial spells in some places.)

Sunken Ruins

This was an area accessible from the ship I'd received from beating the pirates. The main purpose to this area was using the potion of waterbreathing to enter a sunken city and retrieve the skull of Roba, Irkalla's son. I didn't take very good notes here.

Dwarf Clan Hall

I got into it from the surface by putting a pair of eyes into a statue, though I can't remember where I got the eyes. Inside, I saved a bunch of dwarves from having been stoned by a gorgon, but they were angry that I had looted their treasures first. There were a few very difficult battles with automatons that occasioned much swearing and reloading.

I had trouble keeping Louie alive throughout the end game.

As Irkalla had instructed, I used her son's skull at the forge. This opened up a different passage to Irkalla's realm, where I was granted the Sword of Freedom. I missed the bit of lore that explained how it ended up in Irkalla's place instead of Freeport--perhaps Namtar stole it, set up the trap, and then hid it with the imprisoned goddess?

In any event, it was a fantastic weapon. I gave it to Valeria, since Bolingbroke was doing great with a Dragon Sword he'd picked up somewhere. I went from doing maybe 1-20 damage per round to 1-80.

Dragon Valley

This is the last area I explored before heading to the Mountain of Salvation to confront Namtar. I saved it for last because when I'd entered the first time, I died almost immediately. I seriously started to lose patience with this area. There were multiple combats with tough "dragon warriors," and cockatrices were able to attack me multiple times at range.

They're almost as annoying as they are in NetHack.

I had exhausted my dragon stones and spell points, and was just about to ragequit, when I uncovered a very large cache of "dragon eyes" which recharge even more spell points than the stones. Still, I was starting to get a bad feeling about the area; there were multiple messages indicating that perhaps I was committing needless slaughter.

They attacked me first, dammit!

At last, I came face-to-face with the dragon queen, who was furious at me. Rather than fight her, I used my "dragon gem" and got this paragraph:

The Dragon Queen recoils when you show the Dragon Gem. "Curse you!" she hisses. "The Dragon Gem marks you as a friend of dragons, and binds me to your will." The Dragon Queen looms above you, seeming impossibly large. "I grant you life, and I dismiss you from my presence. When next you use the Dragon Gem, I will respond...but the sacrifice you offer must be sweet, or I will turn on you, and the Dragon Gem be damned!" With a beat of her wings, the Dragon Queen is gone.

The dragons in this game are freaky.

For a game that reportedly shoehorned dragons in at the last minute, I thought it did a pretty good job. I mean, I can kind-of see how they were grafted on. But if I hadn't read the article, I don't think I would have picked up on it.

Mountain of Salvation and Endgame

The endgame was a bit confusing. To get to the Mountain of Salvation, I boarded a boat of pilgrims, and I was forced to use some "pilgrim garb" to blend in. As usual, I don't remember where I picked it up, but I'm glad I saved everything that sounded like a quest item.

I was captured almost immediately upon arrival and thrown in jail, but as usual I escaped without any trouble and ended up wandering around the area. At one place, I found an altar to the "Universal God" and was told that he required a sign of freedom. I used the Sword of Freedom, and all my characters got juiced up with an extra three points to their attributes. Cool. That would have taken about 10 levels normally.

I interpreted a message at a rock crevice correctly to use both my "IQ" and "climb" abilities to bypass some guards and get into Namtar's fortress. Lots of random combats. Let's skip to Namtar.

Though sometimes it did feel this way.

Namtar was amassing his army on a battle plain, and on the first visit, I blundered forward into it. I died very quickly.

Yes, yes. I get the hint.

After a reload, I used the "Dragon Gem" to call down the Dragon Queen. There were some fun cut-scenes as she toasted the entire army, Namtar included.

Just as I was wondering if the Dragon Queen was going to be this game's deux ex machina, she flew away and Namtar jumped back to life.

"Did you hear that?! He called you a 'lap dog'! Come back!"

I ended up having to kill Namtar three times in succession, with no opportunity to save in between. The first time, he made all physical attacks. My four lead fighters had good weapons, and I was able to defeat him fairly easily as long as I used my spellcaster to keep up on healing.

But his second incarnation was a damned nightmare. He was able to attack with spells at a distance (and enemy spell points never run out!), and every time I got close to him, he cast "Whirlwind" to push me back--a spell that never became available to me! I didn't have any weapons capable of damaging him from a distance, so I had to kill him by slowly bleeding him down with damage spells. It took a couple dozen tries, over two hours, and almost all my dragon's eyes.

Elspeth uses all her spell points in a single attack.

After that, you can imagine my rage when he rose again. Fortunately, the third time, he was much less effective. He used only stun attacks on one character at a time, so I was able to kill him with melee weapons while using my last few spell points unstunning the affected characters each round.

Somehow, I don't believe you.

After his third death, I was finally able to save and pick up his body. It automatically transported me to the Magan Underworld, near the chasm from which he had been born. Fortunately, there was a recharging pool here, which helped immensely when he sprang back to life again with 30 goblins by his side.

Since I knew the recharging pool was behind me, I unloaded every mass damage spell I had at Namtar and the goblins, and the fight was over fairly quickly.

Picking up his body again, I made my way to the chasm. I had to pass some "faeries" who sapped almost all my health, but Ulrich's "bandage" skill took care of that easily enough. There, on the platform before the pit, Namtar resurrected himself a fifth time.

At least he's scared. I get so sick of cocky villains.

Sick of the game and exhausted (it was about 03:45 in the morning), I was expecting the most difficult battle of the game, but it was surprisingly easy. Namtar spent most of it trying to run away. I just had to cast heal a few times and otherwise rely on my melee attackers.

When he had died for the last time, I picked up his body and threw it into the pit. My GIF-conversion software isn't working for some reason, so I've just pasted the sequence of endgame screenshots below.

Not the most elaborate of endgame sequences, but satisfying enough. It dropped me to the prompt at this point; there's no way to continue playing after winning.

After the game was over, I began to obsess a bit over how much of it was truly necessary. There's an exit to Mount Salvation from the Magan Underworld, and there's an entrance to the Underworld from Purgatory. Would it be possible for a high-level party to go directly to the endgame, fight Namtar's army (instead of summoning the Dragon Queen to do it), and defeat Namtar himself? I restarted to see how far I could get, and I guess at the very least, you need the boots to jump across the chasm to enter Namtar's fortress. But I'm not sure if you really need the Sword of Freedom, to free Irkalla, to get the Dragon Queen's help, and so on. Andrew Schultz's walkthrough seems to bear this out.

I also feel like there would be a lot more to explore and find on a second playing. I never got anything from "Mountain Lore," "Forest Lore," or "Cave Lore," and only once from "Town Lore," and I feel like I probably missed opportunities to try them. I probably didn't use half the spells. Neither "Pickpocket" nor "Swim" ever came up in any obvious place. I never found the use for the Soul Bowl, the Enkidu Totem, or a set of "Dragon's Tears." I'd like to see what happens if the dragon doesn't destroy Phoebus, perhaps try selling myself into slavery, see how things go if I fight the Dragon Queen instead of allying with her, try some alternate options at Byzanople, and so forth.

I'm not going to do it--too many games, too little time--but I like that this game leaves so many possibilities. This is one of the earliest games to allow so many alternate approaches to puzzles and plot, and it deserves credit for it's open-ended world. As I prepare the GIMLET, please comment with your own experiences with the game, and the alternate routes you took to the end.


  1. Dragon Wars is one of my favorite CRPGs, and I believe there are indeed quite a few things you "missed" - or at least chose alternate paths to solve. While I understand why you aren't going to replay it now, I think you would be pleasantly surprised how different it could be if you made different choices.

    For instance, I didn't notice you mention it, but there is a point where you can challenge Enkidu to wrestling, and if you best him he grants the character level 1 druid magic (which normally costs 10 attribute points to get the first point).

    In my case, I never figured out what to do with the dragon mother (probably because I never figured out what to do with the dragon under that one city), and I don't remember fighting a huge army before namtar - I do remember softening stone in Namtar's final area and running all over the place and then finding him in a room. In fact, there are quite a few areas that you can soften stone and skip around a fair amount. I believe there are a good number of hidden areas you can find this way (but probably nothing major).

    Also, I don't know if you've noticed, but there are a ton of references to literature throughout the game: the court of miracles in purgatory (Hunchback of Notre Dame), escaping purgatory by being thrown out in a body bag (Count of Monte Cristo), the Humbaba (the Epic of Gilgamesh), Enkidu (also Gilgamesh), and lots of others that I can't recall off the top of my head.

    I first played this game as a teenager, and then in the following years as I read books like Hunchback or Count of Monte Cristo I was surprised to recognize the plot devices and names :-)

    1. I didn't pick up on all those references--I didn't even get the body bag option--so thanks for outlining them!

  2. I wouldn't like to have finished the game without knowing if I was missing something or if the items were red herrings. Remember, these games cost what? $50? $60? I dunno, maybe people were more willing to replay linear games back in the day.

    I was a strategy/adventure gamer in my younger days anyway. Lords of the Realm and Quest for Glory II 4lyfe

    1. Yes, back in the day, when this was one of three purchases for the year, I'd wait a couple weeks then fire it up again.

    2. Damn. Now you're making me feel guilty for always whining to my parents for more Nintendo games. I had no idea how much they cost, honest!

    3. In Canada they could cost up to $90. I found a receipt in one of my Dad's old games from this era (Might and Magic I think?). He got it free off a friend who had beaten it though.

  3. Looking forward to that GIMLET! :)

    I don't know any of the next couple of games on the list; going by their Mobygames entries, my guess is you won't spend too much time on them.

    The next 'proper' CRPG on there is probably Westwood's Mines of Titan, which I never got around to trying out.

  4. Congrats on another classes finished!

    Only 1.5 year ago since I played and completed this game myself, and I've already forgotten most of it, until you reminded me of it. :-(
    But I seem to recall that the Enkidu Totem would summon a being to fight for you.

    As for my own experience, check out this thread:

    I don't recall having as much trouble staying alive as you did. Probably due to using the pregenerated party, which I found to me quite optimal.

    Like you, I found the random encounters rather tireing at the end, and they weren't that random anyway. I skipped the whole Game Preserve and hurried through Dragon Valley and Namtar's area.


    BTW, did you found out what Lanac'toor was named after?

    1. Oh, for god's sake. You'd think I would have checked that first. As examples of sdrawkcab seman go, that's a bit more creative than most.

    2. root'ca...oh for Christ sake. I feel so stupid now.

  5. That combats are exactly why I could never bring myself to play DW past the first descend to the underworld, even though I LOVE the type of level/narrative design this game shows. Still, it's a huge improvement over Bard's Tale, which took me exactly three steps to ragequit. Strangely enough, I somehow managed to finish Spirit of Adventure, which indulges in the same offence, only coupling it with even more annoyances.

    Why, oh why can't we have some low-on-combat RPGs apart from QfG?

    1. I can't think of many.

      Torment is fairly low on combat and you can play New Vegas with minimal time spent fighting (your companions can kill most things anyway).

      I think the important thing is no random encounters. They're aggravating in most games. Interplay (and its descendants) realised this in the 90s and gave us a lot of games that were content, rather than combat heavy. They made up for Bard's Tale :)

    2. I've always entertained the thought of creating an RPG where you played as a townsperson living his or her daily life while catering to the bands of heroes that would periodically stop at your town.

      You could be a blacksmith, innkeeper, alchemist, sage, etc. running your business. I've always been interested in creating an RPG where you actually have a [i]role[/i].

      I really should start working on that...

    3. I definitely don't want NO random encounters, but I do prefer far less than the BT games offer. I also like the Gold Box approach by which they dry up after you've fought enough of them.

      But I agree, VK, a huge improvement over BT1-3.

    4. "I've always entertained the thought of creating an RPG where you played as a townsperson living his or her daily life while catering to the bands of heroes that would periodically stop at your town.
      You could be a blacksmith, innkeeper, alchemist, sage, etc. running your business. I've always been interested in creating an RPG where you actually have a [i]role[/i]."

      Have you tried the Atelier series on the PS3/ Recettear for the PC?

    5. Chet, why don't you want zero random encounters?

      The Baldur's Gate, IWD, NWN, Dragon Age, Mass Effect and KotOR series' have essentially none.

      Every so often you might get 'you have been waylaid...' or 'your rest has been interrupted', but they're an inconsequential part of the game experience.

    6. "I also like the Gold Box approach by which they dry up after you've fought enough of them."

      Erm, that is definitely not true for Secret of the Silver Blades :D

    7. I wouldn't call Torment low on combat. There are ways to avoid some, but unless you're ready to leave some areas unexplored and some quests uncomplete, there's still quite a lot of it. And combat in Torment is real torment to be sure.

      For me the problem is not random encounters per se (although I do hate enemies appearing out of the blue), but the repetitiveness of combats in most games. I hate, hate, HATE doing the same thing over and over again. Dragon Age and every other Bioware game I played didn't have them, but the sheer number of trash mobs still made them a chore, for me at least.

    8. A gold box map may have anything from 4 to unlimited random encounters and a map may be divided into different random encounter sections, with their own counts.

      Depending on the game, random encounters may be different from 'rest interrupts'. Many places have rest interrupts even when the REs are exhausted, and winning rest interrupt battles won't count against the number of REs needed to exhaust the map. Other games will let you rest anywhere once you have exhausted the REs.

      RE counts are usually reset every time you re-enter a map, although I think in PoR you could 'clear' certain blocks permanently.

      I think a general rule of thumb is 'If you've killed 10 groups and you're still fighting random encounters, they are probably unlimited'. The Slums in Phlan (15) are one exception and there may be others.

    9. IWD was an enormous pile of non-random trash mobs. Definitely the Diablo of BioWare games.

      Torment had a few combat heavy ares (boring as you mentioned), but large tracts of the game were very light on combat.

      The first Baldur's Gate definitely had too many instances of 'kobolds with bows'. Combat in BG2 had considerably more variety.

      The worst part of modern BioWare games is the inventory optimising. Dragon Age particularly, as the weapons and armor were such bland iterations of your previous gear.

    10. The first chapter of Bloodlines was promising in that regards. But then came the zombie cult...

    11. @Tristan Gall: Not disagreeing with your characterization of IWD (which I nevertheless liked quite a bit), but it's not a Bioware game :)

  6. Getting closer to Buck Rogers!
    (only a couple of games that look like RPG's in between)

  7. I'm quite surprised at your account of the tediousness of the random battles. I did not find them to be any more annoying than a game like PoR, or Curse, and you could finish them in a quarter of the time it took you in those games just to move your party into position. They are difficult, but not any more numerous than Ultima 5, or many other games which you spoke relatively little about them. I think you must have just not been in the same mood. Also, you missed a ton of stuff that REALLY helps speed them along.
    1. The most important thing has to be the dragon teeth (Sword skill). You can get them in unlimited supply very early in the dragon area. They are near the entrance. They do i think 1-36 damage and have a melee range of 60' . They alone make all the battles with namtar, and anything else that spawns far away a breeze.
    2. I never noticed if you found the spell Inferno. It is so necessary. I had my sun mage with a skill level of 8 or 9 could pump in 14 points into 1 Inferno, basically killing everything in a 40' range.
    3. Also, dragon stones are plentiful and can be bought in many, many shops around the world for just 250 gold. I had close to 100k at the end, so cash was not a problem, inventory slots were.
    4. Also when you got that bowl, the guy mentioned someone. the name starts with a Z, I think. In the mystic woods, there is a spot, a grave marker I think, where it says the
    'Z' guys name again and you can then use the bowl and get some more Druid spells.
    5. You could have showed the E. totem to the scorpion things near the endgame and they would not have attacked you.

    If you allow the feeding of the dragon, Pheobus is not destroyed, but you don't get anything special out of it (I think).

    You can tell Prince Jordan to screw himself, and kill him and his sister, and the invaders, and you then become king :)

    And the endgame. I loved it. Def the best endgame I have seen, even. I'm so sick of walking into a room, and killing the big baddie just to be dropped to DOS. Having to kill him, then carry him to the pit as he continuously resurrected himself was terrifically stressful, exciting, and much more immersive than just walking into a room and shooting a lightning bot up his butt. It felt like it was how such a powerful being SHOULD be taken out, with a huge struggle.

    I can't help but think, because of what your pointing out, that you never used the macros. Fights are much easier that way and I would bet my life that I spent more time in combat in any gold box game than in this.

    One thing I do agree about is the lack of satisfaction you could get when you level up. The characters never get a whole lot better than they were when you created them. That was kind of crappy. Also, fighting the same fixed encounters over and over got old, but the dragon teeth REALLY helped. With everyone in the 1st 4 slots holding a dragon tooth, you could usually kill everything before it got close enough to attack back. The mages that cast brambles were my main source of rage, but i would just run away if I saw even 1.

    As you mentioned earlier, this game did SO much right. Bad guys fit into their environment, The humor was well done, the paragraphs were written VERY well, the story played out well, The economy wasn't TOTALLY busted, and although you may not have noticed, just one or 2 points added to dex or weapon skills does make a big difference. Using the dragon queen against the evil army was great fun, and I loved how she killed Namtar too. Kinda dumb she left so quickly though.

    Did you find the Gatlin bow and magic quiver? The bow allows you to shoot a burst that empties you entire set of arrows (usually 20). However, with the magic quiver (never ending supply of arrows) if you chose full auto it would still shoot 20 or so arrows every round (these are what i subtly referred to in an earlier post). A char in the back row, with these equipped can do more damage than anyone (approx 50-70) up to 20'. I used the crap out of it.

    1. "Missing" things--even "a ton of stuff"--is naturally going to happen when playing blind, especially as games get more and more complicated. I don't mind if readers point out the stuff I missed--I want to hear it, in fact--as long as no one thinks I should apologize for it.

      I did find inferno, but not the dragon teeth. Are you sure they're in the DOS version? I thought I explored the area pretty thoroughly, but I noticed that Andrew Schultz's Apple II walkthrough mentioned them, too.

      I can't imagine how you ended the game with more than 100K cash. I was down to a few thousand by the end. Lots of grinding? Or perhaps platform differences there, too?

      I did use the macros, but I got annoyed with how they didn't save with the game. I got sick of having to set them up again every time I re-started.

      I found the Gatlin bow but not the quiver. I used it in a few battles. I got sick of trying to keep a supply of arrows and bolts handy, so I mostly just fired what I found and forgot about it after that.

    2. I played the DOS version. The teeth were in a pile of other treasure about 8 steps from the entrance, but you had to make a u turn to the left after 3 or 4 steps and it was an unlimited stack. I did run into just a couple fights b/t the ent and the treasure, and almost died. Easily missed for sure, I didn't need to but you could also take advantage of this fact and sell them for like 5k ea. I got my money from selling old weapons. I didnt use most of the best armor (full plate) in the game cause is was too heavy, instead i used the dragon and magic plate, So i sold a lot of armor as well. 90% of my cash went to dragon stones.
      No apologies necessary, of course. :)
      How many points did you end up putting into your magic skills?
      And yes, the game preserve was the 2nd spot i grinded. However, since almost EVERYTHING spawned about 40-60' away, the teeth were a necessity. battles will take much longer if you have to advance, so i probably would have been very frustrated like you without them.
      Also, I never used any macros, I just read about them from someone in the blog and assumed they were a good idea.. resetting every time is crappy tho and I wasn't aware. I generally just held down 'A', however that is MUCH more easily done when your melee weapons have significant range.. advancing takes a long time. Pity about the magic quiver, I forget where I found it. I gave it to my druid in the 5 spot and she was a killing machine.
      I do apologize if I came across a bit authoritatively, or very critical. I love what your doing and wouldn't really change a thing.

  8. I thoroughly enjoyed your review, but just can't help but think that your eagerness to finish the game and unwillingness to grind did not help. You could have sat on the first bridge and held down escape to continually fight groups of 1 - 20 rats, giving you 10xp each, up to 200 per battle, and only taking as much time as it takes to cast a single poog or inferno (they have like 2 hp each). In little over 10 minutes I gained 4 levels this way and could have continued to do so.

    Since I began replaying games that I see on your blog I have gone through probably 10 or so games. This is the only one that held me long enough to actually finish it.

    Keep up the good work, and have fun!

    1. Nothing in-game said, "Stand here and hold down ESC to have repeat encounters with groups of rats that give up to 200 xp per battle," so I didn't know what was an option.

      The only place that I found that gave repeat battles of that kind of experience was the game preserve. I spent about 40 minutes in there and didn't gain a single level, let alone 4. But I can see why: it was taking about two or three minutes per battle, which would only get me up to the number I needed to cross a level (6600) in an hour to an hour and a half.

  9. Just a few random notes:
    - The Mountain Sword requires 2 Mountain Lore to use. I recall it being one of the better swords, but obviously not necessary.
    - The fake, trapped Freedom Sword can be discovered by casting Reveal Glamour.
    - I sincerely doubt killing the Dragon Queen is possible (without cheating). I remember her breathing, repeatedly, for quite a lot of damage.
    - It *is* possible to defeat the army before Namtar without the Dragon Queen, although very difficult. I did it (after numerous tries) back on my old Apple. I didn't find the Dragon Gem, so I figured fighting my way through was the only route.

    1. It is actually possible to kill the dragon queen, but it is very difficult and you have to have leveled up quite a bit and gotten all the healing devices in the game and loaded them all up to the 49 max with charger.
      If on the first round of the battle, three guys do zaks (2 black helms plus charged up armour from necropolis) and the rest do healing spells (lansk druids mace, dwarf hall healing wand, mystic wood wand, lanactoor wand) then you are speeded up enough to keep healing on sucessive rounds before the next dragon breath. throw big inferno when the dragon warriors arrive and kill them all. advance occaisonally when you are healed back to full, but mostly stand and heal. eventually you get close enough 70' to have one character fire the dragon wand from dwarf clan hall every round while the rest do group heal spells.

      Unless you have at least 40 health on each character, there is little chance of success. But if you do kill her it is enough xp to level up again. But if you kill her, she immediately revives and tells you that she will come to you aid if you use the dragon gem.
      The fastest experience point factory in the game I found was to go to the south end of kings island and fight the goblins. the ngo over the bridge and return as many times as you like. A ten point inferno will whack all the goblins in a single shot and gives you 385 XP for a full party. (The inferno tosser should have a lower dex so the farther goblins come in range, or he should have heavy armour to slow him down)

      If you used the soul bowl and charger to make sure the whole party has brambles, then you can be just as annoying to Namtars army as the mages in dragon valley were. Have the first three(fastest dex) guys bramble the Namtars army while everyone else throws inferno and dragons teeth---they never get off a shot!

  10. Hi, I just discovered this blog a few weeks back, and it's a great read I have to say!

    I am currently replaying this old gem myself (thanks to you!) and since I am playing the Amiga version, I thought I'd point out some of the differences to the DOS version of the game.

    Music: The Amiga version features a great soundtrack that I feel adds greatly to the game's atmosphere. Even though there are only two in-game tunes, as well as a title and endgame tune, for some reason I never tire of it.

    Graphics: A slight improvement on the DOS version, which was quite a relief back in the day, after the excellent port of the first two Bard's Tale games but a very disappointing straight DOS conversion of the third game.

    Saving: The Amiga version features a proper save/load dialog that lets you name your own saves and diskspace is the only limit to how many you can have. This is very useful when you want to go back and try different outcomes of more or less crucial choices throughout the game.

    Macros: As far as I can tell, there is no support for keyboard macros in the Amiga version, but as all combat options have single-key shortcuts, I haven't missed this feature all that much.

    Gold: From your screenshots it seems like gold takes up an inventory slot in the DOS version. This is not the case in the Amiga version.

    As far as I can tell, there are no other differences between the two versions of the game.

    1. Not surprising that the Amiga version has better sound and graphics; after all, it was the multimedia computer of its day.

    2. Macros work in the Amiga version, they are different in some way I don't remember. Like you just hit an F key rather then alt-F. It may have something to do with emulation. They are actually better then in dos because they have an on screen prompt that tells you it has started recording a macro.

    3. Hei Lars, did you notice that the goblins look just like Nils Johan Semb?

    4. Thanks for reporting in, Lars. I know music is one of Amiga's strengths, but I never really enjoy game music, so I don't personally feel I'm missing much there.

  11. Missing the dragon's teeth (yes, they are in the DOS version) basically turned your playthrough into a full-blown challenge game. Since they are useable by anyone, do good damage, have a 60 foot range, and count as swords, they are a big reason why SWORD is the only weapon skill that matters.

    It is possible to go back to exploring the world at the end of the Namtar battles. Once you're at the pit and you off him for the fifth time, you can choose to drop his body (not hurl it into the pit, just set it down for later), leave, and do whatever.

    "I have no idea what would have happened if I'd met the woman or fought the high priest, Mystalvision, myself."

    IIRC you can't finish off Mystalvision in Phoebus. You can hunt down and kill both Mystalvision and Buck Ironhead in the Mountain of Salvation, but there's little point to doing so other than personal satisfaction. Maybe some loot.

    There's a lot of fun stuff in the game that you missed... partly as an unfortunate consequence of "going blind", and partly because you were heavily focused on finishing. But I've enjoyed reading about your experience immensely, and I'm glad that your blog seems to have persuaded a number of readers to give this classic a try.

  12. Hey, I'm trying to prepare my next posting. What's a synonym for "went up" or "escalated"? "Climbed"? "Scaled"? I'm sure I'll come up with something.

    1. Ascended?

    2. Ah, yes. Thank you. I think the first one will do.

    3. Ascended... Nethack?! Oh, my...

    4. Ho, ho, ho, really?

    5. Heh, I should have known that was a hint that you had ascended. I *thought* it was weird that you should ask such a question...

  13. Terrific writeup Mr Addict. Thank you for such an entertaining writeup. I too never found the combats too tedious once I found the dragon teeth

  14. I loved this game, back then. I, too, get the feeling you may have rushed this a bit too much, instead of figuring out alternative routes and ways to avoid too much fighting, but I played it on the Commodore 64/128 so it's some time ago, now...

  15. Random memories...

    Learning how to bounce around using the teleportation portals and the Underworld is key. Portal - Mystic Wood - Underworld - recharge pool is super useful.

    Dragon Tears are only good to sell for money.

    The Enkidu Totem allows you to pass the Scorpions who guard the bridge to the Magic College without fighting them.

    The Soul Bowl can be used at Zaton's memorial stone in the Mystic Wood to get some Druid spells, although I think most of them are duplicates. The other two "prizes" are useless.

    The Mystic Wood also has the wrestling match that another commenter mentioned that grants Druid 2 to one of your players. (I gave it to Louie, which dramatically increased his effectiveness, not least because he could heal himself.)

    There's some more stuff to do on King's Isle where you can learn more about the royal family. If you explore the Isle of the Damned you can find Drake's signet ring, which you can later show off in the Game Preserve (which is otherwise a waste of time, mostly).

    If you don't stop the midget from feeding the prisoner to the dragon, you get to (a) fight Mystalvision a second time, which gives some more spells, (b) find the password to that magic mouth you couldn't pass, which gives the Magic Quiver.

    You should have gotten Inferno from Nergal. It is hands-down the best offensive spell in the game, and is the main reason to raise Sun Magic to 3 or 4 (or beyond).

    You don't have to do the Irkalla - Skull of Roba - Sunken Ruins - Dwarven Forge - Sword of Freedom storyline, but the 3 point attribute bonus in Nisir is pretty nice. The SoF does 1-100 damage, but the 60' range on Dragon Teeth makes them a better choice in the endgame (and is pretty much the only way to beat the Whirlwind-enhanced Namtar fight with any ease at all)

    The first time I played this game through (as a teenager) I got stuck on the pre-Namtar fight because I couldn't find Dragon Valley to get the queen's Gem. I had to go buy the hintbook to figure it out *heh*

    Speaking of, the sick dragon under Lansk will give up the gem if you use any healing spell on him. (The Ankh also works -- but this is half the fun of Dragon Wars, there are multiple solutions to almost every puzzle!)

    The only thing that is actually *required* to win the game is the Golden Boots, which means you have to get Create Wall and go to Mud Toad. Everything else is optional. That's only really useful information if you're starting with buffed PCs, though; practically speaking, it behooves you to run through most of the game to get good armor and weapons.

  16. I think ol' Namtar's giving you the finger from the second picture of him right to the point when you pick him up for the chuckin'.

  17. My parents purchased this game for me 20 years ago from a bargain bin at Wal-Mart. Each year since, I break it back out of the box and play it again with a new party. These are most of my thoughts on the game (I agree with most of what you’ve said).

    1. The game's stat system and weapons can be found in old AD&D books. There's also a FAQ out there with them. I wish the stats were in the actual game.

    2. Every skill, including pickpocketing, has at least one use in the game. (btw, the Mountain Sword requires mountain lore to equip.) You can beat it with almost any party or combination of skills, but the fun of the game is exploring and discovering its secrets, so you want to have them all.

    3. Choose a character to be your “doctor”, and level this character's bandaging so that they can completely heal all of your characters’ hit points. Once you learn how, the game becomes significantly easier and more enjoyable (although I admit it is a pain).

    4. Although the game requires some grinding, with enough planning it is possible to make a party that can beat it from the start. (Well, you can guarantee about 10 levels before you escape the first 2 main areas.) Part of this involves knowing which NPCs are coming. Ulrik will become your "Axe man". Louie will become a druid caster through secret trick (fight the druid god in the forest). And there is a sun caster named Valar. The last NPC is Halifax, but he comes too late in the game (he shouldn’t have been included imo).

    5. There are a finite number of good weapons and armor, and it seems intended that you build a character each specializing in swords, axes, flails, and maces. There is (sort of) an "end-game weapon” for each specialty. Ranged weapons are basically useless because you don’t have the inventory space to carry ammo, nor the available stats. It would have been fun to create an archer or crossbowman, so it is disappointing.

    6. In the area with the dragon queen, there is a cache of Dragon's Teeth that are useable as ranged swords. They are essentially the game's "god weapon" and make the remaining battles trivial. However, you need these weapons in the last dungeon, because it is crawling with monsters that can’t be defeated without them or without draining your magic.

    I feel that the existence of the Dragon's Teeth, and the entire last dungeon, is the weakest and worst part of the game. It spits in the face of party building, weapon specialization, and combat tactics.

    7. If a character dies, you've essentially lost the game. You can keep dragging dead weight around like you did with Louie, but that character loses the benefit of gaining experience, and falls behind. They should have allowed resurrecting at hospitals imo.

    8. The game's inventory system is beyond poor, and probably one of the greatest sources of frustration. When you find a cache of treasure, you often cannot pick it up, and so a large part of the game is spent micro-managing your inventory. Fixing this would have increased the game's play/replay value tremendously.

    9. The auto-map feature was one of the best innovations of its time. To me, it is this single feature that makes the game still playable even after so many years, whereas the Bard’s Tale games are just too tedious to revisit.

    10. I loved the ending battles with Namtar and found them extremely gripping.


    Despite its flaws, I think of Dragon Wars as one of the greatest RPGs I ever played. It was revolutionary and ahead of its time, yet the curtain call on an era of gaming that would never come again. I can’t think of many stories with such an interesting world and villain. It was one of the first true "sandbox" games. It is the closest game I have ever played that felt like an accurate D&D experience. (Baldur’s gate was good of course, but this game feels closer to pen and paper.)

    I keep hoping that one day someone will start a Kickstarter to remake or revive the series. I would give a lot of money to them.

    1. Reading back over some of the other posts, I neglected to mention the gatlin bow and the magic quiver (speaking of ranged weapons). It was one method of creating a good ranged weapon user.

    2. Mark, thanks for your well-written and insightful comments. It's always nice to hear both corroborating and alternative perspectives from someone with a lot more experience with the game.

      Do you know where pocketpicking plays a role in the game? I never found it in the post-game walkthroughs I consulted. It's been bugging me.

    3. On the south end of the heavily guarded bridge (between the Isle of the Sun and Lansk) are guard barracks. You can move past the sleeping soldiers inside to find a locked chest in the corner. An alternative to using the lockpick skill on the chest is to use the pickpocket skill on the sleeping guards to get the key.

      Waking everyone up and fighting them also seems to work, but it's nice to have options.

  18. You might be interested in knowing that Dragon Wars draws heavily from Babylonian mythology. The giant called Humbaba and the king of netherworld Nergal come from there pretty much as is. Irkalla is not a person in the mythology but one name for the netherworld or part of the netherworld. Namtar himself is a minor deity with a nasty disposition.

  19. It appears that this game did a lot of things right. There is a touch of quality in everything, from the multiple ways to solve puzzles to the interesting and unusual world. I can see the influence of Wasteland. Too bad you rushed the ending and hoped for the game to end. It sounds as if this game wants to played repeatedly.

  20. In case you're interested, somebody managed to beat the Dragon Queen quasi-legitimately using the Irkalla trick:

  21. A minor detail, years later: Enkidu was Gilgamesh's friend and wrestling partner whose death caused G to search for eternal life, and G has to get past some scorpion men in a very long, very dark tunnel. (And in Rivers of Light, the scorpion men provide your first opportunity to snag an iron sword!)


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