Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Twilight: 2000: Stalemate

Read the second sentence. Is that some kind of Polish metaphor?
"Mission: Interminable" wasn't a bad idea for a Twilight: 2000 post subtitle, but I used it too soon. I was less than 20 missions in, and figured I was at least half done with the game. Since then, I've been on about 100 more missions. That can't be right; that sounds insane. Maybe it hasn't been 100 missions, but it's been at least 50. It's been enough that if I ever visit Poland, I could probably drive from city to city without a map, although there's a decent chance I might accidentally visit Wojnicz when I mean to visit Wosniki.

The mission types haven't changed from the last entry. They're still a mixture of hostage rescues, tank combats, ground combats, spy hunting, healing, vehicle retrieval, and supply delivery. The only one I haven't received again is what I titled "restore the deposed"; that must have been a unique mission. The missions are at least somewhat randomized. Several times, I've had to quit and reload, and I've gotten different missions.

Unexpectedly, I find myself liking the tank missions best. It took me a while to get used to the controls, and to realize that you switch from driving view to turret view by toggling the F1/F2 keys. It takes some skill to get the tank heading one direction but the turret aimed sideways or backwards.
I catch a enemy tank by surprise.
Once I got the hang of it, I have a great time careening through the city streets, blasting enemy tanks, dodging their fire. You can even destroy houses, although such destruction only appears in tank view and doesn't seem to have any consequences when you switch to top-down view (I've even destroyed my own base from tank view). It doesn't have anything to do with RPGs, but it's a reasonably fun action game.
I level a random house for fun.
There are never more than three or four tanks per mission, and a lot of missions only have one. Half the time, it's already destroyed when I get to the city because of the "spawning in the middle of the sky" bug. Thus, the tank missions are generally my favorite.

Spy missions and retrieve-the-damaged-vehicle missions aren't so bad, either. They're very short. The spy is almost always the first NPC I talk to. For the vehicle retrievals, you just have to keep using tools until it's repaired. 
Supply runs are also pretty quick.
In contrast, I've grown to loathe the ground combats. Each one involves like 20 guys and takes an hour. To survive, I typically have to start hundreds of yards away from them, fire as they advance (wasting a ton of ammo) and hope that a lot of them get hung up on buildings. The various exploits that my commenters discussed really don't work with my party because they largely depend on the party members going first, which rarely happens because in character creation I didn't understand the importance of initiative.

It's too bad because the game almost has a good tactical combat system. It's the best Paragon effort so far. The primary problem is that your enemies are almost always off-screen, and overall the limited screen view doesn't give you a good sense of terrain, obstacles and positioning. There's a "tactical map," but it goes too far in the other direction, with the enemy dots barely perceptible. And if there's a difference between the colors of living enemies and dead enemies on that map, I can't tell.
The tactical map shows either enemies around me or flecks on my computer screen.
Another problem is that you can't tell what weapons the enemies carry until after they've fired them at you. "Ah, Enemy 11 has a grenade launcher! I need to target him!" is useless intelligence when it comes after a grenade has just landed at your feet. Enemy grenades and rockets will instantly kill your characters and destroy your vehicles, which is of course realistic, but no one is looking for a realistic battlefield simulation in an RPG. In any event, "realism" is hardly a virtue of the game in other areas. My characters are capable of holding M-60s in one hand and grenade launchers in the other, for instance.
I've let a few tanks go because I didn't feel like reloading at points like this.
You have the issue of characters not developing after creation. By the time the combats get really hard, if your characters can't hack it, it's too late. I realize now that back in creation, I tried to even out the skills too much. I didn't make anyone a "jack of all trades," but I tried to make each character good for at least a few things. That was a mistake. With 20 characters, you want 20 specialists. Better to have a character who's insanely good with heavy weapons, with a skill at 10 or above, than one who has 5s in heavy weapons, rifles, and thrown weapons. That way, you'd get far fewer infuriating misses in combat.
Rambo chooses between weapons in combat.
Finally, it would be nice if the enemy forces didn't insist on fighting to the last man. There's no mechanism for retreat or surrender. The last man always ends up stuck on a building's corner in some far-flung location. There's nothing like killing 19 enemies over the course of an hour, walking across the game map for 10 minutes to find the last one, finally coming into each other's mutual view, and then having him whump a grenade at the feet of your lead character.

I spent far too long trying to win the game for this entry, but the missions just wouldn't stop. Again, I'd suspect that they never stop except that every once in a while, the intelligence officer gives an extra message that suggests you're moving into a new phase. For a while, it was resource-acquisition: each mission resulted in a new vehicle or some supplies.
Town leaders start rewarding me with "loyalty."
After that, I started to get missions in which my team "captured" a city by securing the loyalty of its leader. In between these missions, the intelligence officer would tell me that Baron Czarny had also captured a random city. This would almost always be followed by the exhortation that, "For each territory Czarny conquers, we must gain two!," except that the game doesn't really have a mechanism for taking over two territories per mission.
How come I can't use intimidating force or propaganda?
As Czarny and my team conquered various cities, a symbol would appear on top of them on the campaign map: some kind of green or brown for Czarny's cities, and some kind of green or brown for my cities. Incidentally, I don't think a lot of the cities in the game are real places, such as Szczekoiny and Loruszno. You'd think those were obvious misspellings for Szczekociny and Lopuszno, except those cities also exist in the game.
The cities that I and/or Czarny control.
This seemed to be a kind of progress, except there are 56 labeled cities on the game map, plus two unlabeled cities, so even if every mission resulted in my team taking one city and Czarny's taking one, this phase alone would have involved 29 missions. And they didn't all have that result. A lot of the missions involved defending cities I already held. In a couple of cases, I completed the mission but lost the city to Czarny anyway. As I write this, there are still eight cities that neither side controls.
This is just what you want to hear after a one-hour battle.
There seemed to be some kind of plot developing when my intel officer relayed a threat from Czarny: that if we didn't surrender, he was going to gather every child in Lopuszno and execute them. The intel officer thought it was just a bluff. I don't know why it didn't occur to me to head for the city anyway, except that I figured it was a plot point rather than an actual mission. Several missions later, the enraged officer told me that Czarny had in fact killed the children.
Notice he doesn't apologize for misinterpreting the previous intelligence.
I braced for a series of endgame missions, but it didn't come. Instead, I got a few missions in a row that involved defending cities I already controlled.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • It is possible to run out of fuel. I don't know how to avoid this if the mission takes you far from your base. You can't take extra fuel with you, and there's no way to refuel while on the road.
I love that my character seems to be reading this message.
  • A church had an ankh cross instead of an actual cross. 
In post-apocalyptic Europe, the Cult of the Avatar rises in popularity.
  • Characters keep suggesting I put "combat webbing" on my tank. Finally, I broke down and did it. I have no idea what it does, and it disappears every time I enter and exit anyway.
Now my tank just looks stupid.
At this point, I would appreciate explicit spoilers on how many missions I have to go. My worst fear is that I'm going to have to conquer every city that Czarny controls one-by-one, which would mean another 30 missions at least. I'm not sure the game is worth that kind of extra time.

A couple of awesome commenters sent me sourcebooks and modules for the tabletop RPG, so I could compare them to the CRPG. I'm reviewing them now. Even if I don't play any further, we'll have plenty to discuss in the final entry.
Time so far: 34 hours


  1. I'm guessing that the second sentence in the first pic is referring to the saying, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen" or something to that effect.

  2. The symbol in the church looks more like a combination of a P and a cross. I was only familiar with the PX-combination, but apparently there's a PT-Symbol:

    Maybe it's that. Or an strangely drawn Ankh :)

    Can't help you with the game itself, unfortunately.

    1. Searching online it looks like it is the ancient version of the "Chi-rho" symbol for Christ. The PX is apparently a more modern version.

    2. That is not an Ankh, yet it is not a proper Χ-Ρ (χριστος, Christos, first two letters are an X and a P). Christian Orthodox. Once Emperor of Byzantium, Constantine saw this shape in a vision.

      I suspect the isometric angle made it a bit tough for the developers to do an X P and they defaulted to a cross and a P, but also it may just be lazy theologia on the dev's part, it's not like there isn't more laziness elsewhere in this game.

    3. I worked at a Christian summer camp that used the P+cross as a varisnt on the standard chi-ro, so it's funny to see that in a game. Nothing else to add other than long time reader, first time commenter.

  3. Looks like I screwed you over earlier – I really didn't mean to. Personally, I didn't notice any dynamically scaling difficulty, nor did I have much trouble blowing my own guys up, at least much less than with random enemy 11 having a grenade launcher. I had a backup heavy weapon for close range. By the way, I vaguely remember that you can escape combat pretty freely and save, which helps against those pesky stragglers. At least if you move away from the enemies a bit?

    As for the question at hand, I honestly don't remember when and don't know why, but can say that for me, the game ended eventually and that I was just about ready to give up on it when it did. You do those generic take a town – lose a town missions for quite a while. I thought that the game is bugged somehow and you actually cannot win, when it suddenly threw an endgame mission at me, and beating that, I won. I remember that you don't quite take over all the towns before that happening, but that's not much of a guideline because the game reaches a stalemate before that.

    1. You know, I probably jumped the gun on that. I'm not so sure that the types of weapons the enemy wields is correlated with the party's. It may have just been a coincidence.

  4. Questbusters vol 9 n 8 claims there being 60 missions to win the game.

    1. Not every city gets conquered, it sounds like you are pretty close to the final mission.

  5. Second sentence is far from anything that I ever heard or read. And I'm from Poland.

    1. Polish here too. It is the first time I hear that sentence.

      As for the misspellings, they are definitely there, last time I have seen Bochnia misspelled as Bochina, noticed only because I come from the region :)

    2. I don't know why I noticed it, but from that time I refuse to refer Bochnia in any other way than "Boczajna" :)

  6. That tank webbing is to attach camouflage too, eg tree branches and leaves to break up the shape of the tank when seen from afar. Might reduce random encounter rate when that is attached? Odd that you did a full term of service in the military driving vehicles but never had to set up something similar.

    1. I know what it does in real life, not what it does in the context of the game's mechanics.


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