Saturday, April 28, 2018

Legend: Getting Nowhere

My depressingly small map of the second dungeon.
The spell system described in hyperbolic terms by some of my commenters is indeed impressive, and it's made me think a bit about magic in general. This game treats magic as a series of effects, intensities of those effects, and systems for delivering those effects, and it's up to you to string them together into recipes that we think of as "spells." Most games just offer only the spells themselves. That's never made a lot of sense to me. If your Dungeons and Dragons wizard truly understands magic, he should be able to cast a "Double Bless" that increases the "to hit" rolls by 2. If he knows how to create fire, he ought to be able to mold it into a single small projectile or a large explosive ball, and in the latter case vary the size of the ball, not just cast a single ball of the same size and intensity every time. But he doesn't. He's like a cook who only knows how to make things from a set of defined recipes and can't figure out for himself even how to double or halve the ingredients, let alone how to add new ingredients.

I suppose this is explained in-universe by saying that the adventuring wizard isn't much of a researcher. He's on a quest--he doesn't have time to study and catalog spell effects. The only thing he can do is take the recipes developed by others and cast them exactly.

Oblivion offered something like Legend's approach to spellcasting. You could buy pre-determined recipes, but you could also make up your own, deciding for yourself the target of the effects, how far to extend them, and how to combine them. It was too bad Skyrim didn't keep the system.
Another key, another door. When will it all end?
However, there are a few problems with this system. First, the more effects you attach to a single spell, the less flexibility you really have. Sure, it's nice in theory to be able to craft a spell that first heals the caster, then casts "Anti-Magic" on everyone around the caster, then blasts the approaching enemy. But it's somewhat rare that I'm going to encounter a situation in which I need all those effects in that order. It's much more common to encounter situations in which I want just one of those effects independently. And since there's only a slight delay between casting, and mixing a complicated spell requires the same number of reagents as a bunch of individual spells, it hardly makes sense to combine multiple effects in one spell. Better make the spells individually and cast them in rapid succession when you need to.

The worse problem, however, is that the nature of the combat and movement systems makes it nearly impossible to do what you want with spells in combat. Consider these variables:
  • Most rooms are small and offer little maneuverability.
  • You cannot control what paths your characters take to destinations. You can only set destinations. Often, they are blocked from reaching them, give up, and just do their own thing.
  • Characters can only move at square angles. And I'm not sure about this part, but from observing them, I think they can only change facing direction as part of a movement. So if a character kills an enemy and another one attacks him from behind, he can't just turn around. He has to walk forward into an empty square, turn around, and come back.
  • You cannot exempt characters from negative spell effects.
  • You cannot exempt enemies from positive spell effects.
  • You cannot identify the enemies even by name, let alone by armor class, combat effectiveness, or magical capability.
These factors come together to create an utterly chaotic combat experience. Chaotic combat does not well-serve a spell system in which the spells must be carefully targeted. It's cool that I can cast a "Paralyze" spell that affects every enemy in a radius, but I'm almost never in a situation in which only enemies are in my radius. Similarly, it's theoretically useful that I can "rally" characters around a single character and then heal them all with a single spell--except there's virtually no way to avoid catching enemies in the healing effect. Any ranged spell is almost certain to hit an obstacle before it hits is intended target.
Mixing my first "Surround/Paralyze" spell.
Let's say I want to cast a targeted healing spell on a fellow party member. First, I have to identify the right character in the sea of combat. The "pause" option helps a little with that, I admit. Second, I have to hope that he's not behind any of the physical obstacles in the room. Then I have to find an unobstructed path from the caster to the character--no objects, room gaps, enemies, or other characters in between. I might try to maneuver the caster around the periphery of the room to get a clear shot, but while I'm doing that, the position of the enemies and characters in the melee is constantly changing. Also, the character I'm trying to move doesn't necessarily follow the clear, unobstructed path to the destination. She might just wander directly into the melee that I'm trying to avoid. At this point, enough time has passed that the original character is probably dead.

The same considerations are true of targeting enemies, with the additional consideration that I don't really know who to target. I don't want to waste my spells on trivial mooks, but I can't distinguish them from their harder leaders. I could try to watch them, but enemies are always moving and teleporting and whatnot, and the overall chaos of combat makes it difficult to track what any one enemy is doing. Maybe some of you will be better at it than I am. My colorblindness and general . . . whatever . . . make me less responsive to visual cues. Tell me that I'm facing a "ghoul," and I think, "Oh, hell. Those guys can paralyze. I'd better be prepared." But just show me an image of a ghoul that's barely distinguishable from every other undead image in the game, and I don't have the same reaction.

I just fought a large battle with what looked like a bunch of little guys in stocking caps. Some had green pants and some had blue pants. Was I supposed to carefully note which enemies were fighting which characters and write down "green pants=easy; blue pants=HARD!" If so, that's more effort than I'm willing to put in.
A reminder of what combat looks like. I can barely distinguish enemy from friend, let alone position characters carefully in such a cramped room, or identify a path from my spellcaster to a particular enemy that won't be blocked by another person.
Thus, I find I only get use out of a couple of spells: First, those that heal the caster. Since the runemaster has the smallest number of hit points, she's always in danger of dying, and a simple healing spell can keep that from happening. Second, I get some use of out of spells that affect the square directly in front of the caster. There's no targeting necessary with that one. As soon as you see that your runemaster is facing an enemy, you can cast "Damage" or "Paralysis" knowing that no one else will be hit. Third, a "Surround Speed" spell is a good option for when the enemies start entering the room, just before the party breaks up in whatever direction to go fight them. But that one's pretty expensive, reagent-wise, so I almost always make sure a combat is actually going to be hard (by someone dying) before I reload and cast it.

I do occasionally cast a "Surround" healing spell, figuring it's better to heal both my characters and the enemies than let the characters die. Beyond that, I don't know. Maybe there's something I'm missing? Maybe I just need more practice? I don't have all the runes yet, either. I should also point out that reagents aren't cheap, so the game doesn't encourage a lot of experimentation.

When I last wrote, I was in Fagranc, but I wasn't getting very far. I got tired of getting my ass kicked in every combat, so I decided to march all the way back to the starting point to see about buying more runes. I soon found that I couldn't even get back to the entrance of Fagranc without save-scumming. The random encounters kept overwhelming me. At last, I had to move carefully from one screen to the next, save if no random combat appeared, and reload if it did.

Back on the surface, I marched back to Treihadwyl and then to the mountains to the east. I attempted a couple of banner encounters along the way, but they were way too powerful for me. I notice that sometimes evil forces capture a city, but then good forces often liberate it again. I assume that the worst that happens is the enemy holds a city and I can't enter it until I can defeat the forces there or some other good army comes along and does it for me.
I would, but I can't.
I found The Ancient without much trouble, but his runes were way too expensive (especially after I spent most of my accumulated funds on bard songs). So I returned to Treihadwyl and grinded for a while, earning enough experience to get most of my characters to Level 4 and enough gold for all of the directional runes plus several new effects: "Speed," "Paralysis," and "Anti-Magic."

On the way back to Fagranc, I tried a few more banner combats and won a couple, although almost always with my runemaster dying. Fortunately, resurrection is free. It will be nice when I can afford the "Vivify" rune, but of course that won't help the runemaster herself, who needs to be alive to cast the spell.

Fagranc was a little easier on my return, but still not easy, and my reload count would horrify most of you.

Some other notes:

  • The only guild, where you can level up, seems to be back in Treihadwyl. That's a little annoying, since I seem to be earning some solid experience in Fagranc.
  • The game shares Dungeon Master's tendency to give you cool-sounding equipment and tell you nothing about what it does. I found a pair of "Chaos Gloves" that only my runemaster can equip. The only thing they seem to do is reduce her armor class by 2. Surely there must be more to them than that?
Of course, this entire game is chaos.
Fagranc is much like the first dungeon, though larger, where the purpose is to find the right sequence of keys to find the right sequence of doors. There are fewer puzzle rooms so far. One of them required me to step on a couple of pressure plates, but invisible squares throughout the room teleported my characters back to the beginning. I had to mentally remember the right path to avoid the squares--and still couldn't figure out any way to open the chest in the room, since it has a teleport square right in front of it. But there must be some way to open it because I'm out of keys and can't progress anywhere in the level.
The room in question.
I really feel like I'm getting nowhere with this game, which despite all my negativity has some good points. The economy is well-structured, for instance. I like the contrast between dungeon exploration and the strategy-game-like mechanics happening on the surface. And, of course, in a game where you could more effectively position your characters and target spells, the spell system would be wildly innovative and fun.

Time so far: 10 hours

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Silvern Castle: Good Mechanics in a Boring Setting

I wish this game was half the size.
I had really hoped to win this one in a third entry, but the levels are just too large and playing takes too long. Not a lot has changed. It's still a pretty good game as wireframe Wizardry clones go, in plenty of ways outperforming the original.

Character development remains consistent and strong. As an anonymous commenter pointed out last time, attributes max at 18, meaning that if several are already at 18, you may be wasting opportunities to improve. The smart thing to do, mostly, is visit the "proving grounds" before leveling up to "sell" a point off any attribute above 17 and use it to buy points on attributes below 17, maximizing the bonuses awarded when leveling up. This is true, at least, except for the spellcasters, who get major spell point bonuses if their prime requisites are at 18 and lose them if you lower this score.

You can buy your way to 19 and above, but it takes a lot of effort. To get from 17 to 18 require 16 points. To get from 18 to 19 requires 99. You basically have to sell 17s and 18s off of 6 other attributes to raise a single score from 18 to 19. It sounds like it isn't worth it, but again, once you have 18s in everything you're just wasting level-ups. Whatever you sell to get something to 19 will probably be reclaimed in 2 or 3 levels anyway. Plus, I think getting every attribute to 21 is the only way to create a "Mystic" character, which has the abilities of every class.

I have made some easier promotions, changing my two fighters to ranger and monk when they had the requisite attributes, and changing my thief to an assassin. This started them all back over at Level 1 but kept their attributes and hit points, and within a few high-experience point combats, they were 2/3 of the way to their old levels anyway. The monk is a pretty effective fighter bare-handed (although he can wield some magic weapons in case he's up against an enemy only damaged by magic) and by Level 10, he has the unarmored equivalent of plate mail. He can also cast some cleric spells; it's nice to have someone else with healing. The ranger and assassin can eventually cast mage spells.
Obetyne promotes to an "assassin."
My cleric is waiting to hit one more level as a cleric before she can get promoted to druid, and my two mages both need several levels before they're powerful enough to become wizards. The other promotions are based mostly on attributes, but druids and wizards have a minimum level requirement.
The monk does good unarmed damage against an enemy fighter.
Amazingly, the economy is still very tight. Towards the end of this session, I was able to splurge on a couple of magic weapons for characters who haven't found any yet, but I still can't afford half of the spells available to me, and there are several magic items (plus the ability to enchant items) that are way out of my reach. This far in to the game, it still makes economic sense to carry short swords back to the shop for sale.
My ranger's character sheet at the end of the session.
The combats remain suitably challenging, although there haven't been a lot of interesting new enemies. What I really like is the diversity of equipment. Although based in appearance on Wizardry, for equipment the game takes much more inspiration from The Bard's Tale and its huge inventory of poorly-documented gear. A lot of what I'm finding contradicts the official rules. For instance, the cleric can only use blunt weapons, just like a typical Dungeons and Dragons cleric--except for the Holy Sword. Mages can't use shields unless they happen to find a Mage's Shield. There are one-use potions galore, rings with powerful castings of most spells, and a few items whose purpose I don't know, like the "elfstone."
Was this one copied from anyone?
I also like that you keep finding more powerful versions of spells. There isn't just a "Sleep" spell; there's regular "Sleep" and "Sleep +1" and "Sleep +2," and I don't know how many other pluses.

I've mapped all of levels 1-5, most of levels 6 and 7, and some of 8 and 9. They haven't gotten any more interesting in design, and if the game has a major flaw, it's unnecessarily large, boring levels to house just a few key encounters and random combats. Exploration opened up a lot when I found a "Teleport" scroll and achieved a high enough level to cast it. Now I can warp right from the castle to wherever I left off mapping, making the expedition-and-return system much less of a pain.

Incidentally, "Teleport" proves that the unused wall chunks aren't just closed off from the rest of the map (like they are in Might and Magic); they're just entirely solid. If you try to warp into one of these solid spaces, you get a message that you're being bounced to a random location.
At least it doesn't automatically kill you with a trip to solid rock.
As for the plot, there's not much development. I keep finding doors for which no key will open, and I have several annotated on the first six levels. I have found a couple of keys, but so far they've been mostly useful for opening random locked doors that began showing up on Level 6. Usually, there's nothing behind them.
And most of the doors have apple symbols.
In a room on Level 5, I met the ghost of Drachma's old master (Drachma is the villain of the game). He simply reiterated that retrieving the Crystal Orb from Drachma is the goal of the game. He gave me a crystal talisman that he said would help.
An artifact item from a rare NPC.
There were miscellaneous messages about broken elven tools, an underwater cavern, and demons guarding the stairs between Levels 9 and 10. A wishing well asked for money, but I didn't notice that anything happened even when I gave it the max amount.

In one weird Level 6 encounter, I met a group of 8 arch-mages, 5 clerics, and a thief. A message popped up saying "Castle Guards. Pay tax?" I chose "no" and ended up in combat. It was a weirdly unwinnable combat, with none of my characters able to hit the clerics and none of my spells (offensive or defensive) doing any good. Basically, I couldn't do any damage to my foes. Neither could I flee I had to reboot to escape. I guess next time I'll pay the tax?

Sorry for the brief entry, but it was all the long game delivered in several hours. I'm sure I can win this by next time.

Time so far: 17 hours

Monday, April 23, 2018

Quest for Glory III: What in Tarna-Nation

Good to see that Rakeesh is doing all he can to forestall the crisis.
Despite the fact that in this stage of the game, the character is supposed to be searching for the Leopardmen village and finding a way to convince the Simbani and Leopardmen not to go to war, there's still a lot to do back in Tarna. Last time, I related how I finished the ritual of the staff and returned the potion reagents to Salim.

Rakeesh, despite pledging his honor to bring peace, spends the entirety of this game session canoodling his wife. For her part, Kreesha admits that she can find no real evidence of demons, but something far to the east is "drawing her power." She suggests this might be something called a Gate Orb, which would allow demons to cross into our world. She also feels like she's being watched when she steps out of her shop.

In the bazaar, I rectified my previous failure to give some coins to the drummer. More important, I found the thief Harami lurking around. He begged me to meet him at nighttime. When I did, he talked about how awful it is to live in Tarna after being declared honorless. No one will sell anything to him, he can't get a job, and he can't leave. I took pity on him and gave him some of my food, which caused my "Honor" score to increase. He was there the next night, and the night after.
I love the thief's logic here.
In the tavern, I finally got to speak with Khatib Mukar'ram, the survivor of the peace mission that had been ambushed on the way to the Leopardmen. Withered, haunted, and insane, he related being attacked by beasts with claws and red eyes. He also dropped the bomb that Leopardmen aren't really animals--they're people who warg into half-leopard form.
Yikes. This is heavy for a light adventure game.
The most important event--perhaps--still remaining in Tarna was the judging of my soul. It happened when I returned the Gem of the Guardian to the Temple of Sekhmet. I'm not sure I really understand the ritual. It began when the priestess forced me to drink something.
Any chance the Feather of Truth weighs 188 pounds?
I found myself floating in a void with various symbols in front of me: a heart, a key, an ankh, a pentagram, a sword, and a cup. A voice demanded that I "choose that which I was." I'm not sure that any of the symbols described what I "was," but I chose the pentagram, which was closest.
I was a mage. I still am, but I was, too.
I then had a couple of hypothetical situations thrown at me:
You are aiding an old wizard to cast a ritual which will bind the rushing waters of a river and prevent the flooding of the village below. Suddenly, the old mage clutches his heart and cannot speak. What do you do?
There were five options:
  1. Grab the old Wizard's spell book and continue the incantation.
  2. Help the old Wizard, knowing that his life and wisdom are more important to you than the huts of a village.
  3. Finish the spell for the Wizard, figuring that you will get to keep the spell book if he dies while you are saving the village.
  4. Do what you can to help the old Wizard quickly, then try to complete the spell yourself in time to save the village.
  5. Watch the flood waters flow past the barriers of the spell as the old man dies while you ponder the ironies of the universe.
Obviously, only the first, second, and fourth are remotely defensible. The third is basically the same as the first except for the character's motives. I feel that the real conundrum here is whether you put yourself fully towards helping one or the other or increase the risk of losing both the wizard and the village by spreading yourself too thin with the fourth option. If the fourth option had said something like "knowing that by trying to help both, you may doom both," it would have been harder. That's the one I chose.

Another group of symbols appeared: an hourglass, a key, a yin-yang, a fist, a ring, and an infinity symbol. "Choose what you are," the voice said. I chose the infinity symbol for no particular reason.

The next question had me in a hall of mirrors where each image reflected a different possibility. The options:
  1. Find the image which looks the strongest and toughest and touch it.
  2. Look for the most beautiful image and reach out to embrace it.
  3. Close your eyes and choose an image by chance.
  4. Walk away from the mirrors, knowing that physical appearance is nothing more than vanity and illusion.
  5. Smash the mirrors with a rock because you really don't want to be reminded of how you look.
Do you have any questions about bigger kids demanding my sweetroll? I'd ace that one.
It's too bad that the last option continued past "with a rock" because otherwise it might have been a valid, counter-intuitive option. In my case, since none of the images showed anything that a wizard would prize in particular, I chose option 4.

Finally, I got another set of symbols chosen from the first two sets: an ankh, a candle, a pentagram, a sword, and a ring. "Choose what you will become." A candle, I guess. I'll be a candle in the wind. This led to the final puzzle:
Darkness surround three burning candles. Engraved in the stone floor are the words. You must choose one. The yellow candle burns the brightest, the green candle burns the steadiest, and the brown candle burns dim, but long. Which do you choose?
I guess the middle path? I choose green. After this, the voice interpreted my various selections. By choosing the pentagram as my past, I will be "grounded" in magic and knowledge. By choosing the infinity in the middle, I show that I "refuse to accept limitations on myself." Finally, by choosing the candle, I have shown that I desire glory. I am "drawn like a moth to the candle, and may be consumed by its brilliance."

In the end, the voice proclaimed that my "skills are in harmony with my nature." Ultimately, I am "judged worthy."
This text changes, it turns out, depending on your selections. But as long as you don't choose stupid or evil options, you're fine.
Then there was a lot more about the future:
Thou hast unleashed the Darkness. And the Darkness now encircles thee. Ye must walk a narrow path to bring back the light.

Let the first part of the path be guided by friendship. Thy feet already walk upon this path. Two thou hast known before. Three thou shalt free. One thou has brought low, then helped to rise again. One shall stand thy rival and thy friend. The Sword shall cross thy path, and bonds shall be cut asunder. Seek thou the least of these guides to lead thee to the depths of darkness.

Now thou art Opener of the Way and all thy heart has called shall draw near to thee. Two shall stand and five shall follow to face their greatest foe in a battle they cannot win. For thou must walk alone to free them all. Seek thee now the highest tower to find the Door to Darkness. There thy powers shall be as naught, until thy greatest spell is broken. Then thou must close the Demon's Gate.

This is that which might yet be. The path is thine own to follow or not. Go forth now, bringer of the light.
I don't know exactly how I "unleashed the darkness," but I assume it has something to do with killing Ad Avis. The two friends I've known before must be Rakeesh and Uhura. The one brought low, then helped to rise again might be Harami? The rest is all in the future, I guess. Anyway, after the vision I woke up in my room in the tavern.

Naturally, I couldn't let it end there. I reloaded and messed around a bit. First, I chose the same symbols but with the stupid answers to the questions. I was told that my soul was "not in balance with truth" and thus I was "not worthy for the future to be revealed." As before, I woke up in my bed.

In subsequent reloads, I tried different combinations of symbols. Each one resulted in a different scenario, all with some selections that were obviously consistent with the theme of the object, and some at odds. As long as I chose the consistent options, I was judged "worthy" and the future was revealed. However, if I didn't select the pentagram in the first or third selection, I got a message that I was denying my own nature as a wizard. I assume the thief has to choose a key first or third and a fighter has to choose a sword. I don't think the middle selections make any difference except in how you respond to the scenario.

The meaning of "three thou shalt free" became clearer--or, at least, two-thirds of it did--during the rest of the session. While exploring the eastern reaches, I freed a monkey from a cage in the middle of a path. Surprisingly, the monkey could speak--after a fashion. He introduced himself as "Manu" and called me "man-friend." There wasn't much else to do in this conversation, but I suspect we'll be seeing Manu again.
I was going to ask who was trying to trap a talking monkey, but then I realized that the real question is who wouldn't try to trap a talking monkey?
Later, I returned to the Simbani village at night and found a storyteller giving a presentation in the middle of the village. He was simply relating the theft of the Spear of Death and the current plight of the village. Alex apparently had an encounter with the same storyteller hanging out by the awari board, but I missed this. I also missed an option to ask Yesufu, the awari-player, to be my friend. Also, while I'm thinking of it, Yesufu turns out to be the son of the Laibon.
When you put it like that, things sound bleak.
The Simbani had captured a Leopardman! He had been caught spying on the village. When I arrived, he was locked in the cage, unable to escape because of its anti-magic protection.
I don't know. "Simbani be too smart" is a phrase that sets my alarm bells ringing.
I knew I'd have to free him eventually, but there were different guards on him at different times of day. He wouldn't talk with me. Lacking other ideas, I messed around with my inventory and decided to try a "dispel" potion. It worked--boy did it.
That she was a leopard-woman wasn't discernible in leopard form?
The beast turned into a woman that would give Princess Aiela a run for the title of "Miss Lost World." Everyone in the village was excited about the development, thinking we could now get from her the location of the secret Leopardman village. The Laibon was convinced she'd talk--"as a prisoner or as a wife." Say what now?

From further conversations--and I'm a little confused how we got here--it became clear that I'm expected to marry the Leopardwoman to secure her freedom and the intelligence about her village. I think there might be slightly something off with the logic that forcing a captured enemy into marriage is going to make her betray her people to her enslaver-husband, but what do I know about tribal cultures? The Laibon made it clear that he doesn't want Yesufu to wed the woman, but he set a high "bride price" for her: a fine robe, a fine spear, and five zebra skins.
I wish Uhura was here to hear this.
Well, I've got the robe and spear, but only one zebra skin, so I'll have to hike back to Tarna for the other four, maybe check in on Harami, see if Rakeesh or Kreesha have any advice, and flirt with Janna one more time before the ball and chain gets shackled around my ankle.
Miscellaneous notes:

  • At the advice of a commenter, I returned to the Pool of Peace and cast "Detect Magic." One of the rocks sparkled and glowed and displayed the letter "E," almost certainly for "Erana." I thought there might be something to do with the rock, like there was back in the first game, but "Trigger," "Open," and "Fetch" produced no results.
I want to meet this Erana someday.
  • Also in the Pool of Peace area, you can pet the cheetah.
Fun fact: cheetahs can purr but not roar. Lions can roar but not purr.
  • I forgot to mention last time that Uhura's story got some more depth and clarification as I spoke to her. Apparently, in Simbani society, women can be warriors, but only if they're unmarried. No Simbani man would willingly father a child with a woman who was not his wife. Uhura wanted to have a child but remain a warrior, so she sneaked off to Shapeir, where she had a child with a city guard--who could apparently care less about his lover's marital status--stayed for a while, and then returned home. No one seems to mind her little loophole. I have to give the Coles a lot of credit here: this series has featured some of the best-fleshed-out NPCs of any RPG so far in my chronology.
  • Alex titled one of his sections "The Mighty Jungle," and it made me realize that we've completely missed the boat on subtitles. We should have been mining "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." I could have made the winning entry "Quest for Glory III: Weeee-eee-ee-ee-ee-kaleo-mum-a-way."
  • For some reason, Alex got a lot more flying cobras than I did. I literally have only fought one. I wonder if certain monsters favor certain classes. My constant annoyance is dinosaurs.
I haven't said a lot about my character development so far, but it's been steady enough. My attributes are comfortably approaching 250, as are my most-used skills. I still can't get "Parry" to budge. "Climbing"--which isn't a mage skill anyway--doesn't respond to the ropes in the Simbani village. My combat spell skills are nearing 200, but I may need to practice my non-combat spells just for the heck of it.
My character at the end of this session.
No battle is very dangerous for me, and I haven't had to use a pill in forever. Again, we find that "challenge" isn't really the watchword for the Quest for Glory series. Both combat and puzzles remain relatively, almost trivially, easy--but the story is interesting enough that it doesn't bother me that much. The NPCs are fun to talk with and the locations are fun to explore. I'm not sure why this entry developed a reputation as a weak point of the series: already I think I'm liking it more than II, if only for its comparative nonlinearity.

Hopefully, I didn't give Alex too much to jump over this time. Make sure to check out his coverage at "The Adventure Gamer" from a paladin's perspective.

Time so far: 9 hours


Saturday, April 21, 2018

Legend: Very Silly Parties

I wonder if "Beamday" is anything like "Sunday."
There are a number of promising elements in Legend, but they just don't create a satisfying gameplay experience. To start, the puzzle difficulty is severely unbalanced. When I broke after the first entry, I was trying to figure out the final major puzzle in the first dungeon. It involved casting "Missile Damage" spells at a rune, which caused flames to belt out of a couple of pillars, which struck other runes, which caused other things to happen. Ultimately, I had to hit the runes in the right pattern to create a path across the water to the room's exit.
Apparently, after choosing the path, you can choose multiple effects, including the same effect multiple times.
Even with the hint that I had to use some "Double Missile Damage" spells, I couldn't figure it out. I had to look up a walkthrough to see the correct pattern, which was:
  • Cast "Missile Damage" at the rune.
  • Cast "Double Missile Damage" at the rune.
  • Have a character other than the caster pull a lever.
  • Cast "Missile Damage" at the rune.
  • Pull the lever again
  • Cast "Missile Damage" at the rune.
  • Cast "Double Missile Damage" at the rune
  • Pull the lever again.
  • Cast "Missile Damage" at the rune.
  • Pull the lever again.
  • Cast "Missile Damage" at the rune.
  • Cast "Double Missile Damage" at the rune.
I mean, seriously? This was supposed to be discernible by a player playing blind? I get the idea of trying things and testing effects, but that only works when the effects are consistent and repeatable. When different things happen in response to the same spell in different strengths or at different times, it's pretty frustrating to figure out. And when the right sequence involves 12 friggin' steps, that frustration turns to fury.
Casting one of many spells on a rune.
With the puzzle solved, I was able to get the final keys necessary to shut off the traps and claim the treasure in the final room. The treasure turned out to be a "permit" giving me permission to visit King Necrix III.
Gasp. It's all been a test!
Necrix's castle was a brief hop back on the main map. There the king gave me some money and a key and told me to destroy the evil in the city of Fagranc. Developer Anthony Taglione doesn't really have a gift for fantasy names. "Trazere" is okay, but "Necrix" and "Fagranc" are both goofy, as was "Bloodwych" and its villain "Zendick."
The first quest.
Fagranc turns out to be on an island at the top of the map. It's only about half a map away as the crow flies, but to reach it, the party had to basically circle the entire land--around a couple of mountain ranges, through a narrow valley, and across a causeway to the island. I did it in stages, stopping in each city along the way to see what I could find.
My party and various armies roam the game map.
In one, the bartender told me to see his colleague in Groghurst for some news; the Groghurst (there's another one) bartender told me that the Druids have the "key to the secrets within MoonHenge" (and another). In another, I stopped in a temple and donated money to increase my "luck" score. I didn't really talk about it last time, but every character has a "luck" attribute that will save them from death in combat, depleting one point for every save. My assassin and runemaster were at 0 after the first dungeon.

In some tavern at the south end of the map, I ran into a minstrel who offered to teach the game's other songs for a fee. Not knowing when I'd see him again, I bought them all--exhausting my finances in the process. They include "The Thief of Dolik Pass," which increases everyone's dexterity; "Smithy Song," which increases armor class, and "Dance of the Faerie Queen," which increases speed. Others increase strength, defense, constitution, and intelligence. I'll have to experiment with their utility, but I can imagine keeping the original song, which regenerates health, most of the time.
Better than "The Thief of Buckblow Pass," I guess.
In Eb's Pass, I bought horses for the characters, improving the speed of overland travel.
"Eb's Pass" is, at least, two short to be risible.
As I approached the island, I decided to try my first "banner encounter." As the characters march across the map, so do various armies, both good (blue) and bad (red). The sigils displayed by these armies give a sense of their relative strength. There are 7 such sigils, ranging from hawk (weak) to skull (strong). I attacked an enemy with a pair of serpents, indicating the second-lowest difficulty.
Encountering a foe in the wilds.
The ensuing battle wasn't really any different than a long combat in a dungeon room. The same options applied. We won in a couple chaotic minutes. The runemaster died, but I got her resurrected in a nearby town. I think the banner encounters are necessary in a way; if you don't kill the evil armies occasionally, they eventually take over the land. 
A "banner fight."
As I close this unfortunately brief entry, I'm in the Fagranc dungeon, convinced I made a big mistake. The combats are so much more difficult here than the first dungeon, and the runemaster dies in just about every encounter. I clearly need to boost my use of magic, and in consulting the manual, I see that the mage "Mantric" (yep), who sells additional runes, is located somewhere way back near Treihadwyl (uh-huh). I also spent most of the money I'd use to buy runes, so even if I traipse back there, I'll probably have to grind in the starting dungeon for gold and perhaps a level for my weak runemaster.
If they were going for an anagram of "Fragrance," why not "Grafcenar"?
I want to get far enough into the game to experiment with the storied spell system, but navigation and combat are so joyless that it's tough to force myself to play for more than a quarter hour at a time. I don't have a lot of faith that more complex spells will change much, but I'll let you know.

Time so far: 6 hours

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Quest for Glory III: Open Savanna

A giant ant rushes my character as I admire the scenery.
As I closed last time, Rakeesh and I were leaving Tarna for the Simbani village. This was in the midst of a very long set of scripted events in which the most I could do was ask a few dialogue questions.

The journey to the Simbani village happened on a couple of small-scale maps of the savanna, crossed with rivers and mountain ranges, dotted with cities, villages, and environmental features. Rakeesh led the way on the first expedition, but later I was able to explore openly.

During the journey, Rakeesh told me a bit about the flora and fauna of Fricana. (In Alex's game, Rakeesh used this time to outline his growing powers as a paladin.) As we approached the Simbani village, he warned me that they're afraid of magic and that I shouldn't cast spells in the village or even tell them that I'm a mage (honestly, can I use magic anywhere in this game?). Part of the reason that the Simbani distrust the Leopardmen is that the latter are magic users. We camped once on the way, with Rakeesh warning me that if I didn't already have a tinderbox, I should buy one back in Tarna. This was the first indication that the game isn't linear, and that I would later be able to explore Tarna and the rest of Fricana at my leisure.
Rakeesh liontaur-splains the plot.
We arrived at the village and met Uhura, who took us to the leader, Laibon Mkubwa. Unfortunately, he had even less wisdom than Rajah about the Leopardmen. He was convinced that the evil magic-using creatures were behind the recent theft of the Spear of Death, a holy relic for the Simbani. He refused Rakeesh's plan to bring both the Simbani and Leopardmen before the Hall of Judgement, then kicked us out of his tent abruptly. In Uhura's tent, Rakeesh expressed surprise at the leader's attitude, which Uhura explained as the shame caused by losing the Spear.
That sounds a bit like "magic" to me, but what do I know?
Then, Rakeesh dropped a bombshell: his leg was hurting, so he was going back to Tarna in the morning. He suggested I continue my search for the hidden Leopardmen village in the jungles to the east. I mean, I guess I understand, Rakeesh, if your leg is bothering you. On the other hand, you did pledge, on pain of exile from Tarna, to bring peace between the Simbani and the Leopardmen--so, I don't know, it seems like maybe more than just one unproductive conversation with the Simbani chief is in order?
You're really comfortable just leaving this to me?
In any event, he was gone the next morning, and I had the run of the Simbani village. To the west was a place where I could practice throwing spears at a target. Uhura popped up to give some advice about watching the wind. My "Throwing" skill was pretty bad (it's not a very useful skill for a mage anyway), but later I improved it.
Tossing spears at a target.
On the north end of the village was a guy named Yesufu playing a mancala variant called awari, which is the second time we've see one of these types of games (the first was in The Legend of Blacksilver). It's a reasonably easy game to master, and a few wins increased my intelligence. He had a magic cage nearby that he said could be used to imprison Leopardmen (since no magic affects it) but it was empty.
Haven't you been playing this all your life?
Finally, to the east there was an elevated plank where I could practice climbing and balance. Uhura again appeared to offer some advice. Later, she challenged me to a balancing match, which brought up a little minigame in which the two characters trade moves intended to unbalance the other character. I defeated her handily. She mentioned an "initiation" for Simbani warriors. I didn't get a chance to go through that process, but I suspect the fighter classes do.
I'm glad I spent all that time on the tightrope in Shapeir.
A final visit to the village leader led to an interesting revelation: a drum sitting by his side was actually a magic drum, stolen from the Leopardmen. The Simbani had found it in the hands of one of their warriors, Mbuzi, dead outside the village gate. It's pretty obvious that someone is setting up both the Simbani and Leopardmen, but the plot requires everyone but me and Rakeesh to be morons.
"This did not strike us as suspicious at all."
After I explored the village, it was time to hit the open savanna. The game world ends up consisting of four screens laid east to west, with Tarna in the far west. I explored and accomplished quite a bit, but I'm going to relate it in a slightly non-linear order. Alex and I said we were going to try to "leapfrog" each other in our entries, but the truth is, after you visit the Simbani village the game stops being linear for a while, with no set order in which to do things. So I'll describe combat here, plus the one thing I know that Alex didn't do because he's not a mage.
The farthest-east game map.
Combat takes place frequently as you cross the savanna. I encountered hostile Leopardmen, giant ants, dinosaurs, flying cobras, crocs, and demon worms. When they engage you, you get a fighting mini-game similar to the first two titles. The controls in the lower right are duplicated on the keypad. The mage gets two control pads, toggled with the middle button, and I assume the paladin's abilities are on a second pad for that class. Options include swing, thrust, dodge, parry, flee, and for the mage, the ability to cast "Zap," "Force Bolt," "Flame Dart," "Dazzle," or "Lightning Ball," the latter of which I don't yet have.
Fighting a demon worm with my magic options active.
Despite the similar controls, it feels like combat was improved a bit for this game. First, the mage has a much more difficult time in physical combat than in the first games. I haven't been able to win any of the fights with my dagger alone. Second, the spells actually work as advertised. You can cast "Calm" before an enemy approaches and stop him in his tracks. In combat, "Dazzle" stuns the enemy for a couple of rounds. As a result, combat is more challenging and makes better uses of the mage's strengths.
Fighting a croc with martial options active.
One battle is a bit too easy for the mage. Leopardmen don't advance on you and engage combat; they stand to the side and cast spells. This would be dangerous if not for "Reversal," which makes you immune to their magic. Unfortunately, their bounced spells don't hurt them, either, but while they're futilely casting magic at you, you can calmly throw your own spells, daggers, or even rocks at them. (Rocks can be picked up on any screen and are endless.) I got my throwing skill from 75 to 180 just by stoning Leopardmen.
The Leopardman's spells hurt neither of us, but mine still hurt him.
Giant ants and flying cobras are thankless monsters. They leave no treasure and have a decent chance of poisoning you. Poison-cure pills are very expensive. I don't think it makes sense to fight them.
I'm pretty rich, but getting poisoned half a dozen times will have me begging on the street.
The toughest physical monsters so far are "dinosaurs," an oddly generic name for a beast that looks only a little like a dinosaur. You can loot horns from them when they die, but I don't know what to do with them.

I spent most of this session (the bulk of which I'll relate next time) looking for interesting physical features on the game map--big rocks, pools of water, structures, copses of trees--and traveling to them to see if anything was there.

Rakeesh had suggested that I prioritize the creation of my mage's staff, reasoning that "to restore peace in the land," I will need "all the magic [I] can get." I had no idea where to find the "magic wood" that I would need for the staff ritual, but I stumbled upon it accidentally while visiting a giant tree, based on the "world tree" of various mythologies.
The base of the Tree of Life.
The tree had a series of ramps that led me to a lush garden at its top. Visiting this place fully restores your health, stamina, and mana, which makes up for the slight annoyance of navigating to the top. I also found a fruit--the "gift from the heart of the world" that the pill-seller wanted for a dispel potion.
The Heart of the World.

About halfway up the tree was a cave where I encountered a group of lights. It called itself "the Guardian." When I asked it about magic wood, it told me to find a blue orchid in the jungle, to bathe it in the "essence of the Pool of Peace when the moon shines upon its waters," and to plant it on the stand at the top of the world. The Guardian also, when asked, gave me the gem that the statue of Sekhmet had told me to find, but I'll talk about that next time.
Some of the options when talking to the Guardian.
It took a little wandering to find the blue orchid, but once I found it, a simple "Fetch" spell put it in my hand.
I nearly subtitled this entry The Orchid Thief but it wasn't that big a part of the session.
The Pool of Peace was an obvious physical feature I'd already found. I wondered if it had anything to do with Erana. I had filled up a water skin there, since that was another ingredient of the dispel potion. When I visited a second time, I bathed the orchid in its waters at night.
Screenshots captured at night are really hard to interpret.
Returning the orchid to the Heart of the World, I was rewarded with some magic wood growing from the tree.
I' m glad I didn't have to saw it with my knife. That would have felt wrong.
I took this back to Kreesha in Tarna, and we enacted a little ritual that turned the magic wood into a wizard's staff. It involved casting all my existing spells upon it, but the game did that for me automatically. I summon the staff as a spell, but it doesn't require any magic points. Once it's in my hand, I can't move, but none of the spells I cast with it cost any mana. They're also supposedly more powerful. This is going to make those Leopardmen fights even easier.
This was a pretty cool cut scene.
Incidentally, I had found the third element of the dispel potion much earlier--the fruit of poisonous vines that grow in a small alcove. Again, getting it was just a matter of a simple "Fetch" spell. But there were some cute meerbats (cross between meerkats and bats) hanging out nearby, and I suspect the thief or fighter solution employs them in some way.
Snagging a fruit as meerbats look on.
I had also found the feather of the honeybird that the pill-seller needed for more healing potions. It was a random encounter while wandering near Tarna. I followed the bird for a couple of screens until it busied itself with a bee's nest. I poured the honey from the bazaar on the ground. The bird alighted upon it. I knew I didn't want to hurt or hassle him, because he had to be happy when I collected the feather, but the obvious "Fetch" didn't work. The solution turned out to be simpler than that: you walk towards him and he flies away, leaving a feather behind.

With all of these ingredients, I satisfied all of the sub-quests that the pill-seller had. To thank me for telling him about Julanar, he gave me two dispel potions for free.
Aren't you jumping the gun a bit? What if Julanar doesn't like you?
Miscellaneous notes:

  • I've been constantly curious throughout the game which of these encounters are class or experience-dependent. Can someone who creates a new character in this game (or didn't help Julanar in the last) still tell Salim about Julanar? Can a fighter or thief with magic skill get a wizard's staff? Can I participate in the initiation ritual somehow? I guess I'll experiment later.
  • You occasionally come across silly signs in the forest. In addition to the one below, another directed me to "Spielburg Castle: two games back and one revision over."
  • The game is quite insistent that you sleep at least once a day regardless of your stamina level. The inn at Tarna, the Simbani village, the Heart of the World, and the Pool of Peace all seem to be safe places.
  • Just another mention that every potential object has a response to the "eye" icon. I probably haven't even seen 50% of these messages.
My hut in the Simbani village.
  • Time passes and food depletes rapidly as you wander the savanna. I nearly ran out of food. I ended up loading up in the bazaar towards the end of the session.
  • My "parry" skill isn't going up at all. I guess maybe you need a shield for it? But somehow I got it to 175 without having a shield in the previous games.
As with the previous titles, Quest for Glory III is pretty fast-paced, always with something to do. But I can already tell that re-plays, once you know where things are, will be very short. I probably won't bother with the paladin experience, since Alex is handling that, but I definitely want to figure out how a thief handles this game.

Next time, I'll talk more about what's happening back in Tarna.

Time so far: 6 hours