Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Abandoned Places 2: Not Abandoned Enough

What kind of monks live in the sewer?
       
For the first couple of entries, this game coasted on some unearned goodwill. An uncomplicated dungeon crawler was just what I needed, and it had been a long time since I'd had to make maps. It could have taken that time to earn my honest fondness, but I'm afraid to say that it has failed. Everything that distinguished its predecessor is missing from this sequel, and while there are times that it's an agreeable dungeon crawler, it really doesn't seem have much new to offer the Dungeon Master line.
   
When I last wrote, I had explored one and a quarter levels of a dungeon in which I was to find the Dobelal Shield. The dungeon ended up being nine levels. It took me about 22 hours to explore and map them. I had gotten way ahead in my blogging, so this session helped to put on the brakes a bit.
   
The levels were all a relentlessly monotonous 30 x 30, which is the first major break from the first Abandoned Places. That one had a lot more variety in dungeon shape, size, and depth. Maybe that's still to come in the sequel, but I doubt it. The dungeon had three sections: four levels of dwarven mines, three levels of what looked like sewers, and two levels of "ancient dwarven mines." Each section had its own textures and monsters, and once again I have to give the game some kudos for evocative graphics.
       
The game is best when making interesting textures.
     
But here we also have my first major complaint: Each section of dungeon has two and only two types of monsters, and sometimes they aren't even very different from each other. In the opening dungeon, there were skeletons and armored skeletons. In the four dwarven mine levels, I faced dwarves and spiders. The sewers brought monks and some kind of giant leeches. And the ancient dwarven mines had armored warriors and armored warriors with blue cloaks. Add to this the four different monster types in the wilderness, and I've faced 12 monsters in 35 hours. In place of "boss" fights, where most games would give you a special opponent, this one just gives you a whole lot of the regular ones.
      
The two types of monsters on the last two levels. I don't even think one is harder than the other.
      
There were times that the combats were tough, but the skills of my crew and the ability to run away and heal keep combat from ever becoming very hard. The toughest ones are when the game combines them with some other navigation puzzle. During this last session, there were times I had to fight enemies from a spinner, or in anti-magic zones, or in darkness. There was a memorable area in which I had to quickly kill a group of foes to get out of a fire square. But for all that, I've only reloaded because of combat deaths about five times. Almost always, that was because my voider in position 2 was killed; the game really seems to have expected the player to make two warriors and two mages.
        
Realizing that I'm in an anti-magic zone just in time to face a bunch of giant leeches.
      
The navigation puzzles are the harder part of the game, but they're not really hard in a challenging, fun way like Dungeon Master. I'm talking about things like invisible teleporter squares that jerk you all over the dungeon, or having to hit buttons while whizzing by on a slider. Some buttons activate secret doors, turning regular walls into illusory walls. It's annoying enough to have to head-butt every wall to test for secret door; it's enraging to have to do it a second time after activating a button.
        
Here, I had to get items out of a chest while standing in fire.
       
Sometimes, messages offer clues as to the nature of a challenge "But . . . where is the key?" one offered as I neared a locked door. Sure enough, no key that I found anywhere on the level opened it. Instead, the lock was unlocked with a gem. Without the message, I might not have been primed to try unorthodox solutions, but I still don't think that makes it a good puzzle. 
       
A message alerts me that I need to fill this chamber with longswords.
      
Worst of all are a couple of places in which hitting a button can put you in a "walking dead" state. I encountered two of these. There might have been more, but after the first two, I stopped pressing buttons unless it was clear that I needed them. The first was obvious. I pressed a button and two pillars appeared on either side of me, preventing me from moving. Pressing it again didn't lower them. Reload, no big deal. But on a different level, pushing a button raised a pillar that blocked the exit from a huge area. It wasn't clear there was no other exit until I had explored the entire thing and had saved. If my automated backup hadn't made a copy of the save disk just a couple hours prior, this would have been a very different sort of entry.
    
One of my ongoing complaints about the entire Dungeon Master line is their refusal to provide any equipment information and statistics. Abandoned Places 2 follows that tradition. You can tell which item of armor offers better protective value by the character's defense score, and a few items raise attributes, but that's about it. There's no indication of weapon damage (and unlike Dungeon Master, you don't even get damage values during combat), nor of any special abilities or resistances. This is particularly bothersome here because I suspect many of the weapons are useless or cursed. Some are just mysterious. A Sword of Mercy can only be handled by a fighter but raises intelligence and wisdom (useless to fighters) by a point each. It delivers less experience per successful blow than other weapons, and I suspect does less damage (which I supposed would make sense, given its name). I can't say for sure that a throwing axe called Rehebbel the Axe of Axes did nothing, but I never once saw an enemy die to it despite picking it up and throwing it multiple times in some battles. A Sword of the Lovely causes you to lose a level. 
       
This was disappointing.
     
The game does an interesting thing with armor. Certain weapons explicitly won't work in the hands of mages, but with armor, it appears if you put on something wrong for your class, it will allow you to equip it (which excited me at first), but you don't get any benefits from it. Thus, only a mage's defense score increases from robes, and only a fighter gets the +1 constitution benefit of the Helm of Dwarves. Even here there are some mysteries. A Chain Mail of the Bull seems to offer less protection than regular chain mail, and a couple of cool-sounding robes and cloaks offer no protection at all. Boots of Fumbling have no effect on statistics, but I think I'll avoid them anyway.
   
For the longest time, every wearable magical item I found was for the fighter. Only at the end of the last dungeon in this session did I suddenly find weapons and armor meant for mages, including a Dagger of Effective Poisons, a Club of Power Oaks, and Fire Robes.
      
The third sewer level was particularly vexing. First, the stairways A and B are outside of the 30 x 30 area of the map; on other maps, the staircases were part of the map space. Second, so much space is unused in the northwest that I figured I must have missed something, but I couldn't find anything. To lower the gate at F, you have to hit the buttons at E, one of which is in fire. To get to the inner "E," you have to first hit the button at H, which lowers the wall at I. You have to get through the passages at G and I while being slid around in a loop by sliders. Some of the squares are dark, too. Oh, and there are constant missiles flying down the east corridor (in yellow), but don't hit the button at L to block them. That raises a pillar at M that you can never get to go away, trapping you in the area. (I just realized that I used M for several locations; the one I'm talking about is the one right next to L.)
          
My fighter started to fall so far behind in experience that I spent a few levels allowing him to get almost all of it. The crux of the problem is that spellcasters gain experience with every successful spell, but fighters actually have to hit an enemy to level up. But later in this session, my fighter found a couple of enchanted weapons that allowed him to overtake the spellcasters. He's now Level 13 to everyone else's Level 11.
       
There's been no "plot," as such, but one curious thing happened as I entered the third sewer level. One step into the hallway, and I encountered (in text alone) an "upset dwarf" who said: "You were told not to touch our treasure. Now take responsibility for what you have done. You will never leave this place alive and your destiny will not be fame and fortune but death itself." Yikes. Despite the warning, nothing special happened that indicated that the dwarves had it in for me. I wonder if I would have truly avoided this message if I hadn't looted any of the chests in the upper levels, or if everyone gets it.
        
Let me bullet a lot of miscellaneous things:
     
  • Gameplay can get very sluggish with lots of enemies around. I'm using the settings recommended by the developers, but very often, the game fails to register clicks. This can be fatal when that click was meant to cast a healing spell.
  • I've adopted the expedient of just using scrolls, wands, potions, burning oil, and so forth the moment I find it. There's nothing to save them for, and inventory space is precious. One exception is torches. I always have a few of those on hand because the "Light" spell only lasts a few seconds.
  • The game clearly has an encumbrance statistic because my characters slowed down their attacks noticeably when their inventories were full. That's another reason not to carry excess stuff.
  • I've found two pits. One went to the next level (you can return via "Levitate") and the other went to another area on the same level. That's confusing.
         
Preparing to drop.
         
  • The game's few sound effects include swishes and thuds in combat. If they signify anything at all (and are not just random noises), I think maybe they're accidentally reversed. When I see an enemy die from a melee attack, it's usually accompanied by a swish. I don't think I've ever seen one die on a thud.
  • Most messages come up once and never again. They dismiss themselves at a slight breeze. If I'm moving fast down a hallway and a message pops up, I often accidentally hit the next step before I see it, and it disappears. This means reloading.
  • There was a big area of the second level of the ancient dwarven mines (the last level of this series of dungeons) that I never found a way into. I can hear a lot of enemies clomping around in there.
  • When you cast "Create Food," one of around 15 food items gets randomly created. These generally vary in nutritional value (i.e., food points) from 1 or 2 (apricot, tomato, ear of corn) to 7 (potato, goodberries). But a fish, for some reason, is worth 40. It's always great when one of those comes up. It saves like 20 other castings.
     
By the end of the dungeon, I was sick of all the mapping. My tolerance for mapping is about 4,000 squares. I can do 10 levels of wizardry at 20 x 20 each, but a game with 900-square levels is going to lose me before Level 5. I persevered and found the Dobelal Shield behind a couple of locked doors on the last level. It was accompanied by a message from Kuhalk--I don't know if the game means the sword or the person the sword was named after. Either way, he related that Pendugmalhe has taken him to the dungeons beneath the old tower in the north forest.
      
How do we know what Kuhalk's voice sounds like?
      
I had really expected a teleporter or shortcut stairway after finding the artifact, but instead I had to walk all the way back up seven levels. 
   
When I got back to a town, I sold all my gems and jewelry, and then confirmed my growing suspicion that the shops in this game serve no purpose at all. Anything they sell is outclassed by the time you can afford to buy it. If you didn't reload after character deaths, you could spend some money on resurrections, but that's really the only point of collecting gold. Dungeon Master games so rarely have shops and economies that it's a bit enraging to see them introduced and then rendered meaningless.
     
I don't even think I'll bother to collect gems for the rest of the game.
       
As I wrapped up this very long session, I realized I couldn't continue without some sense of how much longer the game is. So I Googled around until I found this Slovakian site, on which a user named Ringo (who has commented on The CRPG Addict before) has mapped all the levels. There are 13 more; I've only played half the game. I don't think I have another 35 hours of mapping in me, so I'm going to adopt the rare (for me) approach of playing the rest of the game with Ringo's maps. Yes, it breaks the rules, but you have to break the rules now and then to keep things interesting. I never use spoilers to this extent, and it interests me to see how playing with them will change the fundamental experience. I would point out, too, that Ringo's maps only annotate the locations of things, not what they do, so I'll still have to solve the puzzles. For instance, I checked his maps of the dwarven mines against mine, and his would not have warned me about the two "walking dead" situations I mentioned earlier.
     
After 22 hours of gameplay, I still could barely get 2,000 words out of the experience, but that's par for the course in dungeon crawlers. Unless someone really wants one of those intensely detailed entries in which I cover the blow-by-blow of a single level, I'll probably wrap this up in one.
   
Time so far: 35 hours

 

35 comments:

  1. I'll be interested to see how long (or if) you stick with using someone else's maps. Will you be highlighting those as you go, or using some other manner of keeping track, often a necessary or very useful thing in these DM-style blobbers.

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  2. Boring game. Wrap it up in 1 entry!

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    1. You Chet's new manager or something?

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    2. Now I'm imagining a troll manager. Very Shadowrun-esque!

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  3. I would still prefer an entry every five hours of play or so, however short, to waiting for one big one. I don't see any reason to artificially require some minimum word count for a post, and blogs thrive on regularity of content.

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    1. That's a good point. Posting a short, minor-update, would be fine. No need to save it all up even if there's not much progress to report.

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    2. Yes short entries for this sort of games is a great idea and I for all would still count it as a full entry

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    3. But it might be that there’s little to report beyond “did a maze, killed some monks”

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    4. Updates have come with an amazing consistency since the start of 2020 - double digit number of posts almost every month, pretty much three per week. I guess games that take longer to get the material for a blog post together are balanced out by briefs and shorter games. I don't see the need for shorter posts if it doesn't feel right.

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    5. Agree with Buck. Either way it's all about what feels right/sustainable for the Addict.

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    6. Chet, do whatever feels right for you.

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  4. Ah, THAT Slovakian website was useful to me a few time :).
    I would wrap it up in one entry, except if like AP1 it suddenly picks up at some point.
    After all, the game has no story and so far no puzzles worth their salt.

    "What kind of monks live in the sewer?" =>Living in enclosed, subterranean place was a standard anachoritic possibility of the early Christendom. Of course, it was best to live on a tree (dendrite monks) or on a column (stylite monks), but living in tombs, grotto, wells, cisterns, ... was third best. I don't think they had a specific term, beyond the general name of "recluse" monk.

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    1. And every old city whit a monestery will have story's about underground passageways underneath it for the monks to go on secret business.

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    2. Derinkuyu is an entire city where, in it's last usage, was refuge to christian refugees escaping genocide by the Ottoman Turks, though it was built sometime in 7-8 BC; it was used until 1923 when Turkey expelled the christian population in an exchange with Greece, and it was abandoned.

      There are numerous other underground cities in the same province as well.

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    3. I know this is a genuine historical thing, but "recluse monk" makes me think of a spider cult.

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    4. I think you've forgotten about Troglodytes: https://www.avignon-et-provence.com/en/monuments/troglodyte-abbey-saint-roman

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    5. I immediately went to stories of early Christians living in sewers or underground crypts to avoid persecution in the Roman Empire.

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  5. This "Slovakian site" is well known, at least for RPG positive gamers from Europe I would say :) Its maintained by a guy called DJ. He also created a tool for mapping called Dungeon mapper and you can check other maps here https://www.oldgames.sk/dungeon-mapper/ The maps for AP2 are from my friend Ringo who also have an interesting blog about old games, you can find some RPG articles here if you are interested https://ringohrani.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html

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  6. "What kind of monks live in the sewer?"

    Must be Crapuchins...

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  7. I´am glad, that my maps are useful :-) I made them without meaning spoiling solutions. There are not many true puzzles. The hardest of them are find some secret switches. Yes, there are some dead ends, but I do not remember this in the sewers levels 3, but i remember one from the sewers level 2, where i was locked between pillars and I had to load. There are also some not reachable areas, especially in the tower levels. I love this game for fantastic atmosphere and interesting graphic.

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    1. It's good to hear from you Ringo. I've actually already won the game (using your maps) and have scheduled the final entry on it. But I'll look at your notes because I'm curious how you felt about some of the late-game developments, particularly that one level where you have to figure out how to get out of a room and long corridor full of fire.

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    2. :-) From my notes: Hell, this level can't be called anything but hell. One ailment of the game also manifested itself here, so I don't want to discourage anyone who is a bulldog and wants to go through every dungeon, so this is really annoying, but marginality. Pressing the movement arrow does not always react to the first good one, sometimes it happens to me that I have to press twice to get the group moving. And why did I look at the map in a Polish manual for that?

      On this floor it is necessary to jump into the teleport, which throws you in the totally fiery burning area, every square is burning. That's why you keep alternating spells, heal all, heal all, levitation, heal all, and you take steps into it, examine the walls, and keep getting hit by fire. In a large lighted hall, it is necessary to press one lever and then climb into each square in it, because one of them hides a stepping platform under the flames. Two closed walls open, and thus the passage away. Fire (probably lava) pours into the passage and it is necessary to scare, because it is impossible to cast magic in this corridor. So no heal, no levitation. So I scared, but the hallway was blind and my gang was dying in disgrace. The second attempt, I find a door, a wall penetrates behind it, some things on the ground, but I die again like Jan Hus. I try all the walls in that corridor, on several attempts I find a permeable small niche, where the fire does not hurt me and I can also do magic. permeable wall. But she didn't reveal herself to me. and why? Well, because just in the escape of fire, the arrow did not show me in the given place and a bunch of walls did not pass, and I decided that the wall is not passable. A bit of a technical stick under your feet that needs to be kept in mind. As long as you are not sure that the game wrote you a text that you cannot pass through this wall, it is possible that you simply missed the non-reaction of the movement arrow. It sounds disgusting, but despite all this, it's a great game :-)

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    3. O ou, I wanted edit my post about fire level now in my old original notes on DJ oldgames website, because i have found some typing errosrs there. But after editing and save this post has disappeared from my notes there. Some accident had happened there, so now my old notes from this level is only here, above this post, translated in English. :-)

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    4. Hah. You wrote just about the same thing that I did, although I was writing from memory and may have messed up my facts a little bit. I thought the entire area, not just the corridor, prevented spellcasting. And I though the mechanism to get out of the big room and into the hallway was different. But the spirit is still the same. It was an awful level.

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    5. It was big challenge and I sometimes like this
      "uff" after beat this hard game moments :-) But the hardest puzzle in this game is really mapping it. It was true hard work.

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  8. BTW there are also my notes from playing the game before two years. But only in Czech (maybe translator of web pages should help :-) https://www.oldgames.sk/disc/abandoned-places-2-dennik-hraca/

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    1. That's interesting. I was able to read them fine using a Slovakian translation. Are the two languages basically the same?

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    2. Both languages are very similar, we was one Republic from 1918 - 1939 and 1945 - 1992 - Czechoslovakia.

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    3. I knew that, but I always imagined you were the same country in the same way that Flanders and Wallonia are the same country, with unique language and culture in the two separate sections. I didn't realize the languages were so similar that either one works find in a translation program.

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    4. There are diferences between Czech and Slovak, but not so big and so we understand each other without essential learn the second lenguage (If you understand Czech, you will understand Slovak and vice versa). Most of words are the same. Some of them have little different pronunciation. It is like other dialect in same language. For example - English word "was" is in Czech "byl" and in Slovak "bol".

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  9. Google translator combo box included in all /en/ links ;-)

    https://www.oldgames.sk/en/disc/abandoned-places-2-dennik-hraca/

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    1. Thanks, DJ, and thanks for maintaining such a useful site.

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  10. Those walking dead situation-buttons would have made me rage quit for sure. Backing up save games was a luxury back then (I had a batch file for Moria, though).

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