|RE: my comment yesterday: Apparently, "roasted peasant" wasn't just a bad pun. This is also on the "safe" square of the map, so every time I "Fly" to this map or flee combat while on it, I end up back here facing mad peasants.|
When it comes to combat tactics, it still seems to me that Wizardry--one of the very first CRPGs--did it best (I wrote about it a year ago). Not only were there a lot of things to do in combat (attacking, blocking, casting, fleeing) but the nature of each foe demanded a unique strategy. Moreover, since you couldn't just rest, heal, and regain your spell points immediately after combat, the game required efficiency: you had to save your best spells for the times you really needed them. Every battle was a balance between sacrificing too many hit points and sacrificing too many spells, and every exploration was a balance between mapping just a few more squares and returning to the safety of the surface. Oh, and with quasi-permanent death, battle had real consequences. I felt real fear and tension exploring Wizardry's dungeon.
Might & Magic II, while very similar to Wizardry in combat options, is very different from the earlier game in its overall tactics. First of all, full-party death isn't permanent; your party gets restarted at the last inn if they all die. While it sucks to lose whatever amount of exploration you'd accomplished since that last save, it's not as taking-a-golf-club-to-your-monitor-inducing as having to re-generate an entire party. This translates to a lesser, shall we say, "investment" in combat--with both good and bad consequences.
More important, in MM2, you can rest in almost every square and get all your hit points and spell points restored. There are exceptions, and they add an extra level of tactical difficulty, but they are rare. This means that you might as well throw all your best spells and attacks at every foe. Combat tactics--and I know I've said this before, so I apologize--are about individual battles rather than the accumulation of battles. The question of whether to prolong an expedition and risk losing your progress, or whether to return and save, still applies, though less pressingly once you acquire the "Lloyd's Beacon" spell (see below).
This isn't to say that I turn battle into a cataclysm of fire and lightning for each group of kobolds I encounter. In fact, quite the opposite. While the ability to rest and heal means that I don't have to worry so much about spell points, it also means I don't need to worry so much about hit points. There's no sense in wasting too much time trying to turn a 20% loss of hit points into a 10% loss of hit points when you can rest in a few minutes and get 100% of your hit points restored. Thus, I often CTRL-A my way through battles even if it means taking a bigger hit. It's a lot less effort to type the (r)est key than to meticulously plan tactics against a group of zombies.
To illustrate, let's look at three combats of various difficulty. In the first one, in Corak's Cave, I face a moderately-sized group of zombies and skeletons. The most efficient way to approach this battle would be to fireball the group of non-melee zombies (from G onward) and then for my cleric to cast "Turn Undead" to mop up the skeletons. But it would also take time, and for no better result (it turns out) than to save Bolingbroc 19 hit points and Valstaff 3. So instead, after a couple of manual attacks, I hold down CTRL-A and let the automatic attacks do their work.
I draw the CTRL-A line, however, at times when I risk killing one of my characters. I don't have "Raise Dead" yet, and that spell carries a risk anyway, so each death requires a trip back to the temple in town--and the dead character gets no experience points from the battle.
This battle is a little tougher. The party is led by two kobold captains--I can brush them aside like ants--but includes five shamans. I know from experience trying to use CTRL-A against them that shamans cast "Paralyze," which not only removes each affected party member from combat but also kills your party if all members are affected. I can't treat them lightly. I'm not terrified of them, and I have no thoughts of fleeing, but I have to make sure my fighters target them and that I hit them with the best spells that I have.
The video shows the result. I target my fighters' attacks on the shamans, taking out most of them, and then eliminate the rest with a lightning bolt from my sorcerer. Fortunately, their speed is slow, so all my characters get an attack before they can start in with their spells. Once the shaman threat is dealt with, I CTRL-A the kobolds and move on.
This last one is much harder, and in fact I lose. I come just shy of losing my entire party. The combat takes place in Sarakin's Mine in Map A2. I've heard that some NPCs are hanging around in here, and while I don't need them, I figured I'd explore. The cave has yielded some decent experience--by the time the video begins I've mapped about half the cave and have amassed about 40,000 experience points from numerous fixed battles with groups of five wraiths each. Now I've come across a door labeled "Friends of Sarakin," and when I enter, I meet tougher undead.
This is the first time I've ever faced either mummies or grip reapers. They sound nasty, so I immediately sit up and prepare for the worst. I've surprised the monsters, which theoretically increases my chances of a successful (h)ide or (r)un. I briefly consider it. Hiding keeps you in the same square and I don't think it works on fixed encounters. Running returns you to the dungeon entrance. I've just cast "Lloyd's Beacon" outside the entrance to this room, so I know I can return if I need to, and I don't want to lose my experience.
Ultimately, I decide to attack. The grim reapers turn out to be the most dangerous enemy, and the game puts me in a bad position by starting them in the rear, where my melee fighters can't attack them. First, I check their spell resistances. I've found a "Storm Wand," which casts "Lightning Bolt," and I've given it to Valstaff, my character with the highest speed (and thus first in every combat). At 00:14, you can see me try it out on the creatures, with no effect to either the mummies or the reapers. Bollocks.
I start concentrating every missile attack I can on the reapers, but shots from three characters barely make a dent in one. They're slow, so they haven't had an attack yet (00:26). My sorcerer is up next. Knowing that "Lightning Bolt" doesn't work, I try "Fireball." I see a little success against the mummies but not the reapers (00:30).
Then it's the grim reapers' turns. Both cast "Fingers of Death" and immediately kill my paladin and barbarian (00:35). The two mummies in melee range are no pushovers either and do devastating damage to my knight and ninja. Last to go is Peta, my cleric, who would normally heal Harry Kari, but I need to at least try "Turn Undead." Not surprisingly on this level of undead, it doesn't work (00:42).
Early in the next round, my archer manages to kill one of the grim reapers, but the mummies continue to do heavy damage and hardly anything affects them. At 01:33, my sorcerer goes down, and if I can't bring him back, I lose my chance at escape from combat. Peta heals him, but then things get serious when my cleric is knocked unconscious (01:57). Although I kill the second reaper seconds later (02:06), I've still got four mummies on the board and no healers. After a moment's consideration, Glendower the sorcerer does the responsible thing and "Time Disorts" me out of combat. I exit the cave, "fly" to Middlegate, and raise my dead. While I'm there, I train Harry Kari up a level and donate at the temple to get the magic and force resistance that the priests confer. Then I cast "Lloyd's Beacon" to return to Sarakin's Mine and test myself against them again. With the priests' protections, the "Fingers of Death" spell bounces off me, but the mummies still overwhelm me through brute force. On a third visit, I have better odds and manage to defeat them:
Whew. This kind of battle is actually quite rare in the game right now. I usually face either enemies I can defeat without much trouble, or those that so clearly outclass me that I don't bother to retry.
A few more thoughts on the resting issue: Might & Magic II could have ramped up the tactical level by including more serious consequences to resting too often. Right now, there are only four, and none of them are consequential enough to worry about:
- You risk getting attacked in your sleep. Easily countered with the "Instant Keep" spell, and random attacks aren't that common anyway.
- You use a unit of food. But food is cheap and you can carry 40 units. If you could only carry five or six meals, or if each one cost a bundle, it would encourage the player to be a bit more sparing with how often he or she rests.
- You age a day, and once you hit 75 years of age, there's a chance your characters might die. My characters are all still 18, though (in contrast to the first game, when they aged four or five years in the first town alone), and I'm sure by the time they're in their 30s, I'll have the "Rejuvenate" spell. Making the aging faster, or eliminating the spell, would encourage more care in the passage of time.
- Your NPCs charge for their services. Right now, I'm paying 40 gold pieces per NPC per day, or about a twelfth of what I find in a typical battle. If NPCs charged more (and they do increase their fees as the levels go up), I guess that would make more of a difference.
I would have preferred if the game had really made you stop and think before hitting that "r" button--if it had encouraged to squeeze every step out of each day. Another alternative would have been to only heal half, or a quarter, of your hit points and spell points with each rest. I'm not trying to complain--it's exactly like Might & Magic I, after all, and I didn't complain there--but I sometimes miss the nail-biting nature of tactical combat in Wizardry.
To close for the night, let me recap what I've actually done today. I started exploring outdoors, mapping what I could, noting places that I had to return to or where combat proved impossible at my level. On Map C2, where Middlegate resides, I found Corak's Cave. I decided to explore it even though I knew I would have to come back once I had Corak's soul (the statue in Atlantium had said this). Sure enough, when I got to the chamber marked "Corak's Crypt," something took the "Admit 8" pass a zombie had given me in the dungeon below Sandsobar (see yesterday's posting).
At this point, I made the mistake of turning to have a look behind me, and when I faced the same direction again:
Lesson learned: next time, plow on forward. Now I have to return to Sandsobar and get another pass. But the visit to Corak's Cave was not in vain, as I did find "Lloyd, of Lloyd's Beacon fame," and was granted his extremely useful spell.
Also near Middlegate, I encountered this mysterious pegasus, and got a side quest to figure out his or her name.
Exploring outdoors is significantly different than in Might & Magic I, and I'll cover that in detail tomorrow. For now, I'll note that the graphics are much better, and the automap is rather lovely:
I think I'll take a screen shot of each map and assemble them together in one master map at the end.