|My party fights and kills the Drakkhen who I think is the Prince of Water.|
When we last left our intrepid team, they had reached the castle of the Prince of Water, but were unsure how to enter, since the drawbridge kept slamming shut and crushing anyone who tried to cross. I had received a clue that some kind of spell was necessary to keep it shut, so I returned. A very brief experiment determined that the key spell was UNLOCK, which I'm charitably going to assume is translated from a term with a broader meaning in French.
|Incidentally, this is only the second-weirdest creature that I've faced in the game. The weirdest looks like a robot and shoots laser beams from his chest. He never sticks around long enough for me to get a screen shot.|
The enemies in the castle were far too difficult for my party, so after I died, I reloaded and began the process of character development.
"Grinding" in this game would be boring except that it essentially requires no effort at all. You just have to stand around and wait for enemies to appear, at which point (assuming you have autocombat enabled), your characters pounce on them. Every once in a while, you peek in on the game to make sure that nobody is dead, toss the junk equipment they've picked up from their kills, and save the game. If the characters get low on hit points, you just go stand in front of a castle or shop for a while, where enemies never attack and hit points and spell points slowly regenerate. When the inevitable impossible creature comes along (my particular nemesis is this giant floating worm), you just reload. I left it going all day like this, graded a bunch of papers, wrapped some presents, and got some NetHack playing in. When I was done, everyone had risen two levels, and I had some neat new gear, including several swords and shields +1, and some rings that increased my attributes.
|The party waits around for danger to appear.|
There's still a major experience disparity. I tried to solve this by having the high-level characters stand aside and let the mage and priest engage in most of the combat, but that just got everyone killed. I just decided to live with it. My fighter and scout are about double the levels of my priest and mage.
I also boosted my equipment by wandering the island until I found the equipment shop. The shopkeeper had some better helmets and robes than I already had. I also bought his single bow, but no one I give it to can hit the broadside of a barn with it. Given that I'm also having trouble hitting enemies with spells and hitting my own characters with healing spells, I suspect there's something broken with "ranged" things in this game, or at least when running under this emulator.
|Browsing the equipment shop.|
The levels and equipment helped me in the castle, but not by much. The Castle of Water was atmospherically dripping with mold and slime and it had a number of elemental and Drakkhen foes.
|Someone needs to get some bleach in here.|
It was a much larger fortress than the Prince of Earth's, with several rooms that spawned monsters continuously--a fact that I only realized after my fourth or fifth attempt to clear the never-ending fire elementals. There were some decent pieces of armor and weaponry, and I might go back for a second plundering (items respawn once you leave the castle).
|Teleported to a room of never-ending water elementals (which made it hard to pick up that armor in the back).|
Unlike the Prince of Earth's, no one in the Prince of Water's was friendly. I ended up killing a Drakkhen who I think was the Prince of Earth--he kept hitting me with paralysis spells--with no options for dialogue. Towards the end of the level, there was a pool of water that teleported my scout when I looked into it, splitting my party. The destination room was filled with water elementals that kept respawning, so it was tough to bring my other characters through (more on this in a bit). I ultimately found myself in a dungeon where a prisoner gave me some hints as to the next stage of the quest.
|He also told me something that I figured out in the first 15 minutes of gameplay.|
By the time I left the prisoner, only my fighter and scout were alive, and my scout soon found himself eaten by a doorway--seriously, there was this doorway that just chomped down on him when he walked into it. My fighter left the building dragging three dead party members. Fortunately, even though they died in different parts of the dungeon, he still had them and all their gear.
For a while, I weighed reloading, but I didn't want to face the same troubles again and again, so I sucked it up and headed to a nearby temple in the middle of the swamp.
|Lots of poetry to say "give me money and I'll resurrect your party members."|
Here, I encountered one of the dumbest game interface issues of any game I've ever played. To heal or resurrect a character, that character has to be holding the requisite gold. But there's no way to transfer gold from one character to another--at least, not any that I can find--in the regular game interface. The only place to do it is at the equipment shop. So after some infuriating messages, I trudged to the equipment shop, sold my excess stuff, transferred the gold to the characters that needed resurrecting, and trudged back to the temple. Unfortunately, I only had enough to raise my priest and mage. I had to trudge back to the weapons shop, where I set up camp nearby, grinding against wandering monsters for gold and experience and selling their loot when my inventory got loaded. The only good part about this was that my dead scout had the highest experience and thus needed the grinding the least.
|I just thought this was a neat image of the sun rising next to the weapon shop.|
In the midst of it, I tried to piece together what I'd learned from the old man that keeps appearing on the roads, the denizens of various houses across the land, and the books I'd been picking up from the castles (they are mysteriously labeled "spellbooks" even though they seem to contain messages rather than spells; these messages are only translatable with the "Languages" spell).
I covered the game's overall back story in my first posting on the game. Briefly, my party consists of four humans from a mainland empire who have come to the recently-discovered isle of Drakkhen (dragon-blooded beings) to deal with the threat of the island and it's people expanding and wiping out the human world. At first, I thought the game had essentially abandoned this premise once play started, because it didn't seem to refer to it at all, but I'm getting more tie-ins to the manual backstory as I progress.
The Drakkhen seem to have plenty of problems of their own, with wars going on between factions. There is some suggestion--though not strong--that perhaps these wars are the result of philosophical differences caused by the first contact with humans (my party is trying to find the priest from that expedition).
There are four factions of Drakkhen--Air, Earth, Fire, and Water--each with a Prince and a Princess, who in each case seem to be siblings and have similar names. The Prince of Fire (whose name I have not yet come across) seems to have allied with the Prince of Water (Haaggkhen) against Earth (Prince Hordtkhen and Princess Hordtkha). Air seems to be split; the prisoner in Haaggkhen's castle told me that the Princess of Air (Naathkha) helped the Prince of Fire kidnap the Prince of Air (Naathkhen) and destroy his castle.
As the game was starting, the Prince of Fire had marched on the Earth region and destroyed Princess Hordtkha's castle, and when I was in Haaggkhen's castle, there was a note from him to Princess Naathkha (Air) that he'd imprisoned Hordtkha in his dungeon. If this is the case, I did not encounter her there, so I'm wondering if I missed something.
There was also a note that Prince Haaggkhen (Water) destroyed a village called Haggor because it was sheltering a human escapee. The mysterious old man who keeps showing up on the road claims to be the last survivor of that village. I had thought he was human, but unless he's saying that he was the escaped prisoner, I guess not.
|That appearing/disappearing ability you have must have come in handy when the village was sacked.|
Meanwhile, based on another note that Haaggkhen wrote to Naathkha, the Fire/Water conspiracy thinks that my party is working for Hordtkhen (Earth).
|Apparently since the Prince of Earth's castle was the first one I wandered into, I am now "acting in his interests."|
There is something called the "Coalition of the Nine Tears" that believes Drakkhen and humans can co-exist. The healer in the Temple of Anak claims to be a member. It didn't lead him to give me a discount on resurrection or anything. But there's a whole thing going on with the "tears" that the game hasn't clarified. Something about the Father (the ur-dragon all Drakkhen seem to worship) shedding eight tears for the Drakkhen but also a ninth tear for humanity, indicating that they could also be saved.
So, anyway, thanks to a few lucky encounters with high-value foes, I made enough money to go back to the temple and resurrect my scout. At this point, I have to decide whether to grind some more in the Water area or head to my next objective, which I think is one of the castles of Air.
Before I wrap up, a couple things on logistics and interface. The inventory screen is split between things that you wear or wield (left side) and things that you use (right side), with a maximum number of objects for both. With all the things that you can wear--shirts, jackets, armor, helmets, shields, greaves--it's easy to completely fill the left side and have no room to pick up slain enemies' items, so I had to sacrifice a few points of armor class to keep a slot or two free.
|Berowne and his inventory, just before his resurrection.|
The items that you can use include rings, scepters, keys, torches, and potions, and you can only have one active at a time. I've had a tough time determining what ring or scepter to keep equipped. Some of them convey increases to attributes (e.g., a ring of +2 strength) and some convey an "ability," which seems like a permanently-active spell, like invisibility. In general, I've favored the attribute bonuses since the "abilities" all seem to have analogous spells. I'm not completely sure about this, however, and the manual doesn't say anything about abilities.
The most frustrating part about the gameplay is getting the characters to move where I want them to go. The pathfinding is awful, and if they sense the slightest obstacle, they'll just dither around in place or go wandering in some random direction. It's especially bad when they get split between rooms, and especially especially bad when one of those rooms has a creature I should be fighting but the other doesn't. You can't have the autocombat going for only one part of your party: it's all or nothing. This caused problems in the Castle of Water when, for instance, some of my party members were stuck in a room with a fire elemental that they needed to flee, and the rest were in the next room with a Drakkhen that they needed to kill. If I concentrated on hustling the fleeing party members out the door (with autocombat off), the other party members got beat on mercilessly by the foe in the next room. But if I turned on autocombat to deal with him, the party members that were supposed to be fleeing would instead hang out and try to fruitlessly kill the fire elemental. I suffered lots of deaths this way. Aside from the lethality of it, simply moving around a room and searching objects is far more difficult than it needs to be.
I'll be honest: I really don't want to play this game much longer. The amount of time I've invested since the last posting seems absurd given my actual in-game progress. Could one of my readers who has played the game to completion give me a frank assessment of what percentage I've completed and how much time I likely have left?