|A plot point introduced 120 hours ago is finally resolved.|
This posting represents more than 30 hours of gameplay. Eager to finish the damned game, I cleared my schedule for two whole days and did nothing but play Fate from morning to night. It got me through one dungeon--a dungeon large enough that in any other game, it would be the whole game. Fate has now exceeded NetHack as the longest game on this blog.
When I wrapped up last time, Winwood had been separated from his party and whisked to an unknown dungeon via a wand that acted as some kind of portkey a la Harry Potter. I never really got any explanation for why that happened. Maybe Thardan left the wand on Naristos's body as a trap for Winwood? Who knows.
Either way, the separation had me spend the longest time since the game started with more than one party. The mechanic is interesting but weird. When one party is active, time passes for the other (characters get hungry, thirsty, and tired; spells run out), but the other party can't be attacked. If one party goes to sleep, the other party gets activated automatically and can't switch back until the first party wakes up. I ended up keeping both awake and alternating between them every 5 to 10 minutes.
|On his own, Winwood proves poor at identifying fountains.|
The non-Winwood faction returned to Larvin. I was going to have them get some sleep, but they didn't have any money. At first, I thought Winwood had taken it when he vanished, but it turned out that he didn't have any money, either. Somehow 7 million piaster just disappeared. Fortunately, I made half that much back again in my explorations of the dungeon.
Commenters had spoiled (at my urging) that Toronar might say something about what to do next, so I kept checking back to see if he had any dialogue. When none was forthcoming, I had the party (led by Jeanie, so I'll call it "Jeanie's party" to distinguish it from Winwood) board the Cavetrain (fortunately, they had monthly tickets already) to return to the outer world. I figured that the game would switch me to Winwood while Jeanie's party rode the Cavetrain between stops, but it didn't. I had them get off in Desert Falls, an area with plenty of squares to be mapped, and set them exploring and mapping while I waited for someone to say something.
Back to Winwood. Alone and bereft of magic--no "Locate" spell to determine coordinates; no "Flare" spell to create light and find secret doors--it was like I was just starting the Catacombs 240 hours ago when I didn't know what I was doing. On the floor of the starting chamber, I found a "Goldeneye" and a "Lightwand," both of which create light. There was also a "Heal All" potion and a "Fracwand," which is supposed to stop time, but it didn't actually work in this dungeon.
|They do look pretty dumb.|
I soon began to encounter the dungeon's enemies: minotaur-like creatures with names like "tauri" and "grecs." Unfortunately, they qualified for NUKE status: Winwood was unable to kill them with melee attacks. This was particularly alarming because I didn't have any spells, nor did I have a cleric to pray them away. However, I determined that the "dupe" action (which is like an instant-kill backstab) was 100% effective against them. The problem is, they did over 100 hit points damage in melee attacks, and if Winwood ran into a party of more than 5 or 6, there was a good chance he'd die while trying to use "dupe" against one enemy at a time. I found a couple of healing fountains and camped near them as I slowly cleared out the level. I had about 8 Holy Scrolls (instant death to all enemies) to use in a pinch.
|I ended up being glad that I saved a number of these scrolls.|
On the surface, I didn't know if it was time or movement that triggered one of the characters piping up with a hint. Because it could be a factor of the number of squares moved, I kept them in motion, mapping some of the northern sections of the the land. I had long ago finished mapping any area with an interesting-looking structure, so all they found were fields and trees.
In the dungeon, Winwood found a network of teleporters and one-way doors. Again, without a "Locate" spell, it was tough to figure out the destination of teleporters until I'd mapped the surrounding area. I had to make multiple small maps and piece them together. Frequent return trips to the fountains kept me alive, but there was a fair amount of reloading going on, too. Eventually, after mapping most of a roughly 20 x 20 area, I found a teleporter that seemed to take me to a completely different section of the dungeon.
Outside, the rest of the party continued to map and fight thieves and have no particular revelations.
|At least we're earning some of our money back.|
Winwood ran across an inactive teleporter, which is almost a sign of some kind of quest. Bolstered by frequent fountains and "Heal All" potions, and occasional reloading after death, he made it through the minotaurs and found a switch. Unfortunately, to get out of the switch area, he had to take a teleporter that dumped him back in the starting area.
On the surface, the rest of the party mapped a large section of woods and fought a bunch of wolves, but continued to say nothing about Winwood.
Winwood made his way back to the previously-inactive teleporter. His health meter showed that he was starting to get hungry. The teleporter now took me to a maze of one-way doors, some of them leading me back to areas I'd already explored. I continued to fight grecs and tauri using "dupe" as my only weapon, getting whittled down from their physical attacks. Eventually, my explorations brought me to a down staircase.
|Otherwise known as "the opposite of what I was looking for."|
I got sick of waiting for my other characters to pipe up. I knew from the spoiler thread that I had to do something with the wand stuck in the ground northeast of Cassida, so I headed there. The wand was still stuck in the ground. Through experimentation, I found that if Jeanie (enchantress), Elgarette (priestess), or Mandrag (archmage) tried to pull it out, the game just said it was stuck. But if Dichara (banshee) or Toronar (warlock) tried to touch it, they vanished and joined Winwood in the dungeon. I have no idea why those two in particular. There's no spellbook that they share that only they share. I would have preferred to send Elgarette for her healing and praying powers. After debating it a bit, I had Dichara go. She had an "Enchanter" spellset, which included useful exploration spells (like "Locate"), plus more hit points, plus a better weapon. I didn't think to stock up on some food and water first.
|If you can come up with an explanation for why another portkey-wand was sticking in the mud amidst a copse of trees northeast of Cassida, I'd love to hear it.|
I expected Dichara to end up alone in a third party, but she didn't. Instead, when I switched to Winwood's "party," Dichara suddenly appeared with him. That's useful. I thought I'd had have to go back to the first chamber.
So, great. Winwood had a companion who could at least cast some spells. And the first thing I did was determine that we were only one level below the surface, in Cassida. But while I'm familiar with the concept of going down to get back up--particularly in Fate's dungeons--I didn't relish pressing forward with only two characters.
The rest of the party, meanwhile, headed to Cassida. Eons ago, I'd mapped an inactive teleporter there, and I wanted to check on its status. It was still inactive, but I parked Jeanie's party there for now. I had a suspicion.
With no other options, Winwood and Dichara moved downwards. My mapping fidelity, I should mention at this point, was taking a hit. I stopped bothering to annotate treasures, since I wasn't going to ever visit those squares again, and I stopped worrying about errors and just crammed everything together the best I could. I avoided mapping entire sections by using magic maps as guides. See the subtitle of my previous Fate post for an explanation.
|As long as all enemies are incapacitated--frozen, in this case--you can just end combat between rounds and still earn experience and gold. I wish I'd discovered this earlier.|
The duo pressed forward, mostly using the banshee's "Freeze" to take enemies out of commission long enough for Winwood to dupe all of them. I also discovered that if you can incapacitate all of your opponents, you can use the inter-round command of "leave off" to simply walk away from combat, collecting the experience and gold of the enemies already slain. I wish I'd know this earlier in the game.
Here, however, I have to unleash a litany of complaints against the game and its combat system, as I became plagued with a problem that lasted the rest of my time in the dungeon: enemies always go first. Always. Initiative is supposed to be determined by character level, skill, and dexterity. But even Dichara, with 99 dexterity and skill and a relatively high level ended up acting after every enemy, every time. I feel like I've done nothing but grind, grind, grind for the 200+ hours I've played this game, and yet it wasn't enough.
|Only in Fate are simple creatures like "ghouls" massively over-powered NUKEs.|
If the duo ran across 6 minotaurs, 5 ghouls, and a demon, every one of those creatures would get an attack or spell before either Winwood or Dichara could act in combat. I'd just have to sit there and hope that no one was killed, stoned, or possessed because I had no way to undo any of those things. Later, when I had the full party, the parties I encountered might consist of 15 demons of various types and 30 undead of various types. If I couldn't pray them away and if I didn't want to use a Holy Scroll, it was practically an automatic reload.
|This is simply not a survivable encounter for two characters, particularly if they all get to hit first.|
This was all true, at least, until I discovered a trick. I found that if I saved and quit the game and then started it anew, for the rest of the level, I'd only encounter parties with 1 enemy each. I think this may have happened in some previous dungeons, too, but I didn't figure out the pattern until now. I hesitated to use it, but I'm afraid I succumbed to it when nothing else would keep me alive.
Running, I should mention, almost never worked. I think that the game evaluates your success in fleeing based on the total number of monsters versus the total number of party members. I had previously noticed that every time I encountered a really big party, "flee" failed. Now, with only two characters in one of my parties, almost every enemy party was large, proportionally. It's a bit ironic that when you need to flee the most, it's most likely to fail. Continuing the theme from the Agyssium, neither "Invisibility" or "Time Stop" worked, either.
One-way doors kept funneling us back to the level's starting point, but slowly we found the right combination of teleporters and doors to move forwards--to yet another down staircase. I began to wonder if the pair of us would have to go all the way to Level 7 before working our way back up. However, we found a staircase going back up to Level 2 from Level 3, which seemed to be an improvement.
Treasure was everywhere: armor, helmets, weapons, gloves, boots, potions. The problem was, most of it was worse than what we already had. I ended up discarding almost everything I picked up.
|I wouldn't have even made it this far if this weapon would be considered an "upgrade."|
In one room on Level 2, I found a cross on the wall. Winwood determined that it would rotate. I tried it a few times and nothing happened, but I've learned something about this game from having played it for the equivalent of 6 work weeks, and my suspicions were validated when I switched to my surface party and they were able to enter the previously-inactive teleporter. It brought them to a building on an island in Cassida's river, and a few steps forward led them to a staircase into the dungeon.
|Fate likes to make things more complicated than they need to be. A simple button would have sufficed.|
My efforts were now bent on reuniting the parties, but I had no idea where. The area to which I descended was in a completely different section from the one that Winwood had previously explored. Nonetheless, I decided to move downward with my larger party first and see if could find common ground. They had an easier time moving through the dungeon because of the extra spells (including healing), and Elgarette's ability to pray away enemies, but they still suffered the issue where the enemies always went first.
I'll spare you the details because this is already getting pretty long, but it took a lot of exploration, several stairs up and down, a lot of praying, a little reloading, one switch to activate a teleporter, the use of something called a "Brol gem" that I didn't understand, and over 6 hours to get Jeanie's party down to Level 4. At that point, I began to doubt that they'd find a way to hook up with Winwood, so I switched back to him to see if I could get from where I was to Level 4.
|Oh, and at one point I had to burn myself to activate a teleporter.|
Returning to Winwood was painful. I kept encountering parties of numerous enemies and there was no way to avoid combat. I'd just have to save after each successful one, reload if I died, and hope I didn't get killed before even having a chance to act in a combat round. But through persistence, I found the right combination of teleporters to put Winwood's party in the same area of Level 2 through which my other party had passed. Following their footsteps, I reunited them at last on Level 4. That was about as much relief as I've ever felt in an CRPG.
|Together again, again.|
I debated going back to the surface, but I realized that even if I did, I had no more hints or clues. There were several unexplored levels below me, and there was a better chance of finding the next plot point there than any place on the surface. I thus reluctantly pressed downward.
It paid off. In an area full of parallel hallways on Level 5, I found where someone had stashed the stone statue of Bergerac. Mandrag used the stone heart on it, and Bergerac came to life and joined the party. Now we were cooking with gas. I cast "Rejuvenate" on him to restore his stats, but I was surprised to see he had pretty low attributes except for intelligence and wisdom. He was, however, Level 88, and he came with 12 spellbooks, including the "Master" book. He was able to equip most of the stuff Winwood had been saving for him, finally un-burdening Winwood.
He soon piped up with some dialogue, reiterating that Thardan lives beyond the inner Forbidden Zone and that he and Mandrag would together be able to neutralize the "death sphere." He went on to say that Thardan is immortal, but there is one way to strip him of his power: yet another Cassidan mage, a witch, who could out-spell Bergerac even when she was a little girl. Thardan abducted and cursed her to neutralize her power, but I can find her in the "castle crypt." I assumed this was referring to a dungeon in Thardan's castle.
I couldn't see any reason not to head for the exit and to the Forbidden Zone, but knowing there were probably two dungeon levels beneath me nagged at me a bit. It would be stupid to come this far and miss something crucial. I forced myself to finish mapping, even though it took another 14 hours on top of the 16 I'd already invested. It was a good thing I did.
|Just what you want to see when arriving on a level.|
Level 6 wasn't bad: a maze of broadly-spaced corridors with lots of treasures at the dead ends. There were no more teleporters or one-way doors, and I didn't miss them. They came back with a vengeance on Level 7, an extremely dense level with almost nothing but one-way doors and teleporters, plus traps that drain magic with every step. After suffering a few frustrating deaths, I did the save, quit, reload trick to make my time much easier; mapping it was hard enough without impossible combats to add to the difficulty. I continued to find frequent treasures and to discard them just as frequently.
A message told me to dig in a particular square, so when I finally got to that location, I dug and found a "Bane Key." Hours later, I discovered a cage that the key unlocked. Inside, some creature wanted to join my party. I began to wonder if I was actually in the "castle crypt" despite Cassida not having a "castle" to speak of. But even if the creature wasn't Bergerac's witch, it was clear that I was meant to take it out with me. Reluctantly, I let Dichara go. She was a strong mage and a good warrior, but she had the most redundant spellbook. Curse this game for making me get rid of so many longstanding party members!
|"Look, a rodent in a cage! Clearly, we have to get rid of a party member to accommodate it."|
The creature that joined the party looked like an ugly rabbit. Winwood named it "Rabby." It has no statistics and can't carry an inventory. In battle, a "heavenly sphere" repels any attacks directed against it.
|Or maybe it's a rat.|
I finished mapping. As with the Agyssium, there was no shortcut back to the surface. I had to trudge and battle my way back up. Emerging in the night air, the party immediately checked into an inn, rented the finest room, and slept for 12 hours. As did this player.
The next morning, I went to a guild and bought spells to fill up my spell permissions. Jeanie acquired the "Master" book. The party ate a proper meal in a tavern. The people of Cassida were no longer rude, but they had nothing new to say, nor were there any new dialogue options that suggested I'd learn anything if I kept asking. I don't know why hints have dried up so much towards the end of the game.
Thus, I wrap up this very long session with the resources I need to enter the Forbidden Zone and an ugly rabbit that may or may not be some precocious witch who can break Thardan's immortality. I can go charging into the Forbidden Zone to see what happens, or I can wander around looking for hints about this rabbit.
The idea of splitting up the party and making one character explore with limited resources isn't a bad one. It was just poorly implemented: first, by coming after 200 hours of gameplay, when the most dedicated player was sure to be exhausted already; second, by throwing that character into a dungeon that would be difficult enough for a full party. Still, I have to give it points for originality.
I assume Thardan's castle or dungeon or whatever will be the largest and most annoying of them all, but it feels like the end is at least somewhat near.
Time so far: 268 hours