Realms of Arkania: Won!

From The CRPG Addict


Why are we leaving revelries behind?

               
I’m forced to confess that I got a little help on the endgame, both from some ROT-13’d commenter notes and a “low-spoiler walkthrough” that I found when Googling those precise terms. The game is a bit obtuse in its final moments, requiring the player to repeatedly travel well-trod ground to trigger a few final encounters. It’s possible that there are in-game hints as to those final steps, and I just never encountered them.

When I left off last time, I was still trying to find the final two map pieces. One of the ones I found in the last session was apparently not a duplicate but rather replaced a “fake” piece–a complexity that the game absolutely did not need, especially without setting it up better. You can’t really “follow” the directions on the map anyway, since you’re not in control of your party when you travel the wilderness. The best you can do is find the right town and start wandering to other towns nearby.

I did what I said I was going to do, which was to run raids on Daspota, retreating to Varnhome to heal and sell looted goods, until the snows cleared. Daspota turned out to have an old man who claimed to have a piece of the map, but he wouldn’t give it to me without a “writ.” I guess whatever I had from the Hetman wasn’t enough. I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about and thus never got that piece.
            

Like a lot of dialogue in the game, this didn’t make any sense.

         
Eventually, spring came and the pass to Thoss opened. Along the way, in line with the intel from the dying mercenary, we found a two-level cave full of traps and pirates, leading to the fabled Daspota treasure. It had several expensive items plus 500 ducats. The game had already been generous with money, but this moment marked the utter end of our financial woes. We stayed in the best inn rooms and had all our meals catered for the rest of the game. Moreover, I was able to liberally purchase potions of magic and healing, which meant I could trust the computer to fight a lot more of my battles, easing some of the frustration I had with the combat system.

When we made it to Thoss, we met Yasna Thinmarsdotter, recently moved to the city from Clanegh, where we had expected to find her. She no longer had her map piece; it had been looted by some sorcerer who makes his home in some ruins “by the road to Thoss,” which wasn’t very helpful since I was in Thoss.
          

And I didn’t have to go around a mountain range–this conversation was clearly supposed to happen in Clanegh.

         
I guessed correctly that it was on the road between Thoss and Liskor. The ruins were a weird three-level dungeon. The first level was nearly entirely open. There was a battle with orcs, who dropped a bag when they died. Experimenting with the bag, I accidentally released a cloud of “magic dust,” which apparently opened a doorway because the doorway wasn’t there before I used it. I still don’t really understand the causal mechanism, though.

The bottom level featured a fairly easy battle with a sorcerer. On his body, we found the sixth map piece, an amulet, and a pointed weapon called a “kukris.” A few steps later, we found a chest with another 500 ducats. I’m not sure I spent more than 300 ducats the entire game.
         

Spellcasters really shouldn’t attack without minions.

        
The last area I hadn’t fully explored was Hermit’s Lake. I could travel there from both Phexcaer and Clanegh. The game had led me to believe that it was deep in orc territory, and not a city, so I had put off visiting. The trail was very long and had numerous encounters along the way. In the first (very stupid) encounter, the party decided to follow some tracks that indicated the presence of a dragon. After forcing me several times to keep following the trail, the game finally brought the party to a cave–where we were disappointed to find that instead of a dragon, we had been tracking “a disgusting, stinking wyvern.” Disgusted, the party (automatically) left the cave and returned to the trail. I guess wyverns in Das Schwarze Auge are a lot different than in Dungeons and Dragons, because I doubt any Level 5 D&D party would think it was beneath them to take on a wyvern.
            

Later, the wyvern “buzzed” us. Six eyes!? What is up with wyverns in this setting?!

          
The second encounter was with a unicorn. I was happy to see him because a commenter had suggested that he might have a map piece. Thus, I tried hard not to scare him off or draw weapons (which the game gave me the option to do several times). He communed with Sienna by touching his horn to her chest (no phallic symbolism there!), and although this seemed to draw blood, the rest of the party remained cool and she was okay. It galloped off after a few moments, and Sienna explained that it had “gone to get a map, then it will be back!”

This was great news to me, which made it all the more infuriating that the rest of the party refused to believe her account of the unicorn’s telepathy. The encounter led to the desultory Sienna saying, “Let’s move on” as I screamed “NO!” at the computer. Fortunately, the unicorn later met us again, but I had no way of knowing it at the time.
           

If it will be back, why aren’t we waiting for it? And how is it going to carry a map?

            
Hermit’s Lake was just a few squares with a cabin and a travel post. The cabin was occupied by an old man who invited us in for a meal and rest. He spun a long tale about how peaceful it is to live on the lake, after which the game gave us the options to leave or “settle here.” I decided to call the game’s bluff and chose the latter. The game called my bluff and presented me with an endgame message that suggested that the party retired in idyllic happiness. “The years pass,” it concluded, “and you get old. Yes, nothing could make you give up this spot of peace and tranquility.”
         

I should have posted the “won!” article ending the game here.

          
It then gave me two options: “Stop! Stop!” and “A wonderful ending!” I chose the second. The game finally gave up the ruse: “Why don’t you see what would have happened if your characters had left the old man somewhat earlier? For my sake . . . .” And we were back outside the hut, with no time having passed.

There was nothing else to do at Hermit’s Lake, but the exit post had an option to travel around the lake and return to the cabin, just like the island a couple entries ago. I chose that. It wasn’t altogether pleasant–there was a marsh where I lost a bunch of stuff and had to reload. On the second try, I lost just potions and food, so I lived with it. Then I encountered some gryphons who wanted me to either turn around and leave their territory or give them one of my party members as “surety.” When I chose the latter, they told me I could free her by answering a riddle:
           

           
I mentally worked through several possibilities. Take a way half of a ROPE and it just becomes a smaller rope, not “the end.” Some with LEVER. You can’t really “take away half” of TIME or a lot of other concepts that might otherwise “move all things.” BRIDGE seemed promising, but not quite right. Finally, I hit on it with (WHEEL). The gryphons gave us right of passage.

Afterwards, I was attacked by a part of orcs. Then I was given a chance to climb a tall tower. On the top mesa, Halberman found a shrine with an “eye of darkness” (hey!) which, when touched, told me that TREEBORN KOLLBERG LIVES IN A COLOURFUL CARAVAN. I later learned that he was a merchant who would have had another map piece. Apparently, this eye gives you whatever hint you most need.

But I didn’t need to find Kollberg, because on the final loop, we ran into the unicorn again, who for some reason forgot all about Sienna and gave the map piece to Bart de Wald. I suppose it doesn’t matter. Once we had the seventh piece locked into place, one of my party members opined that it was enough.
          

I could “start to see something” ages ago.

           
I had already decided that the map’s reference to “Phexen Town” was probably Phexcaer, which is accessible from Hermit’s Lake. It was a long journey but a mostly uneventful one. From there, I could go upriver to Groenyelden, downriver to Vilnhome, or o’er hill and dale to Skelellen. The map seemed to suggest that the barrow would be found south or southwest of Phexcaer, and the long road to Skelellen was the only one that fit the bill.

Only a couple days out of Phexcaer, Bart de Wald suddenly demanded to see the map. I didn’t really understand his subsequent reasoning, but the end result of the text options that followed led the party to a burial mound and then on to the ruins of a castle.
            

I don’t see how we need to be other the other side of any river, but whatever gets us to the end.

           
The castle was four levels, and the biggest danger was tripping over caved-in sections. The rooms were big, so the dungeon was easy to navigate. I had to search every square in one huge room before I found a treasure chest with a ladder going down. (Passages down found inside treasure chests is a concept the game has used more than once.) The second level had a lever/party splitting puzzle that defies explanation. I had to look up an explicit hint. The puzzle requires you to notice that the lever button on the interface, which isn’t usually available, is suddenly available.
           

Any Nirvana fans around?

          
On the third level, we had a knock-down drag-out battle with a group of zombies and skeletons led by the undead Hyggelik. Thanks to my funds, I had enough potions to see me through the battle without much trouble.
          

The final battle that mattered.

           
Afterwards, Hyggelik spoke to the party. Being undead seemed to have taken a toll on his psychology. He phased through periods in which he thought he was alive and still a hetman and the realization that he was dead and cursed (he attributed it to cursed gold scattered around the dungeon, which fortunately I hadn’t picked up). Finally, he gave us his sword, Grimring, and demanded that we go deep into the orcs’ territory and challenge their champion. There were a couple of nice screens to accompany this. I gave the sword to my Thorwalian, Dormauera.
          

I like how he hands it over the safe way.

         
The party made its way out of the caves and back to the road, arriving soon in Skelellen. (When you stop at a dungeon in this game, it always short-cuts the rest of the route. If you continue past the dungeon, you hit every minor encounter along the road instead.) At this point, I was a bit confused as to what to do or indeed whether there was anything left to do. My quest was to find the sword, and I found the sword, and the game had included a couple of special screens that might have been meant as “congratulations–your quest is finished” screens. It would have been lame, but I have too much experience with games of this era that to assume developers wouldn’t offer such an “ending.”

Was that the end?

             
After taking a save in Skelellen, I spent a while hopping from town to town to reach Thorwal again. I figured that the hetman gave me the quest to find the blade; maybe he’d acknowledge it and I’d either get the endgame or the next quest. Alas, his guards just turned me away.
           

I don’t “just want to look around.” I want to turn in the object of the quest he gave me!

          
I reloaded in Skelellen and took the trail back to Phexcaer. Fortunately, on the way back, you can take some extra hours and avoid the equipment-stealing swamp. I then took all the routes out of Phexcaer, hoping to find some final encounter with orcs. No luck. I went back to Hermit’s Lake and did the loop again and still found nothing but the occasional random battle.

I let myself peek at the walkthrough again, and it alluded to an “orc cave” on the way from Skelellen to Phexcaer. Even though I’d just taken the route, I tried again and for some reason this time I found the cave. It’s like the game knew that I read the walkthrough. Anyway, the orc cave was a single level with a lot of orc battles, a couple of weapons of war to destroy, and a couple of navigation puzzles. One wanted me to name the orcish “lord of death.” I suspected the answer had something to do with two statues in the same room. When Halberman was in the lead, the game just said the statues were unrecognizable. But shuffling the party members around, I finally hit on the one who had enough “Arcane Lore” or “Rituals” knowledge, or something, and got the answer to the riddle as TAIRACH.
          

Same statue, two different characters.
          

When I left the caves, I had looted a “half moon disk” (never figured out what it was for) and a document that had “orcish battle plans.” The plans indicated that the orcs intended to amass between Phexcaer and Hermit’s Lake and then attack Thorwal in the last week of Peraine in the year 17. It was now Rahja in the year 15. I wasn’t able to find a calendar that indicates exactly how far apart these months are, but it’s at least 13 months.
           

Man, the orcs really plan ahead.

         
Nonetheless, I headed for the location, and the game gave me the option to waste over a year of my life just waiting for the appointed date. I said sure. Apparently, instead of killing small packs of orcs as they arrived, the party just camped there until the entire horde surrounded them.
        

We apparently just lingered in our tents while the orcs built an army around us.

      
The chief, calling himself Garzlokh, approached, and Dormauera challenged him to single combat. He agreed and gave us half an hour to prepare, saying that the battle would be one-on-one and involve weapons only, no magic. I had Dormauera chug a Potion of Strength and equip a few Potions of Healing.
      

          
When the combat began, Dormauera and Garzlokh’s champion were in the center, surrounded by a ring of orcs and party members. The game still gave me turns for those other party members, but I just sent them fleeing from combat so I wouldn’t have to keep acknowledging them. The champion was tough, but no match for a buffed Thorwalian with Grimring and a bunch of healing potions. The combat lasted about 20 rounds before he died.
           

I’m not sure how I feel about the “final battle” as a one-on-one.

           
Upon his death, Garzlokh grudgingly let the party leave and said that Thorwal was safe, but that we had “doomed another city” because “Brazoragh desires us to rid our lands of you smoothskins.” Apparently the victory got the party a lot of quest-based experience points because everyone leveled up. This normally wouldn’t bother me except that it takes about five minutes per character to distribute all the skill and spell points, and I knew the game was ending anyway. I can’t promise I made the best choices.
        

The orcs are an honorable lot.

       
The endgame screens told of the party leaving the orc encampment and returning to Thorwal, where we were greeted by a “joyous and enthusiastic populace.” The hetman threw a big party for us, where we handed over Grimring and got various riches and honors in return.
            

14-year-old me would have had a field day with the “sperm whale” reward.

         
The game ended with the party leaving Thorwal and musing on its next adventures, at which point the game announced that Part II of the Northern Trilogy, Star Trail, would be coming soon.
         
Miscellaneous notes:
       

  • When both bad and good things happen, it would be nice to know exactly what skill or attribute checks, if any, you passed or failed in that moment. I know that no game really gives you that kind of feedback, but I felt its want here more than other places.

          

Great. Was this because of his dexterity or his “Danger Sense” skill or his “Perception” skill?

         

  • Along those lines, there is perhaps nothing more frustrating in any RPG than knowing there is a trap in a particular square but having no recourse other than let your party blunder into it. 
  • I’m not entirely clear where you’re supposed to equip rings and amulets. I’ve been putting them in the off-hand of characters who don’t have shields. Sometimes, they seem to have an effect (e.g., raising charisma a few points), sometimes not. 
  • Dungeons have all been roughly 15 x 15, and with worm tunnels rather than razor walls, meaning that mapping is mostly unnecessary. The auto-map seems to work fine.
  • I’m not convinced that the game is applying the right weapon categories to the associated weapons. Here, you see Halbermann equipped with a hatchet, which is supposed to be a type of axe. He has an attack value of 9 with axes and a parry value of 8, but the game gives his values for the current weapon as 6 and 4. In a recent comment, Buck suggested that this could be because of penalties associated with his helm and armor, but that doesn’t explain why if I equip him with a sword, his values go up to 8 and 6, just as they should according to his skill with that weapon. 
  • Every time I sleep without setting a watch, an enemy attacks me. Every time I set a watch, no enemy attacks. Watches apparently just don’t alert the party to attacks; they prevent them.

            

And lions only ever attacked in random encounters at night.

         
Although I was happy to win, I developed a conviction during the final hours that a little Googling bore out: I think the GOG version of Blade of Destiny is made much easier than the original. I base this on the many logistical complaints (that I see on message boards) that I never suffered. Except for the tetanus in the first session, none of my characters ever came down with a disease. Neither did they suffer any poison despite fighting giant spiders. I was told to carry extra boots because boots wear out, but mine never did. I had plenty of weapons break but no armor. I didn’t have any trouble eating food without carrying utensils. I was never told my party was too cold or too hot. I noticed that if one of my party members was hungry, he had no trouble taking food from another character’s backpack, whereas a video I watched showed the player having to manually distribute food across all backpacks to keep them fed. I couldn’t find documentation of these changes anywhere, and yet it feels like I didn’t get the authentic, original experience–which probably means that I was annoyed a lot less than I would have been with the original.

I have lots of thoughts to collect for the upcoming “Summary and Rating,” but on the whole I’d say that while the ending was satisfying, trying to find the ending was not.

Final time: 38 hours

*****

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Original URL: http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2020/02/realms-of-arkania-won.html