SpellCraft: I Can’t Always

From The CRPG Addict


This session saw me kill four “minions,” some of whom cursed their masters.

        

One of the notable features of CRPGs in contrast to some other genres is that they almost always support a Plan B. When one way of playing doesn’t work out, you can almost always resort to a more boring, more banal, grindier method of getting something done. I tend to mentally preface these fallback plans with “I can always . . . .” Having a tough time with the final battle? “I can always reload again and again until the initiative rolls go my way.” Can’t overcome the evil wizard at your current level? “I can always grind.” Running out of resources? “I can always retreat from the dungeon, head back to town and buy a ton of healing potions.”
Some games subvert the most common possibilities but usually leave you a way out. NetHack, being a roguelike, doesn’t allow saving and reloading, but even there, “I can always mess around on lower, easier levels until I assemble my ascension kit.” Sometimes what comes after “I can always” is an exploit: “I can always do the import/export trick to make copies of my best equipment and then try the final battle again.” For some, it’s a blatant cheat: “I can always hex edit my character.” “I can always kill the enemy with console commands.”
         

During this session, I nearly acquired the full complement of “aspects.”

          

There’s almost always some way to finish that sentence because of the nature of the genre, in which you are the only player. Oh, it may seem like you have an “opponent” in the game and its artificial intelligence, but it doesn’t really care. It was made to be won, after all. You can’t really lose a CRPG any more than you can lose a maze or a crossword puzzle. You can only stop trying. 
The most frustrating moments in CRPGs are when you suddenly find yourself with no way to finish “I can always”–when there is no Plan B, when luck alone will never save you, when there isn’t even a long way around. I think of the baffling final battle in, say, Dungeons of Avalon (1991), and I wonder how anyone was ever supposed to win it, or the helplessness I initially felt at the final battle in Pools of Darkness (1991), where you have to fight three combats without saving, and the second two take your magic away.
          

Swarmed by orcs, some of which don’t seem to die no matter what I do. Is there any color difference?

         

SpellCraft got very frustrating this session because it negated my Plans B. It’s also forced me to confront a sobering fact: I’m a lazy tactician. I like to have a lot of tactical options, but I want the same thing to work 95% of the time. I appreciate all the spells that the Gold Box engine offers, but I want “Fireball” to solve most of my problems. When it doesn’t work, I want to be able to reload, cast “Bless,” “Prayer,” and “Haste,” and then rely on “Fireball” again. Oh, I do occasionally love those battles that take you out of this comfort zone, that require you to explore uncomfortable weapons and unusual spells and different ways of outsmarting the enemy, but I want this to occur maybe once or twice per game.
SpellCraft, in short, is not what I want. It offers about 85 different spells, and you’d better damned well know the ins and outs of every one of them, because some don’t work in different domains, and some don’t work against different enemies, and some don’t work in various circumstances. You can’t rely on a standard set of combinations. You can’t even, as I had been doing until now, rely on your sword and endless batch of healing spells.
            

Messed up an Earth spell!

         

Last session, we already saw how the wizards–or simulacra thereof–defied expectations by creating and endless supply of minions. The process I had used for clearing the maps–find a clear corner, engage enemies one at a time, retreat to the corner to wait and heal–is useless when the enemies never stop. 
Simulacra and then wizards’ apprentices continued to be problems during this session, but they were supplemented by a worse one: magical obelisks that generate a constant stream of enemies. I had to destroy eight of these obelisks in a row; this is the kind of game that has no problem giving you a mission to destroy four obelisks, one in each realm, and then upon victory saying, “Well done. Now go destroy four more obelisks!”
        

Trying to approach an obelisk “generator” as it continues to create more enemies.

         

The obelisks generate enemies faster than you can kill them–but only just so, so you keep getting to the point that you can nearly approach the damned things unimpeded. You can theoretically destroy them with your weapon, but it takes forever and you get pushed away by newly-generated enemies after a few whacks. The better solution is to destroy them with spells, but spells are so damned hard to target in this game, and a lot of damage spells you can’t target at all with adjacent enemies. Meanwhile, enemies are surrounding you shoving you this way and that, so you’ve got to watch your position and make sure you don’t get shoved into a chasm, or that your hit points don’t dwindle too much, all while switching between various spells to figure out how to damage the damned obelisk. Each map took me hours as I tried various spells to confuse or block enemies while I dealt with the obelisks and wizards. I had to abandon maps more times that I can count.
           

I trick a NUKE into falling into a chasm. The pathfinding of this particular enemy is very direct.

          

Then the game went and introduced NUKEs–“nigh-unkillable enemies.” That is, enemies that mysteriously don’t respond to the same attacks and spells as other enemies that look just like them. (There might have been a red/green difference, but I can’t see it.) I mostly encountered them in the Earth Domain: regular orcs who suddenly wouldn’t die. I had to lead them to chasms and trick them into falling in to kill them. There were plenty of times in which these enemies swarmed me and made it impossible to progress anywhere. I could do nothing but watch them whittle away my hit points until I gave in and warped off the map.
            

These enemies have cornered me in the water. I can’t get out because of their presence. I can’t attack or cast because I’m in water.

          

The obelisks and NUKEs together killed both of my previous “I can always” statements. I can’t always rely on copious numbers of healing spells when there’s an object capable of generating infinite enemies, and I can’t rely on killing enemies one at a time with my sword when they won’t die by the sword.
The game has otherwise progressed as before. Garwayen keeps giving me different missions in the different domains. After a few, the lord of the Earth Domain showed up personally to challenge me, and introduced the concept of obelisks, or “generators.” After I destroyed each one, the Earth Domain lord had something to say, generally suggesting that they were deliberate made too easy to test my mettle or something.
          

The Earth Domain wizard’s reaction after I destroyed his generators for the time being.

        

After the obelisks, minions started showing up. They look and act the same as the previous simulacra, casting a constant stream of spells until I find and kill them. The minions themselves were interesting, often not looking much like wizards in their portraits. The Earth Domain lord employed a woodcutter named John Cartwright who, upon death, cursed his own master for making him face me. “Stop them all!” he added.
          

Well, now I feel bad.

        

The Air Domain minion was a woman named Anya Bavarich, dressed in 18th-century garb, who also cursed all wizards and wished me well when I killed her.
            

Garwayen has a little something to say about every minion I defeat.

          

The Fire Domain minion was named Timmy Flanagan, and both his garb and speech indicated that he had been a member of Al Capone’s gang. 
              

He doesn’t seem much like a wizard’s apprentice.

           

The Water Domain continues to be the most annoying because of the need to cast “Water Breath.” The wizard’s minion was named Mahmoud, and he was the easiest to defeat. 
             
Fighting the water wizard’s minion. I somehow got close to him with no enemies around.
          
As I destroyed each minion, I got the third words of their elemental schools, an extra 25 maximum hit points, and their “totems,” which I have yet to figure out how to use.
As I explored each realm and got the special treasure chests, my weapon and armor items improved, allowing me to sell the old ones to various NPCs for much-needed cash. I found a ton of spell clues, and got more from the NPCs, and continued to build my spell arsenal. New additions include “Icy Storm,” which supposedly damages everyone on the map and “Explosion,” which does a lot of damage but I can’t figure out how to target correctly. I had to learn “Read Map” and “Revelation” to see treasures and enemies on the game map again, but once you mix these spells once, their effect is permanent.
           

A weapon upgrade! It still doesn’t do anything against the NUKEs.

         

I’ve learned a lot of spells that modify terrain, such as “Create Lake,” “Remove Lake,” “Gel Water,” “Create Lava,” and “Remove Lava.” Enemy wizards are always casting spells like these, and it is one of the more interesting aspects of the game that you can mess around with the mission maps to your tactical benefit, or nullify enemies’ attempts to do the same.
Easily my favorite new spell is “Create Dragon,” which does what the name suggests. Unfortunately, the created dragons have minds of their own and often just fly off to engage enemies on the other side of the map rather than attack the ones that are currently bothering me. 
           
My summoned dragon breathes fire at my enemies–but continues on before destroying all of them.

         

Each batch of missions puts special treasure chests in the Death Domain, too, so at least once per set of missions, you want to kill yourself so you can explore this domain. Garwayen then makes fun of you for getting yourself killed.
My maximum health keeps increasing, but at fixed intervals based on the missions I’ve completed. It would be all the false starts and the extra grinding they entail were paying off in character development, but they don’t. They do pay off in extra reagents and funds, however. I suppose one new “Plan B” might be “I can always grind until I have so many reagents that I can mix so many spells that it doesn’t matter how ineptly I use them.”
           

My character towards the end of the session.

           

Mixing spells wrong started killing me outright, so I stopped experimenting as freely with the mixtures. I’ve found that you usually get two sets of hints for each spell, so if there are too many unknown factors with the first set, you just wait until you get another corroborating hint. For instance, one hint may say something like, “A second-level water spell uses stones, powders, and jewels.” I find a likely candidate in the spell list, which has a “12” in the “powders” column and question marks for the other reagents. It tells me that the spell’s “aspect” is cats’ feet. There are too many potential combinations of the reagents for me to start messing around, but later I get a hint that says, “To freeze enemies, use cats’ feet and 9, 12, and 15. So now I know the spell either uses 9 stones and 15 jewels or vice versa, which narrows it down enough to give it a shot.
            
A chest offers some spell clues.
          
I’ve been upgrading spells every time I learn new magic words. I kept the old “levels” for a while before realizing that they were just cluttering up my spellbook and I’d probably never use them again.
           
No point keeping all three levels of “Lightning.” I’ll probably never use the first two again.
        
On Earth, there was some light plot progression with my NPC friends. They gave me spell clues and occasionally items of equipment. Several of them gave me sets of numbers that seem to be clues for a puzzle that hasn’t been presented to me yet. A new NPC named Pendragon Clerke showed up in Istanbul; he gave me a clue about a weapon called the Damascene Sword. As this session went on, some of the NPCs started to suggest that they were getting harassed by the elemental wizards and might have to eventually disappear for their own safety. “Light night a rainstorm caused a flash flood that swept away our pickups,” said the Albertan paleontologist. “And today the side of the hill almost buried my crew.” In Salem, Selina says that someone tried to “torch the museum.”
            

Pendragone Clerke, who I just met, threatens to leave.

        

Before sending me off to explore each of the domains and defeat the four minions, Garwayen had told me to look for a magic orb that allows teleportation or something. But I still hadn’t found it when I defeated the last minion. (I assumed it would be in one of the special chests.) After I defeated Mahmoud, Garwayen noted that I hadn’t found the orb and then said:
               
You will never be able to complete the quest I set for you. You have shown yourself to be deaf to my advice, and so I denounce you! Go! Back to your boring world of Terra! Let the Lords have you and your world! I am finished! Farewell, Robert. I expect to never see you again!
              
This was followed by a screen that told me I lost and invited me to reload and start over. Wow, that was pretty mean. Garwayen tells me repeatedly I’m the “chosen one” and then fires me because I didn’t do things in a particular order. As some commenters have pointed out, he’s probably going to turn out to be worse than the other wizards.
         
I’m really tempted to end it here. SpellCraft is one of the most original and interesting games I’ve played in a while, but it’s also extremely frustrating, seems to be taking forever, and grows in difficulty with every mission. If it gets much harder, I think I’m just going to be paralyzed when I visit the domains, unable to clear enough enemies fast enough to destroy the wizards and obelisks generating them.

On the other hand, I could probably make things easier by changing my tactics. I rarely do this, but because I had such a difficult time with this session, I watched a few LP videos from YouTuber Garg Gobbler. This one is a good representation. Until I watched the video, I didn’t really “get” the purpose of the stone circles in each domain, which is specifically to serve as a place of refuge for me. Enemies can’t enter, and they get destroyed if they try (although the circles can take damage, which is why they have a health bar). I’ve also been under-utilizing the “Magic Wings” spell to get around maps quickly, and I’ve made things more difficult for myself by insisting on “clearing” each map rather than just accomplishing the mission. Apparently, for instance, I could have just killed each of the minions and gotten out of there–I didn’t have to destroy the generators.

I’ll try, but win or lose, I think the next entry will be the last.

Time so far: 21 hours


Original URL: http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2019/08/spellcraft-i-cant-always.html