From The CRPG Addict
|Good descriptions replace banal graphics as we arrive in Longsaddle.|
|Residents of Longsaddle are mostly caricatures.|
Amanitas suggested I hit Mintarn next, but that’s an island and I wasn’t sure which port town would take me there. Thus, I decided to complete the loop of road I was already on, which took me prematurely to Mirabar. I was happy to find a couple of stores selling magic items. One sold +1 magic weapons, including magic arrows, which are the traditional “money sink” of the Gold Box series. Here, they screwed it up a bit because they made 10 of them cost only 30 platinum pieces, not the several thousand per batch that you find in other games.
|This shop took a small percentage of my money.|
These magic shops showed up in a couple of other towns, too, some of them selling some +2 items. I did my best with them. I bought anyone not wearing a cloak a Cloak of Protection even though I don’t think they stack with leather armor. I bought everyone Belts +2 even though they also don’t seem to do anything with armor. I upgraded my two clerics to staff slings +1. I bought hundreds of arrows +1 for anyone with a bow. I bought my wizard Wands of Ice Storm and Lightning Bolt for occasions when he can’t cast, and I also bought him every mage scroll I could find to increase the spells in his book. I bought Potions of Giant Strength for everyone and would have bought dozens of them to use in front of every battle but they don’t stack and I was already having issues with inventory space. Despite all these purchases, I never exhausted my supply of gems, let alone having to sell the more valuable jewelry. In fact, at one point I actually lost my entire pile of gems by accidentally having an NPC pick them up (you can’t trade items or wealth from an NPC), and yet I still made up enough in the subsequent hours that I never had to appraise a piece of jewelry.
|This shop would have taken a lot more of my money if scrolls and potions stacked.|
Mirabar is divided into north and south sections, the south run by humans and the north populated by dwarves. The dwarves work a mine, and even though I was visiting the city prematurely, there were some mine-related encounters that had nothing to do with the Zhent plot. After I fought some giants and purple worms, the dwarves rewarded me with a two-handed sword +3.
|One of the few battles available in Mirabar this early in the game.|
I took a break between Mirabar and continuing on, which turned out to be lucky. When I reloaded the game, the copy protection question asked me for a word after the heading “Tower of Twilight.” This reminded me that the Tower is a real place and not just a throw-away reference in Longsaddle. So I backtracked a bit to find it, which wasn’t hard.
|The Tower of Twilight, directly west of Longsaddle.|
It was a small, weird experience. After I entered the tower, a voice said we’d have to overcome some beasts before he’d help us. These turned out to be a bunch of electric spiders and (in a separate encounter) an iron golem. The electric spiders were annoying, firing lightning bolts with every attack, but I managed to take them out with swords, “Hold Monster,” and “Charm Monster.” The iron golem fell to physical attacks from anyone with a +3 weapon or higher, slowed with a “Lightning Bolt.”
When these creatures were dead, Malchor Harpell agreed to tutor my mage, Monitor. She went away for a little while and then came back “very satisfied” with a new Black Crystal Ring. The game said she got experience, but it wasn’t enough to rise a level. She didn’t get any extra spell slots from the ring or otherwise, and the ring never seemed to do anything. I’m not sure what the entire purpose of the side-journey was.
|Are you sure you’ve been studying magic, Monitor?|
My first visit to Luskan was a bust. All the high captains wanted tribute, but none were available to just attack. Trying to bash my way into the Hosttower of the Arcane just triggered an impossible battle against a bazillion mages who all went first, blasting us to smithereens with “Ice Storm” or paralyzing us all with “Hold Monster.” I want to see how this battle plays out with my Pools of Darkness party later.
|Attacking the Hosttower is a good way to get hit with 50 “Ice Storms” in a row.|
Port Llast was similarly uneventful. There were a few random battles. I had thought to find the ship to Mintarn here, but the only thing I could do in the city was take a sea tour, which led to an episode in which pirates attacked the boat, which led to us firing a cannon (through text menus) at the pirates and sinking them, which gained us some experience.
That finally brought us to Neverwinter. I had only explored a little of the city when I visited Lord Nasher and he had us arrested, apparently still believing that we had kidnapped the ambassadors. There was no opportunity for us to show evidence or plead our case, so we were treated to another scripted sequence in which Nasher declined to execute us because of our heroism in Ascore. Instead, he had us exiled to Farr Windward.
|So maybe listen to our pleas of innocence now? Are we even pleading?|
Farr Windward turned out to be on the same island as Orlumbor–the two cities are connected by a series of caverns. It was easily the most bizarre sequence of the game. Our boat crashed as we neared the city, which turned out to be a good thing, because we had to crawl ashore. If we’d entered through customs, they would have branded us with a mark that basically made us permanent outcasts. Everyone in Farr Windward had this brand, and their exile had either driven them insane or that’s why they were exiled in the first place. As we arrived, the town was having a parade for one of its members who had died. Everyone we talked to was slightly goofy. Unfortunately, the city seems to have been invented for the game and is not otherwise discussed in Forgotten Realms lore.
|A shop selling “Certificates of Normalcy” was par for the course in Farr Windward.|
A weird fighter/cleric named Ougo joined the party. Or, I guess, he was just acting weird. As we explored the town and defeated a series of Kraken spies, it turned out he had a plan to free the people of Farr Windward. It involved recovering the brand used on the exiles in the first place, then using it on Tulgar Wrighttson, leader of Orlumbor, so that he’d have to either go into exile himself or annul the entire branding system and thus free Farr Windward. At the same time, the party was trying to convince Wrighttson that the ships blockading his harbor were not from Waterdeep, despite their false flags, but rather the Luskan pirates.
It all worked out, but the plot started to annoy me a bit. It seems far too easy for the evil forces to convince the members of the Lords’ Alliance that they’re being betrayed. Has this part of the world never heard of false flags and stolen uniforms before? If my party hadn’t come around, would they have even bothered to contact each other and straighten things out? And here’s a tip for time travelers: When you go back to 1930s Germany, just kill Hitler. Don’t try to stop the Holocaust by slipping a Star of David armband on him at night. There are ways for the wealthy and powerful to get around such things. This is the second game I can think of that uses this trope, the other being Dishonored, and it didn’t make any more sense there.
|“Guards, take him away!” “Sorry, sir, we have to arrest you now, even though if you had acquired that brand through any legitimate process, we almost certainly would have heard about it.”|
A store in Farr Windward sold indecipherable equipment called “Farrberjiks.” But because I had more money than I knew what to do with, I bought everyone “Farrberjik Lined Boots,” and damned if they didn’t subtract a point from armor class.
|I have no idea.|
The caves in between the two cities had some interesting encounters with enemies I’ve never heard of before: giant kampfults, great vilstraks, and rock reptiles. Kampfults seem like giant collections of vines; vilstraks look like earth elementals; and rock reptiles are, like their name suggests, giant lizards made out of stone. None was terribly hard, but kampfults seem to have some kind of “smothering” attack, much like shambling mounds, that keep a character immobile until the beast is killed.
|Both responded satisfyingly to “Fireball.”|
As we prepared to sail away from Orlumbor, Siulajia got kidnapped by some sailors who hauled her off in a burlap sack. The captain of the transport ship refused to follow the kidnappers, and I had options to stay or take the ship to its original destination. Since the game didn’t give me enough information to determine which option would get me closer to Siulajia, I decided to stay with the ship and head for Mintarn. Broadside was sad.
The problem in Mintarn was the same as in Orlumbor: Luskan pirates pretending to be the Waterdeep navy, blockading the port. About half of the city’s available squares were water, and it didn’t take long to clear out the rest of the buildings and warehouses of the various groups of giants, Hosttower mages, Kraken spies, and Zhentil lords that were gathered there. One battle introduced an efreet.
|The “Lucky Paper” outlines the group’s plan for Orlumbor. But do the Luskan pirates and the Waterdeep navy really use the same ships? Is the flag itself really the only way to tell?|
We were joined for a time by Princess Jagaerda of Gundarlun, also a companion from the first game, who as a powerful fighter was a nice replacement for Siulajia. I found her late in my explorations of the city, though, and she departed when we returned to the mainland.
Eventually, we found the necessary enemy papers to prove that they were using fake Waterdeep uniforms and flags, and we presented these to the leader of Mintarn, ominously named The Tyrant, who gave us a +3 trident as a reward. My ranger used it for the rest of the game.
|My party really is just the most pathetic group of do-gooders.|
We returned to Neverwinter. During our absence, Lord Nasher apparently discovered the truth about things, as he was extremely apologetic for disbelieving us and exiling us in the first place. He asked us to hunt around the city for the missing ambassadors, and we found them both in secret areas after defeating their captors in battle.
|This has never gotten old and never will get old.|
We went back to Luskan at this point but still couldn’t find anything new to do in the city, with one exception. We ran into Princess Jagaerda again just as she defeated a band of evil forces, and she recommended that we take a ship for Ruathym, where the leader, Captain Redleg, had either been captured or turned by the conspiracy. It was another map of clearing buildings before convincing the leader of our cause and getting his support.
|Now I want to rewatch The Outlaw Josey Wales.
Redleg joined the party for a while and helped us clear out the rest of the town. He departed just as we ran into Jagaerda again, and she joined us for the second time.
|Jagaerda tempts a blogger to devolve into crudity.|
My party had gained a couple levels, and I wanted to try the Luskan Hosttower again. Unfortunately, upon return to the Hosttower, it was just locked. I couldn’t trigger the same battle again. Fortunately, the game now let us assault the homes of the pirate captains and otherwise have our vengeance on the city. In some building, we came across a bunch of guards holding Siulajia. She and Broadside were joyously reunited–just as Ougo decided to return home. Jagaerda also left us when we left Luskan.
|The male NPCs have a strange way of bowing out every time female NPCs appear.|
Some documents suggested that the conspirators had kidnapped Siulajia because of her family, which confused her because she said they were just normal people living in the High Forest. As we’ll discuss next time, I’m pretty sure the developers were establishing High Forest as the setting for the sequel.
|For the record, that’s not very far from where we started the game.|
At last, it came time to visit the council in Mirabar. On our second visit to the city, we ran into numerous encounters with enemy forces not present the first time. They culminated with our visit to the Council Chambers, where the representatives were talking of war–until we presented the various “lucky papers” along with our report on the conspirators’ activities.
|The game is being kind here. I didn’t save all 10 lucky papers.|
The leaders were in the middle of thanking us for our work when the doors burst open and a very large group of Hosttower sorceresses, Kraken agents, and Zhentarim lords. They were the same types of enemies I had faced in countless previous battles, but they were very hard in this one.
|The final battle starts you with groups to the north, west, and east of the party. More appear after the first round.|
The key problem–as a couple of commenters have pointed out–is that if enemy spellcasters get the drop on you, the battle swiftly becomes unwinnable. This one featured at least 12 mages in the opening round, and maybe another 8 joined in subsequent rounds. (By the way, I came to hate that particular addition to the game mechanics.) They started in three groups in different locations, so they couldn’t all be targeted with one “Fireball” even if my mage had a chance to act. Almost all the spellcasters started with “Hold” spells, and each spell was capable of targeting three or four characters. On my first two attempts at battle, I ended up with all or most of my party held and slaughtered by the end of the first round.
|Properly prepared this time.|
It was only after a few reloads (informed, now, with buffing spells) that I got a handle on the battle, using hastened fighters to charge and occupy the mages and hastened clerics to charge and “Hold” them long enough for my mage to get a chance to damage them en masse. But I made the mistake of wasting all my best spells in the first couple of rounds, thus having nothing left to deal with groups of mages gating in during the third and fourth rounds. Altogether, it took me five attempts to win the battle. Both this battle and some of the others late in the game require you to carefully note the location and status of each spellcaster, and in particular whether you’ve already damaged him or he’s already cast a spell that round. You have to be willing to pull characters out of melee combat (giving enemies a few free swipes) and switch them to ranged weapons so they can target undamaged spellcasters who haven’t acted yet. Since the original Pool of Radiance, only the final battles in Pools of Darkness required this much attention to detail.
- Gateway and Treasures have seven locations in common. Of them, Llorkh, Yartar, Luskan, and Neverwinter use the same maps between the two games. (And as a bonus, Neverwinter’s is the same as used in 1991’s Neverwinter Nights.) There are only a couple of minor changes, such as doors where there were once arches. Neverwinter’s map in Treasures adds a couple of docks. The map of Secomber in Gateway is half of the map of the city in Treasures. Loudwater is unrecognizable between the two games, as is Port Llast, although in the latter case I think the maps are showing two different areas of the city.
- One consequence of having two characters in love: when either gets knocked unconscious or killed in combat, the other “frenzies” and is taken out of my control.
- “Quick” combat is pretty good about transitioning between melee weapons and missile weapons as necessary, with one exception: It does not recognize staff slings. Characters who possess them and cannot get to enemies in melee range just dither around doing nothing. It otherwise works well enough that I don’t know why the developers couldn’t give me a command to toggle between missile and melee weapons rather than forcing me to go into the inventory screen.
- For a series that does a great job overloading you with so much money that you never have to worry about it, there are an awful lot of times where you’re asked, “Who will pay?,” and you have to try several options because you don’t remember exactly how much each character is carrying, and then sometimes you have to leave and go find a shop to sell a gem because you can’t pay in gems or jewelry even though they’re worth a lot more that what you’re being asked for. Why does the party have individual wealth at all?
I have a theory that the events described above, culminating with the battle in Mirabar, were originally supposed to end the game. The battle was about as difficult as an endgame battle should be, and we clearly resolved the main plot. The only reason I can see for phase three, which feels completely superfluous, was that someone decided that the game wasn’t long enough. See if you agree when we wrap up the game in a few days.
Time so far: 23 hours