Crusaders of the Dark Savant: Yada Yada Yada

From The CRPG Addict

The game is fond of text interludes. Normally I applaud this kind of thing, but Crusaders takes it a bit too far.


It’s taken me a while to get going with this one–I’ve had two entries basically covering the opening minutes–but at last I feel like I’m “in” the game. I find it quite a bit harder than its predecessors, although part of that has to do with the growing length of things. In a simple game like the original Wizardry, a single combat takes far less than a minute. It may have been functionally harder than this seventh entry, but there you could grind a fighter from Level 1 to Level 10 in less time than it takes here to explore the opening wilderness.
As I previously noted, I started over with a new party, and I think it’s safe to say that I spent longer analyzing, planning, and creating the new party than I have with any previous RPG. This is what I came up with:
  • Gideon, a male human fighter. I wanted a lord, but I couldn’t get quite enough bonus points, so I figured I’d dual to a lord at a later date. I’ve concentrated his weaponry skills on the sword and shield and his academic skills on mapping.
  • Svava, a female dwarf Valkyrie. All her weapon skills go into the “pole & staff” (which includes spears), and academically I’m having her specialize in mythology.
  • Noctura, a female Dracon thief. I also have vague plans to dual her to something later. Damned 7-character limit on names kept me from putting the second “n” in there. She’s also a sword specialist, but academically she’s our item-identifier. At least, she will be when she gets good enough. I have too much unidentified stuff sitting around.
  • Bix, a male hobbit bard. He’s a third sword specialist (perhaps I’m going to regret not diversifying) and the party’s diplomat.
  • Esteban, a male elf priest. He strikes with his staff (and thus specializes in pole & staff) from the rear, and academically I pour his points into theology.
  • Prenele, a female faerie alchemist. I’ve split her weapon skills into several categories: wand and dagger, throwing, and sling. Basically, whenever I have some cool stuff to shoot or toss, I give it to her (I try to get everyone else into melee range). Her academic points go into alchemy.

One of my new characters.


I thought this setup gave me a decent melee party but with several characters (priest, alchemist, and Valkyrie) capable of casting healing spells in early levels. The bard comes with a lute that provides essentially unlimited “Sleep” spells, which were very handy in the opening area. I’ll think about changing classes for some of these characters at some point, particularly since this configuration leaves me impoverished in classic mage spells.
I’ve been putting physical points mostly into swimming, with the exception of Noctura, who has to build her “skullduggery” skill to disarm traps and open locks, and Bix, who has to master music. I had hoped that I could stop once I got swimming to 10, but now I realize that’s just the bare minimum to avoid drowning if you have a full stamina bar. One dip into one water square cuts that bar neatly in half. Unless I want to rest after every breaststroke, I’ll need to keep feeding this skill.

My map of the outdoor area. Later, I found that north is to the right. I need to swim and to be able to avoid poppies to explore any more.


With the new party, I set out to fully explore the wilderness area and then to re-do the opening dungeon. The wilderness area is a bit smaller but more irregular than I expected. It’s designed to funnel a character adopting a “rightmost path” strategy to the starter dungeon and then to New City. If you follow the left “wall” instead, you end up fighting quite a few battles against forest denizens before finding a skull and a treasure chest near an entrance to the sea. The chest contains an automap. I don’t know what the skull does.

Finding a chest can be a wordy experience in Crusaders.


To the north of the starting area, there’s a field of poppies that put you to sleep before you have a chance to walk more than a few squares. I mapped as much as I could here, but clearly I need something to avoid the poppies’ sleep effect.
The battles in the wilderness were mostly easy enough for my new party, particularly with Bix putting everyone to sleep every round. The most difficult was the ratkin ambush on the way to New City, which I probably should have saved for after the dungeon. It took me about six reloads to win that one.

The starter dungeon proceeded as the first time, greatly assisted by the healing fountain. Bix, who started with no weapon, finally got a sword, although I still don’t know what kind it is. By the time I left the dungeon, my characters were only one level lower than their imported counterparts, and with a better allocation of skills.

I had expected New City to be something of a resting point, the way most cities are in most RPGs, with comfortable places like stores, inns, and temples. While it does offer a couple of “shops” (individual characters who sell things) and one quasi-temple, it’s more hostile than I expected, the area having recently been conquered by the Dark Savant.

The Dark Savant’s soldiers occupy a bunch of buildings and often show up as random encounters. They come in two types–savant guards and savant troopers–and both of them are tough to defeat at this level, particularly since they don’t respond to the bard’s sleep tunes (I suspect they’re automatons). In comparison, a large number of “Gorn spearmean” were much easier to defeat, but I got the impression that they were natives and thus felt bad about killing them. There were also more ratkin.

Killing these guys feels wrong, but it really added to my leveling.

Many times, I had to annotate a building for later return after facing an undefeatable party. Sometimes, I learned, it’s worth trying a couple of times, because the fixed encounter that offered three savant troopers and four savant guards the first time might only serve up two savant guards the second time. But in other places, the enemies were just consistently too hard no matter what I tried. I have to say, I’m getting a lot of use out of the “terminate game” button, which thankfully allows you to end a hopeless combat instantly instead of fighting to the bitter end.

This is an unwinnable combat at my level.

The other annoyance I found within New City was an abundance of locked doors. Lockpicking involves the same kind of mini-game as in Wizardry VI, where a series of colors rotate beneath each tumbler, and you have to click when the light is green to trip the tumbler. The proportion of green to other colors is based on the character’s “skullduggery” skill. If your skill is high enough, a light might just stay a consistent green, and if it’s low enough, it might stay a consistent red. Just as with Wizardry VI, the lights change too quickly to time them (unless you cheat by cranking down the emulator speed), and clicking at the right time is more like taking a chance than playing a true mini-game. Either way, if you screw up, the door can become jammed, which is no good for anyone. There’s theoretically a way to force doors, but I’m having less luck with that than lockpicking. I had to annotate a lot of doors for later return.

Even if I could time my click, I can’t tell the difference between green and red.

Because of both tough enemies and locked doors, I couldn’t explore a lot of the city. In particular, there’s a prison with some trapped NPCs (one of them calls out a rear window for us to free him), but I can’t fight my way through the enemies just yet.

An NPC asks for help.

There were a few standard NPCs in the buildings, and the game adopts the convention found in Wizardry V and VI for full-text dialogues. You have to type entire sentences and end questions with question marks, or the game doesn’t always understand what you mean. Here’s a talk I had with Sogheim, someone living in a southern building:

M: Who are you?
S: I am Sogheim
M: What do you do?
S: I live here, by the sea
M: Why do you live here, by the sea?
S: It is rumored a great monster guards the secret of the seas!
(I tried several questions related to the monster but couldn’t get him to add anything.)
M: Do you know the Dark Savant?
S: Dread ruler of Galaxies!
M: What’s happening in New City?
S: New City is where everyone eventually ends up!

I didn’t cover all his conversation options. 50 gold pieces is a lot.


I met a couple of NPCs that I didn’t know what to do with. One, on the road, was named “Ratsputin.” Another, in town, was named an Umpani whose name I neglected to write down. Neither responded to my requests for a “truce,” and I ultimately just avoided them by hitting “leave” at the initial encounter screen. I hope I wasn’t supposed to do something more productive with them.

In case you keep forgetting who the lead developer was, moments like this repeatedly remind you.

A few other encounters worth noting:

  • A copper penny found in an abandoned bank vault bought my way into the “Curio Museum of Amazing Oddities,” where I found a chest containing a magic cloak and “deadman’s hair.” More on this chest in a bit.


The tradition of putting a question mark in front of unknown items goes back to the first Wizardry.


  • A weaponry shop was guarded by a large Umpani who insisted that he was closed, “PERMANENTLY!” However, I later heard that he ran a black market, and when I returned and said “black market” to him, he relented and let me see a selection of weapons.


I think that’s supposed to be some kind of gun, not a horn.


  • A statue in the center of a courtyard surrounded by water. My skill isn’t good enough to swim to the statue.


More blah-blah-blah.


  • “Thesminster Abbey” held a priest who, with the right dialogue choices, let me go downstairs to a healing fountain. It would have been more useful if it didn’t mean passing through so many messages and dialogues to get to it (see below).


These are always handy.


  • Because of my exploration pattern, I reached “Paluke’s Armory,” the putative reason I was in the city, quite late. It was underwhelming. He had a few armor upgrades to offer, but nothing extraordinary. 


I’ve made very little money since the game began.

Throughout the gameplay, I began to get annoyed with its unavoidable wordiness. Normally, I like textual encounters and lore, but somehow the way Crusaders presents them gets in my nerves. The first problem is that the text says simple things as if they’re profound. Here’s a message that you get when you step near New City’s docks, for instance:


The great Sea of Sorrows spans before you like a vast and dense space flattened unto the sky, spreading into the far distant horizon as a desolate plain of shimmering ether. Its deep waters chant a thousand silent tales, and its unseen borders but hint of far distant lands. How universal such a compelling motion, as if behind every veil of boundless unknown lay cloaked an invisible beacon, endlessly calling. Such solace these sights bring, as if a reminder that though the trappings of mortal man be forever enshrouded in a sea of passing discords, he has but to open his eyes that he may bear witness to some greater existence of which he is only a momentary traveler.

Beyond the sophomoric wordiness are  couple of problems: Not only that the game is putting sentiments into my own character’s minds, but also that they’re a bit misplaced. Romanticizing the sea and the boundless lands beyond its horizon is something that you do on your own world, when the sea is a true frontier, not something that you’re likely to do after you’ve just arrived on this planet, having crossed the galaxy in a starship.

Anyway, the game feeds you this text one screen at a time, using a font far larger than necessary, and often not using the entire screen, so that you have to acknowledge six screens of text before you can move on. And if you accidentally return to the square, you have to go through all of the text again. Oh, and there’s an annoying delay after the text appears but before you can hit ENTER to move on. I could suffer this rarely, but about a dozen times in New City, the developers felt they needed to hijack my gameplay with some unnecessary twaddle that did more to confuse the plot than to enhance it.

Part of another long description that I have to suffer every time I want to use the healing fountain.

As I finished my first loop through the city, my big problem became the need to cure the disease that my fighter incurred when we opened the chest in the “Curio Museum.” The healing fountain in the temple doesn’t cure it, and the priest doesn’t seem to offer other services. None of the potions I’ve found are “cure disease” potions. I was hoping that one of the shops might sell them, but no luck there. The game manual warns of an increasing horrible fate, and ultimately death, suffered by a diseased character, and it warns you not to rest if anyone is diseased, so it’s affecting my entire party. My best hope is that the “Cure Disease” spell pops up as an option the next time my alchemist or priest level up, but I hate to put all my eggs in that basket. I wonder if the healing fountain in the dungeon will take care of it.

Either way, I feel like I need to grind for a couple more levels before taking on the city again, hopefully exploring more buildings this time. One point in Crusaders’ favor is that leveling up feels extremely rewarding. You watch your attributes increase–sometimes three or four per level–and then you can put a bunch of skill points into your chosen skills. So far, each level has a palpable effect on the next few combats.

I have some misgivings about the game, but leveling is as addictive as ever.

I hope to have some more momentum going by the time of the next entry. I’ve got a lot of work and travel this month, so my posting schedule might continue to be erratic for a few more weeks.

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