Currently playing: The incredible adventures of Van Helsing, Ravenloft: Strahd´s Possession

December 31, 2011

Dark heart of Uukrul - decision point

Last time I had trouble getting past the thieves of den. I spent at least 4 hours trying to gain experience to get to level 4 which was very, very boring. Few battles gives much experience and even less so gold, so I think I must have fought at least 30-40 battles before 3 out of 4 partymembers rose to level 4. I gradually improved their armour but didn´t notice much of a difference in the battles.

After having replenished my stocks I went back to the thieves guild (now with more spells as well). I was able to defeat them and found their cache which gave me around 3.000 gold. I´ve never had so much gold in any one time before. I saved the game and my plans was to get back to my base i.e. Sanctuary. Damn it if those thieves where still around harassing me for one or two more fights. I don´t know how I survived but after several reloads I did and managed to get back. The problem is that I though the thieves den would lead me on in the city. I must have missed something because I could not go on anywhere. I had to backtrack and see if I had forgot a secret door or something.

Just after having written the above I returned to the only grate I had not opened yet just north of a teleporter. I switched the owner of my chrome key from my priest to my warrior and suddenly I could open the grate. That must be a bug in the game. It was by pure coincidence I tried this out.

Anyway, it soon led me to find the first heart that I need in order to beat the evil Uukrul. I also discovered that I had forgot to map out one exit of my automap so I was not stuck at all. I followd that path and soon reached another Sanctuary. At the Sancturies you could store surplus items for later retrieval but the store is not unlimited. Fortunately each Sanctuary holds a teleporter with which you can quickly teleport to different locations in the game. That is used frequently to get back to the marketplace to sell/buy items and to buy more food. 

The mage has access to library information

This is why you keep playing

My explorations soon led to the sage Sagaris. The old man could identify your items, but not for free of course. I have not yet found any magical items or armours. But for a high fee the sage tells me what my ointments and gems are for. There are still a few items that I don´t know any use of and that is cloth, skull and bone. When I first met him he wanted us to do a task for him. I should find a place under the pool of testing where only my priest could go (at least a use for that character).

Sometimes you come across readings on the wall. Most of the time it is hints or messages but sometimes you can see drawings, like small portions of a map. You just have to memorize the drawing so that you will recognise it when you are there and then try to find out what it was about. The above map shows that there are two pits and the third might be a trap. But there are maps showing you where there are secret doors as well.

There are quite a few secret doors strewn across the world. Most of them are somewhat difficult to open. Your priest has to invoke the prayer hoyamoq to try to open it. Most of the time he fails (as he does with practically every other prayer) but sometimes you get lucky. Unfortunately there are doors that require 4 or 5 successful uses of the prayer and you would sooner run out of spell points. That means you have to return to a Sanctuary to rest and then return to the door again, on the way probably having to endure a few random fights. This makes the progress of the game quite slow.

Ahh, my god won´t listen to me

You might also be able to force the door open och looking for a hidden device. The first option hurts your fighter but might work sometimes. The other option takes time and increase the risk of a random encounter and seldom works after the first few you found.

Half of my group are now in level 5. Moneywise the situation is a little better and not until level 5 will your fighter och paladin be able to wield more powerful weapon like the silversword.

If I have not said it before, you do not run errands for any NPC:s or doing small tasks to get experience. There is no such thing in the game so far. You get practically all experience points on your own by fighting fixed and random encounters, finding secret doors and stashes etc. There is not much story to go on. There are quite a few places telling what kind of room you are in but it seldom gives you any overview of the part or area you are in. Most of the time the corridors and stairs are endless. That has begun to feel a little boring. You never actually feel you complete any sort of areas and the random encounters never stop occurring even if you clear all rooms out. You have to return to your base to stock up for more food and then return to where you last was, but not without a few fights to get there.

Sometimes you are given multiple options
My group seem to be in an Orc area. I have no clue of wether this is just an obstacle or if there are anything to be found there. The orcs could be very difficult to beat. There are a lot of different orcs from brown orcs, red orcs and up to orc warriors and orc chieftains. They are quite hard to defeat and basically takes all your strength.

A few new reflections:

  • Sagaris could help to tell you what certain weapons are used for. For example he said that the schimitar is effective against humanoids (like orc hopefully!). The spellbook also indicates that silver is best used against the undead which then should include my newly aquired silver sword.
  • It seems you could not find items that are not in the stock at the merchant. So you will probably never be surprised of what you find. 
  • The difficulties of the enounters varies greatly even in the exact same room. That feels a little unbalanced.
  • Monsters do have their own special abilities. Some can heal themselves, cast spells like silencing your mage, get you stunned and poisoned etc.

Right now I am at an decision point of wether to continue or not. I´ve invested at least 15 hours so far and feels it needs at least the double more to get near the end. If something doesn´t happen soon that let things be a little more easy I might give up on this but until then I´ll continue my explorations.

December 26, 2011

Dark heart of Uukrul - slowly progressing

Last time I had just found my first Sanctuary in the huge underground city. Since then I have progressed with my party. So far we are all pulling east to get into new territories and on the way we have found new sanctuaries. I finally reached the marketplace. 

Here you can visit a blacksmith to have your broken weapons repaired (I was not too happy to discover you can break your weapons in the middle of a battle. You always have to have a backup weapon with you).

I also found a Maousoleum in which you can resurrect your characters if they die. The bad part - except for paying a lot of gold - is that you loose some attribute points when resurrected. There are, however, a guild just nearby that lets you recruit any new character of the ones pre-rolled. I haven´t tried them out yet so I  don´t know how good they are. 

When you reach enough experience points for your next level you have to visit a Sanctuary to level up. During level up, I have noticed you can increase from zero to three attribute points (totally random it seems). You also get more hitpoints and spell points. Close to each Sanctuary are teleporters. With them you could  write the correct word and then teleport back to another Sanctuary or place. Too bad the place you have discovered are not listed. You have to write them down separately. 

I have still to know any details of my main mission to destroy Uukrul, except that it seems his black heart are locked in by six locks that could be opened by a petrified human heart. I met a femal that faded in before me called, Mara, she mentioned I need to find the frozen hearts. So far I have had no reason to write anything down since every encounter is hostile anyway. 

When you level up you could visit the temples or the mages and if you are of enough level they will give you another ring or school of magic. Here is where I think I can begin to explain the magic system in the game. For both priests and mages you have several schools of magic. Each school have spells divided into categories that relies upon a certain ring of metal. You start at the lowest category which are an iron ring of a particular school. That is the most basic spells. If you are of enough level you might be given a copper ring which gives you access to the next level of that schools magic and so on. It works the same for both mages and priests. 

My only reliable partner is my mage. He could always throw spells in combat if he has enough spell points. My priest, however, invoke prayers and it is not guaranteed that they will be heard which makes him very unreliable. I suppose the chance to succeed also depends on the level or metal of the ring in the school but I have yet to verify it. The priest could summon elementals in battle. Only in level three I managed to summon an air elemental to fight at my side. That is another plus of the battles here compared to Demons Winter.

As said in my previous post, you have to manually enter all the spell names to cast them which forces you to print out the manual and flip through the pages every time you want to use your spells. It is almost impossible to remember the names except a very, very few. Very tedious and that makes me too lazy to use spells unless I really have too.

Other reflections of the game so far includes:
  • Food seems to deplete in a balanced way in the game. Everytime you move or take an action like "Searching the walls", "Looking for a device for a secret door" etc takes time and depletes your stock. It is not too fast and has not become any real problem yet, but not as slow as not draining the money I try to build up to buy better equipment.
  • As mentioned in my previous post, at every door you could Listen before entering. I have not found any practical use for it. You might get a hint if there are any evil denizens on the other side but you still have to go through that door sooner or later anyway, so I just open every door. If you are low on health and want to avoid meeting anyone you would not explore areas in which you have not been before anyway. 
  • Run from combat works very well. Each combat screen is built upon you immediate surroundings. So if you have three doors in the room you are in then they will be in the combat screen as well. It seems you only need two character close to the door to make the whole group flee. Your adjacent enemies are give a free attack but that´s all. Run actually means run. You will not start out in the same hex. You could have run a lot of hexes and you don´t see which hexes as in Dragon Wars either. I discovered that when I tried to map an area where the automap didn´t work. I just didnt get it right. Now I know why.
  • You don´t have to kill every creature in a battle. If you are strong there is a great chance the enemies will flee rather than meet their certain death. I really appreciate the programmers effort to include this feature of the game.
  • Walls in battles prevents spells like firebolts to hit their enemies. You can´t shoot around corners etc which makes battles more tactical.
  • When infected by plague it spreads to other members of the group unless treated in time. Good feature, albeit not fun to suffer from.
  • In battles you often get a general description of a foe like Orc until you actually starts attack him. Then you might identify him as a red orc, orc chieftain or something other more specialised type. 
  • Specific and unusual items you found could be used but they dissappear when you use them, regardless of if you where successful or not. I have bones, rags, ointments, unnamed scrolls, gems and other items I am not sure what to do with.
  • You have the option of Auto-combat but what that means is that the computer will command your characters and attack all enemies without any regard of tactics or protection of the weak mages. I only use this for easy fights. I would like an automatic, computed combat instead.

Notice the door in the southwest and northeast. You could flee through them
My party is slowly progressing but most of my gold goes to buy rations and heal my injuries. I have no money left to buy better equipment. I just got hold of the Chrome Key which opens a gate but right after I stumble into a den of thieves (or rather assassins). I have yet to defeat them in order to progress and have died several times in that battle. So I have to restore a backup from the sanctuary and go grinding for a few hours to reach level 4. Hopefully that will also get me some gold to buy better equipment. The priest is mostly useless so far and totally unreliable in combat. I hope he will be more useful later on in the game.

I am progressing farther and farther from my shops. I have no idea if my shops are the only one in the town or if I will find more later on. I would like to find someone to identify my ? items. I have not found any good weapons lying around so far. You don´t get much loot.

I am enjoying the game but the fights starts to get tedious and the overly difficult one-save-no-regret thing is starting to make things quite difficult. For example, the game saves the game in the beginning of every fight which means you cannot quit and reload. If you are unlucky the fight is impossible to win. In no way there are enough gold to resurrect several characters, much less so to be able to backtrack to the Mausoleum before the whole group is wiped out.

December 24, 2011

The Dark Heart of Uukrul - Revisited

While the first impression of Skyrim has faded somewhat I am feeling drawn once again to return to the old rpg school of games. Earlier games revisited have always been known to me in some way or another, but this time I have the sight targeted at - at least for me - an unknown game called The dark heart of Uukrul. I have never heard of it before. I took it from the list that CRPGAddict uses as his master list and googled it quickly to determine what kind of game it was. First impression looked promising so I got the game and fired it up with Dosbox 0.74 to see what it is all about. The few reviews of it I found was praising the game and said it was a perfect mix of combat, puzzles and adventure. So why not give it a try ?

The party consists of four characters each must be a Warrior, Paladin, Priest and a Magician. You do not roll your attributes but instead are asked to answer a few questions for each class to - what I believe -  determine what focus you will have in your attributes. A few of them is neutral through a moral viewpoint but a few is not and that makes it interesting. It reminds me of Ultima.

I am not sure the attributes are random or not. I have yet to re-roll any class to verify that. Instead my group looked like this in the end:

The party starts out in the city of Eriosthe. Somewhere here is the evil magician Uukrul which I suppose we will have as our major adversary. What I like about the manual is the developers talking about the depth of the game. I have to give you a quotation:

"The game’s emphasis is on depth of play and quality of puzzles. It’s
not just another “bash the monsters” fantasy game. We could give
you figures about the number of monsters or maze size, but that’s not
the point. We hope you find the puzzles challenging and tortuous
without them brickwalling you. Nothing pleases us more than
watching someone who has already played the game for hours realize
that the game has even more subtlety."

I really miss this kind of developer diaries or designer´s notes in today game manuals. So what is this game about anyway ? You start out with your adventurers in a huge underground city called Eriosthe. Your goal is to destroy the evil magician Uukral that resides somewhere in the city. That´s about all the manual tells you in the beginning. I started out with the party and moved around for awhile. I came to some sort of underground hall with doors in all directions. 

Every door gives you the ability to listen. I suppose it is to give you hints if there are living - and thereby dangerous - creatures on the other side. You also have the opportunity to search the walls. I periodically started to search every wall I could see where potentiall secret areas as could be determined from the automap. I found a key, opened a locked grate and stumbled into my first fight with rats.

Combat reminds me very much of Demons Winter. The graphics is almost the same but here you can move diagonally. You could also flee combat but I haven´t tried that yet. I was positively surprised to see that enemies could flee and also move in different speeds. I will return with an analysis of the combat in the game in a later post. After combat experience points are distributed according to who and which characters took part most actively. There is also the opportunity to find treasure you could take. So far I´ve only seen daggers or gold. 

For a game from 1989 it does - surprisingly - give you a quite good auto-mapping feature. You could label an area but I am not sure what the other options are for yet. Red squares above are hexes I have visited. After about 20 minutes I found the Sanctuary. A Sancturay is a place in the town where you could rest and regain your lost health and magic points. You could also store items permanently there and gain levels if you have enough experience points. Last but not least it enables you to let the program take a backup of your party and save game file. Here is the first restriction of the game. You only have one save slot and according to information I have gained in FAQ:s it seems it is automatically saved before each combat and death of a character so you cannot just reload easily unless you backup the whole directory from time to time. 

Quite often - almost for all rooms - you are given story descriptions about the place which builds up the atmosphere. It is much more advanced and mature that Bard´s Tale or Dragon Wars but not as well as the SSI series of RPGs. Oh, I forgot to mention that you need food to survive. I have not yet found any shop to replenish my supplies and I haven´t found any in my loot either.

There are pits you could descend into by climbing down with or without a rope depending on how dangerous it is. The city is also build on several levels with stairs connecting them.

The combats is not very frequent but still random. I would say fights occurr less often than every 30 steps which is a giant leap forward compared to Bards Tale III or Dragon Wars. The area in the combat section is exactly a replica of the maze you where currently standing in.

Dogs or hounds are a litte tougher than rats

Bats are your first and easiest enemies
The magic system is well developed in the game. I have yet to figure it out since I haven´t had the time to read the whole manual yet. What I can say is that there are a lot of spells in different disciplines as a mage and different schools as a Priest. The spells have to be manually typen which makes it cumbersome just like in BT3. I´ll return later on with more info about this part as my group develops and I learn more about the game.

Above is the character screen of my Priest. He has some rings which are important for the magic part and virtue points that I am not sure what they are for right now. Either they are my spell points or something else. The skill level is my character level and will increase when I get enough experience. I don´t know if my attributes are increased then or not.

The inventory screen show your items graphically. A question mark (?) indicates you have to identify the item to be sure of what it does. You could still use Inspect to try to identify it though. The marked letters indicates which armours and weapons are equipped.

The game has no sound and pretty bad graphics even for a 1989 game. Still it is better than what I saw in Demons Winter. I will continue to play this game to give it a fair chance. It is a very odd and rare game and was made by Broderbund, a company that was not famous for anything in this genre. 

Until my next post, merry christmas!

November 10, 2011

Dungeon Master 2 - Very near the end

Last time I tried to figure out how to pass a room with reflectors and pits in the floor. It turned out I didn´t have to align the reflectors to get through. I just sent in a scout to stand on the brown spot behind the wall and the pits and the pits would go away.

We got up to the next level from there and faced a corridor full of electrical charges being spawned out from the wall. The only way to get through was to cast the spell accelerate on the party and run through with as little damage as possible. Behind the corridor was a niche with two keys as seen below.

Vital keys behind a trap in the floor

The problem was that if I took both keys I would be trapped within the marks at the ground. So I could only take one key and step out. Placing something to replace the keys had no effect. So I took the Onyx key and used it to open the door just before the electrical charges. At this stage of the game I was constantly harassed by the flying robots. They are so extremely irritating. If you don´t move quick enough you can stand around one or two hits until the whole party is wiped out.

When coming through the door we finally got into a room with a huge crystal, several levers at the wall and a special gate door that did not open. There where also another gate and a teleporter that could be used. The only way forward was to use the teleporter to be transported into a room where you where trapped behind tables and reflectors. You had to hurl fireballs on the reflectors to destroy the tables and get space to move. You could then get out of the room only to find yourself back at the mainroom with the huge gem. So what do I have to do ? I had to cheat by checking and it was said I have to move the reflectors into the main room and align them against the gem. Then, by pressing the levers, fireballs would be hurled hitting the reflectors and then the gem. It is supposed that the special gate door then should be opened.

The roof of Skullkeep, full of nasties as could be seen

But nothing happend when I pulled the levers. No fireballs where emitted at all. Hmm. There was a ladder here that went down to the machine room I spoke about in a previous post. I figured that now was the time to try to get it started and so I went down and tried to check everything. I was constantly attacked by the robots so my progress was very slow. I even had to go back to the pits since I though I would have to pick up pyre stones to use somewhere but I never found out where. I moved some levers in the machine room, the fire was burning, some preassure was seen etc. I went back up and now I could pull the levers and fireballs was emitted. But nothing happend. It seems I need a lightning bolt to hit the gem from the side and that thing of the machine is not working. I have no idea how to get it to work. 

Right now I am quite fed up with this machine thing and decided to pause the game. I know that I am very near the end and that I soon will face Dagoth, the enemy himself.

I was hoping I could have finished Dungeon Master II before Skyrim was released tomorrow. I am not sure I will have the time to go back to finishe this until too much time has passed. There will probably not be any more updates for some time now due to the Skyrim release.

Ps. By the way, my DM2 is running extremely slow in dosbox right now. To move a step forward takes 1-2 seconds. I have tried to change the dosbox settings but cannot make it to change. Does anyone know how to increase performance ? I thought it was because I was overloaded but saw no effect when unloading items.