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October 1, 2015

Serpent in the Staglands - Review



Game reviewed: Serpent in the Staglands
Version: 15
Created byWhalenought Studios
Released: 2015
Formats: Pc
Difficulty: 7/10
Price$19.99


Serpent in the Staglands is a true old-school RPG in the sense that it is difficult, nonlinear and with charming graphics from the early 90s. The nonlinear thing might not be true for every CRPG (Bard´s Tale, SSI Forgotten Realms/Dragonlance etc) but it is true for Faery Tale Adventure and Wizardry VII just to name a few. You could go anywhere you like but it will be extremely hard to succeed and you have to avoid fights to survive, but you could do it. That is the point. There are no directions, journal with objectives or anytning to help you out. You have an ingame notepad where you could write your own things but that is about all.

The game starts out very challenging. You are weak with few hitpoints, lacks any good equipment and have no skills in magic or combat. I love such difficulty as long as you have an open world and this game offers it. Just make a note of things you know you have to return to when you are stronger. The story is quite original and the world interesting to explore. I also like the fog-of-war on each map and that you don´t know where you will find interesting places on the overland map. They just appear if you move into the grid. I also found out that you can move outside the visible grid and find places. 

You have few emeralds (gold) in the beginning and need everyone of them to secure your stock of arrows, bolts and other equipment like rope and spades. When you get enough gold you will start to prioritize which one in your pary gets a better armour or weapon. You will never feel rich in the game and that is a good thing but in the end you will have enough gold to buy anything you like. It is then you will discover that there are very few highend equipment in the game so you don´t have much use for the gold.

You could talk to most NPC:s and often have multiple answers to choose from. I found the dialougues to be quite good and mature. There are very few sidequests in the game but you get enough information about what is happening when talking to people or the governors. You have certain aptitudes that will help you out such as Noble (get along better with highend persons) or Harbinger (threatening people. I never found any use for it though). Some of them, will be used to interact with the environment such as Woodwise but I never had any use for Philosophy.There are a few such places in the game.

There are a few dozen different monsters and humaniods you will come across in the game. From goblins to ice spiders and many of them have their own combat skills and abilities. I had great trouble killing the harvesters at first until I used a magical item that had a chance to make them flee and become an easy target. I like that variety. Often your worst problem is the number of them not the individual threats so I always sneak up to lure away one at a time to take down. The AI used is decent in the way that it tries to target your weakest character and follow retreating ones. There is no resurrection whatsoever in the game so I had to win every combat with all members surviving.

The combat system works better than expected with good, detailed information about hits, damage dealt, skills or magics used per round. You easily see the effects if you increase your skills and enter combat. There are much variety to combatrelated skills and magics so I imagine you could build your party in many different ways and employ a lot of different tactics.

I also like the magic system where you don´t spend any mana. That means you could always heal yourself back up to full after every combat but while casting a spell you cannot move and it will continously deal its effect after a certain amount of seconds which makes the spellcaster quite vulnerable. My group entered a new level when I found out about the combat skill that give you back some hitpoints for every damage dealt. That kept my frontfighters alive longer we became much more harder to kill. For me that skill is invaluable.

The character generation system works pretty good too. There are a lot of interesting statistics like hit chance, dodge chance, attack speed, armour class and so on. For example to access higher grade combat skills you have to have enough attribute points spent on strength and dexterity. But if you are a fighter you would also like to spend them into perception because that increases your hit chance. I never found dexterity a good attribute because of its very low contribution to attack speed. As a mage you have to increase intelligence and occult values to acces higher level spells. You have quite many combat and magic skills to choose from and since there are no classes there is no restrictions of what classtype character you want to play.

The manual is vague in explaining underlying game mechanics. They claim it is beacuse they want you the player to discover this yourself and try out different strategies and that it is part of the fun. I don´t agree. When it comes to game mechanics you have to have a fair chance to understand how it works and plan ahead how you should develop your character. Now you have to guess or make assumptions. Totally unnecessary. When it comes to the plot or how the world works or its history you might very well discover that ingame but not on how the game works. A lame attempt in my view to get rid of constantly updating the manual with patch changes.

The maps are pretty well laid out. Most of the overland maps are equally large but there are some with different sizes. The same goes for underground maps of which there are too few in the game. But they are all well laid out and interesting to explore.

Graphics wise we are back in the early 90:s when 3D-pixelated games first appear. The screen resolution is too low for this game and reminds me of VGA resolution such as seen in Ultima Underworld. It is just ridiculous to have to play in this resolution in 2015 becaue it adds nothing to the CRPG charm. At least twice the resolution should have been offered. Still, you get used to it even if playing full screen and I suppose the graphics are as good as its get with the few pixels used.

Regarding music it never left me with any impression though I know it was there in the background. There are some decent sound effects in the game but nothing worht mentioning. The interface might be the worst part of the game. It is hard to see what things are and only some symbols and icons have tooltips. Those are very important but I think they could be improved.

In the end, I had much fun with this game. It is a true CRPG. It takes time to get into and survive the first 10 hours is crucial until you reach level 3 and notice you actually improve your survivability. It was quite fun to try out and discover which spells and skills you should invest and the few mainstory leads are interesting. I always looked forward to gain a few more XP in order to raise yet another level and increase my abilities in order to be able to kill just that one enemy. There was always some goals in mind and that´s what its all about. To stepwise and gradually develop your party from the lowest levels and up to the level when you can challenge anyone and feel it all came down to your patience and carefully selected improvements along the way.

Recommended!



Section
Rating
Gameworld & Story
2.5
Economy
4
NPC & Interactions
3
Monsters, tactics & combat system
3.5
Magic system
3.5
Character generation & development
4
Map design
3
Manual
2
Graphics, Sound and Interface
2
Summary CRPG value
27.5


Gameplay
4

September 26, 2015

Serpent in the Staglands - Review deleted

Just this morning I was about to continue writing on my soon to be finished review of Serpent in the Staglands but my draft post was deleted and is now empty. All text gone. I have to restart from the beginning and this time it will be much shorter. Angry is just the firstname....

September 14, 2015

Serpent in the Staglands - Won!

This Sunday night the 13th of September I "suddenly" won the game Serpent in the Staglands. I felt I was making progress in my last post but didn´t know it was so much shorter than anticipated.

The merchant at merchants guild in Corem told med that the entrance to the Bloodless lied in Lumen Forten, my starting place. I went back to the blood hunters in the northwest and told them my information. They thanked me and gave me the runes that would open this portal. They also offered to me one of their companions as a follower. He had a silver sword, neccessary to hurt the bloodless so I felt I had no choice but to take him into my team. I had to sacrifica Ruxandra for that.


The corrupt merchant in Corem

I returned to Lumen Forten and found the two rune books. I drawed a rune exactly as the letter I was given by the bloodless hunters and got a vial. I already had the first vial since I somehow randomly drew the correct rune shape already in the beginning of the game. What I should do with the vials is another question because the portal opened just as well anyway. I entered and was confronted by a bloodless who arrogantly challenged me before he turned to a wolf and attacked me with his bloodless slaves.

This battle was pretty hard because it took awhile for me to understand that the wolf actually was the transformed bloodless and it could only be hurt only effectively by the silver sword. I tried to build up my team in different skill strategies until I understood that it was the silver sword that was the only decisive factor. After having killed the bloodless I exited his room to the wilderness. There I found a raft which I used to take me to land. There was no information or interesting items to gain here. I returned with my news to the bloodless hunters and they thanked me.

My fight with the bloodless

My next goal was to return to Ista Cale. The manor key I found at the lumber yard gave me access to the councelors house and in there I found a prison with a man that said he was a visiting councelor that had been taken prisoner by Octavian. The public where told that he was sick and would not see anyone. Since his cells was heavily guarded and I was attacked by sight I thought I was on the right track. I killed the guards, one at a time and got over 1.300 xp each. They are tough but the usual tactics always prevail. 


Escaping the bloodless den
The prisoner had no solution to his problem but suggested the constable might not be aware of what had happaned and might hold the keys. I returned and confronted the constable how denied any knowledge and didn´t believe me. I insinuated his knowledge of all this and he attacked me. He was easy to kill but had no keys and other surrounding NPC:s started to attacking me. I quickly returned to the prison to see if I could get more information now that I had confronted the constable. But no he just told me the same story so I reloaded.

Instead, I returned back to the prison once again because just before the prison there was a room with an attaching corridor of preassure plates. After a few steps on the plates a trap is sprung for over 200 points of damage which means instant kill. I found a way around by only walking on the plates along the wall to the southwest corner. But I could only manage one or two persons to get across that way. Then the trap sprung so I don´t know if it is random or based on number of steps or whatever. Anyway, I sent one character ahead to scout and eventually he reached the bedchamber of the counselor Octavian. There I found three interesting letters. Two from his sister Mya in the north. Octavian is undoubtedly a very mysterious and suspicous character. I also found a crank in the room which I brought with me. Then I headed back.

Traps ahead
And now the interesting part begins. Because just when I entered the bedchamber, soldiers poured into the room where my other characters where waiting. A combat ensued and fighting four guards is very difficult with only four characters. Even five so I had to reload this several times.

I tried to send several characters to the bedroom to avoid being left in the room where the guards appeared, but as I said earlier I only managed to get one character across the traps. I sent my weakest character, the mage ahead to the bedroom and let him cast spells from across the traps to the guards but that brought the guards attention to him. When the guards enter the trap everything explodes and we all die. Reload.

I took my group out of the room so I could engage the guards manually. Then I started the fight but the problem was that I could not engage them one at a time as I usual does. And with 4-5 guards at ones it was impossible to win without at several of my party members dead. I reloaded and - voila - the guards had disappeared. That is, I had already got the documens and the crank from the chamber and withdrawn my other characters and saved. This was the first time a bug actually helped me because I don´t know how I could win this fight (you need the crank to complete the game, se below).

I fled the councelors house and begun to explore the western side of Ista Cale.The only reason for that was that I wanted to check out the closed house in the western part if something had changed during the recent events. On my way I passed a lighthouse that lacked its crank handle so it wasn´t hard to understand that I should put my crank there. I entered the lighthouse basement where there was a puzzle to solve. Five different levers had to pe pulled in a certain combination. I had already found aletter which said: Lighthouse: 12 or something like that. So I thought it meant I had to pull the first and the last. Of course, it wasn´t that easy and I had no other clues. After much search in the few forums that exists for this game it turned out to be lever 3,4 and 5. Then I sound could be heard and something clicked but I had no idea what it was. 

The Lighthouse puzzle with the correct levers lighted up
I left the lighthouse and continued to the mansion in the west. The entrance door was now open (so that was the effect of solving the lighthouse puzzle). I entered and now started a very tough part of the game because inside it was not possible to save the game anymore. The first room contained around 4 guards that had to be killed. When you got to the second floor it was another round of guards and the third floor ended with a locked door. To open it I had to solve a similar lever riddle in the basement.

But here it was harder because you needed three different symbols to align. The bottom one I guessed was the one which was on the entrance to this building. But the other two gave me no clue. To try out all combinations would take too much time. I had to look for some clues online. It is hard to find but somewhere I read that I should use the same signs as was above each lighthouse. I had to exit this place (I thought I was smart when I exited after killing the guards, saved and reentered, only to find all guards back to place again) just to return and look at the signs above the lighthouses. The correct


The last puzzle
When I finally succeded and cleared the area once again, I lost one of my fighters against the gurads but opted to continue through the now open door in the top. Here I met Octavian for the first time. He was my son and we talked a long time about him, his mother and sister in a very interesting and original story for the game before he in the end suggested that he could allow me to return to my godly form because he could restore the portal. In return he wanted me to sink the port city of Corem below the sea so that Octavians own city, Ista Cale would be the greates and most important trading city in the Staglands. He had great ambitions. The surprising part is that I had no chance of rejecting that offer since he tried to convince me that I was as bad as he was and counted all my misdoings and all that I had killed to reach my goal. I tried to defend myself but in the end I had to give up and accept his proposal. Directly afterwards I get attacked by my companions that I had soul binded. I was surprised at that. It ended with me having to kill two of them (they where very easy to kill so it was not their natural strength) and after that the game was saved and ended in waiting for the expansion. I very sudden and surprising ending I must say.



Now in the end I can say that I have missed a few places in the game. It was probably there I could get clues as to how to solve the lighthouse puzzles. For example, there was a tower in the bog I never revisited and a few strange places where I didn´t know what to do. But I am glad I didn´t have to do everything in order to win the game. The crucial map is to get to Lumen Yard. That´s all you need to quickly reach to the end like how this post begun.

I am looking forward to the expansion although I fear that if it is not released soon I will have all my time dedicated to another great game. In my next post comes my review of the game.







September 12, 2015

Serpent in the Staglands - Finally drawn into the plot

The last hours I have tried hard to find any clue, a red thread or anything that will take me to some sort of progress through this game. All reviews of this game has said you have to keep track of everything yourself and it is truly so. I take screenshots of the most important conversations but even I am to lazy to systematically do that or even remember what I read when I have only a few hours a week to spend on this game. 

I have travelled around the left and right side of the map and back to the leftside again to revisit most places to clear them out of bandits, outlaws or burglars that was too tough the first visit. In the city of Rumin I found the first good weapons in the game and could afford to buy one item. I also found a merchant creating supreme armour from harvesters. I met those creatures in Emerald Metalis and they where almost impossible to even scratch so I left them there at first. Before leaving Rumin I also bought a magical armour for over 1.000 emeralds. I now have at least AC 7 on my front melee fighters which means pettier foes cannot puncture my armour.

My supreme Bearded Axe. 20 % chance of making an enemy flee!
From a merchant in Rumin I agreed to take a special shipment to the besieged town of Lev up in the far north. I was heading there and explored the northwestern parts of the map. That quickly turned out to be a fast retreat back to the southwest. The forests where filled with ice spiders, ice imps and other creatures almost impossible to kill. The only foes I could kill was the ice spiders one at a time. Random encounters in this game is extremely hard. You cannot save and often meet half a dozen foes of the toughest sort.

However, with my party upgraded I returned to take out the wanted wheelwrighter in Lebez. I had tried to take him and his two followers on the road to death before without any success but this time I used my old tactics of retreating back to the city guards to help take him out. He didn´t have any unique items but I got 500 emeralds from the constable. 


I also returned to the western port of Ista Cale but I found nothing to do there. I have found a few very strange places in the game where I know I must do something I just don´t know what. For example in a woodland area filled with witches I found a cave with some cauldrons in the end with runic symbols. I have no clue what to do there.

I searched around the southwest part of the map again without much success so I returned with my stronger team to Emerald Metalis to try to take on the harvesters. Now was the time to develop my magician. I spent an hour increasing and trying out different spells against the harvester. The problem is that they often go for your weakest partymember and that is usually the mage. And I found out that the mage is the only one in my party that could hurt the harvesters. They move underground and during that time it is impossible to target them with attacks or spells. I have to wait for them to make their attack and become visible. This made everything harder but in the end I choose to spend 6 skillpoints in the spell heat metal. It will both burn the target and make it drop their weapons after awhile. I also had very good use of my magical axe because when an enemy flees it will eventually stop when the map ends and do nothing. My mage can then take the enemy out with his spells.

This way I killed a few harvesters and got their scale. I also found a cave behind them that led me underground to a royal daughter called Ruxandra. I replaced one of my team members with her. She was a mage and specialised into morphing into a wold. As such she does adequate damage and is part of my melee force since then.

Ruxandra, my latest companion

With the scales I could get back to Rumin to forge myself two very good armours that I gave to my melee fighters. Now we returned to explore the eastern part around Emerald Metalis. It was about here I begun to feel that I was actually making some progress. First off, I found a new place filled with spirits. Those are very hard to kill but now I begun to spend my saved attribute points for my fighters into strength to deal more damage. One single spirit gave a tremendous amount of experience points at over 900xp.


Killing spirits raised my levels in no time


Since there was a lot on the map and I had to releoad several time (spawning new spirits) I could use this as a grinding map which eventually helped me to raise three levels. I was now at level 9. The map (which name I have forgot) had two interesting places. First a statue to the god Necholai where I expect to do something, unclear what. The other place is a fairy glade. I found out using woodwise that a trapped fairy was inside. I tried out several spells without success but eventually found the answer in a forum to use the grade 2 orb spell. With that I rescued the fairy althtough it was already dead. Now I got three strange alternatives. I could leave the faery, bury it or eat it. I tried all of them (yes I reloaded) and the first two didn´t do anything but by eating it I was able to choose a party member for a gift. I have yet to see what that gift is since no statistics has been change as far as I know.

I now begun to search every single tile in the northeastern parts and found some sort of tower. But you start the map in the middle of a bog with leeches sucking the life out of you and with an attack of three monsters. Even though I reloaded a few times some of my party members always got killed (there is not resurrection in the game). I left the place to return to the city of Rumin and there I found boots that would protect me from the leeches. The only problem is that there were only four boots and I needed five. I returned to the tower but the guy missing his boots got killed so I paused this place and saved it for another day.

I travelled westward past the city of Rumin. My goal was to try to reach the besieged town of Lev. If I could avoid the difficult random encounters everything would be good. After several attempts I managed to get to the city without being attacked. The city was filled with soldiers but no merchants or other person of interests except for the captain. I was to deliver the spice I got in Rumin before. That was my ticket to talk to the captain Mya and now the main story finally started.



It turned out she recognised me as the god I was and that her brother Octavian would like to see me. It seemed they where my enemies but also said Octavian was the only one holding my key to return home again. I have no choice but to seek him out. Mya hinted that Octavian might be found in Fuldea Mare at the lumber yards or at Isla Cale where he is the counselor. At least I now knew who to seek. I left the city and searched the northwestern parts until I found the Lumber yard. 

This turned out to be a map full of combats. First I had to fight roaming creatures and then I got to a bridge with a locked door on the other side which I could not pass. I had missed a cave in the wilderness. By transforming the whole team to bats we could enter it and finally emerged inside the lumber yard. It was a place full of slaves, slavers and soldiers. I had to kill everyone there in tough battles but which eventually made me raise to level 10. In the end even a portal with crawlers pouring out threatened to run over the lumber yard. But I managed to kill the crawlers. They are extremely dangerous. They have low hitpoints but inflicts 40-50 points of damage when they hit. 

At this map I upgraded my fighters to a grade 3 skill that gives me part of the damage dealt back as healing. I found that skill very useful and it kept me alive longer. I only had to invest one point in it and it is used automatically (every fighting skill is used automatically as long as it is shown on your quickbar which holds three skills at a time). 

The interesting part of this map was to reach the captain. When he was killed he left a key with which I could open one of the locked doors in the small community. Behind it I found some very interesting papers and a manor key. I am not sure where it leads to but I suspect to Isla Cale.


Three mages in lumber yard protected the locked door
 I left the lumber yard and my goal was to go south to Isla Cale or Corem but on the way I stopped by Isla Cale camp that I had left unexplored the last time I was there. It was full of ice imps and ice spiders. Both types takes time to kill and I had to take them out one at a time as always. But eventually I cleared them and reached a camp of blood hunters. They where hunting the bloodless ones. Some sort of demigods. I got much valuable information from them. One mortal who have know how to reach the bloodless ones live in Corem. He is a merchant at the merchants guild. I was told to check him out and extract information in any way possible and then return up here with that.
At the same map I found a strange pillar with runes I translated to Tonrek when checking the manual. I have no clue where to use that information yet though.




So I left them and travelled down to Corem, confronted the man who confessed when I revealed what I knew about him. He told me that the entrance to his chambers is in Lumen Forten. I was told to use the blood book on the second floor. The correct runes will force a black blood to drip. Two vials are required to open the portal. He did not know what runes should be used. I had the possibility to kill him but I kept my word of keeping him alive. 

Before I leave for Isla Cale - for it is there I think I should go now I would like to take on another fight which I remember I left because of its difficulty. It is a bounty on a man that hides in an inn with his companions. You have to fight everyone at once which maked it hard at first (then I was at level 5). 

I feel things are going in the right direction now. I have made great progress storywise and developed my characters pretty well since last time. 

Time to get back to the game!



September 6, 2015

Serpent in the Staglands - Searching for a cause

My quest continues, although I am not still sure what I should do since I have no strong plot to follow yet. My main concern have been to stay alive and slowly improve my abilities so that I can tackle the outlaws around my starting position.

To do that I travelled south. First to the city of Corem and then to a port in the far west. They varied in size and I was down in the dock district and even visited a brothel. There you could hire two girls that wants to be rescued and are willing to join your team. Unfortunately I had already filled my slot of five adventurers at that time. It soon turned out that there are a lot of hirelings you could take on everywhere in the world. You never know in advance their level or statistics but some of them try to impress you with their skills. Some wants money and others have a short term goal.

In most towns there are shopkeepers (blacksmiths, fletchers etc) where you could sell and buy better equipment or fill your stock of arrows or bolts. I now use one of my partymembers as a ranged attacker with a bow or crossbow and one as a magician. The other three is melee fighters. You have a limited inventory so it is often I have to find a merchant to sell something. The good thing is that each item you leave on the ground will still be there when you return.


This is my first lead in the mainstory 

The first time in Colem I just explored the area and then left. By walking around through the wilderness and occasionally fighting ambushes I slowly gained more experience points. I felt very vulnerable and had to retreat from most fights until I found an NPC who actually had both high hitpoints, good attributes and skillpoints spent into melee fightning. With his help and with the few emeralds I´ve got I gradually raised to level 3.


I don´t know for which time in the order but I returned to Lumen village and tried to beat the burglars in a house there. I had fought that battle at least a half dozen times before. This time though I retreated back to the constable that entered the fight on my side and after heavy fighting I won and got both equipment and well needed experience points. I then reequipped my group as best as I could and started to hunt down the outlaws and bandits in the Lumen wilderness. By being very careful I could sneak up and only engage a few of them at a time. After timeconsuming fights I eventually killed them and got some very good equipment. Especially since having found the guarddeserters that hide down there. They had very good armour and shields which helped me further to destroy the remaining bandits in the area. The feeling of being able to prevail after hard work is tremendous and I was soon up to level 5.


The circles are areas of interest. The others are empty or unexplored

Combat in the game is very straightforward. Each partymember is designed its target and then they attack until the combat is over or until you retreat. You can put your party into a passive or aggressive AI mode. The later makes your party members attack the nearest enemy. They will fight using their characteristics of which the most important are attack speed, hit chance, dodge chance, weapon damage and armour class. Traditional parts. You get a short description of each members action result in the left pane. How much damage is dealt or if they manage to penetrate the armour of its opponent etc.


Combat works ok but you have limited tactical control. Enemies fights until killed except for a very few enemies that I saw failed some sort of moral check and fled. They will hunt you until they get to to you so it is impossible to flee. The tactics I use is to slowly get close to a group of enemies to only alert the first one to go after you. Another tactic could be to withdraw a heavily wounded character and let the opponent follow him around while the rest of the group try to land a hit on him. Yet another tactic is to engage an enemy from range with magic or missiles. I have even managed to attack with spells without the target even realising it. But that must be a bug. Either way, combat is pretty hard and it has taken me great patience to build up my strength to defeat even half of the encounters I have met. There are still random encounters in parts of the map which is impossible for me to win at this stage.

Exploring a cave in the woods

I have yet to spend any single skill points into combat. All skills affect very marginally your combat statistics. For example, you might want to put skill points into rapid fire as a ranged fighter. But for each skill point you decresae your attack speed very marginally but sacrifice up to 1 point of damage in return. I am not sure if it is worth investing say 5 skill points into such a skill if I get one more free shot in 7 tries but where every hit risks doing several points less in damage. So having not found any obvious good place to spend the few hard earned skill points, I still wait until I must use them before allocating them.

Magic works a bit differently than what we are used to in these games. There are no mana whatsoever. Most spells will continously be cast on a target until you cancel them. The effect comes after several "procs" of seconds. For example healing gives a healing boost say every 10 second if it is cast on one of your members during combat. That is long enough time for you to get killed so it is not as advantageous as it first seems. Also, you cannot move or do anything else while casting which makes your spellcasting members vulnerable to attacks.On the other hand it works well over time and is good at buffing your party or attacking an enemy if the spellcaster is protected by the rest of your group.

In magic I have the same problem of not having spent a single skill point. I wait by evaluating what skills to go for. You have to put points into strength and dexterity in order to reach grade 2 for melee skills and in occult and intelligence for grade 2 magic skills.

I said earlier I had trouble finding the mainquest. But I remember saving a screenshot with a text that said Erlein where going to the city of Corlem. I returned there for my second visit. This time I searched every place carefully and talked once again to everyone, I found nothing. Except to be blocked entrance at the shipping guild. I know remember the information that Erlein was to go there and was found dead so I forced my way in. There where at least a dozen guards there swarming over me. But my curiosity was rewarded when I found the body of Erlein in the docks. He had some documents on him but neither of them gave me any clear indications of what to do next. I left the city and started exploring the northeasterna parts. 

I helped a town get rid of nearby witches and smuggled contraband to get some money. I also explored woods and farmsteads, fought huge spiders and in general explored as much as I could. I went to Emerald metalis and helped the counselor there to deliver a peace gift to the natives. I could not do anything else there so I continued my exploration and got to the city of Rumin in the north. There are some kind of war raging in the land and refugees are coming. But since I only get fragments of the story from time to time and there is no journal, I forgot about much of what I have learned.

Infiltrating the guild in Corem

Anyway, I am still having fun with the game and will continue to explore the world in my hunt for the mainstory and also to get better. I have over 2.000 gold right now but cannot find any merchant that stocks good enough items to spend them on. I hope I will find someone soon.












August 15, 2015

Serpent in the Staglands - Getting started

It only took to the next occasion when I had any time to sit down in front of my computer until I looked for a cheaper way to get hold of the full game of Serpent in the Staglands. I finally found a GOG CD key to buy from g2play and it was a smooth process. In a matter of minutes I was up and running and even transferred my saves from the demo version so I didn´t have to start all over again.

My party of four (two selfcreated avatars and two found companions) could now go south and entered a full new map that was a small town called Lumen Targ. Here I talked to everyone and examined everything I could. A few notes of interest:

  • I helped a villager to get rid of a fox in his backyard by communicating with it through the woodswise aptitude and received a few emeralds for my trouble. This was my first use of an aptitude. The other ways to spend your skillpoints is to put them into the warrior or mage path.
  • I entered a few cellars and plundered them for their contents
Typical cellar in town
  • I looked upon a board for bounty hunters and noticed that some outlaws in the south was sought after and that 30 emeralds would be the reward for showing proof of their deaths.
  • I found at least two places to buy potions (the alchemist and at the temple) and soon even a trader on the streets where I finally could upgrade my armours.
  • I got a rumour that the well in the town was smelling badly so I checked it out but I spent much time figuring out how to enter the well in the middle of the town, until I read on a forum that I had tried at the wrong well all the time. After having found the correct well just east of the town, I descended into what turned out to be two huge maps that took me at least an hour to clean and was full of monsters. In the end I reached a boat which took only one passenger. The one I choose came to a small underground island where a creature met up. Only by using the aptitude Linguistics was I able to communicate with him and learned that he wanted his friend released from captivity in the village. I accepted the offer and was given a transformation wand that I used at the prisoner in the village. He sneaked out and I took him to the creature on the underground sea and was rewarded with much experience points.
Below the village Well
I talked to a rat in town beside the well who told me of
 the strange creatures I would eventually found down there

I then explored the wilderness south of Lumen Targ. I cleared out as much as I could and met wolves and imps. The imps are pretty tough and at this stage I could only take on one at a time. Somewhere around here I reached level 2 and was given two attribute and two skill points. I saved them for later since I have no idea where the best place would be to put them. 

I eventually found three parts of the wilderness where either bandits, outlaws or adventurers where hiding. At least one of them was the group the bounty spoke about. I had no chance to defeat any of these groups at level 2. I wasn´t even close and died several times so I left them and returned to explore other ways.


Inventory of my warrior companion Catalina
At one place I found a cave that I entered. It was in this cave I came across riddle imps for the first time. They give you some sort of riddle with different answers to let you pass. I have to admit I did not succeed in any of them and so had to fight tough battles. It was not always they revealed anything of value though. At this stage I had gathered a few hundred emeralds and wanted to find better armour or weapons so I returned to the starting place, Lumen Fortress to restock. 

While there I returned to a strange book I found earlier but didn´t know what to do with. I could handdraw something in blood. I had no clue what to do here so I just tried out a few random symbols. And to my astonishment I succeeded after ten tries and got hold of some sort of ritual blood that I put in a vial. I have no idea what to use it for.

Ok, so I could not defeat the bandits in the wilderness and I had no other way to go. When you reach the end of a map you get to the overland map. Visited areas are shown as white crosses and you could point to them and your party will go there. But the map is divided into gridsections so I went in there with my group and tried to figure out how to explore those empty squares. Now I realise that not every grid represents an explorable map at all. I have to move to grids and be informed about a place to visit while there. So the first place I got to was called Orfs Bridge.

My explorations is within this red square so far. The map stretches even more up north

Orfs Bridge was a strange place. The good thing is that I found my fifth companion and took him on. He was caravan guard and I desperately needed him in my group to beat the outlaws in the wilderness. I cannot create new avatars which I regret now and I don´t wan´t to bind his soul to me since it affects his alignment towards me. Anyway, there where guards that was looking for smuggled gods at this place and they searched me as well. Other than reequipping my group and spending almost all emeralds I found nothing that would further my progress in any way.

I left the city and with my new companion I tried to confront the outlaws and bandits in the wilderness once again. This time I had reached level 3 but I had still not spent any single attribute or skill point. I would like to wait until I find a favourite weapon to use or until I feel confident in using the spells in the game (which I don´t at the time being). I could not beat the bandits in the wilderness so I had no choice but to explore new areas in the overland map. I reached a place just west of Orfs Bridge where the mayor lived or someone similar. By bribing a guard I could get ahead of all the people trying to talk to the him. I first talked to him without using the aptitude noble and got some sparse information from him but I reloaded and spent a few points in the aptitude noble to better present myself and then I was given a lot of interesting information.

The bounty board

I choosed to continue my exploration to the southwest and reached the small town of Lebez at night. I was not allowed to enter and spent my time clearing the surroundings outside of witches. I had great help to defeat them by the city watch but I never understood how to progress the time to daylight so the city gates would open other than to return to the overland map and go around the place until daytime arrived. After that I had no trouble to enter the village.


I begun to explore every house and soon found two mysterious figures that had just slain a woman. After I said I would call the watch, they attacked me. This fight took me three attempts to survive. I prevailed only after having dragged them out of the house to follow me long enough to alert the watch. The watch helped me kill the rogues and I got some experience points and a few items. At this stage my inventory is so full so I had to drop some items to make room for new ones. The most interesting thing I found was a bounty on one of the thugs that suggested the woman I thought I saved actually was a sought after thief. As proof of her death, her head was needed. I returned to the house to decapitate her head but felt somewhat awkward. I had thought she was innocent. That´s one thing of the game I like. Not everything is pure black and white.

An Inn

In my next post I will return to detail more things about the combat which depends heavily on supporting your front fighters by magic rather than using any tactical placements. The one good thing about the enemy A.I is that is tries to target your weakest character. Almost always when I pull out one of my seriously wounded characters from combat, the enemy follows which makes it tough to save him since everything is played out in realtime. My other party members just chases the opponent that chase me and we could run around in circles before anyone gets lucky to land a strike. Anyway, more of that later. Since there is no revival in the game, a death of any partymembers mean I have to reload the game.

Regarding the skills in the game it feels that each point has very little impact and it will take some time to actually notice any improvement wherever skill you choose to invest in. That goes for attributes as well. Let me return to that later on in my adventure.

I like the game, and would continue to play on. The atmosphere is good, the few texts well written and so far the use of aptitudes is quite good. And you always lacks money which is a good driving factor.

August 8, 2015

Serpent in the Staglands - Demo review

For some months now I have been following a game called Serpent in the Staglands that was released some months ago. It is a kickstarter backed CRPG with all its characteristics like poor VGA like resolution but also with all the things that makes CRPG great like no hand helding, no maps, exploration of blacked out areas and hard fights. I have been wondering if this game could be my next game but with a price tag at $20 I opted to test out the demo first and give you my impressions. 



Before going into the character generation process (and yes this is a party based game), I had to answer a few questions. What effect these have is still held in darkness though because just when the game starts you will have to roll up your first character. The character is an avator of a god that has got stuck in the world. The portal to return seems to malfunction and the suspicions is that someone must be behind this. It is now your task to take on an avatar to enter the earthly world to find out the reasons behind this. As such you will be very fragile and vulnerable. 


Fortunately I have my good friend Erlein who agrees to help me by giving me some starting coins and a disguise. From there on I am left alone to venture forth as I choose. I also have the choice to roll up other characters to help me out up to a total of five. I created one additional character Rennard beside my main person Feidar. There are several companions to be found in the world so I preffered to leave some space for them.

My friend Erlein already gave me names of two companions that I might recruit from him, a spellcaster type person and a more warrior like person. There are no classes in the game so you can develop your characters in any way you like by following three different skill trees (combat, magic and aptitudes).

There are six races to choose from, each with 3 special abilities. You can raise your attributes intelligence, strength, dexterity, occult and perception with two points as well as two points to spend on any skill. The skill are based on both your attributes and the skill level. You could increase the effects of a skill by upgrading it with additional skillpoints. So far so good....

Erlein helps me out in the beginning

Anyway, I was off with my two starting companions and begun by exploring the starting fortress which seems to be set somewhere in the wilderness. It was filled with libraries and acolytes. I found a few items in wardrobes and chests which gave me some food (to increase health), rope and some kitchen daggers to use as weapons. I then recruited the two members that Erlein had suggested. At one point I got to the storekeeper and was able to buy some equipment with the few emeralds Erlain gave to mee. I still lacked all sorts of armours or better weapons.

When I was done exploring the fort, I met Erlein in the courtyard who said he himself would set out to investigate the matter on his own. He said he would contact me if he found out anything. With no overland map and no directions I started to explore the immediate surroundings outside of the fortress.

One of my first fights, notice the log on the left
A bit south, across a bridge I came into my first combat with foxes. I just selected all of my companions (four) and attacked one at a time and managed to kill three of them. I then explored all areas I could access and met wolves and goblins and I died several times in fighting them. But eventually I killed them by using my mage more efficiently and by finding better items. Things got easier when I found out how to heal myself which is only possible by a spell as far as I have found out. Unless you would like to buy healing potions which are too expensive for me right now. It doesn´t seem that there are any mana or spellpoints so I can cast how many spells I want. The only drawback might me the time it takes to cast them and that they all vanish if you move or attack. A new way to handle this nevertheless.

It is impossible to see what the small icons means

Most foes leave some equipment like food behind or weapons and armours. The game mechanics seems rather complex at first but by rightclicking you will see what formula makes up your values. You get experience points for killing and to reach the first level you need 300. I have yet to level up because it seems the demo is very small. I could not cross further past the bridge to the south or west. In the east I found a cabin guarded by bandits which where pretty hard to take out but after luring them away one by one I could finish them off and was rewarded with some good items and also a trapdoor that lead down to a cave. Unfortunately I could not progress far because it felt like the demo stopped me.

The cabin, by using the wheel I could unlock the trapdoor
I found two places of interest in the area neither of which I could find out what to do:

  • A ring of flowers that emitted a strong fauna. I tried to use herbealogy and other skills but without any success. I made a note in the built in logbook.
  • A hole in a tree to small for us to get through. I have no idea what to do here for the time being.
I didn´t get much farther sine the demo restricted me which is a pity. It should have been at least twice as big. I still don´t have had any use for any skill or tried out how to develop my characters. 

I had some fun exploring the game. It has received pretty good reviews but seems to have been buggy at release. The good thing is that the developers seems to work hard on releasing patches and several has arrived since after the release. 

At the current price tag the game feels a little expensive compared to other games like Lords of Xulima. The resolution is terrible but playable. The UI works but is a little quirky. You have to carefully click and point exactly on the right spot in this pixelated world to get anything to happen. It is sometimes hard to see what things symbolise, especially in your inventory. That would be ok for a game released in 1990 but I don´t understand why the developers choose to stuck at the lowest resolution possible. Apart from that I did have fun and since I´ve just got started I might well buy this before I find it on sale. It seems to have potential.

[Update 12 hours later: I have now bought the game so expect more entries to come...]

Serpent in the Staglands features:

  • Party-based, real time with pause combat focused on macro tactical decisions and creative party skill combinations 
  • Classless role-playing system: create builds via any combination of the over 100 magic, combat and aptitude skills available to create or find up to 5 unique characters 
  • Non-linear storyline to explore as your adventure allows 
  • No level scaling or story-blocked map barriers impede your adventure 
  • Dynamic item use, including an incantation book, hand-drawn maps, and a herbology kit for brewing potions 
  • Combat designed for minimal pause spamming and without cooldowns, instead focusing on pre-buffing, positioning and auto-triggering skills 
  • An unmarked map filled with wilderness, cities, towers, temples, dungeons and caverns to explore. 
  • Write your own journal notes for quests, puzzles and leads as you investigate. The game won't hold your hand or tell you what to do. 
  • Huge variety of enemies and challenges, including monsters, rogue mages and mutilated outlaws, which all can have the same spells and skills you do


July 30, 2015

4 years since start

Yet another year has passed with the blog but this last year has been a very silent one. At least the latter half. That is partly due to an increasing family but also because I have found very good current RPGs to play so I have not had any reason to look for older gems. 

Even though the posts has shrinked to 20 last year from 36 the year before and comments from 100 to 41, the growth has been the same and are at the time of writing almost exactly 180.000 pageviews. 

Only two games have truly been revisited: Arx Fatalis and Icewind Dale. The other games I have played like Legend of Grimrock 2, Lords of Xulima and Wasteland 2 are only reviews of current RPGs. But those three are also a resurrection and a tribute of an old genre. All three of them must be considered as a success for the developers.

With the exception of Risen 3 - a tragical decline of the brand - excellent titles such as Dragon Age 3 Inquisition and Witcher 3 has been released. Not to mention Pillars of Eternity. In summary I would say 2014-2015 was a very good year for all RPG fans.

July 11, 2015

Pillars of Eternity - A jewel or a disappointment ?

If you´re wondering if Pillars of Eternity is any good you probably have read a lot of reviews by now and most of them are very positive. I however, must agree to this persons review. Most of his criticism is something I share. Instead of writing my own review, you can read it for yourself here at RPGCodex.

But to summarise. PoE is a very generic and bland RPG although with good graphics and an ok interface. The story is nothing special, the writing uninspiring and there are too many long boring dialouges like for example, you could read other peoples souls and get information from their previous lives. This results in long texts that doesn´t add anything so I have stopped reading them. Instead of letting ordinary people have something to say you get these boring texts that never leads to any follow up dialogue anyway. This goes for the voice acting as well.

The combat also becomes pretty boring pretty fast since - even at normal difficulty - you most of the time select all party members and attack one target. No need to use potions, scrolls or other consumables. But increase the difficulty setting you might ask. Well, that only brings more opponents or stronger ones to the table, reduce my pool of camp supplies and only makes the game slower to progress in. Because you don´t get any XP for killing monsters if you have already met them before and filled up your bestiary. So there is no way to grind here. I am not saying that is bad, but since the combats are boring and you are not given any XP or interesting loot. Well, then it becomes quite boring after a while.

There are of course exceptions regarding combat. The tougher battles requires you to be fully rested and disposition your party properly but the majority of them is just cumbersome to wade through. Especially so when no XP is gained.

The crafting system is also boring and the loot as well. You could improve all kinds of weapons and shields but all originated from the same type of improvement so you can´t really do any unique stuff. The good thing is that you could use this ability anywhere but you often find items that are equally good so it is not much meaning in sacrificing essential ingredients.

There are very few really unique items in the world. Most magical items you find doesn´t bring much to the table so to speak. There are many different spells...on paper. In reality they don´t differ much at all.

The first 10 hours was very good but then the game started to repeat itself. Combat after combat after combat. It became boring. The story never lifted. There are a few sidequests that are intersting but most are very lame.

I really appreciate Obsidians effort and the graphics is very good but it just don´t bring any enthusiasm to the table. So in the end I am a little bit disappointed with the game. I have had about as much fun as I had with last years Icewind Dale. I had hoped for more regarding writing and combat in this game. I would still recommend it though if you like this kind of game. Just don´t expect it to be better than the the decades old originals.

Rating 3.5 of 5.


July 4, 2015

A good RPG year

This last year has seen many new good RPG:s and that´s why this blog have had very few CRPGS revisited. 

It first begun with the excellent Legend of Grimrock II which I recommend everyone to play that remotely liked Dungeon Master or Eye of the Beholder series. I am looking forward to yet another sequel. 

Then Lords of Xulima arrived and it was really a splendid typical CRPG game. Both vast and with great character development. I really hope for a sequel for that one as well.

Then it was time to try out Wasteland 2 and even though it is a solid game it not near the other fantasy based RPG:s that I have played so I quit in the middle of it to take on Dragon Age: Inquisition

Last night I finally completed it after over 100 hours. It is a fantastic, epical game with excellent story and cinematic effects and with great character story development. Even though I find the combat quite weak and not as controllable as I am used to the fantastic environments more than well makes up for it. It is truly the best in the series and the graphics is probably the best I have ever seen in an RPG. You get so much for your money there for I have never, ever seen such a huge game. 

Now, I have already started on Pillars of Eternity as well. That will keep me occupied for the rest of this summer. And if I against all odds would have any more time left to spend, I must of course pick up The Witcher 3. And if that is not enough I would like to check out the new CRPG Serpent in the Staglands.


May 13, 2015

Wasteland 2 - My experience of it

The only game I have been playing after Lords of Xulima is Wasteland 2. Normally I don´t really like its type of settings and environment. That´s why I never liked Bioshock or Vampire Bloodlines either. I always prefer medeival settings. 

Nevertheless I was glad to see there was a successful kickstarter project to release Wasteland 2 a few years ago, even though I had never played the original one. I had no other RPG to go for after Lords of Xulima (I then lacked the quadcore required for Dragon Age Inquisition) so I was happy to try out Wasteland 2.

Wasteland 2 is played out after the apocalypse, the destruction of the world as we know it. You start out in Arizona as rookie Desert Rangers, the only lawfactor amongst endless of lawlessnes, corruption and other factions trying to get control of their own territories by helping or harassing its few remaining habitants.

You create five characters from the beginning and you spend skill points and attribute points. The better you choose to be, the more expensive it gets. There are no classes, so you can choose freely and the recommendation is of course to create a group that complement each other to secure that you have all relevant skills. 

Skills are ranging from the ordinary weapon skills to lock picks, disarm alarm, medicine, surgery, different types of social related skills, mechanics, computer science etc.

The game strikes a pretty good balance between being linear and open at the same time. You often have two choices of where to go but it all ends up in the same places sooner or later anyway. You plan where to go on an overland map of a small part of Arizona. It is blank in the beginning but new places appear if you stumble into them or get information about them. Many areas are hidden beyond dangerous radioactive zones which you will be too weak to traverse in the beginning, effectively forcing you to play through in a certain order to reach them. Along the way you need water and have to carefully look for waterholes. When your inventory gets full or you need to resupply you can get back to your starting base to sell or buy things. But often, all major places have at least one place to buy or sell stuff. 

This is not meant to be a review of Wasteland 2. For that there are many others out there. I just want to give you my short view of the game. The driving force except for the story is to clear out areas through combat to gain experience points in order to level up and get stronger. During that process you should aquire as much new weapons and ammunitions as you could carry. In that part it is no different than any other RPG.

The graphics are pretty good and the soundeffects as well. What I lack is strong, long lastring characters. Most of those you meet are encounters with persons only relevant for the current map and then they are irrelevant. I would also like a little bit more voice acting. 

If you are into this kind of setting the game is a solid experience. You often have several ways to handle problems. You could either pick a very difficult lock to get past some enemies or you have to fight your way through for example. I always save up my skill points and spend them when I need them rather than spend them right away. That way I leave myself full flexibility to handle almost any encounter. I was playing on the suggested difficulty level and did not find it too hard. I have died dozens of times but most of those occassions are because I let seriously wounded partymembers to enter the fight.

The tactical combat works pretty well with covers to use, different weapon ranges and other abilities of the weapons you find like shooting single shots for higher accuracy or switch to burst mode.

One thing I didn´t like is that I never found it very useful to have high skills in lock picks, disarm alarm etc because there where never any items worth having anyway. The selection of weapons are always limited and your first priority is to gather ammunition all the time to keep up. Also, the tactical combat should be improved. It is impossible to see beforehand which types of obstacles in the terrain could be used for cover and which you could simply shoot through.

When I am leaving this game I have just entered the Temple of Titan. With no competition out there I would probably still be playing the game but now Dragon Age Inquisition really deserves my attention.

Finally, a good and solid game for what it is but only to be played between the major titles out there.


Section
Rating
Gameworld & Story
3.5
Economy
3
NPC & Interactions
3
Monsters, tactics & combat system
4
Magic system
-
Character generation & development
3
Map design
4
Manual
3
Graphics, Sound and Interface
3.5
Summary CRPG value
27


Gameplay
3.5