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March 21, 2016

Balrum - Making progress

I admit. I am hooked by this game. I have put at least 30 hours into the game by now and have just reached level 4. I have slowly progressed the mainquest. I am still in search of the missing Packs family and during my investigation I have found out about the dark history of Darkwood. Massmurders have been comitted here and there are necromancers working their foul arts in these woods. I have found a stone tablet with inscriptions which I eventually got translated. The information pointed me to explore a necromancers tower in the south of the starting map. That was my first real challenge in the mainquest but a very rewarding one.

For the first time in the game I had to progress and not just avoid tougher obstacles as is common in this open world RPG. The tower was filled with ghosts. Fortunately I had found a necklace which deflects some of their chilling effects and I got my hunter skill level raised to two which meant I could get rid of my wolf pet. I trapped a bear instead and he is tougher but slower. Together we slowly explored the tower.

After the first level there was no turning back. It wasn´t possible to use the trapdoor to get out. I had to move forward. I was a little nervous about that but hoped everything would go well. Level two was a huge labyrinth which led me to many dead ends but with the help of the automap, patience and lots of food (remember you consume food, drinks and stamina (rest) allt the time). In the end I met my first "boss", a skeleton king. 

What followed was the most interesting battle in this game so far. He was much stronger than me but by hurling fireballs at him whicle my bear clawed at him and tried to slow him down and by always retreating out of melee combat, I was able to slowly drain his energies. Pretty fast my mana dropped to zero and I had to run away to keep my distance and get myself time to drink mana potions. My pet bear also died pretty early. I then used my stun/freeze spell on him everytime I needed to drink more health and mana potions and run away to keep my distance. Sometimes the Skeleton king hurled fireballs at me or tried to stun me instead of moving forward. Those moments where critical but I always managed to get out even though my pool of potions was about to be depleted. At one time I had trapped my self into a dead end and saw the face of death emerging at me. The skeleton king was now weak but so was I. I finally mustered my last mana strength and used a teleportation potion on myself and by that I got on the other side of the king and could keep running away. Finally he died. It had cost me dozens of expensive potions but it was all worth it. Not regarding XP but by a few good items and by progressing.


After that I continued to level 3 and now I seriously thought it was all over for me because - as I said - I could not go back. This time the level was filled with ghosts and skeletons. These are tough fights for me and I don´t have any stock left of mana and health potions. But then I found out about the solution to all of my problems. There where an electrical bolt shooting out from one of the walls. By luring out my opponents one at a time right into the shooting range of the bolt I could get them killed in no time and by no efforts by myself. When I got rid of all the ghosts and skeletons I could examine the rooms on this level and found a few interesting items.


The last room had I explored summoned Lord Benedict, some sort of Lich. This time the combat wasn´t as easy as before since he was immune to the electrical bolt. Instead I used one of my speed potions to always keep my distance from him and hurling my fireballs at him while also freezing him from time to time for my pet to inflict some melee damage. By the way, the pet could always be resurrected by a phoenix egg or better yet if you find the phoenix ring you have unlimited uses of resurrections you can do. Be aware that this is not possible during combat though.


With my last potions I killed him and looted the whole place. I found some interesting gear and documents which I brought back to my village to be translated. I had found documents that the village leader Arlo have had dealings with the necromancers but when I confrtonted him he didn´t want to say anything about it. Instead I got the lead to go to another village in the far east to ask the elder there, Kyler,  about this.


Now was the first time when I actually begun to explore the other three parts of the Darkwood forest. There is a teleporter in each of the maps which you could use to fast travel between them. You could also walk if you wish to but that takes considerable time and amounts of supplies. Not to mention all the hazards you have to avoid on the road because the forest is filled with spiders, mantis, larves, wolves, bears and other creatures. All of them strong enough to kill you unless you have a full amount of mana, health and your pet ready.

On the other hand, the minimap only shows a few of all the interesting places there are so if you want to find the most interesting items and loot you must explore the wilderness. There are a lot of interesting places such as caves, ruins, graveyards, monster nests, strange portals or just pure puzzles. In the beginning I just run around and made a note of where they where since I was too weak to tackle the monsters. Now I could explore perhaps half of them or use some sinister tactics like using a speed potion to run through all my enemies, loot the place and try to escape.



My intention from the beginning was to play a pure mage. After having read the forums at Steam it seemed that might have been the hardest class to play but only a few days after launch the developers increased mana regeneration outside of combat with 50% which does make it somewhat easier since you will recover faster after every fight. I have still saved at least 10 LP (Learning Points) because I have not been convinced a mage is a good choice. Almost always you run out of mana long before any enemy is taken down which forces you to go into melee. That requires me to get he best melee weapon I can and also the best armour. The problem is that better items require a certain level of base attribute which means I can not only invest in Intelligence and Wisdom but Strength as well.

I have decided to wait of the ultimate weapon or armour which requires a certain amount of attribute points to use and then I will invest my hardearned LP to enable using it.

Some other reflections of the game:

  • Food, thirst and rest consumption has not been as bad as I believed when I first started the game. There are huge amounts of food spread everywhere and you can buy what you don´t want to steal, farm, combine, cook or whatever.
  • You could steal anything. Just be aware of not having any NPC in vicinity or he will get hostile. There are forget crime scrolls that could help you out on this though. 
  • In order to open locked chests you need lockpick skill which is a must have in my opinion. You will then need to try to open lock combinations before your picks break but that is not too common.
  • There are literally dozens of different plants and consumables. I have invested alchemy level 1 and use it to make mana- and healthpotions.
  • In my safe heaven - accessible from anywhere - I store surplus items which I think I might have a need for in the future but don´t have space for in my inventory.
  • A fun detail is that you cant get a bug in your inventory which starts eating up your food if you don´t smash it.
  • This game gives almost no XP for killing creatures. It is better to avoid them if you can unless you have to kill them in order to gain a certain item, like the spider quees to get the ring for kyler village guard. I got one of the three runes I need by running through all crystal golems with speed potions.


When I finally discovered the other village in the east I was hindered to meet the leader Kyler by his guard unless I proved trustworthy. I could do that by recovering a lost family heirloom ring which was lost in some ruins far in the southwest Darkwood. The ruins was full of spiders and I searched it carefully for the ring but it turned out it was taken by a spider queen. After a tough fight with mainly my speed potion tactic, I could kill the spider and retrieve the ring. Back at the village I had the opportunity to keep the ring or give it to the guard. Whatever your moral take on this the recieved XP didn´t matter.

After I had found Kyler I was filled in with more information about the Darkwood history. He said that Arlo have had dealings with the necromancers and met them in the undercity. The entrance is only accessible by three runes and Kyler suggested I would talk to another person about their whereabouts. I found this person and was give three leads to each and every rune. One was to find in a graveyard in the northeast, one guarded by a troll and the third in the crystal golems cave.


I have found two of these runes. The first one I took by force in the graveyard but the second one by using my speed potions to pass all crystal golems, loot the place and then return back without being killed by the golems. After my third attempt I succeded. Now I am looking for the troll.

I really like the game. It is a mix of Eschalon and Avadon but still unique. It gives you the right feeling when exploring and looting and have many interesting weapons, armours and sets as well as magical items. It is tough, hard and challenging but not too hard.

March 7, 2016

Balrum - The first ten hours



It took me less than a day from having found out about Balrum until I actually bought the game on Steam. I spent at least an hour gathering information about it and read some reviews. Both negative and positive.

I started up the game - which runs in windows mode only - and created a new game. The character process is quite straighforward and fits one page. By using the background story you decide to answer a few questions which gives you your starting skills.

Character creation. All in one opage.

I wanted them all so it was quite difficult to decide which to start with. Should I take farming since the game relies so heavily on eating and drinking ? Cooking ? No that sounds too lame. Camping in the woods with Surviving ? Sounds good to me. I also ended up picking magic abilities before archery or swordplay and finally choosed hunting before alchemy or smelting.

Lastly you spend some points to increase the five attributes in the game which are Vitality, Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence and Wisdom.  They all affect important gameplay features like health, mana, mana regeneration, damage and so on. I put all except one point into intelligence (to get more mana) and wisdom (to regenerate mana more quickly). The last one was put in vitality. Now I was ready to start.

The background goes as follows. 20 years has passed since my village fled the kingdom and took refuge in Darkwood. We have lived there peacefully despite the reputation of the Darkwood and with no contact with outsiders. But now, things have changed and evil lurks within. I have to leave Darkwood and explore the outside world again. In short, that is the background in the manual. You have been raised by your grandpa and just when the game starts things have happened. A family in the village has mysteriously disappeared without trace and a fire has burned down your own house as well as others but no one knows what started it.

Starting just outside my grandpa´s house.
I begun by investigating my own house and talked to my grandpa. During this conversation my food and thirs meters decreased so much so I begun to starve and dehydrate. I quickly had to find both food and something to drink. Fortunately they are in abundance in the village. Almost every place container, cupboard, chests or whatever contains some sort of food, ingredients, seeds or other type of material that can be used depending on your skills.

I learned from my grandpa no new about the fire except that it was not started near the torches so it seems it was by purpose. I had to talk to other people in the village about this. And ask everyone about the Pack family that supposedly had left for no reason and with no information left behind. By walking around and talking I soon aquired several small tasks that people would like help with.

You have three parameters to observe that are crucial to survival. Your rest, food and thirst meters. If food or water levels reach 0 you immediately take health damage. It does not take long until you will die from it. That has been one of the big critics of this game but fortunately just one day after launch the developers released a patch that 1) paused the consumption of food/water while you where in dialogues or shopping mode and 2) allowed a checkbox at start to be selected for slower consumption rate. Unfortunately that was after I already had started up my character.

Anyway, you also start with a pet follower, Jax, which is a wolf and will help you fight and you can give it basic commands such as following you, attack a target, protect you or just stay. You also have some pet abilities you can use and as mage I started with a few spells. Skills like hunting will allow you to tame other pets.

The first few hours I only walked around the village and talked to all people and gathered information about the disappearing Packs family and completed some sidequests like helping out in trivial matters. As soon as I wandered outside the village I had my first fights with deers, wolves and spiders. I was very weak and could only tackle one fight at a time before having to retreat back to heal my wounds and regenerate my mana. Mana regeneration is a slow process and unless you have access to mana potions you could very well have to wait a full day to restore your mana. 


Eventually I leveled up to both level 2 and three but then I was at least 8 hours into the game. The story progress slowly and I found a rune tablet that I tried to interpret which sent me to different people around the map until I eventually was ordered to visit a necromancers tower to find out more. Such is my progress into the mainstory so far. I have concentrated to build up my character by completing sidequests since they give quite an amount of experience points compared to fights which give you very little. It seems that the strategy is to avoid fights unless absolutely necessary since you don´t wan´t to deplete your scarce amount of mana and health by fighting random monsters.

Right now the forums are discussing the choice of a mage in the game. It seems to be a very hard chararcter to play and I would not be surprised if the developers tweaked mana regeneration a little to its favor or increase damage dealt in some way. Because of that I have so far saved all of my learning points (you get five when you level up) since it seems I have to try to build up my melee fighting skill instead and rely on my magic abilities as a fall back option.

I really like the game so far. All skills in the game seems important but they are expensive both in money required and in learning points and you will never be able to master them all. You could progress in four levels into any skill, allowing you to get more powerful abilities along the way. I have only invested one learning point into alchemy level 1 right now in order to brew some rudementary potions but even I need to buy or experiment with recipes to brew anything valuable.

The world is literally full of items to pick up everywhere and it doesn´t take long for you to fill up you whole inventory which is divided between food, potions, materials, armours and weapons. You are also given a teleporter rune which you could use to return back to a peaceful place where  you could build up your home and grow your own food and farm. I haven´t developed that part yet since it also requires skills in farming, carpentry and other skills in order to actually do something there. 


There are very few weapons lying around but a lot of ingredients, potions, food and materials. You could also find magical items that increase your attributes. I really like that they have succeeded in allowing for a lot of different character builds. I still don´t know how to best spend my learning points. Should I go for increasing my strength before getting swordplay if I want to build a melee figher ? It seems the skill swordplay mainly allows you to buy certain combat abilites rather than actually increasing your melee skill while strength directly affects your damage output.

The open gameworld is huge so far. You have a map and only see yourself as a dot on it. The map itself is divided into four parts with a separate loading when you traverse the sections. I have no idea how many such maps there are but each and everyone is huge and also take into accounts that there are underground places to visit as well. They even have puzzles here and there you must solve. Level progress is quite slow and requires you to complete at least half a dozen quests per level. New skills and abilities are expensive both moneywise and in learning points. You must carefully choose where to spend these. 


So far I enjoy the game very much. It reminds me of Eschalon but while Eschalons graphics where cleaner, Balrums graphics is more detailed and alive and everything moves in realtime except the turnbased combats. The price is also very attractive. The weakest part of its game so far is the dialogues and texts. They are simple and straightforwad with no excellence shining through in it s writing. I leave my comments about the mainstory for a later post since I have hardly started it.

Exploring some of the underground caves I have found full of fireball traps







March 2, 2016

Balrum - a new open world old-school RPG

Balcony Team has recently released a new kickstarter funded old-school RPG called Balrum which I immediately checked out. I let the developer themselves present their game

Balrum
Balrum is an old-school, hybrid turn-based, open world indie RPG with deep tactical combat. Explore a huge living fantasy world with dozens of side quests next to an epic main quest. In addition to traditional RPG features Balrum has deep crafting which allows the player to craft their own custom items. Balrum also features farming your own crops, building your home, and survival mechanics complemented by the game's main features. In Balrum you will have a faithful animal companion as your pet. Your pet is fully controllable and adds greatly to the complexity of the combat. 

The player takes control of a young man whose peaceful life is suddenly interrupted by events which will change his life forever.

Features:

  • Real-Time world with Turn-Based Combat 
  • A huge Open World with dozens of Dungeons to explore 
  • Spend your learning points to create a pure class or a hybrid class 
  • Dozens of Side Quests and an Epic Main Quest 
  • Three separate paths leading to the end 
  • Building 
  • Farming 
  • Tame various animals to be your loyal Companion 
  • Deep Crafting System which allows you to create custom items 
  • Day/Night Cycle with Weather Effects 
  • Survival Mechanics

Story
It's twenty years after your village fled the kingdom and took refuge in Darkwood. You always knew that these woods hold dark secrets but now you start to feel it's evil on your own skin. Horrible things are happening. You discover fragments of the woods dark history and come to the conclusion that you have to leave your home. You know in your heart that once you step out of the protection of the place where you grown up, nothing will be the same. You have to face a world that's in chaos. A world without laws. Nevertheless you feel something else too. You feel freedom. A completely new world awaits you to explore it, but the feeling quickly turns into guilt. There are people in Darkwood who are counting on your help. You are their last hope. 

My take
After a quick research of the game my interest increased. It reminds me of Eschalon. There are some frustrations with the constant search for food and drinks but the gamebreaking bugs that had been reported on release date was fixed yesterday 2nd of March. Very fast response. After that I decided to buy the game and have now played for an hour. I will return with my impressions in a future post.


Meanwhile, check out this trailer: