|Any experienced RPG player would make a save at this point and not save over it.|
This post ends with another screw-up involving not being intelligent about save slots. I mention this in case my recent entry on Pools of Darkness enraged you, and you can't bear to read about yet another amateur mistake. Skip this one.
16 more hours invested in Fate and I still haven't solved the damned Cavetrain quest in the first city. Last time, I called the game and its dungeon maps "indecently large." That was before I knew the half of it. I had barely gotten started.
The overall structure became clear at some point. The City of Larvin is composed of three sections: the major part that I mapped a long time ago, a southeast island that I had to visit to find the druid Mulradin (recounted last time), and the "royal island" in the center of the map. The first set of catacomb maps leads from a stairway in the main part of Larvin to (ultimately) the southeast island. A second set of catacomb maps leads from an inn in the main part of Larvin to the royal island. A third set leads from the royal island to the end of the quest.
|Some banshees in the woods explain the geography.|
A fourth set of (very small) maps serves as an "escape stair" and emerges in the northwest part of the main Larvin map. (For a while, much earlier in the game, I laughably thought that these small levels were the main catacomb maps.) As you explore the catacombs, you frequently come across teleporters that whisk you to the escape stairs so you can get out and try again. These are usually cued with signs that read "coward's path" or "exit this way."
At the end of my last adventure I had found the druid Mulradin, who informed me that to kill the evil wizard Miras Athran and free the "shade ghosts" so they can get the Cavetrain operating again, I would need "an innocent being without any hate in mind" to pierce Athran's "aura of evil" as well as a magical Staff of Gathalak. As we'll see, I spent far too much time worrying about the latter piece and not the former. I just assumed the solution to that would present itself at the appropriate time. As for the staff, some follow-up NPCs said that it was in the royal castle, and I should talk to Tinuis, head of the Royal Mage Guild.
Around this time, I had run out of places to explore, save for a set of levels called the Alarian Vaults, which I was warned I needed "royal permission" to enter. But a hint had alerted me to another way to enter the catacombs by staying at the "Lich's Inn," a dungeon in the northwest part of the town map.
Before I visited the inn, I took the time to straighten out the rest of my party. I dumped my fighter and searched around until I found an enchantress capable of casting the "Flare" spell, which saves me from (a) having to lug around a bunch of lanterns; and (b) having to bump into every wall to test for secret doors. (The spell takes nearly half her spell points, but is well worth it.) Little did I know that she would also come with "Location," which finally allowed me to assign coordinates to my maps and arrange them properly.
|This was a god-send.|
Then I kicked out my warlock and hunted around until I found a magician willing to join me. This took quite a while. I brought him to the pit in the middle of the woods, had him cast "Strength" repeatedly on Derek (who started with the highest) and went to send him into the pit. He refused to go. So I had to repeat the process on Winwood, who wasn't as scared as Derek, and sent him down. Winwood returned with the body. Or so the game said. I guess I was expecting it to show up as an inventory item, so I was confused when it didn't. Ultimately, I realized what I had to do was kick out the magician I'd spent so long acquiring, then "join" the dead body to the party.
|Resurrecting the recovered skeleton.|
After that, I was able to return to a chapel and pay for the body's resurrection. It was worth it indeed. The resulting warlock, Toronar, has the highest attributes in the game as well as three spell classes: warlock, banshee, and valkyrie. This means I could get rid of Dichara, my other banshee, if I need a slot.
|Toronar is a reasonably powerful guy.|
With my more-or-less permanent party (Winwood, enchantress, witch, priestess, banshee, assassin, warlock) in place, I went to the Lich's Inn to continue exploring the catacombs. I had to bumble about for a while before I realized that I needed to rent a specific room--the "suite"--to find the entrance.
|Do the citizens of Larvin have to pay for this room and explore 8 levels of catacombs every time they want to meet with their king?|
Exploring this section of the catacombs was the longest part of this session. It was 7 levels down and back up again. Multiple staircases and one-way teleporters made comprehensive mapping difficult, and I ultimately had to run through the maps three times to make sure I'd mapped everything. The game tries to make the path somewhat easier by putting a couple of "blue crystals" on each level that, if a witch "listens" to them, will tell you the shortest path. But of course you have to map everything if you want to be comprehensive, and exploring every nook was worth it for the weapon and armor upgrades that they provided. (I'll have a comprehensive posting on equipment eventually.)
|My witch "listens" to a blue crystal.|
From my enchantress's spell, I figured out that the dungeon levels occupy 60 x 60 areas. Not all of the squares are used, but since there are no spaces between walls, they could potentially be used. This means that each of the levels to the catacombs--I've found 8 so far--is, at 3,600 squares, almost as large as the entire game of Wizardry (4,000 squares).
|The various sections that make up "Level 3" of the catacombs.|
Without recounting a blow-by-blow, here are some themes and encounters from this much longer catacomb exploration:
- The game is fond of one-way teleporters that really mess up your progress if you don't save before trying them.
- A couple of side-areas were specifically labeled with messages on the walls, like the "Crypt of Candor." It led to an encounter with an "ancient mage" and netted me a magic suit of armor.
|One of the handful of fixed encounters in the catacombs.|
- WHAT is going on with all of these damned holes in the walls?! I'll take an explicit spoiler on this one. I've encountered about 12 of them, and in no case does anything I do have any effect except "close," which closes them permanently, which seems like a bad idea(?)
|I'm getting fed up with these.|
- A couple of places indicted that I found maps on the floor. These were clues to look at one of the maps in the game manual, which instructed me to dig in various places in a certain order and pull the levers found there, which in turn opened up the way through the dungeon level. This seems to be a copy-protection exercise.
|A combination of a light puzzle and copy protection exercise.|
- In the chambers of the "Juggernaut," a high-level earth-elemental-like creature that was very tough to kill, I got a "Doomsword" for my assassin. There was a body of a warrior turned to stone in this area, but my party was full and I declined to pick him up. I fully expect someone to now tell me that he's absolutely essential.
- Grues and a related monster called a "slimer" swiftly became my most hated foes. Each grue is capable of spraying a spore cloud which has a chance of causing disease or poison to each character. If you face a pack of 6 of them, particularly if they start out of melee range, it's almost a certainty that almost everyone is going to get both conditions. Poison and disease don't work in Fate like in other games, where they're binary conditions. Instead, you get them to varying degrees, and the "Cure" and "Cleanse" spells might only allay a portion of what you have. I can easily exhaust my priestess's spell points incrementally curing the poison of a single character. The only other options are to find a (rare) curing fountain or go back up to the surface for healing in a chapel.
|This is not what I pictured a "grue" looking like.|
- Always happy to find these fountains, which seem to offer unlimited uses. But there are only 2 or 3 in the catacombs. More common fountains simply quench thirst. I found one that resurrects.
- Almost 60 hours into the game, I suddenly encountered, for the first time, an explicit copy-protection question. Even more strangely, there was nothing valuable in the area behind where I got the question.
- You hear a heartbeat sometimes, and I don't fully know why. It's not when characters are low in health. It may be when a particularly difficult foe is nearby, but there are times I can't find anyone when the heartbeat is going. It's kind of annoying.
- Once I entered the area past the stone guardian (below), the game upped the ambient noise complexity, with several eerie sounds and a frequent low voice going "woo-hoo-hoo-hoo!"
The catacombs eventually emerged on the "royal isle" in the center of Larvin. The complex contained a chapel, a guild, a tavern, and an inn--all far more expensive then their main island counterparts. Another set of stairs led to the final areas of the catacombs. A teleporter switch activated teleport fields between the royal island, the southeast island, and the main part of Larvin, meaning I don't have to go through the catacombs again to get to those areas.
More important, in a room next to the guild, I found Tinius. He "gave" me a package (a pointer to a diagram in the manual) that I would need to pass a "stone guardian." He also told me where the Staff of Gathalak was buried nearby. I soon had it in my possession.
|I'm not sure what the "glowing gems" were about.|
Oddly, there was no room on the island that seemed to have a throne room or the king's castle or anything. I'm not sure where I'm supposed to encounter him.
After my first visit to the royal island, I had to return to the same catacombs that got me there a few times to finish mapping them. Ultimately, when I was done, I descended into the new area. It wasn't long before I was face to face with the "stone guardian" who asked me 10 questions related to the diagram in the game manual. When I answered them successfully, he teleported me to the next dungeon level, with no way to return. It's important to note here that I wish I'd made a save just before the guardian.
|The guardian asked questions of this diagram such as "what word is opposite BROG?"|
Seven more dungeon levels down, and I came to an area cued with the message "you've entered the forgotten vaults!" A room here has 8 exits, each fill of high-level monsters, though one fortunately leads to a fountain that heals all damage and spell points. Unfortunately, I can't find a way to get out of here. The only possibility seems to be a small, dark "opening in the wall" that only my female characters will fit into (and some refuse to go). If I send one into it, she disappears from the party and never reappears no matter how long I hang around the hole, sleep, and so forth.
|What are the odds of that?|
There's also an inactive teleport field in the area, which suggests there ought to be some way to re-activate it, but I haven't found a mechanism. Light hints welcome for this.
While trying to find a light spoiler on how to get through this area, however, I came upon a more serious problem: I needed to have solved the entire "innocent being without any hate in mind" thing before passing the stone guardian. Apparently, I could have done this by resurrecting some bones of a child that I never found, or by regressing one of my own characters to a child-like age.
Either way, this means reloading the last save I made before passing the stone guardian, which was....all the way back in the catacombs before reaching the royal island for the first time. About 6 hours ago. When am I ever going to learn? At least I have the maps, which should make re-playing the areas much faster.
- In what is definitely a "first," Fate's publisher, reLINE, shoe-horned an advertisement for one of its other titles into Fate. Specifically, my party found a poker game on the ground. When we picked it up, it added a half-dressed woman to the party (with no stats or inventory) and said that if I wanted to see more, I should buy Hollywood Poker Pro, a strip poker game.
|See, we have something called the "Internet" nowadays...|
- One of the catacomb branches led me to a small island in the northwest of Larvin where there was a single smithy. It had better weapons and armor than some of my characters were carrying, so I spent liberally.
|Emerging onto a tiny island in the northwest corner. Note that as far as the jewel is concerned, the game map wraps around on itself.|
- Even so, my explorations left me with almost $1 million in cash. I'd better find someplace to spend all of this.
- It took me a long time to learn to interpret the various meters around the character names. There are four bars representing the character's weapon quality, armor quality, dexterity, and skill. There's not much I can do about the latter two just yet, but I clearly need to find better weapons for a couple of characters. A series of square lights under the characters' names represent whether they're hungry, thirsty, tired, over-encumbered, sick, diseased, poisoned, or drunk, with green indicating "no," blue indicating "sort-of," and dark gray indicating "very."
- Winwood is a bit of a spaz.
- Several of my characters now have weapons capable of hitting an entire stack of enemies per round. My banshee, of all characters, seems capable of "critical hits" that can instantly kill high-level foes, but I don't know if this is because of her weapon (an "argondagger") or something innate to her class.
- Other than specific creatures like grues, my real frustration with enemies is how far away some of them start in an encounter. Defeating 6 witches isn't hard. Defeating 6 witches that start 10 feet away is very hard. You have to advance on them 2 feet per round while each of them gets to fire off spells each round. For one group of monsters, this isn't a big deal because the witch spell "Pullnear" yanks them into melee range, but for multiple parties, advancing under fire is a disaster.
|I don't mind all the other dudes. It's the grues "in 6 yds." that bother me.|
- The distance between you and various foes in an encounter stack seem hard-coded. For instance, if you run into a group of archwizards at 12 yards, you can't say "hell no," run away, and then re-encounter them hoping for a closer distance. You'll get 12 yards again. Only by saving and reloading does this change.
- But I've found that saving and reloading re-seeds the fixed encounters in the dungeons, so it's a bad idea.
- Since some commenters noted that you can't just keep feeding characters rations--they need nutritious meals at a tavern now and then--I've been making sure to mix up their diets. I try to get some vegetables, meat, and carbs with every tavern outing.
|We're having filets, dates, and potatoes.|
Aside from its ridiculous length, I honestly like Fate. It offers a classic RPG experience with original monsters and complex twists. It was a perfect game to play for a long time on a rainy Saturday in Maine. But I'm not looking forward to replaying so much territory, so we'll have another title in between.
Time so far: 61 hours