It can be difficult to keep a dungeon crawl fresh and engaging. They’re about as industrial as adventures get–each one pits a walking, talking power tool against about a thousand feet of barely-sapient lumber, the occasional gotcha riddle, and traps just powerful enough to be genuinely obnoxious. Sometimes to keep the player’s interest you need to shake things up a little, and the designers of Battlespire are exactly smart enough to know that.
So this level’s filled with nigh-invulnerable fast-moving wraiths with both ranged and melee attacks. They’re literally more likely to break your weapon than die to attacks and have no obvious weaknesses. They can’t be slowed down, stopped, or reasoned with. There’s only two or three of them in every room.
Now, there IS a way to defeat these guys: you find an optional, hidden codeword near the end of the level that banishes them. Alternately, you can get rid of all of them at once by uninstalling Battlespire and chewing the CD to splinters, a strategy I believe recommended by the official Prima booklet.
Also infesting level 3 are daedra called “Morphoid Oathkin.” As you’re probably aware, daedra are organized by type and tend to have very specialized places in the hierarchy. Scamps are scouts and foot soldiers, seducers are spies and ambassadors, and morphoids let you win arguments with lore pedants who say “Actually, daedra aren’t demons,” because look at these assholes.
They talk like a voice actor endeavoring to be smug who’s never, ever felt anything to be smug about. It’s probably my favorite performance to date. They have the dark laid-back charm of a Vampire LARPer flirting in-character with the Olive Garden waitress.
So from the decor and monster themes it looks like I’ve stumbled into a massive crypt. There’s some stained glass windows and conversations that point to the lore behind what this crypt is and why it’s infested with immortal jerkass security ghosts, and you’re free to look that up if you really want to, but I’d rate my level of interest as “endangered.” When absolutely everything’s trying to kill you, you don’t rent the guided tour headset. You press calmly but firmly for the gift shop.
In between trying not to die, getting the local color Hooked on Ionics, and trying to find a new place not to die, I stumble into a hallway with about twenty placards in it. Three placards picked at random all have the same perfunctory, summary note informing me there’s some random burial info on there. In a shitty roleplaying game, this would mean you have to read every placard in the room because one of them has critical information on it.
Please note how that placard doesn’t just contain a few secretly useful sentences–its description clearly states it has five pictures of coffins with short verses on them. In a room full of long text lists, basic graphic design dictates it’d be the first thing anyone would notice. But basic graphic design hasn’t informed anything about this game so far, including the basic graphic design, and lord knows this isn’t where it’s going to start.
Before long I run into an apparent dead end. I’m briefly confused before I realize I’m probably meant to take a plunge into one of this environment’s swimming pools. I admit that the four water-breathing potions I’ve found this level were a minor clue.
So let’s say you’ve just loaded up Battlespire for the first time. You’ve gotten through the hard part of character creation, which is figuring out how the mouse works and which of the buttons to click on, and you have finally come to the really really hard part, which is picking which skills your character should have. You review your options soberly–impressive, because you are drunk–and finally, radiating confidence and forethought, you drop a good seventy-five points into Swimming.
So what if I told you that this point, halfway through the game, is the first time I’ve gotten to swim anywhere?
And what if I told you that even without using any of the half-dozen water breathing potions in my inventory, even without spending any skills largesse on Swimming, I didn’t come even close to running out of breath in this whole segment? What if I told you all that?
I’ll tell you “what if.” You’d believe me, that’s “what if.” You’d believe me–because if you’re still with me by now, we really are in this together.
NEXT WEEK: LEAP OF FAITH
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