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Default First Impressions, part Duh

November 14th, 2006, 23:30
The actual mix of opponents is random. I've never faced more than three at a time. I think the arenas are only large enough for three-on-three action. It might be a lone wolf, three wolves, or a wolf/bandit/fireballer combo. I generally finished fights either barely scratched, barely alive, or died instantly. And this was playing the game on normal difficulty. I still don't have a good sense of how the stats work. Combat skills are learn-by-doing, so they will go up gradually as you thump monsters. I was using swords, so that skill was the one improving. Higher skill ratings allow "special moves", though I'm not sure what good they are. They don't do much more damage than the base move, but cost more action points to execute. I had the best luck sticking with the base attack, which is the fastest -- if you're fast enough, you get multiple attacks before your opponent responds.

Maybe this changes if the skills or stats are higher, or you're using better than starter weapons. Don't know yet.

Overall, combat is very difficult, got easier as I picked up a few levels, then dramatically worse after the first town. I was thinking it might be an "Arnika Road" experience, that things would get better once I reached the second town and bought better equipment. But it didn't. Newer armor may have helped with the melee opponents, but didn't make much difference with the fireball bimbos. Only bumping up my HPs helped against them -- and then only if I ran into one at a time.

(Arnika Road, for the uninitiated, is a part of Wizardry 8 between the starter dungeon and the first town. Traverse it at 5th level, and it's challenging. Do it at 8th level and it's almost impossible, especially for first-time players. Clean out the starter dungeon like a good little RPGer, and your party is almost guaranteed to be 8th level before reaching Arnika Road.)

Combat is also extremely common. Once one fight ends, a new random encounter occurs withing 20 seconds -- basically, walk 1 or 2 screen widths to the next fight. You have no warning of random encounters. There are also placed encounters (almost always guarding a chest of goodies), but you literally have to walk your character almost within arm's reach of the monsters to initiate those combats. Unless they're hiding under a tree (and some do), they're easy to spot and easy to avoid.

Buyable equipment appears to be scaled by town. Gaining levels did not open up better equipment in the first town. I only visited the second town once, so no point of reference there. My feeling is that my character ended up too high of level, making combat too hard, and won't have access to comparable equipment until the next town or merchant, wherever that may be. That means early exploring is bad. On the other hand, some placed encounters won't be survivable if you haven't built up a few levels (like the unavoidable Mr. 1000 HP).

I'm not sure what happens if your character dies in combat but your NPCs survive. That only happened once, and I leveled up at the end of the fight due to the XP gain (and leveling-up restores all health), so I popped back to my feet once the big nasty was dead. Mostly you'll be going solo, so don't count on surviving by the grace of joinable NPCs. They, however, disappear if they bite it in battle -- you can't even loot their corpses when it's over.

Mind you, this was all done with a melee-oriented character in a six-hour session (hoo-rah for being single!), reaching 8th level by the end of it. I did not experiment with magic much. Spells are limited by runes that you find -- you need to consume more runes to increase the max number of spells. Starting as a pure mage seems impossible (resting is limited by single-use tents, which are a precious commodity).

I think I'll start over with a new character tonight and focus more on magic to see if it makes a difference. Try different equipment, boost different stats. Unfortuneately, the learn-by-doing thing makes it look like experimenting with different weapons on the same character is a bad idea. Sigh.

In town, it feels like an adventure game. In the countryside, it's more action RPG (at least as much so as a turn-based game can be).

I did not want this to sound like a rant. Somehow it did. Neverend still holds promise, and is a welcome deviation from the norm, but I can already see the things that will be making me grate my teeth through to the end of the game. I expect to be spending at least a few more evenings playing this. I'm still hopeful the goofiness and quirks will take on a sense of charm, and not aggravation.
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