SIDE A: Clean Up The Coast
Like all blogs, this one is sometimes late and like all bloggers, I feel the need to apologize for some reason. This time, however, I have a good excuse and that is that there was a lot of game time to cover for this session but not much in the way of interesting material. First the good:
This dungeon, despite using a lot of the same layout as the last mine we raided, is pretty cool. First of all, conceptually, this is where the Iron Throne (the baddies) are producing iron while simultaneously poisoning the Nashkel mines. This place runs on slave blood and orphan sadness and there's a genuine sense of bleakness. Talking to the miners, it becomes clear that they're far more afraid of their captors than they are of you.
The second floor contains Yeslick, a decent companion but by this point my party is calcified. I imagine that's true of most people who get to this point, which again supports my theory that you're supposed to be rotating party members in and out when they die rather than pay the outrageous fees.
Most notably, the boss of this dungeon is the biggest challenge I've faced so far and a really neat fight that foreshadows the dynamic of fights in Baldur's Gate 2. This is the wizard Davaeorn, an Iron Throne heavy and bad mamma/jamma. He's a real son of a bitch who teleports around and can cast lightning bolts and fireballs. He can also dire charm your party (see the B side) but luckily, he didn't do this to me. Lightning bolts and fireballs don't fuck around, doing 1d6 damage per level and Davaeorn is level 11.
The way I beat him was loading up Minsc with fire and lightning resistance and having him lead my skeleton army in to weaken him. Ol' Dave is sort of hard to hit but eventually he used most of his heavy spells and I could send in the rest of the game. I love the way enemy wizards run out of spells in this game. For the most part, they play by the same rules I do.
He has the standard letters and notes and he is survived by an apprentice who gives me even more information. His boss is named Rieltar Anchev and is stationed in a certain house in Baldur's Gate. This is where I head next. Before I go, I have a choice: Do I flood these mines? See, the Iron Throne took them over from Yeslick's tribe and they're adjacent to an underground reservoir. Since I've freed most of the slaves, I flood the place and get a pretty cool cutscene as a result.
What remains, sadly, is sort of lousy. Which might be expected given that this is the game equivalent of licking my finger and running it along the bottom of an empty dorito bag. I've cleared almost all of the major highpoints outside the city proper and what's left is, well, what's left. Lots of little quests in big open spaces that I'm not going to talk about specifically. Things like getting a ring for Mad Arcand, while flavorful, don't say much about the game as a whole. Here are the noteworthy encounters-
The Shoal and Droth. This quest is notable because of a few wrinkles and because of its rewards. You run into Shoal, a nereid, who asks for your help and then gives a straight up kiss of death to a member of your party. If you're anything like young me, you quick load and avoid this whole hornet nest. However, if you attack her, she'll eventually resurrect your buddy in exchange for you killing an Ogre Mage named Droth. Do so and it's a standard Baldur's Gate task and reward. However, strangely enough, the experience reward for killing Shoal is much, much greater than helping her (at the cost of some treasure) and you suffer no reputation loss. It's a nice nod to the game respecting your choice. She blew up one of your party by kissing them and you can be mechanically forgiven for flying off the handle.
Four Red Wizards. In the cheerily named Spiderwood you run into four red wizards up to absolutely no good. Because of my party make up, they attack and I'm forced to slay them and take their stuff. However, if I had Edwin with me you get an interesting bit of dialogue. They warn Edwin that his boss will be disappointed if he failed in his task (killing Dynaheir). Again, nothing ground breaking but a little nod to the outside world reacting to your party.
Gullykin and The Firewine Ruins. I'm going to talk about the latter a bit more in the B side but this whole area is a nonstarter. First, the halfling village is nearly bereft of character (other than some interesting design choices for the house interiors) and there's very little to do here. There's a bit a of a side plot involving a halfling who is allowing kobolds up from the dungeon to attack Gullykin but for the most part, there's no story here and very little interesting gameplay.
Baldur's Gate fans will note that I'm not talking about Ulcaster, the lighthouse/flesh golem cave or the archeological dig. I'm a bit underleveled for those, I'm afraid, and I plan to tackle them after I do a little of the city proper.
SIDE B: Baldur's Bummers
I was planning on talking about gender and women in Baldur's Gate, and I probably will down the road, but this series of play sessions left a bad taste in my mouth so I wanted to talk a little trash.
Baldur's Gate is an amazing game and looking at it through this zoomed in lens underlines both its strengths and its weaknesses. This series has mostly been about the strong bits but lest anyone think I'm white knighting for this series, I wanted to talk a bit about some Baldur's Bummers.
1) Instant Death/Petrification. I'm of the opinion that instant death attacks have no place in RPGs because, as per my previous discussion about save scumming, you're not active in your ability to avoid them. Avoiding them is entirely about preparation which results in a fuck you gotcha moment when you're first exposed to them, no matter what. In something like Dark Souls, I don't mind because it's my fault for not dodging quick enough. But when an Ankheg pops his head out of the ground and insta-petrifies/kills my main character, I get a little salty. It just doesn't' seem like good design.
There are ways around it but they all involve what I call "Safety Bitting." In Final Fantasy games, there's usually an area featuring instant death monsters and a store right before it that sells Safety Bits, an item that protects against instant death. So yes, the game gives you the ability to circumvent its own shitty punishment but is it an interesting mechanic? At best, it denies you an equipment slot.
In Baldur's Gate, safety bit type items are much harder to find and instead you have to use spells. So instead of unequipping your genji glove for a time, you have to memorize protection from death for a time. It's just not very cool. And I don't think it's very cool in the table top version either, having its roots in overly harsh early D and D.
2) Dire Charm. Now, I don't find charm attacks inherently unfair. If I did, I'd be a total hypocrite because I use them constantly. But this section of the game has you fighting quite a few sirines who cast this annoying number on your lead fighter. Dire charm is much harder to save against and is more or less the end of the battle. You either kill your companion or he kills you and either result is sort of unacceptable. I don't know if it's just my luck but every time I tried to Hold Person my besorceled companion, it failed. I don't think it would have been unbalanced to have charm attacks restricted to the player, though, again, Baldur's Gate is a bunch of creatures set loose in a rule set rather than a perfectly balanced experience.
3) Pathfinding. Jesus christ is the Firewine Ruins a nightmare to navigate. Look at it, just look at it. My little guys just can't handle this featureless narrow maze. Whenever one of them bumps into another, instead of saying "excuse me" and waiting patiently their broken pathfinding kicks in and they immediately separate. In Firewine this is a real problem because enemies respawn. The respawning kobolds here could qualify as a Baldur's Bummer on their own but when you can't actually leave a portion of the dungeon behind because your tiny idiots are too polite to tap someone on the shoulder, it gets infuriating.
This is a problem outside of dungeons too. I can't tell you how many times I've clicked on a far off location hoping that my crew would make their way there only find one of them softly humping the corner of fence, longing to be on the other side. This is actually a setting in the game's .ini file that I have been tinkering with. I'm hesitant to because I want to experience the game as vanilla as possible but I'm about to break that rule just for my own sanity.
That's it for this entry. I'll see you guys in a week or two to talk about the titular city itself.