Part 1: A Nice DayUpdate 1: A Nice Day
I'll note that unlike this recording of the intro video, I chose the Normal difficulty.
Welcome to Antara! It's not Midkemia, but it'll do, especially since it looks a lot nicer. Despite being two years younger, the graphics conjure up a lot of Albion feel for me, something about the design of the sprites, probably. Unlike Albion, it isn't nearly as vividly coloured, and in fact everything has a sort of muddy graininess to it which is to the game's detriment. It got absolutely panned at release for this, with people complaining it looked like shit, but compared to Betrayal at Krondor, this is a breath of fresh air. No crusty-ass digitized photo sprites, no terrible wigs, no everything being either green, white or sandy brown.
Let's take in the UI a little before we get moving. Much like BaK, each character is trapped in an orb for safe transport outside of cutscenes and combat, with their inventories and stat screens accessible by left and right clicking them respectedly. As a QoL bonus, the background colour of their orbs tells us if they're currently suffering from any conditions and the coloured circles are shortened and turn yellow and red as they suffer damage. In our lower right we have, clockwise from the top left, Camp, Flashback, Wizard, Options, Bookmark(Quicksave) and Map.
The main thing that's interesting and new here is the Flashback menu which records all conversations you have by character you have it with, and allows you to fish them out instantly if you want to be reminded of the wording of a sidequest or hint. It's supremely handy and frankly more games should have it. Everything else should pretty much be self-explanatory. So time for something that isn't: the skills screen.
So remember how in BaK you just either tagged skills or left them untagged, and it would focus on them for training, and aside from that you could kind of leave them alone? In Antara I get heart palpitations trying to understand the manual or tutorial on how skills work. I can select up to five for training, and then tagging them in on on the TRAINING DISC in the upper left according to HOW MUCH I want to train them compared to others, with diminishing returns.
Also skill-wise William is kind of like a Locklear to Aren's Owyn. They even left the hair colours the same, so it's not super subtle. I wonder who our Gorath will be?
In any case, I'm sure that magic is-
So what's meant to happen is that you combine keywords to create spells which Aren then "researches" and eventually learns as time passes so he can use then in combat, but in practice something about the UI just baffled me and all that I could figure out was how to make the orbs make a variety of odd humming noises and occasionally spinning. Satisfying, I suppose, but not giving me any real war crimes.
Thankfully the game has an option to just automate all of this, which to me hints at their knowing this wasn't a very good or easily understood system. You generally don't add an option to let players opt out of things you feel are functioning well and are good core systems of your game. Setting automatic spell research on gets Aren researching the "Static Discharge" spell, which means he might know how to cast a spell in a few days' time. Not that we're going to be waiting for that, we've got places to go and things to see.
Like this cool crater of molten glass that Aren blasted out of the beach in the intro.
The trackless ocean.
And a corpse to loot.
I don't know, William. I never thought I'd be stealing from a dead man, that's no better than what a common cutthroat would do.
We're just being practical, Aren. Look at it this way: nothing he's carrying can help him anymore, but it might help us.
Verbatim from the game, by the way, William seems awfully casual about looting corpses despite ostensibly being a noble-born son.
The inventory screens are largely familiar, though it's worth noting that rations are now banished to their own, shared, sub-screen, so you no longer have to wrangle them into everyone's inventories and split them up properly per character and so forth. It's a nice quality of life change. What we're looking at there is the basic leather armor, some lockpicks, some "Senwater"(this game's Restoratives), some coins and some rations.
Once again, someone was pretty hungry while writing the various food descriptions. The rations are the least of it. Another big inventory change is...
Rudimentary paperdolls! I always enjoy it when games visually represent the stuff I slap on my idiots, makes it feel more satisfying to find new gear.
Having a look at William, let's also have a look at the weapons. In Krondor, weapons were relatively universal in that they had a more reliably hitting, lower-damage Thrust attack and a less reliably hitting, higher-damage overhead Swing attack. The amount of difference varied a bit, with a few weapons having exceptionally good Swings or Thrusts, but it was more or less the same. Antara varies it up by giving every weapon a Thrust, overhead Swing and sideways Slash attack. For our starting short sword, it largely goes in the same way as Krondor, with the Slash being in between the Thrust and Swing, and the difference between Thrust and Swing being a lot larger in terms of accuracy. It now also helpfully notes a previously obfuscated stat, Hardness, which indicates how easily a given weapon loses durability.
We can also look at the jewelry that we ganked off Gregor. Note the stylized shepherd on it, which is mildly interesting if you bothered to read the limited lore in the manual. The humans living here in Antara apparently arrived after being persecuted by a bunch of non-humans, learned wizardry, kept the non-humans at bay with magic, got wizard kings, got tired of wizard kings, now have a non-wizard Emperor. A subnote to this is that the group tasked with keeping an eye on future non-human invasions were named the Shepherds. This probably isn't a coincidence.
The local maps are also notably more detailed than they were in BaK and, if we turn it on, it will auto-mark shops and NPC's on the map for us. If you noticed the game had two difficulty sliders, the left one is the actual game difficulty and the right one is the "quality of life"-difficulty. For instance, at max, it disables both the automatic spell research, automatic skill training AND the automatic map tagging(they can be manually re-enabled in the options while playing, though), so it doesn't make the game harder, it just makes it a lot more annoying.
The game overworld map is... hm. It's hard to really say if it's a bigger or a smaller world than the central Kingdom in Krondor, but it's definitely a world with a lot more content in the sense of towns and villages. For the moment we're headed west to Briala, to tell everyone Aren's leaving home to become a wizard.
I was originally going to complain that Antara lacked the "lock on to roads"-function that Krondor had, but it's only on reviewing footage that I realized they just moved the button to the upper right so it could be used without calling up the bottom-of-screen bar. Also, we're about to get into a fight, which I don't yet realize because I haven't seen the enemy.
Do you see the enemy?
Maybe now? Yeah, it's that drooling lump off to the side that's the exact same colour as the grass it's slouching on. Motherfucker.
Combat is probably what's had the most changes. Aside from adding a third type of attack, they've also added rudimentary "zones of control." Every character "controls" the hex they face(the manual implies some enemies may have bigger ZoC's, but we'll see), and enemies can't freely move through it, or cast spells/fire arrows if they're in it. This means that touch-range spells are a thing now, as long as you can distract an enemy away from your mage. Enemies and characters also automatically turn to face whoever's attacking them in a given round.
In any case, with no magic and limited options, this first battle isn't very interesting except that this big komodo-looking fucker almost eats William. A worthwhile thing to do at this stage of the game is to have everyone using Thrust attacks, since they're about 10 percentage points more accurate than Swings for the weapons we have at the moment, and only slightly mess damaging(about 10 actual percent), and attacks that don't hit don't do jack.
Another supremely wonderful thing about Antara, though we won't see it here, is that when you kill a group of enemies and click on one corpse... they have a shared inventory. This means no more having to hunt around for the angle needed to pick over every corpse individually. It is probably my favourite quality-of-life adjustment between the two games.
Towns also look more... towny, with a variety of different buildings rather than just the same two copy-pasted over and over, shops have signs outside and we can actually read things without needing to click on them. Among other rad things...
Overworld NPC's are actually visible and voluntarily interactible with now, rather than just jumping out at you from the bushes whenever you enter their extremely vague interaction zones.
Summary: It takes a bit, until William chips in, specifically, before Aren's father believes that he's actually done magic. At first he's a bit reluctant to let Aren go off on this adventure, but once William reminds him that he might accidentally blow up the tavern if he doesn't get proper training, he relents.
I'm so glad all the dialogue is voiced now, otherwise I would have had to do work for this. For some reason the audio quality here seems to be worse than when I was recording it... but you can just mute it and read the dialogue if that's a problem. You're not missing out on the world's greatest voice acting.
Since we're here, let's also check out the inn.
It's definitely a lot easier to parse than the inn interiors in Krondor, but it has that kind of uncanny weird effect you got with games like Quest for Glory 5, where you had character models slapped into pre-rendered backgrounds in a way that really made them pop and stand out. None of the locals here are interactible, by the way, except for the barmaid who sells rations and the fountain in the back that we can yank some coins out of. Having learned my lesson from Krondor, the only purchase I make is stocking the party up on enough food to sleep the year away if need be.
Across from the tavern is a small general store.
All of these are things I really want, but without a FAQ I don't know how many of each thing I need or how many of them I'm likely to be able to find at random around the gameworld. Plus I know that I need rations now, I don't know when I'll be dying, for, say, a length of rope.
Let's go hassle the other locals. Their dialogue isn't voiced, however.
Since it is, however, relatively compact, I decided to present it like this. Does this work well for everyone? Please don't make me transcribe it all. PLEASE. There's also a local farmer to harass.
Sweet, our first sidequest, and Balmestri isn't even in the completely opposite direction from where we're supposed to be going, only the mostly opposite direction! I'm sure this'll work out well.
As we pass through the center of town, we also come by this nice young lady hanging out by the well.
Summary: Laura is, like Aren's father, a bit slow to believe that William's life has actually been turned upside down, but has less protests once she gets it. Aren and Laura say their goodbyes.
So Laura here is Aren's future wife, possibly. I honestly can't recall if we ever see her again or if she ever features in the plot in any way, but I'd honestly be positively surprised if that was the case. We're still not leaving just yet, though, we have more locals to bother.
Sadly we can't invest in their chicken-themed future explosives industry, but we do know to keep an eye out for a Scott who may know something about magic. Even if he can't teach Aren anything about it, it sounds like he'll be good for a story or two.
If this was Krondor she'd have smacked William and Aren for non-trivial amounts of damage, I'm sure of it.
When this dialogue tree ended, the game made a mysterious "bwoim"-sound which probably meant something mechanical happened, but I couldn't figure out what. While checking out a threadbare Antara FAQ, however, I learned that doing this apparently provides a small Stealth bonus to the party. You'd have figured that getting covered in pigshit would result in the opposite, but I'm not arguing with a free boost.
Time to ignore the main plot and head south to Balmestri! We've got cows to save and I'm sure that Aren won't accidentally blow up a town along the way or something.
As we cross the town boundary, though...
We hear a woman's voice crying out in distress!
And just what are you going to do about it?
Did you hear that? Sounds like someone's in trouble.
It came from over there!
Looks like a pack of bandits up ahead, they must be the ones menacing a traveller or some such.
Not sure what William was trying to accomplish with that, but the practical upshot is that he landed us in a fight. Admittedly a fight I wanted to be in, but still.
Aren still has no spells and we're up against three enemies. I have very clear memories of getting my ass kicked by this fight as a kid, so I approach it carefully, letting our protagonists guard and the enemies approach us.
They hit about as hard as the komodo from earlier but are much worse at actually landing blows, so it's mostly about getting Aren and William both ganged up on one enemy at once, taking him out, and then moving on to the next. Eventually the enemies start actually hitting, which takes some chunks out of William, but I pull through in the end.
Supposedly the enemy AI was pretty badly panned at launch, with claims that they'd sometimes randomly flee and such. I don't see any of that, but I do see some badly pressed enemies sometimes just not do anything. Not sure if they're spending their action defending or their decision-making gears just gummed up from having no good decision to make.
Now, let's see what nice person we've just saved.
Summary: Kaelyn grudgingly accepts that William helped her out because she can't stand his attitude, and forces herself into the party as much out of spite as anything. We're clearly not getting rid of her until she feels we've earned it.
Kaelyn seems to be smarter than both of our young men and is therefore a valued addition to the party. She just sort of forces herself into the lineup whether you like it or not, and will be in the way, getting ambushed, whether you head south or west from Briala.
She also starts with a bow and is clearly intended to be more of an archer, but starting out archery is not very impressive either in terms of damage output or its odds of hitting.
Damn, these guys were loaded. Maybe I should be skinning bandits instead of animals.
Her existing armor is a bit threadbare so I swap her in a dead dude's coat. I'm sure she won't mind.
Reviewers at the time were apparently a bit hard on the "textured a wall as trees, this is a dense thicket now"-style, but I feel like it doesn't faze me. I've seen so many games do it that I just sort of "get" it as an abstraction and my brain doesn't even register it. I go poking around a bit by the water's edge here, hoping to stumble into something, and stumble into something I do!
Real, honest-to-God pirates. Hell yeah. Let's kick their asses and take their stuff.
So as visible here, the archery has less than half the chance of hitting compared to a melee attack, consumes ammo AND does barely half the damage of said melee attack. To spice things up, though, Aren has researched his first spell!
Touch range, does 25 damage, costs 10 health/stamina as magic works much like Krondor magic did in that sense. For now it does a bit more damage than his melee attacks(about 20 with each hit, usually a bit less), but is a guaranteed hit, which is very valuable since blitzing the enemy numbers down so we have more actions per round is important.
Not hugely impressive visually, but everyone has to start somewhere.
Repeated tazings put down these vicious corsairs, giving me a chance to paw through their stuff.
They've got several new things, like...
A weapon that's objectively worse than our starting shortswords unless I'm reading the stats wrong. I think, though, that the displayed stats reflect the badly damaged state of the cutlass, but sadly I can't repair it any.
Similar to the red potions in Krondor, Kor's Blood gives a temporary boost to melee skill.
I have to agree with the game here, more garlic is always an improvement on any cooking. I'm not sure if there are any actual differences between the different food types, mind you. Supposedly the non-ration food items are perishable and will be eaten first, but I can't see anything about how regularly they decay.
Past the pirates is this little stone mound that I can't crack into without a shovel. Have to hope I remember it's here once I get my hands on one...
Back on the road south, another pack of rogues blocks the way.
The fight itself is uninteresting except that I completely missed the super-obvious chest in the background right up until I was going through the footage. How did I miss that?! I look forward to cracking some chests, too, since they've upped the variety of security devices since Krondor.
With no one loitering on the streets, we may as well turn into the nearby tavern. Like in Krondor, you can't fully recover without magic or an inn, so I hope it is one, but it turns out to only be serving food, not rooms.
It does, however, have an exceptionally chatty fellow hanging around.
I rather like Scott's dialogue, he's a fun fellow and believable as a storyteller. Now, once again, the game refrains from fucking telling you what happens here mechanically, but the result is that Aren gets +5 to his Create and Detect magic skills which might open up some more magic research for Aren. Of course, it'll still take him a while to complete said research and the game doesn't bother to tell you when some is completed, thus making it an exciting surprise when Aren suddenly has a new spell unless you obsessively check his spellbook after every rest and before every fight.
It's annoying that for every other quality of life improvement they made, that one eluded them.
Of course, I hardly get out of the inn and manage to quicksave before the game crashes on me, even fully patched up, Antara is not a stable game, and I decide to hold the recording for the time being. Next time, we'll continue south to Balmestri, perhaps meet some more colourful characters and maybe get the party wearing something better than old leather rags and wielding something nicer than large knives.
Next time: I'm sure we'll get to Panizo any month now