Part 2: The Game Kicks My AssUpdate 2: The Game Kicks My Ass
Last time I made an executive decision to ignore the plot in favour of helping out some cows and I also managed to find a few resources with some very basic helpful info like, say, what items do. Because of course much like Krondor, half of the game's usable items have no manual or in-game description that clearly states what the hell their function is. One of the things I learned from said resources is that Antara is much stricter about "open" chapters. In Krondor, about half of the game's nine chapters left you with pretty free reign to range around 2/3rds of the game world, but Antara does not, so if you just go beelining for plot locations every time, you can very easily lose out on your only chance to visit certain areas.
So with that, let's have a walk around Aspreza and see what's up.
First things first, let's check out the local store.
The local store which literally only sells shields and nothing else. They do also buy armor, allowing me to offload some of all the bandit/pirate clothes I've been picking up, but Antara stores in general tend to be a lot more specialized in what they sell than Krondor stores were. I do want some shields, though, I'd just rather not pay for them. Shields offer a flat amount of damage reduction while worn, have their own durability score and can't be repaired. Seeing as how they can't be repaired, I'm a bit loath to spend my extremely limited funds on them for now.
Protection: 10%; Hardness: 10
Description: The stout wood planks bound together by a metal rim and studs was better than nothing, but its weight made it clumsy to use and it tended to splinter under the impact of strong blows.
Protection: 9%; Hardness: 20
Description: Shields like this one were small, lightweight, and standard issue among Imperial foot soldiers. While the soldiers liked their utility, the Imperial Army liked their low cost.
The two options are a Defense booster for characters and a Hardness booster for items, respectively.
+15 Defense for duration of one day or battle.
Description: Magically distilled from the glands of ginger toads, garrisons stocked "frog juice" to make their defenders more efficient when outnumbered. Supplies dropped sharply after the Chunese savanna, the toads' main habitat, was vaporized in the disaster that created the Waste.
Nonstackable; up to 10 uses per horn. Apply to Swords or Armor to increase Hardness until end of next battle.
Description: [Character] unscrewed the clamping ring and popped the parchment cap from the horn, then quickly recoiled from the cloying sickly-sweet aroma of the chemical fluid inside. Hastily replacing the cap, [character] paused to examine the parchment. A hard, rigid film coated the underside, the result of continued exposure to the fluid.
Hardening Fluid initially seems really great except that it only lasts for one battle, so unless you have a very low-Hardness weapon that's nonetheless of high quality or expect a battle where you'll be handing out sword swings like candy, you usually won't get that much use out of it. For now, I just use the store to unload some of my spare armors and move on.
The little outhouse-looking shed just outside of the store is actually a coach stop. If we were flush with cash and lazy, we could use this to whisk us to other towns, but considering that enemies don't respawn, it's almost always cheaper to just buy some rations and race down the road if you've cleared the path between the two locations. And if you haven't cleared the path, absolutely get on that, those fuckers are worth training and carry stuff that's worth money.
Most of the houses in Aspreza have red diamonds painted on their doors, indicating that those within are suffering from the Feeblepox, a nasty disease that sometimes pop up in the Antaran Empire and fucks people up. No one inside wants to talk to us. There are two empty houses which contain spare leather armor(which we already have), a spare short sword(which we already have) and some cheese, and one non-plagued house which contains a resident we can actually talk to.
Of course, we always have time to save lost children, but first...
I was gonna loop back to this chest. Sadly it's just a normal pickable chest, not a puzzle chest. Lockpicking and trap disarming has also changed a lot mechanically since Krondor. In Krondor it was 100% deterministic, if you had the stat requirement, you passed all of the time, if you lacked the stat requirement you fail all of the time. Here, on the other hand, it's a random roll, so you just gotta spam lockpicking attempts and burn through picks until you get through. This is a bit more of a problem when we get to traps since every failed attempt is a reload, but it's a passable system for just normal locked chests and actually makes lockpicks a spendable resource rather than in BaK where you could potentially race through the game with just one single lockpick if you knew all the lock difficulties so you never used it on a chest or door you couldn't pick.
After five clicks or so, Aren busts the chest. I'm not sure why he's the team member with the highest Lockpicking, both Kaelyn and William seem like thematically better candidates, but whatever. I guess that's some leftover Owyn DNA.
Description: The closely-held secret of a Burlene trader until an aide got drunk with a competitor's agent, the charismatic enhancement of this mysterious brew explained the trader's meteoric rise to wealth. The impotence caused by repeated use explained why that trader's name had been lost to history.
Description: Ladies of the Chailan court offset their simple gowns with brooches like this one. With the impending alliance between Chail and the Imperial Family, demand for the brooches among the Antaran nobility quickly outstripped supply.
The brooch is just for selling for money if I ever find a damn gem trader, while the Tonguecoat is a very handy booster that I keep forgetting when making expensive purchases because I am a moron and an idiot.
Heading south out of Aspreza, we pass by a Church of Kor with a few bandits hanging out around the back side and casually blocking us getting closer to the caves on the far side.
Unlike in Krondor where most temples had unique dialogue but the same services on offer(barring efficacy of blessings), temples in Antara generally have no dialogue but have one of three offerings of services. Temples of Kor, like this one, offer weapon and armor blessings, Temples of Senaedrin offer healing and curing, and Temples of Henne offer a vaguely defined "travel safety" blessing. Since A) our weapons at the moment are the cheapest crap in the game and B) the prices are exorbitant for this stage of the game, I pass on the blessings and continue on to get my ass kicked by the bandits.
No, really, I spent close to 20 minutes getting my shit kicked in by these four assholes. See, because they had a mage I figured the smart move would be to sprint for him and take him down, at first, but since I couldn't reach him in one move that meant the bandits always got the first attacks in, which meant they wore me down faster every time. The closest I got to a win there was one time where William was the only survivor with a sliver of health left. Eventually I decide to take my chances with letting the mage do his mage bullshit and defend on the first turn so the bandits have to approach me and take the first hits.
Unlike in Krondor where this would have resulted in the mage nuking one of my party members out of existence each turn, here it just surrounds Aren with bubbles. I later learn that this is the spell Unseeing Eye which reduces all of a character's relevant combat stats, including movement, by 40% or 50%. This is bad, but less horrifying than many of the alternatives.
Despite the bubbles, victory is eventually mine. It's also worth noting that, as visible by the one coward pirate who doesn't want to get stabbed, enemies flee a lot more easily in Antara than they did in Krondor, where you might have the last enemy decide to leg it, here badly wounded enemies will often flee mid-battle. If you're confident and don't want to lose out on anything, position a party member in the rear leftmost hex, since that appears, as far as I can tell, to be the only one enemies can escape from. You'll probably want someone with spells or a ranged weapon there so they're still useful even if enemies keep their distance.
As another engine improvement, caves are no longer distinct zones, and you can just walk into them without a loading screen and an interaction! Or, at least, that's what the game pretends, it very obviously chugs for a second as it loads in the new zone inside and unloads the zone outside when you step over the threshold. But it's nice of them to try, in my opinion.
Also I didn't bring any torches so this place is as dark as the inside of a troll's asshole.
This means that sometimes I trip over some vague shapes in the darkness and they hiss and try to bite the party's feet off.
Carliths are more of the big lizard that almost ate William in the very first fight of the game, even four of them aren't really a threat, just a speedbump. But since they also don't drop anything, not even hides or teeth or organs or something else we can profit off of, I'm happy when a bunch of them try to retreat.
The real pain in the ass are these Masliths instead. More vividly green and distinctly smaller than the Carliths, they seem to be roughly as good at biting and taking hits, but sometimes, at range, they instead choose to use a poison spit attack that ladles 5% poisoned status on to a party member. It only takes one drink of Senwater to cure 5% of a status(basically the exact same functionality as Restoratives in Krondor), so it's not a huge deal if they just do it once, but if their AI decides it's spittin' time and they start hauling out tons of poison, it can take a chunk out of the party's medicine supplies.
There are dedicated anti-poison potions in the game which might be worth our time, but we've yet to have a chance to get a hold of any.
Fumbling around in the darkness I eventually bump into some rocky stairs and start climbing them.
Mmmm, cave cheese. And also a torch! Thank goodness. Now we can look at the surely gorgeous interior of this c-
I guess grainy brown is better than grainy black.
For some reason, though, enemy/character silhouettes in the dungeon tend to remain pitch black until you're almost right on top of them, even with a torch lit.
Except for the side paths with the single chest, the cave is more or less a straight line which leads to this pit in the ground, a pit with a kid in it.
A kid I can't save since I didn't bring any rope. I'm really knocking it out of the park here. Only place we have a store that sells rope is... all the way back at Briala. While I'm there, I also pick up a bundle of torches and a shovel, may as well crack into that little cairn of rocks we found while heading to Aspreza, right? Ha ha, joke's on me, turns out the cairn contains another fucking shovel. Goddamn.
So about ten minutes later...
Cool, let's head back and see if he made it back to his mom safely or if we need to fetch him out of another pit.
Mechanically, the reward for this quest is enough squidoroni to make up 14 ration packs, which means that Kaelyn will, in fact, be tasting squid for just shy of a week. Bet you wish we were carting around a bunch of hardtack instead, huh? Anyway, we're now free of obligations in Aspreza and can head further down the road to Balmestri.
The first encounter along the way is a group of bandits guarding a chest...
And it's our first code chest! Heck yeah! They're a bit different in that now instead of spinning single-letter wheels, you construct a word out of chunks you can select in any order and you aren't forewarned about what the exact length of the word will be. It definitely, in my opinion, makes it somewhat harder to brute force them. In any case, the answer to this one is C-U-TL-AS-S.
A half stack of Senwater and a half stack of rations is absolutely good rewards.
Aside from that chest, though, the only notable feature along the road from Aspreza to Balmestri is this thicket of white trees which splits the path in half. On the left side is a small pack of Carliths, and on the right side is a bandit ambush, though in my case the party spotted the ambush which meant initiative fired off as normal. Neither fight was particularly interesting, it's easy to tell we're largely still in the "tutorial" part of the game.
Of course I write that and then I get overly confident on the next fight and it ends poorly.
The next group of enemies the party meets one-shots Aren when I have him burn too much health on spells. This triggers a Near-Death condition just like in Krondor, which means that unless you're ready to burn 20 Senwater to get someone out of it, you're going to be camping for the next month. The rewards for this?
A shield for William, another Brooch and a Pearl, neither of which I've yet to find a place to sell. Thankfully, gems are the smallest item in the game, and they only take up quarter spaces in the inventory, meaning that you can haul around large numbers of them without clogging things up.
Welcome to the southernmost town in Antara, time to hit up the local inn and see what they're serving.
The bow under the table is a tier 1 bow like Kaelyn's, which we can pick up for free and later sell for money since it's not worth using in combat 90% of the time. We can also listen to some folks singing a drinking song...
Say, barkeep, set up four strong drinks.
Although it may seem odd,
Tonight I'll buy a round or two
For our fine friends, the gods.
For all that they have done for us
A drink seems only fair.
But if they don't show up tonight
I guess I'll drink their share.
Well, I bought them a cup but they haven't turned up
So the day that I die I'll just look in their eye and say
"Hey where were you when the man poured the brew?"
And I guess I'll be drinking their share.
Oh, Henne lives in innocence
Where all true wisdom starts.
He gave us laughter, tales, and dance
And music in our hearts.
Since Henne gave us tavern songs
A drink is only fair,
But Henne's far too young to drink
So I guess I'll drink his share.
Oh, Senaedrin's a woman fine,
The mother of all men,
A healer and a teacher
And a lady to the end.
Since Senaedrin has guided us
A drink is only fair,
But ladies prefer wine to ale
So I guess I'll drink her share.
Oh, Kor's the strongest of the strong,
So question not his might.
And any man would hail him as
A brother in a fight.
Since Kor's the guardsman of us all
A drink is only fair,
But since a guardsman can't be drunk
I guess I'll drink his share.
Technically only the first verse gets sung here, and we'd have to listen to the other verses at other inns, but by the time I got around to those inns, no one would remember the first verse and it's hardly like there's any spoiler material in them, it's just an in-universe, mildly blasphemous drinking song. I like the writing of it. We can also have a chat with a farmer up by the bar...
Summary: This poor farmer is working in a tavern far from home because a drought ruined one of his harvests and that prevented him from paying rent, leading to his landlord seizing his farm and not even letting him stay on to work it. This happened up near Imazi.
I suppose it's a universal constant that nobles are going to be pricks. We're absolutely going to have to swing by this farmer's home region further north before we finish the chapter, just in case there's anything we can do for him.
Leaving the tavern, I note that there are three bandits just hanging around in the streets of Balmestri, which seems off, so I circle around them to the sword store before I engage.
This guy has a few new items up for sale.
+8 Stealth for duration of one day or until the party enters its next battle.
Description: The best thieves took pride in their natural abilities, but lesser talents often relied on Shadowmilk to augment their capacity for stalking and sneaking. Illegal within the walls of most cities, the Imperial Army made sure their scouts had a flask with them on forays into enemy territory.
T: 15,15; S: 15,15; H: 15,10; Hardness: 16; can be Enhanced and Blessed. First available in Imazi in Chapter 1.
Description: The long blade of this weapon gave a fighter a tactical advantage over a foe with a shorter blade, enabling him to strike while keeping his own body farther out of reach. The unadorned blade and bare hilt marked it as the product of a simple smith from a simple village. Judging from the weapon's balance, though, the smith knew his craft.
Long Swords are better in literally every way than short swords, so I buy one each for Kaelyn and William. It's a +10% better chance to hit, roughly, and an additional quarter extra damage with every hit that lands, so not a negligible boost by any measure. I have no idea why the cutlass is so much more expensive when it's a marginal improvement on the Short Sword and worse than the Long Sword. Now that we've got some new tools for murdering with, let's go murder some criminals.
Hm, just three pirates. Hope we didn't just stab some dudes who were waiting for the coach, maybe something's up with the house they were standing in front of?
Well, that's shady! Let's go canvas the village until we find the mayor and then put the fear of Kor into him.
If we attempt the fight the kid here, we get stopped before we murder any children, thankfully, and nothing happens. If we "surrender" instead, we gain Assessment which works a bit differently than in Krondor. Primarily in that it no longer requires wasting an action on it, you just right-click an enemy and, depending on skill and range, get some of their combat stats.
Alright, so maybe the mayor's not living on the outskirts, but next to the central square with its nice well instead?
So one thing that's different about dialogue from Krondor to Antara is that in Krondor, most dialogues had alternates for if you had completed their objectives already or had otherwise already gotten some sort of information relevant to them. For instance, on Timirianya, Dhatsavan would have different initial dialogue if we'd already found the Cup of Rlnn Skrr by the first time we talked to him. Here, on the other hand, the first dialogue always seems to play and then you get the second dialogue when you try to talk to them again immediately afterwards. It seems like a bit of an odd step back, writing-wise. Now if we visit him again...
Sadly we can't arrest him or stab him ourselves, so let's find someone who can.
As a better example of what I just said about first and second dialogues, we bump into these guys around the corner. Instead of telling them about Penwhite and the Mayor immediately, we instead get sent away and then if we come back, we get verbose.
There's no immediate reward to this other than a warm fuzzy sense that you helped ensure a prick is going to get their dick kicked in by a noble's footsoldiers.
Still, we have a couple more places to visit, after all we have cows to save and Kaylen said she was headed here, so we may as well finish off her chore.
If we then haul the pelts out of Kaelyn's inventory and click them on his door, we get 35 coins for them. It's not huge, but it'll pay for a few rations. Lastly, we turn around a few corners to find Doc Myers.
This unlocks a reward if we go back to Briala, which we will, eventually. Not a huge one, but I have memories of this game being able to be exceptionally cruel at times, so I don't plan to take any risks. In any case, since we can't go any further south without ending up in the ocean, let's turn west towards Sortiga.
Unless any quest objectives suggest a better route, the plan is right now to hit towns in the order of Sortiga, Ligano, Imazi, Aliero, Midova, Panizo and probably a brief jaunt back to Briala to collect that reward from the farmer.
As I leave Balmestri I decide to take in the limited countryside a bit rather than immediately heading west down the road, as I do so, however, I spot something odd in the distance.
Unwittingly, a memory surfaces, and I remember these enemies creeping me the fuck out as a kid.
They're not very scary, but they're just so gross! Make them go away! Thankfully the party's perfectly capable of just hitting them until they withdraw back under the ground. Brrrr.
For a while, it's just more pirates and bandits on the road west, nothing of any note. Beat them up, take their pocket money and fish and move onwards.
This thing is another temporary booster potion that gives an unspecified bonus to Lockpicking and Gambling. It'd be better if I knew when it was necessary to beat a trap or lock, but with the way the mechanics work and without a super-comprehensive data-mined FAQ, I just don't have any fucking clue when it's useful and I'll probably just end up selling this.
This road has a lot of side paths, and only one or two of them don't have a reward, a fight or both at the end.
This one contains some new enemies! You'd be forgiven for thinking these guys are cave men or apes, but they're actually "Montari," a non-human species that we'll learn more about a bit later in the update. Mechanically they work the exact same as humans except that they tend to have less health than human enemies. Human enemies usually go down in about four swipes, Montari in three.
Also hot damn these guys were carrying some sweet loot! Upgraded shields for Kaelyn and William and a new tier of armor!
DA: 35%; H: 15
Description: The leather armor, its stiff leather plates bound together by thin metal strips, conveyed a certain measure of danger. The reinforcing studs helped deflect incomingblades and suggested the wearer wsn't someone to be trifled with. It wasn't pretty, but it did the job.
Protection: 9%; Hardness: 20
Description: Shields like this one were small, lightweight, and standard issue among Imperial foot soldiers. While the soldiers liked their utility, the Imperial Army liked their low cost.
Available: Chapter 1
Leather Armor is both harder to break and offers almost a third more protection than basic Leather Jerkins, while Small Shields offer about the same damage reduction as Wooden Shields but have about twice the Hardness and will thus offer said protection for longer.
And they're also guarding a chest! How much better could it g-
So, you might think: "Only a single busted sword? Putting a high-damage trap on that is just cruel!" Except the twist is that unlike in Krondor, where you could sometimes tank a high-tier trap to get a leg up in terms of gear or money, like on the first level of the Mac Mordain Cadal, in Antara if a chest blows up? It also blows up the contents. This, combined with a lack of comprehensive game info, also means that it's a lot harder to tell if it's worth your time to reload fifty times to try and break open one of these or if all that got blown up was a wheel of cheese and a wooden stick.
Traps also seem to be universally rougher. In Krondor, most traps would generally stop at taking off about 3/4's of a starting party's health, with a few exceptions that would just completely krangle anything but the most hex-edited, busted-ass party imaginable. Here, I've only run into a couple of traps so far, but they universally left everyone in the red and killed at least one party member into the Near-Death state.
These pirates are also guarding a trapped chest, but we're not visiting them just to watch me get blown up by a trap.
Despite the close quarters, three goddamn mages means I can't keep them all in check at once and they get off several spells, mostly just Unseeing Eye, but one of them also casts...
The absolutely saddest fireball I've ever seen, unfortunately it does a non-sad 30 points of damage, which is about twice as much as if one of the pirates had just whacked Kaelyn with their sword, which drops her and, once again, forces me to spend valuable Senwater since we just sent the only doctor in the region up to Briala.
Up here we get ambushed by yet more pirates, it's a perfectly standard fight except that by sheer luck, I noticed Aren actually learned a couple of new spells in time for this fight. Don't ask me how long ago he learned them, because the little "bwommm" sound that indicates he researched up his magic skills plays every so often and indicates nothing of interest, so I might've well missed it ages ago.
There's Unseeing Eye which we noted a while back, in lieu of real "fuck you" spells like Grief from Krondor, it'll probably be my go-to if any single large enemies come at us.
Aaaaaaaaand Lightning Bolt which absolutely fucks and is my new go-to. Two casts of it will take down some enemies and others will need two casts and a light poke from one of the melee characters. This vastly simplifies combat and also gives Aren something useful to do on those first turns where I decide to have the party hang back and let enemies come to me.
Also it's weird to me how the spell effects in Antara simultaneously look more crisp and more primitive than in Krondor. In Krondor they tended to look like a blurry mess but they absolutely had more size and weight to them. A Flamecast was a fireball the size of someone's torso, etc.
About halfway between Balmestri and Sortiga, I notice a canyon running into the cliffs to the north and decide that it's probably worth taking a look at it.
Turns out there's another cave there! And fuuuuuuuuuuuck exploring this place. Like, in Krondor every indoor area, whether it was a cave, a mine or the dungeons of a fortress was composed of right angles which wasn't very verisimillitudinous, but meant that exploration was relatively simple and maps relatively easy to parse.
Look at this fucking mess of a map. Half the time it doesn't map the wall of a corridor as I move through it, and do you see all those little off-shoot corridors it looks like I haven't bothered to explore?
They're these little "half" corridors that can't be entered and which a sane map would just parse as a wall! But nope, they gotta be on there to confuse the hell out of me!
The encounters inside are, at least, relatively simple. A pair of Maslith groups and a pair of Carlith groups, the Masliths do unfortunately mean I gotta do some poison recovery afterwards, but it's a minor drain on my Senwater supplies. Plus there are, at least, a few boxes of loot in here.
Also none of them explode, they're only locked, thank God.
The red stone is a ruby, obviously just for selling, while the blue stone is a Sapphire Shieldstone. Shieldstones are temporary defenses against elemental damage types and exist in Sapphire(Cold), Ruby(Fire), Diamond(Electric) and Emerald(Poison) variants. Of course, for them to be useful you generally need to know when you're facing someone with the requisite type of elemental damage, and enemy mages sadly don't advertise what sort of bullshit they plan to pull. At least with poisonous creatures like Masliths the emerald version might be useful if I ever find any.
The bottle is just wine, which, like getting drunk in Krondor, aids healing if you get sauced before resting at an inn. I suppose it's handy if you want to get your money's worth from it. Lastly there's a pickaxe which can in some caves, but none of the ones we've encountered so far, be used to mine gemstones out of the walls.
Now, considering that this is a labyrinthine dirthole full of poisonous lizards and unattended boxes full of gems, you might be excused for thinking that this is merely some sort of abandoned mine or videogame logic dungeon scorned by all right-thinking sapients, but no! There's actually someone down here! Just chilling next to a pack of aggressive Masliths!
Summary: The Montari we're seeing on the surface are out there raiding because they're desperate lower-cast Montari faced with starvation, said starvation is caused because some dickhead noble has diverted a major river to irrigate fields and fill his moat. Also all the masliths down here? Favored Montari food animals.
Welcome to the Montari they're like... I don't know. Rat people? Gopher people? Someone help me out here.
In any case I'm beating feet out of this maze. I was literally stuck in here for close to half an hour bumping off the walls and getting lost in the dark.
And then I decide to take a break because I'm still only slightly over halfway between Balmestri and Sortiga. It's hard to say if Antara is more content-dense than Krondor, but there's definitely a decent amount to do and at this rate it feels we'll be hitting about an update per town, not counting whatever re-visits and updates each chapter should happen to bless us with.