Part 31: The Great Map Update #1Update 027 The Great Map Update #1
Hello everyone! At long last is the promised maps for, well, everything up to now. I will be dividing everything by Act, starting with the Towns and Dungeons, then moving to the outdoors.
There were also a couple points where I found something new, or just finished fleshing out an area, so I'm going to include those in the next update.
Anyways, on with the mappage!
ACT 1 THE BARRIERS
I've said a bit about the construction of Fort Ganrick in the LP proper, but I just wanted to reinforce and remind you guys about some things. First is that the initial combat is difficult, but completely skippable. To avoid the trigger for it, just leave through the Mess Hall at a angle downwards.
The Hidden Entrance to the Nephil Fort is supposed to be one of the first places the party is supposed to go. And the hint as to its location is to be found in the scroll dropped by the Nephar Chieftan that attacks Fort Ganrick. It teaches a couple things. First, Secret Passages exist, and that they will always be two tiles wide. No exceptions. Second is that there can be multiple paths to reach your goal, it's only a matter of choice and perseverance. (Or you could be like me, and do everything.) Thirdly is passwords. Here's the first, and it won't be the last by a long shot.
Oh, and there's a Magic Axe to be found by backtracking from the next dungeon. Who says backtracking is bad?
As the first real town we see, Fort Draco is a bit of a hub until we can get to Formello. Basic supplies are sold here, food through the Inn, weapons, training, and a boat store. The Fort serves an important narrative purpose as well, being one of the guard posts against Empire aggression. Of course, past that, it's nothing important. Even the upgrade here is overshadowed by ones later.
The 'dungeon' under Fort Draco is an interesting secret. No one outright tells you that it's there, but a complete exploration will reveal at least one entrance (over in the north-west corner), and possibly the one in the inn. The third entrance, in the store house is blocked off as I'll show at the end of the update. Also leaving via the east side teaches the player that just because you enter in one location, you don't have to leave in the same one.
Oh yes, the GIFTS. Vogel's pet monsters in all his RPGs of note. It also provides us with our first real 'fetch quest'. In this case, we need to raid the lair of their foes, the Aranea, and rescue a clutch of eggs. In return they will let us loot the bodies of some Empire Scouts for their Blue Pass. The same Blue pass we can get elsewhere in Act 1. Horray for optional dungeons!
On the other hand, the Aranea Lair is one of the first ones to introduce 'dark' dungeons, as well as having a concrete objective. Get in, steal the eggs, get out, and maybe talk to the Spider Spy in the opposite corner as you go.
There isn't much to say about this dungeon, except to show players familiar with Exile 1 that the spirit and ideals of Sss-Thss haven't been destroyed just his body.
This place serves one purpose only to act as a 'random' store for Act 1.
Tor is here for the people of Exile 1 to recall. And the Salamander is such a huge Out-Of-Level encounter it's not even funny.
The Lamia pit is another OOL encounter that serves no purpose except to, well, be there. You only get to it by boat, but it is also something that the later game lacks just random things, places and entities doing their own thing until your party drops by for a 'chat.'
These sorts of places are missing past the first quarter of the game, but in that, I think there's a purpose. No longer is the party just... exploring, but rather they have a specific end goal in mind, and small places like this just get passed over when confronted with the over reaching plot.
Speaking of Plot, the Blasted Fort is the first 'Quest' Dungeon, and the only one in Act 1. And by 'Quest', I mean that it's part of the series of objectives needed to raise your security clearance in this game to the point where you can complete your goals.
It also has our first Random Basilisk of the game. It won't be our last.
Uh... We haven't actually been to Solberg's Tower yet. We didn't have the clearance required. Moving on!
Another 'Teaching' location, this non-dungeon exists for one purpose only. To teach players that some places aren't marked on the map, and will only be revealed by talking to certain people. Oh, and it provides some Alchemical ingredients, but who cares about those?
The first instance of requiring 'Magi' Clearance that the average player will find, the Lair of Motrax also (re)indroduces us to the Dragons of Exile. But most of the interesting stuff happens behind the Clearance Points, so I will be coming back here later.
Have I mentioned how many places we're only supposed to go into once we're in Act 4? Well, here we are, in another one. And the only things worth getting are the Drake Eggs for the discount on Mind Duel, and the Drakeskins Boots.
The Verdant Valley is a mixed blessing. On one hand, it's an excellent nearby source of XP to grind, but on the other hand, it's a gargantuan maze, and very easy to not only get lost in, but to advance so far as to be unable to get to a safe exit. And the two sub-dungeons range from 'tight but doable' (The Bandits) to 'ohgodtheburning' (Steam Cavern).
Unique to the Bandit Hideaway as near as I can tell is that you can look 'out' the windows in the upper level, and 'see' the pathways below. It's just a trick of the map construction, but it's a nice touch.
At long last, Formello.
Formello. Formello. Formello. How awkward you are. This town is the gateway to Act 2, and the sudden events that transpire here are well-talked about in the thread already. But part of the problem with this town is the wasted space. Of all the cities that have grown from Exile 1 to Exile 2 with the improved map limitations, Formello has it worst, with all the blank space in the est end of the town. Now, I understand that the original Formello also had this 'internal garden', but one of the things about RPGs is that we are not expected to take what we are shown literally. Formello worked fine as a mid-sized map even with the garden because we could be asked, as players, to imagine that it was bigger than it actually was.
Imagine this, then: Formello uses a mid-sized map, like say, the Lair of Motrax. By removing one or both of the Storerooms, the little guard posts at each of the doors, shrinking the inn by about 4 tiles from the east, moving the hidden Library to say the area I will mention soon, and just shrinking all the empty space in town, you get all the same functionality without being so damn open.
But what of Bon-Ihrno's passage? That's easy. Make it into a dungeon of its own.. And store the Ritual of Sanctification in there, hidden in the Small-sized map as a bonus for thorough exploration. This mini-dungeon would be transitory, more than anything else. Make it perma-dark, just to enhance the feeling of.. distance, and perhaps even use hidden teleporters to artificially increase the distance you need to go.
But no teleporter mazes. Fuck that noise.
Here's what I am trying to get at. Formello tries to do too many things, be too many things all at once, and because of that, it suffers from some serious 'bloat' in terms of design. Paring it down a bit could have helped.
I'm providing both clean and annotated maps for all the Acts as they can get a little messy when I start drawing lines and writing over everything.
From a design perspective, this map shows off just how 'squared' the maps are designed to be. The larger, grand caves that span multiple maps are not apparent here, though the long road south of Fort Draco can give the impression of one. It makes each region self-contained, especially the upper-right map, which only has one way in and one way out the rest is maze. This is more a fault of the map engine, which makes it difficult to plan out larger volumes without some measure of pen-and-paper work.
I'm not saying it's a bad design, mind you. The containment of the Party in these 4.25 maps helps keep their focus on what's in front of them objectively speaking, and doesn't mean that they will miss something by wandering 100 miles off course.
Another thing of note is something that I've touched on already. The initial map with Forts Draco and Ganrick has a density of dungeons in it that will never be seen again. Forts Ganrick and Draco, the Bandit Hideout under Draco, the Rear Entrance, the Nephilim Fort, the Verdant Valley (and the Steam Caves and Bandit Home), the Homestead, the GIFTS Cave, the Aranea Layer makes for 11 maps worth of exploration and encounters once off the overworld.
I know that front-ending the game to draw people in is a good thing (it happened to me!), but when you keep playing through the game and realize that minor, tiny little places are turned form small dungeon/towns and into flagged encounters, you start to miss the little things.
ACT 2 BLACK WATERS
Unlike Act 1, the maps of Act 2 drive the player forward, ever forward. Plenty of points of no return, but each map segment tends to be self contained. When you see waterfalls at teh bottom of the map, make sure you've explored everywhere on that map first.
This map exists for one purpose only to give you a boat. And because of that, I feel justified in making my previous statements regarding Formello and 'bloat', because this is just an addition to it. If the passage at the end of Formello was expanded into a full 'maze' or series of tunnels that led to this little area in one corner, I feel that would be a good use of map-space, a literal 'light at the end of the tunnel' so to speak.
An entire map devoted to a single conversation. Yes, you do meet your first 'in-the-flesh' Vahnatai here, and yes, it's at the far end of the first lake. But once again, why is this a separate location?
Uhh.... We haven't been here yet. Well, technically we were, but we couldn't get past the protections around this place. We will come back here later in Act 4. Until then... MYSTERY!
Another one-note tiny dungeon. Although this one does have Hydras in it, so at least that's something new. Just remember to grab at least two Hexagon Bars before you go, lest you do the un-fun kind of backtracking.
And we're right back to the good stuff! The River Fort is the first major roadblock in Act 2, and it earns it. When you look at it, you can see that it's been designed with a purpose, and while the effects of time have eroded the Fort's walls, it still holds the river and prevents people from going up or down stream. Although needing to run over to another dungeon to get the proper key to open the locks on water is a pain.
Here is also where we first encounter hostile Vahnatai! It just goes to show that not all of these mysterious new species are sages out to indirectly mess with you. Some just want to stab you dead for the crimes that you (haven't) committed!
Little place in the middle of nowhere that you have to walk through a swamp to get to? You'd think that there was something important here, but that's not the case. This little place is purely for flavour (and a bit of XP from the insects), and because of that, it's an excellent example of how to do small places properly. Unlike the first two 'towns' at the start of the Act.
Completely optional, this place is good for XP, as well as a containing the first Crystal Souls you will meet. Here, it is firmly established that there are multiple factions of Vahnatai and that the ones who are out to kill you haven't been keeping with their culture completely.
Of course, you have the option to not turn on the machines. Who knows what would happen to all those innocents then?
The Tomb of Dharis-Bok is the first 'solo' dungeon the player can encounter. While I've already talked about that in the relevant update, I just wanted to reiterate that you're supposed to be able to go through all this with just one person. The final event at the end is also very moody when you get a deeper realization of just how screwed up things are. Here's a Bok who just wants to be remembered before he dies, and the only ones left have never heard of him or his species before a month previous.
I don't care how much you may hate 3x3 puzzle rooms. Give Dahris-Bok his due.
A small dungeon with an intense fight between Hydras and Chitrachs helps break up the constant riverboating and waterfalls. That you can raid this place for food is a bonus, depending on how badly off you are. The hidden room still contains nothing of value.
Now, this is a transition done right!
Act 2 reinforces one simple fact you are going down. Every water fall is a further drop, every lake another layer. You are leaving all that you know and hold comfortable behind.
There is also a paucity of places to go. I can understand on some level the idea behind having all these little places you can visit, but they don't reinforce the notion of loneliness that I get from playing through this Act. This entire section should be about the idea that you are leaving civilization (such as it is) behind.
And yet we get signs of the opposite, but not enough. What I suppose could have worked, if emptiness wasn't workable, was more in the way of ruins. We only get glimpses of the Vahnatai here, small places, lost to the ages. I know that this region was on the outskirts of the territory of the Olgai tribe, so that limits what could have been there vs what should not have been.
Imagine if you will, that sometime after the River Fort, your way is blocked again. By a city tile this time. Except that this particular city is two tall, and is wall-to-wall with the cavern sides. This isn't outside the technical limitations of the engine, as we will eventually see.
And as the party enters, they enter into ruins. As they pick their way through the maze-like area, or just explore through it, they find signs of the people long vanished. And then as they leave the opposite end of the map and as they expect to come out into the overworld again, they enter a second ruined city map.
Make the place so huge that the PCs have not seen anything like it before. In this way you can see that even in their ruined state, these mysterious Vahnatai have the power to unmake Exile.
But maybe that's just 20 years of gaming experience talking.
ACT 3 THE TESTS
Avit is less a town, and more a collection of huts that aren't ready for their intended purpose. You're even told this straight out! But this town is a gateway, and while you can bypass it to get into the Vahnatai lands directly, doing so isn't in your best interest.
What's annoying about Avit, but makes perfect sense, is that there are no stores here. No where to drop off or identify all the junk you've picked up along the way, no trainers, no immediate rewards. In essence, Avit is the place where you stop to catch your breath before moving on to the real meat of the Act. And it's a slight burden in that regard.
And it's also the first impression that you get with the Vahnatai. And in that, while it doesn't disappoint, in retrospect, you are told flat out that these people are meant to be representatives of their species to the Humans (and Nephil and Slithzerikai).
Mancuso is Mertis. Well, not exactly, but they both serve the same fundamental purpose both in story and out. In the universe of the game, they are both semi-isolated farming communities, with no tactical or strategic use. They break up the long stretches of no friendly places to stop and rest by simply being there. Of course, Mancuso has probably the best upgrade for weapons in the game, the Protection bonus, so that puts it above Mertis in that regard.
As the Vahnatai equivalent of the Tower of the Magi, this place actually hasn't been a part of the plot yet. It's major resident, Rentar-Ihrno is the one we're eventually going to have to talk to, and while I've noted her position on the map, we actually haven't talked to her yet.
It's small, it's compact, and it does offer non-plot related services, although that is limited to the Soul Crystal spells.
And by the time I'm planning on going back, I will have a way around the 2gp charge of the boatman!
Olgai is the Hub City of Act 3 and the Vahnatai Lands. And it also has the Olgai Vahnatai Council Chambers which will rival the Castle for plot relevant events as the game advances.
However, this is a point where more would have been better. Olgai is a medium-sized map, and fully half of it is taken up by the Council Chambers. Here is a place where having more room to work with could have been a boon to the game by allowing the game to show off a city that is growing, with more civilian Vahnatai just doing their thing and hating on the Humans for stealing the Crystal Souls. Instead, we get this small and tightly designed town, which will have to make due.
The Resting Cell provides interesting context for the Coffin Cave. Here we are told exactly what we are doing, and why. And it turns out, we were doing the Vahnatai a favour!
That the reward for killing the two Cryohydras in the back of the dungeon is a Soul Crystal is nice, but my playthrough style means I won't be using it as often as I should.
Also when I came back to take a proper picture of the place for the map, I found out that this dungeon has been tagged as Abandoned! That's two down, a lot to go!
The three tests are part of a classic puzzle orientation, Skill, Magic and Combat. Well, it tries at least. Of the three, I enjoy the Test of Mind the most, as the unique resolution to the 3x3 puzzle room gives it points, and even the utter mind-numbing bullshit that is the immediate follow-up can't bring it down.
The Test of Speed also has a dear place in my heart, enough to create a video for it. Quickfire is a thing of beauty and running from it puts a nice twist on the 'advancing wall of doom' that other games have to push the players forward. That you can get a breather halfway through by simple expedient of closing the doors behind you is a stroke of design that so few can do nowadays, though of course, there is more fire ahead...
But because of this, the... competency of the Test of Strength relegates it to being the weakest of the three tests. We've spent this entire game killing things, and now you want me to kill some more, except using just one person? Alright then, it's just the usual. Which isn't what's needed, I think. But aside from a combat gauntlet, how would one measure Strength?
And here's Act 3. There a bit more to the west and to the North, but nothing we can do at this point in time thanks to roadblocks. There isn't a lot going on here, which is nicely explained by the revelation that the Vahnatai are awakening thanks to the theft of their Boks.
But Act 3 is also where we get to our usual density of 'places' per map. From the 'very high' of Act 1 to the 'low' of Act 2, this segment provides a more accurate notion of what we can expect from the rest of the game.
As Act 4 progresses, I'll be coming back here a few times to fill out the missing pieces of the map, and move on with the plot.
ACT 4 CRYSTAL SOULS
The Tower has expanded much over its Exile 1 version, but in this case it's 'more of the same' rather than a complete refurbishment. The Demon holding area has been replaced by something we don't have access to yet, and the personal quarters of X has been shuffled around to make room for the holding cells and the teleporter back to the Olgai Vahnatai.
Welcome back to Exile, here's everything you'll need, including improved spells, a 'Random' Shop, and a place to dump your loot.
And that message can only be seen if you Magic Map the Tower.
The first dungeon after coming back from Act 3, the Serpent Cult is also an annoying one as it requires the Ritual of Sanctification (back in Formello!) to complete. But aside from that, it's a good way to ease the players back into having more immediate objectives now that they've been handed one of the primary end-game goal.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. The only reason to go in here is to finish what you started and couldn't finish. It'll be something of a theme for this LP.
Mertis occupies an unusual spot. There's nothing here worth buying, as the Tower and Silvar have better selections and yet its existence as a full town is justified by the Prisoner and his knowledge of the Grey Empire Pass. Which I don't have yet. Otherwise, this entire place could have been reduced to an Event like Fort Exile.
Short and sweet with a good 'boss' fight against all those witches at the end, with the reward being the Identify Spell? What's not to like?
Silvar has a lot going on, and not just with the whole hundreds of unseen refugees thing going on in the lower corner. There is the mission being handed out by Aarwen, the refugees, the fact that there's a Slith training people of all things, a boat store, the refugees, a hidden thieves hall, etc...
And Yet Silvar doesn't have the same 'scale' of wasted space that Formello had, simply because of the refugee quarter. You see it, and it's larger than life. Yes, there are empty spaces, but they still have a purpose. That empty quarter below the boat store? It has a reinforced road leading to the water to show you were the boats go and come from.
Take one city. Blow it up. Strew rubble, bodies and breakable walls everywhere. Populate with two groups at the opposite ends who would like nothing more to kill the other and you and you wind up with Cotra.
I've said a bit about some places being too big, or too small, but I think in a way, Cotra is the payoff for that. Here is this huge map we've come to expect from full cities (Silvar being the last example), and now it's ruined.
That you get to beat the Empire forces that helped destroy it is only icing on the cake.
A 'Hidden' Dungeon, this brutal battleground gives you some closure for the killing of Cotra, and rewards you with a Blue Empire Pass. Good XP for all the high-level enemies.
Contrary to the image name, this is actually FORT DUVNO, not Dranlon. Anyways, Fort DDUVNO probably got away with the fewest changes out of all the locations carried over from Exile. Same size, same layout, the only real difference is the inclusion of the refugee camp, and the change in stores along the north edge of the fort. Oh, and there isn't a Nephil prisoner in the cells any more.
Speaking of Nephil, Prisoners, and rescuing them...
Didn't I do this exact quest on a different map last game?
I've noted a couple things here that I'll be bringing attention to next time but for now, you only need to know two things. #1 is that the purpose of this dungeon is to kill Sliths. The second is that both levels are now considered Abandoned.
Not much to say here, this is pretty much an evolution of Exile 1's Outside Maps.
Oh, did I mention Exile is HUGE? Because it's HUGE. Gargantuan in a way that few games nowadays can compare to, with their fancy 3d graphics.