Part 81: Act Three Chapter Seventeen - Gauntlet
We're in an underground Illefarn temple/fortress deep in the Vale of Merdelain. This is the lair of the King of Shadows - but he's nowhere to be found.
: So the Tome was useless, then.
: We wouldn't even be here without it, you idiot girl, so I suggest-
We're in the middle of hostile territory and these two still can't put their bickering aside for one minute.
: And maybe Aldanon chose to send us here - or Sand. Or who knows, maybe it was you and Sand, tricking us all into coming here.
: Even with the Tome's power, the wards around Illefarn remain strong, indeed. Finding the King of Shadows will be even harder than I thought.
: Hard? It looks like there's only one place to go - straight ahead. I don't think he's trying to hide at all.
: I don't think he is, either. And I think there's more than walls blocking our path ahead.
Yes, we have unfinished business with our former companion.
: You think they're here?
: No... but the King of Shadows will not risk harm to himself when others may suffer for him.
And our party continues to disintegrate.
: If she snuck off and took all the equipment she had, I'm going to be angry.
: Taken? What, by the King of Shadows?
: Know that I think we must be on our guard - and our wills must be focused on the task ahead. If we allow ourselves to be divided, in group or mind, then he will win.
Easier said than done.
We choose a party from the eight companions still remaining. Ammon and Zhjaeve are compulsory, so you're best off picking two tanks - Khelgar and Construct, of course.
Don't do as I did the first time around and pick an all-spellcaster party.
This is the penultimate area in the game and it's called 'the Gauntlet,' for very good reason.
Taking even a few steps along these stone walkways spawns in two dozen Bone Spiders all around us. They're not tough but there are lots of them and it's easy to get your front-liners trapped behind your casters.
Traps abound. This door is locked, trapped, and there are more traps all around it as well.
The second room has wraiths supported by some extra-strong skeletal archers.
You may be tempted to rest at this point. Don't!
Unlike every other area in the game, resting in the Merdelain ruins causes a random encounter to spawn in on top of you. Sometimes it's pretty easy - Dread Wraiths, perhaps - but sometimes you get a nightwalker.
The secret is to rest in the light... this reduces the chances of being ambushed, but not by much.
Better yet, don't rest at all. You're Level 20 - act like it!
Though you may have some difficulty if, up until this point, you've cruised through the game with the massive firepower of an all-spellcaster party and abused the free-resting mechanic of most of the areas.
There's a big black cloud in the other room, blocking the stairs up.
Walk into it and
you're teleported here. Well, at least we're on the upper floor now.
Here is where we'd fight Daerred and his troupe if we had given them fake adventures/sent them to their deaths.
This tileset is really beautiful - nice lighting, nice textures, interesting tile choice. A shame we only see it right at the end of the game.
Our next fight is with some of Garius' old Blade Golems. No match for our Construct.
Another cloud in the corridor beyond.
We're now on the other side of the map.
The Gauntlet is one big area. The whole level is littered with corpses, all of which can be looted for potions, weapons, magic items... nothing special or unique, though. Grab the consumables and ignore the weapons, since you won't get the opportunity to sell these.
Remember to save often. Crashing due to excessive object placement and losing all your progress is always an unpleasant experience.
This room is full of Greater Shadows.
And there's a nightwalker as well, even better.
Outside brings us to the main hall, where we fought the archers and found the first black cloud, but now we're on the balcony.
We're ambushed by Elite Vampires and a Shadow Priest. Be careful: the vampire monks can really put a damper on your plans. Savour the priest, he's your last - but don't let him get a Destruction off on your main character at the last minute.
After a few seconds this lich comes sauntering around the corner.
It's not good practice for high-level undead like vampires and lichs to not have names. These are powerful creatures that deserve to be the centrepieces of their own adventures, not disposable baddies on the way to a greater evil.
However, it makes for a more challenging dungeon, which I've been whining about since this game began. Take too long with the vampires and the lich'll start throwing some Meteor Swarms around.
The third and final cloud...
...dumps us in the middle of a pack of Mummy Lords.
Mummies are vulnerable to fire, so a couple of Flame Strikes will quickly put these undead clerics to bed.
That is, if Zhjaeve has any spells left. We've already used up some of our Ritual powers - but we're close to the end, now, so let loose with everything you've got.
This means that the Gauntlet is the one area where Ammon truly shines, since he has infinite castings of his invocations.
Definitely a good idea to rest before the final room. Save and reload if you have to - going in here without your full complement of spells is asking for trouble.
We'll spread our companions out around here. We're about to face our greatest challenge yet.
Apart from Tholapsyx the dragon.
And the two dragons we fought over Nolaloth's heart.
And the siege of Crossroad Keep.
: Our master is ready to emerge on this plane... all that he required is what you brought with you.
: You have served your purpose in coming here... but you do not need to keep living to fulfil that purpose, I think.
I'm not sure what he's talking about here, either. Possible the Tome of Iltkazar?
It doesn't matter, because we have bigger problems: three Shadow Reavers, all immortal, and all already firmly ensconced in their secret lair in the Vale of Merdelain.
No running, no evading the fight. It's us or them.
One of them (an 18th Level Sorcerer) teleports right into the middle of your party, while the other two faff around on the bridge.
You'd think that'd be a suicide move, what with Construct and Khelgar standing right there, but of course his immortality keeps him alive at the midway point and every time he gets 'killed' a wave of energy knocks the three of us over.
Which is why it's important to spread out. Zhjaeve and Ammon can get their True Name Scrolls out at a distance and start de-immortalising our Shadow Reaver pals.
Work quickly. There's three of them and the longer you take, the fewer characters you'll have to finally kill them.
The Sorcerer falls, but his friend in green (a Weapon Master) shows up just in time to finish off Khelgar.
The last reaver is a Cleric and tends to get stuck on the bridge. Zhjaeve reads out his True Name and puts an end to the Shadow Reavers once and for all.
I've got mixed feelings about the Gauntlet (like everything else in the game, it seems) - it's the one challenging dungeon in the game, true, and it is spookily atmospheric, but it's hard to get past the Trayus Academy overtones, you know?
It's an oversized labyrinth with a ton of monsters dumped into it and no puzzles or non-violent encounters in it at all. It's not as bad as KOTOR2's Academy, with its identikit Sith Lords and crudely-redrawn map sections; the undead do spawn in correctly and each fight has its own flavour, and there's neat tricks like with Daerred and the resting twist. But I can't shake the feeling it would have been better if it was a) a little more spaced out, so the engine doesn't groan so much under the strain, and b) a little more varied in its approach.
More puzzles, more stuff to read/examine/interact with, more environments instead of the same old gloomy tunnels. We're awfully dry for exploring the decaying underground ruins of an ancient civilisation corrupted by shadow magic and sinking into the swamp. I mean, if you're going to draw a full-circle parallel with the start of the game, you could make it a little clearer.
It's unfortunate because this is Obsidian's last chance to calm the player down from the epic Crossroad Keep siege and build up some dread for the final fight... but instead we're hurried along this gauntlet of monsters with no time to rest, pause and contemplate.
At least it was a challenge, I'll give it that.
Regardless: that's it. That's the Gauntlet. Nothing left in our way now.
Time to confront Black Garius - and the King of Shadows.