|Hey, around here we call it the "Lake of the Ozarks," bub.|
We've all experienced it in games like Skyrim, Dragon Age, and Fallout 4: a long stretch of time between quests where we focus on something nebulous, like "character development." We sort through junk on the workbench, smelt our accumulated ore, circle around our NPC friends to see if they have anything new, run around to a few shops, get a little bit of training...and suddenly it's time to go to bed, and you realize you've accomplished nothing in terms of the game's plot.
Contrast this with the stark efficiency of the "between quest" time in games like Wizardry or Pool of Radiance, where you return to the town (or town level) and very methodically go through the same 5-minute routine: heal, rest, level up, identify and sell equipment, get the next quest, get back on the road.
Fate is the first game in my chronology to really support this kind of aimless dithering. Perhaps the two Might & Magic titles came closest. There have been games in which you might grind between quests, of course, which is a bit different but nonetheless a step along the way. In the 20 hours I've played since the last posting, I've accomplished almost nothing in terms of the game's actual plot except to make myself feel that I'm in a better position to pursue it.
It's probably a time for a recap of Fate's plot, so here it is: Winwood, a record store owner in the "real" world, has been sucked into the land of Fate for reasons unknown by an evil mage named Thardan. Having managed to evade Thardan's forces on the night of his arrival, he has assembled a party of adventurers and embarked on solving the mysteries of the plot. Before he could do anything else, he needed to get the "Cavetrain" system operating throughout the land, as the place he appeared was cut off from the rest of the world except by train. Thardan had apparently deliberately sabotaged it to prevent Winwood from leaving the beginning area.
Once the rest of the world opened up, Winwood explored and found a variety of mysteries. Chief among them is the city of Cassida, where the population is absurdly rude to visitors--a situation that seems to have something to do with a statue in the center of the town. In the city of Valvice, Winwood's party heard of a mage named Mandrag who had arrived fleeing Thardan's forces and had disappeared in the grottos beneath the city. Winwood managed to find and free Mandrag, who revealed that he was on a quest to find "Bergerac's Heart."
|Mandrag's quest comes into context.|
After that, most of the NPC dialogue centered on lands across the sea: a "Forbidden Zone" erected by Thardan and a city called Katloch. As I closed the last post, I had saved enough money to purchase a ship and hit the waves.
This is where the trouble started. I didn't think I was quite ready to try my luck on the high seas. I had barely mapped the mainland. My characters where horribly under-developed, some with as many as 35 upgrades waiting to be allocated. I also had been advised by commenters to periodically re-visit the altar in the Alarian Vaults. I felt I could do better on weapons for some of my characters, and I wanted to check out the various smithies. Finally, I didn't think I had exhausted the hint threads on the Forbidden Zone and Katloch.
|Sure, you're sorry.|
My first step was therefore to head back to Larvin and the vaults. Around this time, Zardas posted an exhaustive list of improvable skills and the places that improve them most. I should have probably condemned that as spoilers, but it did save me from wasting my improvement slots. Seeing that most of the best guilds were in places I've yet to explore, I decided to use the Guild of Masters in Larvin to bring everyone's "skill"" attribute to 99 (Larvin is the best location to train that attribute) and then worry about the other attributes later.
It took me a while to get there because visiting that guild means traveling through several teleporters and a catacombs maze. When I arrived, I soon found out that progression in attributes is capped by character race and class. I had expected to spend half or more of my upgrades here, but each character ended up spending only 10-12 slots before they maxed in the ability. Lowest was my human enchantress, who stopped at 45. Highest (oddly) was my Laurin banshee, who went all the way to 99. This is particularly cool because she has a "greater melee" weapon called a "Vixhammer" that can hit every creature on the combat screen.
|Dichara takes out an entire company of mages by herself.|
I spent a lot of time trying to get NPCs to train my characters. Unfortunately, I found a plethora of them who would train intelligence and wisdom, which aren't really that important, and hardly any who would train dexterity, which I really need (several of my characters are still in the teens). I went back to the altar and got a few attribute upgrades there. Before long, my overburdened characters leveled up, and their new encumbrance calculations put them back in the green again.
After that, I hit the wilderness. I don't really know why. I already knew that I wasn't going to map the whole thing. I guess maybe I thought I'd meet some NPCs on the road and kill a few birds with one stone. My inability to tear myself away from mapping, however futile, occupied most of my time during this session. I also discovered that I hadn't finished mapping Fainvil, so I had to finish that.
|My map of the world, which I'm going to stop working on any minute now.|
I did learn some key things about the world. First, I had assumed that the "overseas" portion would take place on a completely different map, but now that I've traced the southeast coast of the mainland, I'm not so sure. There's plenty of room to fit some islands in there.
Second, it's clear that rivers and forests slice up the geography more acutely than in the starting area. On the map above, you can see an entire river whose path I traced while I was just looking for a way to cross it. All the mapping I did of the forests in the middle-eastern side happened when I was looking to cut straight through to the west, but I got caught up in a kind-of forest maze. Lesson learned: stick to the roads.
Finally, the days of finding random treasure in the wilderness seem to be over. The starting area had all kinds of useful weapons and armor stuck into niches in the mountains and forests, but I haven't discovered a single thing in the bigger portion of the world.
Of course, I killed a lot of people, rats, and snakes during these explorations. I've long passed the point in which wilderness encounters--even dozens of mages--are any kind of threat to me. Reflecting this relative ease, I only leveled up once or twice per character.
|An optimistic single wizard tries to rob me.|
My explorations did lead me to the extra intelligence that I needed, particularly once I found a beggar on the road north of Cassida. Between him and wandering mages, I learned that the people of Cassida used to be friendly when they were ruled by the wise mage Bergerac. Thardan, fearing the growing power of the city, turned Bergerac to stone (he's the statue in the center of town) and made off with his heart. As part of this curse, the hearts of the people of Cassida turned to metaphorical "stone." Anyway, Mandrag's quest to find "Bergerac's heart" now makes more sense.
Clearly, I'm going to have to solve this quest and get Bergerac to join my party, as it's said that only a Cassidan mage can pierce Thardan's "Forbidden Zone." Some NPC had told me to seek out a druid at Sorion Lake for more information, so after I'd finished my coastal mapping, I started using gems to find lakes. After one false trail led me to "Moron Lake" (top screenshot), I eventually found the right one.
|How do I get to the little island without a bridge?|
The druid was wandering around an island in the center. He said that a Cassidan mage could break the sphere surrounding the Forbidden Zone, but he would also need the "legendary Moonwand." So now I have two quests: find Bergerac's heart, and find this Moonwand. I probably need to make sure there aren't any more dialogues related to these items before I cast off in the ship I've since re-named Lucky Lady.
|An old druid gives some advice.|
- My party is fighting a constant war with rain. Ever since I got the "Elemental" school spell "Rainzap," I've been casting it whenever it starts raining. Inevitably, it only lasts about 20 minutes before the downpour starts again. Most of my banshee's spellcasting is going into this one spell.
- Speaking of banshees, the ones in the wilderness used to talk with me on occasion, but for some reason during this exploration session, all they want to do is attack. Even "gral wizards" and "black wizards" are occasionally up for some conversation.
|That's not very ladylike.|
- Like Valvice, Fainvil is full of pirates and corsairs. It makes sense in Valvice, because it sits on the coast, but Faivil is pretty far inland, with only a little trickle of a river. It's hard to imagine pirate ships coming so far upriver.
- The game has featured some scantily-clad women so far, but no overt nudity--until it arrived randomly on this password request screen. It doesn't get more gratuitous than this; there's no particular reason for a woman to even be on this screen. No, I don't mind it, but as a kid it wouldn't have done anything for me but increase the chances that my mother would walk in the room at the wrong time and send me to Bible Camp for the summer.
Ready for some good news? I dislocated my kneecap! (Put down sand in your driveways, my friends.) That means work and travel are canceled for a couple of weeks, and you know what's going to take its place.