Man, is it misleading of me to put "Part 02" with the double digits like that. I don't know how much more of this game I can take. Or to be less pessimistic, how much more of this game I have left to conquer mercilessly. Either way, I want to try something new with this week's continued coverage of Troika's underexposed D&D epic The Temple of Elemental Evil.
What we have below is a sort of play-by-play of just one of the many challenging combat scenarios you will have to deal with at some point in the game. Though to be more fair this one is entirely optional because of its difficulty, which is why I chose to cover it. The goal is to reach a place called Imeryd's Run just outside of the village of Nulb, locate and kill a large fish so a pirate will give you his personal peg-thumbs up, improving your relation with the other pirates and opening up some possible side-quests. This quest is available as soon as you reach Nulb, but is beyond impossible for the party I had at that point (which were level 4).
Now, I don't claim to be any kind of whiz at this game. In fact, I don't doubt that blog duel sponsor and ToEE veteran ArbitraryWater could probably point out half a dozen occasions where I took an inefficient course of action or recklessly endangered my poor, put-upon forumite crew. This is simply a demonstration of the process behind each of these battles: Learning from mistakes, learning how the AI of each opponent works, learning which spells and skills are effective and which are less so, and figuring out if there's a way to win without just depending on everyone busting out the mad crits. There usually is, but you sometimes have to look hard for it. When you do though, man, does it feel great. That's ToEE boiled down to its essence, which is hopefully given some justice with the account to follow:
The Battle of Imeryd's Run - A Swampy Swashbuckling Swing-Ding
Our Stalwart Heroes:
- Mento, L5 Fighter. Feats: Longsword Focus/Specialization, Cleave, Power Attack.
- ArbitraryWater, L5 Fighter. Feats: Archer suite (Point Blank Shot, Multi Arrow), Cleave, Power Attack.
- Video_Game_King, L5 Wizard. Specializes in Conjuration (summoning), banned from Illusion/Transmutation. Currently capable of level 3 spells.
- ahoodedfigure, L5 Cleric. Mostly stocked with healing spells, such as Cure Serious Wounds.
- Claude, L3 Barbarian/L2 Rogue. Sneak Attacks and Barbarian Rage make for a useful combo.
(A note about Challenge Rating, or CR: This tells you how tough an opponent is, with the CR number ideally matching that of your average party level. My party level is 5, so I should be able to take on enemies on CR5 or below for example. Anything higher and I'm in trouble, but I'll also get a XP bonus out of it too. It's a neat risk/reward system, though of course you have no way of knowing what an enemy's CR actually is until you've beaten it. Such is life in ToEE land.)
- Large Frog: Always gets first attack. Generally fairly pathetic though; a low-level creature that mostly serves as an aperitif. CR 1.
- 4x Lizardmen: Low-level Fighter grunts. Generally have around 10-20HP each. CR 1 each.
- Lizardman Shaman: More HP, capable of curing unconscious enemy units. CR 3.
- Lizardman Berserker: Same HP as Shaman, more when enraged. Hits very hard. CR 3.
- The Sea Hag: About 50HP, does the same in damage per round to anyone within melee range. Will quickly kill anyone within two rounds. Also inflicts various poisons (which damage stats after a period) and a chance to paralyse. Absolutely brutal for characters of this level. CR 6.
- Goliath KingFrog: It has about 140HP, emerges from somewhere underwater towards end of first round. Will "fixate" on a specific PC and hound him. After attacking the target once, the frog will then attempt to grapple them, and then subsequently swallow them with the next attack. Swallowed characters take humongous amounts of damage and can barely do anything. For some reason, unbeknownst to me, this chosen character is - without exception - the cleric. CR 6 as well.
- Giant Gar: About 50HP, Quest target. About ten feet long, it hits hard and has a wide range. Isn't as tough as the Sea Hag or Goliath KingFrog, and actually stays out of combat as long as you avoid walking towards his lair, but is still a considerable threat and makes this battle significantly harder if provoked accidentally. CR 4 on its own.
The battle always begins with the Large Frog in the south part of this small, swampy area. Unfortunately, the Sea Hag, all four Lizardmen and the Lizardman Shaman are aware of your presence and will run in from the west to enter melee with whomever is closest (currently Mento, with my party formation). The Goliath KingFrog is hiding underwater near where the Large Frog is and will also appear and attack their chosen target before the end of the first round. This is actually something that was changed, whether by accident or design, in one of the newer Circle of Eight mods - previously, the Goliath KingFrog and Sea Hag/Lizardmen were two separate battles.
- Rolling Initiative (which dictates the order of every unit): Fighters get early lead, VGK gets a good placing which is absolutely essential, then the Lizardmen, Large Frog and Hag get their turns, followed by ahoodedfigure (abbreviated to AHF from now on) and finally the Goliath KingFrog.
- Mento, ArbitraryWater (abbreviated to AW from now on) and Claude quickly surround the Large Frog and hack it to pieces like the overzealous kitchen staff of a French restaurant.
- VGK casts Web, catching every Lizardman and the Hag within its grasp. They are safely out of the way for one more round at least, as they struggle like the flies VGK views all non-Lunarian lifeforms as.
- AHF stands near where the Goliath KingFrog is about to appear and preps a readied action to attack any opponent on approach. Which'll be the frog, I'd wager.
- Goliath KingFrog makes its move and attacks AHF. It gets attacked in turn by the readied action.
- The Fighters all converge on the Goliath KingFrog, getting in some early hits. The GKF is "Hurt", which means it still has between 75%-100% of its total HP.
- VGK hits the frog with Melf's Acid Arrow, as all the western enemies are still too far away to target (and no way in hell is my wizard going near them).
- A few Lizardmen escape and make a beeline towards the nearby Fighters. Fortunately, the Hag and Shaman aren't with them. Yet.
- AHF makes a mad dash as far from the Goliath Frog as possible, while being meticulous enough not to disturb the Giant Gar to the northeast or get too close to the Lizardmen to the west. He takes an attack of opportunity from the GKF, which fortunately misses.
- Exploiting an AI quirk, the GKF immediately decides to exit melee and chase after AHF, getting an additional three attacks from the three Fighters surrounding it. It drops to "Injured" - 50%-75% total health.
- Mento attacks a nearby Lizardmen that had flanked him, killing him. Claude enters Rage mode, chases the fleeing GFK and attacks. AW moves to intercept the Sea Hag and preps to attack on approach.
- At this point, the Sea Hag has freed herself from the Web and is closing in. VGK decides to complete his classic one-two punch of setting the Web on fire with a Fireball. The double effect of the Fireball and burning web outright kills the two Lizardmen still trapped within, severely injures the Lizardman Shaman and unfortunately does little to the Sea Hag due to her innate magical resistance which she has because why not?
- Sea Hag moves to attack AW, the nearest, who fortunately stops the attack with his readied action. Even with the Fireball, Web and this attack, she's still only "Injured".
- AHF once again moves to escape the GKF, getting close to the remaining Lizardman Shaman: He's pretty much between a rock and a hard place where he is, and he can't escape the other direction in case he wakes the Giant Gar up. He uses his remaining action to give himself a light Cure.
- GKF gives chase, like it always does, but is now close enough to AHF to grapple check him with his tongue. AHF's sprite waves around like a lunatic. It still takes an AoO from AW as it moves to intercept AHF. Man, I'm really glad these abbreviations aren't all running together and making this super confusing, am I right?
- Mento and Claude keep hacking away at the GKF, dropping it to "Near Death". Finally.
- AW is in dire straits trying to fight the Sea Hag on his own, so takes a five-foot step back and readies another attack.
- VGK, fearing the wrath of the Hag, summons a Celestial Bear to keep it busy. He drops it between the Hag and the incoming Shaman as a distraction for both.
- The Hag nevertheless carries on pounding poor AW, who attempts to withstand the blows. The bear and the Shaman start fighting each other.
- AHF is swallowed. He manages to heal himself some.
- The GKF is content to just chill and digest a dude.
- The Frog is close to dropping after another attack from Mento. Claude attempts to flank the Sea Hag.
- AW takes another five-foot step and quaffs a potion of Cure Serious Wounds.
- VGK ignites the area behind the Hag with another fireball, getting it, the Shaman and the remaining low-level Lizardman with it. Also the bear, but he wasn't pulling his weight much. The Shaman and Lizardman dies, the Hag drops to "Badly Injured" (25%-50% total HP) and the Celestial Bear becomes Smokey the Bear.
- Hag-time, as she continues to rip AW a new one. AW takes a fall at minus 4 HP. Because the Hag has such a wonderful personality, she will continue to attack AW next round and murder him before moving onto the next opponent.
- Recognizing the threat to their prone buddy, Mento disengages from the GKF - taking an AoO - and helps Claude hack the nice swamp lady to splinters.
- AW manages to stabilize, so he's out of danger. Or at least he would be if he wasn't unconscious underneath the swamp water. The game fortunately throws me a bone here and doesn't let him drown.
- VGK directs some missiles towards the GFK. At three missiles per spell now, he does some not inconsiderable damage to the reeling beast.
- AHF, pulling the most balls-out awesome move in my playthrough thus far, manages to attack the GFK and kill it from inside its body. Agent K ain't got nothing on our Cleric.
ROUND 7, 8 & 9:
- At this point, it's simply a matter of healing up the injured as best as possible and hacking apart the Lizardman Berserker (who stays completely out of this initial battle, for some reason) and the Giant Gar, both of which are a cinch by themselves. The Giant Gar's head is taken, so we're ready to go back to town. We also have a small fortune in gold from the Lizardmen, nothing from the Hag (I really hated her) and a bevvy of magical items from the belly of the departed Goliath KingFrog. Mission success!
While I don't know how thrilling this was to read ("very", right? Dude tore his way out of a frog's stomach for Chrissakes), I hope you have a better idea of the level of strategy this game requires, as well as how brutal some of these battles can be without the proper preparation and forewarning. Play it yourselves and see what war journals you end up with.
Now, because I've said way too many words already...
The Temple of Elemental Evil
As some of you might remember from when I explained how I got Gold membership status, I'm currently making comics to meet the whims of WM user and generous sponsor omghisam. This month, he has tasked me with describing what, exactly, distinguishes each game in Namco Bandai's (or Bandai Namco?) long-lived action RPG Tales franchise from each other. Here's part one, covering the first three games in the series:
Tales of Phantasia
Tales of Destiny
Tales of Eternia (Destiny II US)
See you next time! M..maybe!