First Impressions of… Loop Hero

Once more unto the abyss.

Gaze not into the emptiness of this nightmarish domain, lest something gazes back. Something gelatinous. Something that probably doesn’t have eyes now that I’m thinking about it. But then I don’t suppose that they need eyes, as their sole purpose seems to be endlessly travelling around this perpetual loop. And dropping cards. Cards that they’re carrying. Somehow. Loop Hero is an immensely satisfying jaunt through a post-apocalyptic universe, which features delightfully distinct character classes and surprisingly creative deck building mechanics.

Creative and deceptively complex.

Placing different cards next to each other often results in fascinating interactions. If, for example, you place a Vampire Mansion next to a Village, it results in the creation of a Ransacked Village. Which is dangerous, but eventually becomes a Count’s Land which affords even greater benefits.

Few of these interactions are solely beneficial to you, but are necessary despite the drawbacks that they introduce. The cards that you’ve placed influence the raw materials that are available on any given attempt, and the rarest materials often require increasingly dangerous, or complex, interactions. Which became painfully apparent when I tried to acquire two Astral Orbs. Raw materials can be used to improve your camp, to craft supply items, or as reagents in alchemy. New cards are unlocked by placing (or upgrading) various different things, and new character classes are unlocked by placing specific buildings. Most of these can only be built and placed once, but there are a few, such as the Farm and the Forest, that can be built multiple times (should you have the space) for multiplicative bonuses.

The hunt is upon us.

Of the character classes, each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and two exhibit unique mechanics. The first, the Warrior, is the hardiest, and utilises different defensive statistics. The second, the Rogue, has unique trophy mechanics, and can dual-wield weapons. While the third, the Necromancer, has unique summoning mechanics, and relies on their skeletons to deal (and take) damage for them. Placing the Arsenal card unlocks an additional equipment slot, which allows each to utilise statistics otherwise unavailable to their character class.

Such as the Rogue utilising magical health.

It’s refreshing to see such creativity, and I can’t praise the developers highly enough for their meticulous attention to detail. I doubt that I’ll ever be able to see every interaction that exists between different cards,
and I couldn’t be happier about that. As it perfectly suits this experience.

One of constant experimentation. One of taking risks while carrying precious resources. One of embarking
on another loop even when you know that you shouldn’t. And one of being wholly absorbed in the enjoyment of these (often questionable) actions. Taking risks is a part of this experience, though. You can never be sure of what might change on the next loop, or how that is going to affect your survival. And that’s why I enjoy pushing each build to its limits. Failure is likely, but there are numerous mechanics which contribute to the longevity of this experience and keep it fresh. Hence why I’ve greatly enjoyed the time that I’ve spent with Loop Hero, and highly recommend it to those seeking exhilarating adventures on a perpetual loop. It really has been such a wonderfully engaging experience throughout.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

Besieged By Drow

And their legion of malevolent creatures.

The citizens of Waterdeep stood valiantly against the onslaught to no avail, with their hearts gripped by naught but despair, and their famed adventurers butchered by beasts, they sought divine intervention in their darkest hour. And there before them stood a shining beacon of hope, righteousness, and questionable decisions. Hordes of the Underdark is a surprisingly content-dense expansion pack for Neverwinter Nights, which (loosely) follows on from the events of Shadows of Undrentide by hurling you into the abyssal depths of Undermountain.

Perilous as they may be.

Infested with creatures heard of only in the hushed whispers of drunkards. Creatures that you’ll need to form tenuous allegiances with, who are easily swayed to your cause, and can certainly be trusted, because they definitely won’t be swayed by an even better offer in the future.

But, had Kaelan not delivered the mirror to them, they would’ve pierced his skull with their tentacles and feasted on the juicy brain within. Which would’ve been unpleasant. Avoiding this grisly fate only required the acquisition of an ancient relic, which was offered to- and absorbed by- a giant brain. Undoubtedly making the entire species even more powerful. But that was a fair trade. No man nor creature is going to penetrate the orifices of my Half-Orc Cleric. Not all of his decisions were questionable, though. He dismantled a false religion that participated in human sacrifice. He also freed a species of winged creatures that were caged for their hubris, and for using the same mirror that was absorbed by the giant brain. Which was shattered so that no-one could use it again. But I’m sure that they were just being unnecessarily cautious.

Surely nothing terrible will happen as a result of this…

However, it is, in my experience, an expansion pack marred by flaws. Combat quickly became unbearable when characters refused to act due to the sheer number of things happening at any one time. Even Kaelan himself was helpless. I’m not sure whether the mechanics (or 3rd edition rules) were ever intended to be used in these kinds of scenarios, but it was obvious that Neverwinter Nights wasn’t handling them well. Which is unfortunate, as I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the different regions of Undermountain while completing the quests found therein.

Combat was just a slog.

Most likely because you were developing an established character, who, with each new level, encountered increasingly unbalanced combat. Until it simply ceased to function. As is often the result of exponentially increasing statistics, as the numbers become too high to handle.

Not that my criticisms should dissuade anyone from experiencing Hordes of the Underdark for themselves. Rare is it that I’ve enjoyed exploring an environment as much as this inhospitable cavernous expanse. The subterranean societies were meticulously designed which reinforced their isolationist existence, as different races formed fragile bonds to survive the harsh conditions of Undermountain. They couldn’t rely on help from the surface. It was also great seeing old friends from past conquests, and being able to bring two of them along with you. I’m just hoping that the issues that I encountered were due to some kind of a glitch. Because this is a wholly satisfying campaign that perfectly concludes my time with Neverwinter Nights, and would be an easy recommendation were it not for the absurdly frustrating combat.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

Smitier Than Thou

Blessed be thy axe.

An enchanted armament set aflame with righteous vindication, striking at those who would prey on the weak and the helpless. Lending aid to those who have lost everything. And desperately trying to redeem its wielder for their questionable actions. Let us look upon Kaelan, brave Half-Orc Cleric, and former student of Master Drogan, as he seeks to uncover the truth behind a simple theft. Shadows of Undrentide is the first expansion pack for Neverwinter Nights, which introduces numerous new mechanics and affords the opportunity to begin your adventures anew.

And so begin anew I did.

Far from the plagued city of Neverwinter, nestled deep in the mountains of the north, in a house under the tutelage of Master Drogan, before he was besieged by kobolds and adventure was afoot. One fraught with danger, suspense, mysteries, and delightfully smooth progression.

No longer shall I wear the same armour for nearly two chapters. Nor shall I wield the same weapon until it dulls from overuse. I’ll find increasingly more interesting halberds and completely abandon two-handed axes, and then I’ll enchant those halberds with Darkfire to deal a cacophony of elemental damage with each swing. Then wonder if this is something that a man of faith should be doing. And struggle despite casting many beneficial spells, because I’ve entirely ignored using a shield, and Dorna is currently dual-wielding, but feel satisfied when enemies are reduced to giblets. Then really wonder if this is something that a man of faith should be doing. It probably isn’t. It better suits the lust for battle that a Barbarian is known for. But I’m really rather fond of my Cleric, and I don’t want to take levels as anything else.

Smitin’ in the name of Master Drogan.

Of the notable differences, and there are a few, Shadows of Undrentide has meaningful exploration, and will reward your curiosity with enchanted equipment or useful items. You can (finally) share your equipment with companions, too. So I’m no longer hoarding (and eventually selling) useful equipment. I’ve found exploration to be ludicrously satisfying as a result, and that is such a contrast to how I felt for the majority of the main campaign. Which sometimes felt sluggish. With experience points being eked out rather than earned for completing various quests.

Experience points are now plentiful.

And they can be earned from interacting with NPCs, uncovering hidden quests, discovering secret locations, and by exploring the world. Allowing you to rapidly develop your build, but also introducing challenging encounters far earlier than you’d expect them in the main campaign.

Hordes of the Underdark, the second expansion pack, concludes the events of the first, and intends for you to import your existing build. Which is exactly what I’m going to do. I have no idea how far I’ll be able to develop this build- or how powerful it will become- but I’m curious to see how it fares with even higher level content. I’m also looking forward to seeing how Hordes of the Underdark introduces its own subtle differences to established mechanics. I’ve been looking forward to Shadows of Undrentide since I purchased it, but this experience has exceeded every prior expectation. Hence why I’d highly recommend this expansion pack. It’s an absolutely brilliant departure from the main campaign, which has the same complexity and challenge that you’ve come to expect. Along with all of that CRPG goodness that you’ve come to love.

Have a nice week, all!

Moggie

His Unholy Mistress

No heinous deed goes unpunished.

Especially when that heinous deed threatens the city of Neverwinter, and led to a freshly graduated Halfling Ranger being entrusted with its continued existence and prosperity. One that has never faced anything more challenging than an inanimate training dummy. But ours is not to reason why, ours is simply to endanger ourselves while capable adventurers cower in fear. Neverwinter Nights is a narrative-driven CRPG based on the Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition rules, which tasks you with uncovering the truth behind a virulent plague that has consumed the city.

A truth buried in ancient legends.

One that takes our intrepid adventurers on a journey through lush forests, mouldering tombs, thriving farmlands, defiled temples, and many other treacherous regions. And one that involves conquering the seemingly unending swarm of freshly resurrected corpses.

Which does make some semblance of sense, as there is no shortage of fresh corpses due to the plague. They might as well put those corpses to work. Especially if it’s going to impede the adventurers who are looking for a cure to said plague. But that’s why you enlist the services of a Cleric, or a Paladin, and regularly use Turn Undead, because that will obviously solve this problem. Until an absurdly powerful fallen champion rises from their grave. Then you’re going to hammer the Stone of Recall hotkey, and pray that they have disappeared upon your return. Which did happen on more than one occasion. I’m not really sure why it happened, or what caused it, or why they would suddenly be on a different map, but it sure was annoying. And it could’ve easily broken numerous quests had I not hunted them down.

She may be small, but she sure is mighty.

Neverwinter Nights has proven to be an enjoyable experience, but I’ve been continually disappointed by the uneven nature of combat. Succeeding in challenging encounters is a slog. It’s not a fun slog, either. It usually involves being unable to hit (or deal damage to) a particular creature, while taking ludicrous amounts of damage for your flailing. Admittedly, this build wasn’t the most proficient in combat. But I wasn’t usually struggling this badly. It’s kind of understandable, as these encounters are supposed to be challenging, but this didn’t feel challenging.

It felt frustrating and annoying.

Otherwise, it has largely been the experience that I’d hoped it would be. Deeply satisfying quests that encourage exploration, with extensive character development opportunities, and delightfully flexible rules, allowing you to truly immerse yourself in the thrill of adventuring.

Having now completed the main campaign, I’ll be attempting to complete the two expansion packs, Shadows of Undrentide and Hordes of the Underdark, as well. I’ll be journeying through those with a Half-Orc Cleric who favours two-handed axes, which will only persist until an enchanted two-handed sword becomes available to him. But one can hope that a decision made while conceiving a character will actually be adhered to. Even if it would be as much of a surprise to me as it would be to you. Despite the sometimes lacklustre encounters, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how engaging I’ve found this experience to be. Hence why it’s so easy to recommend Neverwinter Nights to those craving a complex CRPG, and to those who value meaningful character development that defines your build and its capabilities.

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie

Raised in Servitude

The shambling rhythm of the undead.

Of the many decisions that I’ve made with this build, having the undead as (one of) her favoured enemies was arguably one of the best. They’re everywhere. I can’t seem to explore a single crumbling ruin, ancient temple, or odorous sewer without encountering a skeleton or twenty. They’re also ridiculously strong for aberrations that no longer possess muscle. I’d like to believe that their unholy strength is wrought from their hatred of the living, as they can still enjoy the wondrous aromas and flavours of delicacies that escape those without a digestive system.

It quite literally escapes.

Right through their ribs, as no organ nor weave of flesh exists to prevent it from doing so. Which means that they’ll never need to worry about weight gain, or doing those simple exercises every day to build muscle. They’ll just need to worry about a murderous dual-wielding Halfling.

Having conceived this build without much experience with the 3rd edition rules, I’m rather pleased by how satisfying- if not inherently flawed- it is. Flawed mostly because I built her as a Halfling. Her equipment restrictions have been frustrating but manageable, but her lowered Strength has consistently reduced her damage per hit. Which was somewhat alleviated by taking a few levels of Rogue, as she’s now able to perform Sneak Attacks, which deal an extra 2d6 damage, should the target be unable to defend itself or engaged with another. And her extra damage will only increase as she further develops as a Rogue. Having also acquired the Fist of the Legion, which affords her a chance to stun with each hit, she has been able to deal that extra damage rather reliably. As can her panther as it is deemed a Rogue, too.

Those who disturb the tranquillity of nature shall be punished.

An approach that is as effective as it was coincidental, and one that benefits from taking additional levels as a Rogue. But doing so would affect her panther, as its level is based on her Ranger level, and so to forsake Ranger for Rogue would weaken (but also strengthen) it. I’ve also been utilising various magical boots, rings, amulets, cloaks, helmets, and even bullets to overcome many of her other shortcomings. Not that these benefits seem to affect her panther, and besides casting spells (such as Magic Fang) I can’t directly influence its combat proficiency.

Not that it needs to be hardy.

With a magical rod and a few spells she’s reasonably comfortable staying in close quarters, evading most damage while also attacking at a staggering pace. Which I can only assume is based on her ridiculously high Dexterity. I don’t know what else could be affecting her attack speed.

Despite its age, evident with its clunkier mechanics, and often finicky inventory management, I’ve greatly enjoyed the time I’ve spent with Neverwinter Nights. I wasn’t aware of the latent potential of this build, but I’ve been continually surprised by it. Just like that random corpse that surprised me with a Bag of Holding. I wasn’t expecting to find that there. Throughout the main campaign I’ve trekked through forests, explored gloomy crypts, and delved into many a cave. I’ve had to use amulets to interact with NPCs, utilise skills to further quest progression, and rely on numerous pieces of information to solve puzzles. And that’s exactly what I’d expect from a CRPG. An experience that is complex and unforgiving, which encourages exploration and creativity, but doesn’t simplify encounters to protect those who stray too far from safety.

Have a nice weekend, all!

Moggie