Champions of the Dale

Together they could overcome anything.

No challenge proved insurmountable for the combined talents of Bruenor Battlehammer and Drizzt Do’Urden, whose campaign across the harsh and unforgiving landscapes of Icewind Dale ended in resounding success. Together they’ve felled colossal frost giants, fanatical cultists, ferocious gnolls, ravening verbeeg, a horrifying beholder, and even an ancient white dragon. Together they’ve done what neither could do alone. Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance is an enjoyable (primarily) co-operative ARPG that loosely follows the exploits of the Companions of the Hall.

Unconventional as they may be.

I’d usually avoid co-operative experiences, but I’ve uncharacteristically completed the entirety of the content with a friend and it was surprisingly fun. It definitely feels more satisfying when exploring together. Which is exactly what a co-operative experience should feel like.

Knowing that my friend would always be there to resurrect me should I fall in battle. Knowing that I’d always find every treasure chest as their lust for loot is more insatiable than mine. And knowing that we’d share the disappointment of discovering nought but trash in the reward chest. But that didn’t dissuade us from returning to face challenges far beyond what our combined Combat Power suggested was possible. Not that we could ever make sense of the Combat Power mechanics, as they were clearly skewed towards wearing legendary equipment even if it was vastly inferior. Nor would we heed the advice of an algorithm. As evidenced by our innumerable attempts to defeat bosses on the highest difficulty levels and our countless successes during those attempts. Not only when adventuring together but when adventuring alone, too.

The intoxicating rhythm of battle.

We were, however, somewhat discouraged by the lack of high quality equipment found during these attempts, which is my only criticism of this experience. The higher difficulty levels aren’t as rewarding as they could be. They’re certainly challenging, but that doesn’t feel nearly as fulfilling when the rewards aren’t proportional to the effort. Especially when each new difficulty feels insuperable compared to the last. Acquiring a full set of equipment also seems exceedingly difficult despite information to the contrary, as it should be possible to reliably farm every set.

But the rewards never seem to reflect that.

These are concerns that could easily be addressed with the post-release DLC, though. And I’m hoping that they will be. As Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance has an incredibly solid foundation, which could be built upon to create a truly invigorating co-operative experience.

I wasn’t sure of what to expect from Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance, but I was pleasantly surprised by how engaging I found it to be. Crawling through dungeons and slaughtering unholy hordes is nothing new to me. But I’ve found this experience to be an oddly compelling one, and one that was made better by having a friend along with me. Or maybe I was along with them. They were the one dealing ludicrously high amounts of damage while I stood unflinching against the relentless assault. But that’s why I’m looking forward to the aforementioned post-release DLC, as I’m sure that our misadventures will continue. And I’m sure that Drizzt will continue to carry the party with their damage output. Which is why I recommend this experience to those who love to crawl through dungeons with friends, as it has been immensely entertaining.

Have a nice weekend, all!


King of the Valley

His axe has a thirst.

Whether it’s the savagery of the verbeeg or the persistence of the goblins, the dwarves of Clan Battlehammer have witnessed countless atrocities. Prior to the rule of Bruenor Battlehammer, their ancestral home, Mithral Hall, was overrun by hordes of duergar and it was decided that they relocate to Kelvin’s Cairn to escape their aggressors. Only to discover that Kelvin’s Cairn had equally unsettling hardships for them to endure. Bruenor isn’t about to stand idly by and watch his people be slaughtered, though. Nor will he allow them to be driven from their new home in the Dale.

Not that he’ll face these challenges alone.

He’ll be facing them with other Companions of the Hall. Of which, having attempted one run with each, I’m reasonably proficient with Bruenor and Drizzt, despite Wulfgar seeming like the obvious choice for me. He just feels too cumbersome in combat. As does Catti-brie.

I’m not particularly fond of ranged damage, as that requires me to fire from a safe distance, and I rarely keep a safe distance, but Catti-brie has an unusual fighting style that involves kicking creatures. Kicking creatures and occasionally firing arrows into them. However, her ultimate, Arcane Arrows, is ridiculously powerful and decimates elite or boss encounters. So I can definitely appreciate how powerful she could be. But, much like Wulfgar, whose hits land with staggering intensity, it’s the quirks of their respective fighting styles that elude me. Especially when I’m accustomed to the unflinching might of Bruenor or the exhilarating burst damage of Drizzt. I’m continually discovering new equipment sets, too. So it’s entirely possible (and very likely) that their equipment is affecting their respective capabilities (or lack thereof) in combat.

Two heroes are better than one.

While Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance can be experienced alone, it’s easily at its best when experienced with others. Not only does combat become immensely satisfying, as each party member confidently exhibits their own strengths during encounters, but there are innumerable conversations between characters relating to their histories or to past events, which serve to deepen your understanding of the world around you. This isn’t exactly unexpected of a (primarily) co-operative experience, but the subtle execution is what makes you pay attention to the dialogue.

It feels like a natural conversation.

One that helps you to understand their individual motivations and how the current journey is affecting them. Which, as I’ve not read any of the source material, is welcomed, as I don’t know of their personalities or the adversity that they’ve faced during their past adventures.

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance certainly isn’t for everyone, as you aren’t able to build your own unique character, and this isn’t an epic tale of heroism experienced through character sheets and dice rolling, but it
is an enjoyable adventure through the inhospitable and unforgiving wilds of Icewind Dale. One that can only get better. As the developers have acknowledged numerous issues from their (underwhelming) launch, and are currently implementing patches to fix the most egregious of them. And they’ve expressed their intentions to support this experience with post-release DLC. Of those currently announced, two are being delivered for free and one requires an additional purchase. But the idea of new locations to explore, treasures to plunder, and enemies to face makes me happier than anything else.

Have a nice week, all!


Coexisting With Lizardfolk

One of her more successful dialogue checks.

Less successful attempts include, but are not limited to: trying to broker peace with the Orcs of Old Owl Well after slaughtering them, promising not to steal the treasure of the denizens in the tunnels beneath Ember and then immediately stealing it, and trying to peacefully resolve the growing unrest in the Docks District. Not that these failures have dissuaded her. She was eventually successful, and that’s what matters. Not the needless deaths that plague her conscience. But then this is a fresh character build that I’ve conceived with Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition rules.

So I’d expect no better.

I’d usually expect far worse, but I’m pleasantly surprised as to how competent this Aasimar Bard build seems to be. She isn’t terrible. She can capably swing her weapon. And she doesn’t immediately fall unconscious when engaging enemies in close quarters combat. It’s truly a fascinating build.

One that may be as fascinating as it is due to the inherent versatility of the Bard. Or maybe I’ve finally begun to understand Dungeons & Dragons rules. That’s unlikely, though. I’d never dare to suggest that I understand anything about what I’m doing at any given moment in time. It could also be because she is being bolstered (and carried) by an entire party. Unlike Neverwinter Nights, which affords a single companion, or up to two
in Hordes of the Underdark, Neverwinter Nights 2 affords up to three. Or up to five in Storm of Zehir. Hence why I’m excited about the second expansion pack. I’m looking to bring my Halfling Ranger/Rogue build and Half-Orc Cleric build together with this Aasimar Bard build, which should result in the worst adventuring party imaginable. Especially when I intend to build a Wizard or Sorcerer, too.

As charismatic as she is, she isn’t very convincing at all.

Unfortunately, Neverwinter Nights 2 is, in my experience, also marred by innumerable inconsistencies. And the majority of these don’t seem to be as detrimental as they actually are. Such as the party order shuffling that occurs on load, which doesn’t seem to affect anything, but is actually deactivating buffs and equipment modifiers, despite clearly showing them as being currently active. Quests have a tendency to arbitrarily and irreparably break, too. Either adding themselves to your quest log (or updating their progress) despite being nowhere near their objectives.

Or they simply refuse to update.

Making it impossible to actually complete those quests, to earn the rewards for doing so, or to undertake any further quests that may become available upon completion. I don’t know how many quests that I’ve missed due to this. Nor do I want to. Knowing would only deepen my growing frustrations.

I’d originally intended to experience Neverwinter Nights 2 as a Tiefling Warlock, but I didn’t appreciate how despicable he would need to be. Partly because I didn’t fully acknowledge the evil alignment requirement for Warlocks. But mostly because of the excessive alignment adjustments present throughout earlier quests, that are seemingly absent from later ones. I’m barely incurring any adjustments now. Not that I’m suggesting that Neverwinter Nights 2 is an awful sequel, as it isn’t. I’ve just struggled to return to (and remain invested in) this experience due to the issues that I’ve encountered. Yet I’m still keen to see it through to the end. Because I’m enjoying the main campaign and there are various new mechanics to tinker with. It’s just so hard to commit to when various things aren’t working as anticipated or working at all.

Have a nice weekend, all!


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!


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!