Posted 08 August 2011 - 05:12 AM
From an unknown reviewer on the CSR:
To begin with, I should say that I don't deserve to be listed as a beta-tester for this scenario: I did an incomplete and flaky job. Consider this, then, something like the beta report I should have submitted and, therefore, probably unfair at times as a review.
At the Gallows is already Exile IV, so I'll have to call Bahssikava something like Avernum: The Reader's Digest Condensed Book. In it, you'll hear every Big Name in the Vogel canon, and you'll fight your way through the whole Greater Avernum Phone Book of Very Nasty Things. Haakai by the bus-load; undead by the train-load; doomguards; golems; dark wyrms; the latest advances in beam-emission technology; everybody's least favorite recurring "humorous" NPC from the Spiderweb scenarios; not one -- but two! -- dark, satanic factories churning out various brands of inhumanity (did I mention undead?); and the entire Great Chain of Reptilian Being: all efficiently crammed into a snug corner of the underworld. It's likely the best dungeon crawl that BoA can make and I don't mean that as a backhanded compliment: it is very good. But to earn above 8.0, a scenario has to do something besides dump back-story on players and hope they'll accept a hack fest in exchange for their attention and troubles.
The "cheat" in the altar fight Bahssikava's best fight, by far, and one of the best fights in BoA is forced on Kelandon by BoA's limitations; and a workaround isn't exactly a cheat. What matters is whether the resulting challenge is interesting, elegant and unique. This one is. It's also the least derivative sequence in the scenario, which promises good things for Kelandon's future efforts. When designing from his own convictions, instead of rummaging through a Spiderwebbed attic of old tricks, he's at his best.
Unfortunately, as TM says, the altar fight occurs early, and from then on (the chitrachs, who present a nifty little problem, apart) it's one round of "wait outside the door, power up and charge in on the unsuspecting [insert creature names here]" after another after another after another: combat with potted-plant baddies.
My HLPM-built level-40 party got decent exercise from these fights, but my party that earned its 40 the old-fashioned way (some SW scenarios, plus A Perfect Forest and Canopy) made dull and easy work of them. The scenario is particularly vulnerable to archery, which turns most of its evildoers into declawed kittens.
After an opening scavenger hunt, this consists of two effectively identical quests: you schlep around gaining allies, eliminating an opposing boss's resources and otherwise preparing for a Big Fight; and then you repeat the formula with a second boss. Thanks to the all-towns format, you also get to have the fun repeatedly retracing your steps that you thought you'd never have again after VotDT.
And it isn't clear why Bahssikava has no outdoors. Except as a time-consuming inconvenience, it never affects a player's choices or actions (provided you're willing to backtrack, you can always find places to rest and level-up), so none of the gameplay challenges that might follow from the design decision and give the scenario a character of its own are ever allowed to develop. This, in a nutshell, is the basic problem I had with Bahssikava: it comes up with good ideas, only to overuse them or toss them together in a blurry mishmash or leave them sketchily drawn. No character, no scene, no design concept and no event receives the time and space to become itself. This scattering focus gives a player's experience nothing to cohere around besides the relentless bashing, gutting and frying.
It's the plot that never goes out of style: kill everything that stands between you and the next dollop of back-story exposition! A few chances for choice are offered to a player now and again, but they're false and pro forma, and that hardly reduces the feeling that you're being dragged through a history lesson that is at once plodding and a tad bloodier than your average lecture. The NPCs you meet don't do much to enrich the experience. They do like to gab a lot and about some pretty extraneous topics, at that but they say little that ultimately matters to what a player does. In fact, thanks to the scenario's habit of repeating itself, you could skip entire towns of dialog and get the same information from a cutscene (I could have done without several of the cutscenes, especially those that served no purpose that normal conversation with NPCs wouldn't have; if the rest had one problem in common, it was that nothing surprising or cinematic happened in them they were used for the purposes of demonstration and explanation, and they tended, as a consequence, to have more talk than action).
As for the back-story, I have no complaints about Kelandon writing his slith history. Its presentation is, however, less a narrative than an haphazard pile of events. If it has a lesson, it ain't the one TM claims, but it also isn't all that compelling. More to the point, I wasn't all that compelled by what I was asked to "discover" about sliths: that they are just like you and me and every other enlightened 21st century technocrat, as evidenced by, among other things, their mastery of the high science of beam projection (never mind that the Big Bad's matching technological mastery apparently does not likewise qualify him for my esteem). A scenario that wants to stage the experience of "seeing past differences" has to allow for the existence of differences in the first place. So as Kelandon goes on with this story or as others pick it up I hope they don't restrict their imagination of slith society to what Bahssikava outlines.
Since I've been yammering on, picking at the scenario, let me go back and emphasize: it has no end of good design ideas and snappy sequences. It is simply such a diffuse conglomerate that I have trouble, in retrospect, remembering them. What it lacks strangely, for such linear scenario is a backbone to hang all that meat on. Better scenarios than it will then come along soon enough, but more than one of them will be by its author.