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Kelandon

Idle thoughts about Nethergate (original)

31 posts in this topic

I'm (slowly) replaying the original Nethergate in Sheepshaver, and I realized that I don't think I played it much (if at all) after doing a lot of BoA designing. I see it with a different eye now, and I figured I'd share some random thoughts about design from Nethergate (along with some other random thoughts).

 

For starters, one thing that's striking is how much Nethergate does wrong, despite how good it is. It's very easy to get very lost in the outdoors in this game. Compared to later Spidweb games (such as Avernum 1), the outdoor sections spill over onto each other in a way that is confusing. Look at the Honeycomb, or the Waterfall Warrens, or the lands west of Fort Remote: each outdoor section is more or less self-contained, or joins with one other outdoor section. The Great Cave is a 2 by 3 rectangle (or kind of 2 by 4) of outdoor sections. But everything is squared off in a clean way. Also, there are fairly obvious routes from one place to another. Nethergate isn't like that at all. There are rivers that separate an outdoor section into an upper third and bottom two-thirds, and the upper third is an extension of the outdoor section to the north. The way to get across a river is often convoluted, because there are not very many bridges and no boats. The end result is that I get lost trying to find things in Nethergate in a way that I never did in Avernum, even though Nethergate is smaller (25 outdoor sections vs. 42).

 

In addition, Nethergate is a game of sidequests. The main line of quests is short. Very short. There are six actual quests — with no subparts — that you must complete to finish the game. There are dozens and dozens of sidequests, though, ranging from the witches' elaborate line of quests to a silly task from the GIFTS. I think I didn't consult a walkthrough much (if at all) last time, and I just flat-out missed most of the sidequests; I still haven't gone into Annwn yet, and I'm already at a higher experience level than I was when I finished the game on the last couple of playthroughs. And there are plenty of sidequests I still haven't done.

 

The result is a game that is as close to pure exploration as Spiderweb has ever done (the polar opposite of Avadon's linearity). There's no quest list taunting you with unfinished business, no extensive main-story quests sending you through all the towns to the ends of the map so that you inevitably meet all the Bobs along the way, no sharp ramp-up of difficulty to encourage you to seek out more XP. You could probably beat the game in a few hours if you wanted. But you'd miss almost everything that's great about Nethergate.

 

Adding to the potential negatives is that the engine is crude and transitional. It debuted the isometric display that Avernum 1-3, BoA, and N:R continued to use, but much of the rest of it remained internally Exile-like. The dialogue system used keywords. It (presumably) uses BoE-style nodes, rather than the scripting that Geneforge debuted and ended up in BoA and N:R. The skill system, with cascading base values, is unbalanced to say the least. The lack of a junk bag means that I have to revive my old value-to-weight ratio analysis (at least 4:1, or don't bother picking it up to sell it).

 

One of the old features that I kind of like, now that I remember it from old Nethergate, is the ability to walk into enemies (out of combat mode) to attack them. I've gone through huge sections of dungeons and never entered combat mode once. It's convenient; pressing a button to walk south five times is simpler than dealing with a bunch of different characters who all have to be moved around.

 

I also had forgotten the extent to which completing quests in Nethergate depends on making an entire town hostile. The selkies, the Hollow Hills, the Faerie Bazaar — endlessly, quests ask you to kill someone such that a town gets angry with you. Avernum doesn't do this much, if at all. In some of the later games (Avadon, in particular), it's not even possible. This makes sequencing your quests important: retrive the pelts for the selkies before killing their leader, for example. It's more possible to screw yourself over in Nethergate than in later games. But then, because the game is almost all sidequests, it's not crucial if you do make a mistake.

 

I get why later Spiderweb games (especially Geneforge) based the experience you gained from a kill on your relative level, rather than Nethergate's flat sum. If I want a bunch more skill points arbitrarily, I can go around and grind outdoor encounters that are not even challenging and gain a lot of XP. It's definitely quite possible — even likely — to be massively overpowered by the end of Nethergate. But that's part of what makes it fun, really.

 

For all its crudeness and flaws, the game manages to be outstanding. The non-leveling advancement provides constant gratification. The ambience, the mystery, the questions (both answered and unanswered — "It looks like a puzzle box!"), the writing — Spiderweb really outdid itself here. Exile III was a tough act to follow, and a lot of the reasons to like Exile III — the hugeness, the engine that had been refined over three games — weren't present in Nethergate, so probably a lot of fans jumped ship. But where Exile III's plot has been widely panned (Rentar again? Really?), Nethergate had not only good writing (a given in a Spiderweb games) but also a good plot.

 

It's also amazing to me how Jeff could make dungeons so effective and interesting without a single scripted combat. The BoE community panned Jeff's combats, but I think that's just wrong. The problem is that it's hard to get the subtleties that make Jeff's combats work when you're designing in BoE, so a lot of people aped Jeff and did it wrong. A bad imitation is bad. But the original....

 

So cheers to old Nethergate! My heart lifts with each new skill point.

Tyranicus, nikki., Triumph and 1 other like this

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Jeff really wrote interesting dialogue and an overall plot. There were times that I stopped playing because I was laughing too hard to continue.

 

The unique advancement system and spell circles made it possible to create non-standard parties that could play the game by killing random monsters until you could face harder areas. It shouldn't have been possible, but a Roman party only using Druid spells and running around first in togas and later Druid robes could easily win the game. You couldn't do this in the remake, but here it was possible to try whatever you want.

 

Luck could lead to fun results from surviving a drop that should have killed the entire party to opening a Sylak door without the key.

Upon Mars. likes this

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*snip*

I could not have said it better myself.

 

Luck could lead to fun results from surviving a drop that should have killed the entire party to opening a Sylak door without the key.

As far as I know, I never got a Sylak door open, but I did manage to survive the fall in the abandoned mine very early in the game once.

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Both the dialog and the special nodes are minimally-modified versions of the BoE originals.

If you are a Celt party, you don't really need to do the Selkie quest for the Hagfen hags. Reward is nice but not necessary.

Outdoors, look at the name of the local town. You can make a 5x5 grid of the names. Usually there is one, and only one, town per outdoor zone.

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But where Exile III's plot has been widely panned (Rentar again? Really?), Nethergate had not only good writing (a given in a Spiderweb games) but also a good plot.

As I've said many times, Spiderweb games quite often have little in the way of plot. Nethergate and Geneforge 1 are the stand-out exceptions, and the games have gotten generally more plotted, but there's still not much exciting going on.

 

A nitpick, though: the Rentar again complaints came out with A4. A3 is the first time Rentar goes villainous, and the big problems are that the mystery is trivial, that the answer is eventually fed to you, and that it doesn't matter at all if you get the answer right.

 

—Alorael, who was blaming Rentar-Ihrno all the way back in A1. Yes, it's obvious the vahnatai are helping the Empire maintain control of Avernum. Wake up, lizardeople!

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Jeff never made a Nethergate 2, we don't know if he could have devised an adequate plot. He would need to explain the return of magic...

 

Edit:

A run-through of N:R without any side quests would be different, party would be short of everything: money, spells, items, skills, levels...

Edited by Ishad Nha

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This is interesting, and I agree with a lot of it, but I have a few nitpicks about things imputed to Nethergate and constrasted with "later" Spiderweb games, that actually arose in the Exile trilogy.

 

1. Map sprawl: Avernum 1 may postdate Nethergate, but the map sections were equally self-contained in Exile 1, which of course predates it. Avernum 1 did change a few things related to map sections, but the one thing it didn't touch at ALL were the boundaries between map sections; they all stay similarly self-contained.

 

 

Exile 2 had similar clearly contained map sections. Exile 3, however, did not: the exact same sprawl discussed here, with rivers clipping corners and so on, occurs in Exile 3. It feels a little different because Exile 3 is so spread out, of course. But Nethergate's geographic design includes one feature (which we know was intentional, because Jeff mentioned it in the hint book) that makes it clear there was *more* coherent structure in its design, than Exile 3's: there is exactly one town/dungeon in each of the 25 map zones of Nethergate. The arrangement is quite intentional, too, with the major enclaves of Nethergate, Shadow Valley Fort, Goagh-Nar, and Castle Aethdoc in the corners, and Sylak's Spire in the center.

 

I think the main thing that makes Nethergate's terrain harder to navigate are all of the trees; the parts of Valorim with lots of trees were just as tough, really. That the trees are height-enabled doesn't help. But the point is, this geography was not new in Nethergate and was even mitigated compared to Exile 3.

 

2. Game consists mainly of sidequests. But, that was also true of the original Exile/Avernum trilogy. Those are as rollicky and full of quests irrelevant to the main plot, as any game.

 

It's true that the main quest line is more self-contained in Nethergate: you don't have to collect information from all over the world to figure out what to do, and the main quests are each primarily resolved in a single location. However, the bulk of the "main quest" material from the Exile games consisted of just that, travelling, information-gathering, coincidentally picking up a brooch in a dungeon that is otherwise 100% sidequest material, etc. This is an important difference and I agree that the older version, with its interconnected everythings, was more interesting. However, the distinction has to do with the main quest organization; it's not about sidequests.

 

Furthermore, while the main quest line in Nethergate is short, it's a much smaller game than the Avernums. A much greater percentage of its towns/dungeons are 100% devoted to the main quest line than is the case in any first trilogy game. Specifically, in Nethergate we have:

 

Nethergate

SV Fort

Goblin Fort (N)

Goblin Mine (S)

Ruined Hall

Crone Caverns

Lair of Reptrakos

Goagh-Nar

Annwn

Castle Aethdoc

The Spire

 

I've left out the Faerie Bazaar since only cursory use of the town is necessary. While a small handful of the towns above are only relevant for a Celt or Roman playthrough, I think it's reasonable to give credit for both. Anyway, that's 11/25 towns, including the bulk of the game's multi-level towns: altogether close to half of the game's non-outdoors material. Compare to any of the first trilogy games, which have far more towns with a Faerie Bazaar level of involvement, but also far more towns that aren't involved at all -- and of the towns that are 100% main plot line, they include more super small 24x24 towns than they do towns with multiple levels.

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Playing as a Roman would be different for fans of Spiderweb games because you don't get access to all spells.

Spell access is not straightforward... Maybe this did not help the popularity of the game?

 

You can get around the Selkie Chief Skin quest by altering an item in the Selkie den so that it becomes the Skin sought by the Hags. (If you are Celt just skip the quest, so simple.)

You can alter the Vanarium NPCs to make them more like what you want, as I outlined in my topic about the N:R NPCs.

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To nitpick the nitpicks:

A nitpick, though: the Rentar again complaints came out with A4.

That's not quite right. Traditional "Rentar again" complaints (i.e., Rentar did it... again) started well before A4. They sort of started in BoE, but complaints that she wasn't all that good a character to begin with were based in E3, and that led to a different sort of "Rentar again" complaints (Rentar was not that great a character in E2/A2... using her again in E3/A3 as the central villain was a stupid idea).

 

I have a few nitpicks about things imputed to Nethergate and constrasted with "later" Spiderweb games, that actually arose in the Exile trilogy.

By comparing Nethergate to later games, I didn't say (and didn't mean to imply) that NG's map design wasn't also different from earlier games. I haven't played the Exile Trilogy, so I can't make comparisons of my own knowledge (except a little bit for E3).

 

It's true that the main quest line is more self-contained in Nethergate: you don't have to collect information from all over the world to figure out what to do, and the main quests are each primarily resolved in a single location.

This leads to a profound difference, though. In, say, E1/A1 you had to go through almost the entire map, even if half the time you didn't know why what you were doing was relevant, but in Nethergate, you don't. Thus, in Nethergate, you can miss huge amounts of stuff if you're not trying pretty hard to find everything.

 

However, the distinction has to do with the main quest organization; it's not about sidequests.

Yes, that's what I said. The way the main quest line is set up makes Nethergate a game of sidequests.

 

Anyway, that's 11/25 towns

Your count is a little bizarre (Crone Caverns, Lair of Reptrakos) and isn't from the player's point of view (double-counting Nethergate and Shadowvale Fort, double-counting the Goblin places). It seems to me that the right way to think about it is that you only have to go to 7/25 towns on any given playthrough, which also means that you only have to spend any serious time in 7/25 outdoor sections. Now, try getting through E1/A1 while visiting towns in only 12 (which is 7 / 25 * 42) outdoor sections total. Good luck.

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I have a few nitpicks about things imputed to Nethergate and constrasted with "later" Spiderweb games, that actually arose in the Exile trilogy.

By comparing Nethergate to later games, I didn't say (and didn't mean to imply) that NG's map design wasn't also different from earlier games. I haven't played the Exile Trilogy, so I can't make comparisons of my own knowledge (except a little bit for E3).

No, what I was saying here was that NG's map design is *not* different from earlier games, and the things you are imputing as

Nethergate-specific were actually business-as-usual for Spiderweb.

 

---

 

The most unique thing about Nethergate is that you have to play it from both sides in order to see the entire story. If you only play through one, you haven't really seen the whole game. In that light, I'm not sure why you wouldn't count all the zones that are required in either playthrough.

 

There's a direct parallel here in the first trilogy. E/A1 and E/A2 each consist of three "game-winning quests." At least in Exile, a dialogue popped up saying in effect, "congratulations! you've fulfilled one victory condition and won the game!" It did encourage you to keep going and try the others... in exactly the same way that Nethergate encourages you to play the opposing party if you want to see the whole story.

 

I'm going to guess, though, that your current playthrough is as the Romans, if you think including the Crone Caverns or Lair of Reptrakos is "bizarre." The Crone zone is required for both parties and is a long, multi-level dungeon for the Celts, and Reptrakos is a required dungeon for the Celts as well.

 

Anyway, your comparison doesn't work for the reasons above, plus because you are comparing Nethergate sections and Exile sections at equal proportional value, even though your entire premise is that you *don't* have to explore entire map sections, and Exile sections have 2-3 times as many towns on average (depending on if we're looking at E1, A1, E2, or A2).

 

Also note that in Nethergate, the required quests take you to all four corners of the 5x5 map zone grid, plus the center zone; and you have to do a lot of travelling in the center 3x3 ring to cross rivers. Plus, the vast majority of the non-plot-critical towns are very easily seen from the roads used to travel to the corners and across the rivers. It would be very difficult to play all the main quests without noticing many of the other zones. In all the first trilogy games, it's quite possible to finish all game-winning quests (let alone just one, in the games that have multiple quests) without having visited a huge proportion of map sections.

 

But, let's look at the actual numbers. I'll use the same standards you used for your 7/25 count:

- Only required towns in which at least moderate exploration or combat is required; visiting to talk to one person does not make it required

- Only required towns for a single game-winning quest (and as you chose the shorter quest of the Romans, I'll pick the shortest one too)

- Count towns, not outdoor sections. (Although it's the same count in Nethergate's case, there's nothing forcing you to explore those map sections any more than the Romans are forced to explore the Crone Caverns, for example; plus if you did explore as you travelled, you'd outdoubtedly run into and poke into far more than just seven towns.)

 

Finally, I'll use the Exile games for comparison because the assertion I'm challenging is that Nethergate was somehow MORE sidequestful than the games that came before it; restating for clarity: I don't think that's true.

 

Exile 1 has 78 towns. I'll count Fort Exile for all quests (since you seem to have counted S V Fort). Required towns for the Grah-Hoth quest (which I think may be the shortest):

- Fort Exile

- Nephil Fort (SW of Formello)

- Slith town (for Onyx key)

- Slith Castle

- Fort Remote

- Tower of Magi (for Blessed Athame)

- Skkaragath

- Prison of Grah-Hoth

- Giant Fortress (for boat)

- Fortress of Grah-Hoth

(not counted as they are towns where you have 1 conversation: Formello, any town where you can buy a boat, the Castle)

 

That's 10/78. Even if you count the 1-conversation towns, that's 13/78, and we're definitely at a lower count than the minimzed 7/25 count for Nethergate. Especially not if we were to take into account that of those 7 Nethergate towns, all have large maps and 5/7 have multiple floors, whereas of the Exile towns, ALL use smaller maps than Nethergate, three are in fact quite tiny, and only 4/10 have multiple floors. This particular count is actually pretty robust even on an information-hunting level: Formello sends you to the Castle, and the Castle sends you to everywhere else.

 

Is it realistic that any Exile 1 player would complete this quest without touching any other towns, or fully exploring any outdoor sections? Of course not. But it *also* isn't realistic than any Nethergate player would do those things in Nethergate. Yes, you have a Bob who (mostly) tells you where to go and what to do, but the directions aren't any more precise than what's available to an Exile player.

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E3 may have had similar map design. I still take Nethergate as unusual in the general trend of Spiderweb games -- even if it was similar to its immediate predecessor -- if it was different from E1, E2, A1, A2, the entire Genefore series, the entire Avadon series, and probably (though I haven't checked) the entire Second Avernum Trilogy.

 

I'm sure I could futz with numbers as you did, but, frankly, I don't care enough. My point is that the main line of quests is very short (in absolute terms), and it's easy to miss the sidequests, of which there are a lot, because they are quite to the side. I never had the impression that it was easy to miss half the game in Avernum. This could be my idiosyncratic impression of a difference, but I don't think so.

 

It may have to do with knowing exactly where you're going in Nethergate. You don't know exactly where all the Demonslayer pieces are in Avernum 1. If you're looking for Annwn, though, it's pretty clear that you're not there if you're in, say, Vanarium.

 

Also, I really think for the casual player that one complete playthrough (finishing the game-winning quests but not restarting with a new party) is the relevant unit of analysis.

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Demonslayer is a sidequest, though. It's a prominent sidequest but it's still a sidequest. Annwn is not a sidequest.

 

I don't think the main line of quests in Nethergate is "very short," not compared either to the first trilogy OR to any other CRPG. I do agree the main line of quests is more self-contained in Nethergate than is the case in X1 or X2 (as well as many older, Ultima-style CRPGs).

 

However, I still don't see how the Nethergate sidequests are "quite to the side" compared to first trilogy sidequests, or easier to miss half of. Actually, they tend to be just off the path of where you're going anyway, blatantly labelled with signs and icons. It would be very hard to play through all the main line quests and never notice the Rose Hills, or Vanarium, or the basement of the Faerie Bazaar, or even the web mazes... And unlike the first trilogy, there are almost zero sidequests that involve trekking back and forth across 10 map sections. In fact, the first trilogy places many sidequests in extremely remote locations, not to mention entire optional dungeons that you'll never see the entrance to if you forget to look down a single unmarked cave passage on the map. If you want to do all the sidequests in any first trilogy game, it will take many times longer than completing the main quests, and a lot more effort to find things. In Nethergate, while it certainly extends the gameplay time by a lot, it's not quite so extreme.

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Jeff is "fixing" Avernum to make it easier to know where to go for the main quest line. More NPCs are specifically telling you where to go so you don't miss a step and Erika's library helps to direct you to missed items like the brooches. But things like Demonslayer's parts can be easily skipped.

 

Nethergate had plenty of minor places that you could miss if they weren't in sight of the roads.

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It does not take that long to explore all of an outdoor section, if you did that you would miss nothing much.

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I think my last N:R Celt party was almost level 20 before going into Goagh-Nar, because it's possible to do almost every side-quest in the game without proceeding farther along the main quest line. Consider the difference between that and a party that went straight to Goagh-Nar after the Ruined Hall, as instructed. Now consider the fact that Goagh-Nar is a one-way dungeon you can't retreat from if you are under-leveled. This would be bad scenario design, but I still get a kick out of it.

 

The ability to do tons of side quests without progressing the plot is kind of typical of all the early Spiderweb games, though my experience with A1-3 was that difficulty spikes were more limiting than in Nethergate.

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I think my last N:R Celt party was almost level 20 before going into Goagh-Nar, because it's possible to do almost every side-quest in the game without proceeding farther along the main quest line.

 

Yeah, I always, in any playthrough of Nethergate, complete every other sidequest before I head to Goagh-Nar. I used to think it was me being a completionist, and having all of the Sylak keys, and blah blah blah, but I think it might just be the way I play games. I just finished Skyrim a couple of weeks ago, for example, and I completed pretty much every side/faction quest before doing any of the 'main' questline.

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Jeff tried to balance the N:R version so you could just do the main quest line on normal, but that means not having all the Sylak keys and less strength to cary out loot. Since it is one way you really need to plan ahead before entering.

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I will need to check the ON town records and see what you lose without a given Sylak key. Losing a set of Blessed Bracers is not such a big deal.

 

ON was a bit more flexible, you could start the game with Darts of Ice or Word of Recall.

Edited by Ishad Nha

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Demonslayer is a sidequest, though. It's a prominent sidequest but it's still a sidequest. Annwn is not a sidequest.

Eh, I was confusing Avernum 1 (where you reassemble Demonslayer and Demonslayer is helpful, but not required, for defeating Grah-Hoth) and Avernum 2 (where you don't reassemble the pieces of Demonslayer but do fetch it, and it is more or less required for Garzahd). The brooches, then, or any of the other quests where you have several different sub-parts and don't know exactly where each one is. Demonslayer was a bad example, but there are plenty of obvious good examples.

 

I don't think the main line of quests in Nethergate is "very short," not compared either to the first trilogy OR to any other CRPG.

Huh? You don't think Nethergate is short compared to Avernum?

 

However, I still don't see how the Nethergate sidequests are "quite to the side" compared to first trilogy sidequests, or easier to miss half of.

Maybe the key point is more what I got to at the end of my last post. Exploration is the main quest in Avernum 1. When you arrive, you don't have an obvious Bob; you talk to a guy who gives you some equipment, and then you go out and explore. Eventually you stumble on the three main quests, but even then, exploration is the name of the game. For example, you're trying to find an exit to the surface. You wander around talking to people who give you clues, and you follow up on those clues by exploring various spots. No one ever says, "Oh yeah, the exit to the surface! Go down this tunnel and then that tunnel and you're there." You could, in principle, get through a game-winning quest in Avernum 1 without visiting very many towns, but you'd pretty much have to be following a walkthrough to do so, because you just aren't given specific enough directions otherwise.

 

Contrast that with Nethergate, where you start out with an immediate Bob who tells you where to go for pretty much every main quest. Exploration is a sidequest, something that you do because there's stuff out of the corner of your eye that you think looks interesting, not because you're searching for the things you need to progress in the game. Yet there's a huge number of sidequests (whether the sidequest:main quest ratio is larger in Nethergate than in Avernum, I don't know — I haven't counted).

 

I also think it matters that there is more of a ramp-up of difficulty in other Spiderweb games than in Nethergate. It probably is possible (and fairly easy) to beat the game by going through the six main quests and doing nothing else. That's hard-to-impossible in most Spiderweb games.

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Side quests are all very well but ON was fun to play.

 

My reading for Celt town 14, Upper Goagh Nar, is:

Special Item 15, Sylak Key 5, gives you a Blessed Axe at x,y = 40,32

Special Item 16, Sylak Key 6, gives you a Dexterity Bracelet at x,y = 28,20

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Eh, I was confusing Avernum 1 (where you reassemble Demonslayer and Demonslayer is helpful, but not required, for defeating Grah-Hoth) and Avernum 2 (where you don't reassemble the pieces of Demonslayer but do fetch it, and it is more or less required for Garzahd).

In Exile 2, Demonslayer isn't even *helpful* for Garzahd. This is why Solberg has that bizarre dialogue about being a demon expert (bizarre given his behavior in Avernum 1) -- in Exile 2, he was actually a master minddueler, and minddueling is Garzahd's one weakness. I think someone still mentions it because his fort is full of demons, but it's not actually *required* (and it sounds like you're saying it's not really in Avernum 2, either? I don't remember).

 

I don't think the main line of quests in Nethergate is "very short," not compared either to the first trilogy OR to any other CRPG.

Huh? You don't think Nethergate is short compared to Avernum?

Kel, that's not even what I said in the quoted line! The game is significantly shorter and smaller, of course. However, the vast majority of all three first trilogy games consists of material that is NOT part of the main line of quests. No, I do not think the main line of quests in Nethergate is short at all. See my post above.

 

Maybe the key point is more what I got to at the end of my last post. Exploration is the main quest in Avernum 1.

I agree about some of the differences you're observing here, like about how much is covered by Bobs and how easy they are to find (although note that X1 does have partial-Bobs in Micah and Erika, and X2 has a fully-formed Bob in Mahdavi).

 

I don't understand how the presence or absence of Bobs, and their specifity, would determine whether or not you count exploration as an additional, unspoken "main quest" part of the "main line of quests." I guess you had an experience with Nethergate that did not make you feel engaged in exploring the world? If that's the basis, I can't argue with your subjective experience, of course, just say that I experienced all of the games we're talking about as being similarly full of exploration.

 

I also think it matters that there is more of a ramp-up of difficulty in other Spiderweb games than in Nethergate. It probably is possible (and fairly easy) to beat the game by going through the six main quests and doing nothing else. That's hard-to-impossible in most Spiderweb games.

If you don't grind for skill points in Nethergate that might not be "fairly easy"; there definitely IS an increase in difficulty as you go on. There probably is less of a gradient than in the first trilogy, but that's simply because the game is, as you observe, so much shorter.

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I don't understand how the presence or absence of Bobs, and their specifity, would determine whether or not you count exploration as an additional, unspoken "main quest" part of the "main line of quests." I guess you had an experience with Nethergate that did not make you feel engaged in exploring the world? If that's the basis, I can't argue with your subjective experience, of course, just say that I experienced all of the games we're talking about as being similarly full of exploration.

 

Because the presence of specific directions determines how much you probably need to explore to complete or even find the main quest. If you start a game for the first time in Avernum (or Exile, you fossils), and you say to yourself "Eh, sidequests are lame, I'll focus do the main quest.", you're going to have to do a fair bit of exploring to even find a main quest, let alone complete it, and probably end up doing a lot more side quests along the way. That there are three entirely separate victory conditions to complete only shows this more - there is not much specific direction towards any one of them, and finding that direction is a part of the game necessary to completing it.

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and it sounds like you're saying it's not really in Avernum 2, either?

In Avernum 2, Garzahd is vulnerable to about 1-2 points of damage per hit with a regular weapon or spell. Demonslayer adds 20-40 points of additional damage per hit. So it's theoretically possible to kill Garzahd without Demonslayer, but it would be very hard and very tedious, and I doubt very many people do it. (I quickly checked a walkthrough — which you could have done! — and there may be some other loophole in Garzahd's immunities, but I couldn't immediately track down whether there was.) So when I say that it's "more or less" required, that means it's not absolutely required, but it's basically required.

 

But what the heck does this have to do with anything? I've already said it's not a good example for the point I was making above, because in A1, it's a sidequest, and in A2, it's not a multi-part quest. It's easy enough to cite multi-part main quests in A1 or A2 (again, the brooches). Also, we've already agreed that the quests in Nethergate are more "self-contained" than in Avernum. So I think we're past this point.

 

Kel, that's not even what I said in the quoted line! The game is significantly shorter and smaller, of course. However, the vast majority of all three first trilogy games consists of material that is NOT part of the main line of quests. No, I do not think the main line of quests in Nethergate is short at all. See my post above.

I don't know what you mean by saying that the main line of quests in Nethergate is not short (compared to that of the first trilogy? That's how you put it before), because the main line of quests in Nethergate is shorter than the main line of quests in each of the games in the first trilogy. Saying "See my post above" doesn't help. I don't know what you're talking about. I am also pretty sure it's not relevant to the main points here.

 

although note that X1 does have partial-Bobs in Micah and Erika, and X2 has a fully-formed Bob in Mahdavi

Sure, but Micah and Erika aren't in the first town. The fact that you're pointing to Micah and Erika as the main Bobs in E1/A1 is exactly what I mean: you have to wander around and explore before you get set on the path to the game-winning quests. The fact that Micah and Erika aren't in Fort Avernum telling you where to go from the beginning makes for a different flavor of game.

 

I don't understand how the presence or absence of Bobs, and their specifity, would determine whether or not you count exploration as an additional, unspoken "main quest" part of the "main line of quests." I guess you had an experience with Nethergate that did not make you feel engaged in exploring the world? If that's the basis, I can't argue with your subjective experience, of course, just say that I experienced all of the games we're talking about as being similarly full of exploration.

No, that's not what I'm saying at all. It wasn't that I wasn't subjectively engaged with exploring the world in Nethergate, nor that there wasn't lots of exploration in Nethergate (crucial to my point is that there is). It was that exploring the world in Nethergate isn't necessary to completing the game.

 

In Nethergate, you get a quest right at the beginning that tells you exactly where to go, followed by more quests that tell you exactly where to go. In A1/E1 (and in A2/E2, at least after the first trip to the vahnatai and arguably before, and to a large degree in E3/A3), you have to explore to figure out anything at all. In E1/A1, you start in the East Cave. You need to get to the Great Cave (or Erika) before you have any real idea what's going on. That's a heck of a long way without any real idea what you're doing. That would be like starting in Shadow Valley Fort (or the town of Nethergate) and being told to wander, and not starting on main quests until you wander to Vanarium.

 

My point is that aimless exploration is required in order to progress in E1/A1 (and E3/A3, and for most of the game in E2/A2, as well), but it's not in Nethergate. At no point in Nethergate do you not have a main-quest task to complete. Rarely in Nethergate do you not know exactly where to go to complete that main-quest task. Neither of those two things are true in the first trilogy.

 

That's what I mean by saying that exploration is the main quest in Avernum. Aimless exploration is what you do to progress in Avernum. It's not what you do to progress in Nethergate. If you'd like it in the Rollick article's terms, Avernum is rollick through and through, but Nethergate is grit on the main quests and rollick on the sidequests.

 

How this relates to my original post is that this may have been a bad decision on Jeff's part (heck, the article even points out that it's bad to mix them). Most of the community loves Nethergate because of the richness of the world that you can explore, because of the sidequests and such, but my point is that players who are most engaged by progressing in the game (which I think is most players, though not all) can blow right past that richness and most of the sidequests, because you wander to find them, and wandering is not necessary to progress in the game. So if you want to read "Nethergate is a game of sidequests" and the following paragraph as saying that the main-to-sidequest ratio is large (again, on its own terms, not in comparison to the first trilogy) and that it's another example of what the article used Falling Stars to say, you're not far off from what I was trying to express.

 

EDIT: Nalyd nailed it on the main point.

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Taking a step back, while I think we may have some definitional disagreements about where exploration qua exploration ends and the main quest line begins (and some major disagreements about how big the quest lines are relative to the games), but I think that is not so important. My real assertion, which I lost hold of a while back, is this:

 

In Exile, it's absolutely true that you won't finish any quest without at least a little wandering and exploring. But "a little" is key here. The majority of the dungeons, and even an awful lot of entire outdoors sections, have no relevance to any of the main quests. Are you inevitably going to complete SOME of them in the course of poking around for the main quests? Sure. But you don't have to poke into any random tunnels and caves in order to complete the main quest. I'm 100% serious; literally nothing is hidden in a place that doesn't have some NPC, somewhere else, who tells you where it is. If you decide to poke into every nook and cranny while you wander, that's due to wanting to explore fully, that's not due to the main quest line.

 

In Nethergate, while you don't have to wander and explore, the majority of the non-main-quest-line content is literally just off the beaten path. That does not apply to outdoor special nodes at the end of forest pathways, but the majority of the towns/dungeons are prominently visible with distinctive map icons and often with signs and roads pointing to them. I mean, you CAN'T miss the Rose Hills when you're heading to Castle Aethdoc for the main quest line unless you refuse to look at signs or investigate town entrance icons that are literally 3 steps off the road you're on. And the main quest line for Nethergate literally has you travel to all corners of the map. You end up going through all the map sections.

 

 

The non-main-quest content in Nethergate isn't any harder to stumble into than the non-main-quest content in Exile. You'd have to make a pretty determined effort to avoid all distractions, to not interact with any of it. I don't see how that's any different.

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how big the quest lines are relative to the games

No, no, for god's sake, no!

 

I don't know how to say it any clearer than this. I don't care how big the main quest line of Nethergate is compared to some other metric of how big Nethergate is (number of towns, number of outdoor sections). That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about size of the main quest line relative to the size of the main quest line in Avernum. There are six quests with no sub-parts in Nethergate. There are three quests with a million sub-parts each in Avernum. Avernum's main quest line is longer.

 

literally nothing is hidden in a place that doesn't have some NPC, somewhere else, who tells you where it is.

If you don't see a difference between "some NPC, somewhere else" and "the guy you literally can't leave the first town without talking to because the special nodes block you," I don't know how to explain it to you.

 

I'm not saying that in Nethergate you'll be fully unaware that there are sidequests and other towns that you're not going to. I'm saying that if you're progressing in the game and don't seek out sidequests, you'll blow past a lot of them, and that progressing in the game without seeking out sidequests is an easy and natural thing to do. Not everyone will do it, but a lot of people will.

 

Sure, you can't miss the Rose Hills when you're heading to Castle Aethdoc... unless you're heading to Castle Aethdoc and see the Rose Hills as something else that you're not doing right now, so you don't go there and head to where you're heading instead.

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I seem to recall both Celts and Romans being exhorted by their respective Bobs to hurry up and go do the thing. Nethergate was actually the first Spiderweb game I played, and at first I bought into the sense of urgency, believing that I'd get to those other areas later. It made the game a lot harder than it had to be. Still beatable though.

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Sure, you can't miss the Rose Hills when you're heading to Castle Aethdoc... unless you're heading to Castle Aethdoc and see the Rose Hills as something else that you're not doing right now, so you don't go there and head to where you're heading instead.

Sure. My point is that this applies equally to the bulk of the sidequest material in Exile. It's a question of if the player's attitude is "let's look around" or "git'rdone." Now, can differences between the games that we agree on, like Bob obviousness, affect player attitude? Of course, as Jerakeen has exemplified here. But that is, at best, a question of how the sidequest material is _presented_, not a question of whether or not it's sidequest material. All the random stuff in Exile is not magically main quest material simply because exploring it is presented as the obvious thing to do. This is a question of how the game leads the player, not of what the content actually is.

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(Re the main quest size thing, I really don't get what the point is here. Exile's main quest line is longer; Exile is also a much longer game. I'm not sure how comparing the absolute measurements of the main quest line is relevant, given that the games have total lengths that are so dramatically different.)

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All the random stuff in Exile is not magically main quest material simply because exploring it is presented as the obvious thing to do.

At this point I was convinced that you are so willfully misunderstanding what I'm saying that I was prepared to call you trolling and be done with it, but then...

 

This is a question of how the game leads the player, not of what the content actually is.

If that's how you want to describe it, fine! Yes! Great! But there's a difference, and it appears that you agree that there's a difference. That's the point that I'm making. (Well, and that the difference may be problematic, but you don't have to agree with me on that.)

 

Whew! It looks like we've achieved clarity. That's sort of gratifying.

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