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Shadow of the Stranger


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THE CREATOR

 

To start with, I’d like to say that I don’t like the title of this scenario. Shadow of the Stranger sounds so boring. I have a better one. Return of the Bean Pets.

 

Yes, this scenario, the final in the Drizzt trilogy, sees the resurgence of the stuffed toys that were so tragically missing from Brotherhood of the Hand. They’re bigger, softer and cuddlier than ever. And a demon is terrorizing the bean pet owners of Wittenberg Valley, trying to gain a monopoly.

 

Actually, all that plays second fiddle to the main plot of the scenario, but I thought it deserved a mention. Besides anything else, it makes help topics for the scenario so much more fun to read. Not only do people ask “How do I get the Legendary Sword to defeat the Evil Guardian?”, you are just as likely to see someone say, “Okay Drizzt, I give up. Where can I find Squeak the Mouse?”.

 

Not that the main part is bad, of course. It’s very good. It collected third place in the Fourth Scenario Design Contest. In my opinion, it deserved first place. But then, my opinion doesn’t count for too much as I wasn’t judging.

 

I downloaded the scenario soon after the start of the contest, to check out the competition as it were. It took me approximately five minutes to realise I had little or no chance of beating this one.

 

The thing that most impressed me about this scenario was the extensive technical innovation. Any scenario that produces a major programming innovation is special. Shadow of the Stranger contains no less than three. All deserve a special mention.

 

The Day/Night Cycle. This has been used before, in The Election. However, it has never been put to such extensive use, and in my mind it has never been done so beautifully. Chris Risberg even comes close to making the day/night cycle affect the outdoors. During the day you will occasionally hear birds chirp. During the night, these are replaced by yawns and a small text message saying, “It’s late”. It’s a nice little touch that adds a lot.

 

The Cube of Teleportation. I’ve seen this one talked about before, but this is the first scenario to put it into practice. At a certain point in the scenario you will collect a special item that allows you to change the destination of your Word of Recall spell. It’s very cool, and is incorporated well into the scenario. The cube itself is a bit tricky to use, but you’ll soon get used to it, especially if you use it a lot.

 

The Cheater Stick. For some fights and puzzles, you will be given a special item that will allow you to get through without having to sweat it out. There is a penalty attached, so there’s plenty of motivation to get through honestly. Still, it’s very nice to be able to get through a tough puzzle without having to start a help topic and wait for someone to answer.

 

On top of this, Shadow of the Stranger features a host of smaller programming tricks that would do any designer proud. For instance, after killing a certain boss, you will be plunged into darkness. In another spot you’ll come up against an antimagic cloud special spell. There’s also a certain fight with a massive Ice Drake that is somewhat unique (I won’t spoil it for you). I would love to list them all, but there’s simply too many. In addition, the now common special spells and special NPCs are used too. Add to that the fact that the scenario is almost entirely bug free (apart from one unavoidable problem caused by a BoE bug) and you are looking at a very intimidating piece of work.

 

Graphically, the scenario is similarilly brilliant. Drizzt continues his tradition of using a Tim Farland dragon in every one of his scenarios to date, and it comes off very well. Many other excellent graphics are used, including the best collection of custom dialogue faces I’ve seen in any scenario apart from Truffle Days.

 

The plot is... good enough. You can find weaknesses in it if you go looking for them, but overall it carries the scenario well. It’s a long way from being the best out there, but it’s a much, much longer way from being the worst.

 

I found the combat to be pretty easy. This may have had something to do with the fact that the party I used was not far below the recommended minimum starting level — a rarity indeed for me. Generally speaking, I thought the combat was well balanced throughout. No fights were so difficult as to be frustrating, and none were so easy as to be tedious.

 

All puzzles were linked in well with the plot. One in particular was too difficult, but as the Cheater Stick is available to get you through I’ll let it slide. The one at the entrance to the Brotherhood safehouse is particularly good.

 

I do have a few minor complaints about the scenario, but none raise themselves above the level of quibbles. What Shadow of the Stranger lacks in some areas it more than makes up for in others. I give it a score of 10. This the best scenario I’ve played in a long while.

 

BEST

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TERROR'S MARTYR

 

Well, I agree with Drakefyre and Creator on most points, but I also believe that Skirn as a villain was totally unpredictable (have we at least *heard* of this guy, before?), and was rather shallow (demons are BAD BAD BAD!-- however, I will say that this has got to be the best demon scenario I've seen to date). The telling of the story was excellent; however, I felt genuinely cheated, with the entire demon aspect of this plot. Of course, this is also a scenario of exceedingly excellent caliber, which I wholeheartedly reccomend, but prepare for the moderately dissapointing surprise in the core of this plot. Good

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STAREYE

 

Shadow of the Stranger, aka Wormwood, placed 3rd in the Fourth Scenario design contest and not too far behind the other top two competitors. It is the third scenario by Chris Risberg (Drizzt) and a conclusion of the storyline throughout his other two scenarios The Forsaken and Brotherhood of the Hand. Both of them were efforts of high quality and this one is no exception.

 

SotS told a kind of eerie and violent story in an evolving and imaginative way. In this I applaud Drizzt as not many have been able to accomplish this. The plot is well structured and fleshed out quite well.

 

My only real beef with the plot is the villain. He is character is well developed throughout the scenario, and you even get a glimpse at his past and what made him into the bad guy he is. This is done very well. However, I really do not know how I felt about the bad guy. I surely didn’t hate him, nor did I really sympathize with him. His character was told very well, but it was not involving enough for me to develop some kind of affinity with him. Unfortunately, he just turns out to be another one of those guys out to rule/destroy the world. Is there anything wrong with that? Not at all, if there is a good underlying motivation for him to do so. That condition, in my opinion, was not developed to my satisfaction. So for the most part, he’s a bad guy does what he does because he’s a bad guy because that’s what bad guys do. Perhaps not quite that bad, but fairly close to.

 

Aside from the basic motivations of the villain, the other thing that really did not make me happy was the “coincidental” aspects of a few situations. One example was when some mysterious character working for the villain “accidentally” drops his “key” into the villain’s hideout. Another that comes to mind is when you are exploring a trash pit to recover some item, you make friends with this psychic gelatinous garbage eating goo. Why does the goo decide to help you? Because one of your friends just happened to be exploring the same trash pit one day and happened to release this jelly from it’s prison. There are a few others, but overall, the author handles the necessary “coincidences” well.

 

Now to move onto the many positives of this scenario which overwhelm the negatives by far. The first thing that becomes apparent are the many innovations employed in this scenario. The most apparent of these is the day/night cycle which brilliantly uses variable town entry to simulate towns at day and at night. Visiting places at different times of day becomes essential. It brought back memories of an old Castlevania game for Nintendo waaaaaay back when.

 

Another one of Drizzt’s little innovations was the use of a ‘Cube of Teleportation’ which allows you to store destinations and travel to them via the Word of Recall spell. It’s a good idea, but the mechanics of the cube were a bit awkward for lack of a better word. I suppose with limitations of the Blades editor Drizzt did his best, so I cannot penalize him there.

 

There are a few more. Like most good scenarios these days, the use of NPCs that join battles is employed to a limited extent. Nothing really revolutionary, but attractive. Also, there was that item synthesizing machine which was pretty neat. Some battle mechanics were improved such as the use of walls that radiate antimagic fields to simulate an Antimagic Cloud special spell, a neat battle with a massive ice drake that I loved, among many other things that I’ll let you uncover on your own.

 

As for combat, there are some pretty tough fights. At one point, the party is stripped of their items and forced to fight a fairly difficult encounter against the villain of the story. I ended up using the editor to even out the score a bit there, but otherwise everything was manageable. Difficult, but manageable.

 

Custom graphics were used extremely well. In fact I don’t remember a scenario where I was so pleased with their use. Many of them are the work of Tim Farland, so I give him credit for most of this. The graphics for the Empire soldiers used some of his best and the quality of the scenario is definitely enhanced because of it. Also, the use of custom dialogue pics are far better than any other scenario seen thus far. Definitely some ideas for future designers to consider.

 

Among these innovations were a few ‘dungeons’ that really stood out. The one that was extremely creative was the ‘shadow spire’, very hard to describe. Very short and nothing really there, but graphical use really showed the party being caught in this almost tornado of blackness. I know I was really impressed by this.

 

Well overall, this scenario is one of the best. I’m not sure if I liked the plot on a whole, but I love the way it was told. A few areas felt a bit awkward, but nothing so puzzling it makes the game unwinnable. All of this is overcome by the innovative techniques used within the scenario which are coming hard to do considering all that has been accomplished in the Blades engine thus far. Definitely play it.

 

My Score — Good

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ALCRITAS

 

I had written a review of this scenario, but unfortunately it got lost when The Lyceum crashed, and was one of the few Falcatta was unable to save...

 

This is a great scenario that's a few narration problems away from perfection. Notably, the inclusion of far too many (and too obvious) Stupid Party Tricks, a few too many "Oops, you just missed the big event while you were out shopping" moments, and an ending devolution that seems to render your party largely irrelevant as other, more powerful individuals duke it out...

 

Gameplay is nothing short of phenomenal across the board, and SoTS has, easily, the most consistently good quests/adventures of any scenario to date. The Ice Drake was a particular highlight.

 

Best

 

Alcritas’ Review

 

The conclusion of Drizzt's trilogy, that started with The Forsaken, and continued with Brotherhood of the Hand. Where to begin?

 

How about the obvious place - this scenario is technically brilliant. From implementing a day/night sequence (seen only before in The Election, and taken to far greater, and vastly superior, levels here), to a teleportal cube, to placing anti-magic clouds, to... Well, maybe you should play it and find out yourself. Shadow of the Stranger is an incredibly innovative scenario, so much so that it shamed me, releasing Falling Stars around the same time, without anywhere near the level of advancement Drizzt achieved here.

 

Gameplay? For the most part, absolutely superb. There are a few "Get inside Drizzt's head" puzzles, unfortunately, but only a few. Excellent sequences abound, most notably fighting off the invincible Ice Drake. Exploring your adversaries past was nicely creepy... And who could forget the Bean Pets? Ahh... Shadow of the Stranger placed third in the Fourth Scenario Design Contest (considered by many to be the strongest) - and frankly could have easily won the whole thing.

 

Okay, so what's wrong? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! This is as perfect as scenarios come!

 

 

 

 

...

 

 

 

...

 

 

 

...

 

 

 

Okay, okay, there are few things. The plot relies on some Stupid Party Tricks (you'll figure out you're actually doing the bad guy's bidding way early on, but are still forced down the same path). Too much of the plot is advanced while you aren't looking, and near the end, it often feels as if its not your story, but rather the story of some Drizzt character. Oh well.

 

There's also the problem of the villain and the trilogy. Basically, the villain just kind of shows up here, and there's no real foreshadowing of his motivations and characterization in the earlier parts of the trilogy. Is that the fault of this scenario? Perhaps not. But the trilogy as a whole doesn't hang together as well as it should, and this is one of the primary reasons.

 

Oh, enough of my nitpicking. This is a superb scenario, and if you haven't played it already, go do so now, dammit!

 

 

 

My score — Good

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BOOTS

 

Good - Of the trilogy, this one suffers least from the shadow of the Vogel. Those monotonous hallmarks of the Spiderweb School of Design that are all over The Forsaken and Brotherhood (Magic Map Your Way to Riches and Power! Save the World by Repeatedly Running into Things! Hone Your Discriminating Eye for Minute Variations in Floor Tiles and Building Materials! Brave, If You Dare, the Demoniacally Dull Corridors of Energy Drain and/or Chronic Infection!) are muted here. There's still plenty of that going on, but much more of Drizzt's own distinctive strengths: vividly realized places and characters (the look of his cities alone means that you can wander happily around for a good while before it occurs to wonder how you're supposed to get on with saving the world and such); a taut story with richly-developed side quests; and no shortage of neat stuff.

 

It is true that the plot ultimately becomes a bit of an over-elaborate yawn. "While you were out. . . ." is how most things happen, and by the end, you've witnessed pretty much every possible device for pulling a deus out of a machina. So the final episodes are thin in comparison with what comes earlier: there's not much to do but stand where you're told, do some absent-minded slaughtering and watch as everything gets tied up. But it's a good show.

 

My one complaint is that Drizzt tends to design puzzles in which the greatest challenge isn't figuring out the solution but figuring out how to jury-rig the Blades system in order to accomplish it. A fair helping of gameplay is spent re-engineering and patching your way around problems that result solely from the limitations of the interface. Which is why, to me at least, Drizzt's scenarios can take on the strained feel of an incredibly creative mind working through its frustrations with the inadequate tools it's been given. A player is sometimes made to share more in the frustrations than the creativity.

 

Besides that, a terrific scenario.

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ZIPPY THE PINHEAD

 

Great scenario (Best):

 

Yay! For once, a scenario that actually has NPCs as a large part! (Is it just me, or was an NPC love story originally intended? ) The final fight was slightly too easy, though, if you have a source of AM clouds. (Or if you have Hezzor's Staff of Sheep. Baaahhh!!!) Suspense at the end was very cool, though I don't know about including Drizzt the Drow as a major character. (Isn't he from some fantasy series or something?)

 

And the bean pets... Gotta love them bean pets...

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MILU K

 

An excellent scenario, and I gave it bonus for Bean Pets and Hezzor.

 

The day/night thing was interesting, and sidequests were nice.

 

The Ice Drake fight was a bit too difficult for me. However, all the other fights were more or less manageable... I think.

 

The story was interesting enough and mainly interestingly told, except that the villain's motives seemed overused.

 

The scenario ended too soon, I would have liked to see more. (I don't take points off for that.)

 

Good

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CORWIN

 

GRIPPING plot, Drizzt with an ice melee attack was a neat touch, a few tiny grammatical errors, and there are a few bugs (I was told that the safehouse was destroyed, and went there like three times and everthing was fine) also I thought the traitor was a bit obvious (but hell, I read zelazny so maybe I have an unfair advantage) Other than those few tiny flaws, it is amazing.

Good

 

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S.M. ADVENTURER

 

I recently won this scenario too. It was very well written. There were numerous excellent customized graphics and it had an engaging plot. All the NPCs had well developed personalities and The Stranger was a dynamic villain.

 

I liked the interesting noding techinques used in this scenario. For example, in the Empire fort with the

Antimagic Field. The way you had to sneak into the fort was pretty neat too.

 

Another amazing code was the Day/Night cycle. It really worked great, and I loved how each town was

different depending on whether you visited during the day or night. Once again, something I wish I could do in my own scenarios.

 

Each quest was pretty interesting, starting with the Drake caverns and ending with assassinating the Mayor of Weilim. The Empire castle and the Stranger's Dungeons were designed very well too. The Stranger had a pretty good motive for his evil deeds, and it was fun to refuse to jump off the cliff to show him my "magic".

 

In the final dungeon, I liked how as you progress through it you get a track on Drizzt's progress in deactivating the Stranger's shields. There was well used imagery and very descriptive dialogue.

 

Oh, and the tree climbing feature was nifty too, although I actually didn't climb any trees.

 

One more thing, I can honestly say I got through the entire scenario without using the Cheater Stick. Woohoo!

 

Overall, I had an grand time playing this scenarios. It may be one of the best scenarios out there. It was bug-free and well-coded. I had fun playing this one.

 

My Rating: Best

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I honestly have had to revisit this rating... I used to find the scenario outstanding, but the more I think about it.. The plot seems like a typical good/evil battle with little substance, some of the drama came off as fake, etc. Plus, I wasn't a huge fan of the town layouts. Still, it had lots of interesting innovations and some good battles.

 

Good

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