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Final Thoughts After Finishing the Game


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Some thoughts.  

 

My two favourite Spiderweb games are probably Nethergate (either version, really) and Queen's Wish. This is very close to those in how much I liked it. It's a good game, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. But overall, I found the game unusually difficult in ways that undercut its themes - I often felt way less powerful than the enemies I was facing, even ones that were much lower level than me - I was fighting more enemies, any one of whom was individually as or more dangerous than any of my units individually. To do this effectively, I basically had to treat my creatures as expendable and/or turn my Guardian into a source of constant healing for the creatures. For a game where one of the major themes is that creations are powerful, capable, and dangerous, having them be cannon fodder it was impossible to keep alive was really disappointing. 

 

Perhaps I should have leveled my shaping talents more. But I certainly didn't have much of a hint of that in the game. Instead, I spent a lot of time wondering what I was doing wrong, and not really being sure what to do about it. I remember a phase of the first Avernum game where I wasn't really sure where to go next because everywhere I COULD go seemed to get me killed. The whole game was like that, and I just spent plenty of time reloading and carefully picking off a few enemies then running back to town to heal. 

 

In more detail: 

I've generally been finding SW games of the Avadon-era and later to be a lot trickier than Nethergate/the original Avernums - I spend a LOT of time dying, then reloading, then dying, then reloading. Or casting about desperately to find somewhere my characters don't get curb-stomped by the enemies. Avernum 3 was something of an exception (and a welcome one). This game continues that trend, and I can't say it's one I like. I'm not entirely sure what it is - player damage seems to have dropped overall, and enemies also throw out a lot more status effects, but it's hard to point my finger at one thing in particular. I think those two things in combination are a lot of it, though. 

 

I REALLY didn't like the tendency for enemies in this game to have powerful abilities you would have no analogue to, in quantity, used constantly. The Sholai and Serviles constantly energizing themselves was possibly the most egregious example of this - it's hard to feel even a LITTLE powerful when random serviles are as or more potent in combat than your creations are until quite late in the game, and have more useful abilities on top of that. Those serviles could've cleared the Pentil gate all on their own. The Takers could absolutely kill me in seconds. Even after I'd used the Geneforge, Augmented Sholai like the guards at the Guarded Dock could be a genuine danger. And I was playing on Normal. Really, the appropriate response until at least the late game should be me asking the Obeyers politely for the loan of a kill team and just making sure to keep them alive while they do the work (which, as a steady source of heal spells, I am well-equipped to do). I'd say one of the most effective tactics is to Charm an enemy. Not just because it weakens the enemy, but because the enemy you Charm will be more useful than any of your actual creatures. 

 

Or the bit where Augmented Sholai constantly take two turns (one before yours, and one after yours, so no matter what you do it's ineffective). So apparently the Sholai are better at using Shaper canisters to such an extent that they can get abilities I and my creatures simply never have. Frustrating. 


And the area attacks. I genuinely think almost every enemy has an area attack. So if you go low numbers, the enemy swarms you. If you go higher numbers, they STILL swarm you because attacking you and four creatures is about as easy as attacking just you. It was really frustrating, and tended to make me feel like whatever I did I was wrong. I'm STILL not entirely sure what the hell I should have done to fight effectively, and I BEAT THE GAME. Maybe I WAS fighting effectively, but it didn't usually feel like it. It also, again, makes your creatures feel less special and more like useless cannon fodder using up your valuable essence. 

 

Likewise, constant applications of stunned and slow are very, very frustrating. It's one thing to get swarmed and fight your way out. It's another to get swarmed and then get your turn taken away because there's so many enemies and they all have slow effects. 

 

High level creations becoming basically constant cannon fodder thrown at you over and over really makes them lose their impact. This is especially so when there are other drayks who are treated as serious opponents of impressive capabilities - less meaningful when I've killed about a thousand Cryodrayks. And when drayks are repeatedly mentioned to be highly intelligent etc. The only one of the Sholai's drayks that goes rogue all game is the one Trajkov makes, which is just weird. 

 

The game spends a lot of time teaching you how creations are people too...but seems to expect you to treat creatures as hugely expendable (or frequently spend your combat turns exclusively healing and curing them). Playing as a Guardian it was often far more efficient to have no creatures at all, since they just died constantly. Their frequent lack of resistances did not help in this regard (again, why exactly are the Sholai so much tougher than me OR my creatures?). 

 

Knockback working on you when the enemy missed is possibly the most aggravating thing I've ever seen in a game, and made tactical positioning meaningless. Knockback is a very useful ability for the enemy, and much less useful for you, IMO. Me knocking the enemy further away means they'll go get help, or walk around me and attack someone else. I usually WANT to pin the enemy down, not knock them away from my melee units. Meanwhile, if I was lucky enough for them to miss...they still knocked my Guardian all over, and exposed my squishy Drayks to pointy swords. 

 

Speaking of, the chunk of enemies in the game that can just walk away from close combat are, again, completely infuriating. Especially since it's not that predictable who can and who can't. 

 

The ambient cold effect of the West Workshop not hurting the Sholai that come to kill you was really frustrating, and while a really small thing kind of sums up what I didn't enjoy. As opposed to cleverly letting the place wipe them out, instead you just reload the game and fix the problem so you don't die. Or just leave and go somewhere else instead, which is what I did. Yes, I know it's a tiny issue related to one zone. But it's the sort of thing that really makes the game less interesting. The game is fun, and the story is great, but it's fun in ways that kind of contradict the story - if you're a dick who treats your creatures as expendable, or who doesn't really use creatures at all, you seem to have a much easier time than otherwise. And neither seems thematically right. 

 

Basically, the theme of the game was amazing. The story was amazing. The occasions where I actually felt powerful and like my creations were dangerous were amazing - but those occasions were a lot farther apart than I think was intended. 

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I agree with some of this. The serviles guarding Gnorrel are just ridiculously deadly, even late game and a few of the Sholai guards are just plain annoying.

 

But, keep in mind, you were playing as a Guardian. Guardians are supposed to be bricks whose shaping ability is weak compared to actual shapers and have few (if any) creations of their own. They build up their personal combat stats to the point they can kick your behind all by themselves. That's the skillset you can buy cheap as a Guardian. Don't waste points on stuff you're not good at. Like a lot of Jeff's games, you have to focus on one thing and do it really, really well.

 

If you want powerful creations, play as a Shaper. Having said that, I did feel that, even at high levels, my creations were weaker at high levels in this game than they had been in the first generation of the GF games. If it wasn't for the Airshock spell, (which was a lifesaver) I never would have survived most of the late game.

 

(Not trying to be critical, BTW. Spiderweb's games are challenging (and meant to be so, I think). Sometimes, it takes a playthrough with a new game before you start to get a feel for how it's played.)

 

Also agree with the assessment that the game as a whole is just tremendous storytelling. I always thought that GF1 was maybe Jeff's best work. But, this remake just moves it to a whole other level.

Edited by stilltim
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I'm starting to wonder if the faction guards are more powerful than Spiderweb originally intended. The Hintbook mentions that The Purging quest (which requires you to kill all 3 faction leaders) should be pretty easy by the point in the game you get it, and the xp rewards for killing them are extremely low (the xp for killing Gnorrel is measured at level 8). The high difficulty of those guards is a bit at odds with that.

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The Purging quest is easy, if you run for the exit and don't fight the guards at early levels. I remember testing it and an agent has it the easiest if you have airshock. A guardian can do it too, but it is harder. A shaper would need to sacrifice creations depending on what you have.

 

Gnoerrel is low hit points, but get trapped by the guards and it's over. Ellhrah has some health, but at least his guards are easier. Rydell is the easiest because his guards are loyal to the Shapers and don't interfere.

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18 hours ago, stilltim said:

But, keep in mind, you were playing as a Guardian. Guardians are supposed to be bricks whose shaping ability is weak compared to actual shapers and have few (if any) creations of their own. They build up their personal combat stats to the point they can kick your behind all by themselves. That's the skillset you can buy cheap as a Guardian. Don't waste points on stuff you're not good at. Like a lot of Jeff's games, you have to focus on one thing and do it really, really well.

 

If you want powerful creations, play as a Shaper. Having said that, I did feel that, even at high levels, my creations were weaker at high levels in this game than they had been in the first generation of the GF games. If it wasn't for the Airshock spell, (which was a lifesaver) I never would have survived most of the late game.

 

See, I figure the Shaper should be "swarm of powerful creations" while the Guardian is "one or two powerful creations, plus you're tough yourself."  I tended to have two creatures with an occasional third swapped in when useful (a cryoa and fyora with occasional artila/clawbug, then a drayk and cryodrayk with occasional whatever).  The drayk and cryodrayk tended to be good for fewer combats before returning to town than the cryoa and fyora had been, and required a lot more attention and reloading to keep alive, even against lower-level enemies.  It was disappointing.  I'd honestly have kept using the cryoa and fyora if their damage output hadn't fallen so far behind.  

 

Also, I disagree that Jeff's games require you to focus on one thing and do it really well (or, at least, that they are intended to do so).  Being a complete generalist is a bad idea, but given the number of premade characters who dabble in one or more things I'd say the intent is to allow characters to do more than one thing. No one can do everything, but most can do more than one.  Jeff's commented multiple times that he aims for mediocre tactics and mediocre character design for the Normal difficulty level.  

 

I think part of the issue is that the Guardian has a lot less access to magic.  So his creatures are weaker AND they're more expensive for him to buff.  Bit of a nasty combination.  And he himself can only really bring single-target attacks to the table because he lacks magic.  And needs a ton more inventory space than the Agent or Shaper because his abilities have to come from items a lot more. Not ideal.  I think if I made one change to the game I might just combine pods and spores.  I don't think there's much it'd hurt, and it'd really help the Guardian.  And be one less thing to keep track of.  

 

Oddly, as I think about it, the Guardian should probably go for Magic Shaping.  Artilas and Vlish can buff, meaning he has one less thing to worry about, and the special abilities shore up his weaknesses better than Fire (or, obviously, Battle).  And why bring your own, fragile, Drayk, when an Ur Glahk can bring one every three rounds?  

 

18 hours ago, stilltim said:

(Not trying to be critical, BTW. Spiderweb's games are challenging (and meant to be so, I think). Sometimes, it takes a playthrough with a new game before you start to get a feel for how it's played.)

 

If that's the case I'd say that's a problem.  Both because Jeff has previously commented that ideally playing on normal with mediocre tactics and mediocre party design should feature little or no death and failure.  And second, because these games are big - Geneforge is relatively short by Spiderweb standards, IMO, and it still took a fair fewer hours to get through.  And when the strength is the story, expecting people to play through the entire thing fully multiple times is...a lot.  Especially if the idea of playing through again is to try to get enjoyment out of an aspect they didn't enjoy the first time. 

 

I am likely going to try again with a Guardian who uses a slightly different approach (i.e. Magic Shaping and basically ignoring Fire or Battle) and see how it goes.  It just seems odd to have the Guardian, the guy who basically can't use Magic, emphasize Magic Shaping.  

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4 minutes ago, Simulated Knave said:

See, I figure the Shaper should be "swarm of powerful creations" while the Guardian is "one or two powerful creations, plus you're tough yourself." 

 

That was basically what I had in mind. But, as a Guardian, you have limits as to how much shaping power you can buy.

 

7 minutes ago, Simulated Knave said:

I am likely going to try again with a Guardian who uses a slightly different approach (i.e. Magic Shaping and basically ignoring Fire or Battle) and see how it goes.  It just seems odd to have the Guardian, the guy who basically can't use Magic, emphasize Magic Shaping.  

 

That was what I was trying to get at. Pick just one shaping skill and plow more points into it than you did each of the three the first playthrough. Even as a shaper, I just picked fire and magic shaping and ignored battle shaping. (I had about 5 in each and my creations still felt a little weak for certain opponents). For a guardian, that level will come much more dear.

 

Magic is probably a good choice if you just pick one. The Searing Artila and the Terror Vlish both have attacks (acid/mind attacks) that the super-buffed Sholai guards defend against poorly.

 

14 minutes ago, Simulated Knave said:

If that's the case I'd say that's a problem.  Both because Jeff has previously commented that ideally playing on normal with mediocre tactics and mediocre party design should feature little or no death and failure. 

 

In most cases, you shouldn't have to. I've only had to do that with one or two of the Avernum games and it's mostly because my personal playstyle is WAY different than the power players recommend for those games.

 

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21 hours ago, Simulated Knave said:

Knockback working on you when the enemy missed is possibly the most aggravating thing I've ever seen in a game, and made tactical positioning meaningless. Knockback is a very useful ability for the enemy, and much less useful for you, IMO. Me knocking the enemy further away means they'll go get help, or walk around me and attack someone else. I usually WANT to pin the enemy down, not knock them away from my melee units. Meanwhile, if I was lucky enough for them to miss...they still knocked my Guardian all over, and exposed my squishy Drayks to pointy swords. 

 

This one is kind of interesting to me. Knockbacks applying on a miss has been pretty common in Spiderweb games (at least back to Avernum EftP where it happened all the time). The only SW game I played where this wasn't the case was Queen's Wish (knockbacks wouldn't take place if the attack missed), so I figured future games would also be the same. Curious why they went back on the mechanics for this.

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As a Shaper playing on Normal this was not my experience at all. There were certainly some fights and areas that were very tough, and a few difficulty spikes I struggled with, but I only occasionally lost creations. (When I did I gave them a number behind their name, so at a certain point I'd be walking around with a Searing Artila "Nurgal IV". But I don't think I had any creature go above V or so. My Glaakh actually never died, though he was the only one..)

 

For example, that fight with Gnorrel (and all the guards) was really quite easy. I believe I did lose 1 creation (It was a Nurgal, poor acid worm thing.) but other than that my Cryoas and Roamers and Winslow the Glaakh made short work of the enemy. But by the time I had found those Shapers and gotten the quest my Shaper was level 15, not level 8. Don't think I could have done it at a much lower level.

 

I did use some items and used the essence pool to cast Essence Shield on everybody first. I expect Essence Shield made a huge difference in general in letting my creations survive. (Usually cheaper in essence than healing, and a lot more effective. Worked wonders on pylons in particular.)

 

I do expect a Guardian will have a considerably tougher time than a Shaper. A lot of those tough fights devolved into "cast charm, mop up survivors." Jeff has indicated he is thinking of adding more stuff for shapers and guardians in future remakes.

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My take on this is that high variability in enemy count heavily affects the player experience. On Torment, for example, if two Pyroroamers jump on top of me I have to reload. A fight can sometimes be 2-3x times harder than it "should" be because of the number of enemies you walk into.

 

While I love a tactical approach of isolating enemies and waiting for favorable pathing, I definitely think having a creation army duke it out with many enemies at once is the core spirit of this game. Unfortunately, as you've laid out in your post trying to do this usually just means your team gets rolled by area abilities. On the other hand, the game becomes trivial if the player chooses to kill enemies one-by-one with the assistance of 8 creations.

Edited by kuo
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22 hours ago, stilltim said:

 

That was what I was trying to get at. Pick just one shaping skill and plow more points into it than you did each of the three the first playthrough. Even as a shaper, I just picked fire and magic shaping and ignored battle shaping. (I had about 5 in each and my creations still felt a little weak for certain opponents). For a guardian, that level will come much more dear.

 

Magic is probably a good choice if you just pick one. The Searing Artila and the Terror Vlish both have attacks (acid/mind attacks) that the super-buffed Sholai guards defend against poorly.

 

 

 

I would note that I went back and respecced my end-of-game Guardian, ploughing all my Shaping points into Fire and seeing what the Drayks were like. The answer: not as much tougher as they would need to be. 

 

Plus, people on a first playthrough are going to want to unlock every creature (if only to see what works for them).  So even knowing what to do the second time through is still not ideal.  It's one thing to need a partial playthrough to figure things out. But if the late-game gets too hard too fast, that's a much bigger investment gone. 

 

 

20 hours ago, Mechalibur said:

 

This one is kind of interesting to me. Knockbacks applying on a miss has been pretty common in Spiderweb games (at least back to Avernum EftP where it happened all the time). The only SW game I played where this wasn't the case was Queen's Wish (knockbacks wouldn't take place if the attack missed), so I figured future games would also be the same. Curious why they went back on the mechanics for this.

 

I was playing Avernum 3 right before Geneforge, and would swear it didn't work that way.  Evidently I either got hit a lot more in Avernum or there were a lot fewer knockback attacks.

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The most recent one.  As I recall knockback wasn't a thing in the others.  

I really should recall that.  I mean, I have them installed still.  And would argue that if Avernum 1 had a quest list it'd be the superior game.* 

*For the curious: 1 is better than EFTP, 2 is better than Crystal Souls, but Ruined World is better than 3, for all that I miss the horses. 

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Most of my playthrough was as a Guardian with no points put into magic, instead having Magic creations do the buffing from the back (War Blessing / Protection / Acid Spray / Charm). This way the Guardian is the primary damage-doer (with the only complaint being lack of multi-target abilities, and being difficult to retreat when overwhelmed). I've not completed the game though, so I don't know how much more difficult it can get.

 

 

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7 hours ago, BMA said:

This way the Guardian is the primary damage-doer (with the only complaint being lack of multi-target abilities, and being difficult to retreat when overwhelmed). I

This is why you need the spray baton and crystals to deal with more than one target. It isn't as good as an agent because you need to switch batons, but it is better than the original game where crystals and wands were the only option.

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I'm always amazed at the number of people who go all the way back to the beginning of Spiderweb's games; I feel like an oldtimer just because I've played all the Avernums, Nethergate, GF 1-5, Avadon, but I never experienced Exile 1-3. At any rate, for what's it is worth from a completely non-optimizing player, I agree with some of what I saw as the OP's reaction, in that while my normal Shaper run was relatively easy, the game does seem to be a bit more difficult than the usual; my Guardian Veteran run was much tougher than the usual for Hard setting for me -- far more having to just completely abandon some areas even when I felt I should have been able to handle them. The inability to hit some enemies due to level (I know, that should have been a hint ...) was a definite adjustment. Strangely, the "challenge area" (other than the final battle) was a walk in the park as a level 19 guardian. By the end, I did find that only acid artilas were really useful to me -- the incredible strength of acid against tough foes meant I just tried to keep them out of harms way and soak up damage with my character.

 

I did play straight through twice (never done that before), so I must have liked it, but I'm still trying to figure out why it was harder than usual.

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