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Mutagen runs, Or, How I Learned to Hate Geneforge 1: Mutagen Over the Course of Three Playthroughs (Joking) (Also, Spoilers)


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1 – Awakened Shaper, Veteran (the blind run) Part 1

 

I wanted to jump back into Geneforge on a nice, even difficulty for my experience level. You’ll quickly see how that worked out for me, but to make a long story short, before this, I used to actually think I was good at this game. I actually began my first game as a Guardian, since I remember liking the playstyle, but the Mutagen-original gate demanded I use the Firebolt Canister, I decided to restart as a Shaper because hey, the character in the opening scrawl is a Shaper, and I didn’t want to be saddled with an ability I couldn’t use (a running trend in my first playthrough is making decisions based on the original game, to interesting results). It had been three or so years since I last played Geneforge, however, and while the plot, characters, and general progression have been branded onto my gray matter over the course of 250 hours of playtime, I forgot a few small but crucial details to the fog of ages.

The first roadbump is that I hate playing the Shaper class, and avoid it whenever possible, which is all the time. Quite a few (though not all) of my frustrations stemmed from me making a scuffed melee Guardian/missile Guardian/Magic Shaping Agent/support Shaper, or Generalist for short. My obviously sub-optimal build eventually had enough Leadership and Mechanics to get me through areas and gain some levels with minimal hiccups, which was good, because I was wholly incapable of fighting a fair fight outside of the tutorial. And I mean it: my modus operandi after hitting Vakkiri is to head to the ruined school first to pick up a level or two, as well as a decent belt. I quickly found that the Bandit Woods found a few problems with my plan, and those problems were, in order:

Thahds

Thahds leaping

Thahds Dazing

Thahds riposting

Thahds having too much goddamned health

Thahds eating half my health bar with one hit, holy--

 

These problems were exacerbated in the school itself, with just as many enemies per encounter in much tighter spaces. Eventually I decided to back off and do some quests around town, admonishing myself for trying to rush into the meat of things. “Take it easy,” I told myself as I read some updated lore, “soak up the old and the new. Shake the rust off and gain a level or two. Then you’ll crush this game in no time.” I did the usual stuff, finding a knife on the ground, unlocking a box, revealing a spy, taking a moment to, uh, marvel at my new ability to be just plain unpleasant to people. Learned a new word, “inutile”, that would definitely come up in future entries. Going up north to talk down some bandits and get Brodus to agree to-- ah, this is where that eventually rears its ugly head. I put most of my points into Mechanics for experience reasons, so I was a point short for the Leadership requirement, and combat-wise I was still working my way up to Rawbone, so I was stuck until I leveled up. I decided to break off from my personal route and go to Watchhill for now, to which Watchhill responded, “Did you forget what Bandit Woods just said? Here, I’ll reiterate:

Thahds

Thahds leaping

Thahds Dazing

Thahds ripost-- oh, you’re dead. Also, you don’t have enough Leadership to get Seerula to help you.”

 

If you were there with me while I was playing, you may have said, “Man, you sure are dying a lot.” And you’d be right; I WAS dying a lot, a lot more than I did in the original Tricky. “Guess this game’s just harder than the original,” I’d reply. “Just means I need to get harder.” ‘Harder’ here means brute forcing my way through the school, saving like I had a drinky bird tapping the quick-save key, even battling the Enraged Fyora in the basin, a boss fight all on its own in this game. Finally, I had no choice: I had to fight Rawbone and the Ape Out gang in order to level up. I use my last blessing pods, my last meager advantage to close the gap between us and step forward-- oh hey, he has a dialogue option that gives him wrack status! I love that there are more Leadership options in the lead-up to fights. Being able to wrack or DOT an opponent is always great, a nice treat for those who put their points into that instead of pushing their damage output more. Really, I’d like to see options like this in pretty much all mandatory fights I can’t just ignore or bypass with Leadership or Mechanics. What was I talking about again? Oh yeah, I whooped Rawbone’s ass; only took like four tries, and now I have enough Leadership to finish some quests, and get a free point in Spellcraft from the Mind. I’m pretty sure that was Firebolt in the original; talk about an upgrade!

Know what else got upgraded? The spawners. No longer do they simply puke up a creation every turn that proceeds to try and kill me. Now they still do that, but also puke up weakening mist, poison spray, and some kind of thorn to also try and kill me, and usually succeed. Last time I was here, I couldn’t even make it to Watchhill proper through the sea of like… 8 rogues, and now, with Seerula by my side, I got far enough in to not make it to the spawner. No matter what angle I approached it from, I’d just get walled by an endless conga line of creations, neither side making any ground until I inevitably missed, or nearly as inevitably get hit by two to three critical hits in a row.

 

“Wow, you’re really missing a lot of attacks,” the hypothetical you opines from the backseat as I die again. “You ought to do something about that.”

“Well, I’m still in the pretty early game,” I reply, holding back venom. “I don’t have many options, so I just have to tough it out and fish for EXP after. Then I can level up my skills.” It was about halfway into my second playthrough of the game that I learned that hit chance was tied not to any skill levels, but to Player Level, and presumably the level of whatever I was fighting, meaning enemies with levels higher than I would ever have would be a delight to face in battle.

“Maybe make another creation? I hear Thahds are pretty good.” That seems like a good idea, but it turns out the game and I get our Thahds from two very different places, and mine have a side of brittle bone disease with their Creutzfeldt-Jakob.

“Be more of a Shaper? Just sit back and support everyone else.”

Sitting back and letting creations do the fighting, chipping in with support is all well and good for some people, but I if I knew how to back down and provide support, I wouldn’t be single right now. Regardless, I had more pressing matters at hand, like figuring out how to keep my ungrateful lizard children from eating me. Also, my Fyoras kept going rogue. I had three, and their levels either matched mine or were a level above, because any less and they died almost instantly, typically after they went rogue anyway. Skill descriptions told me that another level in Fire shaping would strengthen my control over them, so I did it as soon as I leveled up, but it also raised their level by one, so it was a wash.

Eventually I got lucky and killed the spawner, and compared to that hurdle, everything up to Pentil was almost easy. I even did Spiral Burrow for the Awakened and, while hellish, it was hellish in a grinding, bit-by-bit crawl like the successful school run, and not the same grinding, bit-by-bit crawl and also I die one to six times in every conceivable way like Watchmojo. I get to Warp in like half an hour, and beat it on my second try, and only because the backup swarm of Thahds took me by surprise. The discipline wand was a godsend when I remembered I had it. I was a bit disappointed when I saw that the wand changed from a weapon that deleted rogues to a few charges of Daze. However, I overall like the idea of wands being items like crystals and the blessing rods. I also like having more of them around to find and use to maintain advantage. I would appreciate them even more, however, if they could somehow stack, and not take up multiple slots of my 25 slot inventory.

 

Inventory management wound up being a severe sticking point for me, not necessarily by being the biggest issue I had, but by being the issue I most often had. With only 25 slots, I almost never had enough space for the things picked up and wanted to keep on me, so it went to the junk bag. For some reason, once you put something in the junk bag, you can’t take it out again unless you’re in one of the four towns. You also can’t sell individual items in the junk bag while leaving others. You have to use the sell all option to sell everything, so if you have something you don’t want sold in there, and you’re at a shop that’s out in the “wilderness”, you’ll have to go to town to take out the item(s), and depending on if the towns even have money left to buy your swag (which the later you get in the game, the more likely that’ll be the case), go back to the shop to continue selling. This exact scenario happened to me more times than it really should have, as in it happened more than once. Not helping was that I was usually on my way to a tough gauntlet or from a looting spree which was why I had so many items on me in the first place. I just don’t think the current inventory system works as well as it could. A six by six grid or a junk bag I can freely move my items from and not barring me from taking things out of it unless I’m in one of four areas in the game.

Quick edit because I forgot: The change that most boiled my piss between games is how the Tombs work now, the knowledge within only being accessible if you haven't put any points in the stat. Considering my "generalist" build, the fact that I was operating under the OLD rules for the Tombs (you can't get the point if the relevant stat is too LOW), and that I needed those points to be able to get to the tombs at all, I was deeply frustrated with this change. Back to your regularly scheduled programming.

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Anyway, after getting stonewalled by the quiet marshes AND the stone circle because I don’t know how to sneak, I go to the inutile village, and truly new content! I was here before, but I was stonewalled by the brigands because I didn’t know how talk good yet. I managed to kill them with the new discipline wand I picked up in my travels and went ahead to where Sessina lived, and learning of the creation he and his friends somehow made back in the day, the Cocka-- Cockatrice? I’ll admit, I was caught off guard with that one. I was caught even more off guard by the battle beta(!) guarding it. And the clawbugs that seemed to have two turns per round. And stinging artilas were there too, I suppose. You know what else was there? A second group of a battle beta, clawbugs, and stinging artilas that guard the second half of the tunnel. And they head straight for you once you start fighting the first group.

Let me circle back to the betas. A battle beta is like a thahd, but with fundamental differences. Battle betas, you see, also leap, and those leaps also Daze, but those leaps also knock you back for functionally no reason. Betas riposte, but instead of having too much goddamned health, they have way too much goddamned health. Also, they hit more than my healing options can recover, and those hits now stun.

Being stuck in the southwest quadrant of Sucia and barred from every path out of it by something I literally couldn’t deal with or bypass due to my sub-optimal build, and most of the items sold in the shops I had access to that could help me deal with those obstacles, I had already used on earlier obstacles when my build was even weaker. This run was roughly a week ago from the time of my typing this, so my memories have faded somewhat, but I remember dreaming about how miserable my attempts to get through quiet marsh, stone circle, F***ing. Diarazad. The patrol bridge that would take me to central Sucia where the Workshops are. Nothing. Sneaking? No dice. Booking it? Everything LEAPS! At that point I had a choice,

1) Just try to run through the marshes however many times I have to until I eventually make it through to Kazg and resupply, draining my money almost totally on needed supplies in the overpriced shops there, but also gaining exp in various quests and area clears;

2) Admit my “Generalist” build is too borked to survive mid-to-late game, and restart from the beginning with a proper Shaper build, also wasting eight hours of my life in the process; or

3) healmenow.

 

For most of you, I guess the ride ends here: I reached a point where Veteran using a Shaper was unbearable without cheating, revealing myself as the Cringelord Failson of the Geneforge playerbase. For all two of you that remained, my run at least became smoother. Got to Kazg, talked to Masha, Astrov, and Sage Clois in that order. Went through the mines. Failed to find a way through the mines to the research warrens, despite going to the arena (I just… forgot there was another area past it and treated it like a dead end. Guess I was just distracted by Janus). Went down to the docks to meet some new Shapers (apparently wingbolts existed at this point in Geneforge history? I always assumed they were a wartime development like the Kyshakk and War Trall). Managed to get through the patrol bridge and got myself a control rod (that poor mind). Dug an entry baton out of cold storage, too, but a shade showed up and told me to break it, or a bunch of guys outside would come in and beat me. Feels like high school. And just like high school, the guy isn’t all that smart, since I broke a bit off the top and that was good enough for him.

 

After all of that, I felt ready to continue the Ascended questline to and get more cockatrice canisters. Meeting Yu-La was also a plus of that, since Thrakerzod wanted something from her. So I headed over there and found my quest for cockatrice was gonna take a while, at least until I got DEEP into the research warrens. So, I went to help Alonso get rid of his ex. I had no damn idea how to get through the minefield, so I went ahead with battle and oh boy, was I not capable. Even when cheating my balls off, my roamers still died with alarming regularity, to the point where I stopped giving them the 30% damage reduction buff, because they died just as fast either way, and I wanted the essence for more Dazes (I ran out of D. wands) and essence lances. I managed to get to Uroboros, who I see I can trick into… something, I didn’t know yet. And I wouldn’t for a very long time, since my Leadership at that point was like 8 or 9. So it’s time to fight and she immediately stunlocks me to death. Well, Hell, time to do something else.

 

That something wound up being picking my way past the west gate (as in, fought my way through the west gate, where every enemy carried more enemies in their pockets) over to Trajkov’s and schmoozing my way to his side, getting clearance to go to a bunch of areas I couldn’t before, picking up some plates for later. Now I can make my way to Goettsch, the Gloves, and the big city, babeee!!! The Secret is always fun to go “discover”, and I do it every playthrough. Making my way to both the sentinels (which is always a gas) and the Valley of the Winds (which, uh, gives me gas…? …I’m very tired.) I swiped the gloves, noticing the wire beneath and disarming it, and headed over to Traj-- sorry, I meant over to Uroboros to put an end to that mess. At this point, I’m just strong enough to cheese a win. And with that, and after going through the worst mosh pit ever, netting me a perfectly controlled cockatrice, I finally make my way back to Trajkov… and immediately go back to Goettsch to fight him for Huestess (who’s quest I screwed up by going up through the City first, I think). The fight is a nightmare, the man himself immediately killing my birds even through my terrors, dazes, and stunning gems. I charmed, dazed, and acid-ed everything else in the room, but two-thirds of everything I threw at him missed because of the &@*%ing level difference! Eventually I just had nothing left and had to break for the exit, but he did two attacks every turn, and two turns every round. I was stuck between just using healmenow and breaking for the exit, and hoping for a terror to hit so I could get enough space to shape more cockatrice. I did manage to get a terror, and he fled. Just like that, I was free to recharge, make two birds, and even buff with mass energize before reengaging with Goettsch. It actually went pretty well, taking him down to half health… at which point, one of the cockatrice managed to give him OVERLOAD. It damaged him, sure, but that didn’t really matter when he immediately killed but cockatrice and nearly killed me too. It especially didn’t matter since it only lasted one round. So again I raced for the exit, flinging daze spells behind me. I was at the end of the line, the last antechamber before an exit, when a got another terror on him. I rounded the corner and decided there was no room to screw this up. Three cockatrice this time, essence shield on all of them and myself, shieldsup when Goettsch rounded the corner. And I dropped him! And then everything else on the map went hostile and began to converge on my location. If you don’t play with showmeall, I highly recommended for that alone. Really drops the bottom out of your stomach.

 

I go to Huestass to turn in my quest, and probably receive nothing in return. I take care of some ornks who are just… a really rough go. I mean, it’s not Goettsch, but still, could you imagine if I died to ornks? I’m disgraced enough as it is! Finally, I actually go to Trajkov, and hand him the shredded gloves I “repaired”, and watch him melt into goo. Fortunately for me, his creations disappear, too, and I’m free to use the Geneforge myself! Finally! My stats are competitive! The game is over! After giving Ellhrah a conniption, I immediately head east to clear the docks and set sail for my new Empire.

 

That’s the first playthrough technically done, and with that, it almost seems redundant to say I did the shaper crypt and inner crypt without cheating. It’d be very embarrassing if I couldn’t. Still, that doesn’t erase the fact that my status as a cheating loserbaby was immortalized by the fact that I didn’t get the medal for beating the game on Veteran or higher. Which meant, to assuage my pride, I would have to beat the game again. This time, on Torment. Get ready for that, you know, eventually.

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  • Affable changed the title to Mutagen runs, Or, How I Learned to Hate Geneforge 1: Mutagen Over the Course of Three Playthroughs (Joking) (Also, Spoilers)

Run 2: Obeyer Guardian took his Normal Pills

 

Fooled you, I’m doing a Normal run first! This time, I actually looked up some information on how the game actually worked, including everything I could find on hit chance. Chiefly, that it was based on level (and presumably was lower when attacking enemies of a higher level), and that wands and crystals had somewhat higher accuracy in exchange for no longer getting a damage boost from your missile weapons skill.

Normal difficulty describes itself as starting off easy, but ramping up near the end, which I took/hoped to mean the endgame would be identical to Veteran’s, save for friendly fire, which I’d still behave was a thing because I actually like that mechanic.

 

I felt the difference between Veteran and Normal immediately, breezing through the school and Watchhill with ease, especially since I learned from the first time and put my points in Leadership and Mechanics almost exclusively up to that point. My plan was to do a Guardian with blessing magic and maybe magic shaping, until I came across the guide for Torment Solo Pacifist. “Seems like a great way to hate Geneforge even faster,” I groused, until I saw that each of those achievements had half a percent of players completing them. Seeing that I had yet to create anything, I decided “I Walk Alone” would be my goal, along with the new low canister use Obeyer ending. And it was rough: My only crowd control came from crystals, wands, and the spray baton, which is sick as hell and a welcome addition to my arsenal. Less welcome was the tranquil baton, a non-indicative name because I wouldn’t call fleeing out of range of my shots and forcing me to run them down particularly tranquil. Terror is my least favorite status for that reason, even in the earlier games; sure, when they’re stuck in place, it’s fine, but they almost never were, and they they don’t freeze in this game, just run in seemingly random directions, trending away from me, and I need those action points for using items to heal and apply other, more useful statuses. The least welcome thing in my arsenal was the inventory I put everything else in; seriously, a six by six grid? Who's with me?

 

I go for Obeyer because if I’m doing three runs, I’m doing the low canister one on Normal, and loyalist runs go best for you in those. I feel rancid doing it in G1 especially, so in penance the revolution will Torment me. Still, I reach a hurdle: during my time in Vakkiri, thanks to force of habit and just not being one to go out of my way to be a pillock, my interactions were broadly inoffensive, trending towards supportive. I decided to just rob the place as normal, opening the doors with living tools and gaining just about everything that wasn’t learned jaffee’s knowledge (which I’m sure will be very useful for my character) and left for more exp and dialogue opportunities to appear more loyalist. Turns out I’m too woke, however, and that second thing failed. By the time I left the greater Kazg area and circled around back to Pentil, I probably could’ve joined the Takers. With nothing to show for my efforts, I headed north, unfettered by any faction, to face Goettsch-- oh hey, this Durian guy can put in a good word for me with Rydell! I immediately head back south and joined the Obeyers. gaining keys to doors I already opened and knowledge of skills I wouldn’t use (Jaffee gives a level of fyora. Fascinating.). Still, I have new marching orders: Find the Geneforge and destroy it.

 

One atypicality of this run is that, even on Normal, there were some areas I simply couldn’t clear, or sometimes even traverse without dying no matter what I did. Places like Diarazad, the West Gate, Patrol Bridge, and to a lesser extent the Western Wastes were places I did nothing but die; I was swarmed by too many enemies in unfavorable configurations to even attempt fighting them because no matter how crafty I was with discipline wands, airshock crystals, and one of the few spells I had, essence shield, the law of averages meant I would eventually get stunned, dazed, terrified, or slowed into missing a turn, and the double-attacking and sometimes double-moving enemies would have all the time they needed to erase my health. Places like the tribal woods and icewalls were hideous because of the spawners all bunched up in one spot, to the point where I just couldn’t do the latter and missed west workshop. Western Wastes were almost okay, though: the spawners were all spaced out, and I had a good amount of items, so I could deal with them at my own pace, without dying even. Diarazad was the absolute worst of these, though: not only did the enemies there get four attacks to my one, my accuracy against them was around 69%, which in this case was not nice, and got even less so every time I saw it. And when my attacks did get through and I got close to killing them, they started running away, and usually got away because they moved farther per turn, and got two turns per round, and I usually had two more to deal with blocking my path so I couldn’t even pursue them, leaving them free to heal completely and come back for more. After my eighth death where 10 minutes of incremental progress was undone by a lucky stun or crit by the last few members of a huge crush of Stealth Sholai, I finally just cut and run, breaking for the entrance to the shaper crypt, sholai hot on my tail. In combat, I opened the door… to reveal eleventy-billion ghosts, who instantly stunlocked me to death. Broken and embittered, I loaded my autosave and went elsewhere, never to return.

The west gate almost easier, in that I traversed it by fleeing the sholai that wanted me dead, because that was an option, unlike fighting them. I could barely hit them, they revealed their Pocket Monsters almost immediately, and three of their friends usually came running along soon after anyway, so running through was my only option, half of it in combat mode because I would be inevitably spotted because I by the time I see these people on my map they can see me because they move roughly as fast as my reaction time. Still, I made it through, picking my way through pylons until I could reach the Geneforge. But wait, aren’t I loyal to the Shapers? Surely it would behoove me to meet the only other (relevant) Shaper on the island? So I turn around and head to Goettsch, who manages to be condescending with each text box. I swipe his gloves in revenge for his attitude, and get to work scaring off some sholai. I convinced him killing a second group wasn’t worth my time, and got the true mission: Slay Trajkov, which I was going to do anyway. On to the Geneforge, allying myself with Trajkov, and going on a quick tour of a bunch of the Sholai controlled areas I didn’t kill my way through.

Here I finally face Uroboros, and this time I have the Leadership to trivialize the fight. I beat her in a handful of rounds and spend some time marveling at my genius… enough time for King and Biri to catch up with me, and they wanted to have a word with me. That word, it turned out, was “Burn”. Reload, kill her again, and bomb out before I had that conversation again. For some reason, I think going for the final Cockatrice quest for zero benefit is a good idea, but I’m quickly put in my place by every cockatrice left on the island crashing my game with more particle effects on-screen than I’ve had in every run of the original series I’ve played put together. Recognizing that as a trial my skillset was not equipped to surmount, I left Alonzo to his life and went back to Trajkov instead. I pulled a little sneaky on him, killing him instantly. After I destroyed the Geneforge, I headed to Goettsch to report ‘mission accomplished’ and received my reward: nothing! At which point I told him I broke his stupid pool, killing me instantly. Good thing I save often; Veteran was good for something after all. This time I simply tell him good day and leave with my tail tucked between my legs, with only the thought of him seething upon seeing the dried basin of his hopes and dreams salvaging my bruised ego.

 

That’s the last we see of Goettsch, ever. No mention of him in even the end screen, to say nothing of later entries. I left him alive here; when the Shapers send the, uh, extermination squad containing Zakary and Barzahl, would they find out about him? They don’t speak sholai, and most of them wouldn’t be all that keen to chat with the Takers who’ve so much as heard his name. If they managed to track him down, or if he decided to engage with them for some reason, I can only imagine they’d have killed him. But no one mentions him later on, so I guess it’s canon that the PC killed him. Which still doesn’t explain why he isn’t mentioned in the ending if he lives. Most likely the ending where you leave him alive, kill Trajkov, but don’t break the Geneforge or steal his gloves gives him something. I mean, it’d have to; I’d have given him unrestricted access to Godlike power. If he STILL wasn’t mentioned in an ending like that, I’d be stunned. The Awakened ending has variations based on whether or not you destroyed the Geneforge after you used it, the game wouldn’t just forget to have an ending where Goettsch won, right? I’ve never done it, because I never played Geneforge with a concussion, but maybe someone else did? Even then, we don’t know what exactly happens to him when he loses, which is weird, right? He’s supposed to be the equal and opposite force on the island, Trajkov’s hated nemesis who wants the power of the Geneforge for himself. Just about every Sholai patrol on Sucia is guarding against him specifically, and throughout the wastes you see signs of him covering any way to reach him. Yet, Goettsch feels a lot lesser. Part of it is just because Trajkov is the main antagonist, the guy who stranded you on this island, who’s handiwork you see in almost every area, who’s name pops up again and again, leader of the foreign outsiders stealing your people’s secrets. But I think that last part is key: short of mentions of an older Shaper Trajkov wants dead, and Huestess wanting the same, Goettsch just isn’t talked about at all unless you’re allied with the Takers and can talk to various Sholai, and even then, you just get more of the same: there’s a shaper in the wastes who stole gloves from Trajkov, so Trajkov wants him dead. The gloves he stole are more important than Goettsch himself to the story. Hell, killing him is optional; you can leave him for Trajkov to kill at his leisure.

Goettsch is a man alone. His creations are non-entities, force multipliers and extensions of his will. Rhakkus has no loyalty to him, the job he paid her for bribed away if you don’t feel like fighting Cryodrayks and have 3000 coins on hand. He never even contacted the Obeyers, and from what little he gives me he seems like the kind of guy who likes having his ego stroked by an entire town of adoring peons. But no, he just holes up in the temple, a big, sneering bowling pin to topple over or go around to get what you’re actually there for. Functionally, as far as the plot is concerned, he isn’t a secondary villain for when you ally with Trajkov, he’s another obstacle for getting this whole thing over with, no matter your route. He almost doesn’t need to be there; with a little massaging, his purpose in the plot could be fulfilled by one of Trajkov’s crew getting too big for their britches, a particularly crafty rogue he made swiping them to spite him, or a big door Trajkov just can’t open for Shaper related reasons. He’s a rough fight, but in terms of being an antagonist, even my inventory beats him. I guess that’s why he’s never mentioned again: he simply doesn’t matter. Wait, what was I talking about?

 

I tell Rydell the good news, and make for home, but before I do, I talk to that one Agent hiding in the Docks, Arixey. While I helped Thrakerzod obtain some stuff from Yu-La some time ago in both my playthroughs, I didn’t bother performing Arixey’s hit on Gnorrel in my Shaper run, partly because I was doing Toivo’s quest at the time and partly because I couldn’t be assed. This time I was an Obeyer, though, so I may as well kick the Takers while they were down. I head into Kazg, and head right back out when the two champions I just killed were replaced with eight elite guards. I headed back in after healing in Pentil, and carve my way straight to Gnorrel, avoiding farmers but killing everyone else that attacked me, and I took the shot. Unlike the other Leaders, she didn’t get buffed at all, falling to one reaper. I somehow dodged Mr. Eko, so I skipped town without encountering anyone else. I tell Arixey the good news, and she immediately sends me out again to kill Ellhrah. What does everyone have against Ellhrah? Nabb and Ting, Gnorrel, and now Arixey! I, for one, have had it. I briefly entertain the thought of getting my sugar kicked in by the Inner crypt, but when I remembered I had to go through all of Diarazad again, I opted to leave my sugar intact for the next run. And with that, Normal is beaten, ‘I Walk Aloneis earned, and I settle down for a good few decades at the top of the heap, without a thought spared for any non-human I left on the island.

 

This run was weird. Most of the first run was me running face-first into design changes, exacerbated by my own incompetence. It was pretty harsh the whole way through. This run obviously started easy, but had knifing difficulty spikes on its way to a similar, if slightly easier, endgame, due to either out-leveled enemies that attacked four times a round, or batches of spawners that replaced their broods faster than I could kill them. Without that, I could usually handle even endgame zones with only some bumpiness. It helped that my Guardian was decidedly better built, with a serviceable amount of melee, missile, and QA skill, nothing in shaping but just enough in Healing Craft for a decent essence shield and mass restore, and enough Leadership and Mechanics to see me through with minimal issues with things I plain couldn’t fight alone. Torment is currently ongoing, so I’ll post again when that’s done and dusted.

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You can do a solo torment run for a guardian, but it is tougher and required changing the order of where you go. Holding off on the school until after dong some stuff to the east, reloading if you get trapped in certain places where you face a swarm of creations, and just finding out that you aren't strong enough for an area,

 

Good luck with your playthroughs.

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Mutagen Run 3: I’m Agent into dust with every death. Please, put me in a home.

 

Guardian is a weird class for me. I like it, but I’m terrible with it, as my previous run shows. Agent, despite being the class I give the least thought to, tends to be the class I do my best work in, having done all my previous Torment runs with it or Infiltrator. Torment Agent in Mutagen, however, starts with me getting dunked on by the Thahd in the tutorial, forcing me to reload the autosave because I didn’t bother saving at that point, giving me a nice teaser for how the early-game at least was going to go. I did my due diligence this time at least and did all the quests in and around town except Watchhill and the School. Not being one to learn from the consequences of my actions consistently, however, I immediately headed for the school. The woods were shrug-worthy for Torment in that I only died three times, but the thing that really held me up was my Fyora dying every combat encounter, forcing me to head back to town restore essence and make another critter. Not helping was the fact that my control of the creature was shaky, and any amount of damage was likely to drive it rogue if it wasn't just killed. Still, I made it into the school, and this section of the run is, well, how do I put this…

 

OH GOD OH NO IT’S BAD 19 YEARS 19 ******* YEARS LIFE IS A NIGHTMARE NEVER BELIEVE IN ANYTHING

 

…would be a brief summation on my thoughts on the Ruined School. I was there for Three Hours, just so we understand each other. Every battle was a drain on my actual, physical health. Every pod, every crystal, every point of essence, every fyora, dropped into the macerator with almost nothing to show for it, all my coins bled out of me at the shops in Vakkiri and eventually Ellhrah’s Keep to have enough supplies for one more battle, only to walk headfirst into five in a row. Every death a punchline Jeff himself cracked at my expense to a roaring crowd of thahds and a single artila. Deaths ten to fourteen assured me I wasn’t fighting Rawbone anytime soon, so clearing out the rest of the school was paramount. One school and four deaths later, and I was back in front of the big, stupid, ugly, loud Rawbone, and after the greatest game of Geneforge 1 – Mutagen I’ve ever played, minding all my meters and timers, blessing when appropriate, dazing whenever things even thought of getting complicated, healing whenever I fell below 70% health… Rawbone dodged a daze at 30% health and two-tapped me. “This is hell,” I said, “I’m in computer game hell for all my years of emulating DS titles.” And in the next attempt I crit him twice in a row and beat him in eight rounds. The duality of man.

 

After that dip in the deep fryer, I’m surprised to hear myself say that after the school, the run became… easy? Easier, sure, the early game was always going to be an industrial solvent bath due to having so few options, and things would get smoother as soon as I got my hands on some canisters to diversify my move pool, but things were almost indistinguishable from the previous runs before long. The only paltry differences were that I knew to avoid certain areas until I gained a few more levels than normal, and that either I or my beloved pets occasionally vanished in the span of a blink, replaced with a previously unseen enemy with “Leaps!”floating over their head. My creations didn’t even go rogue so often anymore, once I started gaining levels in earnest and got a few points of magic shaping. Artilas were decent for a while, but died quickly, vlish were a solid upgrade once I got searer for acid damage, though they also died quickly-- I should just point out that I eventually stopped becoming attached to my creations when it became clear they would not survive the zone I created them in.

 

All that mattered the moment I reached Kazg was getting the ultimate survival tool: essence shield. Sure, joining the Takers to fight the good fight was more important, but I wouldn’t get there if sudden deaths kept occurring like this; I never put points into Endurance, so my only boost there is from a canister. I head south to the ruins to get smacked around by alphas for a bit before I get my prize, and like that I’m nearly all set for the rest of the run, save for airshock, a game changer all its own. I clear the whole northeast quadrant the second I get the amulet, having a merry time gibing various Sholai and swiping items and canisters. Some areas were frustrating, though: the icewalls were still a slow grind once I got to the spawners, hacking and blasting through creation after creation, at one point getting pincered by a group from another part of the map coming up behind me. Miserable place, but I actually cleared it this time and got to do the comparatively enjoyable West Workshop, unlike the Guardian run. The Uroboros quest was also a sticking point; not fighting her, mind, that was a breeze now that I had the Leadership to pull a fast one on her. Getting to her was a problem this time; no matter what I did, I couldn’t find a safe route through the mines to the spore box that turned them off, which baffled me since I went the exact same route in the Guardian route two days previously and cleared it with minimal issue. Why couldn’t I get through the mines? What did I do the first time, that I’m not doing now? I had to search to discover that mines being different colors didn’t differentiate the power of the mines, like I had assumed for literal years, but that purple mines could be set off by creations, as opposed to green mines which could only be set off by the Shaper. Was there a dialogue I missed that explained this? Whatever, I sent a bomb disposal Thahd and went on with my life, getting to Trajkov and getting orders to retrieve the gloves from one of the antagonists of all time.

Western Wastes sucked. The Clawbugs here are somehow less enjoyable to fight than the meatheads at school, there are spawners to replenish them, and they have pylons to support them. My Cockatrice barely did damage to the ghostly construct bugs, and I was too occupied healing me and it of damage and acid to make any real headway, especially since when I did attack, I somehow had a 60% or so hit chance against the bugs (who were 3-4 levels lower than I) and the pylons (likewise, with the added bonus of being a mindless, crystal structure literally ROOTED TO THE FLOOR). Wound up breaking off when the cockatrice died, restoring my essence in Kazg because essence pods manage to be vanishingly rare yet barely effective from mid-game onward, and heading back with glaahks instead, which still did crap damage, but there were two of them and they stunned, so I could actually make progress.

Before I hit the valley, I remembered that I didn’t do the sealed lab yet. I didn’t bother in the solo run because getting stunlocked by seven enemies for five rounds in a row the first time I tried was an effective deterrent for additional attempts. At my level, and with airshock, this place is mostly painless. I even manage to talk down Zavor since my leadership is so high, though I don’t get any experience for it, or his ring for that matter, so YMMV for how much this is worth doing. Killing Tek can’t be bypassed, in any case, but can’t justify replacing the Guardian Claymore for his dirk, even with the armor bonus.

The Valley of the Pagans was as chill as ever, except for when the law of averages finally caught up with me and I finally got Terror status for like 8 turns. My ur-glaahk, bless its heart, fought the good fight while I ran around like a chicken with its head cut off, warding off two ghosts as long as it could, tragically falling before I could take back control. I avenged it immediately after, but the world feels a little hollower now. I headed back to Kazg to recover, and dove back in, clearing it without any further difficulties.

Onto Spirit Halloween, where I’m looking for the Secret and also a better joke. The water’s nice, though it took a few pulls to get anything meaningful out of it. Freed a prisoner, killed a witch, learned a secret, and got the crazy idea to head into rooms I’m not supposed to enter. I’m probably strong enough to handle it, right? Three deaths later, I decide to wait until my run is clear so I can use showmeall to see where all these ghosts are coming from, and also have enough levels to actually hit this priest. Till then, I headed for the Great Temple. Going through the Sentinels means dealing with Huestess, and while the area’s fun, getting through it requires getting marked to kill Goettsch, which means an automatic fight I can’t hope to win at my level. With the island being pretty much entirely explored at this point, I’m pretty much at the end of my ability to gain exp. Seeing as it’s iffy as to if I’ll make it to even level 17, my best bet is to brute force the beef gate Gogogo Magician () left at the City. After getting bumrushed a dozen times in a row by betas, and my glaahks dying to vlish, I manage to chain enough airshocks together to eke out a victory and a clear path to Goettsch.

Aaaaand that’s it! After this is just a smattering of text boxes, skill checks, and mine defusals to the ending. I swipe the gloves, do an errand for Goettse, and head back to Trajkov to let him use the Geneforge, and then destroy the Geneforge since he won’t let me use it. After that I set sail for the mainland and the silver and gold medals. Really, the only medals I don’t have are the Pacifist one, which I won’t do on the grounds of I’ve played this three times already and also I like to have fun in my games, the idle one with the start screen, but the fyora embryo things are so samey and spawn so fast that I just don’t feel like it’s worth my time doing it, and something called “royal sampler”, which I can only assume is joining all three factions in one game, which is something for the next time I play this in what, three years?

The ending is noticeably different from its original presentation. I remember the original Trajkov ending being perhaps the most idealistic in the game; sure there was a brutal war to overthrow the Shapers, and the Takers exacting their long awaited vengeance upon oppressors both human and servile, but the world emerged from the crucible superior to its previous status quo, with the serviles free, society normal, and you looking out over the world you helped create and thinking you did good. In Mutagen, things are a lot more borked, to turn a phrase. The serviles are still free, but from what I saw, shapers still came down to Sucia for some reason, and the Awakened are still there. Also, Thrakerzod seemingly didn’t make it off the island; I brought him the goo (which after how this ending made note of it, might be a starter or main ingredient for a Geneforge?), and I didn’t do anything to him myself, so what went down? Trajkov the sailor man also doesn’t make for a stellar king either, at least of the Shaper empire, the learning and skill of the age brought to an end due to his gene-warped mind. In the end, you look over ruins, satisfied that your gamble worked out for you specifically, because while Trajkov is king, you’re his right hand man, with all the power and prestige that implies. It’s… fine, in terms of how the world ended up: what turned out to be the Shaper Golden Age has ended, replaced with centuries of rule of a half-mad god-king and sadistic Takers, but slavery is abolished, so uh, you take your good with your bad.

This run predictably took the longest, but that may just be because I took a day off of it near the middle. I also find myself searching for things to say about it that I didn’t touch on in my previous two runs. I might have a conclusion post wrapping up my final thoughts, but that’s a definite maybe, and not for a while regardless.

Edited by Affable
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Conclusion (I can’t think of a quirky meme name because I never found that better joke)

 

This took a while to write because, among other things, I had to keep picking past my own points without trying to refer to the feelings of the Geneforge playerbase by using phrases that invoke any kind of consensus on issues I personally had. I never look outside of my rock as a matter of principle, so I truly don’t know the playerbase’s overall opinion on Geneforge 1 – Mutagen, let alone how they all feel it compares to the original Geneforge. This is an overall dissembling of my own feelings of my own experience of the game, so keep that in mind. I also had a merry time scrubbing out all my expletives, so forgive the occasional scrumbler.

 

My feelings on Geneforge 1 – Mutagen are complicated, to say the least. This may be the most frustrating experience I’ve ever had playing a Spiderweb game, for one. Not because it’s hard (it is, but that’s not the issue), but because… for quite a while I just didn’t have the right words to truly convey what was bugging me about the combat, with the best I could come up with being “combat encounters are unfair”, which, well, no schist, Sherlock, it’s an RPG; if it were “fair”, my semi-functional Homo Sapiens brain would break it in half in an hour tops, and it’d probably do it out of mingled boredomand spite. Things like large groups and inflated health numbers are the easiest ways to make combat difficult, and enemies that can heal, a thing the player can and almost certainly will do, are one of the things I hate dealing with the most, despite the fact that they’re functionally identical to enemies with a large health bar if you can consistently out-damage the healing, with the added benefit that they’re wasting a turn doing so. The game being “unfair” couldn’t be the reason for its occasional spikes of un-fun bullsun, so I was stuck for days trying to shake a coherent reason behind my irritation out of my brain, until the newest Shammy video was posted and put a concept into my head that I could work with: “unfair” versus “cheating”, an unfair fight being one where the player is put in a deliberately unfavorable match-up in defiance of conventional game design and difficulty curve, and cheating being exactly what it sounds like, the game outright breaking its own rules, typically to add difficulty.

 

Cheating, in the case of Mutagen, is what I’ll use to refer to things the game does with all or just some its enemies to varying extents that you are literally incapable of doing. In no particular order, this includes: not keeping track of SE/Essence or ability cooldowns, allowing enemies to spam spells and abilities endlessly; having more than 8 AP per turn (which the player hasn’t been able to have since Overthrow) and/or having two turns per round; healing or buffing at the start of their turn without using AP; ignoring or “Evading” the blocking zone when running away at low health but explicitly not Terrified; not being subject to friendly fire on higher difficulties; creating or otherwise spawning in additional enemies; and last and certainly least of these, using attacks or moves the player or their creations don’t have access to. That last one is almost not worth mentioning, honestly: moves the player literally has no access to in their party are functionally cryptids in this game specifically, and my premier example from the previous games, the spell diamond spray, is a borderline example at best since you’re able to buy, find and in at least one entry craft wands and crystals with the ability, but it fills the admittedly vague criteria I set above regardless, so there it is.

 

If you’re not asleep at your computer, you may have noticed that most of these examples of cheating, cheating pumpkin eating were present in most of, if not the entire original series, and passed with little to no comment from me whenever I encountered them. So what makes those cheats broadly inoffensive and the rest a poor match-up against receiving a sounding from a Reaper Baton? I can only make guesses at this point because being more concrete would require delving into this game a fourth time in a row, and I’ve been playing for three weeks straight and at this point I’d prefer the sounding instead.

 

First, I should explain that some of new things are also fine, and some of the older stuff only got grandfathered in, and even then still sandpaper my ghoulies. The problem children here are the two turn per round thing, the block zone evasion thing, and in certain cases the enemy spawning thing; the capital ‘S’ Spawners used to get a free pass for this, since that was their whole thing, but now they can attack, which also steps into the “using ability without using AP”, uh, cheat type. That little aside actually demonstrates the problem with these problem cheats: not only are they themselves problems, their presence amplifies each other’s terribleness and makes the previously acceptable earlier cheats worse which each one present. Spawners spawning was just their move every turn, but now that they also attack immediately after, it’s a problem for me. Most Clawbugs seemingly having enough action points to attack twice per turn was an infrequent feature in previous games, and Mutagen’s additions of a buff move and a cone attack are a welcome addition to diversify its movepool; it’s less good when, due to a lack of cooldowns, those are all it does, totally forgoing its basic attack in favor of spraying poison/acid every single turn with occasional breaks to rebuff. Shades and Stealth Sholai having more AP was a reflection of their out-of-combat speed even in the original, but having two turns per round is horse water, and a crime against playability no matter what enemy has it, and getting to say “no u” to a literal game mechanic added to stop things from running away from their melee opponents is a design decision Jeff must’ve picked up on a day trip to Bizarro World. Certain Sholai enemies having a dazing leap attack is one thing, but literally always following up with a spammable AOE attack I’ve never seen outside of those enemies, and beginning the next turn with a cleaving melee attack that also hits the party member(s) immediately next to the Sholai doing the move is another thing entirely.

That’s just the cheating, though, and while that’s a substantial part of why this game’s bad moments are hella bad, they’re still only a part of the issue. Another part is the unfairness, which is actually less of an issue than the name implies. As I mentioned before, unfairness, especially in an RPG, can actually be a good thing, with certain aspects even seeming necessary to give a player variety and challenge in the genre. Some parts of unfairness, however, I hold to be simply long-accepted game design that doesn’t necessarily have to be there. How stealth areas typically work is a fine example: I enter an area where groups of mid-to-high-powered enemies patrol, either on set routes or in random directions. Having just entered, I have no idea how the patrol moves, how many patrols there are, what the zone layout even is, if what I’m trying to get to is blocked by a stationary, undodgeable enemy or group of enemies, or if getting through even clears the zone, forcing me to go through it again to get out. Add to that that random patrols, or even the set ones if the pathing gets borked enough, can send individual members scattering in very different directions temporarily as they try to get back on track, sending them to your hiding spot or presumed safe route, screwing your stealth run through the zone and leading to a fight, and possible death depending on the zone. Even if you spend time studying and noting the movements of the group(s) you can actually see without them seeing you, that does nothing for you against the rest you can’t see from your narrow slice. The only way to know these things is to repeatedly run headfirst into the zone, possibly dying and definitely defeating the point of a stealth section in order to learn it, and then quick loading to do it for real. The series in general has a big reliance on learning critical information through supposed failstates, I find, with the game itself and the people who play it encouraging saving and loading your file to find if you can handle a zone or encounter, if one build decision or item choice is more your preference than another, or even to reset RNG in your favor if something stinks of BS. It’s to the point where I, a not game developer, struggle to think of any sort of alternative, shocking as that may sound.

 

It’s not as if it’s a result of building on the skeleton of the game’s previous iteration, either: getting to Ascended Sessina requires going through or around a single, wandering patrol of Clawbugs and their herding Vlish, and in two of my three runs, I entered the zone just far enough to prompt the text box warning me of the patrol, only to immediately enter combat mode because they were either right in front of me just off screen, or to the side of the entrance invisible to my view because I hadn’t filled in any of the map yet. This is a mid-game area at least, nestled in the early game and perfectly unlockable with high enough leadership and mechanics, so there was no way in hell I was going to be able to fight the patrol, so I invariably died and reloaded an autosave in hopes of better RNG for the patrol’s starting location. After that I get the quest to slay the C***atrice and in my scuffed, jack-of-no-trades run immediately ran into an even bigger unfairness spike in the form of the Battle Beta patrol, with all the charging, dazing, stunning, and riposting I hope I got across in the first post, along with spraying Clawbugs and Artilae. Attempting to sneak was a total failure because not only did I not know where I was sneaking to, meaning I got spotted and died, and also could barely gauge how close was too close with party members I could barely position outside of combat mode (which screwed up my timing), meaning I got spotted and died, but when I did sneak past the first patrol, I immediately ran into the second patrol, meaning I got spotted and died. Just going for combat led to both groups coming for me, which lead to me finally saying to hell with it and cheating my way to dubious victory, and even then I got blindsided by the frozen alphas because I just didn’t see them; they were in a part of the map I didn’t fill yet since I was busy trying to survive Cock-and-Trice torture to see the sights, and I thought the mind-captured rogues mentioned by someone earlier in the zone were the patrols I already killed at that point. In my second run I managed to sneak past the patrols after a handful of deaths, and was even able to sidle away from the Cockatrice enough to free the Alphas, but on the third run things got bad. Sneaking past the first patrol was inconsistent because of trailing Clawbugs, so when I finally managed it, next to a wall blocking my view of the rest of the cave, I immediately saved, and tried to head south to the locked door only to discover my guardian had a favorable run where the patrols lined up in such a way that I had a clear shot to the door. This time, however, the second patrol was just arriving when the first was due to come back in a matter of seconds, leaving me stuck in an inevitable fight I would invariably lose. With my last back up save being in Kazg two hours ago, and my autosave bringing me back to the beginning of the area to do all over again, I decided to lose; I died there a round dozen times, and I was so sick of the sight of that screen that when the octupled-up sprays of acid and shoulder checks missed enough times for me to get to the door and finish the zone I dropped the game for a day and a half. An admittedly poor decision ran up against what I literally had no chance to know beforehand was a fatal error, and I had to rely on a staggering amount of luck to get clear of it.

I had several of these rough patches per playthrough, though the aforementioned example was a notably bad one for my third run, but while I still hated all of them, I can at least say they were infrequent, unlike the endless trap hell that is the inventory screen. I genuinely cannot say which between the original’s and mutagen’s is worse. I booted up G2 to check it out because I’m still not going through Sucia a fourth time, and while blowing past the weight limit every other zone because I am a magpie with a bucket on their head, grabbing things from my inventory and putting them on the ground was a two step process where I picked things up and put them down. In Mutagen, while I had no weight worries (unlike real life 😔), my actual inventory was often entirely filled with the wands, crystals, pods and spores I needed to deal with the otherwise unmanageable combat encounters with what felt like too many enemies doing too many things per too many turns per round. That meant things went in the junk bag, which I couldn’t take things out of unless I was in a town, for some reason I doubt I’ll get, and seriously doubt would be satisfactory even if I did. Even transferring things out of it while you’re in town is a hassle if you still don’t have inventory space free: you need to pick up the item and click over to the ground or container tab to drop it in a spot on that page. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s tedious enough that it’s the thing that finally pushed me to make this topic in the first place, so there. Even worse is that the bad qualities don’t have the decency to suck in a vacuum, but instead hurt its actually good qualities, too: when you’re dumping things in the Junk bag with ctrl click, an otherwise a great and welcome QoL tool, you may accidentally junk an item you wanted in your inventory, but you can’t retrieve it until you go back to town. A Sell All button is a great add, but you can’t sell individual items in the bag, so if you forgot to remove that item you wanted, or were just keeping things in there because you just don’t have room in your 25-space inventory, you get to piss off and finagle with your crap until everything you don’t want sold is left somewhere else. Some items are changed for the worse, too: namely, Shaper equipment is now a non-stackable, singular item, and the quest to collect them doesn’t even check the junk bag for them, which means when you come across them, you have to junk them, go to town, make space in your inventory somehow, move a maximum of 25 sets of equipment into the inventory, go to the Junkyard, trade in the equipment, go back to town without getting spotted and attacked by Vlish if you don’t feel like fighting them with fewer items than you otherwise would have, and put your items back in your inventory so you can get back to your life. Instead of a decent alternative to the shaper records quest (which you can bet are still stackable), with a somewhat rarer item giving you more coins per item, the quest becomes entirely not worth the bother Don’t worry, the glorious horseshoe magnet I have for a brain does have a fix for this: either the equipment and future items for quests like this become stackable again, the quest checks for the items in the Junk Bag, or the quests are removed altogether, because I can’t imagine anyone actually doing them if they knew what they were getting into, having seen how it works here in Mutagen.

 

I could go on, but this topic has been 10,000 words of some drip who last posted here half a decade ago coming back to mald about things that at the end of the day aren’t even considered deal-breakers. The cheating enemies put me in a home, ruined my credit and killed my boat, the battle creations had the G2 Parry, and my inventory screen was designed by the Takers; I still played the game three times and got all the medals I cared about, and even across three playthroughs, the overall playing of the game remained largely enjoyable, with the Mutagen-exclusive story content being memorable for the right reasons, so in the end, I really should only answer these questions: Is Geneforge 1 – Mutagen worth playing? Yes. Does it render Geneforge obsolete? God no, but then, I don’t have a mac; if your computer is literally incapable of running G1, or you have a pathological aversion to bright green GUIs, then by all means, the king is dead, long live the king. For me, I’ve said all I cared to say. Thank you for coming to my TEDTalk, and see you when the 2 remake grinds my gears.

Edited by Affable
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