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Infestation Runs, or, Oh Buddy. Oh, You Poor Poor Thing.


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Zeroeth Run: But First, the Waffling

 

Geneforge 2: No Colon Required, despite being the game I give the least thought to, tends to be the game I do my best work in, having done all my previous Torment runs with it or Infiltrator… no, wait.

 

So I’m actually gonna play this now, and not buy it as a “little treat” for myself then forget about it for over a year what like I did with Mutagen. Cracking it open I see settings for the game’s resolution, a la G5: Overthrow, a game I haven’t played since the last time I posted about it in, let’s see… 2018!

Roughly six years ago at time of writing. Ugh, I was in my early twenties, then. Ugh, these reminders of the passage of time keep jumping out at me. Let’s move on.

 

First impressions once I actually open up the game is that the opening music is a lot more in line with Mutagen’s than the original G2’s short, bombastic blaring (of trumpets, maybe? And war drums?), having noticeable, uh, steel drums(?) and… okay, I’m not at all a musician and have the opposite of a trained ear. Opposite of a functional ear, probably: early hearing loss is hereditary in my family. All I can say on the music past that is that it’s both lower key than Mutagen’s opening and decidedly longer than G2’s. It definitely looped at least once before it ended, and if it happened once, they could have had it loop indefinitely, they just decided not to. Actually, hold up: it began playing again once I tabbed back in to quit out, so there’s that.

 

Moving on again, the “cover art”, as it were, is weaker in my opinion. Geneforge moved to using 3D renders for its art going into Geneforge 5: Overthrow, and kept it for the remaster series' openings. I didn’t have a strong preference one way or the other about Mutagen’s opening art compared to G1’s; the Shaper with a fyora in a crystal ball or whatever conveys similar enough vibes in either portrayal. On my least charitable days, I could say the Mutagen version looks like a cosplayer roleplaying the G1 art at a convention, but depending on who you are that’s a point in its favor. G2’s art, though, is great. I distinctly remember it being the banner for some section of the Spiderweb Software site for AGES, even, though when I went to the homepage, I got jumpscared by Infestation’s version, which kinda tees me off, if I’m being honest. It loses something not just from the jump in medium, but also the mind of the artist.

Let me explain: whatever else I could say about G1’s cover art, it definitely depicts a Shaper. They ain’t doing all that much, but they’re doing not all that much as a Shaper. G2’s art in both permutations attempts to display a Shaper, presumably Barzahl, Shaping a Drakon on a pedestal, but both depictions fail in entirely different ways: Geneforge 2 gives us Justin Some-Dude, working over the summer at some wizard-themed strip mall attraction before junior year, and is really glad the big hood keeps him from being spotted by anyone he knows babbling like a renaissance fair reject in front of a twelve-foot tall Plasticine model of what is probably the owner’s fursona. Hark, the wyrm-men riseth from the Nether, uh, the nether realm. Draw thine Gershwin-brand Fun Wands®, and cast the Freeze spell with the sacred incantation, frostus icilico! I shalt prepare the chant to send these foul beasts back to, uh, from whence they came, yeah.

Meanwhile, Infestation depicts Sage Braddock, a classically trained theatre actor who did not think he’d be scratching off his fourth year working at Evermore Park at this point in his life, but he’s still a professional, God dammit. Sure, his feet hurt trekking back and forth across the park every day, performing for the same three groups of twelve locals, and he has to try a little more every time to keep from cracking that little puke Todd across the face when he, like clockwork, refers to his newly crafted magic staff as “gay”, and yeah, he just got the news that management just… doesn’t know when the actors are gonna get paid(!), and rent’s coming up, and he may have to suck it up and go to his brother for money again, and he knows, he just knows what Cole’s gonna say: Well, look at Mr. Big-Shot actor, bumming off family again! The arts not doing so hot in this economy? Well, he IS a “Big-Shot actor”, and he’s gonna put his all into his performance like he always does. He looks right at that big balloon Lizalfos he had to paint over to be the “Dragonlord”, points his silver party popper at it and, imagining Cole’s stupid, porky face, shouts, “My staff is returned to me, fiend! You will not find me so easy to defeat this time! Taste my Judgement Arrows!

 

Getting back on track, the menu screen is so far, so standard. Like Mutagen, it has the monster matching minigame, and like Mutagen’s, it’s not worth doing; the original titles had the ordinary creation sprites walking around the screen to match, and they were far more visually distinct (and entertaining to see bumble around) than the fyora-esque embryos the remasters use. Looking closer, it seems the embryos are of several kinds of creation, but I digress. Instead of having the cursor trail ooze behind it as it moved, the poor thing now sprays noxious gas, and the menu options sneeze particle effects whenever you mouse over them. Running the cursor over them in a line, the options don’t quite finish their animation by the time the next one begins. I roll my mouse up and down the list for a bit, trying to see if I can cause any noticeable framerate issues doing this. In the next post I’ll actually click New Game!

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Run One Half: It's Been Seventeen Days!

 

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 unlike last time, I wrote this sucker in real time as I played, so I didn’t know for a very, very long time!)

 

I refuse to learn from my personal tragedies, so I once again neglected to look up the forums about mechanical changes before I start playing. I’m not a complete idiot, though: this time I’m taking Shaper Beranabus for a ride on Normal difficulty, aiming for a low canister Servant or else unaligned ending. Since I don’t know how to change the color of my character sprite, or even if I can, I continue.

 

I finally start and, wow. I never got this granular writing about Mutagen, but in that game, the opening cutscene was actually the same opening as the original Geneforge, just using that limited color palette the Dragon Ball manga used every once in a while. It was cool to see, if a little underwhelming. Infestation, however, has entirely redone art and a new scrolling narration that leads directly to the start of the game. It’s… mostly fantastic, so I feel really bad about saying mostly. The scroll being automatic meant that the pictures cycled through to match, meaning I couldn’t get my fill and really take my time to appreciate the art. But what I did absorb from my limited time with those pictures was their more realistic style and actual coloring, which is incredibly appealing and I might adore it as much as the original illustrations. And you see, I do mean ‘as much’, because while G2’s sketchy, charcoal drawing style may have been kinda blobby and have certain subjects be hard to entirely parse, the emotions of Shanti’s Apprentice shone through with their cartoony white eyes peeping out of their shadowed hood, pairing with the narration to clearly show not just how exhausted they are on the trail, but how sick they are of being strung along by their training, how they weary of being their master’s pack mule and whipping-boy, and how much they relish those moments of peace by the fire. The new art’s more realistic style, while a stunning treat, just doesn’t have That, at least so far.

Playing through the tutorial, my previous experience with Mutagen is, of course, easing the transition into this new Geneforge 2’s way of doing things, along with its new additions, skavlings and skuttlebugs and artilae, oh my! Another thing I noticed is that, well, again you don’t get free points at the start to put wherever, instead getting more points per level up-- still 10, too. I didn’t expect that, considering the average endgame level nearly doubled from the first game’s, but I forget that experience requirements rise as your level increases, capping at 1400 for a level up. My Leadership starts at zero, much like Mechanics and Stealth, and I only put 1 into it at the end of the first zone. I thought by the end of the tutorial I’d get another level up and bump it up a few more points, but I barely got halfway there. This… was the first time I was going to step into Drypeak with less than three Leadership. Would I not have enough to overwhelm Takena’s reluctance to let us pass with Facts and Logic? Would Shanti forever see me as a complete dorbus, only good for carrying her bags? Would the game just softlock, Jeff Vogel never considering a player would be so stupid as to neglect their ability to talk good!? Would I DIE!?

Turns out, you only need one Leadership to get that dialogue option, at least in Infestation, so false alarm.

Milling about the town, I note a few differences that stuck out to me. For one, in-universe reasoning for the MC being able to walk in to most people’s houses with no resistance; apparently, Shapers are just allowed to do that, like their entire empire’s a company town and they reserve the right to do zero-notice inspections. Second is Elili the alchemist’s dialogue when referring to Zakary: while in the original she outright called him a liar when she described him proselytizing the colony’s future, here she instead calls his claims “deceitful”, which on first read seems like a distinction without a difference, but contextually reads like she’s pulling her punches, switching to a criticism of his actions instead of what might be perceived as an attack of a Shaper’s character, especially to another Shaper. Townspeople generally seem even more uncomfortable interacting with a Shaper this time around. Probably because I’m more willing to bring up capital crimes around them: it seems saltweed, that baseline magical herb, is one of the ingredients for essence, of all things, and upon hearing that Elili wants some for her work, I immediately press her as if she’s just gonna tell me if she’s planning on doing unauthorized Shaping as a side hustle. I probably sent the poor girl’s blood pressure the moon with that! I’m one of the magical aristocracy holding absolute authority over her, with full license to violently murder her on the spot if she broke that law. No wonder people are uncomfortable around me; my mere presence holds that over their heads like a Sword of Damocles, and they can’t even risk giving a smartass answer to my stupid questions because their neck may get snapped by Macavity the Thahd before they can make clear how sarcastic they’re being.

 

In the servile quarters, there’s a book on Inutile serviles that struck me as… odd. It doesn’t read like a Shaper text at all; it’s written more like the Shapers left an area long ago, but people still had to deal with serviles and their Inutile population. It even talks about giving them land to live on on their own! Really, I’d expect this in maybe Medab, but the talk of the Shaper cause really makes me think a more appropriate place to find it would be-- Pentil…

Yeah, I had to boot up Mutagen and, oh schist, Helping the Inutile is right there in my Codex! It’s the same entry, word for word, bar for bar! I try to question Thossila about it to see if they’re doing something weird with it, but no, it seems to just be an oversight? I guess? Whatever, more important to me is the second floor, where Thossila has a securely locked room. Probably her bedroom, and she just doesn’t want her charges wandering in, but there’s bound to be some sweet loot in there. The barracks’ basement has an even more secured door! So many secrets this time around.

 

I’m currently too thick headed to unveil Sencia, so I head into the Warrens. I head to the meeting I’ve been putting off; seriously, it took me two hours to reach Drypeak, and I’ve spent six hours across four real days bumbling about town alone, though most of that time was spent tabbed out writing this post, staring into space, or bumbling about town in real life while the game was still running. Writing was never going to pan out as a career for me, and this forum “series” just demonstrates why.

I try to use a candle in my inventory, but that didn’t work, as in, there’s no Use icon on it. I had to exit the inventory and press ‘U’ to pull up the Use Ability/Item tab. Your mileage may vary on how much that bothers you.

Alright, meeting’s done and dusted, just puttering around the Warrens and, by the (locked) Guardian Barracks, is the Codex entry “To Be A Servant”, which is hella sus to see, because despite Zakary and Nora’s claims that the rogue issue is well in hand, this book implies the rogues are not only organized, they’ve been present for so long that not only do they have a slur for the loyalists here, but the loyalists have since reclaimed that slur! Why is this book not behind those locked doors!? It raises so many questions for any visitor who happens across it! And there’s an Obeyer text in the storerooms! Wha-- Keep them in your room, Zak! Expand your personal library! You gave the Inutile booklet to Thossila! Do you know how that looks?! You’re supposed to be keeping this mess a secret, and you’re this sloppy covering your tracks?! Amateur!

Looks like this subterranean warren has an upstairs, which, okay. In it is one Sage Markov (Sage in this case being his title, presumably), of the Turabi. Like, ‘Turabi Gate’ Turabi. I think they mention it in G5 that they led into the Drypeak Mountains, so sick worldbuilding, bro. Only other thing of interest up here (besides another locked door!) is a note hidden in one of the record books, detailing a suitable location for something. No doubt something important, but what?

 

I head over to Tyallea and discover he is both much further in his Shaping hall than in the original and possessing much lower health than most any other non civilian character in the Drypeak area, I think because you can actually get into a fight with him without pissing off everyone else. I buy a level each of Daze and War Blessing and Holy price gouging, Batman! I immediately forget about that, though, because I see a magic anvil here! And I already know a recipe! Mind you, reading it thoroughly, it just seems to be refitting the purifying elixir recipe to instead just use mandrake tincture and demon bile on an appropriate item directly. I head to the back to get ambushed by Artilae and complain to Ty about it. Turns out 1 Leadership is way too low to finesse a free lesson from this guy, so I’m gonna head out till I level up and try my sob story after I get Leadership to at least 3.

 

I link up with Shanti at our flat. I tell her about the spy, and am bid to range the wider Drypeak area for more information. The fields to the west offer nothing of significance, but man are there a lot of rogues. Instead of heading straight into the woods to the south, I head back to Tyallea for a level each in Searer and Create Thahd, and take a detour to the mines. Within is Zora, who has a number of pretty worthwhile abilities, as well as a book about mines in the servile quarters. As in, spore mines. Did someone make a mistake? Is there some Shaper apprentice somewhere in the Illya Province flipping through a book on ore mine management in utter confusion at this exact moment? Also, there are two variants of lamps. Slightly different visually, but they both work and are named the exact same. They’re also found in areas right next to each other, so I’m puzzled by this inclusion. I could understand and appreciate different lands or factions having different variants of the same basic item: the provinces in G4, the islands in 3, and yeah, the different factions here in the Drypeak mountains. But I’m getting these variants between adjacent zones. I mean, sure, I get that domicile lamps and industrial lamps are rather different things, but the only thing keeping these two sets of items from stacking together is the slightly different art. And yeah, I know a candle functions exactly the same as the lamps, too, but that’s still a candle, a different item, albeit one that serves an identical purpose. There, it’s like making a distinction between Zippos and grill lighters, where with the lamps, it’s more like divvying up your grill lighters based on the brand.

I find the serviles and head back to Drypeak; I was mildly worried Zora would bounce when I went to any non-mine area, but so far, it seems she’s down to roll with me throughout the larger Drypeak area. I turn in my quest with Thossila and-- apparently, one of her serviles found a Shaping manual in the research warrens’ trash. And she was going to return it to Zakary, but instead KEPT IT! Because it was INTERESTING! No fooling! Thossila. Babygirl. This conversation should Not be Happening. You are literally a ghost, because you don’t exist, because I killed you the moment I heard that you are currently in possession of Shaper secrets. And Zakary, you’re not safe, either: are all the Shapers here secretly giraffes, because that’s the only way you can consistently maintain this level of oversight. Someone else bless this mess, I’ve got things to do!

 

I expected the Infested Woods to have gloomier lighting, truth be told. As it is, it almost feels like the Forsaken Lands, except the super fungal forests have been swapped for the fugly thorn trees that plague this valley. I don’t have enough living tools break into the monastery from the sides, so I guess I’m going in loud.

That went well, on Normal. No clue yet how miserable it’ll be on Torment, but that’s for future me to find out in, judging by the time it’s taken me to get this far, two years. The spawner dropped a sweet cloak that gives points in specific abilities, which I think is weird, in-universe. I get items that augment your base stats, and even things like Shaping or magic skills I can see as it magically aiding you as you act, like boosting the power of your spells or stabilizing your creations as you Shape them, allowing you to craft them better. But individual abilities? That’d be like if I wore a particular cap, I’d be able to throw a curveball, but if it got knocked off my head somehow, the ball’ll go wide like it normally would.

 

I met Sharon at her grove and promised to look for a library (In THESE mountains? That’s likely!) to help translate her book. Went to the Crags to get that final strong rogue on the way to the cave. I imagine on my way back to Drypeak I’ll see to those rogues in the western mines. The Crystal Caverns, in contrast to the aforementioned Woods, are much darker than I expected. Less blue, too, which may have something to do with it. Within the Caverns, there are crystals, shades to guard the crystals, a drayk to hoard the crystals, and a servile to sit among the crystals and wonder how things got to this point. I can take one or two crystals and only have to deal with the one or two shades in my immediate vicinity, but when I take one too many—four, to be specific—me and mine get jumped by 8 lovely topaz shades pouring from deeper within the cavern and get slaughtered to a man. I reload and just make my way to Wyx, who I think brought in statues to stand in the passageway leading to them. Are the statues part of their hoard? A flex to visitors, before they went senile? Do they actually have nothing to do with them being in this natural cavern, and someone else brought two dragon statues here for some reason? The world may never know.

The conversation with Wyx went like I expected it would, except for an option explaining their ‘killing wrath’. I figured all this time that Wyx was always this weird, or else they were afflicted with whatever equivalent for dementia drayks had to deal with. But apparently, their spikes of anger are caused by, or are at least deeply tied to, the Barring of drayks and the subsequent extermination of the species. Wyx was a good, loyal creation, but they apparently didn’t make the cut, so they had to flee and make due in a cave far from everything they’d ever known. They spent potentially centuries in this cave in the middle of nowhere, with no one to talk to, listening to magic crystals to subdue their anger at the injustice they suffered; small wonder that they’ve got rage syndrome. Judging from their environmental dialogue, Wyx is aware of their “anger issues”, let’s call it, but doesn’t know why it’s such a problem for them. I really feel for Wyx, and it’s gonna be a real dick move when I force them to give me their favorite crystal later.

 

Back at Drypeak, I blow Wyx’s spot to Takena and get a book on Weapon Shaping, the new hotness. I guess they can be compared to Weapon Arts in other games, and I don’t know where the Shaping comes from. I guess they use essence, but most spells do, too, so the name feels arbitrary, especially when common guards are allowed to learn them. I don’t have a point of weapon skill, at least not natively, so it’s not going to be at all useful for now. I got the roamertooth band from Allizar’s quest, but apart from the occasional steel javelin, my preferred missile is searer, and I dumped my starting dagger to keep my weight down. At some point I’ll have to bump up my melee so I can wield the bronze sword in my inventory before it corrodes, but for now, I heed the call of the mines.

 

I go to fight the stronger rogues I mentioned before. Fighting them would have been foolish at level four, because I would surely be killed, and I know this because I fought them once at level four, and you can be sure I was killed. But now I’m level FIVE, and victory is practically assured. I clean out the grunts wandering the nest, but the big fish have yet to strike. The blessed thahd promises to be a right bastard, but at least it’s solo. At the very end of the cave is another, stronger searing artila backing up an ancient artila. They’re giant worms! How long do these things live that one can be called ancient? Whatever the answer is, both of these encounters have loot behind them, so I’m going in.

Okay, so between starting the fight with the thahd before it could see me and some lucky dazings by my own thahd, we got it to half health before it finally attacked. Two things from that: one, a single hit took out half of Macavity’s health bar, holy shi--

And two, the searing artila apparently heard the scuffle, and coincidentally rounded the corner just in time to shoot Macavity while he’s down. We only barely polished off the thahd before the ancient one popped its head in, too. Looks like it was one encounter all along! Oh, Joy! Even so, they were no match for a true Shaper, his creations, and a lady he conscripted to be his bodyguard. None of my party members died, either, despite their best efforts. Now to Saltmarsh, but first, Ciphar. I manage to finesse him into being my tour guide for a day. I can’t imagine this will be difficult, but never say never, our dear Mr. Vogel could’ve snuck something in where I’d least expect it.

 

Sneaking along the eastern wall of the canyon north is great for avoiding rogues, and I highly recommend it to spies and momma’s boys. As it is, I scour the marsh before I reach the camp guarding the tunnel. The confrontation with Beka goes differently, as I suspected it would: the high Leadership option, instead of preying on her fear of Shaper control by threatening to enslave her loved ones with your Shaper powers to get her to back off, instead has you reschedule your deathmatch by threatening to torture her family before you kill them, which isn’t much worse than the original, but it is a lot cruder, more… base. I’m also holding the game to this: I’d better see Beka again for round 2, or I will raze Rising to the ground. Oh, I’m just joshing ya; I was gonna do that, anyway.

I poke my head in the tunnel briefly, but turn right back around and head to Drypeak to share my findings with Shanti, who says she sees great things ahead of me. I make my way to the tunnel with my head held high. I’ve earned my teacher’s respect on this mission, and when I discover what’s on the other side, it’ll be as Shanti’s apprentice, yes, but also her respected partner.

 

Past the door, fresh tracks. Someone came here recently. A bit further in, Ack! A crumbling thahd! Before I dispose of the sloppy wretch, it holds out a scroll. A message from Shanti! If I hurry, I might be able to reach her on the other side of the tunnel! I leave the poor creation to collapse into sludge and trek onwards. The Thahd I picked up earlier is getting antsy, and Zora decided to bounce. It’s for the best, really: her skills are appreciated, but enemy levels are ramping up, and hers, uh, can’t. As is my want, I clear out both the combat and mechanics routes, lamenting that mine disposal no longer grants experience. I finally trust myself to not chop off my own fingers with a sword to actually equip one. I probably won’t be used much what with all the friendly bodies between me and something to use it on, but in a pinch it’ll be better to have than not.

That vagabond thahd finally broke and ran. And in the middle of a fight, too; how rude! I should make an artila to compliment my fyora and thahd, but with all the essence I’ve invested in Frizz and Macavity, I’m gonna have to wait for a level up and drop a point into, ugh, essence mastery. Intelligence was already a tough sell for me in the classic series, and then it covered both essence and spell energy. As it is now, I have a hard time justifying the cost to myself.

I make it to the end of the tunnel and come across a canister. I pop the top and get… well, a little tooltip opens and says I’ll get Protection. I use the canister immediately, of course, because you should always use protection. Oh, before I leave, there’s a door I didn’t open! I head there and immediately see another note, this time from an unknown author. It mentions an artifact in the chest, and a… Radiant College? Sounds like a place with a library! More importantly, it confirms not just the entrenchment, but the establishment of Drypeak’s enemies. They have institutions in the mountains. Higher education!

 

I go to the next zone and, wow, again. I’m not super jazzed by the map being permanently zoomed in, but seeing the whole of the Drypeak Mountains rendered in the full beauty of the late day sun evokes a special feeling inside of me. I load into Freegate and-- oh right, this place is extremely illegal! Someone should do something about this. Well, it will have to be me and, of course, Shanti--

Oh. Oh no. Shanti has been attacked, and captured. This isn’t just an investigation anymore. This is also a rescue mission. I step through the gate into a foreign land, and am immediately jumped by armed serviles. It seems Rising has a welcoming party for any Shapers that enter these mountains. Suits me fine; I’m currently in the mood for, ah, culturally enriching these rogues, with Searers. A sudden sound behind me reveals the pincer movement! Trapped between two groups of serviles, I prepare for a knockdown, drag-out brawl, when suddenly BRODUS BLADE FROM BEHIND, WITH THE STEEL SWORD!

We clean up the ambushers, and I begin to head north, but before I do, I check out the woods. Sure, the screeches and cries for help are definitely just rogues trying to lead me into an ambush, but I caved and made an artila since leveling up is taking so long, and I really want to test it out. I tried to ice the charged vlish I immediately came across, but it managed to call out for its friends before I took it down. A good strategy in this situation is to run like hell to an open area and fight there: in this case, right by Squib. He doesn’t actually get involved in the fight, since I like meeting my opponents where they’re at so I can kill them where they stand, so when they show up, I slowly but surely take the fight to the woods I just took the time to avoid fighting in. I’m in the thicket now, and at the edge of my vision I see a big, Corrupting blighter and some of its lesser but still potent friends heading right for me. I try kiting for a second or two, but I remember I’m on Normal difficulty and just out-hard them. Having heroically cleared out these woods (at least for now), I tread onwards.

 

I make a beeline for Medab to meet Learned Pinner, and Medab East to dap up Brodus Blade. My goal at this point in the game is to power level: perform quests, gain skills, and earn enough experience to gain quite a few levels between Awakened territory and Barzite lands. But before all of that, I have to visit a few old friends.

First up is Sharon, who helps me out by giving me the fang bracelet she’d been working on and sets me loose in her backyard. Alright, let me at that fyora, I’ve been hankering for some better gloves-- oh, it’s a cryoa now. That doesn’t mean much to me, though, a lizard is a lizard is a lizard. Lemme just mouse over it to see its stats and-- I’m sorry, how much health? And it’s level 14?

Next up is Drypeak, where I start pressing the citizenry in earnest on the illegal Shaping going on. None of them know much of anything, obviously; they figured Zakary and Barzahl were doing something weird up there, but they just wrote it off as Shaper business and hoped it wouldn’t get them all killed somehow. If I want real answers, I gotta ask the big man himself.

Zak looks as terrified as I’d ever seen someone. He could almost definitely lay me out even without his guards and turrets, so I guess he thinks he can’t try something without risking me running off. Mind you, he wouldn’t know about Shanti’s abduction, so he probably figured it go really bad for him if she found out about that. Of course, the main reason I wasn’t killed on sight was because he needs me to help him fix his mess. I’m trying for either an unaligned or Servant ending this run, so I may eventually join him, but for now I’m a bit too woke for his taste, so I gotta go about my business in such a way that rumors of my regressive ways reaches him. I can also just gain the Leadership needed to bully him into letting me join him, which is probably what’s going to happen.

I head back to the Medab area to clear out some spawners and recover some ornks, and meet one Courier Bharl, who, after saving from a roamer ambush, I am given the choice to rob his delivery of pods and spores meant to aid the sick in Medab. While very based, I instead elect to send him on his merry way. The ornks I meet in the southern Medab area are predictably slow as molasses, but the lost ornks in G2 were slow as cold molasses, so this is actually a quality of life update. I return the future rashers to Praw, and continue my search through the off roads of Awakened territory-- what in the world is an Irradiated Vlish!? Evidently, a vlish that can cast Mass Madness. I nearly got folded by my own thahd, but the misbegotten squid carked it first. With that and the other rogues dusted, I make my way to the retreat to the southwest and make note of the pair of Shaping tomes I’m too unlearned to make any use of. Nothing a few dozen stabbings can’t fix.

 

Not gonna lie, the Stinking Marsh got hands. Pyroroamers for miles and they hit hard. And don’t get me started on their explosions; keeping enough space between me and them meant my thahd was useless for every fight except the last. And boy was it the last: I slipped into a crevice in the wall to get the deadeye cloak and walked into a half-dozen of the little bombers. My fyora went down fairly early despite my best efforts, and I was spending most of my AP every turn sucking down healing pods, and between that, attacking, repositioning to stay out of explosion range, and using a crystal/wand, I can only pick two. I finally had to send my thahd to charge into the middle of them to make some space and damage one of them enough to kill it with my artila, setting them all off, and taking Macavity with them. After that fiasco, I had to lick my wounds back in town before heading back in with a new pair of beefed up fyoras.

I get through an absolute crush of pyros and get to the cave they’re all coming from. My business is with the spawner only; unless plans dramatically change, I’m not joining the Awakened this run, so the Drayk in here won’t see hide nor hair of me. It would be a fairly simple battle if the game didn’t do this thing where a half dozen pyros are placed right next to where you round a corner and immediately start the battle before you can get clear of them. As it is, both my fyoras are lost before I clear them out in one big blast, but another pyro comes in from deeper in the mine, and I lose my artila keeping my distance from that and the new ones the spawner kept spawning. I might be imagining things, but can it heal, or is the natural regen enemies have just screwing with me? I thought the blast took out a third of its health, but three-ish turns pass where I have to ignore it in favor of juggling roamers, and when I look back, it’s near full. Either way, there was no way I could defeat it by myself, even if it wasn’t puking up pitbombers, so I retreat, again, trek through the marsh because it can’t be cleared, again, and make it back to town to rethink things. Again.

This time, I’m going in with two artila. Pure damage usually never gets these things, but the d.o.t. typically will, and pairing poison with my acid searer should make quick work of the roamers. As for the spawner itself, that will require the things I’m making at the location: volatile thahds. I typically dismiss the unstable variants of creations as cruel and wasteful inventions, but in this situation, my compunctions will have to be put aside. And good thing I did, because the artilae didn’t make it out of the first round, thanks to acid spray, roamer explosions, and the local radiation. It took my thahds leaping to the spawner and wrapping up it and the fresh spawns long enough to them all to go up in flames in one crescendo of damage ticks. With that done and the marsh cleared, I can turn in some quests.

 

A level up tantalizingly close, I head for Belik’s Crossing, where a sign helpfully informs me to stay on the path, lest I get attacked by rogues. After my last misadventure, I obey the sign, only for a fyora to walk right up to me seconds later, and a fight breaks out anyway. What oaf is even guarding this road? There are fyoras crawling all over it like cane toads. I see a guard, but Mekkan apparently only cares to guard the bridge to the Magus Complex. At least he likes what he’s heard about me, and lets me through without incident. I blow all my supplies clearing out the fyoras and thahd shades, head back to Medab to resupply, see that I’ve just about exhausted the merchants of things I actually want to buy, and head west to go to Triola, instead.

 

Triola itself is boring, apart from the ganking I talk my way out of and the murderer I run into. The important things are the quests I pick up; I don’t think I can get the Fort Muck quest if I’m not Awakened, but I get Kill Bandit Leaders and Check Ellhrah’s Tomb, two awesome setpieces by Geneforge standards. However, they’re pretty long and involved as zones go, so I leave to read the Group Heal and Learn Roamer books I left in the Patrolled Path, and have to deal with the still uncleared Hunted Fen. Let me take a minute to talk to you about the Hunted Fen.

 

Hunted Fen, in Infestation, is filled near to bursting with scavlings, the new junk creation enemy; think the various worms swarming all over Geneforge Four and Five. This combat zone deals in what I call “pack encirclement encounters, where singular enemies are too cowardly to engage, and will instead growl and run some distance away from you. But not too far away, because when they feel there are “enough” of them around, they all attack. In the previous series, the attack was limited to the rogues you triggered the fight with, with any that happened to wander close enough joining in, but otherwise minding their business until you repeated the process again. Here, however, once the fight started, it did not end: just about every scavling in the zone entered the fray, to the point that for four rounds in a row, every scavling I killed that round would have its position taken up by yet another scaling by the start of the next round. More than a few times, I thought there had to have been several spawners just out of sight making the things, because otherwise, they’d have to be pouring in from all over the zone, and that just doesn’t make any sense! And then two separate bands of packrats literally leapt into the fray, and I realized just how jank this zone was. What’s the reasoning behind making the enemies behave like this, as punishment for daring to enter combat at all? Even when the fight nominally ended and the zone was clear, stragglers still came trundling up to me in ones and twos from the other side of the map when I was trying to explore. It’s goddamn insufferable. With that done, and the aforementioned skills gained, I head back to the starting zone, to contemplate my life and the road ahead of me-- wait, who is this girl with fyoras surrounding her?

 

Oh my what. Emily? Emily. Emily, this girl from nowhere, this literal who, this Create a Character whats-it, is a Shaper. Or whatever passes for a Shaper in Barzite lands; and make no mistake, she’s definitely from Rising, I stake my soul on it. Their insane methods almost certainly wiped her memory, and she somehow left the College and wandered off to Drypeak without being detected. One hole in my theory is that she says she remembers a cold climate, and while I think the Drypeak mountains are generally pretty cold and windy, being a mountain range and all, the area I’d most associate with that descriptor is Zhass-Uss, and the rest of the Taker lands. That’s a nonstarter, though: Emily’s human, and I don’t really remember any humans being there at all. Anyway, I was also gonna ask her about the fyora she Shaped right in front of me, but apparently, the game decided since I opted to ask after her first, I actually don’t find her breaking Shaper law with her existence all that big a deal and dropped the option for good. Real Cool.

I head to the Warrens again to buff some of my attack spells when, surprise surprise, Zakary pipes up! And he wants to know what to do with Emily! Rather, he wants me to evaluate Emily and decide what to do about her. He raises a good point that it’s perfectly possible that she didn’t seek these powers out, and was pressed into using a canister; we have no real way of knowing the chain of events that led to Emily being here, since the only witness we have to those events is Emily herself, who can’t remember them. If she didn’t actively seek out the ability to Shape, then Shaper law apparently doesn’t really have a clear response for this case: what is to be done about a person who has had Shaper secrets imposed on them? Hell, does that description even apply to someone who has had those secrets Shaped into them? Questions for the Council to decide: Emily can look after herself until then while I take care of more urgent matters, like clearing out swamp thahds, and looking up dead languages.

 

Before I really make the effort to break through the rogues between me and the Magus Complex, I head the opposite direction and go to the Infiltrator’s Fort, which, between the map icon, the soundscape, and probably the blue raspberry GUI, I always took for a nighttime level under the full moon in G2. Here, it looks about the same time of day it usually does in this game. Apart from that, it’s just as fun, linking up with a band of serviles to smash a Taker installation, and afterwards, scouting out the area for goodies. I get a brief scare with the last two mines in the little base to the west, since my Mechanics is at 5 at this point and they require 6 and 8, respectively, but I just trigger them and flee so I can get at the loot. Not the canister, though; I like fyoras and all, but using one of my few allotted canister uses on it is outrageous, especially since you don’t need the skill at three to make cryoas anymore.

 

Onto gate-crashing. The Complex Gate is set up in such a way that you can either handle one big combat encounter consisting of three waves of roamers and artilae, else you can step off the main path and use stealth to pick through the trapped woods, if only so you can say you did it. As you can guess from how I phrased that, my preferred method is the Shaper way: Kill Rogues Dead. However, I will spare a minute to do an obstacle course. Getting to the gates, I muck about the entrance mulling over the meaning of rocks, when surprise! The rogues have come to me! I must’ve been a good Shaper this year! A really good Shaper, because now I have my own route to deal with individual packs on their own instead of gormlessly weathering waves of roamers in the middle of the road. I swing back around to see what the sentry roamer on the road would do, but it was gone for some reason. I don’t think I killed it, but that could mean anything from it having left when I began killing roamers in earnest, to having simply despawned when I triggered this alternate path. Something to find out when I play this game with cheats a year or two down the line.

 

Magus Complex itself is more of the familiar, except for Guard Guard, the guard who guards. At this point, I’m just inured to all the flagrant violations of Shaper law, so I learn maybe four new spells (going from 3000 coins to zilch in the process), and scrounge a pass from a student’s belongings. This grants me access to one(1) book on blessing magic, and nothing more. My blessing magic is at 2 at this point, so I can’t even use it. I circle back to it by way of Triola towards the Power Station for some dosh and levels, and learn… War Blessing. I also buy a level of Create Vlish to fully upgrade my trio of creations to tier 2, and make my way to Ellhrah’s Tomb.

 

I cleared out the Bandit Marsh already, but judging from the hassle that was, I’m still not strong enough to comfortably clear the Warren of the Three. So, Mr. Eko will have to wait while I perform an exorcism or twenty. But first, Fort Muck. I can’t resupply here, since I’m not with the Awakened, but there is a cute rat friend to make. Just gotta deal with this raiding party-- wait, there are human Takers? This one is specifically a mage. They didn’t talk, and the game didn’t take any note of them being there, so I guess this is not worth commenting on in this version? I can’t say this with any amount of certainty, because all my save files in G2 either have Zhass-Uss hostile or are back-up saves that haven’t gotten there yet, but I’m pretty sure the drayks and serviles don’t want anything to do with humans, Shaper or otherwise, due to outsiders’ complacency and profiting off of their exploitation; I dunno, maybe I’m mixing it up with sentiments from G4, but I do recall there not being any humans in Zhass-Uss. I guess the Takers in this canon aren’t so hostile as to lump in commons with their hatred of the Shapers.

The Tomb itself wasn’t extremely different from the original, apart from the cone attacks. Oh, and the Chain Lightning that kept killing my vlish. I got hit by that one a few more times, though strangely enough my rat either dodged them all or the damage dwindled to the point of negligibility by the time it reached it. My Weapon Shaping will probably hover at around two or three this entire run, so I likely won’t find out how that skill works until my next one. I peek my head in the Pit of the Bound, but everything there is scawwy high-leveled, so I’m gonna bounce till quite a bit later.

 

With that, I did most everything I think I can currently do in Awakened territory at my level, so I try my hand at the bandit warren just to see if a can actually handle the bosses there. The rank and file bandits are manageable as long as I’m not swarmed, but my larger issue is healing, both for me and my creations. The way enemies spread damage in this game with various AOEs means I spend a lot of time and essence on Group Heals, but since a lot of my essence is wrapped up in buffing my creations, I actually don’t have many casts, usually four, and that’s without regarding any attack spells I may cast in a given encounter. Healing spores are an easy solution, and allow me to properly attack on the same turn, but they’re shockingly limited; only a few vendors sell them at this point in the game, and my reputation makes buying them from Elili prohibitively expensive (or at least prohibitively insulting). My next best course of action is to stockpile essence pods and neck them at regular intervals, which works, but makes me think I have to be going about this wrong.

I encounter Quorn, who was just a name and a body in G2, but here has a bit of flavor: I’m betting he was one of those Taker cultists just outside Kazg, given his age, esoteric magic abilities, and clear, rabid hatred of you (though that could just be because of my intrusion. And, y’know, killing his men.). He turns out to be a shockingly unpleasant fight, specifically because of several moves of his that cast various statuses, one that looks like a cone or AOE dominate spell, a terrify, a slowing move, a brap cloud that inflicts mass Wrack, and the ubiquitous mass energize seemingly every servile knows in this game. Between those and the fact that the enemies’ high levels makes them hard to hit at level 11 (10 for my creations, and 9 for the rat),you can see how it’d take a few tries, and a few casualties. But in the end, I take him and his posse down, pick up Blyster, bomb out to heal at Triola, and move on to Mr. Eko.

It seems Eko Blade kept the name after the divorce. It’s weird to see, considering he’s the one that decided to bounce from the Takers to be a bandit instead, but I guess he was only there for Gnorrel. His dialogue suggests he heard you tearing through everyone else before him and has been steeling himself back here to face death with dignity. The narration also suggests I’d be open to cutting a deal with him, which, considering I’ve spent the entire rest of the time I’ve been here here silently butchering bandits, is a bit rich. As for his actual fight, he has less health than Qwerty, but he has crazy stun defense, which blunts my Airshock’s effectiveness on him, but his two friends are still fair game, and they’re all grouped up in a big bunch. In my initial attempt I just ran in, which allowed them to start the battle and act first, suppression batonning half of my team to death, including Blyster, an unacceptable outcome. My second, successful attempt saw me bless, protect, and haste before entering the arena already in combat mode to get the jump on them. Being a purely physically damaging enemy, the champions don’t exactly throw around statuses, only layer on covering fire with their batons while Eko alternates between buffing them all and firing poison shots. I take out the champions fairly easily and give Eko the Caesar treatment until he dies… which reveals Phase Two.

I thought you said serviles didn’t leave ghosts, Connavar, you dead idiot! I mean, I suppose they still don’t without a magic spell to do just that. In any case, it’s not the first exorcism I’ve performed this week, and if I have my way, it won’t be the last. I send Mr. Eko into the light and raid his cupboards for the package Zyan wanted, as well as some other loot. I leave behind the artila canister-- actually, why is that even in Eko’s room? What purpose does a servile have for a canister they can’t use? As a lava lamp? A conversation piece? This one isn’t a joke, but a real guess: a last resort to evade the indignity of imprisonment and execution from the Awakened? Whatever the reason, it’s gonna sit pretty in there until these mountains get Final Sanctioned. I duck out again to recharge my batteries and flog my junk, leaving Vizzedra to sweat for the several days it’ll take me to make the round trip from Medab. If, indeed, she realizes I was here at all; her and hers are doing some crazy stuff behind that door.

Going through the two sets of double doors to High Vizzedra’s section of the dungeon gives me eerie flashbacks to Shaper facility security door set ups. Not helping the vibes are the discarded remains of spent canisters just inside. Either some poor fools tried seeing what would happen and got wrecked, or something real bad is going down just ahead. The canisters in her bedroom paired with her writings at least suggest that Tuldaric’s modifications allow serviles to freely use canisters without the guarantee of gruesome death. Which means this version of High Viz isn’t just stronger, but canister-mad, too. Lovely.

I barge into her lab and oh, cripes, she’s managed to summon something here. Looking over the infernal, it seems I can take a clean shot at it and blow Viz and co. sky high, and probably me with them. Instead, after weathering some delusional yapping, I simply kill them all myself in probably the least problematic boss fight of the three, leaving the infernal free to go back home, or dissipate or whatever. I grab Vizzedra’s sensory toy and hit up Triola to get my reward, and then, I finally head south, into Barzite lands.

 

The Experimental Valley is a trip to even peek into, there are so many mines. When I finally pick my way through to actually see the acid sprayers, they require 8 Mechanics to disarm, and I’m at 7, so there’s no way I’m exploring there until I hit another level up. It’ll be Clawbug Canyon instead, which is not very notable except that the regular clawbugs here are too weak to grant EXP to a level 12 character. Kss-Urg’s Valley is much more notable in that the cryoas are even weaker, and also I walked into an ambush of glaahks and battle alphas and died in one turn. I retry using my patented “go in there in Combat Mode, you idiot” method and clean up in there, leaving behind the Weapon Shaping canister there. I know this place has cryoa spawners, but I don’t remember their spawn tracking me down in the original. This makes exploring the area a pain as long as I don’t confront the zone’s master.

Kss-Urg doesn’t want smoke, which is fine by me, because she’s level 14, so I don’t either, at least until my creations’ levels are at minimum 12. I kill the spawners, explore at my leisure, and move on.

 

Holy hell, the Thahd Dumping Ground is not a difficult zone, but it is damn annoying for one reason only: explosions. Specifically the fact that the explosion range is tight and the damage drop off is feckled: 6 or 7 spaces is the radius and at this point does 50~ damage at that range and maybe 100 at like 4 spaces. Stupid damage, and with how turn orders work out, I can’t get all of my party out of the way before the stupid things either die and explode or close the distance even more to attack, upping the damage if it dies at that point.

 

I finally enter Gheth, and get my first somewhat coherent rundown of Barzite ideology, which only confirms my belief that the Barzites proudly embody all the cruelty of the Shapers as a group, while gleefully ignoring their already kind of shaky dedication to responsibility. I resist the urge to headbutt Dawn, and help out Finchy by grabbing his mandrake root, and I see the path to the zone west. Something about how Finchy mentioned it didn’t sit right with me, so I opted to pop in to… Shandoka… a new zone! A new zone with Sholai! How are you in the mountains?

Ilyusha tells me they had the bad luck of capsizing on our shores and holed up in probably the least safe place for a stranger to be in this strange land. He wants me to kill some kind of monster in the nearby mine, and tells me I should talk to a lady that lives in a house to the north for advice. More interesting than him is Intisar, who got just plain screwed by Zakary’s flim-flammery. Her and Elili could make a support group. She wants me to grab a valuable crystal out of that same mine, making mention of the danger of the shades in there, likely being created or made more dangerous by Ilyusha’s monster. She also mentions this witch or whatever to the north, so I’ll swing over there after I talk to YU-LA! She’s here, too, after dodging Final Sanction, only for this second expedition to run aground on Shaper lands and come across improbably illegal happenings again. At least they’re not the ones breaking the law this time… at least, not the MAJOR ones… yet. It seems Yu-La got the goo she got from the Mutagen protagonist stolen from her by some visitor. My guess, unless it’s a remake-original character, is that Phariton is up to his old tricks again. In my last topic, I “theorized” (more accurately, I just threw out a guess) that the goo was a kind of starter for a Geneforge. If Phariton or whoever else has that, as well as the means and the know-how to build their own Version 1.0 Geneforge, they are going to lap the competition in these mountains. Hell, they might just win against the Shapers, if they’re really nice with it.

I head over to the little house to the north after killing an annoying spawner, to find no one inside. There are stairs going down, but instead of a garden variety basement, I find… a woman standing in the middle of a magma chamber who, after the narration goes into detail about how definitely Not Of This World she is, says in environmental text “I am Infernaland rushes me.

After I’m done bricking myself and realize I’m not being killed, she’s just wandering, I actually talk to her and learn that she is Emissary, a horrifically strong infernal who wants me to defeat other infernals and bring them to her. Even the original Geneforge 2 was filled to the brim with infernals, just another symptom of the breakdown of law in the colony. But clearly, there is at least one more this time around, the “Aspect of Chaos”, a 2007 forum poster-Aah name if I’ve ever heard one. Still, the fact that I’m running into level 20 entities in this place is giving me vibes of the last game’s new content, and of being decidedly underleveled for it. I’m gonna hold off before I head into that mine, and explore the rest of Gheth in the meantime, taking note of as much of its private Shaping halls as I can get to without getting spotted.

 

I pressure Brent into revealing that Shanti was taken west, and make my way to the Guarded Groves, a place of roving clawbugs and their vlish shepherds. Nothing to report here, oh yeah, except that Shanti was murdered here and left to rot. This is a heinous crime, one that demands retribution, but all clues for her murderer’s location point to Rising.

I take a bridge “guarded” by rogue alphas. The Barzites, low on Shapers both real and engineered, had a common soldier maintain control of a group of powerful, willful creations. It went about as well as you’d expect, and the battle beta at the center of it all is the subject of nearby Darian’s quest. The fight went as expected until round four, when he went crazy and threw poor Beranabus over the tree line onto a pile of bones, a moment that would be even more spectacular if it wasn’t immediately followed by poison and acid dropping the creature’s health to the threshold where I could LowTierGod him. With that done, and my reward obtained, I immediately think, “You know what? I actually want to take the OTHER bridge to Rising.”

The old bridge is utterly uneventful until I come across a just absolutely zooted drayk bumbling around the flowers. A least, I assume she’s zooted until she mentions a “messiah”. Oh dang, she’s not high on jazz, she’s high on Jesus! Fyora Jesus! I’ve stumbled into some kind of hippy-dippy reptile cult. I don’t know if this messiah is a drakon, or if some sort of super fyora has appeared to lead them to their better lives in the sky, but I’m about to find out.

Turns out the cause is one of the stone eggs Hannah of Wealth over near Medab told me about. They aren’t worshiping the egg, though; the egg’s leaking essence just warped their minds to the point that they imagined a messiah and made a religion out of it. I take the thing, somehow stemming the leak and breaking its hold on the dozen or so creations that now have me cornered. I may not have thought this through, but I kill my way out of the tunnel, and dodge Karhren on my way to the next zone, not out of fear, but because it looks like she’ll still be vibing as long as she doesn’t see me.

The Loyalist Encampment is a refreshing island of sanity amongst the waves of Barzite depravity. I think Macnulty and Bunk’s environmental dialogues were accidentally switched, leaving Macnulty the Shaper griping to himself about how Shapers get too fancy and wanting to run the ones with Barzahl. More power to him, and to me as I get a trainer willing to teach me actually worthwhile spells, as well as higher-tier creations like drayks and rotgroths. Kima has loads of skills for the unaligned Shaper, and at a fair price, too. She’s also sick of all these fatherless commons having access to yet more fatherless Shapers’ secrets, and wants one particular specimen, Melathir, to have his neck turned for his crimes. I have a marvelous time setting off nearby mines I can’t disarm to get at the workshop to the south, and head north to Buck’s Creek, which sounds like a local vacation spot in one of the more wooded sections of Minnesota, or a mascot horror game taking place in the same. Poking around, I overhear a human say, “Shandoka”. So this is where the rest of the expedition ended up. I want to snoop around further, but battle betas and cockatrice are a compelling deterrent, even if I figure I’d win. Seeing the dazed thahds and a severely locked shed near them, I utilize a cheeky save and reload to discover another stone egg. I figure there’s a key around here for this door, so I hold off on opening it for real for my return trip, after I complete the Shandoka quests.

I figure I may as well make some headway on that right now with the lowest investment of these, going to Sage Markov for Yu-La to track down a potential canister workshop. From the jump, I see that it is about a century too old to be our target, and investigating confirms the assumption, and agitates the scuttlebugs infesting the joint. They stay neutral, too, so in the span of a few seconds a half dozen of these things walk right up to me and explode without sending me into combat mode. I do it manually once I figure out what the hell is going on and bolt with a plundered puresteel bar once I blow up the bugs between me and the exit. A small aside, I also can’t find a way to check my creations’ resistances. I can see my own just fine, but I don’t know how to see theirs, or if there even is such. I know they HAVE resistances, my gear and some of their abilities makes that clear, I just can’t see them.

 

Yu-La’s next quest would have me go to the main Sholai camp… whose location she is unaware of. Luckily, I figure I know the place, but I’ll still need Ilyusha’s help to actually get into it, and that means entering his fracking mine. To prepare, I take the Purifying Blade I got from Markov’s and juice it up with as many canisters I passed over in my adventures here as I can remember. It requires 5 Melee skill and has no additional effects, so I’m really only doing it just to have it.

 

Actually clearing the mines was almost disappointingly easy. The Aspect of Chaos has the performative, “edgy little freak” energy of a Homestuck troll, and gets laid out just as easily. Next time, don’t test out your new Shaper toys against a Shaper, numbnuts. The tower it was scouting is similarly not a big deal, until I got to the top and got peeled like a potato by the pair of golems there. I’ll try that fight again in a little while. I get my rewards and new marching orders, and head back to Buck’s Creek.

The bridge still isn’t raised, so I do have to fight through the rogues here, and meet, uh, Grimwing. Who wants… shrubbery. And the name of his quest is… The Knight with Needs… Dog, I thought we as a society agreed to stop making Holy Grail references twenty years ago in an effort stop being kissless. I also get the stone egg unlocked, and walk right into another bombing for my troubles. I actually survive due to having been coincidentally behind the nearby… I guess its a rock? My new alpha got annihilated, though, and my drayk would’ve been similarly cooked if it were a space or two closer.

 

Anyway, Zosima wants me to clear the tower for real this time, and I’m also gonna find out who left spawners to attack them. The actual investigation is just a formality, honestly: The Awakened are decidedly preoccupied with their defense plan and fending off the Barzites and Takers, and wouldn’t waste manpower and resources playing aggressor to a handful of scavengers who aren’t doing anything to them, no matter how little Pinner may think of them; the Servants are right out because they don’t use spawners, dum-dum; unless Barzahl decided petty antagonism of a group already in his grasp and supposedly under his protection was a good idea… maybe the game could sell me on that being the angle if they do just unveil him being an inexcusable troll towards anyone he can get away with. But no, it’s gonna be the Takers, either for petty revenge for Trajkov’s Sholai bringing the Shapers to Sucia Island, or as Step 1 of killing them all to prevent this new expedition from making these mountains a second Sucia Island (rich as that sounds). Going around, it seems I also have the option of flogging the crystal cone meant for Phariton to any faction leader instead. I’m not going to, though, because that seems like a great way to get Intisar killed.

I deign to humor Grimwing for a time, fetching him potted plants, but I have an issue with his next request, this time for tall shrubberies. He explains I can head to the Shapers Elissa, Sharon, or Phariton for these rare specimens, but when I head to Sharon and clear the way to her collection of these precious plants, I see she has all five needed to meet the requirements. They count as charms, so among other things they don’t stack, requiring me to play my favorite minigame, Junk Bag Manager, but my main issue is that the quest could really stand to be a bit more involving; for example, it could easily have had only two or three tall shrubberies in one location, requiring you to go to at least one other Shaper and dealing with necessary combat encounter or mechanics test. I imagine lugging a number of useless, non-stacking items across several zones would be a pain, so in my hypothetical revision, the tall shrubs are just normal stackables like the regular potted plants.

As it is now, Dominant Strategy wins out, and I take all five to Grimwing, who turns out to be beefing with a tree that is, and I can’t stress this enough, nowhere near him and his shrubbery. It needs to be cut down, and if this game hands me a herring hatchet, I need to ask myself serious questions about allowing Monty Python fans to ruin the things I love. Elissa won’t help me with the task of making this Hyper Hacker, because she holds this tree—which I remind you, is as illegal as near everything else in these mountains—to be a glorious work of Shaping ingenuity. Lady, this is basically just me doing my job. I’d need to go to Barzahl (you know, the guy who made the thing?) to see about this hypothetical tree chopper, and, uh, good luck, me?

 

I actually go to South Rising Road, both to see this tallest tree and to get a good look at what the Barzite school system counts as a success story: Bernard, a myopic, pilfering geek who leaves his uncontrolled glaahks all over the damn place, likely penning in poor Manny just to the north. Bernard even stole valuable supplies from Manny and left without saying a word! Could you imagine? I, personally, would never steal from some perceived “lesser”. I only steal from my equals and superiors; they tend to have better loot. Also, Grimwing was right, that tree is evil and has to die.

Speaking of “equals”, I confront Bernard in his workshop about the mandrake. He talks big, but folds when a proper Shaper like Beranabus stares him down. I can’t imagine he had more than a half-dozen canisters to gain the skills he says he has, but the way his anger spikes when questioned resembles a more, ah, regular user, so either he as a common is just naturally more quickly affected by canister use than a trained Shaper would be, or he’s huffing more of them down than I thought; I guess he’d have to have learned his combat spells somehow. I’m not a huge fan of his 90% mental effect resist, given his background and attitude, especially when my own MER is at 50%. Bernard does his best work as a craftsman, and unlike most of the craftspeople I’ve come across in my travels, I think I’ve got all the materials I need to make his thing, except for a steel breastplate, which I don’t have on hand and is hella expensive, but eminently procurable. Still, since I’m not planning on wearing the thing, just selling it, I’m gonna hold off on that until I procure some steel plate through scavenging.

 

After coming up with nothing, I head back to Bernard’s. Stepping into the back immediately turns him hostile, and I don’t see another way in, but it nets me a mandrake root among other treasures, so I just roll with it. I get the Shaped Blade from Maynard and stow that with the rest of my hoard in my Drypeak apartment, and move on to the Breeding Pits, also known as the entire southern half of the city of Rising.

 

The Breeding Pits are genuinely pretty engaging as a mainly combat zone with occasional optional bypasses via shortcuts, but I take a brief detour to an adjacent zone, the Road to Phariton. Phariton, or, as properly as this forum will allow, The F##kler, has filled the canyon leading up to his crib with an obscene amount of pylons, which will doubtless be even more heinous here in Infestation than they already were in G2. I can’t get Jack Joseph to turn the things off so I can do the delivery, so I back off and finish the Breeding Pits instead, then turn right around and go to the Rising North Gate. Scouting around, I thought the College had beefed up its security since last round, boasting some kind of outer vestibule containing additional guards, but I checked G2 and sure enough, it’s featured there, too.

 

I'm gonna do you guys (and this forum) a favor and post this run in two halves.

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Run 1 2/2: Day 58, The Glaahks Are Becoming More Sentient, They're Starting to Know My Name--

 

I FINALLY step into Rising, Barzahl’s seat of power, the root of the madness that infects these mountains, and it’s the Attack of the “C”-Students. Every “Shaper” I meet in this damnable place is either insane or an arrogant spod with the morality of the least likeable child you know. I track down Barzahl and hear his report, and get confirmation that the slab of meat and metal standing next to him is Shanti’s killer. I challenge Stanis to a duel to the death, and immediately scurry into the back rooms of Barzahl’s palace to get at the Creation controls. I sabotage them to retain control of my party during the fight, and also for a fun surprise once I let loose hell here later.

Stanis himself is a slightly toned down version of Krogst up north, who I killed a bit earlier and didn’t tell you, sorry. He has somewhat higher Acid resist to make up for his lower Stun resist, though personally I think the fact that he’s level 12 is his greatest weakness, since it allows all of my guys a reasonable hit rate. My effect resistances failed me hard this fight, though; Stanis left me dazed/wracked/charmed(?)/wracked/stunned far more often than my pets wound up being, but in the end, my alpha put him down. His last words are perturbing, though: the power high the canisters gave him broke right at the end, leaving Stanis with himself, his actions, and their consequences in his last moments. He dies, and Shanti is avenged. Also, my Helix Ring absorbed energy from him, specifically, and not any number of powerful enemies I killed. Is it because of the personal stakes? The sheer amount of canisters he used? I dunno. They don’t have a proper Anvil here in Rising for some reason, so I’m gonna see what that’s about. After that, I met Barzahl, finally, so I’m gonna see what that ending looks like for the first time ever!

 

Okay, so it appears that the Helix Ring is one of the items you need mandrake and infernal residue to augment, along with possibly the frosted amulet-- sorry, annulet. I pop on down to the starting zone and-- oh, yeah, Zakary said Emily was sick, I should see about this. I can’t cure her myself, but I take note of her oddly familiar symptoms. I go to Medab, and Carnelian confirms it: the servile’s swamp sickness has transmitted between the two species. How Emily got it when she’s nowhere near the swamp is anyone’s guess. Questions for later; for now, I’m going home!

 

It is, of course, not a true ending, a punishment for refusing to do the true duty of a Shaper. You guys remember I’m an apprentice, right? Taking on entire rogue nations is a bit above my pay grade. I get left as an outcast in my continued training, and the Council’s arthritic response leads to many tens of thousands dead, with far more to follow.

 

I jump back into the game to plan out my next move. Obviously, if I’m gonna get an unaligned ending, I should take Macnulty’s advice and smash the problem children in these mountains, Barzahl and the Taker Triumvirate, they who are taking Shaping into a new, or rather very old, very scary direction. I need to get into Taker lands for the swamp sickness cure, anyway, among other quests, but I’ve been putting it off since I burned all my chances to get one of their badges without joining the Awakened first. Without it, getting to Zhass-Uss is going to be at least three zones of sustained combat, and I don’t know if I’ll even be let in without it. Still, hope springs eternal.

 

I head to Old Rising Bridge for a quest and realize almost too late that mines reset now! I actually ran afoul of this way the hell back in Shandoka, but that was almost a week ago at time of writing and I plain forgot. Luckily I noticed just in time and disarmed the miserable things again. I manhandle the rogues, and gain a new pet vlish, which are certainly Not delicious, though the alphas certainly wouldn’t care.

 

The Road to Phariton was far less of a laser light show than I expected, though I’m not resetting to make sure that was normal. With my Stealth at 3, the pylons only just didn’t see me as I ran through the canyon like a sniveling baby, and making it to the controls on both ends of the zone to neutralize both sets. Mechanics is basically essential for this zone, because the pylons themselves had a glow up between generations. The pylons in G2 were strong, sure, but out-harding them with sufficient firepower and optimal positioning was a thing you could do if you were talked into it by someone you foolishly considered a friend, and with a few of them it was practically required to get to the control panels. In the remaster series it’s literally impossible to do; it’s not just that they’re so much more oppressive, but they don’t frigging die! They go into sleep mode for like, a turn, and then immediately get back to blasting. Don’t even bother fighting them, it’s that goddamn stupid, even on Normal.

 

I enter Phariton’s Hall. Within are his new, different, and special variant of servile. (Pssst! They’re special because he doesn’t have to fit each of them with bomb collars.) Once you get in the Hall proper and sneak past the artila (or kill it, I’m not gonna tell you what to do; I’m not your dad) you’ll be spoilt for choice: will you take the stealthy mechanics route with the pylon that you specifically will aggro by trying to reach the lever locking its northern controls, killing you almost immediately? Or will you take the combat route containing eleventy morbillion shrubs (which use the turret sprite for some reason) that hose you down from every direction with freezing cold and seething venom? Or perhaps you’ll take the in-betweeny route, disarming mines that will otherwise daze you, then release powerful Tier 3/3.5 creations, which would in turn also reveal the only good loot in that route lying in their cells?

It’s probably that third route for me, at least right now, and it’s worth mentioning that in the original, you either disarmed it or let it pop, and that was your lot, since that was the only way those cells opened, meaning you effectively locked yourself out of additional experience and loot. Here in Infestation, I assume these rearm themselves when you leave and reenter the zone, allowing you to bypass the encounters here one visit, and face them the next. I disarm the pylon with the spore box at the other end, and swing around to kill the shrubs, too. Honestly, they’re no problem at all here: They’re so spaced out, and my Airshocks so potent, that I can take a group of them out in a single turn, with usually only one per fight being able to attack at all, which will hurt like the dickens if it’s the freezer, but other than that it’s no big deal. I see Alpha Hyrk, who wants to be free, but I need to make this delivery happen, and having this guy in your party instantly aggros Phariton, so I leave him there for now and step into the Canister Room. Phariton’s canister mania has advanced to the point where he regards the things as religious relics in his chase for a state of higher being. You often see canister addicts’ possessiveness towards the canisters they hoard, but Phariton has a neat quirk where if you dare to ask him for one of his, he needs to remind himself that you didn’t actually use it to keep from killing you.

 

I meet Phariton face to face. He’s exactly as weird as I figured he’d be, given the above, but he pays Intisar for the cone, and allows me some of his canisters (and money) for my troubles. I leave the canisters because I’m trying to kick the stuff, which is a shame, because these are some of the best the game has to offer. I pick up some purified essence as a consolation prize, so it’s not a complete loss. I also do a small quest for Phariton, getting him some canister supplies, along with other odds and ends, to get access to training as long as I’m unaligned. It’s my best bet to get the other two Tier 4 creations that Kima can’t teach, but his prices are expensive, literally, so I’ll be holding off on making an enemy of him for a while. Picking his brain a bit reveals he doesn’t trust or fully understand the methods the Barzites are using, which tells me he either bombed out of there before the Radiant College fully established their peering room, or he just never looked into the microscope to see what the hell they were talking about.

That was a much chiller encounter than I’ve ever had with the guy. I imagine things will get much more adversarial in my other runs, but until then, some clean up.

 

Sharon’s tests creations are a bit more manageable with Beranabus at level 16 and a drayk, alpha, and charged vlish at 14. The shade spawning vlish is chunked relatively painlessly, compared to the complete stall the fight degenerated into when I did it at level 13. The clawbug was a simple fight, since clawbugs are simple enemies: apart from the semiregular acid sprays of various areas of effect, it hit hard, but its attack focus was limited to right next to it, and even its sprays’ effectiveness were blunted by proper positioning. The bug went down, and I’m left with a rather underwhelming bracelet: +1 Strength from the fyora, cool, but 5% creation Magic Damage resist from the vlish is decidedly not. +5% Lifedrain? The weapon art? That’s useless to me; I don’t even have that skill, or the weapon skills to use it! Or does it mean I just natively have that buff? Anyway, I kill her garden in an absolute slobberknocker that kills my alpha and vlish, which nets me… 20% faster creation skill cooldowns.

This thing is dogwater compared to G2’s bracelet, at least so far. That one just boosted your Shaping skills and your creation’s base stats, but it was good to keep on your person for when you made a creation, and I imagine it’d be better for a Shaper character that is actually built like a Shaper, and not whatever it is I insist on doing.

 

I don’t trust that my own power can stand against the next trial, so instead I head back to the Lapidiary Ruins and oh, look, I have to do the tower in full all over again. Fun. Actually looking at them, they are all termed “Decaying Creation”, meaning yes, I have to fight my way through again if I back off without clearing it, but subsequent run-throughs deal in these degenerated copies that don’t give experience but are decidedly weaker. I get to the top and immediately engage the golem at the far end; it has a higher level, but far less health than the Control golem to the north, and I keep my creations out of the latter’s attack range as I whittle down the golem’s health… or rather, as I try to whittle down its health, because I eventually realize it is being healed an egregious 500 points by the Master Control, which also periodically picks up a random party member and deposits them near the chiseling golem, which stuns them and allows the golem to strike with its ludicrously damaging basic attack. I have to redirect my party to actually focus on Control, which isn’t helped by its burning attack, cone of fire, and mid-point spawning of suppression turrets and a battle beta, tossing my creations around willy-nilly all the while. Still, I manage to kill Control while only losing my newly created drayk, which left the chiseler at level 1, with much reduced health and damage. I dust it, plunder the top floor, and head to the Sholai for my next mission.

 

They want essence. They want to get essence from the defunct Canister Factory in the north and take it back to their homeland. Well, if you put it like that, it sounds extraordinarily illegal, but sure, why not?

 

For literal weeks, I had no idea where Zensital is. I caught up with him in Medab East some time after I sent him there, and eventually pointed him towards Rising. I reasoned he’d be posted up in a zone with an actual bed much like his last location, so I went to Degena’s inn at Rising North Gates, but no dice. I checked the Breeding Pits, nothing. Loyalist Encampment, nada. Rising proper, zilch. Trapped Forest, South Rising Road, either Rising Bridge, all vacant! Where is that man? I decided to head to the Radiant College, which is a beautiful location in this version, if I may say, to do some quests and seek him out. The quests were done, but he wasn’t there either, it’s wild. I finally found him camping out next to some supply sheds at the Rising North Gate. You know there’s an inn here, right, Zen?

 

Zensital’s mind is a tad too open if you ask me. One chat with Barzahl and a canister later and he’s all too ready to be talked into joining the Barzites, who you think would be in direct opposition to his philosophy of “Sharing”. Though I suppose that just speaks to the malleability of it: his idea of Sharing can easily be stretched to mean “removal of law and limit for all humans”, a process that conveniently requires pinning creations under their boot even harder than the Shapers. Still, he’s not so far gone that he isn’t leery of the idea of attacking the Awakened he spent potential weeks living and learning from. Once I reach it, I’ll send him on to Zhass-Uss just to see what happens, but after that, I dunno if I’ll stick him with any of the factions or just send him to the Council ahead of me. I go through the Pit of the Bound, styling on everything I come across until I reach the Bound One and its beta posse, which turn me and my party inside out by turn two. Goddamn, maybe later.

 

I decide to make my way to Zhass-Uss in probably the worst possible way: my usual way. I ping-pong across the map clearing opposite ends of Taker lands, hopping from the Western Marsh near Fort Muck to the Mountain Base north of Rising and delving through each subsequent zone leading to Zhass-Uss until I make it to the Zhass-Uss Outskirts, ignoring any side zones that branch off. Of special note is the Infected Crossroad, a place that has maybe my favorite moment in this game:

 

A gazer has gone rogue here, taking over the minds of the defending Takers and the alphas and glaahks in the woods. Shortly before you arrived, a pair of serviles managed to break free of its hold and bolted for safety. One got clear, but the other ran afoul of a battle alpha and took a fatal blow to the chest. She made it to the ruined inn and curled up in the back room, waiting to die. And then, you finally arrive, a Shaper, the Enemy, and come across her. She’s actually glad to see you, because a Shaper has both the power and the inclination to kill the rogue that caused all this. And so, telling you of the gazer, she sits back and waits to die, and you have a choice: you can stand there like a dorbus and watch her die, or you can try to heal her. In vain, obviously, but you will at least ease her suffering before the end. It’s a surprisingly intimate moment, providing comfort for someone in their last moments regardless of alliance or creed, and, in my mind, fulfilling their last request: exact vengeance.

The area has a few odd quirks hiding in it. For example, the alpha spawner with a dead Taker next to it. The fact that this servile was seemingly here to destroy this spawner meant some other faction put it here, either the Barzites or, perhaps more likely, the Awakened. Was the distraction that allowed the serviles to escape the gazer simply the rogue realizing the existence of this foreign transplant? Or was it occupied by your encroachment in Taker lands? I may never know, because I cooked that thing in three turns; having less than 500 health wasn’t its brightest idea, choosing to fight me even less so.

 

Moving on to the Outskirts, I come across Aodare, a traveling Shaper entirely removed from this flustercuck who ran into a Taker patrol in his subsequent investigation and got captured. He is unflappable, and contemptuous of the Shaper who joins one of these rebellious factions. He also has a plan to overwhelm the mind of Syros, the leader of Zhass-Uss, but if I’m being honest, I really don’t know who will win out in the end between the two of them. They’re both smooth enough operators to know what the other is doing, I’ve no doubt, but if one of them will reach their limit and break, or prove too clever by half and engage in a fatal error, who can say. I head downstairs to break out Arixey, who I thought sounded familiar! She was part of that trio on Sucia Island that included Shaper Thrakerzod and Guardian, uh, the other one. She wound up getting caught the same way as Aodare, and getting her out of here requires a fight that thankfully doesn’t turn all the Takers hostile. For my service, I receive the Crystal Storm wand, a tool designed by someone only vaguely acquainted with “restraint”: a wand-like charm whose use doesn’t SHOULDN’T use action points, but must recharge after every use by killing twenty enemies, explaining to me why scuttlebugs exist. Anyway, yeah, this thing totally uses AP, and does truly pitiful damage, but it is still a charm, and one whose buffs are actually worth the space it takes up in my inventory, if only just.

 

I learn how to make drakons and gazers from Phariton, completing the main suite of creations learned, and leaving only the cockatrice and the new stalkthorn as yet unlearned. Powerful, tanky, versatile, and VERY expensive, I’ll be rolling with Estark, Skud, and Eye Tret from here on, upgrading their levels and skills whenever I get a level and up my Essence Mastery. As of yet, I don’t know if I’ll make the jump to the Tier “4.5” Ur-Drakon, rotdhizon(?), and eyebeast since, frankly, the essence costs are already crippling with these guys, and I only went with all three of them because it’d look silly to walk about with a full power drakon and a pair of, I dunno, vlish? Being a Shaper isn’t just about being strong, but about projecting that strength to mythic levels. You have to look unassailable, and what better way than to have three of the most powerful creations these mountains have produced at your side like it ain’t no thang? Never mind the fact that I barely have enough essence to cast the bare essential spells in any given fight, I have a drakon, a rotgroth, AND a gazer!

 

I finally enter Zhass-Uss, and meet with Syros. On Sucia Island he was just some creep in a cave who wanted chunks off of your soul, but here, he leads the Takers, along with what I call the Triumvirate: the old, disregarded Akkat, the half-formed but powerful Rhakkus, and Easss, the strongest, most perfect drakon… so far. I’m pretty noncommittal, but willing do some quests, so I get the feather badge and am free to look around, partake in their anarchic beat poetry, and look up Emily’s records because, yeah, she is from here, despite my suspicions. I also can’t ask Syros about the attacks on the Sholai, though he freely admits he doesn’t like them; he’d rather there not be more Shapers in the world to fight against, and all their escapades in these mountains so far lead him to believe they are largely up to their old tricks, and to be fair, at least Yu-La definitely is.

 

Sneaking around, I finally find the Everfrost Mine mentioned by Ajax the Barzite and boy, is it happening: the Canister Factory’s apparently here, and Melathir is hiding out somewhere in it, so I’m able to fulfill four separate quests here. I help the Sholai tinker make her canister in-between sabotaging Melathir’s efforts with that poor rotdhizon and clearing out the lower mine of a spawner and a bunch of rogues. It is loading up the game here one day that the inefficiencies of my methods become undeniable; the game updated to version 1.0.2, which, among other things, added a tooltip displaying creation resistances, buffed the Fang Bracelet to boost Healing Craft, lengthened the time it takes for pylons to recover, and buffs certain creation upgrades, an aspect of the game I hadn’t mentioned yet, but would have had a mention in this run’s final wrap-up.

 

By the time I finish this run, I will have been playing this game for over a month. What the hell happened? My approach to playing Geneforge could always be politely described as “painstakingly thorough”, as I comb over nearly every zone for content, experience, and money, which is perfect for playing through the whole series every two to three years, but is pretty sub-optimal when you’re doing three back to back runs for the sake of a crowd. But even with that in mind, no game of Geneforge should take this long. Even the three Mutagen runs took about a week apiece. I think I can safely say that G2 is a decidedly larger, denser game than its predecessor, though admittedly I can’t say that with 100% objective metrics, but even that doesn’t explain this terrible gap between times. I think one reason is that I’m biting off more than I can chew, at least within a reasonable timeframe: as stated before, I had four entire quests rotting on my quest log until I finally found the mine, and my quest for that took valuable time away from any number of other quests, like Emissary’s demon hunt, or finding the servile cure, which I need to resolve Emily’s conundrum, it’s fractals all the way down. Every path I take, every quest I perform, every branch of dialogue I clear leads me to two more. This game is stuffed fit to burst with things to do, and I just don’t have time to do them all.

 

After performing a bunch of quests for several Takers, I’m left with Slay a Leader, for which even the game suggests I just throw Barzahl off the train already to complete. Pissing off the Barzites now means abandoning the canister supplies quest Corin gave me with one canister remaining, since I’ve scoured the valley of mined crystals for other items, the other canisters, and plain selling them before I got the quest in the first place. Since I’ll be damned if I’m gonna buy them back at nine to twelve times the price, I instead head to the Infernal Depot, an as yet unexplored zone which, as the name implies, has the third (well, sixth) infernal you’re likely to encounter, and is possibly the strongest of them apart from Emissary, the Rotting Avatar, who I actually have a level over at this point, being level 19, but seeing as at level 17 I effectively stalemated with Tuldaric’s prisoner, and am even now ducking the Bound One, I can’t imagine this fight will go well.

Rotter is keeping the souls of the guys who summoned it bound to him, both to torment them and to empower itself. I always found it interesting that the Shaper is seemingly unaware of his violent death and current imprisonment, possibly because he’s blocking it out or suffering some kind of post-death amnesia. He’s described as younger than you, so maybe his less complete mental training makes it so he can’t manage his thoughts enough to see his sorry state, unlike the drakon being held on the other side. Pressing the issue further, he begins to get agitated, implying a psychological block, and pondering dispersal reveals the truth: he does know he’s dead, but he simply focuses on calculations and theory, refusing to acknowledge his hellish reality, since “killing” him is temporary, as he can’t move on while Rotting Avatar exists in this plane. Dispersing him for a time is fairly easy, however, along with the drakon ghost to the west, who is fully lucid and very pissed that this happened to them. I buff up and take on the Rotter… who, upon seeing Emissary’s rod, jumps to level 21 and respawns the drakon’s shade. Grand.

The first attempt doesn’t go so hot, probably because I panic and split my attention between the infernal and the revived drakon, and the crush of wracking shades and burning attacks overwhelm first Heust Blade, then Tret Eye, and finally even mighty Estark, leaving me and Skud ineffectively chewing on the Rotter’s health bar, so I load back to just before the fight and begin again, this time focus firing on the main threat, and managing to take it down before the shades really begin swarming en masse. Being in a comparatively wide open space made that fight way less of a mess than the other infernal battles.

Killing it gets me the final ingredient I need to get Learned Darian’s breastplate made, the Slayer’s Chestguard, which looks cracked, but I’ll have to give it some field experience to see how it stacks up against the Aura Vestment. I also have all the materials for that final canister, so I go to turn it in to Corin, who, uh, doesn’t take them, saying they have no more spare. I try to turn them in again, same result. I check my quest log, Get Canisters is gone. Corin, I can see that last room that’s still locked. I haven’t even used any of the canisters you unlocked for me, you can just take the supplies! No dice, she’s adamant. Did I do something wrong? Did she hear something she didn’t like about me, and is refusing my aid? I look around, and the merchants in Rising will still deal with me, at the same (exorbitant) prices to boot! What gives? Whatever, quest is done either way, so it’s time to incite a riot.

My first instinct was to head to the controls again and dicker with them in front of Shingle to set him off, but apparently it doesn’t count as touching them if I can’t change anything about them. Hopping into the murder pit that is Barzahl’s throne room is right out, and I set off Troknan, but like the original G2, only he goes hostile in that case, so I do something that’s sure to piss them off: I pop back in to the Radiant College and kill Burham and Fenen, the Barzites’ head researchers, and swipe their research for good measure. I get outside and it’s On Sight. The turrets and guards, sure, but that one normal, docile servile ornkherd? The ornks? Why’re they at me, too? And so aggresively: the ornks leap at me (I didn’t even think they could jump, let alone leap), and the servile just doesn’t get terrified. Everything inside of them should be screaming to runaway from the Shaper, killer of Shapers, but they’re more willing to get active than the human guards, ‘cause they’ll start running once the going gets tough enough. I try to minimize civilian casualties in my rampages, so I break for the north and the Loyalist Encampment (please never change back Macnulty’s and Bunk’s overhead dialogue, by the way, it’s all I have) to recover Essence, then load into Rising proper from the south.

I’m immediately thrust into combat mode, and decide to stay in it the rest of the way through, since Barzahl will be busy wrangling with his four drayks that just went rogue, and I want to get to him while his health is still battered from that. I make my way west, chunking the common guards while they’re distracted with killing the rogue alphas, which allows me to kill Trace and Corin with no interruptions. The alphas themselves are too weak to pose a challenge to anyone here, but not having them crowd me as the rest of the guards zero in on my location is a good enough reason to sabotage the control pylons here.

I get into the throne room and hey, they didn’t interact at all. Is the room is so big they can’t see each other? Regardless, I am beyond him, level-wise at least. As me and mine flood into the room, the drayks begin to shake off the bonds of Barzahl’s control! A few rounds of glorious death dealing later, and the bastard falls in a spectacular pyrotechnics display. The deed is done, the day is won, time to spread the good word. Zakary sounds pretty happy about it, and Amena Blade is also glad to hear I might be willing to join the Takers. Sorry cornpop, I’ve got an unaligned ending to check out, but maybe next time. For now, it’s demon time.

 

I square up against the Bound One next, in a tough but manageable brawl. When he sees the rod, he doesn’t raise his level like Rotting Avatar; instead, I imagine his “drawing up of power” is the shattering aura he drops on my party nearly every turn, shredding my buffs and often stunning us. Thanks to my new Chestguard’s ridiculous defenses and stun resist, however, along with Skud’s inherent 50% stun resist, we mopped up the betas and got Bound to half health, at which point he ran off to recover in the back, though not before healing to full health. I’m right on his heels; experience in G2 informs me that while he goes back there, he doesn’t stay back there, and having a superpowered golem at your back while you’re picking through treasures results in weapons-grade bad times. The party corners him in his tunnel and unload searers, drakon fire, and eyestalk beams until his stone prison crumbles, and he’s dragged into an even worse one. Sorry, man, but I definitely needed that canister of Endurance I’m not gonna use.

After that, it’s time for Infernal Teriel to go, a relatively simple matter now that I simply ignore their little helpers and beat it into submission before it can heal too much. They drop the truly mighty puresteel plate, a beautiful collector’s item, and Emissary has her rod safely returned to her. I don’t know what she’s gonna do with them, but that’s no longer my or any mortal’s problem. I have no earthly idea where Zensital is, and the only places I haven’t checked in Taker lands is-- hmm… alright! To Benerii-Uss I go!

 

I actually cleared BU Power a bit after I dealt with Everfrost, but opted against going into Holding until I did all my Taker quests. Then when I did, I went to the Entry instead to see what was up. What I found was Rhakkus, who ignored my drakon and rotgroth in front of him and blew me up after the all the drayks focus fired on me. After that I swung around and went to Holding, finally. I gank a few servile guards and come across a big stone door I can’t find a way to open, before linking up with a few rogue gazers and killing Akkat and his lab assistants. I may have loused something up because unlike Rhakkus, he never said anything to me, only getting narration about how badly he died. I go down what looks like a side entrance to reveal zone The Geneforge. I then turn around and go to BU Shaping; I’m saving that one for last.

BU Shaping is a whole lot of tunnels, tanks, and some Takers. I also get to see their peering room, as well as the swamp sickness cure, which I pocket while taking in reams of paper filled to the brim with nonsense script detailing the secrets of life. Xanadu-style, an entire tangent best saved for the post-runs conclusion springs into my mind fully formed, so I head west to pick up the herringbone hatchet I need to finally be rid of that tree, and head south to fight-- OMG, Rhakkus, hi! I guess he heads to the Entry when they get alerted you’re coming up that way. I walk in with a standard bless, shield, & haste, only for Rhakkus to blast me with his basic attack, which kills me with burn damage once it becomes my turn.

I haven’t mentioned the new Burn status affliction yet, but I appreciate how realistic it is, being afflicted by powerful fiery attacks, and unable to be cured by effects that relieve other status conditions. In fact, its tooltip says it can’t be cured at all, which makes sense, obviously: good luck curing being on fire. But it leads to me liking it a lot less when I’m the one on fire.

Attempt 2 starts with the same buffs, and also essence shield, a spell I remember using quite a lot in Mutagen, but only used a handle of times to date. Still, it does its job admirably, eating Rhakkus’s initial attack and leaving me with only the pitifully blunted burn damage as I lead him north to the incinerator, turn it on, and leave him to get stunlocked by the resulting solvent bath. I collect his cloak for no reason than to have it; at this point there are no merchants with enough money to buy anything I have to sell, even if I didn’t turn half the map hostile.

I go back to Benerii-Uss’s front entrance, and now that Rhakkus is taken care of, I can slap down everything that appears in front of me without resistance. My liberal use of airshocks and searers catches up to me, however, when I run into Tessera Eye, who gets a lucky stun off on my entire party, and slowly but surely picks off all of my creations as I, bereft of proper mass healing items or even an essence pod, make do with plinking him to death with firebolts and searers. Couldn’t even save the servile he was interrogating. Broken and beaten, but not wanting to leave the mountains, I fall back to the Loyalist Encampment to recover and remake my forces, settling on Cherub, Virtue, and Eye Ophan.

Back at the Entry, I continue cleaning up everything I come across, including the second gazer to the west. Giving the once over to the other areas of Benerii-Uss, I finally delve into its depths and, dodging the annoying golems and the pylons to the northeast I can’t turn off (the room next to them contains early game garbage and a canister I can’t use. What the hell is the point of it?) I reach it, the Geneforge. It looks gross, a chemical soup of flesh, crystal, and herbs floating in essence, a comparatively roughshod and slapdash version of Danette’s masterwork back on Sucia Island, fitting for these mountains, but doubtless just as potent. To the south is Easss, who I have a choice in dealing with: either we join in battle right then and there, or I convince him to use his Geneforge, and sabotage it while he’s using it. There’s also the third option of just letting him use the Geneforge, and fighting the resulting “Augmented Easss”. Let’s see how that goes.

 

Talking to Easss gives me a few bits of information: among other things, the Takers were the ones who stole Yu-La’s goo, which is in fact a sample of that original Geneforge, in order to make this one. This canon also adds an additional link to the drakon chain with Sith, Shaped by Rhakkus, Shaper of Easss. At least, I think she’s new; I could go back to G2 and check, but I don’t want to spend two weeks playing basically the game I just played just to check… mainly because I have two months set for playing literally the same game I just played for the other two runs. He is also genuinely sad when recalling her death, fascinating given the utterly inscrutable expression he holds right up until it’s time to kill you.

I convince him to finally pull out all the stops to kill me, and watching him stick his hands in the Geneforge, it occurs to me that this is probably the most precarious position this setting can produce, because I could absolutely push him into the pool and ruin everything if only the game let me. Instead I let him juice up to a level of Shaping perfection never before seen on this earth, and the fight begins. I see in this state he is immune to stun and mental effects, a given at this point, but he’s also packing an 81% acid resist, neatly scuttling most of my game plans. No poison resist, though, which is good for all one players who brought their trusty venom baton to the final battle. It takes me more than a few tries to kill him, partly because halfway through Mr Ultimate Lifeform calls in reinforcements, but also because he’s just really hard to hit; with him at level 24 Beranabus (21) has a hit chance of 69% while blessed, and my creations, all level 18, are swinging with 59% accuracy. Easss has a chef’s platter of debuffs and AOE attacks, and my supply of status wands are pretty much wiped out, so I just throw myself at him until the dice roll in my favor enough times, an inelegant solution, but if it works, it works. His drops are pretty crap, but he’s the last boss, what are ya gonna do. Also, when I was hunting around for ways to turn off the mid-fight cavalry charge, I saw a neutral Rotdhizon with an apparently broken dialogue box. Weird.

 

No one has anything to say about the Triumvirate getting packed up, at least outside of Taker lands. Mind you, I only checked in with Macnulty and co. and Zakary, so I’m probably missing someone, but at this point, I don’t care! I won! Oh yeah, completing Grimwing’s quest unlocks a shed full of garbage; I suppose it’s gratifying to see his questline is garbage from start to finish, anyway. Let’s see our ending:

 

As you may have expected, Zak was executed, and Drypeak was nationalized. The Awakened have their hopes and dreams crushed yet again, along with their homes, schools and bodies. The Barzites are almost completely annihilated, though unlike Beranabus, I have no doubt at least a few of them made it out of the crucible to continue their work elsewhere; if people could escape Final Sanction on Sucia, an island, I know a couple of them will break out of these mountains. The Sholai clear off with the essence, inviting even odds of either becoming a second Shaper Empire or utterly collapsing under the weight of unchecked, never before seen mutagenic terrorism. The Takers saw the writing on the wall and wisely dipped; really, the Awakened really should have guessed the same. As for Beranabus, despite his, hmm, odd opinions regarding creations, he proved he was loyal where it counted, and effective to boot. He becomes the shadowy arm of the Council, ranging far and wide across the Known World, protecting the commons and killing any Takers he comes across. Unbeknownst to him, behind a large stone door deep in the mountains, the newest link in the chain stirs.

 

And that’s the run. Heavens, that took a long time. And apparently I have no excuse, because the second I stepped into Benerii-Uss Holding I went into a flow state for six hours and beat the game, updating this rag all the while. I never did find Zensital, but the ending makes me think he made it back to the Council before me. I don’t know who attacked the Sholai with spawners; I didn’t even have the option to ask Syros, and the Triumvirate were more interested in telling me to eat their collective schlong, so I guess I won’t know for sure until the Torment run. I told Emily about her parents, at least, and got her to blow this popstand before the Shapers gunned her down. I don’t know if we’ll ever see her again. Probably not, considering I never got that rematch with Beka. I’m gonna read up some strategies and jump back in on Veteran. Hazel the Guardian’s not gonna know what hit them, but at least I’ll probably have an inkling.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Run the Second: Wake Up Your Veteran-tal HERO!

 

I was torn between the above and “Wake Up Your Temperamental HERO!”, but I decided that conveying the relevant information was more important than use all word good.

Hazel drops back into Drypeak like a bomb; with 3 Leadership instead of 1, they can actually get some answers around town. First up is Zaph, who I always took to be a Barzite spy, but as I press him for more answers, he refers to supposed “mad ones” in the highest mountains I should meet, so it may be he’s actually a Taker. Well, was a Taker, because when I rolled for intimidation again, as it were, he pulled a knife and had at me. Sorry if I spoiled the ending of that epic bout for you, but to be fair, he was a level 1 common. I uncover Sencia as well, though I let her continue about her business unmolested.

There isn’t much I neglected to say in my first rodeo, so the pre-Freegate portion of this run is going to be pretty lightly covered. One thing worth talking about is how the item bounty quests changed: unlike Geneforge 2, Fetch Iron Bars and Get Shaper Equipment actually have a quota, and complete when you fulfill it, rather than staying on your quest log in perpetuity for you to sell those items at market value without draining their shops’ coffers. On one hand, it’s unfortunate I no longer have an infinite source of decent money with a dab of experience, but on the other hand, Shaper equipment is stackable again, which means I’ll actually do the latter quest, unlike in Mutagen.

I had an early scare in the mines with a Fyora Hunter, which I thought would be an uneventful fight until it let out a cone of fire that did about 30 damage to my entire party, waking me up to the fact that Veteran wouldn’t pull its punches till mid-game like Normal does. Oddly enough, the mines are where most of the difficulty is concentrated in this section of the game, the cryoas, thahds and artilae hitting much harder and tanking much more damage than nearly any other mob of equivalent level. I don’t even bother going into the deepest part of the Western Mines just yet, and just do the Infested Woods, which were as simple as they were on Normal difficulty, though I couldn’t tell you if that’s because they’re the same or if I’m just more experienced. Saltmarsh, while a bit touch and go with the clawbugs in the side tunnels, was also straightforward, ending with me just killing Beka this time instead of scaring her off.

 

In the Secret Tunnel is where things actually start getting scary, since Zora leaves a little bit in and my compulsions force me to at least attempt every combat encounter, leading to me opening the door to a level 15 Maddened Artila that I can barely hit, the fight managing to kill the thahd I picked up in the Crags. Now down two members, Hazel and Scratch the fyora are forced to handle the gaggle of pyroroamers hanging about in this enclosed space. I genuinely can’t remember if I talked about this in the previous run, but it took me a few tries to gauge their explosion ranges because they kept getting close to attack and only the first two are actually pyroroamers, which meant I kept wasting AP keeping my party away from the roamers that didn’t explode, leading to several frustrating, embarrassing deaths in a row. Here, though, I clear first time through clever use of items, properly positioning the party away from the problem rogues, and being much more willing to blow the pyros up at once since I knew Hazel was safely out of explosion range. With that done and the spinecores weeded, I decide I will pick up the Helix Ring, but it was so… nothing in my last run I’m honestly just gonna leave it in the hoard I keep in Drypeak.

 

How I approach things will change between the runs, as experience, levels up, and skill points become ever more important with each jump in difficulty. From reading forum posts, I learned of the drastic drop off of exp earned from enemies even a few levels below your own, compared to the relatively lackluster bonus gained from enemies of higher levels, so I’ll be dealing with certain zones (and certain encounters in those zones) when I am of a level with them (or at least not too overleveled) and not annihilating my potential gains by forcing my way through zones above my pay grade and only take on an at-the-time appropriately leveled zone until well after the point it’d give me enough experience to make the total amount gained on par with if I did the zones the other way around (I somehow managed to do this more than once in my last run, embarrassingly). I went back to the Western Mines since Hazel is level 7 like the Brutal Thahds and Searing Artila there, and clear them by taking them on one or two at a time, but I back out when I see that the Blessed Thahd is level 12; I’ll handle him before too long, but I’ve got some traveling to do.

 

I clear the greater Medab area, being sure to send Zensital to Medab East as soon as I can. Doing the Stinking Marsh and Belik’s Crossing again really reinforced how much I hate how exploding enemies are handled in this game, between the ludicrous blast radii and how they all without fail close the distance I try to make with a leap attack, an ability that’s perfectly reasonable so melee enemies can in fact melee, but is way the hell not when it blocks me from escaping the blast range, meaning I can’t kill it (or another unstable enemy within blast range of it) that turn without dying myself. In the original G2 the pyros weren’t a problem unless you screwed up, got mobbed, and couldn’t extricate yourself before they killed you. They were less combat encounters and more environmental hazards; you sniped the one at the head of the line, and they all exploded in a fun firecracker display. In Infestation, they have a lot more health and do a lot more damage, to the point where them also exploding on death makes the fights in the Marsh extremely tedious.

But at least those took place in an open area: the vat thahds in Belik’s Crossing are each fought in such an enclosed corner of the zone it’s practically impossible to make a safe distance for when they explode. They leap to get right next to you, they have high stun resist to shrug off Guardian Push and shock crystals, and they start with ten rounds of Acid, which means they can’t be Dazed, and you have half as much time as you thought you did before they blow. A miserable time the whole way through, but at least with Stinking Marsh, and the Crystal Mine to the south, I was incentivized to clear it so moving around the map wasn’t a pain in the ass. I just helped Belik to be nice, and I’m gonna hate it all the more on my torment run.

 

Moving up north, past Triola (and the Hunted Fen, which sucked slightly less this time around) is the Marsh Crossroad. It has Lindian, who will make the All-Protector, a fantastic shield that I nonetheless replaced with the Stasis Shield once I found that I my last run, but more importantly, at the moment it contains a Taker raiding party. The zone won’t be cleared until they’re removed one way or another. In Beranabus’s case, he simply headed back to Triola to get their forces to do it, but Hazel is a Guardian, and theoretically more suited to fight this camp themself.

In practice, their raid captain is level 14 to Hazel’s 10, and even if the rest of the raiders are at 6, their health bars are so inflated the law of averages is sure to come down on my head during this fight. I’m still doing it to be sure, but I make sure to approach from the side so it takes at least a turn for their leader to get to me. At least, I think that’s what’s gonna happen, but she moves first, mass energizes her group, and spray batons my entire team for half their collective health. I have to retry a few times, but eventually, at the cost of my fyoras and most of my items, I take them all down. I couldn’t tell you if it was worth it, but it sure did happen, and they all gave surprisingly high exp for their levels, a bonus for confronting the optional encounter.

 

I clear most of the Awakened lands, save for Ellhrah’s Tomb, Bandit Marsh, the Western Pass, and the Experimental Chambers, the first two due to my low level compared to the standard enemies’, and the third because I… couldn’t be assed? I dunno, I just keep having better things to do. Like joining the Servants, finally; in short order, after I take advantage of Ty’s low cost training, I shall turn right around and link up with the Awakened for good this run.

While I’m with the Servants, though, I pour all 6000+ coins I gained on my travels into skills old and new, buffing myself considerably and gaining access to all the Weapon Shaping skills, as well as create drayk, a creation I can definitely make, and would almost certainly be better than my fyoras, but I simply don’t have the essence to truly buff them to the point of being truly viable for the challenges ahead. Definitely later.

 

I Lock In and turbo my way to the Gheth area through the Experimental Valley, looking in on Elissia’s training offering, but it’s mostly just a pared down version of Ty’s. The Clockwork Maze is a fun, mostly breezy area, whose powerful enemies are trivialized by the even more powerful allies. Until you come across the body at the end, it just feels like delivering mail on your street.

Actually walking into Gheth, I find that I can’t trade with the merchants here, severely hampering my ability to sell excess valuables. I think it’s less harsh in this game, since the Sholai traders are here and probably willing to trade with me, but G2 had the above collect quests acting as a guaranteed source of money, along with Hawke near Fort Muck, who’d buy gemstones and emeralds below sell price, but again wasn’t a shop with a limited number of coins, so would allow you to sell the gems for something while you sold other items at real shops. Hawke still exists in Infestation, but he’s now an actual shop, that sells actual garbage, that you can’t sell anything to! What was the point of changing this? So players have more access to saltweed and wiry moss, two items with no purpose in this game outside of Elili’s quests as far as I can tell? What a waste.

I continue to Rising by way of the northern zones, killing Stanis in a simple enough battle after sabotaging the creation control system; with the entire party over level 12, our attacks pretty much always hit, making dumping crippling status effects on him (mainly just acid and slow) a simple task. I equip his sword, Essence Eater (useless to me in the previous run due to Beranabus’s low melee skill and canister use), and after collecting some quests in the area, I bring Zen here to see the sights, and then send him back to Medab to stay there for good, and join him soon after, but not before swiping a second level of drayk from Ty.

Actually joining the Awakened requires me to do at least one of Learned Pinner’s tasks, either exposing Crillie as a spy or ridding the Crystal Mine of Trine the drayk. I do both tasks since I’m always down for more experience, and I need to get the crystal powder in the Mine anyway. Actually getting to Trine is harder than fighting him, since minding my party’s health in the poisonous atmosphere is a drain on essence and essence pods. Other than the turn 1 Overload and attacking for 80% of Hazel’s health even through a fresh Essence Shield, killing Trine was stupid straightforward, especially when I closed the distance and brought him from half health to full dead with a Quick Action-assisted explosion of damage. The drayk’s boils exploding nearly killed Hazel, too, but I managed to get a heal out before the Mine finished them off.

 

Breaking things off with the Servants and linking up with the Awakened for good means actually having Main Story missions to follow. First up is ruining the Radiant College to stunt the Barzites’ Rise to power, tee hee. A simple enough task to either stealth my way into the power core and poison the entire facility, or just kill the two main researchers. I am, again, a Guardian, so fighting those guys once the party’s near enough to their levels to reliably hit them is a no-brainer, but the Torment run is almost certainly going to demand the sabotage option. All that is neither here nor there, however, because right now Hazel’s level 14, which means clean up: Bandits, Ellhrah’s, Western Mines, and the beginning of Sharon’s trials.

 

Attempting Sharon’s backyard first, and I see that the cryoa has been nerfed to level 12. A good decision, I feel, especially since it’s still immune to stun and mental effects (and poison, but who’s counting). It leaps in the second combat begins, and has a second turn with which it carves through Hazel’s Essence Shield, but it made the fatal mistake of getting within their melee range; with Essence Eater essentially giving me two hits per attack, I melt the creation’s health with ludicrous speed, my drayk and fyora making sure the cryoa doesn’t make it to round 4. It only had time to make one fyora, which didn’t make it out of round 4 once I focused all fire on it. Next up was the vlish, which was of a level with my Guardian, but not with my creations, whom I keep a level above Hazel’s for convenience’s sake and also to keep them humble. In the actual fight, an early pacification wand is paired with airshock crystals to keep the specters stunned while Hazel inches forward every turn until they’re within melee range, all while the creations spray and pray with deluges of flame. Bypassing all this prancing about with my tranquil baton would be a much better idea, especially since the thorns now slow enemies rather than terrify them like in Mutagen, but I somehow ran out of thorns for it and didn’t notice until I got here, so I just creep forward until I get a clean shot at the vlish. It has energy resistance, blunting the second hit appreciably, but its only a handful of turns before it falls as well. The clawbug is a bit bigger at level 16, and its incessant use of acid sprays manages to kill my fyora before I could heal it, but it’s as simple a fight as it was in the last run, and it dies faster than the vlish. Still, being short a fyora and low on essence pods means I’ll come back to finish this later, probably after Radiant College, but we’ll see.

 

I actually cleaned out the blessed thahd and his pet artilae in the Western Mines a bit after I got to Gheth, but I go back there to grab the stone egg in the downstairs area with the glaahk and that funky little dude. I’ll head over to the Warren of the Three to pay Mr. Eko and friends a visit, but only after I finally hit up Complex Core, catching up with Learned Jaffee and linking up with Xander, which I couldn’t do in the unaligned run. In G2 his ranged attack was Essence Orbs, a spell that does not exist in this series. In Festation, he has Firebolt, poison Searer, and Quicklash to lay on DPS in a single turn… once every three turns. He can’t level up in this version, however, dramatically limiting his usefulness once I get to zones with more consistently higher-leveled mobs. I clear the Experimental Caves without issue, leaving Terio for the time being, to go fight some bandits.

I change up the approach and kill Eko Blade first, since his defenses are severely hampered by the lack of casters in his section of the Warren. I actually have to hold off on killing him for two rounds so I could kill his champions first. He goes down immediately after, and his ghost forcibly moved on the round after that. Quorn is also much less terrible this time around, probably due to the level difference; he’s at level 12, even though his flunkies are at a still-not-insurmountable 15, so while their Wrackwaves, Terrors, and Airshocks make me and mine constantly lose turns, I eventually got them all without losing anyone.

I get to Vizzedra’s zone, which kinda goes off the rails when I guess one of her lab assistants sees me kill a Caster, and they all file out to fight me in the hallway. Vizzedra and co. are all level 9, so really they only succeed in splitting my attention between them and the Servile Champions coming in from the east. This accomplished nothing, however, and I kill them in what is again the easiest boss fight of the zone.

 

Compared to the Warren, Ellhrah’s Tomb is almost not worth mentioning, except that when I go to turn off the spore mines, Connavar disappears, and when I pop in to the Pit of the Bound and back out, I didn’t see Connavar at all, even at the entrance. I don’t know if he wandered into a ghost I later circled back to, or if he got got by that one mine I set off inadvertently, and his death was either just offscreen or lost in all the particle effects.

 

Shandoka was neglected for some time, since clearing the Thahd Dump Ground sucked a fat one for all the reasons exploding enemies suck in this game, and I just wanted to be away from that area of the map to get the taste out of my mouth. I collect the mine quests from the peeps in the camp and head north to Emissary, whose quest I’m torn on: in short, she wants me to “kill” the infernals infesting these mountains and suck them into her rod. Two of them, Aspect of Christory and the Reddit Avatar, are carrion birds just here to revel in the coming cataclysm, so I don’t mind putting them in Emissary’s gay baby jail, even if flashing them with it makes their fights harder. RA especially; he has those two shades imprisoned, and from how Emissary describes defeating the infernals normally doesn’t truly kill or even banish them, I don’t know if they’d be free to move on if I don’t use the rod. I mainly have an issue with trapping the Bound One and, to a slightly lesser extent, Teriel, both of whom are straight up trapped in this realm. While Rotter was also bound to a rotgroth by a Barzite/Taker collab, it seems to have come to this reality of its own volition beforehand a la Aspect of Chaos. Bound One, meanwhile, got summoned potentially decades ago, and more recently was trapped in its stone shell by the College. More than anything it just wants its freedom, moaning for it as it’s sucked into Emissary’s rod, an even worse prison for the crime of being previously imprisoned. Teriel may somehow have it worse; to hear them tell it, they were at home, their day been so fine, then boom, Tuldaric, bursting in like a shadow monster man and nabbing them, something he will probably do to some other poor infernal once he realizes I’ve released Teriel in like five years, assuming the Awakened sovereign state we’ve created in these mountains survives that long, anyway. Whichever one I decide to fight first, it’ll be way after I deliver Phariton his order.

 

On the Road to Phariton, I find a pair of shields that really make me think about the equipment design this go-around, the Leaded Shield and the Inspiring Shield, the latter of which I think is a misnomer, because its buffs are frankly uninspired. Most of the equipment original to the Remastered Series tend to buff either your character’s and/or your creations’ Melee/Magic damage/resistance, or more rarely Mind Effect/Acid/Poison/Stun/Curse Resistance, and a precious few raise base stats like Strength, though that is more the purview of equipment from the original series. I find a lot of the equipment in this game to be either redundant or just boring; in the case of shields, I’ve currently got the Glaahk Shield, which boosts the entire party’s MER and Stun Resist by 15 and 20 percent respectively, which makes the Leaded Shield’s 20% creations only MER redundant, since it doesn’t affect my Guardian and is only a marginal boost to the other party members, and its 10% creation melee boost is, to be frank, barely noticeable and, again, boring. The Shining Shield was a reward from Darian for killing the Maddened Beta in the zone next to her’s, but I never mentioned it because it was never used; it was just an inferior version of the shield I was already using, itself an inferior version of a shield I’ll soon acquire, so to the Junk Bag it went, never to be seen again. The Uninspiring Shield has somewhat better 20% buffs to melee and magic damage, but again, they’re creation only, which even my Shaper Beranabus didn’t care about, so it got Junked too.

Damage and defense buffs are all well and good, but for the most part, they’re typically the most boring item effects/upgrades in any game I play, so items that only give those buffs are predictably the most boring items in those games. Items that give me something like Acid/Poison Resist go over better in Geneforge specifically because half of everything in the world tries to give you Acid or Poison, and those statuses really suck, so upping my chance to avoid them altogether, and at least losing less health per turn for fewer turns is a big plus, ditto for items that shorten or block afflictions of Slow or Wrack. It’s one reason why when I get Swamp Boots in any given Geneforge title, I’ll have them equipped for almost the entire game. Another reason is because there just aren’t any boots I’d say are that much better, and quite a few that are either lateral moves or rendered totally obsolete by them: the Vat Boots are Swamp Boots, but with less base defenses and less than half the Acid/Poison Resist. They are also mainly found in research and industrial settings much later in the game than the Swamp Boots, which I swear I found in the first quarter of the map, but for the life of me can’t remember, and the master list on the forums insist are sound solely in Awakened Lands and beyond, so I dunno, maybe I’m just yapping.

The point is, I keep finding equipment that either feature damage/defense buffs that don’t change my gameplay to any noticeable or else meaningful degree, or are just worse versions of stuff I already found and sold because those were worse versions of a thing I’m already wearing. That’s already absurd, but the weirdest thing about it is that it was an issue in the old Geneforge games, too, but to a lesser extent, partially because there were just fewer items, but also because in the oldest games (read: 1 and 2) buffs to anything that weren’t base stats read like “+4 to creation armor” or “+2 levels in combat”, with what the hell that even entails being left for the player to infer, so they didn’t do it very often.

 

Moving on, apart from my delivery, Phariton wants nothing to do with me since I’ve joined a faction, which means, among other things, he won’t disarm his alarm blocking the eastern passageway out of his lab. I don’t want a fight with the guy until I know for sure Intisar has her money, so I have to go around again, which is tedious. I double-check with Intisar and, seeing that she’s good to go, I head back to kill him. I go about messin’ with the set dressin’, blowing him to Kingdom Come, but that method doesn’t give me experience OR his drops, so I reload, collect Alpha Hyrk, and present him to his creator, who doesn’t appreciate it. The fight starts out standard, until my dear F**kler reveals that the Control Golem fight doesn’t even have the benefit of being unique, teleporting my creations to Shaping circles where his own creations are simultaneously flash-formed, which kills my drayk, my fyora, Alpha Hyrk and finally even Xander. Still, he goes down, netting me 30 exp and a lot of profitably sold garbage.

 

I head north after that, swiping quite a few useful items from the Barzites’ Creation Holding, including the Charmed Plate, which handily replaces my Shaped Breastplate and allows me to use the few Mental spells I picked up along my journey, and the Stasis Shield, whose resistances make it an endgame-level piece of equipment in my opinion. I then head over to the Lapidiary Ruins’ tower to do at least that much for the Sholai, but find that the golem fight up there is just not possible right now: Control’s constant absurd healing means if I focus fire on it alone it’ll simply heal itself of all damage, meaning I have to split attention by leaving a creation to attack the Chiseler so they’ll be healed instead. The myriad of statuses Control spits out in too many attacks per round, paired with moving one of my remaining two attackers closer to Chiseler every round, stunning the target in the process, means I just can’t do enough damage, afflict enough statuses, or restore enough health to stay in the fight, only managing to get Control to maybe 30% health before I ran out of appropriate status wands and my drayk died, forcing me to reload a save and retreat, but not before I rush the crystal spire next to the Chiseler and nab the Pure Crystal Shard for later.

 

I clear Sharon’s fourth trial, making the bracelet good enough to replace the Tinker’s Gloves I put on some time ago (at least in non-Mechanics-heavy zones), and enter Taker lands from the south. I go this way specifically because while I acquired the feather badge from Triola shortly after joining the Awakened, I know from experience that my travels through this quarter of the map will go far smoother with the Fang Token I can nab from the Icy Breeding Pit way to the west, guarded by the Drakon overseer there. IBP is one of several areas in these lands where the cold itself is a hazard, Slowing, Weakening, or Cursing the party at regular intervals. Also of interest is the pincer movement the zone’s cryoas accost you in by utilizing a door you’re not allowed to open, which I think is cheap: if you want to spend six living tools to Uno-reverse card an encounter, you should be able to, in my opinion; I myself probably wouldn’t bother, since I kill the frontwards half of the attack before the cavalry arrives, but I imagine someone would enjoy its inclusion.

Continuing through the valley, I see the cryodrayks are actually a level lower than the cryoas, making them miss my even higher-leveled party somewhat more often, though they give even less exp as a consequence. They also don’t have the cryoas’ resistances, which on one hand is mechanically accurate, seeing as cryoas get the Hardiness passive while both drayks variants get Innate Haste, but on the other you’d think they’d at least resist Cold damage. I guess I should count my blessings that they don’t though: due to the cloud of particle effects from the aforementioned environmental bebuffing, I missed the alarm on the floor until it popped, alerting the remaining cryodrayks and the Drakon Isserm, who goes down shockingly quickly even even considering them missing a turn thanks to a timely Pacification Wand use. Still, the crush of cryodrayks and constant debuffs from the cold led to a pretty hairy few turns where both my drayk and cryoa were on the edge of death die to back-to-back-to-back Drayk Ices, only being saved by regular Group Heals from a Hazel themself afflicted by Slow and being (semi-effectually) chewed upon by yet another cryo. They’re eventually all killed, thankfully, without any of mine dying in the process. I collect the Token I came here for, as well as a vial of Blood Poison I straight up missed in my last run because the door to it blends into the wall it was set in.

 

The Fang Token makes several Taker zones less of a pain in the ass, but unfortunately, though it means I don’t have to pay a toll to Dryss, it doesn’t actually clear the Taker Toll Road, meaning I’d still have to kill her to pass, which I’d rather not do, not because it’d be hard at all, but because I rather like him, having all the spirit of creation solidarity and cooperation without a hint of the drakon supremacy the later Rebellion would be poisoned by. I’d also rather not kill the cryodrayks guarding Zhass-Uss from this side, so I swing around east to walk in without resistance, cleaving through the Infected Crossroads specifically even faster than last time. In Zhass-Uss, I take some quests, but specifically bypass “helping” Learned Toivo, because I don’t think anyone is happy by the end of that particular quest, and I just do the Dead Pass on my own, solely for the Guardian Claymore… which I promptly chuck into my treasure pile in Triola, since it’s just not good enough to replace Essence Eater.

I kill Melancon and his bandits, wipe out the spinecores to the south of Zhass-Uss, grab the final stone egg Hannah wanted, save Jeek up near Benerii-Uss, unlock Gazak-Uss, and clean out Everfrost. After all of that, I finally feel powerful enough to finally complete Sharon’s Trials, in short order completing the Pure Fanged Bracelet, and gaining a second Purified Essence (the one I got from Phariton’s lair was used to make the All-Protector), meaning I only need to give Sharon the Pure Crystal Shard I put… somewhere… maybe…

 

Okay, I can’t find the Shard. It’s not in my hoard, and I don’t see it in any of the shops I sold items to, so if I did sell it at some point (because I forgot to take it out of the damn Junk Bag!) I can’t recover it because many shops don’t present all the things you sold them to re-buy, and if I didn’t sell it, I’m at a loss because I don’t remember interacting with it at all, though it’s perfectly possible I forgot it in the six straight weeks of Geneforge: Infestation I’ve already subjected myself to. I even go back to Lapidiary and kill the Golems in order to see if I left it there because my inventory was full, but no dice. I have to go to Wyx and threaten them for their Crystal Shard, a rotten thing I don’t like doing, but I do need Sharon’s ring for enough Leadership and Mechanics to handle the endgame areas’ requirements.

 

With that unsavory business done, I go Demon hunting, capturing the Rotten Avatar and Teriel in short order, and have the Slayer’s Chestguard made, a tentative replacement for the Charmed Breastplate that has served me well since I obtained it. In both fights, I was amazed by the sheer difference made by both the closing of the level difference between me and my enemy, and also playing to the Guardian’s strength of just ignoring how badly I was getting wrecked in favor of killing the hell out of the guy in front of me. The second I got in close, Rotter especially didn’t stand a chance, since Essence Eater already dealt two hits for the price of one, making Lifesteal negate his damage almost completely, and Quick Action allowed for either Guardian Push or Essence Lash to further damage and cripple him. Teriel was harder due to the cramped quarters allowing their reinforcements to join the fight immediately upon spawning in inconvenient spots, along with them healing every other turn, dragging the fight out to the point of impossibility if I don’t at least match their level, but blitzing them and ignoring their creations works so long as I resist enough stun attempts from the glaahk in a row to maintain damage output.

Next is the Bound One, who I do somehow feel bad for, even as I acknowledge his kill count and prisoners. I feel a lot less bad by the third attempt at fighting him, when I dodge his stuns enough times in a row that he breaks off and runs to the back, leaving me free to kill his creations, heal, reShape my killed drayk, and buff before I follow him and bully him in the corner until he breaks down and joins the others in the shame rod. I also get his Claw, allowing me to get Shath’s Creator Belt, an item I missed in the last run because again, I couldn’t find the Blood Poison. I also get my hands on the Conduit Shard he stole from the Barzites, reminding me that I now have two since I nabbed the other from Phariton’s place. They’re meant to be turned in for actual quests, unlike the cone, so I just have them for the time being. I turn in the rod to Emissary, perform a last-minute fit check, and move on to the next mission.

 

The Radiant College is something I feel comfortable ruining now that I’ve extracted just about all the money and exp from the Barzites I’m able to this run. Paired with the Amena quest Slay a Leader, I’ve got my schedule filled for the next few hours. As previously stated, I’d rather go in and cut down Burham and Fenen with surgical precision rather than poison an entire facility to kill everyone in it, especially when everyone will know it was me that did it anyway. The actual job starts off well: sneaking in through the eastern maintenance corridor, I enter Burham’s Shaping Hall, kill the guard golems, and Mass Energize + Essence Shield by his essence pool before I jump him, killing him before he can make more than a single Beta. I recover and refresh my buffs by the pool before I super duper piss off the Barzites by absconding with their microscope design documents. I tear out the pages and get the party started for real by running down the south corridor, dodging Siakus Eye and iceing Fenen inside two rounds. Gazers go down fast, but can take me down nearly as, so I’d like to avoid Siakus if I can help it. Unfortunately, I don’t know the guy’s route, so a fight is almost certainly inevitable, especially if I get tied up fighting any number of other opponents. Luckily, I avoid him, while only having to deal with a handful of guard creations and a pair of grad students with more brass than brains.

After that, I head on down to Rising to bring Amena the head of Barzahl. Killing the hell out of just about everyone there (at ground level), I cut down the big cheese with the help of his drayks.

 

Back with Learned Pinner, she tells me of the Barrier of the Wind, the Awakened’s defense system against the coming Shaper offensive. Being in the zone makes my eyes hurt; even with a lamp on, it’s a visual mess of greens and grays that I can barely make anything out in, only occasionally broken up by big crystals that make areas near them hazardous. It actually makes looking for that loose Drakon more annoying than it would be, especially when trying to click on the stupid creature and I miss because it blends into the background, so I just walk to where it was standing. Whatever, I eventually lead it outside, where it’ll hopefully bother the Takers to the west, and get my next mission from Learned Varkan: to find Marjan, a technician who was so scared of the drakons here that he stole the schematics to complete the Barrier and fled to Gheth to hide. I was planning on wiping the place out anyway, so I’ll be killing two birds with one stone.

I enter Gheth, shield up, and barge in to face-- a friendly town? Does… does no one here know about the decimation of the College? The attack on Rising? Barzahl’s death?! What gives? I thought news traveled fast in these mountains. Regardless, I collect Marjan and return him to the Barrier, where Varkan promises he will personally smack the taste out of the guy’s mouth if he tries to louse something up again. The last thing he needs is-- oh, a Conduit Shard? What a coincidence, I just so happen to have two one right here! Leaving Varkan and the rest to complete their great work, I return to Learned Pinner to receive my final mission: slay the Taker Triumvirate in Benerii-Uss. I’ve nothing left to do for Takers short of join them, so it’s time to put ‘em down.

 

I sneak in through Power, then Holding, aiding the gazers in killing Akkat, marking the point of no return. It’s a fight that kills both my drayk and drakon, forcing me to recover in Triola, where I pour my essence into a completely deezed Ur-Drakon. I tear through Shaping, not even bothering to trick Rhakkus into the incinerator, carving him apart, automatically dispelling his creations before they could truly join the fight. Looking around for Salgurdar, who disengaged from an earlier fight and seemingly vanished, I see that Rhakkus’s table or whatever has a loaf of bread on it. Drakons can eat bread? I’ve been seeing it occasionally in drayk/drakon-heavy spaces, but I just figured that a servile left it there. But this is Rhakkus’s personal Shaping Hall, so it’s got to be his. I pick up the servile cure and Swofford’s second book, and cure Emily and tell her to get out of dodge again, I guess unthinkingly; with the defenses we have for the mountains now, she might’ve been able to stick around, but if choosing that makes her hover around the Drypeak area come Zero Hour, she’d be just as dead.

Anyways, I head south to Benerii-Uss Entry and ohmygodspinecores. I forget that the room leading to Shaping is absolutely lousy with spinecores and battle gammas, but I pull through only a little bit riddled. The rest of the zone, now that Rhakkus is dead and thus unable to appear here, is a Candyland board of exp, canisters, and the occasional frantic gazer battle.

 

The Geneforge is a sorta long zone I can make longer for myself in different ways: bearing in mind I’m entering from the southwest, I can either turbo my way to Easss and have the long, drawn out final bout of my most tedious melatonin dreams, or I can skulk around the zone, braving all the pylons and golems in order to sabotage the Geneforge, and then have Chucklenuts use it. There’s also what I did last run, letting him use the Geneforge and folding him anyway, but I’d rather get this post out today, thank you. I opt to give the big bastard a chemical peel, killing him and wrecking the Geneforge, ensuring Awakened hegemony in these mountains. I tell Pinner the good news, and travel to meet with who I once called my masters, the Shaper Council.

 

The ending is how I remember from the countless times I beat G2: after informing the Council of their treachery and the organized, entrenched force of rogues in the mountains, Hazel is arrested and sentenced to swift death. “Swift” by bureaucratic standards, meaning they’re stuck in a cell for so long they’re eligible for a prisoner exchange. Back home, the remaining Barzites capitulated to Medab and most of the Takers either peaced out or died fighting the Awakened rather than ally with the architects of their ruination. Can’t imagine why. Life under constant siege is a boring, stressful, and frustrating time. Hazel’s constant canister use leaves them isolated from others, mostly because they’re a short-tempered prick with a god-complex, which you’d think would make them vibe a lot better with Tuldaric, and some of the surviving Shapers from Gheth, but I guess Hazel’s either more grounded than them and still can’t connect, or else just doesn’t have many opportunities to interact with them; they’re no researcher, after all. Not that being clean helps much with the loneliness and tedium, at least in the G2 version. You just have to hold the fact that you’re fighting for justice close to your chest, and that’s worth any inconvenience or deprivation these mountains inflict upon you.

 

And so ends this run and it “only” took two weeks exactly! Now that I know what I’m doing, and I’m using a class that I’m not diametrically opposed to, it went super smoothly. ‘Course, it doesn’t hurt I had access to loads more canisters this time.

Oh, it looks like I only have one more (real) difficulty setting left, but two (well, three, since unaligned kind of took over what would’ve been the Servant) factions to choose from! Oh, man, it looks like either the Takers or the Barzites are gonna lose out, and won’t be covered in this thread!! Who will be the lucky gal who goes to the big dance, and who will be left sulking on the front porch? Find out next time, lovelies!

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Infestation Run 3: No, I Don’t Feel Obligated, I Want To.

 

Imma be real with you, I really do feel obligated to see the Barzite ending. For the first time, too: even in G2 I beat the game while allied to every other faction at least once, but never the Barzites. As you could probably tell from the way I interacted with them in previous runs, I truly despise their philosophy, their myopic and cruel treatment of the serviles in their “care”, and their reckless, irresponsible methods. Even if they manage to make a utopia in this frontier, it will have been built on a second mountain range of suffering, waste, and abuse. Still, I really want that medal… so I’m diving back in on Veteran, and because I clearly haven’t had enough punishment, I’m doing it as a Shaper. Again!

 

Standing in the starting workshop again, seeing Lukaz’s horribly empty Quick Use bar makes me think one thing: I’m gonna miss Weapon Shaping. I didn’t think of it when I first started the Guardian run, but golly gee did Guardian Push and Essence Lash become my best friends over the course of all the boss fights I was subjected to. To take my mind off of what I’ve lost, I pick a fight with some rats, whom I lead in a merry chase all the way back to the Shaping hall’s healing pool before I finally manage to kill them all with Firebolts.

In Drypeak proper, it becomes clear that I’m more than a little unglued when I say to hell with it and expose Sencia to Thossila, almost certainly getting her killed and setting the tone for this run pretty aptly. I pick up Scout Zora and discover she comes equipped with 6 steel javelins, which was useful for keeping her distance from stronger foes, but they ran out by the time we cleared out the Infested Woods, and I have no idea how to restock them, and I’m pretty sure I can’t, despite the fact that I have the javelins to do it and am perfectly happy to give them to her.

Money is tight this section of the game, especially when a constant drip of new abilities is required to keep up with increasingly stronger enemies, but I eventually find myself in the Crags with a trio of Tier 1 creations, and the full suite of rank 1-2 spells Tyallea is willing to teach me, though Searer isn’t upgraded to inflict Acid until later, when I take a peek at Ciphar’s spellbook. At this point, my main goal isn’t so much to turbo to Medab any more faster than my Guardian run as much as it is to resist my natural urge to espouse sympathy for serviles; I can’t bring myself to say anything so vile to the people of Medab’s faces as “Yes, I do think your rightful place in this world is one of subservience to the human overclass,”, and I’m not going to listen to Selithra laugh about tearing down serviles’ homes and seeing their impotent rage and futile attempts to stop them without trying to plead for her to see things from their perspective… mainly because she won’t. So, my best chance of making this work is simply to not bring it up, avoid more difficult questions by deflecting with the party line, and scmooze my way into power. Neatly sidestepping several rogue dialogue options by hiding behind the Law and repeating the order’s mantra of Great Responsibility (Shaping is dangerous in the wrong hands, which is why we strictly control it. And you.), I somehow still, in this cave in the middle of nowhere, can’t bring myself to order Crink to return to Braan. I send the guy on to Freegate and beyond, and I just know this is gonna boost my servile relations well beyond my wishywashy attempts to maintain it can compensate for.

 

Scaring Beka off, I make my way past Freegate and into Medab, only to realize that I can’t do any quests there, since just about all of them improves my reputation with them. So, I “have” to leave all that free money and experience behind, and try to go to Magus Complex, really just to do so, but I turn back at the Complex Gates since my level is way too low to comfortably clear out the rogues there.

Heading back to Drypeak, I get the full rundown of events from Zakary, and I see that I’m able to join the Servants, if only just. I ignore this, of course; for some reason, I’m comfortable going about unaligned this run until I hit Rising. I head back to Medab and hunt around for some quests to do, ending up with Get Shaper Equipment and a pair of quests from Seli concerning enemy activity around Medab. I don’t know if the quests themselves effect reputation, but turning the first one in provides dialogue options that reinforce either your support for or opposition to servile independence, so I’m able to do that, then throw Seli’s thanks back in his face like a true Shaper. I do the second one as well, since I’m going that way anyway to get the Crystal-Woven Chitin, and pay for my hubris in the attack by tanking half a million spray thorns from my supposed allies. I find it very annoying that I’m the only one bound to the friendly fire rule, while NPCs hostile or otherwise can bumble around blindly and fire AOEs willy-nilly without fear of hitting each other, just my party. In the mines I had to keep clear of the pylons once they turned on because if I was anywhere near an enemy, I had a fifty percent chance of getting insta-killed by a resulting Essence Lance. In the Fort, I kept getting chunked by the “Friendly” serviles ending up behind me in combat encounters and spray batoning my party for half its collective health. This final gripe has nothing to do with that, but I miss that Medic’s Charm or whatever it was from the original G2 that boosted Healing Craft, instead of that dogwater statue whose boost I can’t even remember, like, +8% creation Magic Resist? Actual garbage. Why is it even here to take up an inventory slot when there are STILL so few to go around. If there was an item or dedicated toolbar for a handful of charms, maybe I’d use more of them instead of immediately sell things like the Reaper Charm and this statue. For some reason, I actually did keep a bunch of these junk Charms on my person in the Beranabus run, up until I finally hit the Pit of Misfits and I finally gave up the ghost on the ones I knew were less impactful than, say, the Skien of Wisdom, but when I Junked and finally sold them, I experienced no impairment in combat efficacy. If anything, it improved because I had more space for either remotely useful combat items, or stuff I’d need in a later zone that I wouldn’t have to Junk, run back to a town to take out, and come back to where I was meant to be, wasting so much time you wouldn’t believe.

 

I do a circuit around Awakened territory, ignoring several quests that would raise their esteem of me, but mainly just those that would be a pain in the ass to do; the Stinking Marsh and Crystal Cave in particular are just tedious, and I welcome the opportunity to simply ignore them this time around, so any quest to do with them are snubbed. The only reason I go into the Hunted Fen at all, despite it sucking just as much as the first time I went there, is because I finally found out why that ghost was there; turns out they wanted a limb to be at peace. I NEVER KNEW THAT! For over a decade now, every time I played G2 and ran across this thing, I jawed at it, watched it float away, thought, “Gee, I wonder what that was about,” and went on with my life. The ring it leaves is pawn shop fodder, but the experience is a good enough reward, so I’ve no reason to complain. Besides that, I avoid the Triola quest zones for now as well, but clear out the Magus Complex’s adjacent areas (the Gate, Power Station, Experiment Chambers… mostly), leaving Lucaz at level 10, with only the Marsh Crossroads uncleared. In the Beranabus run, I pussed out and got Griffith in Triola to get rid of the raiders there, while with Hazel it took half a dozen attempts for me to to clear them out myself. This time, however, I had to leave it until I had more than Tier 1 creations; as a general rule, I don’t buy training at the inflated prices faction trainers present to me, which means I’ll be starving for power until I reach Elissia in the Upper Research Hall to the south, so I pick up sticks and go there first, picking past the Experimental Valley because 8 Mechanics STILL isn’t enough to clear the route to the next zone fully, and go through the miserable Hall itself, with all its mines, locked doors to nothing of substance, and acid-belching poison pools to get to Elissia.

…Who tells me she won’t teach me much of anything, and even those at ludicrous prices. Spiderweb, you know Tyallea is right there in the Warrens, yeah? And he teaches near everything she does once you ally with Zakary? What’s the point of this? She knows Zakary is dirty, and even acknowledges that keeping apart is probably the best thing for a loyal Shaper to do, so what gives? Now I have to bull my way through to the Loyalist Encampment to get anything of worth. Doing that, and giving Bunk information on Gheth (shhhh, I need Quick Action), nets me more power than I know what to do with… okay, that’s a lie on two fronts, In that I’m not that much stronger than I was before since I’m limited by my as yet unbuffed Essence and spell Energy, and I’m definitely heading for those barbarous Takers north of Triola with my newly buffed spell repertoire, and by that I mean mostly Airshocks. My two fyora are almost fully buffed at level 12, only missing the Strength upgrade, and my Cryoa(L13) takes point in the assault since its Hardiness buff makes it a more ideal vanguard than the particularly squishy Lukaz. When the fight begins, a lucky spell mastery boost allows me two Airshocks at the main body of the raid party, including the Leader, stunning all of them between the two attacks. Overload-boosted Cones of Fire melt them to nearly nothing, and I take them the rest of the way there with Essence Lances. Cleaning up the stragglers was easy after that, and like that, the zone is clear, and another ugly red marr is wiped from my screen. I continue to clear out the bandit zones and get Zyan her thing, and continue south.

 

I keep it stepping, clearing the first round of Shandoka quests and reaching Rising in record time. Ridding the world of Troknan and Stanis (winning back my beloved Essence Eater), I finally seek to join the Barzites. Perhaps shortsightedly, I use my Leadership skills to bypass a quest, thus not getting the fullest picture of what I’d need to do to join, but I’m sure I’m not depriving us all of too much. I’m left with getting rid of Gamerage Gamege, who I remember meeting in the Guarded Groves where I buried Shanti. I can either run him off or kill him, but letting him leave doesn’t give me experience at level 14, so Kill it is.

With that done, I’m clear to join the Barzites in building Rapture but on a mountain this time, but before I do, I need to handle quite a bit of business before I burn a good portion of my bridges. Seeing the ever-fractalizing path of optimal routes and instrumental play stretch out before me engenders a certain amount of choice paralysis, but I’ve learned well the consequences of falling to despair from the first run, and I decide a course of action: I need the swamp sickness cure, so I’ll turbo to Zhass-Uss, then BU Shaping right after. First though, the North Gate and Radiant College.

 

Rising North is where I send Zensital to from Medab, and I’ll probably have him join the Barzites when I do. Also here are several interesting serviles, including Wend, who I’m pretty sure is a Taker sympathizer after Barzahl had her shop torn down to build his palace, and Learned Versa, who is definitely an Awakened sympathizer, since his prices are rock bottom after you join them. Versa also upgrades basic healing pods/spores into restoration pods/spores, or curing pods into healing pods, but whatever. Fun fact, he did this in G2 as well, but there the recipe calls for an amphora instead of the wine item (since, y’know, it didn’t exist yet). I actually collected over a dozen amphora over the course of my first playthrough in order to convert my leftover healing pods, and was confused when the time came when he wouldn’t take them. When I realized the recipe changed, I was mortified, not least because I also drank a lot of the wine I came across up to that point in the spirit of roleplay, and also to cope with how long the run was taking.

 

Another thing is how the method of converting the items is… “unpolished” is a way to put it. “Dogsh*t” is a more accurate way. Choosing the dialogue option to convert a single pod, then quitting out and restarting the conversation to go through the dialogue tree to choose the same dialogue option again to convert a second pod, repeat a dozen or so times, is a terrible way to implement this. I get that making a dedicated shop window to take the required items in exchange for the upgrade is a tall order, especially when this out of the way, totally optional, thoroughly limited service offered by a minor NPC still functions, albeit inelegantly, but, like, it still sucks.

 

Moving on, I make acquaintances at Radiant College, the Number One ranked University in the Illya Province*, and give Phariton his delivery. Somewhere between killing Stanis and here, a switch flipped, and Lukaz went from barely being able to pepper enemies with a Searer or Airshock between weathering rounds upon rounds worth of attacks to punching through enemies with carelessly tossed Shaped lances, carving through high level foes with the by now maxxed out Essence Eater, and melting through entire health bars with a Firebolt chasing, yes, an Airshock. Throughout my adventures, I somehow accrued a critical mass of base stat points, mainly Agility, solely through worn equipment, charms and canisters, freeing me to put my hard won skill points in the various Magics, Shapings, and a precious few in Melee, which is why I can even wield Essence Eater. Sick, and as I continue into Taker lands and acquire more canisters and money for training (stretched even further by Hannah of Wealth’s bartering coin) my repertoire expands to nearly every skill, making Lukaz as about as potent in both my previous runs’ Shapers’s focuses, deleting singular targets in Weapon Shaping-boosted melee almost as easily as Hazel, but raining down just as much Airshocks and drayk fire on groups as Beranabus did.

 

In Zhass-Uss, it’s confirmed that my reputation is at least somewhat anti-creation rights, as Syros only tells me his story as a warning to get clear of the Takers’ righteous warpath. To maintain that reputation, I won’t do anyone around town any favors (though I will do mercenary work in the form of killing Melancon), though talking to Syros again and asking him about the Sholai tells me that yes, they WERE the ones who set a Spawner against them. I didn’t get it my first run because by the time I asked him, I was already doing the Canister quest and the questioning was replaced with telling him about their plans to obtain essence. Well, that’s one mystery solved. After completing Sharon’s Trials, it’s on to Benerii-Uss.

 

BU Power goes as well as it usually does, but Holding has Akkat, who I take pains to avoid for now by taking the outer corridor ringing the zone, killing quite a few guards but leaving his lab’s inhabitants unaware as I slip into Shaping. There, I can’t avoid the alarm circles placed in their workshop entrances and fight just about everyone there short of Rhakkus, who I guess is pretty preoccupied and didn’t notice me kill his neighbor. With that done, I ransack the facility as best I can, including the servile cure, and abscond, backtracking through the still uncleared Holding to do so. Swinging south from Power to hit the Depot, I kill the Rotting Avatar in probably the hardest fight with him so far; I kept getting bad RNG with hit chances, status afflictions, and damage rolls, leading to four VERY frustrating deaths in a row where he’d dodge a Slow/Wrack method, then QA hit me with a critical Acid Spray and some sort of Acid Spit attack that ate through my essence shield and nearly all of my health, only for the acid to kill me when it became my turn. The failed attempts were made all the more stupid by the fact that the second things didn’t utterly break on me and I could actually do stuff, the fight almost immediately ended as I layered Rotter with half a dozen statuses and shredded him in melee, which wound up hairier than I rather foolishly expected, since Lukaz’s much lower health made this attempt much more of a coin flip than with Hazel. Still, Rotter was packed away, with two more to follow him shortly.

 

Turning in all the quests I wound up picking up in the Awakened lands, I no longer have any reason to hold off on joining the Barzites. So I do. I don’t feel any different, but maybe it’s because I’m too afraid to look back towards the person I used to be. Anyway, I’m allowed in the Barzites’ back rooms for the first time ever, so let’s see what’s behind door number 1! I go through the door to the west to find-- a corridor shared by the other Barzite-only doors in Rising. Alright, I enter the unlocked living door to find-- CANISTERS! Five of them! For me?! You shouldn’t have, but don’t mind if I do-- oh, most of them are locked away. It seems I’ll have to complete missions for Barzahl to access the rest.

 

His first mission is to steal Tuldaric’s research on, among other things, servile alteration. A simple task, but first, I return to the Radiant College for my own alteration… which I don’t think does anything game-wise. Sure, the faction trainers won’t teach me their heaviest-hitting spells/creations, but I learned them just fine with canisters and the dearly departed Phariton (yeah, that was a whole thing before I went back to Rising). My drakon and gazer work just fine, and while I haven’t had a good opportunity to use Essence Purge yet since the skill is at 1 and thus has no additional effect, I’m sure it wouldn’t blow up in my face.

I come face to face with Burham, who, now that I get a good look at him, looks a lot like Goettsch from Mutagen. Listening to him, it seems the Awakened—read: Tuldaric—has a monopoly on Alteration, though he’s hard at work trying to replicate the mechanism. Tuldaric’s notes would be a huge help to him, I imagine. I turn in the Conduit Shard Phariton stole to Lacitis in return for the Radiating Essence, a honey-colored little glob whose relevant boost is +1 Healing Craft. Yeah, that’s fine.

Back in Rising, Selithra needs me to scrounge up a bag of magic marbles for her in some workshop. Luckily, I already picked it up some days ago, saving myself the trip. Gareth in Gheth has a hankering for research notes, while Commander what’s-his-face wants me to run off or kill the nearby Elissia. I don’t have it in me to kill a little old lady, Shaper or no, so I convince her to flee the mountains, an act that is almost crueler: the only reason I was able to get her to leave was because I extinguished her last hope of the corruption in this colony being excised by joining the root of it. My various rampages though the zones left her a clear route to Drypeak, but per her words, I doubt Barzahl’s agents will let her leave these mountains alive. And even if she did make it to the Council, she’ll be stuck there for months waiting for them to make a move, and by then we’ll be even more entrenched. Just an overall sad situation.

 

Moving on, I clear Lapidiary and turn in both of Zosima’s quests, and get his Everfrost Mine mission. Then I go to the Complex Core by way of the Experiment Chambers, picking up Teriel along the way. When Tuldaric’s not looking, I tear out the relevant pages from the tome and book it the way I came, somehow dodging everyone and skipping a fight until I get back to the Chambers and hack my way through several turrets and a guard. That act of espionage done, I can now be altered by Burham’s machine, a process that, again, seems to do nothing but unlock the faction trainer’s highest tiers of training, but hey, a fully upgraded Essence Purge is more than enough to mollify me. I also head over to Zhass-Uss to confirm my suspicions correct, in that joining the Barzites made the town hostile, when going through the various zones of Benerii-Uss didn’t, as long as I didn’t interact with/kill the Big Three.

 

Ya boy Barzahl has a new mission for me: kill Zakary. I pick what is obviously a Leadership option and am told to get aid from Burham, which he gives in the form of an ‘Essence Orb’, a Special Item with no description. It really doesn’t look at all intentional, but who cares at this point. I clean up Everfrost Mine’s basement, kill the EXTREMELY irresponsible Melathir, and net the Sholai their treasures before heading to Drypeak. No one here moves against me as I walk past, but talking to them makes it clear that they don’t trust me, Lord knows why.

Moving into the Warrens, ZakAttack foolishly allows me to not just enter his stronghold, but get close to him, sealing his fate as the Essence Orb bursts and flash-forms a pair of drakon shades. He manages to call a few of his human guards and Shape a few more defenders as the fight goes on, but he’s cornered, and is slain in short order. Exiting the Warrens leads me to a brief fight with nearby guards, and I have to daze Takena and a few serviles before I leave the zone, but I break out with a minimum of casualties.

 

Taking my fill of the final canisters in the city (save for the tainted one downstairs), I get my final mission from Barzahl: destroy the Takers’ Geneforge. Odd that he doesn’t necessarily require the deaths of the Triumvirate, but you bet I’m gonna bundle that in. In preparation, I take out the Bound One and collect my final rewards from Emissary. Then I took on Benerii-Uss Entry, a simple matter now that Rhakkus is definitely in Shaping. Speaking of Shaping, apart from a lone drayk lab assistant, Rhakkus is the only one in there. Then, after a five minute bar fight of an encounter, there were none. Slipping back into Holding, I grab the rogue gazers and rock Akkat’s world like usual, then run back to Rising to recharge essence and recreate a lost drayk. In The Geneforge, I realize I only have one essence pod left, and with the only available shops I have left being sold out of them, the only known source of them left is this zone, which works out, I guess. Working through the zone, sabotaging the Geneforge, and collecting the canisters almost makes up for how AIDS fighting the golems here is. Even at level 21 and with my Agility and QA, their first turn of two still takes place before mine, allowing them to vomit up some kind of Stun wave attack to chase their Quicklashes. The golem’s evade chance is also f**king terrible to deal with, especially with the mandatory “5%” miss chance constantly coming up and dragging the fight out to the point where every golem eventually joined in, killing all of my creations by the time I got all of them. The essence pods don’t restore enough for me to reShape anything, and the only real essence pool in the zone is guarded by two pylons, so it’s far and away more worth it to just go back to town and make my team there. At this point, I’m well past done, so I just trick Easss into using the Geneforge and blow it and him up.

 

The game is over, and I’m free to go home. I say bye to Emily on my way out, and journey to the Council. Standing in front of them, the difference between this ending and the others is apparent as Lukaz looks down on these elders, not standing before them as an equal, but as a portent of a new era, come to bring tidings of their obsolescence. Not taking kindly to them fighting words, I am swiftly jailed and less swiftly executed, so less swiftly that Barzahl’s hazy ass could manage to negotiate my release (in exchange for the lives of the surviving Servants, but who’s counting?). Back in Rising, we swell our ranks, we expand our territory, and oh boy, do we abuse canisters, becoming a nation of land scouring Gods in human form, to the point where there’s just no way Easss’s final project could compare when it finally comes to fruition.

 

So that’s the Barzite run done. Imma get started on the Torment run shortly after reading up on more resources provided by you lovely people on these here forums. See you in two more weeks! I Hope!

 

Edited by Affable
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  • 3 weeks later...

nfestation Run 4: Take Your Free.

 

AUUUUUUUUUUUUUGH. I hate it heeere! I’ve been stuck in my house since mid-April writing this dross, fighting off Witch-COVID all throughout Run One, and once I got over that, and felt normal for seven consecutive hours, I pick up a summer cold. This topic has maybe a month and a half to live as I complete this post and start outlining my Conclusion, and I’m beginning to suspect it’s trying to take me with it. Or maybe a Monty Python enjoyer took issue with my Pooh-poohing of the Grimwing questline, and the fact that I’ve avoided it in every subsequent run due to it being substandardly written, tonally inconsistent, and having sh*t rewards, and bought an Etsy curse and plagued me with sickness in revenge.

This probably isn’t making it to the actual post.

 

Dropping into Torment with Agent Apprentice Awa, I wipe up the Drypeak area with minimal difficulty; my previous experience and the Agent’s cheap Magic upgrades means access to early Airshock from the Cloak of Wind, trivializing many enemy encounters, including the battle with Beka. One of the serviles even drop a steel sword, which I didn’t even think could happen. Unfortunately, it requires 4 Melee while I had 2, and even on level up, I can’t afford to dump all those skill points in it at this point in the game when my Leadership and Mechanics still aren’t at par for all the upcoming skill checks, and on Torment I think those skills are mission crucial, in particular Mechanics at 6 by Medab and 8/9 by Experimental Valley.

The Secret Tunnel was fittingly the hardest area yet, combat-wise, mainly because of the spinecores, which I haven’t talked about yet, at least in detail. They’ve changed from the Good Old Days, where the main spinecore was the only attacker, and automatically (here meaning: at the start of its turn, without using AP) either regrew a slain bud, or ate one when its health was low. Now, of course, in our dystopian present, the buds act as mini turrets to protect the main spinecore, with later encounters mixing types of buds to maximize damage potential and coverage. All well and good, and almost certainly makes more sense as a defense mechanism than the former, but I have several problems with the implementation. For one, spinecores and several other stationary foes, like spawners and pylons, have an automatic “Recovery” “action” that doesn’t take AP, further inflating their health bars with no cost or drawback. Another thing is the fact that the main spinecore still attacks, but now twice per turn, meaning it rains down poison and then sprays with thorns (or venom thorns, or something; I’m writing this part several days after this specific encounter.) another issue is that they often don’t drop anything: in the previous series, the whole appeal of fighting spinecores was that they almost always dropped the kind of thorn they fired, i.e., regular spinecores dropped regular thorns, acid spinecores dropped acid thorns, etc. But in the Remaster series, monster drops are fewer and farther between, with the spinecores’ being especially crap because its mostly only the main spinecore that drops anything, and then usually only standard thorns, at least from my experience.

Getting to Medab, I complete a fair few quests before heading back to Drypeak, with special attention paid to Patrolled Path, an area with clawbugs/vlish patrols that I have to take on one group at a time, then run back to East Medab to recover. At level 7, Awa is still weak as hell, her abilities spread too thin to do much damage, but hyperfocusing on just a few of them is impossible not just because of limited training and the money to pay for it, but also because I need to cover too much ground to be too limited. The occasional fyora helps keep the tides of clawbugs at bay, but they invariably die before a single combat encounter even concludes, meaning I have to use up even more of my stunted Essence pool and still inadequate Spell energy to drop Dazes, Airshocks, and Essence Lances when I don’t have either the SE or Essence to cast Airshock, which is often. Still, I get to the Retreat, where the Iron Clawbug makes itself known as a mini-boss a lot better than the vlish to the east that inexplicably drops a Roamer-skin Tunic, being stronger, faster, and spraying acid all the God Damned time. Luckily, though my fyora predictably died to this menace early in the fight, by Dazing the other rogues to the north, Airshocking/Essence Lancing its accompanying clawbugs to death, and firing variously Weapon Shaped venom thorns, I took it down, freeing me to take my prize of Group Heal and f**k else, I don’t have enough Fire Shaping to learn Create Roamer. Not that I’d bother making one, but still.

 

Back through the Freegate, I tell Sharon about what lies beyond, and she grants me access to her storeroom among other things, giving me the Shielding Knife, a slick upgrade to the iron sword I picked up in the Freegate ambush, having a slimmer damage range but higher hit rate, with the Armor and Evade boosts more than surpassing the mundane weapon I’ve been slumming with so far.

I go to the Warrens to hear Zak’s side of the story, and then bully him into letting me join his side so I can take advantage of all the free stuff lying around, as well as cheap training from Ty. The room containing the Purifying Blade is still heavily locked, but I have twenty living tools, so who really cares. I’m not super interested in using it, mind: Thirsty Boy requires 5 Melee (1 more than Awa had at time of acquisition), provides no buffs (at least, when I last saw it fully upgraded, back in the Beranabus run where I stowed it away before the update, but that’s just a detail), and its full attack power is unlocked by sacrificing ten canisters to its greedy maw. That’s certainly a sacrifice that can be made—Awa is, after all, an Agent, so high-tier creation canisters can be safely tossed into the furnace—but much later than I care to bother with, because I’ll get a good enough weapon that gives me decent buffs, and I’ll roll with that until I get Essence Eater, the Purifying Blade’s Shadow Archtype, and the best weapon in the game, argue with your mother. Requires 4 Melee, gives +1 Agility and Evasion, has a much higher Hit Bonus, is powered by you using canisters, and gives you TWO attacks! It’s literally the old series’ Quick Action, except Energy damage. The only reason you’d forego it is because you’re playing either a totally clean run with 0 canisters used, since even five will net you a pretty solid weapon, or you’re a shrimp of a Shaper whose power is solely located in your creations, so all of your equipment is focused on buffing them.

 

What was I talking about? Oh yes, enrichment: Drypeak’s still not feeling me due to my outspoken pro-servile opinions, so prices are high at Allizar’s and Elilli’s. Zuniga’s still chill, but the vibes here are otherwise rancid, so I go to the Magus Complex after taking my fill of Tyallea’s teachings (or as much as my wallet would allow, so, uh, not much). First was the Complex Gate, whose tides of roamers and artilae I just wade into without a care while Essence Shielded, Airshocking groups with impunity like it was going out of style. In the Complex itself, I figured the inhabitants would be as down on me as Medab’s merchants are, considering my alliance, but apparently not, according to Loha. Sure, they still don’t like me, or even trust me, but they’ll still deal with me, an attitude that will richly reward them once I join them shortly, and subsequently bite them in the ass once I leave them and then steal their stuff. Still, I’ll do a task for Loha in shutting down the Power Station for a bit, mainly so I can shout out the Ivory Band, a ring that gives full party Poison/Acid resist, found on the floor right by the power spire thing that houses the Ring of the Eye, which blows the Ivory Ring right out of the water by giving 30% Curse resistance (to you) and 30% MER and 10% Magic Damage (to your creations). Slipping turn-skipping statuses like Wrack and Slow gets pretty important when you’re Awa and thus often the sole target of attacks.

 

This is pretty unfocused, because I took a two day “break” somewhere in those last few paragraphs (work, am I right?) but now I’m back in the Warrens now that I’ve got some more cash on hand, buffing the skills I already know, and nabbing a point in Essence Lash, which I can’t use just yet, but is only a point in Melee away. For now, after clearing up most of the things to do in the Awakened lands at level 10, shying away from the northwest quarter of the region past Triola, I head south, to the Clawbug Canyon, an area I studiously avoided the past two runs, since clawbugs are terrible to fight even when they don’t have two turns in a round; fitting for Battle creations, they just have too much health for their level, meaning if I can’t kill them—ALL of them—in a single turn, they’re gonna spray poison/acid on my whole party, which can range from Irritating, since I have to waste essence or curatives before killing the surviving enemy, to Devastating, because if my health’s too low, or the bug’s health’s too high, I’m either wasting the entire turn healing up and letting the bug survive to spray again, or I yolo and attack but don’t manage to kill it, maybe because of the ever present “95% Chance to Hit” not going my way Again, I’m a sitting duck, because I genuinely don’t know if the enemy has the 95% Hit Chance cap I do, because I don’t remember ever encountering it.

 

Okay, I’m on this now. I was going to save this for the post run conclusion post, but for the love of God, I am so pressed, so this is going here: Hit Chance is capped at 95%. I F**king Hate this. So goddamn much. Nearly once a fight with Hit Chance at the cap, I’ve had “X is missed. (Hit Chance: 95%)” pop up when I try to killshot something, allowing the stupid creature to either heal themselves or spray me with some kind of status. I legitimately, LITERALLY see 95% more than any other percentage, even accounting for my and the enemies’ levels; I’ve fought in zones with enemies I’d have an 83% HC against, and throughout that zone, I’d miss less often than in an average zone of level 5-9 sh*tters like Clawbug Canyon.

Continuing on this trend of complaining instead of talking about my journey to Gheth (TL;DR: same as it ever was), Guardian Push has to be bugged, because when I use it with a missile weapon like a baton, it doesn’t do damage. It happens literally every time I do it, and it’s not the attack missing or me missing the message in the cloud of particle effects when it lands. And I say has to be bugged instead of is bugged because while I can’t fathom a reason why Spiderweb would intentionally blank the damage of missile weapon-exclusively Guardian Push and not make note of this limitation anywhere in the game, I similarly can’t fathom the reasoning behind several absolutely intentional design decisions, so I’m forced to put it in the realm of possibility, if only barely on the edge of it.

 

Back on track, if only briefly, I see the big whuh-oh accident Stanis made with Shanti after fighting through a frustrating pair of clawbug herds, and then turn back and head to Medab to get assignments from Learned Pinner. Sure, I’m not going to join the Awakened just yet, but better to do these quests while I can still extract exp from them. Chasing off Crillie was easy, and gives way more exp than just killing him, but Trine proved too overwhelming a force between Overload and his exploding boils, so I had to scare him off, which earned me a pittance in exp, but I just don’t have the energy to care anymore.

 

After that, I deal with Shandoka’s first round of quests, opening up Back’s Creek, and then look over the Loyalist Encampment, where I help out my main man Bunk in exchange for a sword I can’t use and a point of Quick Action I can’t pass up. Being allied with Zakary at the moment, I’m allowed to pick up anything around here by Macnulty, which is great for more pawning off, or it will be, since at this point I have a critical lack of shops to sell to, but the Awakened will open up their doors when I link up with them… for a time. Kima is “happy” to teach me loads of skills, but at a higher price than Ty, so I leave her to her gruel and head back to Medab to join them, since I’ve nothing much more to learn with the Servants.

 

I slurp up the abundance of free items available to me now that I’m sworn to the Awakened, and sell off a bunch of accumulated junk. Then I head to the Magus Complex to get altered by Tuldaric, then get a level of Essence Purge, but as expensive as a second level is, I’ll be holding off on upgrading until I get Hannah’s coin upgraded to lower the cost. I also upgrade the Annulet (which is a real word, turns out, just a rather uncommon one) to make Essence Lances deal cold damage like Airshock and boost both spells’ damage. I pick up Xander and the Rat and we get active, filling out the Triola area excluding the Tomb and the Warren of the Three, which I shall detail below:

 

Shockingly, it was the easiest go of it yet, killing Eko first, jetting back to Triola to restore essence, then packing up Quorn and Vizzedra on the return trip. Sure, the Rat died due to Quorn’s flunkies spraying AOEs every which-way, but I picked up Blyster right afterward, so party cohesion was maintained. Right after was the Tomb, where the ghosts’ Chain Lightning did Blyster in, too, but hey, that’s what fyoras are for. Also, unlike the last two runs, I managed to keep Connavar in my sight the entire time until I hit the passage leading to the Pit, where he unsurprisingly repays me by turning hostile and trying to kill me. I don’t know why I was so invested in getting to this point, maybe because I didn’t (and still don’t) know why he disappeared the other two runs.

 

Who cares about all that, we got things to do! Heading to Buck Creek to meet the rest of the Sholai, getting my lucky coin, upgrading it, and buying that second level of Essence Purge now that it’s about a thousand coins cheaper, and traveling west towards Rising. I lose Xander in the Breeding Pits because I kept missing attacks against the level 16 serviles, so, low on morale and essence, I opt to head west to Phariton’s crib to rest and recharge.

Lemme explain: in Phariton’s place with all the shrubs, there are also the crystal growths that restore either health or, more importantly, essence. Getting there and actually having the essence to cast Airshocks willy-nilly makes that section of the zone piss easy, since the boost from the upgraded Annulet obliterates the shrubs in one hit, and if I miss, Spell Mastery usually has my back with a mulligan. I deliver the Cone to Phariton on behalf of Intisar, take my reward canisters (and coins) and head back to the Pits to push the rest of the way to Rising.

 

In Rising and its neighboring zones I get to work, picking up and packing away loads of quests, using lots of canisters, and killing lots of enemies: Stanis, Krogst, Troknan, Splitclaw(I dunno, that alpha near one of the bridges), and Phariton, oh my! Buffing my spells and learning to create drayks on a return trip to the MC, I make the straightforward western trek to Zhass-Uss with no issue, the Stunlocking of Gazer Treba aside.

In the Outskirts, I meet several zany characters, like shopkeep, who sends me on a quest to die for a piece of wood, and shopkeep, who won’t deal with me while I’m still not aligned with the Takers, but will overcharge me in materials in exchange for a wand I have four of in storage anyway. I even have to bring my own stick. Even putting aside the denigration in collecting sticks, the sticks are classified as weapons, so you can’t stack them for convenience (not that there was ever a reason or opportunity to equip one; in nearly every Geneforge game, you encounter and are told to equip a dagger well before you even come across a stick). Not worth the hassle. Aodare’s here, too, but he just goes on calling me a traitor and canister addict. It gets tiresome after a while, so I head to Zhass-Uss proper.

 

In the city, I’m bidden to meet Syros immediately and hear his story. In his hall is Dhorass the cryodrayk, who has a bounty out for Melancon, the gazer to the south who has an entire cave filled to the brim with his occasionally ensorcelled bandit crew. When not acting as Security (which, to be fair, is an everyone job), Dhorass acts as the drakon controller, leading them in skirmishes against the Shaper oppressor, regular or Barzite. This tickles me in a cosmic sort of way, seeing a cryodrayk in command of drakons, especially since, when asked about this, he remarks that “drakons are headstrong and arrogant”, and that drayks, being less so, are equipped to shepherd them. He can be quoted, however, saying that he is sure “this is temporary”. Oh, buddy. Oh, you poor, poor thing.

Toivo won’t talk to me, surprise surprise, so I just pat Biri on the head and talk to Syros, who gives me nearly the same story I heard from Gnorrel in Mutagen, but with the sad conclusion we all saw coming that once the Shapers got to Kazg and saw the Takers, they immediately burned it to the ground and killed every servile in sight. Naturally (after learning that the Shapers Barred drayks), Syros had an attack of empathy and helped them as best he could, and once Rhakkus, Akkat, and Zak and Barz entered the picture, they all ollied out of Sucia and got to work here, with the Takers breaking off from Barzahl due to his toxic masculinity (stemming from—or rather perhaps brought to the fore by—his rampant canister abuse, but that’s a fraught subject so moving on!!). I’m clearly open to the idea of siding with them, so I’m given the same feather token I got back in Triola and given leave to wander the surrounding area. Seeing about joining them, Syros tells me to talk to Toivo. Apparently, 7 Leadership isn’t enough to convince him that maybe it’d be better if we didn’t interact, so I need to either level up or get Sharon’s ring to correct this issue.

In Zhass-Uss is the community leader Igner, a young single mother who really would like it if the spinecores to the south are cleared out, and Teresa, an Awakened who would like to know if Jeek the spy is alright. Despite being Awakened like her, she sees fit to give me Taker prices for her dross, which, I mean, it’s not like I’m gonna make a big deal over it, I’m just not gonna buy there, but come on, really, dude?

Of all the quests I picked up here, I feel Jeek’s sitch is the most urgent, so I head north to engage in a game of vacuum cleaner/industrial grinder-and-mouse with the Shade Patrol. I duck into every crevice the zone offers even after helping Jeek out (and getting a belt in return) on my way to the shade complex, made paranoid by my experiences in previous runs, having run into the patrol and instantly getting rolled into a pack by a half dozen double attacking shades before I could so much as blink. In the complex, I disabled the shade generator as always, then made for one of the rooms to hide in until the patrol returned here to be absorbed, but was interrupted by the patrol returning here to be absorbed. The fight begins, a Wrackwave then a nondescript magic attack was fired… and missed, with the rest of the shades trailing after their leader to form a big, Airshockable group that I one-shot in short order. I didn’t even use my buff spells; I didn’t bother because I got folded anyway in all my other runs, but here I just brushed off Eager Beaver’s attacks and all the others didn’t even get the chance.

Post-shade flattening I find the Specter Robe, an item original to the previous series that gives 20% Energy and Cold resist at the cost of the same in Fire resist, serving as a cute reminder of game design decisions made over twenty years ago, especially in contrast to the just as rare Infestation-original upgraded versions of the Fine Robe that just give Magic resist (as in, Energy, Cold, AND Fire) with no drawback apart from the low physical armor. I think I’m dancing around some of my hazier thoughts with this aside, but I’m too busy entering BU Power to dissemble them here.

 

In BU Power, I do my usual do and go north towards the Servant Mind; disabling the patrolling Big Bastards is a must for plundering the area of riches. Unfortunately, I learn that level 17 is a bad level for this zone, especially when your best attack misses twice with a 54% hit chance against the regular, always hostile golems. It’s probably best if I head south to pick up the pre-wand from the Depot, and I really try to, but for some reason, it’s not where I swear it’s supposed to be, in the northern part with a single rotghroth. I can definitely go further, but I have an aversion to spending more than three living tools on a lock, so I’ll have to go around and go through the zone from the south.

Speaking of south, I turn in my quest with Teresa and go to the Infested Farmland, home of cryodrayks who are very much not fans of unexpected visitors, and spinecores who are not fans of unexpected non-spinecores. There is also Asa, who will point you towards Igner for the spinecore removal quest if you weren’t around to play the twenty-year-old original G2, and is the breeder of Robo-Ornks, an odd name for a very fun abomination. Imagine some random medieval kingdom utilizing armored combat hogs in its wars; that’d be a funny trick to play on God, I think. Down below, there is an “essence egg” Hannah would like, as well as Asa’s “Snuggly”, a big bastard of a Robo-Ornk I prefer to avoid when it’s angered, if only to spare Asa’s feelings.

Blowing out both clusters of spinecores was easy with back-to-back Airshocks, and for my willingness to go above and beyond, I get the Puresteel Shield, a heavy, expensive piece of crap that gives solid physical defense, less than adequate magic defense, and less Stun resist than the Glaahk Shield, a shield that also gives MER, extends both to my entire party, and is woefully outdated by this point in the game.

Cutting myself off again, I go to the Pit of Misfits, home of Melancon Eye, whom I stunlock with chain Airshocks after killing all their pet bandits. I pick up Huest Blade, who’s level 13 despite how late in the game you get him, and go way south to the Lapidiary Ruins to finally clear out the tower. It takes a few tries for the RNG to not immediately screw me into the dirt with stun/slow turn skips, but on the third attempt I get into the rhythm of blasting the Chiseler every few turns with Airshock or Essence Purge (daring today, aren’t we?) while the newly created drayk and fyora batter it with Overloaded flames, as Huest and Awa chunk Control with melee, Weapon Shaping piling on Wrack, Slow, and Vulnerable. With Control focusing its healing on the Chiseler, I take it out only a few turns after it spills its backup out all over the rug, leaving only Awa, Huest, and the now Level 1 Chiseler, the other creations getting caught in an unfortunate back-to-back suppresion spray. With the fight done shortly thereafter, I took my bounty of one(1) Madness Gem, and nothing more-- wait, what? Where’s the Shard? I’m SUPPOSED to get it here! Where’s my sh*t, game!?

Looking it up on the Forums, it appears the Pure Crystal Shard is gained from the final spire you check in the zone, not that specific spire. I had to check the one I missed to the west. Why is it like that? For what purpose?

 

Mindful of the oncoming migraine, I decide to exacerbate it by returning to Sharon’s and (after getting my ring made) finishing her Proto-Trials, where I previously cleared her first three experiments. Uprooting her spinecores and turret for the fourth Fang, I take on the Experimental Gamma and its Ur-Glaahk posse, and lose definitively. The ur-glaahks are an absolutely abortive part of the fight, since they spray their Shockwave incessantly to the exclusion of all else, save for an occasional Dominate. I have never seen the things use their melee attack across four playthroughs. It’s like, I don’t care if these specific ones have Inner Haste or some sh*t, no enemy that is not a literal named boss should be breaking format like this, especially when all it serves to do is annoy. I haven’t even mentioned that the Gamma heals and buffs its team. If I had a horde of vlish variants, I could neutralize the buffs and focus on damage, but I stupidly put my few allotted points into Fire creations in order to have an appreciably leveled drayk, so my attention is split between cursing them so I can hit the bastards and actually hitting them so there are fewer turns of them hitting me. To have any success, I have to wait in Testing Grove 4 until an ur-glaahk wanders far enough out of its designated area that its friends don’t see me whaling on it, repeat step 1 until the gamma is alone, or near abouts alone, these things are that insufferable. The gamma by itself is such a danger, and by party members so underleveled, that there’s barely any room for error, and even when I do my damnedest, Huest still got killed by it targeting him out of nowhere before it finally died from Burn damage.

 

After a moment of silence for a fallen friend, I move on to turn in my pair of quests with Captain Zosima, and am told of their intentions to collect essence and bring it home to Sholai. I turn down his offer to assist them, and go to Creation Holding. Icemaster Sunman saw through my attempts to schmooze my way in the first time I attempted it, but with the Infiltrator’s Ring, I’m more than convincing enough to get access. I do need to spend five(!) living tools to get access to the first real room, but it’s more than worth it, if not for its loot, than for the key to the next chamber. In this one, vats line the walls in three groups of Tier 1 creation variants. The fyora and artila groups are simple, but the thahds are nearly impossible to deal with without losing someone, since half of them are the exploding variety found south of Gheth, and they spawn surrounding you so there’s almost no chance of making safe distance with your entire party. Really, at my level, there’s really no reason to do that encounter at all, since I’d get no experience from it at Level 18. I take the key in the back and go to the flora chamber, where shrubs abound. I take the key in the westmost room, but clear out all the shrubs to get access to the health and essence crystals being grown to the south to restore my health and essence without leaving or relying on my essence pods, as well as the changing station which contains the Charmed Plate, an extremely good piece of equipment. I’m gonna miss the 2 Quick Action from the Quicksilver Chain, but I can’t pass up that Stun Resist and improved Armor.

Next is the experimental fauna, and also spinecores, which are quickly destroyed, along with the rats and the Perfected Glaahk. The same can’t be said for the gamma, which winds up killing my drayk, forcing me to retreat and recover my essence in Rising. Once I return, I hit the final chamber, a radioactive wasteland housing several oozebeasts. Tiresome to fight, but I kill them as they come, and Essence Shields trivialize the environmental hazard as I pick up the Stasis Shield, my preferred endgame shield.

 

With that done, and apparently at my cap for MER, Stun Resist, and Physical Armor, I head to the Zhass-Uss Outskirts. I sent Zensital on to Taker lands some time ago, and unlike the first time I did back with Beranabus, I actually know he got caught and stowed in the under cells. He’s pretty banged up, and the enhanced interrogation techniques of the Takers have broken down his mental defenses. In this state, it’s pretty easy to push him the rest of the way into the Takers’ grasp as a sleeper agent. He leaves me the Drayk Fang Charm, a mediocre but inoffensive charm that I’m pretty sure he just got by knocking it out of a captor’s mouth. After he leaves, I break out Arixey at Macnulty’s behest. Back to Syros, with the Ring on hand, allows me to skip dealing with Toivo and just get the blessing of Amena Blade. A real O.G., he keeps it simple: kill an enemy leader, and I’ve got the perfect target in mind. But first, clean-up.

 

First, I clear the Everfrost Mine of rogues for Ajax, and get the canister blueprints for Yu-La. Then I head to BU Power now that my level is high enough to actually hit things here, if only semi reliably. Getting the servant mind to unlock treasure and disable the big golems is a snap, and after some looting, it’s on to Holding where I kill some guards (shh!) and pick up a book Swofford wanted, and sneak around the edge of the map to Shaping. I pick up the Herringbone Hatchet for Grimwing (yeah, we’ve been doing this again) and make a mad break for the servile cure tome, Dazing any groups of serviles I came across while only killing a few persistent loners. After noting the cure, I barged my way out the way I came, stopping briefly in Zhass-Uss to make sure I didn’t infuriate the Takers with my nonsense, and killing the tree in South Rising Road, I turn in my quests and get my extremely meager rewards. Still, this means I have nothing holding me back in the Awakened, so let’s get Radical.

 

Killing Barzahl is always a joy, and it starts with f*cking up Radiant College. In defiance of myself from two months ago, I walk right into Burham’s happy place and shock him out, having made sure to swap to my Annulet for this extended combat encounter. I walk south to do the same to Fenen, then disappear as quick as I arrived, swinging down to Rising to mini-nuke just about everyone in one shot of either electrified ice or burning essence. Barzahl takes a few turns since he wombo-combos me with a parade of status moves from the jump, but he goes down all the same.

 

I bring Amena Blade the head of Barzahl (figuratively, of course; I imagine his head burned up with the rest of him) and officially swear myself to the Takers. With the key Syros gives me, I open the door behind him to find-- THE GRUESOME CHARM!! It’s here! And it’s sh*t now, by God! Anyway, after a tour of Taker lands that AREN’T Benerii-Uss thanks to the Fang Token, I get my first real orders: steal Tuldaric’s research on Alteration. I already made use of it myself when I worked with the Awakened, so I’m familiar with it.

Going there forthwith, I make a deal with Teriel to kill Tuldaric just to see what would happen, and get to it:

The first attempt doesn’t go so hot, with Tuldaric jumping about the place, healing and spawning specters. I actually manage to kill him, but his golems get me before I can heal. Reloading, I sabotage his platforms before I do it again, killing him in a frenetic but not too stressful showdown. Returning to Terio, I tell them of my victory, and they reward me with strength, maybe literally, I didn’t see what I got in the text box. Stupidly, they didn’t take the opportunity to go home, instead hovering around to see the chaos unfold in my wake. Yeah, it’s gonna unfold all over you, pal.

Killing them takes way more tries than I care to admit for all the reasons I’ve gone over in earlier posts, but I do get them in the rod eventually, then have a scary time dodging death by stunlock for a dozen turns by their summoned glaahks. The job done, I get my reward from Emissary, fully upgrade the Helix Ring (as I hypothesized, it’s useless to me, and it doesn’t even have the decency to sell for more to make it worth the trouble of making), and return to Zhass-Uss, where I get my next task: steal the Barzite’s research, and kill Fenen and Burham for good measure. Hey, funny story!

I also got the Horn Token, allowing me into Benerii-Uss Entry, where I meet Pyre, an amicable if mischievous cryodrayk, along with a whole bunch of Akkat’s kids. I’m pretty sure I never met his mate Fessen on the island, but who knows, it could be I missed something. Most people here are fairly chill talking to me one-on-one, having not grown up on Sucia, nor seeing its scourging by the Shapers. Course, the further in I get, the more I’ll seeI need to get a key from one of the Eyes to move forward into Shaping, so I convince Tessera to hand it over without getting drained for it. I talked to Chyst too, but they’re pretty frigid, so I leave ‘em alone.

In Shaping, I find a bunch of oldhead Takers in the workshop section. They don’t wanna deal with me, and I don’t wanna get in their way, so I chat up Salgurdar instead. For my efforts in the name of the Takers, she lets me have a canister I’m pretty sure I unlocked myself my last trip here, but I appreciate the gesture. I then properly meet Rhakkus, for whom T did crazy since last we saw him in Mutagen. He confirms that as far as the sequel is concerned, Goettsch got his back blown out by the kill squad, but before he did, he considered Rhakkus enough of a confidant that he told him about the Geneforge, enough that, between this inherited knowledge and the starter stolen from Yu-La, they were able to create their own modified version.

I pop back to Syros to give him the Rising research, and he tells me to go to Easss to get marching orders from him. I think first I’ll head back to Holding to see what Akkat is about. Differing from his G2 incarnation somewhat, he clearly got work done. Good for him, but it won’t help him with those gazers up north. Not that he’s asking me for help with them, either. With nothing to do here, I head on to the Geneforge.

 

Easss says something odd when I ask him what he needs, referring to a drayk I procured. I feel like I’m missing something, and hearing him refer to the Conduit Shard he should have no idea I possess makes me think I literally skipped a few steps in this operation. I have no idea what happened, or what I did to louse it up, but now I’m at the Geneforge maybe 30 minutes ahead of schedule, and Akkat just dove for it and became this route’s final boss. That part, I expected, as well as him taking a few tries to beat; sure, he has basically no damage resists, so I melt 500 off of him with Essence Purge, but he does a lot of damage over the course of a round, and an untimely miss can turn a sure thing into instant death. But he does die, and Easss gets to use the pool without worry.

Back to Syros, and he tells me it’s time to go home. I’m not gonna press my luck; I don’t need this game breaking down any further just inches from the finish line. There are a few side quests I haven’t completed yet, most prominently Emissary’s, but I just don’t care any more. Cue the ending!

 

Yada yada yada, Awa arrested, execution stayed by exchange of hostages, return to Zhass-Uss. The serviles still aren’t about her, but at least the drayks give her a warm welcome. As figured, the Awakened and Barzites are crushed, and though they couldn’t get their mitts on Barzahl, they at least had Zakary to gruesomely murder. What follows is, well, Rebellion: unchecked Shaping unleashing disease, famine, and mass death at a scale never before seen by the Known World, as each side escalates in response to the other’s atrocities. Awa is kept on as a researcher, believe it or not, surrounded by creations who consider it a necessary evil and great mercy to suffer her to live, let alone interact with her at all. All she can do is hope whatever world winds up rising from the ashes of this war, it will be better than the one they burned down.

 

And that’s your lot! I’ll be honest, apart from the fights that I detailed above to be particularly tough go’s, this didn’t feel much more difficult than Veteran, apart from the somewhat more frequent status effect misses. I’ll have a conclusion up at some point, no need to worry. For now, I’m celebrating! I’m free! Free at last from this goddamn game! WOOO!

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Infestation Conclusion: I had to go deeper.

 

Loading Geneforge 2: Infestation also opens my Steam, which tells me that since mid-April, I have played this game for four hundred and eighty-six hours. Even taking into account the maybe hundred hours spent choice paralyzed flipping between zones, staring into space disassociating, tabbing out to watch YouTube videos, read forum posts, or complete training materials instead, I have still spent almost twice as much time playing this as I have Mutagen. Even as I stalk through the previously-ignored cells of Benerii-Uss Holding, I turn the mistakes over in my head:

My first run as an unaligned, poorly specced, low canister Shaper was likely the second best way to ruin my enjoyment of Infestation. The best way was, after completing the run, to play it for another two months straight. I have no illusions as to how flawed my methods are, but meaningfully addressing and fixing them is too daunting a task for my inflexible, currently overwhelmed brain, so instead I’ll blame everything but myself and let it negatively impact my opinion. So, instead of the professionally written, objectively correct piece of gaming journalism you the forum expect from me given my many years of exemplary coverage of Mutagen and nothing else, below are some design elements I will use to justify my now deeply ingrained butthurt-edness:

 

Exploding enemies are bullsh*t now that they all have leap attacks-- leap attacks that usually have a status attached that incapacitates the target (Daze/Stun/Wrack). Enemy leaps to instantly close distance, I step back if my turn wasn’t skipped, get blocked from escaping, Guardian Push them with my missile attack that does no damage—I don’t know how many people missed that in the crush, but let me reiterate: missile attacks using Guardian Push do not deal damage—enemy leaps again, because their moves do not have cooldowns, repeat the process until either I die or they do something else, and I make enough distance to not get wrecked by the blast, then shoot to kill, and either succeed or miss and repeat the whole process again.

 

Non-boss enemies that have two turns in a round still suck. I don’t want to belabor the point anymore than I have previously, but it keeps happening, so I belabor I must. When an enemy has two turns to your one, it throws off a lot of the mechanics built around things, you know, making sense? Being normal? It’s an issue that gets put into sharper relief the higher the difficulty goes, I think: dealing with, say, Stinging Clawbugs sucks on Normal difficulty because they get two attacks to your one, meaning they do twice as much damage as their level and creation type suggests, meaning the Normal strategy of out-damaging the thing in front of you becomes twice as hard, but coming across something above your pay grade you need to either out-hard or status for some breathing room is perfectly accountable. Torment, where the game is “layer statuses until the opponent can’t play anymore”, gets not only the above issue with the Clawbug, but also gets that since the Clawbug gets two turns per round, it means statuses last half as long as far as you’re concerned, meaning you spend twice as much of your Essence or item uses pinning them down. Sure, that means D.O.Ts like Acid are effectively twice as potent, it renders Stun almost useless, since it only blanks the one turn, and the Clawbugs have their Bless/Haste buff, so odds are they can attack twice anyway.

Another big issue I find with it is when you come across a double attacker, and they Mass Energize/ Arachnid Frenzy/whatever thing that Hastes them without using up their turn, and they hit me four times in a row, either killing me before I can do anything, setting up a second enemy to do the same thing and definitely kill me, or it becomes my turn and I just reload because there’s functionally no way to salvage the fight at that point. The point of difficulty is that it limits your options and reduces leeway, testing the player on their game knowledge and making them use the tools available to them to overcome the obstacle placed before them now that brute force is off the table, or at least is placed further away. That bullsh*t listed above tests nothing but my patience and my willingness to reload and try it again.

Just so we’re clear, I’m not necessarily against an enemy having two turns per round if they’re a boss. A unique, typically lone enemy should be harder and have more opportunities to damage than rogue encounter #523. It’s just when I have to deal with a half dozen of the scuttling bastards that I lose it.

 

Moving away from mobs, I have to talk about equips. I think they’re poorly distributed throughout the game. I’m not talking about the underwhelming special equipment, though; I’ve said my piece on the Uninspiring Shield, we get the picture. Here, I saying there’s basically no real opportunity to acquire and use the “mundane” equipment options (iron, steel, Shaped, Puresteel) once you pass the Freegate and wrench the iron sword out of the cold, dead hands of a Rising ambusher. “What do you mean?” a few of you may ask, unaware of the self report you’re putting together. “All the blacksmiths have most of those if you need an upgrade.

No. Wrong. Moron.

Never have I Ever bought a piece of Equipment from a merchant. I seriously doubt anyone with more than one playthrough under their belt has bought equipment from a merchant. There are two reasons for this: the first is that money directly converts into power, since pouring your money into trainers in exchange for skills is how you get the majority of your moves, and how you power them into their strongest states (Poison Searer into Acid, Essence Purge applying Burning when upgraded, etc.). The second is that there’s no need to buy them; you can obtain better arms and armor by completing most quests, or by leaving the road and rifling through corpses’ pockets. By the time I was able to wield the steel sword I got in Saltmarsh in my Torment run, I long ago got the Shielding Knife from Sharon’s storeroom, which went from solid to adequate as the game went on until I got Essence Eater, which is, say it with me now, the best sword in the game, dooming everything that came after to the Junk Bag.

The main issue with the Shaped equipment is the same as steel and below, in that by the time they become reliably scavenged, they have long ago been rendered obsolete by an equivalent piece that gives some kind of worthwhile buff. It also follows the trend of mundane equipment of having higher numbers at the cost of being heavier, which gives the lie to anyone trying to sell a Shaped item to you; both Bernard and Maynard will espouse the item they hope to make as being stronger than the mere steel equivalent that acts as their canvas, and light, to boot. Strong, I’ll give them, but the Shaped Blade is ten pounds, a stupid weight for what is functionally an unenchanted length of steel, and the Plate is, what, eighteen pounds? Preposterous. “But the Stun resist, tho,” some unlearned among you may cry, to which I say, What Stun resist? Infestation starts playing games with diminishing returns on resistances past a certain point, and I won’t play along. Go a bit out of your way to Creation Holding, and you can get a breastplate that boosts your Mental Magic and creation MER, along with 50% Stun resist (on paper).

Puresteel weighs the same, or at least the plate does, which is crazy given that the last time I remember seeing it—Geneforge 5: Overthrow—Puresteel gear was explicitly changed to be much lighter than other mundane equipment. I guess Spiderweb changed it back because no one cared and ignored it as hard as ever.

Puresteel is also a tragedy of pointlessness here because they do give boosts, it’s just that they’re underwhelming to the point of insult, and in exchange they’re profoundly scarce: there’s like a single digit number of Puresteel equipages in the game, and by the time you get them, you wouldn’t even begin to consider replacing what you’ve already got on. The sword especially gets the worse of it, since it not only gives a mere +%5 Haste as its boost, it’s a sword, which means it has a Melee skill requirement… of 8. Shockingly, despite how late in the game I got the thing, Awa’s Melee skill was still (natively) below that, because why would I need that much natively, when I had so much more Magic to pump into the stratosphere?

 

I found what I needed here. On to Hermit Crossroads.

 

Moving on from equipment to skills, there are a few spells and abilities I could laud forever as absurd workhorses of my runs, to the point of perhaps being overpowered pfft, whaaat? Who said anything about being overpowered? Airshock is totally fine, no rebalancing needed, honest!

Anyway, yeah, Airshock undisputed greatest of all time, no notes. Essence Purge comes close thanks to it’s even higher damage even with the Frosted Annulet equipped, as well as inflicting Burn, which means I don’t need a drakon in the party to lay that particular d.o.t down.

 

I still do, but that’s because the nature of my destination demands that much more firepower.

 

Guardian Push (despite the assumed bug) and Essence Lash also rank high, layering the enemy with curses and a unique d.o.t in the case of Lash. The buffers War Blessing, Protection, Haste and Essence Shield and just a step behind, with Firebolt, Searer, Minor Heal, and Group Heal rounding out A-Tier, being solid, low-cost solutions to common problems (health too low/ enemy health not low enough).

Most everything else ranges from useful in edge cases but mostly redundant (think Mass Energize, since you can use it in combat to replenish your shields, but apart from Bound One, I’m not often in a position where that needs to happen), to a quaint gimmick that just doesn’t come up due to outside systems rendering it obsolete (Quicklash is a cute idea, but once you start getting Spellcraft in earnest, your Spell Mastery gives you more than enough extra attacks over the course of a fight), to just being obsolete from the jump (with the Annulet, Essence Lances is just Airshock with less range, lower damage, and no secondary effect. Without the Annulet, it’s Essence Purge with less range, much lower damage, and no secondary effect. With the Cloak of Wind, you even get Airshock first, dooming Lances to obsolescence before you even learn it because you could just pump your Battle Magic one more point and get the MUCH better move without spending any money/using a canister, you nerd).

As for the “worst” skills, I don’t think I’m the right person to judge them, because I never used them. At all: Heal is Minor Heal, but more. I literally never used Heal because Minor Heal heals all one character’s health, and Group Heal heals all character’s health. Guardian’s Roar terrifies nearby enemies, and that’s all I needed to know. Delirium is Daze, but more. I don’t know, dog, it felt lazy back then, and it feels lazy now, especially since Daze worked well enough for me when I thought to use it, maybe because the skill is at 5.

 

There was a rotghroth trapped between the gates. How long had it been there, I wonder, starving and rotting and alone? Its first moments of freedom were also its last moments of life, smashed to pieces by twin walls of ice and fire.

 

These backers need to have some regard for world cohesion-- I don’t know why I’m still trying to hide it. The cat is no doubt out of the bag: I’m going to Gazak-Uss, finally. I ignored/avoided it in all the previous runs for different reasons: for Beranabus, the main thought was “Oh my God, this has taken so much of my life away from me, I don’t want to SEE any more of this,” while with Hazel, I never ran Gazak-Uss with a Guardian before, and I wasn’t going to do it under a time constraint. I really thought Lukaz was gonna be the run, due to his sheer power and versatility compared to the previous two, along with Veteran being a tough but hopefully not backbreaking difficulty for this zone. The plan was gonna be to chug the dubious canister below Rising and get busy, but I f**ked up somewhere and mislaid one of the crystal pieces I needed to go deeper into Gazak-Uss, which scuttled those plans good and proper. So now Awa, the damned and damnable, descends, and seals both our fates.

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I enter Outer Gazak-Uss, and the game takes an aside from its narration to warn me that this is where it keeps the real bullsh*t, to which I said, Bet, and walked right into a Mutated Gamma. The battle begins and I start by setting it on fire. Starkers the drakon follows that up by setting it even more on fire. The Gamma retaliates by running away, twice. We tried to follow, but we lose it in the shadows of unfilled map, and it is replaced by a Level 20 rotghroth that also moves twice per turn. Maybe. I think it moved twice, and I got so angry at that I Airshocked it to death before I could verify that actually happened. And then I got more experience from what may have been the Gamma burning to death. Everything begins moving kind of fast after that. Serviles come out of nowhere and jump my drakon, killing it before I could do anything to stop it. I kill them, make a drayk as replacement, and walk into the Eye of Many Beams, an ensorcelling eyebeast that manages to hit Awa with a few turns of Terror. Then, to add to the fun, the Takers, for the first time in months, roll by to drop off some new fish, who link up with Eye to kill me in a pincer movement of stunning blasts. I reload, getting my drakon back for a Round 2 where I get the drop on the serviles, Essence Purging them all before I take on Eye again, who kills my drakon before it goes down, only for two more to emerge from the shadows to Terrify then kill me.

I opt to go south on reload. Killing yet more newly arrived prototypes, I enter the forest of rotghroths that takes up the top third of the map, wiping them and one Ghototh off the face of the Earth.

 

To the southwest is Ossious, a boss I sure thought was stationary until I Guardian Pushed it out of its magic circle, that can move my party members to a room with more drakons in it. It then warped back to starting position-- I didn’t even know that was a thing-- then warped Awa to the drakon den. It likely immediately regretted this decision, since I Purged the whole den, and then Wracked it for 26 turns. It kept fighting, obviously, even pulling out a few tricks like setting itself even more on fire, likely a deterrent from wading in with Essence Eater, and remaking a drakon every time it did the space warp again. Both Awa and Starkers were couched pretty safely in the den when Ossious felt the need to reveal it could ambulate just fine, actually! What was all of this, then? Who built this teleport platform, Shapers a century ago? Barzahl? The Triumvirate? You? I wish this guy had dialogue so I could tell exactly who was taking the piss. Anyway, Ossi died to a combination of Essence Purge and every curse and d.o.t effect I could pile on simultaneously. It dropped the Quicksilver Bulwark, which is so nothing I’m not even going to tell you what it does, and a Rod of Succor.

 

I don’t trust the ornks here. I interact with them, and they give me the same Prey Animal Stare that ornks outside of Gazak-Uss do, but those are outside Gazak-Uss. The ones in here are, what, farmed? You telling me Onion Boy held down a job as a rancher? You think anything in here has the capacity for that level of forward planning? Absurd. Ludicrous. I’m not saying my instincts of these being a trap are correct, but they’re certainly more correct than this place being stable enough to practice animal husbandry.

...Okay, okay, talking to Learned Guas, it seems the creations here are a bit less mindless than I wrote them off as, which, fine, I should’ve guessed the fire pits aren’t lighting themselves… and the gazers to the north enslaved those serviles for a reason… but still, there’s something up with those ornks, and I’m not gonna find out. I place the crystals in the door, and unlock the way deeper.

But before I do that, I need to do a bit more clean up:

 

Back at the Infernal Depot, the imprisoned shades are indeed back, not that they’re really a problem to dispatch. Rotter is also not an issue for a Level 21 Agent, and is tucked away safe and sound. The Bound One is similarly packed up right afterward, and I take my fill of Emissary’s canisters.

 

Now I’m ready. Now it’s time to go deeper.

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I forgor to mention that I got the Slayer’s Breastplate and the Creator’s Belt after getting those Infernal Claws. The Belt is in the Junk Bag with the other half-Morbillion items in there I can’t sell to anyone this late in the game, but I opted to replace the Charmed Plate after putting an extra point in Mental Magic on level up. I figure Starkers’s 65% MER was high enough, and the drayk’s 49% would have to be good enough. I also took care of the Eyes of Many Beams, mostly through hit and run tactics: I could kill the one in the main room just fine, but two more descending on me was just too much to handle. Cutting and running, leaving the drayk to die, I returned after healing at Zhass-Uss, having to pass the as yet uncleared Hermit Crossroad each time, and took out the other two Eyes. My reward was the Purity Belt, which, I’ll be honest, is pretty good. I don’t know if it’ll replace the Girdle of Health, but I guess 12% creation Magic Resist isn’t that drastic a change, since they were rocking single digit resists before, anyway.

 

FINAL ZONE: INNER GAZAK-USS

 

And now, here I am. Even in Geneforge 2, this entrance hall is the furthest I’ve gone, sniping enemies who wandered in, but not daring—well, not feeling bothered—to go further. But now, I’m doing this for internet clout. I step in and have a laugh at the dorbus who thought to brave this place with a reaper baton and chitin armor. What wonderful minds some people have.

I walk east, past an eerie platform; whatever it does, it’s currently turned on. Further east are a gaggle of enslaved battle gammas. Airshocking them all from the safety of behind a wall, their eyebeast master can only create new life from a tangle of essence in the corner. I let my creations handle that as I round the corner to face Dyx Life-Eye, and Essence Purge it for-- nothing, it missed. At a hit chance of 57%.

 

Reloading back at the chamber, I opt to go south instead, clearing out a rotdhizon nest and a few eyebeasts before coming across an absurd spawner, spitting up a variety of high-tier rogues at an increased pace. Essence Purge takes care of the spawn, while Airshocks and reptilian fires take out the spawner. Behind it is a door leading to several more doors. Canisters? I don’t know how to open it, though.

To add to the bullsh*t, the “the Takers” are teleporting more Tier 4 Prototypes into the facility, likely via the platform I mentioned earlier. They’re the 4.5 Tier variants, so more health and damage, but they die as fast as their smaller counterparts. Honestly, I think the implementation is lame, sending in a new trio of the same enemies every few minutes into forever. I don’t care if they still give experience, they’re the same fight every time, only here to either die instantly at the cost of my limited essence or round a corner while I’m dealing with something else to f**k everything up. They’re toll booths putting a throttle on my already tenuously good time. If, I don’t know, they were a selection of different challenges set to spawn when I cross through certain “gates” as I explore the facility, it might work better. Or I’d still be babyraging, I dunno.

 

Moving on, in the center of the map is a possibly natural spring. Drinking their fill there are two oozebeasts, who I Airshock in front of a passing Clockwork Drakon, who ignores this and keeps on going. Starkers gives chase, only to reveal a trio of stronger oozebeasts and a Bloated Ornk, likely the Ornk Boss of this entry. I blam the hell out of it and its cronies, slaughtering them before the could do much more than dent Starkers’s Armor. The Bloated Ornk drops Drayk Gauntlets, which, what? Their nests hold a restoration pod and some spores, which is a lot more exciting. I blast an ur-drakon to the south so hard it turns into a cloak, which might replace the Cloak of Wind? It’s crazy I’m saying that about an equip that shows up within the first ten zones of the game, in the same building I can first access the Fine Cloak, the immediate upgrade to the basic Cloak equip, but there are maybe ten kinds of cloak, and the vast majority of them are basically nothing; it’s not that they do basically nothing, it’s just that what they do I care nothing about. The Guardian Cloak, is fine, The Cloak of Wind is effectively the best given where you find it, and now this thing is here and basically worthless since I have, what, a half-dozen fights left in the game, not counting the repeats?

I recenter myself in the Meat Oasis, then head south, past a field of spinecores, and find the Drakon Master. Pretty grand title for someone the Triumvirate shuttled off into Prison 42 like all the other jobbers here. Still, it does have an order of magnitude of health on the ur-drakons flanking it, to say nothing of the eyebeasts safely huddled against the walls. The circles set near the entrance to its hall promise even worse things. Still, I step forward to put the mindless, Uber-powered, Level 25 abomination down:

I get a bit farther than I thought I would, taking out its initial entourage and burning out a third of its health bar, but between the bursts of shield-devouring fire and the regular intrusion of newly spawned enemies, I just don’t feel like bothering.

And to the west is the Lord of Decay, who’s arena sucks the BIG wang, lemme tell you: the exploding scuttlebugs again, what looks like a corrupted pool in the big guys room, not that I could check, because his foul ass succeeded in blowing me up, killing both my creations, and sprayed Awa to death immediately after.

I give all three of them a few times, seeing Dyx’s gimmick is, predictably, spawning even more sh*t out of its tangle every turn on top of its absurd omni-directional Terror grenade. I can barely get close to Decay without even more sprays filling my screen, however, since his room is at such an awkward angle he can see me before I can see him, leading to three to four sprays coming out of the black, erasing my shields and blowing up the freshly spawned scuttlebugs behind me. The Drakon Master is the Drakon Master. Really, I don’t think I’m the target demographic for this challenge, built more for Geneforge sweats who have the damage calcs and optimal builds imprinted into their gray matter, as opposed to people like me, who have other things on their mind, like narrative fulfillment, and the damage calcs and optimal builds for Wizard101.

 

I think I’m… done here. I felt the call of the void, threw myself down the pit, and saw what I cared to see. If the final mountain to climb is those three guys, I’m content to leave it there.

As for my overall thoughts of Geneforge 2: Infestation, I’ll say more positive than negative. Limp, I know, but playing G2 right after the Mutagen marathon really cemented it as my favorite Geneforge game, even edging out 4, which I’d have said was my fave if you asked me at any point before that. Weighing these two versions in my hands really isn’t fair, since G2 is being buoyed by nostalgia along with its strong narrative, sharp writing, and greatly expanded mechanics from the original Geneforge, while Infestation has to grapple with being G2, but with:

  • slight tweaks that marble the whole experience with small but extremely noticeable additions to familiar text passages, combat encounters, and character interactions, a few being great, several being grating, but most ranging from solid to… off, but all having the feeling of being noticeably, sometimes aggressively, later additions, a continuation of later Geneforge titles being notably more snarky in their humor than the generally dry wit of G’s 1-3,

  • massive alterations in several major mechanics due to building upon the foundation Mutagen laid, natch,

  • Grimwing.

I’ll be real with you, though I stand by everything I’ve said about the knight’s questline’s writing and its preference for references over keeping characters in character, the overwhelming disdain I felt when I went through it in my first run was unkind, and perhaps-- perhaps-- unwarranted. Playing it this final time, I still didn’t care for it, skipping as much of the off dialogue and “silly” narration as I was allowed, but it’s a run of fetch quests, so it was never all that offensive. It’s definitely not the cockatrice mosh pit in Mutagen, a decidedly funnier joke, if only because its crammed inside a five minute seizure procedure, but is also a murder f**k pit that I may have only completed in one of my runs, that managed to actually factually crash my game. It was almost more impressive than frustrating, because I didn’t even think Geneforge was powerful enough to crash; I’m half sure the first two Geneforges were programmed on a few sheets of A4 paper and faxed into Assembly.

 

Any final notes in the FINAL ZONE? Well, no, if only because I left, and am now kicking back in Learned Thani’s crib, but I will say that I had to do a rebind back in my first run: when I was in the Use menu and pressed ‘a’ for Firebolt, or later the W, S, or D, I was unpleasantly surprised to find that the game view still shifted slightly the corresponding direction, more often than not lousing something up. I can’t imagine this is anything other than an unfortunate design flaw. At first, I was content to ignore it, but as my use of shortcuts increased since moving the mouse around the screen became more of a time waste, I eventually I had to unbind WASD. It’s for the best, really; I’ve no idea why they were bound in the first place. I was gonna make a note of it in the first run, but due to the cataloging of the, uh, everything else, I forgot.

I have yet more ire for the fact that right-clicking a space also moves you, which is baffling; I just can’t stan, as a fidgety little weirdo who often clicks and taps things, and also tries to right-click enemies but either misses or is made to miss when I suddenly enter combat and enemies are shifted from an off center position into their grid space, so I click the space next to them their model was practically on before combat started. That happened more than a few times, and each time I became a bit more nonlinear.

 

As for the future, I’m real interested in seeing how Spiderweb will implement the companions in the Geneforge 3-master: here in Infestation, companions are like your creations in that they don’t level up, but differ in that you can’t improve them at all. In Geneforge 3, your companions were basically creations you didn’t need essence to recruit or improve, leveled up like any other creation, and whose attacks could be improved by certain NPCs. It’d be interesting to see them act more like more traditional party members in other RPGs, leveling up, being able to equip arms and armor, and having points to allocate in either a stat screen or skill tree (perhaps all of this would be simplified to avoid players stressing out over complicated build decisions, or else breaking the game).

I’d also like to see the shops reworked: it was “fun” to see the exact same issue the shops had in the first two Geneforges rear its ugly head again, but having every available merchant run out of money so I could no longer sell things frankly sucks, and doesn’t even have the benefit of being realistic or play-acting an immersive simulation (you’re telling me you get no other business, one of three stores in town?). From G3, paired with a pretty major visual overhaul, we got shops that didn’t keep track of their own cash on hand, allowing us to sell vendor trash with impunity, which was a system I didn’t see a need to change. I really hope the return of limited selling was a 1 and 2 remaster-exclusive callback, because I really don’t need this again.

 

After the Mutagen runs, I played through G2 both to refresh it in my mind, and also to compare its inventory system to Mutagen’s. At the beginning of this four-ring circus, I really thought I was going to boot up G3 for basically the same purpose, but now, with how long this took, all I want is a long, long break.

 

This is Stranger signing off. By all means, if you have any additional questions, feel free to ask. Other wise, see you in three years, tops.

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