When last we'd left our brave hero, Oreon, he'd managed to win the grudging trust of the centaurs and one surly centaur Hero, in particular. Once again I found myself back in the Sunspear Sanctuary and looking for the next string of quests to move the storyline along. Just as before with Istan, I was beginning to get a bit sick of the whole Kournan area. Nice and all but I'd combed through it pretty thoroughly over the elite hunting weekend and I was hoping to move on. First, though, I hit the first branch in the game's storyline.
This is something I heard about before starting Nightfall – there were some points where you'd have to choose one path or another. And, you know, I love it and I hate it at the same time. I hate it because I'm the kind of person who likes to explore every last nook and cranny, experience every last bit of the game, and try every option I can. Having to forgo parts of the storyline and decide which part of the game to not see makes me a little uneasy. On the other hand, I really enjoy this kind of storytelling because it makes me feel like I'm involved and making a difference. If anything, I'd want more points in the game where I have to take a leap of faith and decide which path to follow. That's real choice and real consequences without which it's hard to create any kind of tension or sense of influence events. Fortunately for me but perhaps unfortunately for the game, it seems like I'll be able to go back and follow the other path at some point down the line. I can understand why that's done – after all, I don't like missing out on content. But I'm sure my suspension of disbelief is going to be tested when I essentially warp back to the point before I make this choice where things will be as if I never made it at all – it's a failing of the game's, I think, that they don't make more use of instancing to create permanent consequences for these kinds of things. I'd like it so that if I go on to beat the game the missions and, you know, dialog from NPCs would reflect that when I go to run these missions and quests that I'm not doing at the moment.
Anyhow, the choice before me at the moment was between following the Master of Whispers and taking on the ominously named Drought or trusting Margrid the Sly and embarking on a rescue mission for the captured Sunspear leader, Kormir (Who was lost, apparently, at the end of the Consulate Docks mission). This wasn't much of a dilemma for me, though. First, whichever one I picked would become a new Hero for me to use. As I mentioned when I talked about getting involved in the Hero Battles, I value adding the Necromancer Master of Whispers to my team much more than the Ranger Margrid. With Olly and Juice, I already have each profession but I think two Necros gives me a lot more flexibility than two Rangers does. Second, siding with the mysterious Master of Whispers meant I'd be running the mission that would let me fight the Drought. Ever since I encountered the Apocrypha, the bosses in Nightfall have been pretty well done. And I figured that the Drought would be another epic battle against a tough demonic boss. So despite the urgings of my party members, I sided with the cryptic Whisperer (I think I'll call him Evans, after the novelist.) and pointed the plot in the direction of Rilohn Refuge.
First, though, I had to complete a few quests to get there. From running around and getting map points unlocked while skill hunting, I had an easy time of it because I could take a few shortcuts. The quests themselves were nice as they involved Droughtlings, servants of the Drought who helped to set the stage for the next mission. Along the way I also finally had enough of the right collector's item (I've got dozens of the things clogging up my inventory. Collectors and the items they offer are a nice idea in theory but not knowing which of the various things critters drop is actually important to me is annoying. And the fact that there's no separate storage for either those or, you know, my equipment is really frustrating. I'm going to end up just selling them off to some merchant once I get too frustrated at only having a handfull of slots to juggle drops with and missing out on some real profit, I just know it.) and was in the right zone to pick up a perfect damage scythe. I've already got one for Melly Mel, because she seems to do more damage than I do with it for some odd reason (Looking those some resources, this seems like a bug. Heroes do roughly 50% more damage than a player character with the same attributes. Why? I have no idea. Why hasn't it been fixed? Again, no clue.) and I was using a scythe that dealt 9~37 damage, just four points off the max range. But having a max damage weapon in my hands always makes me feel better. No magic mods on it, it's just a perfectly plain scythe. But that's just the way I like them – now I can customize it to my preferences. You know, if I can find or afford the upgrade items (Or stand having to park myself in town and find someone selling them, too.). Of course, I still have to find good gear for my growing collection of Heroes, too. Not to mention all the Heroes my other characters have but, hey, it's a start.
I also happened to be wandering around the Explorable Areas doing the quests at a time when my region had the favor of the gods. For whatever reason, we usually don't when I'm PvEing. But that meant the god's altars came alive and I could scope out the blessings. I hadn't paid much attention to them because, really, in Prophesies and Factions they were a tad underwhelming. They'd give you a slight boost to your health (+25 hp, I think) and 3 pips of regeneration (the equivalent of everyone's favorite, Mending. Totally imba btw imho. I still say it needs a nerf.) for a moderate amount of gold. Which, you know, isn't bad and could help out a lot but it didn't feel like it was important enough to spend the money on. However, the other day I overheard some people talking about the various blessings available in town (I love listening to the local chat, you can hear some interesting conversations. The best part is that maybe a third of them are actually about the game.) so I made a point of checking them out. And, well, I dropped a fat stack of gold testing them out. Because there's a lot of them these days. Each god has their own set of blessings to grab. The most common ones are the stat boosting ones – find the right altar and you can boost your attributes by one for 20 minutes. But my favorites were the other ones. Nothing amazingly powerful in and of itself but things like attacking 10% faster or gaining 3 lifestealing add up quickly. If anything they've been toned down because you used to be able to buy +hp and 3 regen for 50g and now that will only get you 1 regen but the wealth of options makes it feel like there's something to gain. It's a pretty effective gold sink, then, and one I'm going to try and make use of if I think I'll be tooling around an area for a while.
What I don't like about it, though, is the fact that it's tied to each region having favor. I have this problem with getting to the Underworld and Fissure of Woe, too – it's restricting content based on factors that are out of my hands. The only way to get the favor is to go and win in the Halls five times in a row. Not something I'm opposed to doing, mind, but while doing that I have absolutely no interest in and, more importantly, no chance of taking advantage of it. There's no incentive for a team to earn favor for its region (There's incentive to win in the Hall, sure, but getting favor doesn't earn you anything beyond a global broadcast. In game, anyways.) and there's no way for someone who wants/needs the favor to gain it. I know it's done to try and tie the PvE and PvP sides of the game together but, I feel, it goes about it in the absolutely worst way possible. Rather than restricting or eliminating content the combination of the two parts should be about creating opportunities and informing, enriching the other style of play. Unlocking skills through PvE play is a god way of doing it (Especially since faction rewards went in and people aren't forced to PvE to get their stuff.) and effective PvE rewards for participating in PvP (Like, oh I don't know, candy cane shards?) that provide not bonuses but some individuality would be the way I'd try and turn that around. There's not as much of it in game as I'd like, obviously, and I think what lies at the root of it is the insistence on things like the favor system. It's hammering the way to play the game down people's throats and it's far too restrictive when it could be made much more inclusive. Like I said, this is the first time I've had a chance to be PvEing while my region had the god's favor. It was pure blind luck and that's not exactly the kind of thing I like to rely on.
Anyhow, once I'd finished questing it was time to take on the next mission, Rilohn Refuge. I'd gotten a bit of advance warning about this one and I'd been looking forward to it. I've been gunning for a chance to avenge my early failures at the hands of Apocrypha and I felt that the Drought would give me a good chance. See, he's a big tough demon boss with his own little wrinkle just like Apocrypha's shapeshifting “broke” the game's rules. And that wrinkle is a global enchantment that increases the amount of damage everything in the mission takes when they suffer earth elemental typed damage. What type of damage does the Drought do? Earth, of course. Meaning with his boss enchanced stats he's a real heavy hitter. That enchantment can be done away with but at the cost of the mission's bonus objective. Namely, to defeat the Drought without removing that enchantment.
Some might be daunted by this prospect but, me, I love it. This is the kind of choice I like to be confronted with in a game – how to get everything I want without giving anything away. I was of two minds. The easy thing to do would be to prevent earth damage entirely. There's the Ranger spirit Winter (which converts all elemental damage to cold typed, of course.) and although picking the Master of Whispers meant I didn't have a primary Ranger (I'd gone with Uzimaki instead of Juice although I'd unlocked her through a PvP quest...somehow. I'm not entirely clear on the details but she's definitely available for me to use.) that's what secondaries are for. Mostly I use Monk as the secondary for my Heroes because I like having hardrezes available and, for the most part, they run with skills from their primary profession. But I don't have to. Since I was trying to level up the Whisperer and I'd been having him use minions as a quick energy batteries, I figured giving him a spirit would be a good fit.
He was pretty much my only choice, though, because my other Heroes were Dunk who needed his Mesmer secondary for e-management. And Godiva who'd I set up as a warder with water hexes and a smattering of high energy Monk spells (Like Aegis because it not only helps but it also fuels my Mysticism bonus with my Dervish.) so he couldn't switch his secondary without redoing things either. The Master of Whispers, though, was only using a rez spell from Monk so I switch him to Ranger, swapped that for a rezsig, and found a way to crowd Winter onto his bar, and gave him just enough points in Wilderness Survival for it to last past its recharge so it could be kept up constantly before heading into the mission. Otherwise, I went with the same team as I'd been using lately. Namely:
- Oreon (me – D/P)
- Dunkoro (Mo/Mo)
- Zhed (E/Mo)
- Master of Whispers (lv19 N/R)
- Mhenlo (Mo, Healer Henchman)
- Odurra (Me, Illusion Henchman)
- Devona (W, Fighter Henchman)
- Gehraz (D, Holy Henchman)
Since I was going for the bonus I could avoid a lot of the mobs and head straight for the boss fight. It didn't disappoint. I cleared out the monsters roaming through the area first so if I needed to I could kite around the area and hopefully lose the aggro if things turned sour. I carefully positioned my team and laid down the latest Winter spirit (Whisperer'd been pretty good about keeping it up himself but I didn't want it to run out in the middle of the battle where Whisperer might not be able to put a new one down and run the risk of the Drought's massive earth damage wiping my party. The Drought was flanked by two Droughtlings (also dirt slingers) and I targeted one of them first. They started casting, though, and even thought Winter was up they still dealt a considerable amount of damage. Especially the Sandstorm it laid down. Just decimated my melee attackers. Killed me, anyway. Once I went down, I immediately ordered my henchies to back off and flagged them far enough away that the monsters lost interest. Then I had Godiva (Who was mainly set up to handle melee and wasn't doing much during the fight, really. I'd have been better off with something else, I think but live and learn.) flag creep in close enough to get a Rebirth off – I, of course, died right where the boss and his party decided to linger. Regrouping I made sure the Monks and myself were pre-protted and we tried again to the same results with several henchies joining me on the ground (Well, the shallow water.). It was looking like I was going to crash and burn because it wasn't going to get any easier as my DP mounted.
But I was determined not to lose this one and tried again. Just threw everything we had at the nearest Droughtling and killed it off. Order the henchies to back off once again and rezzed up while the Monks regained their energy. Went gunning for the second Droughtling and got it before bakcing off again. That left the big, bad Drought. Who was the one who was the real problem, after all. He hit me for a good 200 damage with his Stoning alone and his Sandstorm was murder with a short cooldown. With a deep breath, I ordered my squad to move in and we began to pound on the demon. Gerhaz, my fellow Dervish went down. Then Devona. Then, finally, I misclicked on a Dwayna's Touch and fell myself. That left my party without its main damage dealers but the Drought was hurting. He was down to about 1/3rd health and heavily hexed by the Whisperer and Odurra. I could see his health being consistently drained and whittled down and my fingering lingered over the flag button. Came very close to ordering the henchies to pull back and rez up for another try but, instead, I let things play out. Godiva would pull off the combat rez and the revived character would immediately be spiked down. But the Drought's health was ebbing away. Closer and closer to death. At the last moment, he turned his attentions to the Whisperer as the Winter icon started to flicker. He came close to finishing off the only thing between my party and 150% damage from the beast but at the last moment, he finally went down.
I was face down in the water the whole time but the master's bonus made up for it. That's seven for seven, by the way. Not that I'm counting or anything. After that mission was over there was a cutscene featuring my real prey – the Hunger. He'd been mentioned by my enemies before and if I was eager to take down the Drought I'd been practically itching for a chance to take down the Hunger. And afterwards, I rezzed into the next mission's lobby. I hadn't planned on it because I'd been expecting another series of quests to get there but since I was there and feeling pretty good about myself, I headed in. We'll talk about that next installment, though.