Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Curse of the Azure Bonds - PC (MS-DOS) (1989) & Commodore Amiga (1990)

Bollocks.  I had to play Pool of Radiance on an older PC while my newer one had the motherboard replaced.  I thought I had moved all the files into a single folder and safely backed it up.  Now I can’t find it anywhere – my maps, saved game, manuals and game disks have all gone.  In fact the only proof I have of ever playing Pool of Radiance is this blog.

I now have to recreate my party from scratch and they will start at a lower level than they had previously reached.  I didn't even get to utilise one of the two new character classes added to Curse of the Azure Bonds – Paladin and Ranger.  For some unknown reason, I have always held a deep seated loathing of role-playing lawful good characters – goodbye Paladin.  I had intended to make Skimbleshanks a Ranger/Thief instead of Fighter/Thief but that option wasn't available so, for the sake of continuity, the whole party will remain the same.  They will start at level 5 – my PoR party would have been at least level 7.

I will be playing the Amiga version again because of the improved graphics and sound.  It was released in 1990, a year after the DOS version which was the pick of the initial releases.  The game uses the same gold box engine as Pool of Radiance so I won't describe it's workings again in this post.

The Adventurers Journal says our party were on their way to Tilverton to find a runaway princess.  Princess Nacacia of Cormyr was recently spotted in the vicinity and there is a large reward for her return.  On the road to Tilverton our intrepid band - heroes of Phlan, slayers of Tyranthraxus, liberators of Valhingen Graveyard – were mugged.  Curse of the Azure Bonds begins with our party waking up in Windlord's Inn in Tilverton with all their magic items gone and some symbols imprinted on their sword arms.  They do, however, have 300 platinum pieces each.

Convenient that.

Speaking to the innkeeper reveals our party were brought in a month ago by a group wearing red robes.  She said we had the markings when we arrived and suggested we speak to Filani the sage about them.  She also mentioned an armoury across the road which would be our first port of call.   The armoury only sold non-magical weapons so with our 1800 platinum coins we could afford the best weapons and armour it had to offer.  Although Tilverton itself is quite small it contains the inn, the armoury, a pub, a general store, a training hall, a temple and the sage.  The town gates are blocked by guards telling us to move on as the Royal Carriage is expected.

We went to speak with Filani who was able to tell us a bit about the bonds by way of an entry in the  Adventurers Journal.....

After wandering around some more and overhearing snippets of conversations from the invisible townsfolk, the Royal Carriage arrived.  The bonds on the party’s arms began to glow and they were compelled to attack the carriage.  The occupant shouted he was not the king and the glow faded, but the Royal Guard charged us.  After one fight we surrendered and were thrown in jail.  A short while later we were rescued by the thieves guild who returned our weapons and took us to their base.  

The guildmaster informed us the Fire Knives had kidnapped the princess and taken her to their hideout in the sewers.  During the meeting the Fire Knives infiltrated the guild and killed the leader.  While mapping the hideout there were quite few combats with Fire Knives, attack dogs and monkeys armed with slings.  We enter the sewers leaving one room unopened as the door couldn't be 'bashed' or 'picked'.  After another combat I replaced a stinking cloud with a knock spell and returned to the door.  It turned out to be a treasure room that held a good stash of money and magic items that will have to be identified later.

We headed back into the sewers which contained some otyughs and a secret thieves guild training hall where I could level up my characters.

We then battled our way through the Fire Knives hideout to the leader who was holding the Princess Nacacia and the kings impersonator captive.  Before the leader could invoke our bonds the Princess managed to free herself and hit him over the head. Just as we won the ensuing battle, the bonds disappeared, and the King and his guards burst in.  Nacacia persuaded him not to kill us, but we were banished from the lands of Cormyr.  We now find ourselves viewing the world map just outside Tilverton.  The guards won't allow us to enter so my next plan of action is to head to Shadowdale to get all my loot identified, to sell what I don't need and to train up any characters that need it.

Sounds like my kind of town.

After that I am not sure where to go.  I will summarise my thoughts and experiences below.  Although I won't need them again, here are my maps of Tilverton....

  • Some of my concerns from PoR regarding the interface have been addressed in Curse of the Azure Bonds.  It is now possible to make more use of the mouse, including selecting a target for spells and missile weapons.  The commands are on buttons so you can either click on them or use the keyboard as before.  It's still a pain in the arse to use though.
  • One aspect of combat has been made worse – you can no longer see an enemy move when they are off screen.  This makes hunting for fleeing enemies unnecessarily long-winded. Additionally, during the first fight in the thieves guild, it was impossible to differentiate between friend or foe as the icons for all the thieves were the same.
  • What has happened to the sound?!  There is now only one short tune played at the start and end of combat which is noticeably worse than the one in PoR. The scream I praised in the first game when someone dies now sounds like a klaxon.  Casting some spells produces a weird warbling noise.  There is also an annoying sound every time you take a step.  In fact, the only decent sound effect is a satisfying 'thwack' when an attack connects.
  • For the few times I could be bothered picking up treasure after random battles I only took gems and jewellery   I had been picking up platinum coins but they encumbered my characters so much it wasn't worth it. The best items are dropped in fixed encounters anyway.

Nah, give it to your favourite charity.

  • The over world map can no longer be explored as in Pool of Radiance.  There are several towns and cities and you travel directly to them.  You have choice of travelling by boat, trail or wilderness depending on the terrain.  There is always a chance of a random encounter en route.

  • During my wanderings I met a grey cloaked character at some standing stones. He hinted that I should firstly head south to a Wizards Tower.  I couldn't see the tower on the map so headed to Hap which was on the southern border. The town was overrun with Drow.  Defeating these opened up some caves which ultimately lead to the tower.  When fighting a Draco Lich at the end of the caves I found combat is not as random as it seems.  If you are defeated in combat and try again making exactly the same moves hoping for better dice rolls you'll be disappointed - I found the combat was scripted so it is exactly the same each time the combat was played right down to who hits/misses and the amount of damage inflicted.  This was confirmed with a -7 AC Drow Lord at the top of the tower which I couldn't get past.
This was the first time I noticed something wasn't quite right with combat.

  • Reloading, I decided to revisit Phlan which turned out to be just a menu town, then onto Zhentil Keep which was an ideal place to grind a couple of levels.  After that the tower was quite easy and my second bond was removed.  A tavern tale in Phlan gave a nod to Pool of Radiance.

  • I am enjoying combat more than Pool of RadianceIt's mainly due to the wider variety of opponents, some of which are immune to magic, making battles a lot more tactical than just walloping the nearest enemy.
  • It was indicated my next stop should be the green clerics to the northwest.  Before hunting them down I stopped off at training hall as Skimbleshanks was ready to go up a fighter level.  I had forgotten about racial limits and found she had already peaked at level 9.  I then headed onto Yulash and the Pit of Moander.
  • It was tough going through Yulash just to get to the Pit of Moander.  Once there I was joined by Alias and Dragonbait (who are pictured in the cover art).  We stumbled upon a ceremony attempting to summon Moander, the god of rot and corruption, into the physical realm using the power of my bonds.  When the power was used, the bonds dissipated allowing us to disrupt the service.  We had to fight a group of cultists then three 'Bits o' Moander' which had managed to come through the portal before it closed.  Behind the altar was a nice cache of treasure.

I soon put a stop to the summoning of Moander.

  • With only two bonds left my next destination was nearby Zhentil Keep.  Due to rumours being spread about my party by a halfling, all the inhabitants gave me wide berth.

Well, nearly all the inhabitants.

  • The halfling was a bard called Olive Ruskettle and she helped me enter the Temple of Bane.  She led me to Dimswart, a sage who was able to tell me more about my bonds and said I needed three artifacts to defeat Tyranthraxus (I already had two of these).  Working my way through the temple there were a few tough fights and, like Moander, there was some treasure behind the altar.  A mysterious robed woman said I was trapped and she could show me the way out. Instead she led us to the lair of a beholder called Dexam who wanted to study my bonds (how he planned to do this with no hands I don't know).  We were interrupted by Fzoul Chembryl who was the person that bonded me and demanded we be released.  Dexam disintegrated him which in turn removed the bonds.  Having no more use for me, Dexam left us to his guards.  Battling my way through the lair I eventually caught up with Dexam again along with the robed woman who turned out to be a medusa.  The ensuing fight was very difficult and left two of my characters dead.  Most of the enemy could be taken down with fireballs, but the beholder was immune and it took two rounds (and a couple of reloads) to take him out even using haste and buffing spells on my fighters.

  • Searching outside some of the menu towns reveals extra areas for optional side quests.  One of these is a quest to destroy the infamous Beholder Corps.  It's seemingly impossible to complete without the dust of disappearance and very easy with it.  Either way it gives out a lot of experience.  

  • Heading back to the standing stone, the grey robed figure reveals himself as Tyranthraxus and heads off to Myth Drannor.  

  • To reach the final showdown there are three 16 x 16 areas to get through.  Your bonds have been weakened when the 'Nameless One' reads out the scroll to dispell them so you are no longer under control.  Tyranthraxus appears in the form of a storm giant behind several dozen margoyles and flanked by eight high priests.  Tyranthraxus can cast devastatingly powerful lightning bolts, even targeting invisible characters.  The priests can cast 'hold person' and 'slay living' spells.  It took several attempts but I managed to defeat him in the end.  My tactic was to have my spell casters use area affect spells on the margoyles and priests before they themselves were taken down.  My melee characters would take on Tyranthaxus and mop up any monsters left.

Like Pool of Radiance, Curse of the Azure Bonds has an awful interface, awful graphics, awful sound and is a cracking game.  This time I'll make sure I keep my characters safe for Secret of the Silver Blades.

The end (spoilers)