My apprehension at keeping all of my blog posts in a single file was justified. One surprise error while saving caused the loss of a month's worth of blog writing, about half of which had not yet been posted. I'll need to find a more stable solution, but in the meantime I'm making more frequent backup saves. This is what I've reconstructed of the second-to-last post about the NWN2 original campaign.
The game is much longer than I was expecting. After battling what seemed to be a major enemy at the ruins of Crossroad Keep, I found that as a reward for my service I had been given the keep and its lands as a fixer-upper project. So now, apparently, I'm a landed noble, with a personal army, administrators, and my own peasant farmers to work the land, if I understand correctly. It'll be a giant gold sink, considering all the repair work that needs to be done, so it's a good thing I haven't spent much on the higher-level gear I've been seeing at some merchants.
This keep is much better laid out than the stronghold I was given in Baldur's Gate 2. Even though it's very large, there are characters stationed at all the important spots who I can talk to and be teleported to any other area. Additionally, there's a lot more to do there, such as making decisions on local policy, forging alliances, and sending other characters out on quests instead of doing quests for other characters.
The basement has a storage shelf and all three crafting stations, so perhaps this is what I should use as storage, instead of keeping it all on Casavir.
The improvements to be made at the keep are split into two areas -- manpower and repair/expansion. After talking to each of the heads of those departments, I decided to start by expanding and fixing up the roads that pass by the keep, to attract more merchant caravans, and I also told the chief of staff to recruit more soldiers, so I can later train them and set them out to patrol those roads, which is another necessary step to attract more merchants.
Guyven of the Road was there, too, and he talked about maps and finding nooks and crannies, but he didn't have any details, so I assume that's for later development.
While I was in the area, I went back to West Harbour to drop off a tithe box I'd been asked to deliver there, and see what may have developed on the homefront in the meantime. Nothing had, apparently. People were still walking around injured, houses were still wrecked from when I left, and I could still hear sound effects of fighting and screaming, and house fires in some spots. I did manage to finally get this "Wizard's Arsenal" quest out of my log book, though. It was a quest from the beginning of the game, which I had successfully completed at the time, but which was inexplicably re-added to my quest journal shortly thereafter. It had been stuck in my journal ever since then, even though I had entered that house several times trying to trigger something to get rid of it. Entering the house again at this later time made it disappear again.
Also in West Harbour, I found that I could bring one of the local farmers to Crossroad Keep to get the farms productive again. I think this keep might be an opportunity to help out that miner I met back in Port Llast, as well, who was looking for work. In any case, it seems that the keep adds a significant management minigame to the overall game, and it's a welcome improvement over other games' strongholds.
Incidentally, Crossroad Keep uses one of the tilesets with the worst kind of overdone normal maps (see picture). The stonework in the interiors looks like it's been exposed to about 2000 years of harsh weather, or else the stonecutter's guild was working with extremely crude chisels. Seriously, some of the normal maps in this game look like they were trying way too hard to point out the realtime shadows of the engine by making everything rough and pitted to absurd extremes.
Ruins of Arvahn
We were directed toward these ruins as part of the main quest. Approaching them caused that "Wizard's Arsenal" quest to pop up in my log book again! I was just walking along, and suddenly "Ding! *scribble*" my journal was stuck again with the quest from the beginning of the game to scrounge for starter weapons back in my hometown.
This was a pretty lengthy area, where I had to find and activate 5 statues, though the design of the place was rather uninspired. The first statue was right in front of the first fork in the road, three more were in dungeons in this zone, and the last one had to be reached through a portal that only opened once the first four were activated.
This area contained several tribes or factions that could be befriended or eliminated. I chose to befriend the first tribe of orcs, who seemed reasonable enough, refused an offer of alliance with a small band of infiltrators inside a dungeon because they were arrogant and threatening, and fought the ogre mage inside, because he was also rather arrogant and attacked me even when I merely declined to kill the orc leader for him.
The dungeons were pretty fun, with their own themes and objectives, and story exposition. One of them, Riverguard Keep, involved a kind of collection quest to gather items to open a door that led to one of the statues.
The gem mines involved a little puzzle in herding certain ghosts past obstacles into a central room, where they could perform a ceremony that would summon another one of the statues. This was also the site of a pretty funny bug, in which I was in conversation with one of the ghosts, and during the conversation, someone detected a nearby trap. I was surprised to see Neeshka automatically walk over to it and disarm it while we were still talking, and in the process, she apparently caught the attention of some enemies. So while my character was still stuck talking to this ghost, I was hearing the sounds of battle from offscreen, and seeing what little glimpses I could see of it when the fighting overlapped the cutscene camera angle.
The Temple of Seasons presented a series of season-themed challenges, each in an appropriately decorated room, and once all of the challenges were beaten, the door to one of the statues was opened. That one was the quickest run of the lot.
After passing through the final portal, I was redirected to (and I'll hide this in a spoiler tag) West Harbour, my hometown.
Here I found the smoking ruins of West Harbour, which had been attacked again in my absence. A cutscene showed who did it, though, so it was no mystery. It was the warlock that had also attacked the Moonstone Mask -- that time as well as this time, he was going after silver shards. There's a strange disconnect here, because this warlock is the same man -- Ammon Jerro -- shown on the cover of the game and in the intro cinematic, fighting the King of Shadows. He was wielding a sword in that cinematic, as well, which was shattered, so could that be the silver sword whose shards we're both trying to gather?
My only problem with this return home is that there is no reaction whatsoever to the fact that my character's hometown has been destroyed, along with all of its inhabitants. Even the descriptions of the dead bodies of my former friends and acquaintances are written in a more-or-less emotionless style. There's no music, no acknowledgement from my companions, and not even any opportunity (as far as I can recall) for me to state how my character might feel about it, whether I, as a good character, am devastated by the loss, or as an evil character I might be glad that they're all dead. Look at those dialogue options, for my very first look at the destruction! I suppose I can at least pretend that the first option is delivered in a devastated, breathless tone.
This hidden spoiler block contains an event spoiler
In regard to that, surely the designers must have had some kind of plans for an emotional connection for this scene. Why else would they have sent me here? There's nothing for me to do here. The portal was supposed to send me to the nearby Merdelain, to that one building that couldn't be unlocked when I passed through that location earlier in the game.
Anyway, I passed through that place and came to the last of the statues, in that building. Alas (or happily, considering it means more gameplay), there is another complication, and the statue is destroyed. But the foe within tells me that someone else had just been here and had received the statue's blessing, so now I just have to find that person. I figured it would be Bevil, my childhood friend, who was mentioned as having been heading into Merdelain when I had previously been in West Harbour.
Next stop was Ammon Jerro's Haven. Ammon Jerro was Shandra's grandfather, who she remembers as a kindly wizard. This was confusing to me, since I already knew that the mystery warlock is in fact Ammon Jerro, though it might not have been mentioned in the game yet. Anyway, the door to the Haven was magically barred against everyone except relatives of Ammon Jerro, so of course Shandra was there to open the door for us.
But Shandra's ancestry wasn't everything we needed. We also had to pass a few trials before we could get in, and that involved going around the area outside the Haven to gather items and kill mobs. The area's design showed some notable improvements over many of the previous areas. There were points of interest at different levels of elevation, a refreshing change of texturing that made even this dry desert area look good, and the mob placement was nicely distributed as well. The encounters were rather simple, though, and it left me wishing there had been a little more to do in this area.
Once we got inside, we were treated to a series of encounters with some bound demons who were willing to negotiate with us if we'd agree to help them out with their workplace bickering, getting their petty revenges and such. Shandra had been separated from us, and it seemed fairly comical at the time that she kept teleporting around trying to find us, always leaving a place just before we got there.
It was pretty straightforward getting through this place, though I had to watch helplessly as Shandra did some unnecessary things with no way to intervene, and it all culminated in a boss fight with Ammon Jerro himself, and ultimately the worst, least-engaging death scene yet.
Afterward, I was given an opportunity to rest and swap any party members if needed at the tavern on the property of Crossroad Keep, before a suddenly rude Sir Nevalle showed up to insist I go to Castle Never right then, with a little threat that I shouldn't get too comfortable here at Crossroad Keep, because it could be taken away from me at any time. Bizarre behaviour, considering the reason for summoning me turned out to be that Lord Nasher wanted to grant me full knighthood. This marked the end of Act 2.
Act 3 interlude
Act 3 started with the most frustrating and irritating thing I can imagine. Yet again, a developer gets the asinine idea that it would be a wonderful gameplay mechanic to suddenly strip away all my companions and drop me into a horde of elite vampires and wraiths after a bloody long cutscene with many unskippable parts! Arrrrghhh! I'm a squishy caster, not a tank! Why do so many bloody games do this? Developers: I hate this, and I don't respect this kind of design decision! I'm playing NWN2 for its party-based gameplay. If I wanted to be playing a solo hack & slash, I'd be playing an Elder Scrolls game.
After numerous reloads, even after setting the difficulty to the easiest level just to get through this moronic meatgrinder section (which I've never had to do in this game yet), only to find more shadow priests, shadows, and elite vampires waiting for me when I went "down the hall" to look for a secret door Sir Nevalle told me to find. That's when I resolved to get through it by any means necessary, so I could get back to an enjoyable part of the game.
I have to guess that the "party roster" option from the player menu at the bottom left of the screen must have been added by one of the expansions, because I was able to use it here to re-add my companions to my party, even though the setup here expects me to be playing it solo. I used that to get past the monsters, and then stuck through the rest of it solo (just in case it might have interfered with game scripts if I had a party), and eventually I was returned to Crossroad Keep with a new set of quests ahead of me, and all my companions gathered around to greet me. What a relief!
I think one more post should finish the OC, but like I said, this game is really long. I've skipped over a lot of things, and barely touched on others. I'm impressed.