Monday, June 17, 2013

Module comments: Misery Stone by BouncyRock Entertainment

Not that I really do formal reviews anymore, but I did not finish this module so this will be even less formal (and I am not going to vote having probably seen less than half of the mod).  Still, it's interesting enough to talk about...

The mists of Ravenloft roll in!
I downloaded Misery Stone in hopes of continuing the journey of a level 10 warlock that I had, but at the recommendation of the readme I ended up taking along a melee character.  I originally created him for Avendale: a ranger that I geared toward combating undead as I leveled him up to 9 for this module.  I wanted to be prepared!

I ended up not finishing it.  It's not that it's a bad module.  In a lot of ways, it's really exceptional.  But I also found it both frustrating and arduous to play through, and ended up throwing up my hands and archiving the saved game.  

First, the good.  This is one of the two most cinematic modules I've seen (the other being Harp and Chrysanthemum, which was built by Misery Stone contributor Maerduin).  I have passing familiarity with Ravenloft, and the module's depiction of how your character comes to enter the mists in this module is nothing short of brilliant.  The module is very well written, with a trio of wonderful NPC's that accompany you on your journey through the land of hopelessness and darkness.  It is also scary as hell; the pacing, especially early on, is extremely well done.  The tension of exploring dark places where terrible horrors had been committed is allowed to build until it is finally punctuated by a dramatic fight with monsters.  Horror elements are also deftly employed.  A personal favorite was a village of the mostly dead, where people had been turned into doomed, semi-mechanical beings designed to perish as they delivered verbal messages.  There's also just oddness, like the strange gnome merchant who will give you magical items in exchange for random, but sentimental artifacts that you find as you explore.  It was great stuff!

A quiet town...except for the man in the street who
is still twitching from the pitchfork he took to the chest.
So what went wrong?  Well, part of it is just my sensibilities: I'm not a fan of horror, mostly, and I'm not really a fan of Ravenloft for those reasons.  But it's also the case that as the module progressed, it became far more of a hack 'n slashy series of dungeon crawls.  You essentially travel the map, carving up dungeons as you go, fighting off all manner of undead, goblinkin, and other nasties that will invariably ambush you repeatedly both indoors and outdoors.  There were a lot of ambushes: the kind of "Chewie they're behind you!" things where you walk over a floor trigger and a group of monsters spawns right next to the most vulnerable member of your party.  I can deal with this happening occasionally--say once or twice per module.  But it seemed to happen a LOT in this module, and it got old.  Maybe it's because I was playing a ranger (NWN2's "tracking" feature can have some nasty unintended consequences), but I was extremely aware of the monster spawn triggers as I moved through these dungeons, and it really hurt my sense of immersion.  The dungeons could have been a lot better if a bit more history was injected into them, but many of them (as the game went on) were nothing but a place full of monsters and a magic item or two.

Yep...that's a dead woman taking a bath in blood.
On top of that, the combat seemed inconsistent in difficulty.  Some fights were pretty easy.  But others, despite being a fairly minor skirmish, were very difficult.  The final straw, for me, was facing down an undead caster who summoned an elder water elemental as his first action.  The thing carved up my party (my ranger was a decent tank--I pumped his AC as high as I could, and added all kinds of buffing spells to boost it further), and I couldn't figure out a good counter for it.  It was far too high of a level to be susceptible to hold monster, it had no unsummoning spells.  I probably could have come up with something if I kept at it, but I was already pretty frustrated with the module.

Area design is really beautiful.  But with that beauty came a cost: the camera was annoying and very frustratingly obstructed as I worked through the module.  The forest, in particular, was full of these amazing trees...but as a result, I often couldn't see anything on my screen!  It was maddening.  Even some of the dungeons, which are typically cleaner in NWN2, were sometimes full of pillars and such that made it hard to keep an eye on my characters.  

The opening is incredibly cinematic.
So, for now at least, I'm moving on to something else.  I'm glad that I played it and experienced its beginning.  Reading the comments page, it does sound as though the end of the module was a bit rushed anyway, and so I might well have seen the best parts of it.  It's an extremely impressive module...but in the end, it probably was just not for me.

More screenshots below the jump.

Wonderful way to start the module--you're playing D&D with the designers!


You emerge from the mists...

They have a fell troll (or something using its model, at least!)

Foreboding entrance to a ruined valley.

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