Thursday, July 31, 2014

Tales from the Lake of Sorrows

My Character: level 1 Blessed Soul, reached 13 (almost 14) by the module's end.
Time Played: ...50 hours?  More?
My Vote: 10 - A Masterpiece, Genuinely Groundbreaking

A delightful little hamlet seen early in the game
As a would-be adventurer just starting on your way, you arrive at the small village of Lakeside that is in need of someone to help solve a mystery.  After teaming up with a vagabond of questionable background (Ember), you begin your investigation.  Quickly, you become embedded in a complicated plot that involves dozens of key players: lords, commanders, clerics, wizards, cultists, and no small number of innocent bystanders.  What follows is a module of incredible breadth that rivals the official campaign in both both length and scope.  By the time you finish, you really have lived the life of your character, and impacted innumerable non-player characters and their families.

How did I get myself into this?
The core Tales from the Lake of Sorrows is its story.  It is a fairly linear game, and PJ makes this clear from the outset in the module description.  There often are a number of intricate and interesting side-quests.  Nevertheless, the area designs are such that they are often more or less on rails, and many do not encourage exploration.  But that's really ok: if there is anything lost by its linearity, the module more than makes up for it with its story.  It is a complicated tale, but the pacing throughout is excellent.  PJ's masterpiece is set in the Forgotten Realms and focuses on small, rural villages where a hero could really make a difference.  As with villages in real life, you meet many key families that have deep roots in the rural society.  I loved that these characters were recurrent throughout the adventure, so that some that you meet in the first couple of chapters show up repeatedly in later chapters, often providing new insights into their sordid histories.  That's not to say that the entire module occurs "in the sticks."  As you progress, you travel to prominent cities...and to even stranger realms.

You receive up to five companions in the game, and none of them will travel through the entire game with you.  Companions enter the story as circumstances allow, and at times they are pulled in different directions and must take their leave.  Most of the time, they do return to adventure with you at some later date...often when other companions are called elsewhere.  All of the companions have interesting backstories, and most become critically engaged in the plot.  The relationships you cultivate while adventuring with your party drive a lot of your character's engagement in the story.  There is a romance available with one of the companions.  While I'm often not particularly excited about in-game romances, I found this one to be very well done.  You grow together gradually as you play, and the relationship is one of maturity between adults as opposed to teen-style crush romances that are sometimes featured.  Roleplaying opportunities are very strong in the game.  The dialog options provide you with real choices that allow you to shift between a heroic crusader to for-the-money mercenary without much trouble, and your choices can have impacts on how the campaign plays out.

Combat is also really well done.  While I would never say that this isn't a combat-intensive module, there is very little filler here.  Virtually every combat has a purpose.  It might be a major setpiece battle between yourself and a known villain, a raid on a large enemy fortification, a trench-to-trench battle to re-take farmland from an army, or even a minor skirmish between guards outside a keep or cave hideout.  You almost never fight the same group more than once, and it all makes sense in the game world.  Furthermore, often times, there are significant tactical considerations in these fights.  One really can't just run in and mash your way through, especially as you approach the end of the game: you need to use tactics, make careful choices of spells, and keep your spellcasters and archers safe behind your tanks.  My blessed soul was a great match for the game: he focused on buffing spells to keep his fighting ability on par with a fighter, and provided healing, restoration, and spell protection as needed.  There are no cleric-type companions, so if you do not bring one with your NPC you will need to be aggressive about purchasing potions of healing, restoration, etc.

Taking the orc fortress
Finally, I do need to take a moment to commend PJ on his area design.  This module is one of the most visually spectacular that I've ever played, and I took a TON of screenshots where I found myself marveling and saying "wow!"  There are a lot of areas in this module, and some are only experienced briefly.  Nevertheless, all of them are crafted with care and skill.

Critiques: I don't have many.  The biggest is probably that, no doubt due to the sheer volume of dialog and custom item descriptions in the game, there are a fair number of typographical and grammatical errors.  Some could be caught with a spellcheck plugin, whereas others would just take a lot of proofreading time.  That said, the writing is great in flavor, feel, and emotion.  The journal also seemed to get a bit "wonky" as I progressed through the game, with several entries from the first chapter, in particular, that were never completed and cluttered up the journal throughout the rest of the module.

In any case, this module is a really impressive achievement.  It's a dramatic, thrilling story that will immerse you in a wonderful cast of companions, allies, and villains.  And best of all, there's more to play: PJ just released out with the next chapter in his series, The Soul Cages - Chapter 1: Loose Ends.  Furthermore, there's a companion module to Tales called From This Comes Strength, which tells the story of what happened to one of the NPC's while she was away from your group.  I'm eagerly looking forward to playing both modules.

Many more screenshots below the jump! (with minor spoilers)

This dock has no significance to the story.  But with the mist rolling in at night, it's gorgeous.

I love this swamp.

Fun Baldur's Gate easter egg!

What the what is this?

No comments:

Post a Comment