I stayed up far too late at night, and pushed through the final few chapters of this old, entertaining title. I brushed up against that moment that always seems to come, in a game like this, where I am suddenly feeling overwhelmed with constant wipeouts and reloads. The game will skate along a while until you hit this wall where you can’t just grind your way through, but you have to think and figure out a combat strategy that keeps the adventurers alive. I hit that wall in the ruins of the dwarven kingdom. Immediately walking in, I found wave after wave of myconid warriors that would charm or ensorcel a warrior, and the mighty swords and axes I had found turn back upon their friends. Even after I recalled that summoned undead were immune to such things, the Ettin giants stormed up behind my ranks and smashed their clubs down upon my most-fragile heroes. It took some time and some luck and some careful positioning, and more than a few fireballs hurled to the edge of the known, but I pushed through and stumbled into all the different catacombs and crevices, rooting out the generals that had chosen to ally themselves with a force of evil from nother plane of pure malice and destruction. Heroes will never understand why anyone would ally with an entity whose purpose is the annihilation of all life and the transformation of the entire plane of reality into a living, tortuous hell, but I also don’t understand how the myconids could so easily ensorcel friends who had journeyed for months, and faced down demons and skeleton armies and survived by teamwork and relying on each other’s strengths. It is a mystery of magic and power and the whims of fate, perhaps.
We trudged through ancient tombs, haunted by ancient evils, of course, and rescued more captured civilians who had been turned to meat by the monstrous, slaying all in our path. How strange to see them creating such terror and suffering in their meat. One would think the adrenaline and stress hormones flooding their victims would taste bitter on their tongues. Still, perhaps in the icy wastes of endless winter, meat is meat. And, dead evil monsters are dead evil monsters. I sort of stopped even thinking about anything but the next battle, and the next. Each step became a mere invasion. I marveled at the poor communication network of my enemies, who could have easily overwhelmed me if they had any sort of messenger system, magical or mundane, and coordinated a counter-attack. Instead, these evil soldiers of a wicked general waited in their caverns and rooms, hissing and biting at each other, until all of them were dead.
At some point, when I was deep enough in the gloom, I reached bottom of the pit, and was swept up into a portal to the place it all began, invaded Kuldahar, destroyed and infested with evil. The annoying shop keeper from the very first days of our journey, Pomab, had sold out his fellow villagers for the dream of power. It was no power of his own, though, for he fell as easily as shattered glass. After him, the demon at the center of everything faced our blades, and it was far easier to defeat the demon than to slay his army. He should have done more to protect his army. Six heroes, working together, was enough to bring down and defeat an evil far more as ancient as this world, and Jarrod’s stone was resealed with the blood of Everard, the old priest.
At the end of my journey, I couldn’t be bothered to march on into the expansion. Let the wars come as they may. The endless march through waves of foolish dead, whose strategy seems only to be one of waiting behind their barricades to die, grew wearisome, at last. I find with RPGs that the end game never satisfies. The heroes are too powerful, and their skills and tactics narrow. Early, when they are fragile and their equipment is poor, and each skill and talent must be carefully considered, the game is more interesting, and the story has more possibility. What’s left to bother with once one knows one must kill a demon? The mystery is solved, the stone is open, and the stone must be closed. And, rebuilding, a very important work for any true hero, is not part of the game, at all. The ruins are swept away of evil. The people come blinking into the light who have survived the decimation, and the end credits roll with no consideration for how those survivors will fare over the winter with their homes and larders destroyed. The heroics do not end. The real battle is just beginning, against the wolf at the door. It is a battle far too many of my countrymen face, in these uncertain times, and it leaves me feeling hollow at the end of the long walk in the snow. After the ruins, after the war, we emerge blinking into the sun with nothing but ruins, and what, then, do we do with the ruins of all we knew?
Heroes do not get the luxury of end credits at the beginning of the hardest part.