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Monday, 9 March 2015

Swordflight Series Review - Part II


    S w o r d f l i g h t  S e r i e s  C o v e r a g e  
 Installation Instructions | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV   N E W 


Khachar Estate
The scope of Swordflight Chapter Two is impressive in its breadth and depth, allowing you to explore several districts of Calimport - including the dark undercity located deep beneath its sewers - all packed with quests, puzzles, reactivity, challenging combat and a story steeped in lore (example of lore). We're talking about 200+ well-designed areas and 215,000 words of quality dialogue: a magnum opus. Veterans of classic RPGs - such as Fallout, Arcanum and the Baldur's Gate series - will nod in approval at the quest density offered by the hub of Calimport and the freedom with which they may be undertaken as the city is explored. Rogueknight 333's presentation of Calimport is reminiscent of BG2's Athkatla, or Tarant of Arcanum. At a certain point the City Gates will open up to the player, thereby granting access to the far-flung Forest of Mir and Marching Mountains, both of which consist of several areas in themselves, ranging from villages and strongholds to wilderness areas and deadly dungeons. I was a little surprised that these non-Calimshan "Throne of Bhaal" locales were chosen, my expectation having been that Swordflight would focus more sharply on the Kingdom of Calimshan and grace me with a true desert epic, but whatevs: I still thoroughly enjoyed exploration in those regions (forest, mountain, swamp), finding their area arrangement to unfold intriguingly and spur me on to keep playing. Of course, the variable and tough combat encounters (relative to other modules) were also rather effective at keeping me alert and engaged; so yes, I found the module somewhat addictive, as I always felt there was something interesting to discover - or fight - just around the corner.

The character I took through Swordflight was a female Neutral Evil Human Rogue / Fighter whom I managed to role-play to the point of Malefactor; later losing that perfect title due to my own inconsistencies in dialogue. She initially ventured into the underworld, joined the thieves guild and succeeded in completing the burglary and assassination missions for Rajar; also becoming a regular informant to a Khachar agent as the main quest progressed. I can't remember having any outstanding combat or role-playing issues with this build; it was solid enough from start to finish though I didn't complete every single quest, mind you. My final weapon was the Savage Scimitar +3 (Keen, Str +1, Con +1, Will +1, Electrical +1d4, AC dodge -1) which I enchanted with the Blazing Blades' +2 twice-per-day ability of Flame Weapon (10), an awesome buff against many enemies but especially against trolls, a formidable enemy in Swordflight, encountered later in great number, who find it particularly disagreeable since they're vulnerable to fire. The Vermin's Bane +2 was also used on switch for its once-per-day Freedom of Movement (7). Before Savage I settled with the Laughing and Shimmering Blade +2 scimitars for on-hit Confusion and Cold +1d4, respectively. Perhaps I could have found superior wields, but, for the most part, those blades seemed up to the task of shredding the monsters to ribbons, and in short order (providing I was suitably buffed up, of course). I found armor selection to be a little unusual and limited, though I admit not really nosing things out all that thoroughly - so take that with a grain of salt (this is a huge module, and I don't consult Rogueknight 333's detailed guide unless I'm totally stuck). From what I recall, my progression was from Full Plate to Full Plate +1; and then, having supplied the dwarven smith with precious metals found outside of Calimport, to Masterwork Full Plate +2 (all saves +1). Finally, having jumped through hoops to gain exclusive access to Gadarn's Garb & Gear, I upgraded to my final suit: the Great Druid's Armor +4 (Greater Cat's Grace [11] 1/day, Greater Endurance [11] 1/day). Very rewarding. Also late-game, I kept the Consuming Fire Robes +3 (Elemental Shield [12] 2/day) on-switch for the valuable pre-buff.

Water and Fire Elementals, the former with DC-20 Drown ability
Aranea, Lizardfolk and Troll pack
Shield-wise, I mainly equipped myself with a succession of tower shields ending with the Masterwork Tower Shield +3 (Cha +2), which I chose over the Shield of Strength (Str +3) for no other reasons than "+AC, and I like the look of it." After I brought him the seeds of a desert plant, the gardener was kind enough to reward me with a Helm of Haste (perma-Haste); and somewhere along the line I found or bought the following: Gauntlets of Ogre Power (Str +2), Belt of Frost Giant Strength (Str +4), Mantle of Wisdom +2 (Wis +2), Holy Symbol +3 (AC nat +3), Hardiness of the Wild +3 (Con +3, AC dodg +3), Ring of the Royal Will +3 (AC def +3, Will saves +3) and Ring of Resistance +2 (all saves +2). I didn't really find any cloaks, amulets or rings to write home about, but again, that's probably my own fault rather than the module not hosting any. These are the items I had on switch for their particular buffing abilities: Bracers of the Bull (Bull's Strength [10] 1/day [used it a lot when I didn't have companions]), Mage Killer's Shield (all saves +1, SR 24, Globe of Invulnerability [11] 1/day, Spell Mantle [17] 1/day), Cowl of Mental Protection (Clarity [3] 1/day, Lesser Mind Blank [9] 2/day), Mac-Fuirmidh Cithern (Mage Armor [2] 1/day).

So it seems to me Swordflight somewhat offsets the increased difficulty of combat encounters by including powerful items - for which I've learned to generally be on the lookout since playing HotU. Players who merely sell off such items might be in for a tougher time. I also valued potions which I haven't seen in official content or other modules, such as the rare Elixir of Regeneration (Regeneration [13]), Enhanced Potion of Speed (Haste [10]) and other helpful concoctions such as the Potion of Death Ward (7) which I wish graced my inventory as I faced the Aranea in the Goblin Fortress with their sixteen conjured Water Elementals, all with DC-20 Drown ability. The other "insta-killa" to be wary of is petrification from Basilisk gaze and Gorgon breath. Short of buffing Fortitude saves or throwing in a decoy, I'm not sure if reliable protection exists in Swordflight (or NWN, for that matter) against petrification (in Baldur's Gate the player had access to 100% protection scrolls, spells and potions). Swordflight combat can be tough; new players are advised to adventure with a party in the more challenging regional areas where number, variety and difficulty of enemies is increased.

Beetlemania!
Chelys, Barazh, Zagush, Lilura - all-evil crew
Companion-wise, Swordflight has no shortage of supply. I briefly adventured with Chelys the Aasimar Blackguard and Barazh the Dwarven Defender within Calimport itself (though not both together), later bumping into them again at the City Gates' Desert Dragon tavern when the plot sufficiently progressed, at which point I rubbed my hands together as I formed an all-evil crew comprising of Chelys and Barazh and topped off by Zagash the Terrible, an amusing Lich who stalks the earth emanating a permanent fear aura. Give or take a level, Chelys and Barazh leveled with me from eighth to fifteenth; but Zagash, by design, just is fifteenth level, no more, no less. The evil crew were a riot, actually; the banter and interjections didn't seem annoying or forced as in some other modules, or the drivel inflicted on the public through BG2 banter packs and NPC mods; instead, they seemed natural and concise in randomly remarking, conversing together, and expressing approval or disapproval of my actions.

Forming a party is subject to mutually exclusive alignments; the Crusader Gnoll Cleric will not join if the Lich is alongside you, for example.

Party makeup is sort of "chop n change" throughout the adventure due to plot-based reasons and the individual wills of the companions, so don't expect to keep one party the whole time. I adventured with no less than eight different companions over the course of Chapter Two; it kept things fresh in dialogue and on the battlefield.

Behold! The all evil crew! Mwahaha!
My fave companion in combat was Zagush, whose above-mentioned fear aura caused many enemies to flee in terror, at which point they were sneak attacked to death by Chelys and I. So satisfying, but arguably OP once you improve at manipulating the Lich's position relative to a pack of enemies; and also I was no longer daunted by the prospect of resting in areas in which ambushed enemies would instantly succumb to fear. I didn't abuse this... much... but at that point the Exp from berserker and shaman kills was pretty juicy..

The horrified Hill Giants are now easy pickings
Overall, I found Swordflight to be well-balanced in all facets and polished almost to perfection, finding only three typos, one or two tiny oversights and perhaps not enough window-dressing and incidental activity going on in the districts (NPCs walking around doing everyday things etc). Apart from the obviously awesome Babylon tileset, the modules could do with a facelift from community compilations such as Project Q and/or CEP (interiors, models, sounds). Then again, players can just throw in overrides or infuse Swordflight with the haks themselves, if they like (I myself used a few). Swordflight could also do with an original soundtrack, which would add heaps to the atmosphere of Calimport and the Calim Desert.

Rogueknight 333 is right in saying Swordflight is "heavy" in regards to role-play, traps n tricks, combat and dialogue: it is, and it does indeed offer "something for everyone", like all great epics, which this is shaping up to be. The intriguing thing is that this is only Chapter Two, the third chapter being currently in the works and the series projected to six or seven chapters, all told. So yes, I think you should download and play Swordflight now!

    S w o r d f l i g h t  S e r i e s  C o v e r a g e  
 Installation Instructions | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV   N E W 

Entrance to Galhadr Estate
 
End of Post

24 comments:

  1. Yeah, new post! So you finished it! Nice pics, landscape and buildings are realy great in this mod.

    "Rogueknight333's presentation of Calimport is reminiscent of BG2's Athkatla, or Tarant of Arcanum."

    I'm curious, how it is reminiscent of Tarant of Arcanum? (so much time has passed, I recently played Bg2 so I agree with Athkatla similitudes)

    "it seems to me Swordflight somewhat offsets the increased difficulty of combat encounters by including powerful items"

    This is something I'll like of the mod (and many players will like that too... powerful items are always welcomed and are a nice reward after struggling for some levels). Oh nice armor you had in the pics.

    "I adventured with no less than eight different companions over the course of Chapter Two".

    Party is made of four characters correct? Is the game still a serious challenge even with a full party?
    I suppose there are also good-aligned npcs (I suppose that the Crusader Gnoll Cleric is one of them), anyway my character's alignment in Chapter 1 shifted to Chaotic-evil...

    Great overview. I wonder how will be next chapter.

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    1. It reminded me of Tarant because of the quest density, non-linearity, size and scope and the thieves guild/sewers, I guess (my last character in Arcanum was a thief build, too).

      I'd like to find some high res armor reskin overrides, someday...

      You can have three companions at any one time, plus yourself - so yeah, party of four. The combat seemed still to be a challenging with four, though bear in mind I didn't equip Chelys or Barazh because I had that inventory issue (I think I may have tried to access the Lich's inventory, and just thought "Oh, you can't access companion inventories in SF2..") It wasn't until later that Zarala asked me to put something into her inventory that I thought "oh damn, maybe you can access the others'..." My mistake, so perhaps combat would be easier if you can deck them out in better gear.

      Yes, there are good aligned companions.

      I'm interested in Chapter Three, too. I'm not sure what Rogueknight333 has in mind, but it seems we might be leaving Calimshan and the next chapter won't be as large.

      Thanks for commenting, I'm still wondering what to play next. Maybe Blackguards or something...

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    2. Thank you for explaining...yes Tarant was pretty big and full of quests but I admit that even if I played Arcanum twice, I never used a thief, so I probably missed some quests.

      Armor reskins and better/prettier character models too would be nice... but I'll do without. No problem :)

      Soooo Zarala is back? Well as a companion I mean...since I already met her (in that ugly dress). Hope she levelled a bit in the meantime.

      Since i finished both Ctot and Aielund ch3 I've more time for Swordflight..but it seems that I'll spend lots of (good) time on this mod.

      Blackguard is good so far. Challenging combat and a story that stand out. You are not a bad guy that does bad things in a neutral setting. You are a villain, hated. You do not fight orcs but heroes...feels different from the usual "dungeon raid". Linear but well done.
      Oh and if I am correct you can also ask to the npc to use a specific spell, like in Swordflight

      Anyway if you have some other mods to suggest...post them! ;)

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    3. You finished CToT? I guess it's much easier to just play it when you don't also have to recount it on a blog. :P I might return to it one of these days, but I think I'd rather even re-play Swordflight 2 as a wizard or something instead.

      Cormyrean Nights is supposed to be good, but I'm not sure what else.

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    4. CToT was the easiest module I played so far, only one opponent was challenging, still I never had to reload. Well I see that you are very precise and detailed when describing opponents, loot, etc.. so yes it's easierjust playing, anyway, even if I liked the final parts of the mods (very heroic stuff!) I don't like I'd re-play this mod. It's very linear, surely Swordflight 2 has much more to offer to a second run with a different class & alignment choice.
      I'm tempted to play Act 3 ToTM to finish the trilogy but... being unfinished I do not know it's worth of it.
      HeX Coda inspires me...

      Had a lot of problems finishing Aielund 3 instead. A vicious bug after meeting the king: going back towards the fortress I did not meet any ranger/soldier and the game was stuck after crossing the stone bridge. I reloaded 6-7 times and every time the game froze.
      I was able to solve this issue by exiting and entering the are until the rangers/soldiers appeared (luckily you can see them before approaching) and the cutscene played normally.
      I lost time but I didn't lose hope and I was able to finish the chapter (I'd hated having to jump to ch4 leaving ch3 unfinished)

      Hope I won't experience similar issues with Swordflight 2 or other modules...I like playing to the end! :)

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    5. What was so good about the final part or CToT, or why did you like it? I have played it long ago, but I don't remember much (I just remember being fond of the mod, overall, but that was back when I knew little of NWN and RPGs in general [I don't mind spoilers for CToT]). I found the combat pretty boring, what I replayed of it, anyway. But I guess that's because I've been spoiled by Aielund/Swordflight.

      I had that same bug in Aielund, but wasn't able to reproduce it. I guess it should be looked into, since it's been confirmed by you now.

      Cutscenes seem to cause problems, I couldn't really get into Akkei's "The Breach" thanks to cutscene bugs (such a pity, too!). I hate cutscenes at the best of times, let alone when they cause issues.

      Swordflight 2 is thankfully very light on cutscenes, and they're only simple. Didn't have any problems, so you should be ok. :)

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    6. I almost thought I had an issue with the second last or last cutscene in Swordflight, the cam just sort of stopped and nothing was happening on-screen except idle model anims, but luckily after a few seconds of staring blankly at my screen with my mouth open thinking this better not ****ing hang, the loadscreen popped up and things continued along. So don't sweat it if that happens to you. ;)

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    7. "What was so good about the final part or CToT, or why did you like it?"

      I like what happens after the "final boss". The betrayal part... unexpected, because yes it was pretty boring not only because of the easy combat but likewise the storyline was good but banal and predictable. I think that the ending was the best part of the mod. I's an "ok" mod but nothing memorable.
      By comparison, the most difficult fights I had in Nwn were the ones at the end of the Prophet chapter 2 and 3. These were hard, not only because of strong (often regenerating) enemies, but because you had to use particular techniques and items to survive and win (I won't spoil, but I'll say "elemental planes".. Plane of Life was particularly frustrating). Oh yeah and there were also regenerating Trolls like the ones of Bg2. It's surprising, being a light hack/slash mod (compared to CToT, for example), but yeah, final chapters combats were as hard as fighting the Ironlord. It was like fighting different Ironlords! XD

      Regarding the bug I didn't now, I had some issues but sometimes I don't know if it's a mod problem: for example once I had new savegames that did not work and the game crashed (only new saves)! Closing Nwn and reloading the game solved the issue. But I was SO worried!

      "I hate cutscenes at the best of times"

      Me too. Blackguard has a looong starting cutscene. The second time I went to read something, letting the game run! I usually never skip a single scene or a dialogue line, but sometimes I wish I could (but for Swordflight I'll be patient!). I had cutscene problems in CToT too with the part of the prison break... I've to remember to stand still and never do anything while the game plays these scenes.

      Ps: recently I had a funny experience, not with a cutscene, but with a dialogue: a necromancer warn you to stand still or he'll kill a girl. Pity that in Nwn you can still move without advancing the dialogue, so I simply placed myself between him and the hostage (that ran away when I attacked the wizard).

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    8. Thanks for reminding me of CToT's betrayal part, yes, I really don't have the time/inclination re-play it now.

      I wish NWN modders would stop putting cutscenes into their mods, it makes me feel passive and bored. I also have walked away from my PC as they play, even ones I haven't seen before. Life's too short to wait for them, I'd rather just read the journal entry to get up to speed. :P

      Then Swordflight actually ends the game if you try to skip a cutscene, sigh (I realise why that happens). As I said before, thankfully they are mercifully short.

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    9. I also finished Tyrants of the Moonsea. Well that's really cutscene intensive, easy as CToT but with better npcs (liked them more, and equipping them with the loot from Ctot helped a lot). Storyline is ok...shorter than expected.
      I understand..I prefer too playing new games/mods: there's a lot to play.
      Regarding the cutscenes, sometimes it's good to have them (Aielund has some good ones) but when they are long and frequent it seems to me an auto-celebration of the modder's writing...also terrible when the camera is behind a pillar (happened twice in different mods)

      I also tried another Rogueknight333 great mod: Snow Hunt
      It's really short (3 hours) but has a really awesome atmosphere, intense hack&slash and restricted resting.

      Blackguard and Shadowlords get better as I play. Neither has cutscenes so far go it's good.

      Well I didn't know it was possible to try skipping a cutscene. Never tried since I've experience that skipping/interrupting even a short dialogue sometimes can mess the game :(

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    10. Wow, you've been busy!

      I was actually thinking of playing and writing something up about Snow Hunt, too, since I liked Swordflight so much.

      Balkoth completed it in 7 mins, his vid is on youtube somewhere.

      NWN2 is worse with cutscenes because the system encourages modders to use cutscene dialogue just for normal conversation. It looks comedic at best, nothing on the level of Dragon Age: Origins.

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    11. Yes, I saw that video: Snow Hunt main quest is really short especially if you already played it and know where to go. Still a good play. The setting.and the atmosphere are very good. I played it with the character from TotM and it seems that opponent scale with your level.

      Nwn2 is worse fot cutscenes, sure (has also some silly ones like "I'm just a sorcerer passing this village with monsters"!). Anyway it depends: The Prophet makes a good use of them giving hints and showing dreams,. CToT has some unnecessary cutscenes (the enemy boss scenes, the throne room dialogue..that spoils the surprise for the betrayal part..)

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  2. Again, thanks for this generous review.

    One thing to note about the equipment (since you mention the choices for armor and some other gear being rather limited) is that the most interesting gear I make available is usually specific to particular classes, alignments, etc. Most of the special armors for rogues are light (since that is what the stereotypical rogue would be wearing), so if you do something non-standard like play a rogue who fights in heavy armor, there will be a tendency to default to a rather generic armor. Perfectly possible to play such non-standard characters, or course - but they are the reason the generic gear is included. Of course you can expand the available options by taking advantage of Use Magic Device, as it seems you discovered. Also it is desirable to pay close attention to what is available in stores - occasionally you will find something interesting mixed in with a lot of generic junk. One might also note, for the benefit of someone playing a low-strength PC who does not want to lug around an only occasionally used Double-Axe and Greatsword, that there are other items for sale, like Potions of Freedom and the Scabbard of Enhancement, that can be used to cast the same spells.

    I suppose it is possible Zagash's fear aura is a bit over-powered. I thought it would be cool to include a Lich henchman with actual Lich powers, and that I could get away with it because 1) the module is supposed to be a bit easier for evil PCs, 2) it does require at least a little tactical savvy to make maximum use of that ability, and 3) it does have some important limitations, like other undead who are immune to it. Strictly speaking, it is not permanent. It lasts 100 hours (see http://nwn.wikia.com/wiki/Aura_of_fear), and if it goes down on account of waiting that long (unlikely), Zagash getting killed and raised, or somehow dispelled, Zagash will need to rest before he can activate it again.

    Also most henchmen do have inventories you can (and should) manipulate as usual (Zagash was an exception - remember that he is under the misapprehension that you are his minion, rather than the other way around). When I saw your party screenshot I was wondering why Chelys was still using only a Mace +1 that late in the game, when she should have had access to something much better by that point, until I read your comment above.

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    1. Thanks for the explanations, Rogueknight333.

      I don't think any adjustments absolutely have to be made to the module; I'm deeply intrigued by what Chapter Three may offer - good to know it's on the horizon. :)

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  3. How is Part II compared to Part I? I'm about to finish Part I, and while I found it to be exceptionally well-done, it did get a bit grindy towards the end - a lot of that had to do with the fact that I was playing as a wizard so, with limited resting and low levels, I was basically just a wand using machine. Since Part II has so much breadth, I'm hoping it feels a little less grindy than the end of Part I (which is like 2-3 hours of straight dungeoneering).

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    1. Hi there CheeseNommer. Chapter Two is far broader than Chapter One, as you're exploring and questing in a large city (and its underworld and outskirts) in a non-linear fashion - similar to Athkatla of Baldur's Gate 2.

      Your wizard should do just fine. You have companions for support and a class-specific quest-line that should give you a boost.

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    2. Cool - glad to hear it. About to start in on it, which is exciting.

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    3. I doubt you'll be disappointed. Lemme know how your wizard fares, as my next replay will probably be with an arcane spellcaster, either wizard or bard. :)

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  4. Thanks Athi Lilura for pointing out this gem! I am currently about three-quarters of the way through Chapter 2 and enjoying it thoroughly. Unfortunately, I seem to have stumbled upon an error that causes my game to crash. In the mountain fort area, when I try to transition from the starting zone to the area along the river (West of the Fort), the game crashes mid loading screen. I have tried approaching from the north (North of the Fort map), but this results in the same crash.

    I receive the following error log in a file called AR_ERROR: "Names Differ: ashlw_t_000 ashlw_m_000". I'm running NWN Diamond edition patched with 1.69 official, CPP 1.71 and Project Q v2.2, all installed as per Athi Lilura's instructions on this site.

    Is there anything I can do to fix the error??

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    1. No idea what the cause of this is, but the obvious first steps to narrow down the source of the problem would be to run the Critical Rebuild (available at: https://neverwintervault.org/project/nwn1/other/patch/169-critical-rebuild-english) if you have not already done so, and then remove stuff like the CPP, Project Q, or other overrides that are not part of standard NWN, as I have no way to know or adequately test if there are conflicts between all the various modifications out there and my modules. If it is practical to transfer your save game file to a machine running NWN under a different operating system, that might also be something to try.

      In general, it might be a good idea to seek advice on technical problems related to NWN at the Neverwinter Vault, as there are people there with far more expertise on that subject than myself, or anyone else who can be counted on to randomly come across your comment here.

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    2. A lil' Googling brought up some links in regard to the AR_ERROR, but they seemed generic in nature and there were no solutions forthcoming.

      So yeah, as Rogueknight 333 said, your best bet is to remove all mods and run Swordflight from a pristine install that is properly patched. Remember to back up your saves if you end up needing to reinstall. I ran Swordflight successfully with Project Q 2.0, before 2.2 came out. I also didn't run CPP with it.

      Good luck!

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    3. Thanks for the tips, I was able to get it to work by turning Project Q off -- I guess v2.2 doesn't play nice with Swordflight!

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  5. Hello.

    I'd like to confirm that Project Q gave me exact same error during entering the Fort.I fixed this by deleting the line: "PatchFile000=q_vfxgui" from my nwnpatch.ini file, loaded the game and it works fine. Didn't have to delete any hak files from patch folder, just deleted this line.

    Thanks Anonymous for pointing the PQ causing this bug as it narrowed my research for fixing it :))

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    1. Thanks for making this information available to us. It may be useful if I need to debug such a problem for some other player.

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