Sunday, 21 February 2016

Baldur's Gate Retrospective Walkthrough Guide Part VIII Durlag's Tower

Baldur's Gate Retrospective Walkthrough Guide Part VIII Durlag's Tower



(Continuing from: Baldur's Gate Blathering Part VII)

The Labyrinth of Durlag's Ghost
&
The Demon Knight

Players who reach this point have delved to the utmost depths of Durlag's Tower - and better be ready to explore the final labyrinth hosted by the greatest dungeon crawl in RPG history!

This labyrinth is visually unique in that the dwarf-worked stone is contrasted with "natural" caverns, oozing with toxic pools of sludge that inflict continual damage when walked upon. It is replete with the deadliest of traps, secret passageways, impregnable vaults and hasted hostiles as standard. BioWare could easily have gone overboard with itemization, but no: far from the Monty Haul that characterizes the sequel, they exercised restraint.

The player begins smack dab in the center of the labyrinth, a stone hall in which the shimmering phantom of Durlag Trollkiller awaits. The phantom reveals that "three paths" must be understood in order for "the way" to become clear. It also alludes to a New Evil, one not of the tower, that must be expelled: the Demon Knight, a fell servant of the abyss briefly glimpsed by the party when they first stepped foot into the tower (Recap image.)


The object of the labyrinth is to explore three main sections, perform a task in each, and answer an evocative riddle in the compass chamber when you are teleported there, each time. Then, and only then, Durlag's phantom will grant you access to the lair of the Demon Knight, whom you must vanquish in order to procure the Soultaker

Section order does not matter, however I shall proceed in the order I have deemed most effective.

First Path 

First up, the door to the immediate south opens to a bridge over a molten lake, that in turn leads to a passage ending at a spiders nest in the far west; home to an astral phase spider and two each or phase spider, sword spider and ettercap. These foes will pierce and poison an unprepared party in the blink of an eye, but it would have been more challenging if Web was used for disablement.

Below right: It seems there are fathomless depths below.

 
Standing in an alcove is an inanimate stone golem who poses basic riddles about Durlag's family; and then teleports the party to an entirely separate area: the compass chamber. 

There is an important hint here pertaining to the second path (below right).


Here in the compass chamber the first riddle is posed by a stone golem in the north (below right) and one hint is given by each of the three others in the east, south and west (below left). The north golem represents Durlag, the east and south his craftsmen and Clan, and the west the Doppelgangers. The player must choose the one correct answer (below right) from a pool of six options: an exercise in comprehension. If the wrong option is chosen the party is punished by an arcane bombardment; if the right answer is chosen they are whisked away to the phantom of Durlag in preparation for the next path. Once the three paths have been understood - well, you will see what happens..

 

It seems mind flayers (illithid) were the masterminds behind Durlag's downfall (this is also mentioned by Fenrus in Ulgoth's Beard), but no such creature is met with until the sequel.

Second Path

Next up, a bone wardstone must be recovered in the northwest forge and inserted into a machine in the central west in order to bypass the deadly "rune carpet" rolled out along the floor in the adjacent storage room.

- Wardstones are not identified as in previous labyrinths: Garrick, ftw.
- Oddly, the party member who looted the rune needs to be the one to insert it into the machine; they will insert it even if it's in possession of another.
- The runes are trapped with unavoidable Lightning Bolt and Cloudkill which cannot be survived.
- Trapped and locked chests in the storage room may be looted for the best shield in the campaign (Large Shield +2), Arla's - Dragonbane (Sling +3), Krotan's Skullcrusher (Mace +2), Leather Armor +3 and over 5,000 GP.
- En route to this section the party will encounter the phantom of Durlag's wife, Islanne, whose only purpose is to instantly transport them to the drawbridge outside of the tower, should they request it. No doubt this service was added to relieve parties of having to backtrack through vast areas of dungeon in the case of inventory overload or party decimation; however, there is no "fast travel" back, so you would have to be desperate or be done with the tower (i.e, have vanquished the Demon Knight and recovered the Soultaker).

 
Once this is done, the carpet may safely be crossed and the outstretched leather "clicked on" to trigger teleportation into the compass chamber, where the second riddle is posed.


The correct answer is given and the party is again whisked away to the entry hall.
.

Third & Final Path

Two secret doors lead to "natural" caverns that sprawl out to the south, teeming with greater ghouls (x16) and crypt crawlers (upgraded carrion crawlers). A toxic substance oozes over parts of its surface, inflicting continual damage when walked upon. Mushroom colonies and ooze pools hold various treasures.

Below left: A trio of wizards contemplate the nature of the sludge and how to negotiate it.
Below right: The stealthy Coran conducts recon deep within a passageway, revealing a pack of foes that are not to be trifled with. But where are my Gelatinous Cubes?


In the far south awaits Grael, a super ghoul backed up by a pair each of greater ghoul and crypt crawler sporting on-hit paralysis and disease. All approaches to dialogue will fail with Grael, including the empathic.. it is too far gone, and must be slain for the compass wardstone

Below: Grael hints at the tanar'ri encased by Durlag, warning of its petrification gaze. Ignore him at your peril! (covered in Part IX).


This wardstone is used to break into the eastern vault to access the Throne, the third teleport to the compass chamber.

Players will feel they have hit the jackpot in two chambers of this section: the vault glittering with 14,000 GP and gems of every kind, up to the legendary Rogue Stone; the gold-gilded chest en route to the vault holding Flametongue and the Staff of Striking - the latter a wicked backstabbing weapon.

Flamestongue (longsword +1, +2 vs. regenerating, +3 vs. cold-using, +4 vs. undead), Staff of Striking (quarterstaff +3, 1d6 +9, limited charges).

This is one of the most rewarding hauls I have seen, yet BioWare didn't go overboard to make it feel this way: it's almost perfectly-balanced itemization. (What happened in SoA, BioWare?)

Below left: One can just imagine Durlag seated in this vault, not basking in the golden glory of his plunder but wondering if he should beef up the security..


The third and final riddle.


The Way is Clear

With the paths understood the phantom of Durlag trundles north and removes a solid stone wall, clearing the way to the last chamber where entry to the lair of the Demon Knight is granted.

Here is Clair De'lain, a survivor of the adventuring party that was wiped out by the Demon Knight and its Mirror of Opposition (explained below). 

  
.
If there is evil to be fought, I will defeat it. - Charname.
There is always evil to be fought... within and without... - Durlag's Ghost.
 
The Demon Knight
Fell Servant of the Abyss
.
Standing on the central platform of the circular lair is the Demon Knight, his Mirror of Opposition beside him and draped in blood-velvet. His plan? To have adventurers clean out the tower and then reshape it into his own stronghold.

DEATH, WELCOMES YOU!


The Demon Knight is an eighteenth level Fighter/Mage wielding the THAC0-draining Soul Reaver and sporting high MR and fire immunity. Ergo, arcane-focused parties are in for a tough time. In addition, the Demon Knight's arcane repertoire consists of Symbol: Pain, Power Word: Stun and Power Word: Kill - spells the player won't have access to until the sequel.

Below left: Kagain shatters the mirror with Basillus' Ashideena.
Below right: As a result, the seven mirror fiends surround him!


Scrubby summon tactics aside, there are two semi-safe ways to approach the battle. The first is to simply send in your tank to wail upon the Demon Knight as your archers fire a hail of arrows down from the ledge. For veteran players who know how to equip such a tank against the Demon Knight's spells and melee attacks, this is the simplest and most reliable tactic.

The second is to send in your stealthy scout to shatter the mirror and immediately retreat to the safety of the ledge as seven "mirror fiends" manifest (most notably, a flesh golem, two greater doppelgangers and a second "Demon Knight") - all of which are hostile to both the Demon Knight and party. Then just "wait it out", concealed by the fog of war, until the Demon Knight falls under their sustained assault. You will have to mop up any left-over mirror fiends, though.

Below left: A Fighter/Thief dual-class backstabs the Demon Knight for 90 damage and chunks him with follow-up attacks. This foe wears a helm and is therefore immune to the double damage of crits. The 90 dmg was inflicted by the (hitherto unused) Staff of Striking, which then dissipated in my hands after the huge opening blow and switched to Flametongue, the next weapon in my quickslot.
Note: The Demon Knight's Dispel Magic does not dispel buffs from potions.

 
So! The Demon Knight has been vanquished - Durlag's Tower has been cleansed!

The soultaker dagger is taken from the corpse of the Demon Knight (above right), to be delivered to Hurgan Stoneblade in Ulgoth's Beard. 

Dalton was cowering on the ledge as the battle raged around him. It's a nice touch that we get to say goodbye to both he and the astonished Clair.

Dalton is part of a very minor quest in Ulgoth's Beard.


As mentioned earlier the phantom of Islanne grants instant passage to the surface. This barren wasteland is like a breath of fresh air after such a lengthy delve under the tower...


And that is Durlag's Tower covered in its entirety; a wonderful dungeon crawl that doubles as a thoughtful allegory on the emotion of fear - but this part of Tales of the Sword Coast has not yet concluded.. a greater foe has been hinted at, one to whom the Demon Knight was answerable! (Note: mini-review of Durlag's Tower at the end of this post.)

With the Soultaker artifact in hand the heroic dungeon delvers embark on the two day march back to the sea-side village of Ulgoth's Beard.

Ulgoth's Beard - The Return
Your soul shall be fodder! - Cultist.

Upon arrival the party is confronted by fanatical cultists led by a wizard who demands they hand over Soultaker. In true BioWare style, the choice to comply or not is illusory: either way, the wizard simply takes the artifact and casts Dimension Door to flee the scene - leaving the party to battle a throng that includes two assassins with a triple backstab modifier.

Below right: Watch the chickens with those magic missiles! One could be Melicamp!
.

Inside Ulgoth's Inn Hurgan Stoneblade comes clean (recap image) after being informed of the party's loss of Soultaker to the cultists: it is revealed the essence of a tanar'ri (nabassu) is encased in Soultaker! And the worst part is? The cult - who worshiped the tanar'ri as a god centuries ago - are determined to once again release the demon into the world!
.

The object is to explore Ulgoth's Beard in search of the cultist base; then, cut a swathe through throngs of them in order to find and slay the tanar'ri.
.
A conspicuous cultist is taunted and skull-bombed outside a house (below left); inside, the Wizard who stole the Soultaker is zapped by lightning bolts along with his brethren (below right). However, the artifact was not on his corpse so the party heads downstairs to track it down.


Cultist Ritual Chamber: The Beast Unleashed
Welcome to the awakening... your soul shall feed the beast that comes! - Tracea.

To the party's dismay Tracea Carol breaks the Soultaker to complete their demonic ritual and draw forth the tanar'ri! Named Aec-Letic, this nabassu stands over a summoning circle inscribed in the center of the chamber and is encircled by six cultists from whose souls it respawns upon being vanquished. Therefore, the soul-fodder must first be slain so that Aec-Lectic need only be bested once - which is no mean feat, as is.

By all that is right and holy, you will not succeed! - Charname.
By all that is loud and windy, will you please shut up! - Tracea.


Short of foreknowledge only the luckiest players will survive this battle without reloading (even if they pay heed to Grael's words and take precautions). Aec-Letic opens proceedings by unleashing Paralysis Gaze, Fear, Silence 15' radius and Death Gaze, meaning Free Action and "mind shield" status are essential to survivability. Death Gaze is an interesting ability: a party member affected by this negative status needs to have it dispelled, pronto, before they are "chunked" and turned into ghastly undead that then turns on the party! As per our last infernal foe, Aec-Letic's elemental and magic resistances are rock solid, too.

Ok, so: basic evolution of the battle.. Being in closest proximity and a bothersome wizard to boot, Tracea first needs to die. Then, the party must focus on the stationary cultists encircling Aec-Letic; turning attention to the demon once its disciples are dead - and banishing it back to the abyss for a whopping 16,000 experience points. Thanks to the party most likely being max-level and decked out in some of the best gear offered by the campaign, there are many tricks and tactics that can be employed to this end, some inventive and others downright cheese; for example: Cloudkill hit n runs (AR yoyo'ing), Animate Dead mobbing, Otiluk'ing Aec-Letic, Wand of Paralyzation spam, Mustard Jelly squatting and sending just your tank down to wreck house (buffed to the max).

Below left: In the nick of time Dynaheir dispels the PC afflicted with Death Gaze as Kagain wails on the demon's backside and Coran fills it full of holes with his "Dead Shot". (Aec-Lectic is scripted to chase down squishy wizards.)
Below right: Dynaheir and Xan are pronounced.. undead.


Dispel Magic is paramount and is fastest fired from a bow (Arrows of Dispelling).
Oddly, it seems in rare circumstances Aec-Letic may paralyze itself!
Free Action status may be granted from potions, Free Action rings and the Spider's Bane sword.
Death Gaze may be warded off most easily by quaffing a Potion of Mirrored Eyes.

Of all boss encounters in the campaign, this one - along with the Finale in the Temple of Bhaal against Sarevok - are the most fun and experimental (though I don't doubt Aec-Letic's use of unique debuffs has caused more tears over the years!)

The victorious party returns to the inn, informing the noble dwarf that the deed is done. There is no reputation gain, journal closure or quest experience reward for these epic actions (although I seem to recall Hurgan giving me the Knee-Cappter in one playthrough.. You can also pick pocket him for a diamond). Still, most players are gonna be on a high after completing this part of TotSC. Werewolf Island is also worth completing just for the lore on Balduran, but Ice Island is the expansion's weak-point.


Next Up - Baldur's Gate Blathering Part IX
To be announced!

Mini-Review of Durlag's Tower

Presentation: Polished & motivating. Ike's sensational theatrics and the scripted tour succeed in drawing the player in. If the player inadvertently bypasses that and discovers the tower on their own - well, that's one hell of a discovery they will never forget. The FMV on approach is about as foreboding as it gets..

Exploration: Vast & varied. A barren approach, walkable battlements, a multi-level tower hosting many rooms (some opulent, others spartan), external staircases leading to the roof, and four sprawling labyrinths beneath. What more do you want?

Atmosphere: Intense & brooding. It's a pity pitch-black darkness was not implemented to necessitate the use of a hand-held or wall-mounted torches and Infravision (the group infravision option in the menu would need to be removed). Ambiance is of a high standard as per other areas of the campaign.

Writing: Evocative & meaningful. Read the riddles, read the rhymes; the lore, the history. The allegory on fear is brilliant and shows this dungeon is about more than just killing monsters and taking their stuff. Even some of the item descriptions will surprise; consider the bottle of wine, fermented for Love:
When you breathe the wine deeply, memories of lost loves come rushing back and you find your eyes filling with tears.
That is a nice touch.
In general BG1 has superior writing to BG2, anyway. BG2's riddles were pathetic: the ones in Spellhold were merely Tolkien ones, rearranged.

Area Design: Navigation relies on solving puzzles, teleportation and wardstones. Tricks, traps and secret doors permeate. Narrow corridors connect chambers. Subsequent IE dungeons did away with them due to pathing concerns and lost something in the process: claustrophobia and realism. Wide corridors that you can drive a truck through just don't do it for me. Structures and terrain are rarely used to tactical effect (IWD series' dungeons are superior here).

Itemization: Sensible & useful. It feels rewarding without going Monty Haul. Enchantment is capped at +3, but mostly +2. There are no uber-weapons, obscenely OP items or spell scrolls thrown about like confetti (the fifth circle scrolls are rare finds). Utility potions and ammo are perhaps too common and Erdane's vendor inventory is too generous with regard to ammo.

Encounter Design: The highlights are the Dwarven Warders (Pride, Avarice, Fear & Love), the Phoenix Guard challenge, the Chessboard and the Demon Knight. Timed respawns are welcome (and not seen in other IE RPGs) but default and on-rest spawns are perhaps not punishing enough.

Demands: At least a party of four at max-level, or near to it. While soloable for veterans at low level, the crawl demands a balanced party composition for new or average players. Thieves are paramount in order to deal with locks and traps; one divine spell-caster (Druid or Cleric) is necessary for healing/(de)buffing; and one each of tank, archer and arcane (de)buffer/bombardier is advisable. I would also recommend a Bard for EZ ID. It's good to see that Durlag's Tower (and BG in general) did not relegate Thieves and Clerics to fifth wheels, as the sequel foolishly did. Healing spells aside, Dispel Magic is the most useful utility spell and Web disablement and Skull Trap bombings are highly effective.

Legacy: Watcher's Keep and Spellhold were solid and the IWD series' dungeons were impressive, but they lack the focus on atmosphere and the extra dimension of allegory for which Durlag's Tower is famous.

Below: A nice lil' flavor convo you can have with a nobleman enjoying the weather at Ulgoth's docks.

4 comments:

  1. Glad you have gotten back to completing this series. Durlag's Tower is certainly one of the great dungeons in RPGs. It has few equals in the way it combines lore, atmosphere, combat and non-combat challenges.

    I think IWD's dungeons mostly did pretty well in terms of atmosphere, and to some extent lore (e.g. The Severed Hand). Their chief weakness was that they did not offer much in the way of non-combat challenges (a failing of that game as a whole - it is pretty much a pure hack & slashfest without much of a story to it).

    Interesting that you would point out how relatively ungenerous the loot tended to be by the standards of later RPGs (a Large Shield +2...is the best shield in the game?! In a typical NWN module a Shield +2 would be a piece of junk.), and how this contributed to making the loot you did get so meaningful. That has certainly been one of my own thoughts on how loot should be handled. BG2 might not have been as good on this score, but it was still a lot better than many more recent RPGs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My dabblings in the doddle known as DoD had me running back to Baldur's Gate :)

      I have updated the post to cover Ulgoth's Beard and the finale against Aec-Letic (the end-segment was quite a bit shorter than I remembered!)

      Delete
  2. I just wanted to say that you're awesome for doing this retrospective. Your insightful approach makes for a very interesting reading. Baldur's Gate is by far my favourite game since 1999 and it makes me sad that most players have forgotten about the original, unmodded version. I continue to play it to this day and enjoy each playthrough, since there's a huge variety of ways to create a character, choose different companions and to approach the exploration/quests.

    Somehow the sequel never grabbed my attention as the first game, some of the "magic" was lost to make room for "epic" stuff in my opinion. I just love the attention to detail in BG1, there are so many things to discover e.g. even in some of the dialogues with common people.

    Anyway, thank you so much for doing this, can't wait for more parts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your kind compliment, Tuth!

      I agree with you 100%.

      My treatment of the original is on-hold, for now, as I write a walkthrough for Siege of Dragonspear; but, I'm looking forward to returning to it soon in order to begin treatment of Baldur's Gate city, the interlinking areas of which awed and overwhelmed me upon first reaching that point of the campaign, all those years ago. :)

      Delete

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