Author Topic: REVIEW: Hearkenwold (by Dorateen)  (Read 367 times)

Offline Platinum Bearer

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REVIEW: Hearkenwold (by Dorateen)
« on: November 06, 2015, 11:12:57 AM »
This is an extremely open module which is very refreshing. You can go anywhere right from the start, which gives a lovely sense of freedom. The events are linked together very intricately between all the different areas and for the most part, it works very well. There's a lot to do and it can sometimes make it hard to keep track of all the things you need to look out for. I kept notes as I was going and I'm glad I did because to start with you get a lot of different missions.

Some of the fights are unwinnable to start because of the fact that you can go anywhere, if they weren't unwinnable then it would be far too easy later on. This gives a good sense of character progression when you go back later and get your revenge, kinda like the big snake in FF7.

This mod has huge potential. I think it would work great if certain areas were off limits until specific events were triggered, gta3 style. That would also make it easier to keep track of missions and would allow for better game balance because you wouldn't be able to get too far ahead of yourself.

There are however a few issues that need to be addressed.

The first is that a lot of the time the ground texture changes as you're walking along and this makes it look like the ground in the squares around you has changed as well. I found this quite annoying as it really breaks the immersion.

The monsters tend to have a very high magic resistance. This meant that my mage was basically a passenger, especially early on. I can understand the desire to make certain spells (sleep/stinking cloud) less effective but I think immunity to specific spells rather than a blanket magic resistance would be much better. Also I think there should be some in game reason magic to be so ineffective against most opponents.

A lot of the time I missed events because I didn't go to exactly the right square. This is a problem because of the openness of most of the areas and it means you need to basically comb every area to find everything. This could be sorted by using zones for the events.

Sometimes when you've done an event you get the text again when you go back to that square. Those need the only once flag. I think it's because you nearly always get a choice whether to proceed with the event and if you pick no then the text needs to come up again when you go back. That's a lot of quest item checks, but I don't think most of the choices are necessary. Most of the time there's no reason why you'd say no so those events could happen automatically if you've got the right race/class in the party or have completed a prior event.

You don't get to take the treasure of enemies that you defeat in combat. Instead you get specific combat treasure on rare occasions. This prevents the hoarding of equipment to sell later and makes the equipment that do find much more important but I didn't like that I wasn't able to take stuff that I wanted from enemies that I'd beaten. I would much rather the equipment and stats of the enemies were changed to keep the balance but allow you to take anything that enemies had.

You get a lot of choices of what to say to characters but I far I could tell it never has an effect on the game. One option would be to effect the initiative in fights, another would be to give useful hints but non-essential hints if you say the right thing.

Because of how open it is there was the odd time when it didn't make sense because I did things in a certain order, although I did do it in a lopsided manner by getting ahead of myself in some parts while leaving others that were intended to be done earlier until the end. Making an open module like this must be extremely difficult because of the amount of checks that are needed to keep everything making sense regardless of the order you do the events in. Overall this was handled extremely well but there were a couple of occasions where I got dialogue about already resolved missions.

Because this is part one of a multi-part adventure there are times when it's not clear that you've done everything you can and a few times I was wondering round looking for something that just wasn't there. This won't be a problem when future modules are released, it was only because I'd been everywhere and assumed I must have missed something.

In conclusion, this is a very enjoyable module but it has some issues that need to be sorted for it to be a great module. 7 out of 10 as it is but if these things were sorted it would be a solid 9!

(EDIT: I changed the thread title to be more consistent with the format of the other reviews, I hope that's okay!, OL)
« Last Edit: April 28, 2017, 07:38:06 AM by Olivier Leroux »
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Offline Olivier Leroux

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Re: Hearkenwold Review
« Reply #1 on: April 28, 2017, 07:21:41 AM »
I'm not a great fan of UA's default look and so I'm usually a little biased against vanilla designs. Especially when on starting them, I just get dropped into an area without any introduction or explanation, or when I see paper-thin walls, or large areas with nothing much in them, because that kind of ruins immersion for me and reminds me of many designs from back in the days that were rather carelessly thrown together, and I'm already spoiled by all the high quality designs of our most talented authors. So when I spotted some of the pet peeves listed above in Hearkenwold, I was quite skeptical at first. But it turns out that Hearkenwold is actually a very good and immersive design with just a few rough edges - and coming from someone as prejudiced as me that's meant to be a huge praise!

The rough edges soon turned out to be no more than very minor annoyances. The introduction I thought the design was lacking was actually triggered on my first step in the design. Paper-thin walls were a very rare occasion, and probably placed deliberately that way. And while I often had to walk quite a bit before anything happened, whatever happened was always well thought out and interesting, far from being carelessly thrown together. And even if there are more elegant ways to do these things, I got used to pressing "Look" to kickstart the next stage of conversations and quest events while remaining in the same spot. In addition, the design made up for being unhacked by using lots of new images and icons, and me dropping-in my own CBODY.TLB also helped quite a bit. The only thing I couldn't really reconcile with is that you're basically pushed to use Area View most of the time, since the inconsistent properties of walls - like the same kind of trees sometimes blocking your path and other times letting you through - make navigating in 3D view hard and confusing. I guess I wouldn't have minded if UA had a colorful automap function like DC, but this grey-in-grey isn't that much fun to look at all the time. This may change in the future though, as I believe Dorateen is still working on improving the level design.

What I loved about Hearkenwold is its open nature, you can explore wherever you want and search for adventure all on your own, whether you've got a quest for it or not, and there are many interesting and original encounters to be found. I'm also impressed by the amount of quests and not a single one of them being broken. A few don't have a proper ending in part 1 yet, and this isn't always communicated to the player, but it may change with further updates. The way that loot is handled was much to my liking as well. There was no excess trash loot to pick up and sell, instead every find was meaningful, carefully placed and rewarding. It did great wonders for the sense of progression. The issues with the combat mentioned in Platinum Bearer's review have been fixed already, so that crowd control spells like Sleep, Charm and Stinking Cloud are very useful now, probably even more so than in your average UA design, but it didn't make the combat too easy for my taste, just gives you more tactical options, and battles can still be challenging. I also appreciated all the choices on what to say during conversations. Even if they don't make that much of a difference, they're still great from a roleplaying perspective, and I thought they added a personal note to the design, an unusual idea characteristic of its author that makes this and other designs by Dorateen stand out.

All in all, despite my initial skepticism and prejudice against the technical side of things, I got hooked by the storytelling, the open world and the well balanced progression, and I played through the whole design within a short time (although it isn't all that short), exploring every single nook and cranny and solving all the quests that are solvable at this stage, before I transferred my party and immediately moved on to part 2. Which goes to show once again, that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Well done!  :)