|Mod Reviews For discussions about our reviews of mods for the games covered on SP. Only authorized reviewers can open new threads (i.e. post their reviews), but everyone is welcome to comment on the reviews. Specific gameplay questions about a certain mod should be posted in the appropriate game forum, not here.|
|Mon, 24th Apr '06, 2:04am||#1|
Latest gem: Turquoise
Return to Trademeet
Review first posted on: 4/24/06
Mod download location: http://www.spellholdstudios.net/mods/rtt/
Download size: 201 MB
Return To Trademeet is a large total conversion, adding about 25-30 hours of game play. The protagonist is again our Baldur's Gate hero, who is traveling towards his home Candlekeep. The monks sent you a letter asking to reach them as soon as possible. Although the monks didn't want to write about the reason of your call, you feel it's something of extreme importance.
My initial impression of this mod was pretty good. The download is very large for a mod but that's to be expected as it is basically a stand-alone game using the BG2 engine. Installation was long but went off without a hitch despite this being a non-WEIDU mod. As an added surprise, it comes with an extensive manual in PDF form that covers the new kits available in the mod as well as a detailed description of their specific abilities. It also lays out the various new spells and NPCs that have been added.
On the downside, several issues became apparent at this point. First, this mod was originally created in French and the translation leaves a bit to be desired at some points. In a number of areas, the text is obviously incorrect or the grammar is poor making those areas of the manual difficult to understand.
Another issue is many, if not all, of the kits and spells struck me as being overpowered, grossly in some cases. Two extreme examples of this are the Time Keeper kit for Rangers and the Self-Exercise spell. Self-Exercise is a 4th level priest/druid spell that immediately grants the caster 30,000 exp with the drawback that you become fatigued. As far as I could tell, it has no specific experience cap but it stops working once you reach level 14 in your priest/druid class. By the time that happened, Jaheira and Boltain (a new fighter/cleric) each had 3 million exp compared to the Protagonist's 700,000. The Time Keeper kit which I mentioned gains the ability to cast Time Stop as an innate ability multiple times per day at level one. The character gains added usages as he levels. While the initial duration is short at 3 seconds, it grows to 20 seconds at higher levels.
It's worth mentioning that, despite this mod taking place a year after ToB, your character starts around level 9. You will not have any of the Hell's Test benefits that you would have gained in SoA and ToB but you will have the Bhaalspawn powers you would have had at the start of SoA. Basically, you start as you would if this was a brand new SoA game.
Storyline and Characterization
The overall storyline for this mod is very good. It ties in nicely with your roots in the first Baldur's Gate and brings the story full circle. It's also very non-linear with lots of side quests you can do early on while pursuing the main plot. This is a big positive in my opinion as it avoids leading the player around by the nose and lets him explore the different areas of the game at his own pace.
Unfortunately, I found that many of the side quests had an incomplete and unbelievable feel to them. Without getting into too many details, I often found myself shaking my head at the dialogue options I was presented. There were a number of times when I just wasn't given enough options or I was given multiple completely unacceptable options. As an example, at one point, I was forced to choose between killing a good dragon and killing Adalon (another good dragon). If there was some point to the choice, that would be one thing but there is no reason to force the choice. In fact, there is no reason at all for the second dragon to be good. The story works just fine if it's evil. I'm not against putting the player in a moral quandary but it should advance the storyline in some way.
As mentioned, this mod does introduce a number of new NPCs and reintroduces a number of old ones. I found this area of the mod to be very weak. The mod mentions that there are over 100 new banters and this is nowhere near enough for the number of NPCs available. Most NPCs seemed to have one banter with each other at most. I suspect some have none. Few seem all that interested in talking to the protagonist so there are very few character building moments for the available NPCs. The NPCs also rarely have anything to say about the various quests you go on or people you meet. Combining all of these factors left me with an unclear and incomplete vision of the other party members.
To make matters worse, the characterization I did see was stilted and unbelievable. Quite often, existing NPCs acted completely outside their established character and took actions that didn't fit with their history. Even the new NPCs often had dialogues that didn't make a lot of sense. The biggest offender here is Aranin, a new elven paladin. To give you a short blurb, he is the first non-human paladin to exist. His sound bites all talk about honor and Helm. He should be the quintessential paladin. Yet, in the two dialogues I saw with him, he is berated by Imoen for leaving while he's on guard duty and he's dressed down (and threatened) by Boltain for being too arrogant. Both conversations just felt contrived, as though it was just an excuse to have someone yell at the paladin. Nothing in his actions suggested that he would be either derelict of duty or arrogant, quite the opposite in fact, yet here he was being called out on it.
On the same note, this mod gets a number of things wrong as far as background goes. Among other things, Mystra is repeatedly mentioned by the elves as though she is their god and many of the races act in ways that just don't fit their background. This is a minor point but, if you're a purist, some of the scenes are really going to bother you.
Game play and Balance
This mod does a number of things here that I really, really liked. A fair number of new items are introduced and are, overall, pretty balanced. There are some translation mistakes unfortunately but they are pretty rare in this area. This mod does an admirable job avoiding scattering magic items all over the countryside. They are suitably rare and are generally appropriate to the difficulty in attaining them.
One aspect of Baldur's Gate that I've always disliked is the placement of weapons. For instance, if you need to kill a vampire, the odds are pretty good you'll find a lot of undead specific weaponry nearby. While there needs to be some anti-undead gear somewhere, no vampire in it's right mind is going to keep it around where anyone can find it. Thankfully, this mod is far better than the original game in that respect. It definitely rewards the player that thinks ahead and is prepared for all circumstances. This is a huge plus. Aside from adding challenge, it also adds to the immersion value for the roleplayers out there.
My only real complaints in this area are monster and area design. Unfortunately, they are very large complaints. Monster placement is just nonsensical and seems more geared towards what is cool rather than what makes sense. Young Mind Flayers, for instance, are everywhere but the adults are rare. Ankhegs and Duergar exist peacefully side by side apparently as there's no way I could encounter Duergar in some of the places I did without them wandering through Ankheg infested caves. Most areas are completely devoid of any sort of environmental interaction and traps are all but non-existent. Often times, this combination left me feeling bored as I trudged through yet another empty area filled with hordes of uninteresting monsters.
As far as the monsters go, I’m almost at a loss on where to begin. I should state that I like tough monsters. I like monsters with resists. I want monsters to have appropriate special attacks. I think all of those things encourage players to be prepared and use tactics. However, giving monsters resistance to everything, high attacks, low THAC0s, high stats, and unreasonably high hit points does not encourage tactics nor is it fun to fight such monsters. A bone golem in an unmodded BG2 game, for instance, is an example of good monster design. It has high resistance to slashing and piercing as well as solid elemental resists. It encourages tactics because it is comparatively weak to bludgeoning weapons. It rewards the player who thinks ahead and brings a variety of offensive weapons to address any occasion. By comparison, an infernal dog from this mod has 275 hp (yes, that is 275) and 75 resist to ALL melee as well as high (100 I believe) resistance to all magic, multiple attacks, and a THAC0 low enough to guarantee frequent hits on a -18 AC. That is most definitely not good design. This is hardly the only monster in the game with stats like that; in fact, virtually all the new monsters are designed with this same philosophy. Flesh Eating Zombies, for instance, have 100 resistance to all melee…in addition to being nearly immune to all elemental damage and having 65 hit points so a single spell cannot kill them. None of these monsters are unique or rare. You can be assured that you will fight MANY of them.
As bad as this is, it appears to be intended to be much worse as opening CREs showed multiple monsters with over 100 resist to damage types that I used against them successfully. For example, Young Mind Flayers had 181 electric resist IIRC yet the most effective method of beating them was to use Chain Lightning. For the record, these mobs have 95 resistance to Bludgeoning, Piercing, AND slashing. Not fun…just irritating and obnoxious.
I wish I could say that my disagreement with this design stopped there but it doesn’t. The humanoid monsters are also grossly overpowered compared to the party. Duergar are a good example of this but for this review, I’ll address the bandit camp. This camp of bandits consists of 19 str level 20 fighters, level 20 rogues, and level 11 mages who can cast at least 5 spells of every spell level up through and including 9. That’s right…level 11 mages that can cast Time Stop and fighters that are all stronger than ogres. I was level 13 at the time, by the way. And they continue the trend of attacking in the ‘kobold wave’ just like every other monster in the game.
Let me be as forthright as possible here. I want the game to be challenging. Tactics should be encouraged and rewarded. That being said, the protagonist and his party are supposed to be heroes. Let them be heroes. There is nothing heroic about being utterly outclassed by every single monster you meet and being forced to inch forward one step at a time because every full group of monsters is either a quick trip to ‘Reloadville’ or a guaranteed rest. Save the really tough and epic fights for the bosses, of which there are very, very few in this mod by the way. Make those bosses memorable by giving them special abilities that set them apart from the random encounters. By making every single encounter a chore, all you do is drag down the game and turn it into one grueling encounter after another. Let me try to explain what I mean. In BG2, we all remember fighting Irenicus and Bodhi and Abazigal and Melissan and on and on. We remember all the big fights because we are supposed to. The big villains are set apart from the random trash both in difficulty and in character. They are designed to be special and memorable. In this mod, I mostly remember being bored by beating on yet another super yeti/salamander/infernal dog/etc. I remember the final fight only because I just didn’t care anymore and really just wanted the mod to end. Not exactly the impression the mod is probably designed to invoke.
All in all, it would be better to think of this mod as a standalone game than as a continuation of the Baldur's Gate saga. In that respect, it's a decent offering. Continuity with the original game is very poor but it's pretty consistent within itself. If adherence to Baldur's Gate and Forgotten Realms history is important to you, this mod is going to send you into fits, however.
This mod was also dragged down by its 'dungeon crawl' feel. There are many, many areas with little to no itemization that you are forced to fight your way through to get to your objective. Add to this the almost complete lack of traps anywhere as well as virtual hordes of enemies and you end up with a lot of time spent hacking and slashing while doing nothing else.
Despite my complaints, I think this mod has a great deal of potential. It just hasn't reached it yet. This is a very ambitious project and, despite the mod being pretty rough around the edges, its creator is both open to suggestion and very willing to put in the effort to improve his creation. Many of the complaints I've voiced are being addressed for the next version and that would definitely make this a mod to keep your eyes on.
[ April 25, 2006, 16:59: Message edited by: Taluntain ]
|Sun, 18th Jun '06, 7:42pm||#2|
Latest gem: Glittering Beljuril
A little bit belated, but thanks for the review!