Friday, 1 February 2008

Worst Ending Ever?

I've just gone back to Heroes of Might and Magic 4. My esteemed colleague Kelvin Gan would say I'm a sucker for punishment. Right now I'm thinking he's right.

So here's the scene: the final battle of the Nature campaign involves you hacking your way through untold masses of enemy armies to defeat your nemesis - the less-than-scary Lord Harke. You then have to return to your true love who is safely on an island. She'll know how things went because you've previously agreed to use blue sails if you win, or red sails if you lose and someone else is coming with bad news. Rather than, for example, simply waiting a few minutes for the messenger to dock and tell her. Anyway, you stumble upon Harke and his posse of badness hanging around by a small town. I found this a surprise as I was simply exploring. Nevertheless my band of happy psychos cut his army to ribbons and killed him. Cue a piece of dialogue where you spare his life, then rather than simply ending the game with a happy story you have to go hunt down your ship. This is where it gets fun.

You can look up "Scenario Information" at any time. This may tell you more, less or something entirely different from the initial mission brief. In this case it says "Kill Harke. Sail the correct ship back." No hint as to which colour ship that might be. Oh no. So if, like me, it has been some time since you've played the thing you have NO idea how to end the mission successfully. I had to save the game, reload the level to get the briefing back, then reload my save. Great.

Now if you think that's a genius piece of game design how about this: you find the correct ship (blue if you're stuck) and sail over to the island. Then you get a lovely dialogue from some of the other people there saying your love has seen the sails and gone off to kill herself. What? It appears you've sailed the wrong ship. But the game doesn't end? Queue reloading and getting in the other boat - this time you don't even reach the island before being told she's dead. So back to the other boat and we finally find out what's going on. It seems that in order to create a "dramatic" ending the authors decided to have your crew change the sails to the wrong colour! The swines! Anyway, the woman runs off to kill herself but if you go inland (not that there is any reason to do so - you've been told she's dead remember) you trigger another event where you start with a bit of angst before going a bit further and finding out she's not dead after all. Queue happy endings all round. Seriously, what were they thinking when they put this wonderful twist in? Are they just trying to alienate anyone playing for any length of time? A dangerous game considering you can beat the entire game using pretty much the same set of tactics. And there is a lot of game...

That said, this is the game where one of the 6 campaigns ends up with your character having no legs and a miserable-ever-after. You lose your legs in the final cut scene - AFTER you make your last move. No choice, no chance to do anything about it.