Monday, 23 February 2009

Fire on the Water

My first thought upon preparing for Fire on the Water was that I really didn't want to play through the entire series with a Combat Score of 10. Accordingly, I decided to reject random combat-stats entirely and settle for average, or as near as possible scores of 14 (Combat) and 25 (Endurance). I selected Sixth Sense as my new discipline, rather unwisely as it turned out.
I should perhaps add that at this stage I had still failed to note the rules regarding Healing and non-combat wounds, but I don't think this had much of an effect upon the game.
Fire on the Water differs from the preceeding book in several ways. Firstly, it's a great deal more linear and tightly-plotted. As in, there actually is a plot. A consequence of the linearity is that it takes much longer to complete, as the book contains the same number of paragraphs. This obviously somewhat reduces the replay value, as there is never really more than one way to get from point to point, though there is of course variation in what happens along the way.
My overall impressions are very favourable (and it seems from a bit of reading that others generally regard this as one of the series' best)- the plot, involving much escaping assassins (or not), a fair bit of sailing around in ships, and a general sense that someone is actively trying to stop you. It also, for the most part, continues in the tradition of the previous book by being fair, though in one instance I was killing taking an action that, while it was pretty stupid, the book was heavily trying to point me towards, to the degree of describing the alterantive (and correct) course of action as "risky", and almost suggesting that the stupid course of action was mandatory if I had the correct item to perform it. 
My biggest complaint, however, is that one section of the book cannot be bypassed without either being fairly stupid and winning a very difficult fight, or having a particular discipline, which, sad to say, was not among those I picked the first time around.
While this does not violate the statement at the front of the book that says that the book should be possible to complete with minimum combat scores if the disciplines are well-chosen, it is still terribly unfair, since there is no indication prior to beginning that this discipline might be required, or even particularly useful.
There are also a number of cases where the book doesn't let you select a perfectly reasonable action. The most glaring example occurs after one of your travelling companions tries to murder you, only in such a way as to make it non-obvious which one of them it was. You are required to immediately attack one of your companions, even if you feel you lack evidence as to which one it was (like me. I guessed the culprit correctly, as it happens, but I'm unsure how I was supposed to know who to target- perhaps I missed something). Even more oddly, it is arguably better to attack the traveller who is weakest in combat rather than the real culprit, particularly if your combat score is poor.
This also, of course, makes it impossible to get through the book without a fight, as was possible in Flight from the Dark.
On a number of occasions, the book actually punishes you (usually mildly) for having a particular discipline, which is a little odd, though not necessarily a problem. 
Towards the end of the book you acquire the magic sword you've been questing towards. This is a massively powerful weapon, as it adds 8 to your combat score (yes, 8), and inflicts double damage against undead. I'll talk about this more in following reviews, I expect, but it seems to create a very large differential between characters who have and have not played book 2.
One last critical point: the ending of the book is very well written and very dramatic, and this book at least I cannot accuse of being insufficiently epic.
I succeeded on my third go, this time, though I got well over half way through the first twice, dying to insta-deaths on both occassions, both discussed above. I eventually swapped Sixth Sense out for the discipline required to complete the book sensibly. If you must put nasty difficult-to-avoid deathtraps in, it would be nice if they weren't close to the end, particularly in a fairly linear adventure.

1 comment:

  1. "I guessed the culprit correctly, as it happens, but I'm unsure how I was supposed to know who to target- perhaps I missed something"

    -> For me, it was perfectly clear which travel companion to attack. There is a hint in the picture of that section.

    The priest has a tattoo of a serpent on his wrist - just like the thugs that attack you at the beginning of the book before you board your ship.

    Other than that I mostly agree with your review, especially about the linearity and the point where you either have to face an extremly hard fight or have to have the right discipline.