Right from the beginning, I was all up in Warcraft III‘s singleplayer RPG scene; a combination of a penchant for world-saving power-fantasies and limited internet access made it the natural choice. So in this series, I’m finally going to discuss some of those maps that had a big impact on the way I do things…
Today: the oft-forgotten Legends of Xenthis: Return of the Vampyres by Tim Williams a.k.a. Krythan.
Legends of Xenthis: Return of the Vampyres
I think this is possibly the first map to ever use a dummy hero as a backpack. We’re talking the heady days of 2006, here, when I was fairly well established in the singleplayer AoS genre but hadn’t yet blistered onto the full-scale SPRPG scene. (Sure, that’s not as far back as when I was salivating over Season of Uncertainty but it’s still donkeys ago.)
Legends of Xenthis: Return of the Vampyres is a “classic” RPG in every sense of the word. It begins with choosing your protagonist from the staples of Swordsman, Spellweaver and Ranger.
Naturally I picked the Warrior. No surprises there — his unit model is TheCaptain.
Story-wise, it’s even more “classic” — immediately upon selecting your hero, you are hailed the Chosen One by a telepathic dream message. The main quest begins innocuously enough, but you are soon tasked with tracking down the source of your visions and then the game truly begins.
It’s actually a very nice introduction. I’m always conscious of starting games with a kind of… slow zone. Somewhere the player can get their wits, get used to the controls; not a tutorial per se, but a less important sandbox. The twist here is that, while the visions introduce the real story, you don’t act upon them until the first “mundane” events are dealt with and you’ve found your feet. The disorientation of having an “unrelated” start is offset by knowledge that the actual game is soon to come.
The other classic RPG element is… Craftiiiing!
Even though the world begins littered with reagents, it takes until at least half-way through chapter 2 before you actually gain access to the crafting bench. Once you can craft, you need to track down recipes or mash things and see what comes out — alas, unlike Magnador, there seem to be rather a lot less potential outcomes and a lot more ingredients so mashing isn’t such a viable strategy. You also don’t have such an accommodating inventory where you can stash reagents out the way without impacting what you’ve got access to in the real world — the unit backpack is sublime but it’s still only an extra six slots (hence when I ended up with two backpacks in This Wreckage… and that didn’t even have crafting).
The next element is decidedly non-classic… At least, in my sheltered experience of RPGs and no doubt criminally narrow definition of “classic”.
Once you find the source of your visions, you gain access to a transformation skill: a supreme elemental monster that can unleash ultimate beat-down in a manner that befits your chosen hero.
It’s interesting in that your alternate and normal forms gain experience independently, so you’re almost forced to use the transformation as often as possible so it doesn’t fall too far behind. On the other hand, this divides your experience points between the two, meaning that getting both to the dizzying heights of level 15 is a privilege rather than a right.
The downside is that… Well… When you transform, you get a very anime transformation sequence (I don’t know why I say “anime”, because I’ve never actually watched an anime). This is great the first time — after the twentieth, it gets a little bit wearing. Not even cinematic skip, son?
Okay, one thing I will point out as a fairly reasonable flaw: it is slow. Not in terms of story, which is pretty well paced, but in movement and attack speeds — I might be a highly trained Level 1 Master Swordsman, but it’s still going to take two minutes more than it needs to to hack through these wild animals. Maybe I’m just too used to the mad hyperactivity of Project Y4.
It doesn’t really help that settlements are so spread out. This is most apparent when the Furbolgs ask you to check on the Wildkin — who are two seconds through a mountain pass (both villages are much wider than the distance between them), so close that the villages basically merge together, apart from this geographical barrier. It could certainly do with the settlements being more concentrated, even if that had to mean more wilderness in between.
It also has to be noted that side quests tend not to be sign-posted with yellow exclamation marks or even named characters, so you do need to take a good close swing by every unit to make sure you’ve got the lot. New quests open and close with each chapter, so if you’re a completist you may find yourself wandering around a lot more than is strictly pleasant.
Well, you know by the fact that it’s on here alone that this map comes recommended. Like Morrowind, it may require a little perseverance before it really takes off — but if you’re looking for a nice big meaty slab of adventure and world-saving, this is a good place to find it.