The Second Sky: Progressively Greater Stuck

I spent most of the time since my last post semi-stuck — “semi” because I had the option of unsticking myself at any time. There was an obvious path forward, and I wasn’t taking it. You know how there are extra-hard secret rooms? I had found an entire secret level, an extravagance that DROD generally saves for after Mastery.

Named “Tar Recycling Annex”, it was all about the way tar interacts with spike traps, which destroy it by the same rules as your sword. As a well-regulated imperial sub-system, there’s a uniformity to the rooms here. In every room, there’s a tar/spike chamber with a walkway around it, gated by pressure plates, and you have to get the tar to weigh down the right pressure plates for long enough to let you walk all the way around the walkway and reach a conquest token.

Conquest tokens have been part of the DROD for a few episodes now, but it seems to me that The Second Sky uses them more extensively than prior games. The idea is that they add an extra requirement to a puzzle: in addition to slaying all the monsters, you also have to step on the conquest tokens. There have even been puzzles with just the tokens and no monsters. Now, for most puzzle designs, they’re not absolutely necessary. If you want the player to go to a particular spot, you can put a roach in a corner and immobilize it with a force arrow, or put an orb there that opens the exit door, or various other tricks familiar to the experienced DROD player. The choice to use conquest tokens here is purely an aesthetic and thematic one. The feel of these rooms is stable, controlled, and mechanized. That means no extraneous monsters and no human conveniences.

Anyway, these rooms are hard. And there’s even a harder variant of one of the harder ones in a secret room. If I were still doing replays, I’d probably still be stubbornly refusing to move on, but since there’s still so much of the game I haven’t seen yet, I ditched with only half the level completed, something I don’t usually do in DROD because DROD doesn’t usually give you opportunities to do it. But The Second Sky encourages the player to skip around from level to level more than usual. Sure, there’s always been the Restore menu, letting you go back to any checkpoint you’ve hit, but now there’s also a world map, accessible whenever you exit a level, that makes it easy to revisit levels without losing state. So I was confident that I’d be able to go back and try to recycle more tar whenever I wanted.

What followed was a rather impressive bit of trollery on the part of the developers. Spoilers follow.

For most of the game to this point, there’s been a countdown to the Turning. It starts at over 200 days, and ticks down several days every time Beethro has to travel a significant distance. When I entered the Tar Recycling Annex, the countdown was at 98 days. But the moment I decided to start advancing the plot again, the Genocidal Madman Formerly Known as First Archivist managed to find a control room that let him accelerate the schedule. The world is basically destroyed, the map is wiped, and Beethro is stuck in an abandoned mine. And when I say “stuck”, I mean he can’t even leave the way he came. The only way out is forward, through more difficult puzzles.

It took me a while to realize just how inaccessible the previous levels had become. I can still go back via the Restore menu, of course, but I still hold some hope that I’ll be able to make the Turning unhappen and handle unfinished business diegetically. That’s because of the time beacons. The game has not only introduced a mechanism for rewinding time (in a small, local way), it’s made a point of discussing it in a cutscene, making it a part of the plot. That has to be leading somewhere.

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