CotAB: Premise

Curse of the Azure Bonds is a sequel to two things, a game and a novel. The game is of course Pool of Radiance, and I’ve just gotten far enough into it to see how the plots are linked (the end boss has apparently returned). The novel is Azure Bonds, a Forgotten Realms novel by Kate Novak and Jeff Grubb. I had no idea about this until after I started playing, but just looking at the book’s description on Wikipedia, I see that certain minor characters in the game were drawn from the novel. I suspect that the story would be a little easier to follow if I were already familiar with them.

Not that it’s exactly been hard to follow. The premise is a simple one — it’s essentially a fantasy version of The Manchurian Candidate. Before the game starts, the player characters are captured by bad guys, who afflict them with mind-control tattoos: five blue glyphs running down the arm, each representing a different master who can take control of your actions. Before you can leave the starting city, you’re compelled to attempt regicide.

It’s the sort of premise that has the potential for interesting gameplay, and I suppose that’s why they chose that particular novel. I’m not sure if it actually translates into game mechanics here, though. I’m imagining situations where your ability to give commands to your characters is constrained, like in Tower of Heaven, and the engine probably doesn’t support that; the one time I’ve been compelled so far, it happened in a noninteractive text passage. Still, the five bonds give the game an obvious structure: five symbols, five enemies. I’ve already defeated an entire guild of assassins, resulting in the erasure of one symbol, although I’m not sure how that works, or why they didn’t just compel my characters to march right out of the guild’s hideout or stab themselves in the throat or something. I suppose the whammy must have limitations of some sort.

As the game’s intro sequence asserts a couple of times, what’s at stake here is “control of your destiny”. And this raises a point of unity of form and content, although I’m not sure whether this was intended or not. Up to the point where you get rid of the first symbol, the game is quite linear, and seems particularly so in contrast to Pool of Radiance. Afterwards, exiled from the realm where you start (because they can’t blame you for being mind-controlled, but at the same time it’s too dangerous to have you around while it can happen again), you get your first real choice: where to go next. So, as a result of getting rid of the bonds, you gain control of your destiny. We’ll see if this continues.

4 Comments so far

  1. Starmaker on 18 Feb 2010

    CotAB the game is less a sequel than a re-imagining of the novel with YOU! as the main character(s), a new line of villains and a new plot (generic instead of wacky). The sigils have no effect on gameplay.

    Also, this is the only Gold Box game where you’d want to have a thief in the party. Their Backstab ability is pretty awesome. Among other things, it’ll allow you to pwn crazy powerful doods in the North. Elves are useful for finding secret doors.

    Also x2: CotAB is the third best Gold Box, like, ever. 2nd place belongs to Gateway to the Savage Frontier (the other FR series) and the most epic game is Death Knights of Krynn, the second and final (what dark queen? there was no dark queen) episode in the Krynn series. Be sure to play these two someday.

  2. danowar on 18 Feb 2010

    Opinions do differ, I thought that Gateway was a weaker entry, and that Pools of Darkness and Dark Queen were the best games. I suppose I like high-level play. :-)

  3. Carl Muckenhoupt on 19 Feb 2010

    Well, the Forgotten Realms anthology that I’m playing from here has the Savage Frontier games, so those are definitely in my future plans. I don’t have any of the Krynn games, though that could of course change.

  4. Starmaker on 19 Feb 2010

    Okay, nerd rage time.

    High levels introduce new ways to instagib the PCs while not adding much to PC tactics. In fact, once Delayed Blast Fireball rolls around, it becomes the only spell you’re going to cast.
    This is why: Part of the price factor of interesting spells (say, charm person) in tabletop is their interesting effects on the plot. Needless to say, these are nonexistent in the CRPG. Plus, enemies appear more often and in greater numbers: twenty deepfried evil fighters are better than one on your side. So damage-dealing area spells are better, and since disintegration can hit you when you’re busy casting Meteor Shower, the only spell you cast against dangerous opposition is the instant DBF. (And it doesn’t matter what you cast against weak opposition: the whole idea of colorful and useless spells to show off in a battle with a solitary wandering rabbit is retarded.)

    In DQoK, MUs (DBF) and Solamnics (full THAC0, -31 AC, full cleric casting) pwn everything. Since the game assumes a 6-char party, a character of any other class is a liability.
    In PoD, any difference that might have been between various full THAC0 classes evaporates. You still need a cleric for fixing, though.
    In CotAB, clerics and thieves matter.

    High level is also the time when max level restrictions come into play, so everyone’s a human.

    DQoK has improved character models, and some of them are even hot. On the other hand, keyboard arrows don’t work, have fun (re-)learning hotkeys.

    DQoK takes place on another continent. I can’t stress enough how retarded that decision was. Plus, you never get to do anything interesting (baf, here would’ve been “spoilers” except there’s nothing to spoil):
    the door at the top doesn’t open;
    the traitorous rogue escapes (you can interrupt the plot by kicking him out);
    you don’t save the princess;
    the iconics you meet never fight alongside you;
    the cleric you’ve been chasing in the two excellent missions escapes;
    you never visit the elves;
    someone else wins the game;
    there is no cow level.
    Good parts: underwater, fine long bow (item, makes archery good again), palace and temple, the portal battle.
    This is in contrast to DKoK where you’re going around the map bringing peace and justice everywhere and feeling heroic. And you get to off two iconics. Isn’t it just marvelous? Also, there’s an excellent bonus mission after you win the game and the dust settles, with TONS of treasure and a unique monster.
    DKoK wins.

    PoD is linear. Everything has spell resistance so you’re going from location to location as defined by the local SR level (your three Wizards must be able to reliably hit with DBFs).
    Elminster (Greenwood’s wet dream) has been heavily criticized and the defense that Greenwood used was “Elminster sits in place and dispenses good advice, he doesn’t go around bitchslapping the PCs”. Well, in PoD, Elminster wins the game. Congratudammitlations.
    Also, the evil wizard escapes.
    Good part: Verdigris temple. Very nice, very oldschool.
    Now, in CotAB, you don’t get to kill a certain character, but events do resolve favorably.
    CotAB wins.

    I don’t remember much about Treasures except the plain horrible timed missions and the finale which even Wikipedia acknowledges as irrelevant to the plot. Oh, and I loved being hailed as heroes, but much of it had to do with actually winning Gateway.
    As for Gateway, it’s an open-exploration game without the gloom of DKoK. I placed it second because of the annoying Scrappy who hangs around for the whole game (my sister named him Plunger) and lack of a bonus mission.
    Gateway wins.

    P.S. To avoid the stupid, clone your characters.

    P.P.S. You figured out the crazy powerful items in the South were a trap, right?

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