Gemcraft: The Shadows I’m Apparently Chasing

I mentioned before that there’s a type of randomly-appearing monster in Gemcraft: Chasing Shadows called a Shadow, described as an “avatar of the Forgotten”. A bigger Shadow was also the final boss in the previous game, Gemcraft: Labyrinth; the smaller Shadows have fewer hit points but are otherwise basically unchanged from the original. (It reminds me a little of beating the Slayer at the end of DROD: Journey to Rooted Hold and then facing “Slayer trainees” in its sequel.) Shadows have by far the most complex behavior of any enemy type in the game. They drift around the battlefield, ignoring the path and all obstacles, constantly increasing their armor as they go, occasionally pausing to execute one of their various abilities: spawning spawnlings, firing projectiles at your base, buffing other monsters, healing, turning temporarily invulnerable — each power accompanied by morphing into a different shape. And it all seems a bit of a waste, because by the time you start encountering them, you can pretty much one-shot them. There’s a Vision level or two where you have to defeat Shadows without your skill upgrades, and that’s pretty much the only opportunity to have a real shadow fight.

There’s one particularly notable thing about shadows, though: they’re capable of moving while the game is paused. They’re greatly slowed down, but not immobile like most things. This is the sort of real-time game where you can keep on interacting with the UI while it’s paused, and I frequently do — most of the time, when I want to effect any change on the battlefield, I pause the game while doing it, so that the time spent just moving my mouse around won’t count against me. So it’s really fairly alarming to realize that it doesn’t quite work on everything.

I kind of suspect that this behavior was originally a bug. It’s the sort of thing that would happen if, say, they keep Shadows from colliding with things by putting them on the UI layer, and then can’t completely stop the UI layer and still have it interactive, so instead they just give it a very small but positive time scale. I have no idea if that explanation is at all close to how it happened, but it’s the general sort of thing I expect. Regardless, even if it was a bug at some point, the designers definitely embraced it, as reflecting the sort-of-fourth-wall-breaking nature of the Forgotten, whose avatar the Shadows are. This is an important part of game design: When things don’t behave the way you want, a good designer asks “Is this better or worse than the intended behavior?”

Gemcraft: What Grinding Means

Now, I said before that the shadow demon known as “the Forgotten” appears at random once you’ve made sufficient progress in Chasing Shadows. But I just noticed that it’s been a while since I last saw her. Which makes sense! Once you’ve reached the end of the game’s story, she no longer has any reason to bother you. Her monsters still attack, but we can take that as more or less automatic. It just means she didn’t bother turning off the monster spigot when she moved on to the sequel.

But wait. That means that the post-game here is diegetic. It’s not just the player revisiting earlier parts of the story, it’s the player character, the wizard seeking to contain the Forgotten, continuing to wander the battlefields after he has nothing more to gain. The player has motivations: achievements, completion, finding all the game’s secrets, particularly the secret of the grey trees. I suppose that uncovering secrets is a suitable motivation for a wizard as well. But the rest?

The main thing that the PC gets out of it all is power, in the form of XP from defeating monsters. This has lore implications if we take it seriously. Is all your magic fueled by death? Moreover, the PC isn’t just killing monsters out of necessity in this case. You’re deliberately goading them to attack, setting battle traits to attract more waves, using gems to enrage the waves so there will be more of them to kill. The PC is the aggressor, the instigator of completely unnecessary violence.

And in a lot of games, I’d make comments about ludonarrative dissonance here. But in Gemcraft, it fits the story pretty well! This is a dark fantasy, set in a bleak wasteland, long abandoned by humans. The sole great task of the wizards is to deal with the consequences of a terrible mistake they made long ago — not even to correct that mistake, but just to limit it, keep it from causing any more harm than it already has. And that’s a battle they’re losing. And if the story as a whole is one of punishment for hubris, pushing the PC into morally questionable activities in the pursuit of power is hardly out of place.

Gemcraft: Environmental Hazards

I said before that I like to keep a tower dedicated to demolishing Beacons as they appear. One nice powerful yellow gem with its targeting priority set to Structures, positioned where it can hit most of the screen — I’d say all of the screen, but it’ll hit creeps when there are no structures to target, and you really want to give the mana-leeching gems first crack at them. However, some levels have elements that try to convince you not to do this.

Basically, there are structures that can be harmful to hit, and which gems will only target if they’re set to prioritize structures. One is inherited from the previous game in the series: sealed tombs, which, when cracked open, emit dense clouds of monsters, palette-swapped to pure black to reinforce the impression that they’re not so much individual creatures as a contiguous mass. These are really not so bad for the high-level player, though. Each tomb holds a finite set of monsters, and once you’e wiped them out, the tomb holds nothing more to fear.

This is not the case for the spawnling hives. Spawnlings are basically the same as swarmlings, just outside of the normal enemy waves. One of the random special powers sometimes assigned to a wave of giants is “spawns 3 spawnlings on death”, which isn’t that big a deal as long as you have multiple killing points along the path. These hives, though, are something else. They emit spawnlings when attacked, and the more they’re attacked, the tougher the spawnlings get. Understand that a high-grade gem can fire over a hundred shots per second. If you set such a gem to prioritize structures and put it in range of a hive, you can wind up with ultra-powerful spawnlings, ones that you don’t have a prayer of killing, before you realize what you’ve done and correct your mistake.

Then there’s the corrupted mana shards. Mana shards are environmental features that are basically like mines in an RTS: firing at them with gems gives you extra mana until the supply runs out. Very often there’s also a crust you have to break through before you can start harvesting them productively. Corrupted mana shards are similar, except for two things: they never run out of mana, and they eat away at any gem that fires on them, making it do less damage and, consequently, harvest less mana. As far as I can tell, the result is that harvesting a corrupted shard just isn’t worth it. The amount of mana that a gem can get out of it before it’s rendered useless is always going to be less than the cost of the gem. They’re not as disastrous as a spawnling hive, but still best avoided.

Accommodating these things is a nice little extra puzzle in the few levels where they appear. You want to cover as much ground as you can without accidentally hitting them, and that means placing towers where their circles of effect will leave just the right gaps. I wish the levels did more of this sort of thing.

Gemcraft: Grey Trees

I’m still playing Gemcraft: Chasing Shadows. Because the game isn’t strictly ordered, there are still multiple levels I haven’t beat — in particular, the “Vision” levels, optional strategy-puzzle challenges where you don’t have access to the skills and XP you’ve accumulated. Without the option of just bludgeoning a level to submission with superior force, the game can actually be pretty challenging.

But also, if I finish all those, there are still the Achievements. There’s a lot of them. Do I want to achieve them all? I don’t know. Maybe. It depends on how many are left after I’ve completed all the levels. But there’s one particular achievement that I definitely want to try for, and that’s because it’s a riddle. Its name is “Grey Trees” and its description, where most of the game’s Achievements give you explicit instructions on how to get it, is simply “11331791”.

Some possible leads: I’ve seen some grey trees in a level or two; there was one level in particular where all the trees were grey. The in-game Achievements page can be filtered by various keywords, such as “Gem” or “Enhancement spell” or “Destroy”, and the only keyword for Grey Trees is “Click”. Most levels display gameplay tips while they’re loading; a few instead show a row of gem shapes. Since the shape of a gem indicates its “grade”, this is a way of representing a sequence of numbers. And every one of the levels with the gem shapes also contains a mysterious compass embedded in the ground, which rotates to point in a new direction every time you click on it. The direction of the compass has no obvious effect, but the game considers them important enough that compass levels are marked with a special icon on the map screen.

I’m assuming that I’ll have to turn the compasses to some particular direction, but what? I’ll have to do some experiments, find out if the gem shapes vary from level to level and if changing the compass direction changes them. And once I get everything into the right orientation, what then? Is that the only step needed? Will it open up some extra-secret level? I don’t know.

It all reminds me of the special post-Mastery levels in the later DROD games. But DROD was already a puzzle game; adding in additional secret puzzles was far from unexpected. But then, neither is it incongruous here. It may not match the gameplay, but it fits right in with the fiction, a story of wizards facing uncertainty, fighting a shadowy foe who outsmarts them at every turn.

Gemcraft: Enemies

The Gemcraft series is pretty minimalist about its creeps. It uses just three archetypes: normal enemies called “reavers”, weak but fast and numerous “swarmlings”, and tough but slow “giants”. Any wave will consist of just one enemy type, with their appearance randomized from wave to wave, probably to help justify their increasing stats. Sometimes a wave will have randomly-assigned special powers. And that’s it, for regular enemies.

But there are also special monsters. Gemcraft: Labyrinth, the third game, had various special bosses like Arcane Guardians on key levels: you’d think you’re done because the last numbered wave is over, but then something large and glowing and very hard to kill would start making its way very slowly down the path. The final level was protected by a Shadow, a creature made of particle effects that moves outside the paths and has a fairly complicated repertoire of behavior. Also floating free from the paths were the ghostly Apparitions, which are kind of like the saucers in Space Invaders: they don’t attack at all, but you can shoot them down for a bonus. Apparitions aren’t bosses. They just appear at random from time to time.

And it’s these random appearances that Chasing Shadows adopted as the basis for all of its special monsters! There are no bosses per se here: special challenge levels are instead done by giving you special tasks, like destroying locks or activating ancient devices. But we get random appearances from boss-like creatures. In particular, the Shadow from Labyrinth, toned down a bit, becomes just another thing that happens once in a while.

The most interesting randomly-appearing boss-like enemy is the Forgotten. A demon that manifests sometimes as a tentacle monster and sometimes as a woman with skeletal arms, the Forgotten is the main antagonist of the series, but doesn’t appear in the game levels until about halfway through Chasing Shadows. In fact, she arguably doesn’t appear in the game levels even then. She appears to be in some way outside of the game, like the player. When she appears, you just see her silhouette on the screen, as if she’s passing in front of a movie projector, which would place her in the player’s physical space.

Because the Forgotten isn’t inside the scene where your gems and spells have their effects, she cannot be fought. When she shows up, she just takes a semi-fourth-wall-breaking action and leaves. Sometimes she enrages some of the upcoming waves, making them tougher to beat, which frankly never seemed all that bad to me — as I noted previously, I was enraging most waves myself by the end, so when the Forgotten does it for me, all she’s really doing is sparing me a little effort and expense. Ah, but the other thing she can do is fearsome: sometimes she takes control away from the player. For about the duration of a single wave, all the controls are simply removed from the screen and all you can do is sit and watch events unfold. Which you normally spend a lot of time doing anyway, but you usually at least have the ability to spring into action if there’s a sudden need, and she temporarily takes that away.

All special monsters, including the Forgotten, are heralded at least a wave in advance by glitches and flickers, as if their eldritch presence is interfering with the magic you’re using to view the scene. So you at least get some warning when the Forgotten is about to show up and mess with your plans, a trick that the game uses to make you blame yourself for the outcome.

Gemcraft: Endgame Tactics

As much as the details change over the course of the Gemcraft series, there are some things that are curiously constant. In a typical tower defense game, different types of weapon fire differently: you’ll have some equivalent of machine guns and sniper rifles and laser beams, differing in how frequently they fire, how far, whether they do instant damage or fire a slow projectile, whether they hit a single target or everything within a certain range. The magic gems that are your weapons in Gemcraft basically do all of that the same. No matter what the gem, they fire the same sorts of projectiles in the same way. Oh, there’s a little variation: chain hit gems have a longer reach, poison gems have a higher base damage, things like that. But the difference between different types (or colors) of gem is never that great, and it’s completely overshadowed by the difference between grades of gem. Upgrading a gem improves it in every regard: its range, its fire rate, the speed of its projectiles and how much damage they do — and the power of its special effects.

The effects, now. That is what distinguishes the type of gem. Exactly what types are avalable varies a little from game to game in the series, as do the details of what they do. For example, when bloodbound gems were introduced in the third game, they became more powerful the more kills they get. In Chasing Shadows, they become more powerful the more hits they get, which makes it a lot easier to bring a new bloodbound gem into play late in the level. (Bloodbound gems also changed color between games, from red to black. This is the sort of thing you only notice when you play the entire series in a row.)

For most of Chasing Shadows, I found it prudent to have multiple types of gem in play whenever I could. For swarmers, you want red chain hit gems. For heavily-armored giants, you want either purple armor-tearing gems, or green poison gems (because poison damage bypasses armor), or both. I found it effective to have two towers with blue slowing gems: one targeting the enemy closest to the base, as is the default, to make sure the one most urgently in need of slowing gets slowed, and the other set to target at random, to spread the slowness around. There’s cyan gems whose special power is to suppress healing, which isn’t actually all that useful, because things tend to die before they can heal, but I’d gladly throw one of those in once the more essential gems were in place for the few cases where it was useful. And everything could benefit from being combined with a white poolbound gem, which enhances the other special attributes.

By the endgame, though, things were a lot simpler. With sufficient power, I was relying on just two gem effects: orange mana leeching gems and yellow critical hit gems. (Both enhanced with poolbound, of course.) Mana leeching gems are weak in the beginning, doing slightly less damage than other gems for a marginal gain, but if you keep upgrading them, they become your main source of mana, taking in tens of thousands with every hit. Place it in a trap instead of a tower to maximize its yield, and spend most of its mana output on upgrading it. A sufficiently powerful critical hit gem kills everything that doesn’t perish on the mana leeching trap. Critical hit multipliers just keep on increasing as you upgrade the gem, so that eventually it’s got a multiplier in the millions or billions, and fires fast enough to guarantee that everything it hits gets hit by a crit, multiple times. With damage like that, who cares about armor or healing?

You’ll notice that getting these things up to superpower levels requires upgrading them a lot, which costs a lot of mana. So, yes, most of my endgame involves not just two types of gem, but two gems. But I liked to make one exception to this: a second yellow gem dedicated set to target structures, specifically to destroy beacons. Beacons are enemy buildings that aid the monsters in various ways: there are beacons that heal monsters within range, ones that grant them shields, ones that prevent you from building in a certain area, etc. They’re rarities when you first encounter them, appearing only in certain levels. But one of the special powers sometimes found in enemy waves is “spawns a beacon on death”. And beacons give tons of XP when destroyed. So once you’re strong enough, it makes sense to make sure you “enrage” those waves (sacrificing gems to increase the number of monsters) to get lots and lots of beacon-spawning enemies. It gets so that the level is saturated with beacons, popping up as fast as you can destroy them.

In fact, enraging waves in general is one of those things that I didn’t see the point of at first, but which became a key part of my tactics by the end. I mean, spending precious mana on a gem only to give it up to make things more difficult? But more enemies means more enemies getting killed, and also more enemies walking over my mana-leeching traps, both of which mean more mana to spend on getting stronger for later waves.

So, that was where I stand as of the final level. But I do still have some suspicion that it’s not the final best strategy. I mean, look at traps. I used traps a lot in the early part of the game, the better to deliver unblockable poison damage to lots of foes at once. Then I abandoned them for a while as increases in poison damage didn’t keep up with my needs. But by the end, I was making heavy use of traps again for the mana-leeching gems. I can imagine that eventually, as the stats reach even farther into the ridiculously astronomical, I might start seeing armor that blunts even my strongest critical hit, prompting me to bring out the armor-tearing gems again. Things may well be cyclical.

Gemcraft series (but mostly Chasing Shadows)

So, I’ve played a bunch of hidden object games this season. And I’ve played a whole lot of Train Valley 2. But the main thing I’ve played, the biggest constant throughout the pandemic, has been Gemcraft 1Officially, the title is capitalized as “GemCraft”, but I find that less pleasing, ambiguous in how to pronounce it properly. Besides, I called it “Gemcraft” in all my previous posts, so why stop now?. And when I say Gemcraft, I mean all of it. The near-simultaneous releases of a new Gemcraft sequel and a couple of standalone Flash players with bundled games in response to the long-awaited Death of Flash on the web spurred me to try to actually play every game in the series to the end for the first time. This experience has played the same role in my life this year that Creeper World 3 did a couple years back.

I’ve written a few posts before about the fourth Gemcraft game, Gemcraft Chapter 2: Chasing Shadows. The fact that the fourth game is labeled “2” is a little peculiar, but not unprecedented. To recap, it’s a series of wizard-themed tower defense games based around two innovations: the ability to move your weapons around from tower to tower, and press-your-luck gameplay where you can make levels more difficult for greater reward, both before starting the level and while playing it. Once you’ve leveled up a little from the beginning, the only reason you ever fail is overconfidence. Right now, literally between starting this post and finishing it, I’ve played to the ending of Chasing Shadows. This was quite unexpected. A conspicuous gap in the overworld map made me think that I had some way to go yet, but that gap only fills in on victory. It looks like it may be the setting for Chapter 3.

The other chief thing of note about these games is that they’re long. Far longer than is comfortable for my normal binge play-style. They’re really meant to be played a bit at a time over a long period, but even then, you’re going to level up to the point where the challenge is gone long before you reach the end. This is part of how the game tempts you to turn up the difficulty. But it’s also part of the appeal when you’re in a certain state of mind. If I’ve found myself playing Train Valley 2 a lot lately, it’s because it offers a fantasy of control, of making plans and executing them. Gemcraft offers a fantasy of mastery, of not having to put in the effort you once did. Of waving away even the most absurdly overpowered attackers.

It also offers to contradict that. After you win a level, you can keep on going in “Endurance Mode”, where it just keeps on sending enemies in increasing numbers until they finally overwhelm you. Endurance Mode is one of the keys to gaining XP fast, and gaining XP fast is also one of the game’s great joys. When you’re powerful enough, you don’t just work towards gaining levels one at a time, you get dozens at once, the XP bar at the main screen swiftly filling repeatedly, the ding turning into a jingle.

Chara would love this game.

And it seems to know that. The story underlying the series is one of repeatedly being morally compromised, of being tricked into doing the work of demons. The second game, Chapter 0: Gem of Eternity, has you playing the character who will become the antagonist of the first.

I’ll have more to say about Chasing Shadows tomorrow. I may have won, but I’m not done with it yet.

1 Officially, the title is capitalized as “GemCraft”, but I find that less pleasing, ambiguous in how to pronounce it properly. Besides, I called it “Gemcraft” in all my previous posts, so why stop now?

Gemcraft: Stopping for now

Even though I’m most of the way through Gemcraft: Chasing Shadows, I think I have to hang it up for a bit for the sake of this blog’s recovery. I need to play something I can finish, and this game isn’t really designed around finishing. It’s designed to be a lifestyle game, like Candy Crush Saga or the Elder Scrolls series — something that you keep dipping into over a long period of time. That’s how I was playing it before I started blogging again: at most a battle or two a day, and not all of them victorious. New unlocks, new ideas, were sparse. Mostly it was just new battlefields. There’s well over a hundred maps — more than I’ve ever seen in a tower defense — and the systems of level-specific achievements and harder difficulty levels that net you more XP are all trying to get you to play them more than once. People online talk about beating Endurance mode, which I didn’t think was even theoretically possible.

But I do want to come back to it (or keep coming back to it). It’s insanely polished, especially in comparison to previous Gemcrafts, to the point where I fear it will spoil me for other tower defenses. I can see this being the game that I play between other games this year.

Gemcraft: Some Vague Math

OK, I started talking before about how the exponentially-stronger enemies in Gemcraft: Chasing Shadows inevitably overtake the player. That’s a good safe way to design things where the numbers get arbitrarily large; it’s the cornerstone of the Clicker genre, for example. And this is certainly a game where numbers can get large. After you win a battle, you have the option to keep going in “Endurance mode”, which means letting additional waves keep coming for as long as you’re capable of fending them off, the better to rack up lots of XP. In this mode, I’ve seen it get to the point where it’s expressing enemy hit points in scientific notation.

I’d like to go into more detail about the efficiency of gems, and how it’s possible to keep pace with the exponentiation for longer.

First of all, more powerful grades of gem are created by fusing gems. In general, you make a grade n+1 gem by fusing two grade n gems. There’s a hotkey for upgrading a gem, but using it is exactly equivalent, in both effect and cost, to creating a duplicate of the gem and then fusing them. Creating a grade 1 gem and fusing two gems are both primitive actions that cost a fixed amount of mana. Creating a grade n gem from these primitives would require 2^(n-1) grade 1 gem creations and 2^(n-1)-1 fusions.

Now, the damage that a gem does per hit varies with the color of the gem, but one thing is consistent: the damage per hit of a grade n+1 gem is less than twice that of a grade n gem. Given that the cost of a grade n+1 gem is more than twice that of a grade n gem, it may seem like it’s always worthwhile to deploy multiple low-grade gems rather than a few high-grade ones. But there are several confounding factors. For one thing, there’s only so much space on the board. I’ve been routinely getting my strongest gems above grade 20 lately, and there’s no way to deploy 2^20 grade 1 gems, because that’s more than a million gems. Also, high-grade gems fire more shots per second than low-grade ones, although there’s a cap to that. Sometimes you need to do lots of damage in one hit to punch through armor or overwhelm regeneration effects. There’s a trick where you cast a beam spell on a mana-leeching gem to get lots of mana-leeching done at once, and you need a high-level mana-leeching gem to get the most out of that.

Regardless, the cost of gems rises exponentially with level, and the damage they do also rises approximately exponentially. I haven’t crunched the numbers, so the “approximately” there could be hiding a significant factor, like a penalty that increases with the grade. But let’s assume it doesn’t and say that the two exponentials cancel out and the resulting damage-per-second-per-cost is basically constant. That means that the damage you can put out is proportional to the mana you’ve collected.

Yellow gems increase this by doing critical hits some of the time. In the original Gemcraft, with its overall lower numbers, critical hits were simply triple damage, and the chance of getting a crit increased with the grade of gem. But triple damage doesn’t mean a lot in the exponential world of Chasing Shadows, so it works differently: the grade increases the crit multiplier. (The chance of a crit still increases with grade, but caps out at 80% before too long.) The multiplier increases in the same not-quite-doubling way as the base damage, so the overall damage from yellow gems is proportional to the square of the mana you’ve collected. This is clearly going to track the increases in enemy strength for longer.

Add a white component, and you have an additional factor, which is harder to analyze. White gems give an additional multiplier to both damage and specials — which is to say, on a yellow gem, it increases damage twice, once as a bonus to the base damage and once as a bonus to the crit multiplier. However, this multiplier increases only linearly with gem grade — which is to say, it increases logarithmically with the mana you’ve invested in it. It also increases with the size of your mana pool, but that also only increases at exponentially increasing intervals, so let’s call the end result log(n)^3. It’s a bonus worth getting, but in the long run, it’s going to be insignificant compared to the quadratic and even linear increases from just upgrading ordinary gems. I’ve seen it said online that the multipliers from black gems start outstripping white gems at around grade 30, but I haven’t got there yet.

Orange gems increase the rate at which you collect mana. Each hit from an orange gem gives you a fixed amount of mana that increases with the grade of gem at a less-than-doubling rate, just like the damage does. So with orange gems, your rate of mana collection is proportional to the amount of mana you’ve collected? Wouldn’t this yield exponential growth, potentially disrupting the Clicker-like guarantee of eventually losing that I described earlier? I suppose that as long as the enemies are getting tougher at a faster exponential rate than your mana collection, they still win. But it seems risky: all it takes to make one exponential function greater than another is a sufficiently large constant scaling factor, and the rules here are complicated enough that it doesn’t seem unreasonable that a player could figure out some trick to provide it.

Gemcraft: Achievements

Gemcraft: Chasing Shadows has 419 Achievements.

One is awarded for winning the game in “Iron Wizard” mode, a harder version of the game that becomes available when you reach experience level 100 in regular mode. (Not as big a deal as it sounds — I’m well over level 500 currently.) Iron Wizard doesn’t seem to be the no-failure-allowed ruleset that other games call “Iron Man”, but it removes the experience system, which makes skill points much harder to come by. At any rate, I won’t be able to get that Achievement in my current playthrough.

The other 418 are a varied lot. Some are outright impossible to not get. Some require special effort. Some are tutorial-like, using the achievement system to point out non-obvious things about the rules, like the fact that building an Amplifier right next to your base helps reduce damage to it. There’s a whole set that require beating particular battlefields under arbitrary constraints that you’re unlikely to do unless you’re specifically going for the achievement, like “Harvest 24,000 mana from shards at field K5 before wave 18 starts”, or “Don’t build anything at field H1”, or “Use only armor tearing gems at field R4”, injecting a little extra variety into proceedings.

The one consistent thing is that every Achievement applies to a single battle, and you must actually win the battle for it to count. Even in the few cases where the condition for the achievement is something that happens outside the battlefield, like “Upgrade all skills to level 5 or greater”, you have to actually play out a battle in that state to get credit for it.

No matter what’s in the achievements, they all seem quite achievable. I have the majority of them already, and I’m making a serious go of getting them all. This is clearly what the designers want. These are not your tacked-on Achievements concocted at the last minute to satisfy console certification requirements. These achievements are deeply integrated into the game. Achievements give you extra skill points — it’s a fraction of what you get from leveling up, but every little bit helps. And there’s a very nice in-game Achievements menu that lets you filter them by various attributes, including the attributes of “locked” and “unlocked”. This is useful for planning which Achievements you want to go for in your next battle. Sometimes I can find several that naturally go together.

In fact, the game goes a step beyond that. It lets you access the Achievements menu in the middle of battle. I really didn’t see the point of this at first — it seemed like a case of counting your money while you’re sitting at the table. But the battlefield version of the menu shows bar graphs where applicable, letting you track your progress towards that “Kill 150 Cursed monsters using the Beam spell” or whatever. Better yet, it adds a few new filter attributes, letting you look at just the achievements that are still achievable in the current battle.

So basically, the developers have put a lot of effort into catering to the achievement-mongers among us. The only game I know of with a more capable in-game Achievements UI is Team Fortress 2, which lets you display progress towards selected Achievements on the in-game HUD. TF2 is also one of the few games I’ve played that has more Achievements than this one.

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