Level: Prologue
Level: The Wilds
Level: The Walls

Chapter 5: The Walls of Kala Moor

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The sinkhole

Through the final door, Caddoc and E'lara expected to find the citadel, but instead encounter a vast, empty space.  The keep, the oldest part of the Kala Moor castle, rotted away and collapsed into its own dungeons centuries ago.

A black Dragon appears out of the pit and hovers before the two heroes.  Dozens more circle the airspace above the sinkhole in the background.

The area near the door leaves the characters trapped by the rapid-fire breath attacks of the hovering Dragon, so they rush forward to escape the tight confines and head down the stairs to a peninsula of citadel floor still held in place.

Their magical attacks—now potent enough to take down Demons without much trouble—are no match for the Dragon's tough hide, but conveniently some of the keep's defensive ballistas are still functioning.  As the heroes mount them, however, a wave of skeletons rise up from the ancient stones to draw fire away from the Dragon.

The Dragon alternates between landing on spires, hovering, and periodically performing strafing runs across the landscape, peppering the heroes with its powerful explosive breath.  Its attacks are concussive as much as they are damaging, however, and frequently throw the user of a ballista out of its seat.

The battle reaches its climax as magically-enhanced skeleton warriors dual-wielding axes rise up.  These are not as easy to kill as their one-shot brethren and are adept at forcing a ballista-user to jump down and deal with them up close.

Finally defeated, the Dragon falls backwards into the pit, where it crashes dead upon the stone (and can be seen at the beginning of the next chapter).  The heroes climb down into the pit...





Final Analysis

My team took a kitchen-sink approach to Chapter 5, which helped in some ways and hurt in others.

Knowing that players would arrive at this level having bought a plethora of magical abilities, I wanted the level to feature a wide variety of "core combat" encounters—fights where mix-and-match combinations of familiar enemies appear in interesting spaces... where making good use of the layout's features was as critical to success as knowing one's arsenal or understanding the behaviors of the enemies.

In addition, we had several enemy types to introduce—Eyes of Annuvin, Armored Minotaurs, and a Dragon—and quite a few existing ones to find new uses for.  The Harridan in particular needs carefully-considered spaces for her particular needs, and we were expected to feature a couple of these mini-bosses.  Then there was a new weapon emplacement (the Flechette Launcher) which had to be used a couple of times in memorable sequences to justify the costs of developing it.

In addition, we explored a handful of gimmicks that were eventually cut so we could focus on the remaining spaces.  Taken all together, it's a lot for a small-ish team to accomplish.

We kept the things that "stuck," the things that were clearly working when it came time to reduce our ambitions, so the level largely turned out well.

Specifically, I think the Sleg encounter in the Clearing is probably the best one in the game (at achieving the creative director's intentions for these fights—pushing the characters to the limits of their combat abilities so that they feel sorely tempted to take the Sleg, but are actually able to succeed at the fight after a few tries).  The fight that introduces the Flechette Launcher is pretty well-crafted as an introduction to the strengths and challenges of that weapon.  And I like many of the small moments that play with the "core combat" concepts, even if they aren't especially fleshed-out (combat with archers on a higher plane, having one character fight from a stationary position while protected by the other character, the down-stairs-and-back-up flank just before the "Wall-Top" Flechette Launcher fight...).

The Sewer gameplay isn't especially strong.  We went through several revisions (and had a much longer Sewer 2 sequence planned) to ensure the new, stronger Aracklings had enough "screen time" to be appreciated as a nuisance.  The Dragon boss is often frustrating but is fine in concept—it just needs to not knock the player down as frequently. (The Dragon went through several different revisions, including one where it was deaf and had to be manipulated through causing objects to make sound!)  Finally, the Eye of Annuvin is criminally underused... it used to be featured in many fights, where instead of merely being used as an alarm, it actually called reinforcements whenever a fight started to wane (if it was still alive), but its ability to make fights go on and on if not targeted by the player made its uses limited.

Despite many flights of fancy that ended up getting cut, I think it ended up being one of the more straightforward levels (gimmicks-wise), and I think that focus on core elements benefits it.  I like it somewhat more than The Wilds, which overstays its welcome a bit, so I think I'd say that this is my favorite real chapter of the game.  (I'd have to consider where it ranks against Prologue, which—though it has a fair number of "game-y" elements, also contains some of the game's most imaginative moments...)

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