Arena, Part X: Thawing the Fortress of Ice

I have now spent a lot of time in the Fortress of Ice. I hate the Fortress of Ice. As I suggested in Part IX, my first goal for the week was to fight my way back out of the fortress to rest and resupply. This was incredibly frustrating. My way was lined with plenty of knights, and my supplies were basically exhausted, and there always seemed to be enough knights around that I could never sleep in their barracks. Eventually I got out, though.

I bought thirty Restore Power potions, and I bought twenty Healing potions. Instead of wasting even a day repairing leather armor, I simply sold my damaged (but not quite destroyed) gear and bought new. It’s so cheap, and I have more than enough gold. I’m richer basically every time I leave town, no matter how foolishly I spend my money. Loot’s been good to me.

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This is my character sheet at the end of my play-through for the week. Sure, sure, it’s still leather armor, but now I have a steel saber. Also, look at my level and my gold.

On a kind of fun side note: when I returned to the Mages Guild, the game told me that the mage there makes a sort of halfhearted attempt to motivate me to keep trying before he gives up and goes back to his work:

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Also, while in town, I happened across a pretty absurd rumor:

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I dig it because it’s so absurd that it must be false, and yet this whole quest is about revealing that Tharn is currently impersonating the Emperor, so it’s not quite as far-fetched as the “average inhabitant of Tamriel” might regard it. My understanding is that this particular rumor can be generated regarding basically any ruler throughout the Empire. Cute.

Once I returned to the Fortress of Ice, further exploration proved to be an hours-long slog. I cleared out the entirety of the lower level this time. That meant I could actually use the dormitories off the barracks hall as a point to rest and recharge. This let me extend my push even past the depletion of my potions. And yes, I depleted my potions. Snow wolves, knights, warriors, and more ice golems confronted me. Ice golems are still really nasty, but so long as I have enough magic and potions to heal and cast fire spells, I can survive. Scary enough, I’m running into more than one at a time now. The knights are an exhausting fight, but fire works on them pretty quickly as well, and their hits on me aren’t quite as dreadful as the blows of the ice golems. Snow wolves are frustrating but easy to deal with when I use my new Resist Cold spell.

After clearing the entirety of the first level, I went up to the second level. At first, this was easier; I just hit a couple waves of plain ol’ ordinary wolves. But then the snow wolves and ice golems showed up again. My resources were exhausted by this point, and the halls were tight and winding. I overextended before I realized that I could not possibly go on.

Before finally retreating, though, I did find an interesting red-walled block chamber with a locked gate. Arcane symbols were etched into the massive block walls. And in the locked chamber were hell hounds. I broke into the chamber, defeated the hell hounds, and found some treasures, but there was no sign of the document I was after.

It was after this encounter that I finally realized the necessity of leaving yet again.

I thought the first fight out of the fortress was tough. This second attempt was a nightmare. I saved frequently and died frequently. Ice golems penned me in on the second level, and for a moment I thought I was trapped in a dead-end save. But I could back up to a save from maybe half a minute before and salvage my situation. Once I finally got back downstairs, I was horrified to discover that many enemies appeared to have re-spawned. Now there were far more ice golems than I remembered, and I didn’t have the health or magic to resist them. I adopted strategies of avoidance and flight, relying on frequent saves, memory, and luck to push on through. I couldn’t find a good resting point without getting ambushed (even a far island is not safe when long-range mages manifest and you’re out of ranged weapons and spells). I couldn’t fight far enough to get to the barracks, and I doubted it would even be safe there. I ran for the exit. Died. Reloaded. Ran a bit further. Saved. Ran a bit further. Died. Reloaded. I had bad encounters and lucky encounters. I kept forcing myself to go on. Eventually I persevered, reaching the exit even as I heard the tinkling sounds of an ice golem to my rear.

With that odyssey behind me, I returned to the cycle of rest and resupply. Then I plunged back into the Fortress of Ice. My last save is at the entrance to my own personal hell. I hope that I will be able to finally recover the document I am after to complete my sub-quest. Sigh. This isn’t even for one of the pieces of the Staff.

I hope that I get back to having fun with the game again. I might just need to grind some levels or something. The game is frustrating again, and it’s annoying to me that it became frustrating again so soon. Oh well. I need to keep in mind that I’ve just reached another skill plateau. If I keep at it, I’ll get to another stretch of indisputable fun and flow. And to be fair, if I didn’t keep pushing past my resource limits, I wouldn’t wind up so frustrated. I need to accept that retreat needs to be more frequent than I want it to be. Even if that retreat does disrupt flow and reset the enemies in the dungeon.

At this point, I can’t recall offhand if I’ve yet to make a recommendation as to whether anyone new to this game should play it or not. Regardless, I now feel pretty comfortable saying that you should skip it. Even if you’re already a big fan of the franchise, unless you enjoy a really hardcore gaming experience, I cannot recommend this game. Even for the price of free, it’s probably more trouble than it’s worth. It simply has not aged well, and too often the “challenges” of the game are more frustrating than challenging. But I’m invested now!

 

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