Grendel's Revenge #393124
Level Range: 5-20
Cautions: EBs, Custom Powers, Critters spawning lower level than intended.
TR;DL: 3.5 Stars (out of game). Story seems bare, Customs give no rewards, hanging plot threads. Otherwise operational if bare-bones arc. No significant difficulties
Played the Arc on Alex Talionis, a level 17 rad/elec blaster set on +1/x1 with Boss ON. I don't generally put Bosses on for this level of a toon, particularly a squishy, but AE Arcs are best run on Boss ON to get the full idea of how difficult it is supposed to be. Alex has +3 DO's slotted, so he's as powerful as he can be within the range of the arc. Oh, he does have the Lady Grey Proc for neutrino blast, but that's really not a serious breakage of the power level.
Contact is Julius The Troll, whom everyone should pretty much remember from the grind toward the FrostFire mishes. Well, it's appropriate for the arc. I do believe that the contact info was filled in, which is always a plus for me.
Well. Briefing is... brief. There's not much here other than about three or four sentences asking you to go check on some damage that the trolls are up to. Okay, sure, whatever.
Coming into the mish, I can hear battles between trolls going off. A minor interfaction squabble I presume. The Navbar tells me to go disarm some bombs, despite never being told in the breifing that there were supposed to be any bombs at all. Generally would recommend that if we are supposed to "discover" this, then the navbar text should be changed to something like "Investigate Troll Activities", with the bomb navbar objective being changed to something that sorta obscures this ("Defuse the Situation" harhar)
Well, I run into several "NuTrolls". Being as I usually have trouble with Trolls on squishies (they hit hard), I figure that if these are custom version of Trolls I'm gonna have a serious problem with them. Oddly enough, this doesn't really appear to be the case as they seem to mez easier (my t1 immbolize worked well) and collapsed pretty fast. The boss, a NuTroll with Stone armor, spawned as a LT and also dropped pretty fast. Sorta anticlimatic, but given all my damage is energy, maybe he was weak to it.
Debriefing is equally short, with Julius being surprised that someone mentioned Grendel. I actually had to page up through the scroll to catch it but there it was.
Again, a pretty short briefing, discussion that the NuTrolls are getting some kind of new 'dyne and I'm supposed to be breaking up the lab or ... something. The Objectives include having to confiscate weapons, which I don't really remember being in the briefing, but I can roll with the punches and go with it. The objectives in the navbar are a little unsightly. Since the weapon issue is sorta tangental to the main storyline, I might suggest making it an optional objective.
The navbar also mentions having to check Tabor's laptop, a task I was never told to perform and I have no way of knowing to do were it not for the objectives listed once you're inside.
We get a bit more of the NuTrolls, which have standard SupaTrolls grafted in to bulk out the group. No complaint there actually, I probably shouldn't have aggroed them as much as I did, but hell if I'm not aggroing everything in range I'm not a proper blaster, right? I notice how these guys really are sort of a pushover without Jutals and Grendels in every mob. The Supatrolls aren't fainting daisies, but I'm feeling like I'm doing better than I should be.
The mish includes a Dyne Lab to destroy, which sorta got me for a moment 'cause I already thought that the Trolls made their own Dyne (but after some thought I seem to recall that they don't). I believe there's also an objective to destroy or confiscate a package of Dyne. The clue makes the contents sound like it is somehow extra special Dyne, but this is never followed up on later on in the arc.
Found Tabor, and narrowly failed to beat him on the first attempt (went into the fight without greens in my tray, blew them earlier on the supatrolls XD ) - but used a wakie and stomped him immediately (it was originally nearly a double KO). After I defeated him, I found the first of the arc's serious problems.
Tabor is a custom critter who's offense is Petless Bots MM (so he gets the pulse rifle weapon). When you create a custom critter with MM primaries, the basic powers will automatically include one of the pet spawn powers. You can use "custom powers" to remove the pet spawning power, but this will set the critter's XP & tickets to ZERO.
This isn't just for MM powers, if you remove any baseline power of a custom critter (at any difficulty level, standard/hard/extreme), it will result in the critter giving ZERO reward upon defeat. This was part of the i15 or later AE exploit nerfs. Unfortunately, it appears that all of your bosses have this problem. I didn't check the minions or the LT at the beginning of the first mish to see if they were giving rewards (I recollect that the minions did), but I guess I could check again later.
Now, for me this isn't a horrible thing, I was just testing the arc and wasn't expecting anything. However, it's pretty much considered a major faux-pas in AE design and is only really acceptable for critters used as Allies or captives or something (basically any critter you aren't going to expect to get XP for).
Anyway, continuing on.
The debriefing is again pretty short, and Julius tells us that he's concerned about Grendel, although we really don't understand why per se. I'd recommend giving the player a little more information on why this is a problem (other than general mayhem. Why is Grendel so much worse than Atta?).
The briefing is what it is. Short. The accept text is generic, especially when it seems that Julius is talking to you; in most AE arcs, the Accept text is used to insert some sort of PC interaction. Sometimes it's actual dialogue ("I'm on it!") or narration ("Tell Julius You'll Do Your Best"). Although in the prior mishes "Accept" was okay as a response, in this briefing it doesn't seem right.
We're told that the city is doomed if these bombs are allowed to explode. Which is a problem, we're told this but nothing so far as led us to that conclusion in the narration or the clues. There's nothing to suggest that these are earth-shatteringly powerful.
Once inside the mish, I'm told these are Earthshaker bombs. I seem to remember looking at the bombs for info text, but I don't recollect seeing much detail in it.
I rescued "Atta?" - who spawned as an EB Ally. EB's are pretty powerful for an ally, they can usually wipe a whole map on their own unless there are powerful or numerous mobs. This map had neither, which originally made me feel like he was sort of unnecessary for most of the mish. Also, I don't know why he is named "Atta?" - at no point in the mission is his identity called into question. I don't know why the player would think that it isn't Atta. Even his infotext appears to be copied from the original Atta (or it is the original Atta), so there's nothing in there to suggest why one would suspect otherwise.
The mission is very straightforward, and I went ahead and cleared the map before getting to the final EB/AV. This turns out to have 2 EBs (explaining why one of them appears as such), a decent turn I wasn't exactly expecting (but I suppose I should have). I died once on Grendel, again 'cause I had used up my greens insps.
As I mentioned, neither of the EBs gave XP and I only got the end-of-mish tickets.
The debriefing is really short, and not very satisfying.
There is no arc souvenir. Not a big deal for me, just noting.
The arc is functional, nothing explicitly broken that would obstruct completion of the arc. It's also pretty short and fast, roughly equivalent to three radio/paper mishes. I could have blown through it much faster than I did if I had not stopped to engage mobs for the heck of it. The writing is pretty terse, but I didn't notice anything grostesquely wrong with the grammar.
The lack of rewards on at least three bosses is a problem and will probably get your arc knocked down a few pegs by players.
The story itself is pretty bare bones and has a few hanging plot threads. Why is Grendel worse than Atta? Who is supplying NuDyne and advanced weapons to the Trolls? Who gave Grendel his new arms? If it was Tabor doing all that, why wasn't it explicitly mentioned? Why are the NuTrolls such a big deal, anyway, and what really makes them different than the normal Trolls (I really didn't see any significant difference)? Why/How is NuDyne different than regular Dyne, and if the NuTrolls and Grendel have a secret benefactor other than Tabor - shouldn't we be focusing on that issue somewhere as well?
The other problem with the story is that often the player is told things when they really should discover/be shown them instead. We're told that the Earthshaker bombs will level the Hollows (Or something, actually it could use levelling, given the giant rifts in it presently) by Julius, but there's no way for him to actually know that since I don't think he's a bomb expert (and the PC is never mentioned as having ever consulted anyone to analyze the bomb plans). In addition, the first bombs we see are noted as being "advanced for trolls", when they are (literally) gas barrels with detonators. Not too easy to be less advanced than that. I'd actually recommend either putting in one of the Earthshaker bombs in the first mish, or putting in a prototype in the second mish to allow us to show that the sophistication is developing. Either that or give the player some way to discover what the plans mean.
Also, I'd recommend putting the "search Tabor's laptop" as an objective that spawns AFTER defeating Tabor - since at present we have no reason to go looking for the laptop. You could hack together something about finding a password or a USB drive on him that accesses the files, while putting his story about Grendel as a Mission Complete clue. Or something. As I mentioned before, because the weapon issue appears to be tangental to the story, I'd make the weapon rack objectives in Mish 2 optional.
The arc isn't bad by any means, it just leaves a lot of things unresolved and expects the player to jump to conclusions that aren't supported by any evidence placed in the story itself. I highly recommend fleshing out the briefings and debriefings to provide more clues and follow through on what you've found. You don't necessarily have to give exposititory infodumps, but as it is, the player doesn't exactly have breadcrumbs to follow.
Final Issue: The level range for this arc is way too low. I can't see a level 5 toon going into a fight that results in two back-to-back EBs. I think the earliest that EB fights occur in the normal content is probably around level 10 (even then those fights are a bitch). I really recommend pulling that low-end level range up. I can't see taking on Trolls with only 4 powers and temporaries. Sure, the player could drop the diff down to minimal levels, but that's still iffy - and aggravating considering they don't give any rewards.
I rated the arc 5 stars in game due to the vulgarities of the rating system as it stands. Also, I like giving people tickets. However, subjectively, I felt the arc was closer to 3.5 stars.
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