(Revised) First Impressions: Storm of Zehir

The thing I like most about these “rolling reviews” — that is, noting thoughts as I play a game, is that it lets you see a progression. In other words, if I play a game and end up loving it, a normal review will say just that — maybe with a started-rough-but-got-better preface.

My actual first impression of Storm of Zehir (SoZ) was not very good and it really put me off the game. The latest patch arrived (apparently, 5 months in the making) and I wasn’t sure I even cared. But tonight, I pushed myself (a little against my will) to install the patch, pop in the latest TonyK’s AI hack, read a few guides on the best way to succeed in SoZ, and then built an all-new party based on those readings.

The result? A much smoother, much more fun adventure. It’s almost like a brand new first impression of the game as a result — thus, the “revised” in the post title.

I started by building four characters and ensured there was no overlap between them. Clearly defined roles only! In other words, the leader, a rogue with a level of ranger, has a specific skill set. The fighter has her own skills. The healer has his. And the wizard has hers. Amongst other things, this neatly solves the original problem I had with the speech bubble icons; now, I know that if the rogue has a bubble, it’s probably because he has a Bluff or Appraise observation to make. If it’s the wizard, it’s probably a Lore or Spellcraft comment. Etc.

The opening encounter worked a bit better this time around. I used pause judiciously to scavenge for equipment and prepare myself, then watched as Volo worked his best to converse with the locals. Each successive wave triggered properly and that made the fights easier since I wasn’t fighting the entire group at once (or, by the way, micromanaging my group — which I hate doing). Plus, my party acted as expected — healing and fighting all the while, but also not getting carried away and using up entire wands on one weak monster. And when the soldiers joined in to help out? It was a neat moment, like “the cavalry has arrived!” Yay for functional AI.

I was a little more excited to get back to the overland map now that I had a survival/stealth expert in the group — and understood that you had to make that character active to gain the benefits — so I raced through the town section, but not without picking up a few quests first.

Once outside, I was much happier. I could walk around the map and explore. Monsters popped up occasionally (I made sure my spot/listen were zeroed out, which feels backward but whatever works), and I could choose whether to engage them. As well, thanks to the Search skill, special locations and loots popped up quite frequently. As a result, I spent the first chunk of my time outside walking around the entire map and getting map notes and crates of trade goods, potions, and so forth. Then I went back to the story and brought cargo from the wrecked ship back to town for experience and gold. And more quests.

By that point, I was getting hooked into the game. I felt the calming embrace of addiction overtake me as I told myself “just one more quest” more than a few times after killing an epic bore, clearing salt mines so a local village could get back to work, and rescuing the ship’s captured captain from cannibal humanoid monsters. My current quest is to track down the party thought to be responsible for wrecking the ship in the first place. Fun, fun!

Bottom line? I’m glad I pushed through. I kept reading on-line that SoZ is a game lacking in story and focused on killing monsters. That, coupled with the problems mentioned in my first, first impression, made me not want to play. But now that I’m a few hours in I’m finding that my experience is that SoZ is kind of like Diablo: lots of simple quests and simple stories combined with addictive gameplay made up in part by exploring/fighting and in part with the strategy of character advancement. I’m quite happy with that and looking forward to more.

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