I’ve been dying to put Update 19’s new stealth features to a harsh test.
School was in session recently with your favorite ninja, Ryncletica, in “Return to Cabal for One,” Epic Hard, solo, no hirelings (until boss fight, with the Onyx Panther).
For those not in the know, here’s a quick summary of what’s changed for the player.
- Players can jump and tumble in stealth, at a -20 penalty to those skills. I have been officially vindicated in adding more points in Jump. You still shouldn’t add more than 40, but if you do, you’ll jump better while in stealth.
- This now-standard feature required that the Shadowdancer ability to give you jumping for 30 seconds was nerfed and revised to faster speed, sneak attacks and whatnot.
- Several class trees offer abilities to greatly improve your sneaking speed, such as Agility in the Ninja Spy tree.
- Strong Hide and Move Silently scores makes escaping a fight quite practical, as I’ll explain in a moment.
Enemies will behave less strangely and much more consistently.
- Enemies are much more vigilant and attentive. If they hear or see anything, they move realistically to investigate it (a red “?” appears over their head) .
- Enemies have swift and increasing Spot bonuses in their field of vision in an arc in front of them. This is represented by flashing eye symbols over their heads that grow in number and change color to indicate they’re getting a better fix on you while in stealth or if invisible (which is still essentially Hide +20). This Spot change takes only a second or two–they’re very fast to find you if you loiter.
- If an enemy sees you, a red eye appears over them. They will chase you until you kill them or if you can break their line-of-sight of you and hide again, being still and quiet, forcing them to find you again.
- After a few moments of fruitless searching, enemies will give up, sometimes walking back to where you found them.
- As before, some enemies will find you without eyes (Thaarak Hounds), through vibrations (spiders) or because you still breathe (some undead).
- While you can still sneak up on a beholder, their 360 degree arc means that they will spot a sneaking player faster than before. Never try to use invisibility on a beholder or you’ll get laughed at moments before it blasts you into atoms.
I picked “Cabal” because it’s hardly a stealth-friendly quest. Entering on Epic Hard and dead-solo ensured that I would get a workout and any Epic character advantages were generally evenly matched. No healer hirelings is standard for Ryncletica, who can heal herself well enough and knows that most hirelings attract a stupid amount of attention.
On entering, my first tactic was to divide and conquer the first guards surrounding Gardak, the scheming false turncoat, pulling them towards the entrance for easy kills. Next, pounce like a cat on the enemy mages, the most challenging guys who love to throw disco-balls up to dance you to death or use Glitterdust to obscure their allies.
I told the scheming hobgoblin to disable all the traps as part of the deal, knowing that I’d see him again at the end fight. I could’ve let the traps stay as a betting man since Ryncletica’s Reflex save of 56 (52 and a boost) was strong enough to pull the super-trapped lever in EH “Haywire Foundry” without getting punctured. If I was certain that the enemies were damaged by their own traps, I would’ve left them in place. Yet I knew life would be stimulating enough with the fights to avoid traps in the mix.
After cleaning up a small group by the second door, it was officially game time.
After opening any door, I tumbled back and went stealth, to minimize whole mobs on the other side from attacking at once.
“Cabal” is nasty as most locations are narrow corridors filled with hobgoblins on patrol. My targets, the conspirators, awaited in rooms off of these corridors, often with more guards inside.
I could sneak by the hordes in several hallways but I always needed to leave an “out,” or escape. So, for the first hallway, I used Shadow Manipulation to dominate an enemy mage, which compelled most enemies to group up and kill him, while I slew all of them to make my escape path.
I opened up the room of the first target and tried to pull a guard or two. Whoops. The whole room reacted and tried to chase me down. I ran, turned a corner and went stealthy and invisible–the first test of the new AI. The hobgoblins followed…and ran right by me, swinging and yelling in vain as they searched for me. (My Hide/Move Silently scores are in the low 70s in Shadowdancer mode and a Drow Piwafwi equipped.)
Letting them zerg by, I skulked off back to my target, still in his room.
Killing the first conspirator took a bit, being a red-named guy with a couple of stray guards. One down, three to go.
Another Dominate made a mage my ally, who took out a few hallway guards before succumbing. The second door was more in the open, so it was time for my next trick for a few stray guards. I snuck up behind one and used Quivering Palm, the Monk’s weaker counterpart to Assassinate. Works similarly but pulls you from stealth. I re-hid and repeated the measure often, making quick and quiet eliminations going up the hallway.
Conspirator #2 slept through my pulling of their guards out of his hiding hole. This time, I escaped upward, atop a high platform. Enemies just knew I was near as I looked down at them. Their Spot searches were busily pinging, but they couldn’t quite fish me out. Eventually they gave up. Too bad. Another Dominate kept the searchers busy while I removed Conspirator #2.
Conspirator #3 was in the shrine room and his guards were treated to the same plan as his predecessor.
Funny thing about the last two, in rooms on an upper level. Their guards, most below, just stood there as I sneaked up the ladder. I guess I was pretty quiet in opening the door, much less sneaking inside. Here, I Dominated one mage and used him to keep most of Conspirator #4’s minions running about as I ended their boss. Conspirator #5 was easy after I Dominated a guard, which kept his attention while he and I had our tussle on the center platform of the room, free from being interrupted by any of his guards.
The End Fight
One thing I didn’t calculate well in this run was elapsed time. My ship buffs had disappeared by the time I made my way to the boss given the methodical use of stealth as a killing tactic. Rather than fighting the zerging masses within the last two hallways to the boss’s door, a bit of Abundant Stepping and stealth put me in the boss room, leaving the last dozen minions unaware and out of the game.
Buffless and alone, I knew there was no way in hell that I could take on the boss while he was surrounded by three mages, two Winter Wolves and two fighters. I sneaked about behind the oversized pillar in the room’s center and made the second boss appear from the rear exit, near his now-unavailable chest.
I had a couple of useful options: First, thin out the herd. Over a few minutes, I hit Dominate spells on the two mages to rid myself of them. The attacks provided me with needed intel as I targeted them. Each boss had over 21,000 HP, while their minions had about 2100. (It pays to complete your Monster Manual accomplishments to see enemy stats, folks.)
The second option was to add a bigger, durable distraction and then pummel enemies while their backs are turned for sneak attack damage as well as damage impunity. As I said, generally hirelings are useless. But not all. I summoned my reliable Onyx Panther. But apparently, the big cat made some noise on materializing and the bosses and their entourage suddenly arrived to investigate. I found myself looking at the kill party dead-on.
I bailed, tossing a Flash Bang (stuns and blinds a mob) and going stealthy in hopes they wouldn’t chase me. It worked. They slew the mighty panther quickly, giving me an ominous insight about their damage; the Level 20 Panther is not easily killed. Fortuitously, the party stayed in that back room to guard the hireling’s soulstone. That worked out well to move the mob, although not as I planned.
That gave me time to recharge my Shadowdancer charges with two to three minions near the boss door. Ha. I had a shot again.
I used a throwing star, pulled the lesser boss Gardak away to near the room entrance to fight him (mostly) alone (a Wolf wanted to play, too). It took more than a few Heal scrolls, even with my miss-chance effects working, to put that guy down.
Finally, the big boss, who had cleric skills and Blade Barriers galore. Whatever. I’m a damned ninja that can practically evade a machine gun burst in my sleep. I learned my lesson from his comrade, however, and kicked on some Displacement for added help in the second fight. A few more Heal scrolls later, the hobgoblin’s lesson was over.
Stealth can’t directly help you in a boss fight except, perhaps, to escape one, but it makes getting to it quite easier. Just watch your ship buffs if you’re dependent on their benefits–or just carry some scrolls if you’re able to use them.