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The latest Kickstarter update for The Bard's Tale IV talks at length about a very cool feature we'll see in InXile's upcoming dungeon crawler - puzzle weapons. Find a mace, fiddle around with its elements in a 3D environment, solve its riddles, and scour stores and dungeons for long-lost power gems, all in order to unlock that mace's true power. Don't know about you, but this sounds mighty exciting to me so, without further ado, here's how puzzle weapons will work in The Bard's Tale IV:
The Hidden Power of Puzzle Weapons
Puzzle weapons are our spin on magic weapons in the world of The Bard’s Tale, and part of the Enhanced Crafting System stretch goal that you helped achieve. We want the sense of discovery to begin anew when you loot a magic weapon, rather than end as soon as you look at the tooltip.[...]
We used that mockup to explore several core concepts about puzzle weapons that really enchanted us. We loved the idea that a weapon could hold dormant power, and that you could be holding onto one of these weapons for hours or days without realizing exactly how powerful the weapon truly was. We loved the idea that not every part of the weapon was fully obvious, and that you might have to poke around to find how to unlock the next step. We also liked the idea that your weapon would transform in some way when its true power was finally unlocked. These are all core tenets we held onto when designing the full puzzle weapon system for The Bards Tale IV.
This is what a puzzle weapon looks like now. Puzzle weapons were crafted by the elves in ages past, and left in the realm of men. They’re infused with powerful magic that can only be unlocked by the worthy. When the player finds them, their true power lays dormant. To unleash that power and allow it to flow fully through the weapon, you must manipulate and examine the item in 3D. Components of the weapon may be missing, puzzles might be scrambled, and riddles are most definitely accounted for.
Behind the scenes, puzzle weapons are generated from a large set of components, and found as high-tier loot as you adventure through the world. For example, a puzzle mace is constructed from a pommel, grip, collar, and bludgeon head. Each part features its own type of puzzle, and each puzzle has multiple variations and difficulties. The higher quality the item, the more ways to unlock its power you might find. The difficulty of the puzzles are based on your progress in the game, and how many other puzzle weapons you've previously solved.
In addition to self-contained puzzles that see you manipulating components on the item, there are also puzzles that interact with other elements of gameplay. Some puzzle weapons have you scouring merchants for magic gems for your weapon; others having you seeking out ancient shrines; while others still have you seeking to defeat specific enemies to feed the weapon with their blood; all the while you’re looking for hidden buttons, secret compartments, and manipulating small elements.
An In-Depth Look at Puzzle Weapon Mechanics
Let's go through an example. You've just found an Elven Mace with an empty power gem slot, and a set of interlocking rings around it. Rotate those rings the right way, and you'll spell out a riddle written in Elven language. The verse might read something as obvious as “As pure as snow and bright as moon, thy shining light is evil's doom.” - but many may be more cryptic.
Using the riddle, you'll determine which of the five differently colored Elven Seed Gems need to be inserted. Of course, finding one might require you to explore the world, barter with a merchant, or defeat a powerful enemy guarding it.
With the correct Elven Seed Gem inserted into the pommel, the weapon now has its power source, and begins glowing with magic! So what happens next?
Each time you solve a component on a puzzle weapon, that weapon earns a boon. Boons are special effects that come in multiple strengths, and can evolve as you continue to unlock your weapon's powers. One boon category is the Elder boon, which has three strengths: Elder, Of Ancient Slumber, and Ancestral. Your elven mace may become an Elder Elven Mace, meaning that its ability gains damage every single turn. Solve another component, and it becomes an Elven Mace of Ancient Slumber, which means that the first time it’s used in combat, it’s awoken, and deals a massive amount of bonus damage. Fully unlocking the weapon's true power could turn your mace into an Ancestral Elven Mace, which would cause this weapon to accumulate a large amount of bonus damage each turn it goes unused. And just to drive the point home, when you achieve the final tier of boon, the weapon visibly transforms to indicate that its magic is fully realized.
But don’t get too eager buying up every Seed Gem you see and haphazardly jamming ithem into your puzzle weapons. The elves are strict folk and demand perfection. When answering riddles on your puzzle weapons, incorrect answers are punished with a curse. Curses are negative effects that apply to attacks made by that weapon. Similar to boons, they start out light, but as you answer question incorrectly time and time again, the curse grows in severity. One of our curse categories is Decaying, which has three tiers of severity: Dull, Chipped, and Rust-Pocked. The first time you fail a riddle, your Elven Mace may become a Dull Elven Mace and suffer from a slight reduction in damage. Not so bad, even with the damage reduction it may still be the best weapon you have available. If you fail a riddle a second time, it becomes a Chipped Elven Mace instead. Now, instead of being dull, it has a % chance to be unusable for the rest of the fight after a single attack. If you continue to insist on guessing at the solution to the riddle, it finally becomes a Rust-Pocked Elven Mace, which imparts a much harsher curse: you’re only ever able to activate this weapon’s ability once per combat. Curses aren’t designed to make you throw away the weapon outright, but we do want you to think twice about trying to brute-force your way to a solution. There may be a way to remove curses in game, but don't expect it to be cheap or readily available.
Both boons and curses influence how you use your weapon in combat, or how you might build a character. For example, a Rust-Pocked Ancestral Elven Dagger would lead to a boss-obliterating rogue build where you wait 5 or 6 turns to accrue an insane amount of bonus damage before using other strength-amplifying abilities to land a walloping final blow. Unlocking the true power of a puzzle weapon is a quest in its own right, and one well worth the effort if you ever hope to save the world of Caith.
Additionally, the update informs us about the reopened backer portal, introduces a humorous Certificate of Absolution backer reward and announces the winner of the item description contest. It also asks us which character archetype we would like to learn more about in the next update. A bit on that:
With the game moving along in development, we'll be previewing character classes in our coming Kickstarter updates. Each of our character classes are found under one of four archetypes - Fighter, Practitioner, Rogue, and Bard. Classes are specialization lines within an archetype, and each archetype has between 4-6 classes. For example, if you'd like to play a Commander, you'd find them under the Fighter archetype. If you wanted to create a Sorcerer, you would find them under the Practitioner archetype. We couldn't quite decide on which class to preview first, so we decided to ask for your help! Vote on which archetype you'd like to see a preview from, and we'll choose a class to highlight in a future update. We will have more to say on the archetypes and all the classes moving forward and the game moves closer to release.