Water, Water, Everywhere: Into The Deep

Into The Deep Mode
Scholar, Woodcutter, Minstrel
Journeyman Difficulty

One unexpected pleasant surprise about For The King has been the fact that it continues to improve and grow over time. The developers at Iron Oak Games have been steadily patching the game in the months since release, adding more content in the form of additional classes, items, events, and game modes. This game only released with the basic For The King and Dungeon Crawl modes, but the title now boasts six different modes to choose between, starting with the addition of Frost Adventure mode and then going on to add three more. Hildebrandt's Cellar is an endless game mode, a dungeon that goes on and on until your party eventually suffers defeat. It's the shortest of the game modes, and I'm not a huge fan since it's an unwinnable game. I made it to Floor 103 on my first attempt and that was enough to unlock everything. Gold Rush is a mode that I haven't tried yet, a competitive form of gameplay where your three party members are each trying to bring back the most gold while sabotaging one another. Obviously this is intended to be more Multiplayer focused, and it provides an alternative to the cooperative party gameplay in the other modes.

The gameplay mode that I'll be featuring in this writeup is called Into The Deep. It's a naval-based setup most similar to the main For The King mode, with your party exploring the seas as they travel through a series of islands and try to prevent an impending catastrophe. Into The Deep replaces the Chaos Meter with something very similar, a "Flood Meter", which ticks up over time and will end the game if it ever fills up completely. The Flood Meter rises more slowly than the Chaos Meter (every 16 full turns by default on Journeyman difficulty) but there are no town quests to reduce it or Cult Devices to smash for similar chaos removal. The Flood Meter can only be decreased by clearing major dungeons as part of the storyline, and it's worth your time to defeat those dungeons to buy your party more time before the game comes to an end. This was my second time playing this game mode, with my first time coming in the form of a Multiplayer game alongside Eauxaps and DaveV. That effort was going really well until we ran into a battle where everyone died at once. Whoops. Since I still hadn't played all the way through this game mode, I decided to go with the middle difficulty of Journeyman instead of the top option of Master. It's usually not a good idea to attempt the hardest difficulty in any game if you don't know what's coming ahead of time.

For this game, I decided to bring a party consisting of a Scholar, a Woodcutter, and a Minstrel. I've already discussed the Scholar and Minstrel classes in previous reports so I'll limit the discussion of them here. The Scholar has the game's best Intelligence stat, high Speed, and the excellent Refocus ability, granting roughly 40% odds to restore a point of Focus at the end of each turn. The Minstrel class brings the game's highest Talent score along with two highly useful abilities: Encourage, which has 35% odds to turn a failed attack roll from a teammate into a successful attack roll instead, and Inspire, which has 50% odds to give all nearby allies on adjacent tiles a small amount of experience points. Both the Scholar and the Minstrel are frail classes though, and the Minstrel has rather poor Speed, creating notable tradeoffs for these advantages.

The new class that I was bringing for this game was the Woodcutter, the class that has the highest base Strength in the game. Unfortunately this is about the only advantage of bringing the Woodcutter, as the class has horrible stats in Intelligence, Talent, and Speed. Woodcutters have decent Awareness (base score of 70) but probably not enough to be worth using items that rely on that stat. I suppose that they do have good Vitality but not as much as one would think, with the other Strength-based class (the Blacksmith) half a dozen points better in that regard. The Woodcutter also suffers from having rather weak innate abilities. "Door Bash" lets them knock down doors in dungeons with a single Strength check, which is mostly pointless given the fact that Lockpick items seem to drop all the time and open doors with no issues. Their other innate ability is "Justice", which has ridiculously specific conditions to trigger. It essentially causes a normal melee attack to splash a percentage of the damage onto adjacent targets, but Justice requires the Woodcutter to be using a two-handed axe, sword, or spear and even then only has 15% odds to appear. In other words, it's much too low to rely upon in battle planning. Given that the best Strength-based weapons aren't even two-handed, this is a pretty sad ability. The Blacksmith is the better pick between the two Strength-based classes, and take a Monk instead is arguably better still.

Side note: this game was played entirely on Christmas Day before and after visiting family members, which is why the three characters were dressed in their holiday getups.

The beginning of Into The Deep mode plays out a lot like the starting notes from Frost Adventure mode. Your party begins in the Guardian Forest and needs to investigate some unusual happenings in the immediate vicinity. The goal is to clear out an initial quest line and receive a ship deed, which allows the party to leave the starting island and head off into the wider world. My first quest had the party heading over to the Fish Person on the right side of the screen. Or at least that's what the game was telling me to do; I ignored that instruction at first to check out the quests and items on sale in the two nearby towns of Oarton and Woodsmoke. Although there were no weapons that I wanted right away, I did pick up an easy delivery quest for an extra party life. Since there are no Cult Devices to smash for extra party lives in this game mode, it's a good idea to pick up these quests wherever possible. While exploring the starting area, I found an improved Lightning Staff for Inkpot: 9 base damage with 4 Intelligence slots. Even though it lost the magic resistance piercing property of his starting tome, going from 6 base damage up to 9 base damage was worth making the switch. (This early in the game, few monsters have much in the way of armor or resistance.) Then the group found a Strength-based weapon named the Hand Cannon and, well, look at this:

The patch that introduced Into The Deep mode also brought a new class of weapons to the game in the form of guns. The firearm weapons are powerful and deal heavy damage with the tradeoff of needing to spend a round reloading after each shot. The game helps out players a little bit in this regard, in the sense that your guns start out each battle loaded while any opponents with guns have to spend a round loading them before they can fire. Obviously it's a good idea to try and kill the gun-toting enemies before they can get off their powerful attacks. Chopper's Hand Cannon had a base damage of 13 and only used a single Strength check for its attack roll. That was a lot of damage at this stage of the game, and even better, the Hand Cannon hit all enemies at once!

*BOOM* She landed that attack and blasted the opposing skeletons into fragments of bone dust. When you consider that Chopper would otherwise be using an axe dealing less damage against only a single target, the Hand Cannon was practically an uber weapon for the moment. However, the drawback was the need to reload after each attack. If Chopper failed her single Strength roll, she would need to waste her next turn reloading, and as a Woodchooper with 58 base Speed it took her a long time to get around to that second shot. Fortunately I could force a successful roll with the use of Focus, but of course that was also a limited resource. These battles were therefore heavily RNG-dependent, with the possible outcomes swinging wildly from an easy stroll in the park to dire calamity depending on whether or not the Hand Cannon would land. I realized that it would be highly useful to get some items that added more Focus points to Chopper so that she could be more aggressive about spending it when I really needed to land those shots. Overall the guns are a fun addition to the gameplay, very powerful in the early game and then falling off as better weapons that don't require reloading start to come into play. Just remember that the firearms are pretty terrible against bosses where sustained damage is needed; these weapons are far better in hit-and-run action where there's only a single round of combat needed.

I spent the first few turns exploring the Guardian Forest to identify as many tiles as possible and see what opportunities arose. Naturally I took some minor damage in the process, and everyone in the group was sitting at roughly half health as they drew close to leveling up for the first time. Then I spotted this opportunity to make a slick play and had to detail it in writing. First, Sierra used her remaining movement points to reach the Sanctum in the Guardian Forest and tribute it, which restored her health and Focus. Although the Sanctum of Shadow wasn't an especially great fit for her class, it's always worthwhile for any character to grab their protection. Then Inkpot used his four Focus points to pick up a whole bunch of extra movement, as his Focus was restored when he reached the Bronze Hero statue and tributed it. The Bronze Hero restored his Focus and provided enough experience to reach Level 1, which restored Inkpot's health. It also provided 6 XP to the other two party members, who also then tipped over to Level 1 and were healed in the process. And then finally Chopper strolled into the Dark Cave minidungeon at the top of the screen, which teleported the other two party members inside and regrouped everyone together again. Net result: full health and Focus restored to everyone in the party and the team grouped back together again. That was a lot of fun to pull together.

The Dark Cave was most noteworthy for a Goblin Merchant who had set up shop inside. I was able to purchase three Godsbeard herbs at the cheap price of 13 gold apiece, and then pick up a Blunderbuss firearm for Sierra. This was a Talent-based firearm with the same single slot check, and 15 base damage on the attack. The Blunderbuss did not hit all enemies at once like the Hand Cannon, but added extra evasion and carried an alternate "Pistol Whip" attack that allowed the user to deal minor damage without reloading if desired. Although I was a bit leery of having two different firearms in use at once, the damage upgrade from the starting Minstrel lute to the Blunderbuss was huge enough that I had to make this purchase. If both firearms were able to land their shots, the monsters went down in a hurry.

With the Dark Cave cleared, I healed up at the local towns and then finally began to progress with the actual plot. As Captain Bradach explained, the creature on the beach was a Merling, a fish-person trying to bring about the Great Flood and drown the world underwater. This becomes the main quest of the game: traveling about to the different Water Towers to push back the Flood Meter and eventually defeat the Sea King superboss. We were still in the process of claiming our starting ship here, which involved doing a tavern fight against a group of pirates (again as in Frost Adventure mode) and then clearing out Hildebrandt's Cellar, which was fortunately not the endless version in this game mode. I was stymied a bit here by the awkward terrain of the Guardian Forest. Many of the trees and rocks were placed at maddening angles that forced my party to walk through chokepoints blocked by enemies. At one point Sierra was stuck by herself over on the eastern edge of the Guardian Forest for several turns, and I basically had to wait for night to end so that the monsters blocking her path would disappear. I should have distributed the Teleport scrolls more evenly amongst my party members to ward against that.

Hildebrandt's Cellar was another minidungeon, although this time with a boss at the end to overcome. My party had relatively little trouble making their way to the end, helped along by some timely Focus usage to ensure that Chopper would land her shots with the Hand Cannon. Those firearms were less useful against the Angry Troll boss at the finish however, and here I was able to rely on Inkpot's staff weapon instead. A perfect roll from Inkpot resulted in the Shock debuff, which forces an opponent to fail the initial dice roll of any attack. By Shocking the troll, I could ensure that its slow melee attacks would always fall to get a perfect roll and therefore lower their damage and prevent whatever special function they were supposed to accomplish. This was enough to carry my party through the battle even with the need for repeated reloads of the two guns.

With the defeat of the boss, my party was awarded a ship deed that could be cashed in for a boat at any dock. There was one conveniently close by and the group now had a ship to use:

Hey, what gives? That pathetic little raft wasn't the normal ship! This is the biggest innovation added by Into The Deep mode: multiple different tiers of ships. The most basic ship is known as the Raft, and it costs all of 40 gold to purchase when not handed out for free. The Raft only has 3 HP and rolls the smallest number of movement dice; I think it's a guaranteed 2 movement and then two more Talent dice rolls for up to 2 more movement points. That's not very fast and it's a good idea to upgrade to a better ship as soon as possible. The other models are the Fishing Boat (90 gold), the Merchant Boat (200 gold), and the Armored Boat (500 gold). Since this entire game is essentially on a time limit due to the presence of the Flood Meter, upgrading to the fastest possible ship at the earliest opportunity is one of the best ways to spend your income. The faster that the party moves around the map, the more that they can get done on each individual turn. I already had one "wave" sitting there on the Flood Meter and the clock was ticking. (Question: do the waves on the Flood Meter do anything, like how chaos points grant enemies additional health in the main For The King mode? As far as I can tell the higher levels of the Flood Meter don't actually do anything until reaching all three, at which time the game ends instantly in a loss.)

Anyway, it was now time to sail the seven seas in search of loot and adventure!

Or then again, maybe not. My party couldn't even make it out of the starting bay before the Kraken appeared next to the Bronze Hero statue. Oh come on, seriously?! What a horrible result in terms of dice luck. I had absolutely no prayer of driving off the Kraken; just look at the resulting fight:

The Kraken can be defeated by slaying either one of its Tentacles. Of course, those things had 160 starting health apiece, with the central eye of the beast packing another 320 HP of its own. I'd have to deal that damage with two firearm weapons, mind you, which had to be reloaded after each attack. And while I might be able to do 160 damage given enough time, the central problem was that this battle was taking place on my dinky little raft. (I do love that the raft is animated and you can see just how terrible the starting ship is.) The Kraken is one of several different monsters which will attack your ship, and there was no chance that I could drive it off before it did three damage to the raft. It didn't take long before the raft had been smashed to pieces by giant tentacles, sending the whole party to the bottom of the ocean.

In the standard For The King mode, that would result in everyone dying and a game over. Into The Deep recognizes that it needs to be a little bit more lenient for exactly these kind of situations, and instead my party found itself shipwrecked on a desert island:

With nowhere to go, this could also be the end of the game by finding myself in an unescapable situation. Fortunately the designers added a tool that offered hope: all characters begin Into The Deep mode with something called a Safety Stone, which grants the ability to teleport instantly to any previously visited town. This provides a way out of these situations as the party can go back to the Guardian Forest and then purchase another ship. However, the Safety Stone carries a sizable penalty: -1 to all stats when used, increasing to -2 to all stats for a second use, and so on with repeated uses. No one will want to use the Safety Stone unless forced to do so because of the permanent penalty to the stats of your characters. In our Multiplayer game of Into The Deep, we tried to jump through as many convoluted hoops as possible to avoid having to use the Safety Stones before realizing that it was ultimately hopeless. I was similarly stuck with no choice on this occasion, and all three characters were forced to return to Oarton at the stat penalty. Annoyingly, this caused everyone's stats to show up in red coloring for the rest of the game to reflect the fact that they were lower than the starting values. Thanks game, I really needed that little scarlet letter down there shaming me for the rest of this game for my use of the Safety Stone. Sigh.

Anyway, after returning to Oarton I had barely enough gold to purchase the cheapest of the ship options at the dock. Back to the Raft again, it seemed. This time I did not run into the Kraken and managed to make it to the first of the four Water Towers. If you can read the yellow lettering of the main quest objectives on the right side of the screen, there are four Water Temples in total located in the Forest Isles, the Rogue Isles, the Ashfall Islands, and the Poisonous Bog. The first of these dungeons is revealed when completing the initial quest in the Guardian Forest, but the other three are hidden and a major portion of the gameplay in this mode revolves around finding and then clearing the remaining Water Towers. Defeating these towers is the only way to reduce the Flood Meter, and therefore a grand total of four waves can be mitigated. After seven total waves the game comes to a close no matter what. Now that's plenty of time to beat the final boss and win the game, as 7 waves * 16 turns per wave = 112 turns for each of the three characters on Journeyman difficulty, but keep in mind that this isn't Frost Adventure mode with infinite time available. You do need to keep moving along.

The four Water Temples in this game mode each have static monster levels that do not change based on what your party is doing. What I mean by that is that one Water Tower will always be Level 2, a different Water Tower will always be Level 4, and so on for the Level 6 and Level 8 versions. This is different from the realm dungeons in Dungeon Crawl mode, where all of the realm dungeons start at Level 2, and then after completing the first dungeon they all increase simultaneously to Level 4, and so on. Since the Water Towers will never change in difficulty level, it's usually worthwhile to try and complete them in order if possible. The enemies in this first Water Tower were mostly Level 2, and I think that there were four battles in total inside including the boss. It wasn't the hardest place to pass through. The boss at the end was a group of Merlings:

There were two smaller Merlings here and then a shaman of some kind in the center. Pictured above was a successful attack from Sierra's Blunderbuss, which dealt the full 17 damage to the central boss and then splashed half of that onto the flanking minions. Chopper then followed it up with a Hand Cannon attack that went critical for 20 damage to all opponents, and that was pretty much it for this boss. The poor thing didn't even have a Shock immunity to protect against Inkpot's staff. After defeating the boss, it dropped this Ukulele weapon and I decided to swap Sierra over to the new stringed instrument. The damage was almost the same as the Blunderbuss at 14 compared to 15, and the Ukulele didn't have to reload after each round of use while also having a helpful +14% gold multiplier. The Aqua Blast attack on the Ukulele did the same damage and had the property of inflicting "Wet" status, something else introduced by Into The Deep mode. "Wet" status does nothing on its own but removes other status immunities, allowing the player to inflict debuffs like Shock or Frozen onto opponents which would normally be immune. The Merlings all seem to love inflicting this "Wet" status onto your party, which generally isn't that dangerous unless comboed with stuff from other foes.

I sailed northwest after leaving the initial Water Temple and came across a Lighthouse in the middle of the sea. Lighthouses are another new addition to the gameplay, defogging a wide area around them on the map when used. This Lighthouse revealed several useful bits of information. First, there were two different towns located nearby to the west where I could check for new quests and see what was on sale in the market. Second, the Gold Hero Statue was hiding out on a small island up at the top edge of the map. The Gold Hero Statue is the most important location to find on the whole map, granting +1 max Focus to the entire party along with a full party health restore. Focus is extremely important as a resource and getting an extra point for everyone is hugely valuable. Finally, I also spotted the lair of Deimos to the west, the next scourge upcoming on the timeline. I wanted to defeat him while I was in the area to avoid the need to backtrack here later.

What happened next was a total disaster for the quest. I healed up at the town and purchased a Merchant Boat deed for 200 gold, greatly increasing my movement around the map. I saw that Deimos was listed as Level 6, but thought that I'd be able to handle that with a party at Level 4. I've faced scourges at higher levels plenty of times before without running into too much trouble. The problem was Deimos himself, however; the rock monster never has any minions but does pack hefty armor and magic resistance. Deimos had 12 points of each and I realized after initiating the battle that I had no piercing weapons on any of my three characters. With even one piercing weapon, I could have used Focus to force successful dice rolls and wear down the scourge. Instead, without any such piercing weapons, I was doing 15-20 base damage against a scourge with 12 resistance against both physical and magic attacks = 3-8 damage per round. Uh, that's not going to cut it chief. I had to retreat out of there and before I could escape both Inkpot and Chopper were killed. I honestly thought that the run was over and stopped taking screenshots. Chopper even died a second time before I could get her back to town. Ugh, what a disaster!

That's why I was down to a single party life by the time that this screenshot was taken. The next tick of the Flood Meter was drawing closer and I still hadn't taken care of Deimos yet. Fortunately I had used the intervening turns to revive everyone and visit the Gold Hero Statue for the extra Focus Point. I had also picked up a Focusing Hat for Chopper which granted her an additional point of Focus and the Refocus ability, letting me play fast and loose with Focus points on multiple characters. Chopper was still using the Hand Cannon and it was starting to get pretty long in the tooth at this point. Inkpot also spotted this massive upgrade in the Fogspear Harbor marketplace: a Mage's Tome with "Surge" as the default attack. Not only was the base damage 9 points higher, and the primary attack drawing on 3 Intelligence slots instead of the 4 slots on the Lightning Staff, the Mage's Tome also pierced enemy resistance on a perfect attack. That was what I had needed against Deimos earlier and found myself lacking. Inkpot could use this tome for a long time and be happy with it.

Fogspear Harbor also had a delivery quest with an eye-popping 442 gold payout for completion. That was a huge sum of money for this point in the game, and I happily signed onto that quest. It took me into the Ashfall Islands, the area that was theoretically intended to be the "final" islands region. I came across the Level 8 Water Tower and ignored it for the moment, knowing that it wouldn't level up alongside my characters and become harder to defeat later. Fortunately the enemies in the seas were no more difficult here than they were elsewhere:

I was still seeing lots of different pirate types and hermit crabs. This battle was noteworthy for having a Power Monkey, an enemy with the "suicidal" trait. As expected, these foes will blow themselves up to deal heavy damage to the party and should be destroyed first in most situations. Only ignore them if there's another highly dangerous foe and it's better to just let them explode rather than trying and failing to defeat them first. Anyway, running this errand into the Ashfall Islands resulted in the big gold payout mentioned above, and I used that influx of cash to upgrade to the Armored Boat for 500 gold. That ship is much sturdier at 10 HP and has 4 base movement plus 5 more Talent checks for additional movement. There were a couple points in time where Sierra landed a perfect roll for the maximum 9 movement points, and that was really cool to see in action. The Armored Boat had my crew flying about the ocean from one end of the seas to the other. As the name suggests, the Armored Boat also has 1 point of armor to defend against monster attacks that target the ship itself, and that would prove to be significant on this run.

We still had to deal with Deimos, however, who had triggered his scourge ability while I was running that quest. Deimos makes it so that the party cannot identify enemies on the main map screen; they appear as little clouds instead. While this is relatively benign as far as scourge abilities go, it's still annoying as it makes it harder to know when to fight and when to avoid battle. I also had a bit of a personal grudge here as a result of the pasting that Deimos gave my group earlier. You didn't see it because I failed to take any screenshots, but trust me, this party got its butt whooped pretty badly. With an additional level on everyone and a piercing weapon in the hands of Inkpot, it was time for revenge:

Deimos still put up a pretty good fight, repeatedly hitting my party with area of effect magic damage. He managed to put the Shock debuff on my party too. However, I had lots of Focus on hand and that allowed me to brute force my way through the Shock to force successful dice rolls in places where they would have failed. Inkpot was the predictable MVP here, with his Surge attacks landing 24 damage per pop and completely ignoring the magic resistance on the scourge. Deimos doesn't have all that much health and relies on his armor and magic resistance to be tanky; the group managed to drop him just before their health ran out. Whew, this battle was tougher than expected. By the end of this fight it wasn't even about revenge, just surviving in one piece.

Continued on the next page, as the party attempts to clear the remaining Water Towers before the arrival of the Great Flood.