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BG2/ToB - Tactics Module Review

Discussion in 'Mod Reviews' started by Beren, Apr 9, 2004.

  1. Beren

    Beren Lovesick and Lonely Wanderer Staff Member ★ SPS Account Holder Resourceful Adored Veteran Pillars of Eternity SP Immortalizer (for helping immortalize Sorcerer's Place in the game!) New Server Contributor [2012] (for helping Sorcerer's Place lease a new, more powerful server!) Torment: Tides of Numenera SP Immortalizer (for helping immortalize Sorcerer's Place in the game!)

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    Tactics Modification Pack
    Version: v17
    Review First Posted On: April 8, 2004
    Review Updated On:
    Download the Mod here: http://www.weidu.org/tactics.html

    First, a basic explanation of what the Tactics Module is about is in order. When a player has made his or her way through Baldur’s Gate 2 enough times, the player may find that the game has become too easy. In all fairness, the designers can hardly be blamed for this. They had to make the game challenging, but not overwhelmingly so, for people new to the game. Be that as it may, once the right strategies are discovered, monsters that may once have been daunting became pushovers almost overnight. A veteran of the game may end up with the feeling that the A.I. (“artificial intelligence”) of some monsters leaves something to be desired, or that they aren’t being allowed their full potential power as described in the Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual (2nd. Edition). In yet other instances, foes that were meant to be daunting for low-level parties would end up folding upon the discovery of cheesy tactics.

    This at its core is the very problem that the Tactics Module seeks to redress. It is all about enhancing the player’s enjoyment of the combat side of Baldur’s Gate 2. In its goal the mod by and large succeeds, and often fabulously so. The means by which it accomplishes this can be grouped together in certain categories, which are described below.

    One method is the seeding of additional monster encounters, beyond what was included in the original game, throughout various locations. For example, strolling about Athkatla will no longer be an idle affair where you nonchalantly waste a few muggers with naught but plain shortswords and leather armor. Provided you install the right component, you’ll now get frequently ambushed by evil adventuring parties that are scaled to be about 2 to 3 levels higher than you. They’ll also have some pretty funky tactics ready to go against you. Also, travelling to a wilderness area from Athkatla can also lead to some very interesting encounters as well. Some of the additional encounters are also dependent upon particular events or storylines in the game. If you’re up to installing the Kuirosan component, aiming to obtain the Celestial Fury katana will now become an extremely dangerous proposition. Kuirosan is a high level Fighter and Wu-Jen (Kara-Turan mage) who takes a special interest in collecting unique katanas, including your newly acquired Celestial Fury or Malakar. He also boasts some incredibly enhanced powers. Grabbing Celestial Fury too early is likely to lead to your party’s demise. Another example is the so-called “Poison-based challenge” during the Throne of Bhaal expansion, where monsters from a para-elemental plane of poison will force a confrontation upon a certain point while exploring the Watcher’s Keep dungeon.

    Another method is to increase the difficulty of existing monsters in the game, whether it is by providing them with additional powers or by tweaking their A.I. to make better tactical decisions. Several of the generic monsters are enhanced. For example, mages will now have long-lasting protections such as Stoneskin in place before combat begins. This will make taking down mages quickly, and thereby preventing their magical assaults, more difficult to accomplish. Mind Flayers had become rather easy with the right tactics. Now they come equipped with nearly the full gamut of powers described in the Psionic’s Handbook (2nd. ed.). Expect to get bombarded with things like Detonate, Ballistic Attack, and Disintegrate. Their Invisibility and Teleport powers will also make it more difficult to ensure that only immune or protected creatures or party members are exposed to their telepathic assaults.

    Perhaps one of the finest features of the mod is that the challenge of certain key (boss) encounters is enhanced. For example, all the dragons in Shadows of Amn have their A.I. sharpened up. This should certainly present a bright spot for fans of Firkraag. Kangaxx the Demi-Lich is no longer a pushover for well-known exploits. Bodhi will come with a wide and varied assortment of powers that will make her worth the 91,000 XP you get for killing her. And perhaps best of all, the final battle with the ultimate of villain of Shadows of Amn, Jon Irenicus, will be totally revamped. Even veteran players (the writer included) should often find this battle a veritable challenge.

    Finally, the Tactics Mod adds a whole new quest called The Ritual, which requires installation of the Throne of Bhaal expansion. Not to drop any spoilers, but even high-level parties would be well advised to manage their resources, and hit points, carefully.

    For all its good points, the mod does come with flaws, though admittedly much of this will be in the eye of the beholder. For starters, some of the dialogue brought in by the mod might come across as cheesy to some. It is certainly true that a game void of humour should be a sterile one for anybody. Indeed, the presence of the Spectator Beholder in the Sahuagin City is a brilliant piece of humour to the credit of the original designers. The humour is all the better for fitting neatly and thematically within the fantasy world setting of Baldur’s Gate 2. On the other hand, having Duergar opponents, part of the Improved Ilyich component of the Tactics mod, make explicit reference to the use of ‘suboptimal tactics’ to compensate for being higher-level foes may be a little much for some players (this writer included).

    Since the mod centres around increasing the challenge of the game, it can be expected that most of its flaws stem from issues of game balance, which is to say whether the game is too easy or too hard for the player. Certain components may in fact make the game too difficult in places. One example may be the Improved Mae’Var component. Mae’Var now becomes a powerful mage/thief who’s no longer hampered by leather armor. His minions are also bolstered considerably, with the assassins capable of very lethal backstab attacks. Not only that, but once you enter the bottom level to confront Mae’Var, you’re stuck on that level. You can’t use the stairs to utilize ‘one at a time’ tactics. This won’t be a big deal for a high-level party. In contrast, a low level party that wants to earn the Thief Stronghold right away for a thief player-character will probably find themselves set to an insurmountable task. Likewise, the Improved Small Teeth Pass obliges the party to land right in the teeth of a dragon, with absolutely no chance to prepare beforehand. Another example may be the Improved Ilyich component. While the idea of increasing the challenge of the first dungeon in the game is a meritorious one, many gamers may find the Tactics Mod taking it to overkill.

    Another complaint I had with the mod was not necessarily excessive difficulty, but excessive frequency. At the risk of sounding too general, it may be fairly said that gamers appreciate taking a breather after a challenging encounter. The most difficult encounter possible in the Improved City Encounters component should provide a veritable challenge for parties of approximately 14th to 15th level. Should you survive the battle, your first instinct of course will be to rest up at the local inn. But guess what? No sooner have you stepped out the door then you have to do it all over again. The alternative then becomes travelling around the city bloodied and battered, with the accompanying risk of another encounter when you least want it. It can make travelling about Athkatla a very frustrating ordeal, especially when your urban travels are part of another quest.

    Ironically, a few features of the mod can upset the game balance towards the opposite extreme. Assume you manage to defeat Kuirosan. Now loot his body. You’ll find the Sanchadooku +4 Katana, which does the following; lowers the target’s resistance to acid damage with each hit, inflicts a Melf’s Acid Arrow type effect on any creature that targets the wielder with any action regardless of whether or not it causes damage to the wielder (e.g. the Breach spell), and regenerates the wielder at a rate well beyond what other items in the game provide for. Does it sound powerful? Too powerful perhaps? It probably is. If you choose to accept and use this katana, chances are you’ll end up wrecking the very purpose for which you downloaded the mod to begin with, to increase the challenge of the game. The latest release of the mod has toned down the regeneration rate of Sanchadooku, but I personally find it to be still overpowered. Some gamers might feel the same way about the Bloodbane Spear obtained from the Poison-based challenge, but I wasn’t one of them. While it is powerful, it is not as nearly as obscenely powerful as Sanchadooku. Another feeling that might stem from the mod is that once the right tactics are found for the enhanced encounters, then they might also become rather easy. In other words, you’re right back to square one.

    Whatever flaws I or anyone else find with the Tactics mod cannot be ascribed to a lack of effort on the part of the developers. The Tactics mod has seen the release of many editions. It is always a work in progress. What this reflects is a genuinely sincere and serious effort on the part of the developers to strike the appropriate balance for fans of Baldur’s Gate 2. For example, the Shadow Thieves that regularly ambushed the party in previous editions of Improved Ilyich were capable of backstabs that caused poisoning at the same time, carried several Potions of Invisibility, and often wielded wands with powers like Cone of Cold or Hold Person that could be unleashed almost instantly. The latest edition of Improved Ilyich has replaced the Shadow Thieves with Duergar war parties. The war parties will include wizards, but those wizards use standard casting times so as to allow you a chance of interrupting the casting. I found this to be an improvement, because making your way through Irenicus Dungeon, while still challenging, was now a less frustrating and time-consuming affair (i.e. less reloading of the game).

    But herein is where a player’s dissatisfaction(s) with the mod may stem from. The ideal balance between the game being too hard or being too easy is, in my opinion, ultimately a red herring. What may be too easy for one gamer may be too daunting for another. For example, an older version of Improved Firkraag had him on top of the party from the word go. I preferred it this way because it presented a greater challenge. Subsequent releases had him retreating to the back of his cavern, allowing the party to set up an ideal strategic placement at leisure. My understanding was that this change was in response to the older version being too hard for some. In the end, you can’t please everybody. Nonetheless, the developers deserve naught but praise for making such dedicated efforts in the endeavour.

    Unfortunately, another problem also stems from the mod being a constant work in progress. If you read the notes for what’s new with each release, you’ll also notice that many of those notes address bug fixes. The constant editing of the mod inevitably means that some, or all, players will experience occasional bugs in the programming. To their credit, the bugs usually aren’t enough to dampen the overall playing experience, but there’s often no avoiding at least one or two of them. As I speak, the Ulitharids (Illithid nobles) still can’t use their Improved Invisibility power.

    To end on a positive note, the mod presents a redeeming feature that makes the whole thing worthwhile for just about any gamer. The WeiDU-Installer that comes with the mod, which is very user-friendly, allows you to select each individual component of the mod that you want, and leave out each one that you don’t want. This is a vast improvement over previous releases that forced you to install a whole set of components, or leave them out. In essence, the gamer is allowed to customize the mod to his or her exact specifications and tastes.

    On the whole, I’ll give the mod an 8 out of 10. For the most part, it succeeds in its goal. While there may be flaws, they can for the most part be negated by the extreme flexibility in installation that is afforded to the gamer.

    [ April 10, 2004, 06:19: Message edited by: Beren ]
     
  2. david w Gems: 19/31
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    Tactics mod is one of the few mods that I have installed every time I play the game, although I tend to leave the Improved Ilyich part out because I find it much too frustrating. Not so much the part with Ilyich and his cronies (a battle that really makes an experienced player think) but the shadow thieves who continually pounce on you every time you rest. If this happened once or twice it wouldn't be so bad, but every single time is just overkill. It's like a great joke. Funny the first time you hear it, but by the 25th time you're just cringing.

    The same applies with the harder city encounters. The first time I ever beat the hardest of these - with the beserker, wizard slayer, necromancer, etc - was a real highlight for me because the previous half a dozen times I'd fought them I'd either died or ended up running off. But killing them and then finding the exact same group awaiting me the next time I wandered around the city at night just seemed to be overkill. Admittedly the encounter gets easier every time you fight them because you tend to learn their tactics and the best ways to get the better of them, but it's never an easy fight and it frequently gets frustrating knowing they're going to jump you no matter how many times you've killed them in the past.

    Has anyone won the dragons fight in the Small Teeth Pass on anything but easy difficulty? I know when I showed up, my previously prepared spell protections were all gone due to the time it took to get there. Before I could put up new ones, the dragon breathed fire on me and killed the entire party. Reload. Try again. Same thing. I wasn't able to flee past it, put up any kind of protection, or even target it with killing spells before it breathed fire - and the moment it breathed my party got roasted. No matter what kind of anti-fire rings or helms I was wearing, everyone died. Lowering the difficulty to easy (I originally had it on insane then lowered it to core) allowed the PC and Korgan to survive the initial blast but even then I was never able to kill the thing with four of the party dead and the other two badly injured.
     
  3. Mystra's Chosen Gems: 22/31
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    Beren... Do you play with it all the time now? I don't suppose you'd be able to switch back after. It'd be too easy for you. (Happend to me after the Improved Battle mod from Ascension.)

    So, all in all, do you think it's a must for any serious BG2 player? An 8 out of 10 seems really high compared to what you say in your review.
     
  4. Beren

    Beren Lovesick and Lonely Wanderer Staff Member ★ SPS Account Holder Resourceful Adored Veteran Pillars of Eternity SP Immortalizer (for helping immortalize Sorcerer's Place in the game!) New Server Contributor [2012] (for helping Sorcerer's Place lease a new, more powerful server!) Torment: Tides of Numenera SP Immortalizer (for helping immortalize Sorcerer's Place in the game!)

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    Mystra's Chosen, you're right, there's no way I can go back to an unmodded BG2 nowadays.

    What helped push me towards 8 out of 10 is that many of those flaws can be overcome by picking and choosing what you want and don't want, the 'redeeming feature'. Otherwise, it'd be more around 6 or 7 out of 10.
     
  5. Mystra's Chosen Gems: 22/31
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    Hmmm, I see. So which parts do you leave out when installing the mod?
     
  6. Splunge

    Splunge Bhaal’s financial advisor Adored Veteran Pillars of Eternity SP Immortalizer (for helping immortalize Sorcerer's Place in the game!) Torment: Tides of Numenera SP Immortalizer (for helping immortalize Sorcerer's Place in the game!)

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    Agreed. That's why I try to travel during the daytime, and rest at night. It's not always possible, but that way, I get enough of the battles without them becoming tiresome.
     
  7. Rudiger Gems: 3/31
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    Just one small coment to add.

    Although I downloaded this primarilly for the improved dragons component, it was the generic archer kit that gave me the most fun. (a level 12/x archer mage is not so much an adventurer as a force of nature :evil: )
    And I'm sure that there's someone out there who will be positivley salivating over the chance of playing an anti-palidin.
     
  8. Col. Bruce Hampton Retired Gems: 3/31
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    Hi! I've talked about this mod a lot on other forums, but recently joined Sorcerer's (yesterday, yay). The review did such a good job, I'll not talk about the mod, but rather just some reactions to the review itself.

    By the way, Tactics is up to Version 20 at the moment. Improved Faldorn (part of Druids Grove of course) is a current topic of heated debate amongst Tacticians everywhere!

    Overall, I understand why the reviewer spent time giving details of all the possible drawbacks. But my favorite parts of the review was where you described *what happens* in Tactics. You summerized each type of enhancement, but I would like to read 1-paragraph from you about EACH COMPONANT, one by one. It would make for a long review, but it would be great to hear your thoughts on each encounter (especially each boss).

    8 out of 10 is an appropriate grade if it's graded *for the audience of people who want to make the game harder* (not for the general BG public, or even self-described serious players - who often are serious about their XP-Cap Remover and homemade power items).

    8 out of 10 is also fair to recommend Tactics to anyone who feels like testing it out - considering your point that you can choose which componants you want (and the added feature: you can uninstall any of the componants or the entire mod and your game will go back to normal). Tactics is easy to uninstall.

    One warning not mentioned in the review, is to be careful if you have other mods. Some other mods may conflict with certain parts of Tactics. For example The Darkest Day cannot be installed at the same time as Tactics Small Teeth Pass, or any Tactics added kits. (By the way, why does Tactics even offer a kit or two? Seems odd in the mix.)

    Thanks a lot for the thoughtful review, it's obvious you put a lot of time into testing Tactics and writing about it.
     
  9. Earl Grey

    Earl Grey Mmm... hot tea! Veteran

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    I found the tactics mod full of cheese as well as encouraging the use of cheese from the player.
    That's fine if what you want is an exercise in powergaming.
    I don't.
     
  10. NonSequitur Gems: 19/31
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    I have only installed elements of Tactics that I believe are "appropriate". Improved AI for some monsters? Yes. Stronger Kangaxx and Guardians? Kangaxx, yes; guardians, no. Mae'Var? Absolutely. Twisted Rune? You bet. Ilyich? No way. Copper Coronet? Perfectly understandable. Random Silver Dragon encounters? Umm, no.

    The stuff that makes enemies "more believable" are good. I think Kuirosan and the Ritual are a bit off, and the Improved Encounters are frustrating and not particularly credible (since the Cowled Wizards don't come after that @#$%ing Necromancer). I didn't play BG2 for the cheese factor - and to be honest, with the components of Tactics that I've installed, it isn't like that. It makes life difficult again, which is what many veteran players want.
     
  11. Eric Xanthus Gems: 10/31
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    I am one of the lovers of Tactics, and cannot imagine going back to unmodded. I have always been a little confused by the comments on cheesiness, however. Could I hear some specific examples of forced-cheesiness other than Faldorn, which is the only component of the mod I have issues with? Without specifics it is difficult to discern those who think the mod is flawed from those who think the mod is too hard for them, which are two very different things.
     
  12. Earl Grey

    Earl Grey Mmm... hot tea! Veteran

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    This is close enough to what I think.
     
  13. Eric Xanthus Gems: 10/31
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    First let me state up front that I don't want to turn this into a fight where I try to convince anyone to like Tactics. I also don't want to get into what is and is not cheese or powergaming, although that obviously has some bearing on how the question is asked and answered. Now on to the question.

    I am already familiar with Six of Spades and his review (and Weimar's response to it--another post topic), so the link provided by Earl Grey does not really advance the question for me. Six of Spades seems to claim and presume that "powergaming" is required by the mod, while I was hoping to hear something specific like, "I can't beat X without resorting to X cheese."

    To be more specific--Six of Spades (and by proxy, Early Grey) makes mention of using CF +5, which I completely agree is cheese. But he seems to presume that he could not have finished Tactics without it, which is something I cannot agree with. My concern is that people get the following impression about Tactics: "The mod forces me to use Cloak of Mirroring, Shield of Reflection, and numerous other cheese items/tactics, because if I don't use them, I can't win."

    Another, different kind of example: it is difficult to tell if Six of Spades thinks that the improved Small Teeth Pass "forces cheese." It is clear that he thinks it is hard; so do I. But does it force players to do things that fall under his (or Earl Grey's) definition of power gaming? To put it another way, if someone can't defeat X monster without using X cheese, I think that speaks far more to the player than to the mod.

    So my original request for specific instances of "forced cheese" was really to gauge the accuracy of my perception. Do many people think that the mod is impossible without using items and tactics that many would consider cheesy (or pick your adjective)? If so I would be happy to share my experience with the Tactics mod, which is quite different.

    Closing remark: if my tone is unclear, please assume it to be conciliatory. I don't want to pick a fight at all. I just want to clarify thoughts about the mod.
     
  14. Earl Grey

    Earl Grey Mmm... hot tea! Veteran

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    Good reply, Eric Xanthus.

    I should clarify that my personal experience with the Tactics mod is very limited. I read the descriptions, discussions about it (including at this place) and then the Six of Spades article. I've only actually played with Improved Ilyich. Well, that and a little bit with the Anti Paladin kit.

    Perhaps I made a premature judgement. My mindset was one of trying to cut down on the cheese and finding less travelled paths with my favourite character - the sorcerer. Improved Ilyich suddenly took it in another direction.
     
  15. Jaguar Gems: 27/31
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    I also have read many of the articles pertaining to this mod and, although I have never played it, look forward to doing so in order to form my own opinion.
     
  16. Evil Dad Gems: 15/31
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    I would highly recommend Tactics, at least what I have played so far, although I have some reservations on some parts.

    Improved Illyich is almost impossible without cheese tactics. The Duergars are good, much better than the shadow thieves and teach you to attack mages/cleric first in a battle. I have uninstalled it though as it is unbalanced for the start of the game and takes far too long to get out of the Dungeon.

    Improved Encounters - all I have come across so far was Beholders in the sewers. This was a tough battle for my level at the time, and took a couple of tries to get through, but it was satisfying when completed.

    Improved Torgal - this was a tough fight, but much better I think. He caught me out the first time as I went up Invis cast a fireball and ran back to my party, only to find Torgal had follwed me without me knowing. I actually beat him in the end without any real cheese tactics- some summons and ranged attacks and lots of healing. Very good though.

    Improved Druid Grove - was very enjoyable on the way through. The enemies were much tougher and needed better strategies to defeat. It wasn't impossible though, just a case of taking it slow and easy. The druids in the middle were fairly tough, but if you could fight one or two at a time is was manageable.

    Improved Faldorn - I have listed this separately as I think this is the most unbalanced part of the MOD. She is L15 with immunities to nearly every form of damage, plus you need +3 weapons to hit her. Considering you have no equipment when you entering the ring you only have 2 options to beat her Re-balanced Shapeshifter or huge cheese tactics. Very unbalanced, especially if you are a Druid and need to defeat her for your Druid Stronghold.
     
  17. joacqin

    joacqin Confused Jerk Veteran

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    I am wondering where the improved encounters are? I have yet to be ambushed by anything I dont get ambushed by without tactics. I am now back from the underdark and have done pretty much every quest except the unseeing eye. What do I need to do to get ambushed? It seems like every other tactics player get ambushed too often to find it amusing while I have yet to see anything except the little orogs.
     
  18. Splunge

    Splunge Bhaal’s financial advisor Adored Veteran Pillars of Eternity SP Immortalizer (for helping immortalize Sorcerer's Place in the game!) Torment: Tides of Numenera SP Immortalizer (for helping immortalize Sorcerer's Place in the game!)

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    I only ran into them at night. Three places I found them all the time were at the entrance to the sewers in the Temple District; in the Docks just to the west of the district exit; and in the Slums just above the exit at the bottom right.

    Edit: Hmm, I just noticed the date of joacqin's post - I'm surprised I didn't notice it earlier.
     
  19. joacqin

    joacqin Confused Jerk Veteran

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    Abut time someone answered! ;)

    I finished SoA yesterday and ran only in two new encounters, both in the wild, at the very end of the game and not challenging in any way even taking into consideration my party level at the time.

    Might be because of my playing style, I generally dont hop around much but tend to finish each area completely before going to the next. I was running around a bit in the slums though as I had the planar sphere. A little bit upsetting to miss one of the bigger parts of the tactics mod. I did install it completely so that isnt what is lacking. Oh well, I will probably have to fight them around every corner my next run through the game.
     
  20. Mystra's Chosen Gems: 22/31
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    Just tried the mod yesterday. I played for half an hour, then immendiately uninstalled it. I don't know, maybe I just can't play BG2 worth a crap, but my party was getting owned by those Duergar Prolitariate parties. Not to mention I wasn't making any progress since the bloody things came every time I slept, therefore I never had any spells or healing left after beating one. Sleep again, same thing. And only 2000xp.
     
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