SixOfSpades's Review of the Tactics MOD (Release 15)

indentDisclaimer: This site gets a bit ranty at times, but hopefully it's constructive ranting. Whenever I have a problem with something, I try to suggest intelligent alternatives (which, with luck, will be improvements) instead of mouthing the old "This sucks, change it" routine that some people do.

The Cast

indentI gave the Tactics MOD a thorough examination, running 4 separate parties all the way through SoA. All 4 of them put off visiting Watcher's Keep until ToB. Let's meet our contestants:

Caedmon: Male Cavalier, 19 / 19 / 19 / 11 / 16 / 18
indentParty: Jaheira, Yoshimo-->Imoen, Nalia, Sir Anomen, Minsc-->ToB NPC (under Geas)
Hemorrhoids: Male Human CN Wild Mage, 19 / 19 / 16 / 19 / 5 / 19
indentParty: Korgan, Anomen, Haer'Dalis, Jan, Valygar-->ToB NPC (without Geas)
Kyrenia: Female Half-Elven NG Ranger/Cleric, 19 / 19 / 19 / 11 / 21 / 13
indentParty: Keldorn, Valygar, Mazzy, Imoen, Kelsey
Brendan: Male CG Generic Archer->Thief (Dualed at Level 15), 16 / 19 / 17 / 12 / 12 / 11
indent Party: Korgan, Jaheira, Viconia, Nalia, Edwin
(Many of the reviews are from the "point of view" of Caedmon's party, as they were the first to play each new component.)

indentHappily, I had played none of these kits before, so at least that worked out nicely. All of the stats given are after using the Tome of Retroactive Convenience (a custom item that simulates taking the PC through BG1 & ToSC). For all 3 games, the difficulty never left Core Rules, except when dipping down to Normal for the early Level-Ups. All components of Tactics were installed, except the Always Toughest Random Spawns. Other MODs installed included Ascension, Kelsey, Item Upgrades, Rogue Rebalancing, Shadow Thief Improvements, and some components of Ease-of-Use.

Bugs: Despite being correctly patched and BaldurDashed, I did encounter bugs in some of the Tactics components, and noted them accordingly. This is partly my fault, as my computer not only has a VIA-chipset motherboard, but is also running Windows ME, with some of its utilities copied over from my old Windows 95-era machine. So just think of my setup as a highly sensitive system, which is great for debugging: If it runs fine on the sensitive computer, it'll run perfectly on a more robust system. Expect to see a lot of bugs not reported by anyone else (but still worth checking!).

indentThis is not to say, however, that my game is generally buggy--it is not. With the exception of certain quests that are generally notorious for bugs (Jaheira's Harper & Romance, Gorf the Squisher, and the Nether Scroll are the only repeat offenders), my game is usually bug-free. This is why, given the frequency of problems that crop up in the Tactics components, I have a right to view Tactics as a somewhat buggy MOD. This may, of course, all be the fault of some error during installation. After this Review is complete, I shall do a complete reinstall of the whole game to test that theory.


One-Minute Reviews

If you're wondering what this "Tactics" thing is all about, read these to get an idea of the relative components, in terms of fun, challenge, roleplay and power, plus an estimation of its overall quality.
Ten-Minute Reviews

If you're a MODder (or just curious and/or knowledgeable about the game) and want to hear my likes & dislikes, and reasons why, for each component, this section covers everything in detail, including my opinions on what would make each component better.
Six Spouts Off

I am definitely something of a purist when it comes to Baldur's Gate, with one of my primary pet peeves being aspects of the game that are "overpowered." If you've got a strong stomach, and want to hear my arguments on what is overpowered and what isn't, this is the link for you.

One-Minute Reviews:

indent The following, cursory overview is for the uninitiated, who simply want an idea of the relative quality and safety of the various components. Note that most of these battles become much, much easier when the player has the Reload knowledge of what to expect, and so many experienced gamers who have played through these encounters before ("Ahhh, I can beat Improved Irenicus on the first try without anyone dying, and on Insane, too,") may think that I am being very harsh in my grading. I assure you, I am simply rating each component from the viewpoint of an intelligent, cautious gamer who is relatively new to each new battle. In other words, I'm not going to say that it should be able to be beaten by a blind, one-legged Beastmaster with no buffs, and in return I expect you not to say it's easy because your Kensai->Mage can beat it.

indentOverall, I give the entire Tactics MOD a rating of B-. As for my own personal taste, I would install all of the components that are here rated with a grade of C or better.

Improved Ilyich: Much more of a pain in the ass than it deserves to be. I really don't want to suffer through this every damn time I roll up a new character. A better name would be "Improved Ilyich and some Cheating Shadow Thieves Join Forces Just to Discourage You from Playing this Game." Grade: D.

The Ritual:
A good, solid quest involving some nicely challenging fights, and with lots of good dialogue and backstory, too. On the downside, it forces you to Reload over and over again--not necessarily in order to win, just in order to figure out what the heck is going on. Grade: B+.

Improved TorGal and De'Arnisse Keep:
Makes the Keep a respectable challenge for a mid-level party (i.e., no more "Let's go rush to the Keep!" candy-store games), but even then, TorGal is too powerful--you won't be able to safely recruit Nalia until your party is around Level 13. Grade: B-.

Improved Sahuagin City:
Turning the Underwater City into less of a "Step right up, getcher Cloaks and Quest Experience heah!" pleasure outing is a good thing. Turning it into a painfully slow, laborious "You'll have to kill us one at a time, and God help you if you didn't buy the Shield of Cheese" slogging session, however, is a bad thing. Grade: D+.

Improved Bodhi:
Overpowered. Not ulcer-inducingly so, but still overpowered. And for some reason, Weimer seems to think that she's a god in her own right. Grade: C.

Improved Irenicus:
Makes the final battle MUCH cooler, making you finally respect Irenicus's intelligence and creativity. But then the fight goes on....and on....and the coolness factor wears off rapidly. Plus there's the fact that the challenge is overpowered, especially since it uses ToB abilities in a battle that is still technically SoA. Grade: C+.

Improved Guarded Compound:
Battles that pull the "For some reason, you can't go back the way you just came in" cheese automatically suck. The fight itself is quite respectable, it's a shame they cheat. Grade: B-.

Improved Twisted Rune:
A kickass brawl that emphasizes the fact that low-level parties have no business trying to take down the HQ of such an organization. They cheat a bit, of course, but they deserve to. Grade: A-.

"Kuroisan," the Acid Kensai:
As long as you bear in mind that this guy is a PARODY--that Weimer created him in response to "A Kensai->Mage wearing all the best equipment is invincible," you should do all right....after enough Reloads to teach you about his oh-so-cheesy sword. Grade: C+.

"Red Badge" Poison-Based Encounter:
Okay--they attack you for apparently no reason whatsoever, you absolutely need Reload knowledge and/or at least 3 Level 9 spellslots to beat them, and all for a weapon that nobody but a dyed-in-the-wool powergamer would ever use. At least Kuroisan has some character and conversational skills. Grade: F.

Gebhard Blucher's Lich in the Docks:
Battles that pull the "For some reason, you can't go back the way you just came in" cheese automatically suck. At least this one doesn't require your entire party to enter at once. And boy, I remember the days when Liches actually had to *cast* their spells from memory. Guess I'm showing my age. Grade: C.

Gebhard Blucher's Improved Mae'Var:
Battles that pull the "For some reason, you can't go back the way you just came in" cheese automatically suck. Again, you can select whom you want to send in, and through which door, too. Mae'Var now makes you respect how cheesy Illusion spells can be, and makes you wish that your Warriors could have a THAC0 as low as his Thieves. Grade: B-.

Gebhard Blucher's Improved Demon Knights:
A little cheesy, but understandably so. You'll have to give them a little respect now. Grade: B+.

Kensai Ryu's Tougher Kangaxx and Guardians:
A difficult fight, guarded by a somewhat cheesy fight. Justifiably increases the challenge of obtaining The Ring, but (unjustifiably) makes it more difficult to do so without losing party members. Grade: B-.

Kensai Ryu's Gnome Fighter/Illusionst:
He's too difficult for where he is in the game (he blocks a Lawful Good-oriented party trying to roleplay their way to Imoen), he's a suicidal idiot when it comes to spellcasting, and then there's the matter of his cheating Familiars. Grade: C-.

Kensai Ryu's Improved Crypt King:
Allows the poor sap to summon Skeleton Warriors. Definitely not overpowered--the difficulty of the fight depends more on the presence of Improved Undead than Improved Crypt King. My sole complaint is that the guy still isn't a respectable opponent. Grade: B.

Ishan's "Always Toughest Random Spawns in Dungeons:"
How overpowered this is depends on which areas you tackle first. If you know where to go to avoid Liches, Spirit Trolls, and Greater Mummies, it's safe. If you want to play a Ranger, or recuit Mazzy or Nalia, however, installing this will instantly transport you up shit creek. Since that was not a place I wished to be, I didn't install this. Grade: N/A.

Gebhard Blucher's Random City Encounters:
Decent little fights--much better than the pathetic Muggers who didn't even know to stay the hell away from a Level 17 party. Unfortunately, the last set of bad guys is too strong, and for the most part can only be beaten by cheese, leaving a pretty sour taste in my mouth. Grade: B-.

Kensai Ryu's Random Wilderness Encounters:
An extremely irregular component: It only triggers an ambush on roughly 2% of your trips out of town. Of those, most are fights that range from a cakewalk to a good challenge--and then there's one fight that you simply cannot be expected to win. Grade: D+.

Improved Undead:
Some of their new abilities are logical and quite balanced. Then again, some are overpowered, and some are completely nonsensical. Grade: C-.

Improved Golems:
Golems huckin' rocks be good. Not perfect, but better than they were before. Grade: A-.

Gebhard Blucher's Improved Mind Flayers:
Finally, Illithids get back their long-lost ability to see the Invisible. More and weirder Psionic abilities are decent--but what's this about being able to manipulate physical reality? And casting Wizard spells with 0 casting time? Nuh-uh. Grade: C-.

Smarter Dragons:
The cheese factor of this component varies dramatically from Dragon to Dragon. The weaker ones are almost unchanged, while those later in the game pull all sorts of overpowered crap--10 Wing Buffets per Round and the like. Grade: B-.

Xyx's Smarter Beholders:
Removes (I think) the Shield of Balduran cheese, and for some bizarre reason makes Beholderkin masters of melee combat. Whatever. Also lets Hive Mothers cheat themselves infinite spells. Grade: B-.

Kensai Ryu's Smarter Vampires:
The changes that Ryu implemented do make sense--but, if anything, killing Vampires has never been easier. Grade: B.

Slightly Smarter Mages and Liches:
The Mages in the game now have scripts that auto-cast a ton of defensive spells for them, and whole barrages of Sequencers and Contingencies, whether the Mages have those spells memorized or not. I hope you've got lots of Breaches ready. The Liches, however, even rob you of the ability to protect your weaker party members. Joy. Grade: B.

Fighter-Class Archer Kit:
A very nice addition, giving gamers more roleplaying scope. Allows the Archer->Mage (one of the few class combinations even cheesier than the Kensai->Mage), but apart from that, only slightly more powerful than the standard Archer. Grade: A-.

Anti-Paladin Kit:
Obviously overpowered, so the only reason I installed it is that I heard it buffs up the Githyanki. Go ahead and play one, if being munchkin is your thing. Grade: C-.

G�ran Rim�n's Improved Nymphs:
More of a bugfix than anything else. My only complaint is that they'll follow you around even if you want them to stay still. Grade: A.

Kensai Ryu's Improved Copper Coronet:
So minor, it's difficult to tell it's even there. Worthwhile, though, and I'd like to bow down in thanks, because I have now finally seen the Gorf the Squisher quest work the way it was supposed to work. Grade: A.

SimDing0's Improved Oasis:
The enemies are certainly more respectable than the original "Duh, let's just sit here until they come kill us," but frankly I was hoping for more. I mean, 95% of them still don't even have Helmets, for Pete's sake. That must be why there's already an Improved Oasis 2. Grade: A-.

Mike Barnes' Improved Small Teeth Pass:
Oh, boy, I sure do love Reloading twenty times until I manage to get one where no party members are killed beyond resurrection in the first 2 rounds. I also love the fact that abusing Reload knowledge is practically the only way to survive this festering cesspit. Grade: F.

Mike Barnes' Improved North Forest:
Quite well done--the Drake is a little odd, but all the enemies are now appropriate for Chapter 6. Finally. Grade: A.

Mike Barnes' Marching Mountains:
Okay, it does do exactly what it claims to--but frankly, I think Chinchilla & Company are more fun. It's just a question of who you prefer fighting: The tough or the weird? Grade: A-.

Ten-Minute Reviews:

indentThis Review was written mainly for the benefit of the of the authors of the various components, and therefore has the more in-depth analyses organized under the names of their respective authors. Jump to:

Westley Weimer (Improved Ilyich, The Ritual, Improved De'Arnisse Keep, Improved Sahuagin City, Improved Bodhi, Improved Irenicus, Improved Guarded Compound, Improved Twisted Rune, Kuroisan, Red Badge Encounter, Improved Undead, Improved Golems, Smarter Dragons, Slightly Smarter Mages and Liches, Anti-Paladin Kit, Generic Archer Kit)

Kensai Ryu (Tougher Kangaxx and Guardians, Gnome Fighter/Illusionst, Improved Crypt King, Random Wilderness Encounters, Improved Copper Coronet, Smarter Vampires)

Gebhard Blucher (Improved Mae'Var, Lich in the Docks, Improved Demon Knights, Random City Encounters, Improved Mind Flayers)

Mike Barnes (Improved Small Teeth Pass, Improved North Forest, Barnes's Marching Mountains)

Other (Xyx's Smarter Beholders, G�ran Rim�n's Improved Nymphs, SimDing0's Improved Oasis)

Six Spouts Off:

indentI should note that, normally, I dislike powergaming. In my pre-Tactics days, I would pick a class and/or kit I'd never played before, start hitting Reroll, and take the first set of stats that looked good (no using the + or - buttons to move points from one stat into another). With Tactics installed, however, I knew what I was in for, and so went for the throat: I'm sure you noticed that Caedmon, Hemorrhoids, and Kyrenia had all of their important stats set to the absolute legal maximum. By the time I got around to starting Brendan's game, however, I had gotten accustomed to the kids of things Tactics was throwing at me, and therefore felt comfortable rolling his stats in the manner I'm used to.

indentAs for why I dislike powergaming, that can be best answered with an example: Let us consider the very beginning of BG1, and suppose that it would be sheer idiocy for a Mage as powerful as Gorion to take his ward out into the world with nothing but some Splint Mail and an unenchanted weapon to right the wrongs of the world and ensure a happy conclusion to one of Alaundo's darkest prophecies. Continuing in this line of reasoning, let us suppose that all of the items in Candlekeep are significantly enhanced: Hull's Long Sword is a +2 weapon, Dreppin gives you a Wand of Fire in return for helping cure his sick cow, Reevor's reward for killing the rats is a pair of Boots of Speed, the armor you can filch from Canderous is Full Plate+2, etc. Of course, this would turn the entire first half of the game into an absolute cakewalk, so to counterbalance the items, all of the monsters are buffed up as well: Instead of a Bear, a couple of Wolves, and a few Gibberlings, the enemies on the first map are now an Ogre-Mage and a pack of Wolfweres. All of the Kobolds in the game are now 12th-level Archers. All hostile Skeletons are replaced with Skeleton Warriors. This situation, while technically balanced, creates two problems:
1) The game is now overpowered. Why on earth would Wolfweres be allowed to hang out so close to Candlekeep, to say nothing of the Ogre-Mage? If Kobolds were really such crack shots, they should have overrun the Sword Coast ages ago. Why does my casting Animate Dead give me Skeletons, while everyone else gets Skeleton Warriors? Etc.
2) Intelligence, tactics, and luck are left in the dust by items and spells. You're all jazzed about killing the Beholder that's guarding Davaeorn's treasure. Except that you didn't kill it, your weapons and armor did. Forget about brains, forget about skill, forget about dumb luck: Any fool wearing your gear would have killed the Beholder too, while anybody unfortunate enough to be caught without that same gear would have to roll a string of natural 20s just to survive.

indentOn being munchkin: While I support the idea that adventuring characters should have stats well above the average (if their stats were no better than anyone else's, they wouldn't have become adventurers), I find it preposterous that every Warrior-type character must have scores of at least 16 in STR, DEX and CON just to be considered "adequate." I am sick of seeing unrealistic stats: How many Paladins have you seen, running around with only 3 INT because they "needed" those points in other attributes? Or somebody starting a Kensai->Mage ("because it's the best,") and making a beeline straight for Celestial Fury ("because it's the best")? Or a Lawful Good character going out of their way to get the Silver Pantaloons?

indentPerhaps all that was what drove me to forswear powergaming. While I am no glutton for punishment, nor do I enjoy being defeated, I feel that the standard-issue Baldur's Gate 2 is too easy, leaning too much toward the player's benefit. I think the enemies got shortchanged a bit, and they really should be given a fair chance. Therefore, I simply will not use:
  • Cloak of Mirroring
  • Shield of Balduran
  • Protection from Magic scrolls
  • Protection from Undead scrolls
  • Roranachs' Horn
  • Mislead
  • Project Image
  • Nature's Beauty
  • Imprisonment
  • Minor Sequencer
  • Contingency
  • Spell Sequencer
  • Spell Trigger
  • Chain Contingency

    And I will use the following only in a limited manner (rarely, or if it's a weapon give it to someone with a relatively poor THAC0 or ApR):
  • Celestial Fury
  • Flail of Ages
  • Fire Tooth+3
  • Soul Reaver+4
  • Ravager+6
  • Reflection Shield
  • Simulacrum

    Note: The cheesy (in my view, anyway) spells and items listed above are perfectly fair for use in certain MOD battles, especially battles that use those spells and items against you.

    indentOn Battles being considered Overpowered: If you looked over the One-Minute Reviews, you no doubt noticed that I gave many of the "Improved" components rather poor grades. This is because I played them on Core Rules, which is actually a very important point: Players accept that Core is the way the game is supposed to be. It is, as BGConfig puts it, "AD&D; by the rules." Rules like, "Thou shalt not have infinite amounts of spells, fired with 0 casting time and ignoring Spell Failure." Now, I agree that lots of gamers want to test their limits with battles just as challenging as the MODders can make them. But those gamers, and those tactics, are for the Difficulty settings of Hard and Insane--NOT Core Rules.

    indentAs a general rule, I deem it unwise to create the type of scenario that, if it were made by a flesh & blood Dungeon Master in a Pencil & Paper game, would make his fellow players wish to throw him out of a sixth-floor window.