It’s never a good sign when a company starts giving you free stuff to apologize for the quality of an event you have tickets for but haven’t actually been to. That’s the position I was in last Wednesday, having woken up to an email in which Evermore offered me a free ticket to the hard open because I had “bought” a ticket to the soft open, which I got for free when I actually bought a ticket to the preview night back on September 8th. I wonder how long I’ll be able to keep chaining these free tickets along? Are they going to be so embarrassed about the barely-finished state of the opening proper that they’ll give me free tickets for Halloween, and then be so embarrassed by that that they’ll give me free tickets to their winter arc, too? Is this going to end up with me just getting a lifetime subscription to the park because I bought a Comic-Con preview ticket?
Personally, I wasn’t disappointed with the soft open, but I can see why other people would be, especially people who went on the first day, when it was likely even more unfinished than when I got there. Unfinished sections of the park were roped off with uncostumed staff standing there to make sure no park guests accidentally (or maliciously) wander off into the construction zones and the plot stops dead in its tracks halfway through because the goblin forge isn’t finished yet, so they just awkwardly tell you they’re locked out and please come back next week when we can get on with the plot. I didn’t reach that point until the park was near closing time anyway, but then, I’m not super concerned with getting through the story as fast as possible. I take my time talking to characters and other park guests (“worldwalkers,” in the parlance of the park’s lore), and am further slowed by frequent pauses where I try to figure out something to say without breaking character. Also, on at least one occasion I was slowed a bit by being mistaken for an NPC and people asked me for plot threads which, since it was late in the night, I was actually able to provide. So far as I know, those people still think I work for Evermore. In any case, people who are more mission focused and less awkward can probably get through significantly faster and hit that end of the plot “sorry, come back next week” point sooner.
One thing Evermore has significantly improved upon since the preview night was how eagerly the plot was thrust upon me. That one fellow who asked me to slay monsters back on preview night? This time, he directed me straight to Clara Nettleton, who is now the starting point for the plot, so obviously so that I don’t even feel like it’s spoilers to mention as much. Further story spoilers are going below the break, so if you’re reading this because you actually want to go to Evermore during the current plot arc (ends November 8th), now might be the time to stop.
The Story So Far
So, Clara Nettleton’s brother Finley is infected with that dark blood zombie plague, but he’s mostly harmless. Snarly, but not hostile. According to Suds (I think I got that name right?) the barkeep, he’s always had a stubborn will, and he suspects that’s what’s keeping him from outright attacking people. The bad news is that the plague spreads on contact, which means that while she’s not showing any symptoms yet, Clara’s got it for sure and God only knows who she’s passed it onto.
More immediately, Clara starts the quest chain that appears to be the main plot: Go find Mother Nature, a witch from the same world as the Fey King (source – or possibly first victim? – of the dark blood plague), she can provide herbs to help. Upon meeting Mother Nature, she gave me an unprocessed herb and told me to bring it to an alchemist named something like Thurgood (not the same guy as Diet Coke, the alchemist I met during the preview and whose real name I still can’t remember). When I found him, he said he’d process it for me, and in the meantime he’d like me to talk to the vampires in the mausoleum about why they don’t get infected by the dark blood plague when they drink from those afflicted by it. The vampires inside told me they’d share this knowledge only if I brought them three victims to be marked, so I claimed the next group to follow me into the mausoleum as sacrifices and the vampire leader, Brahm (kinda like Bram Stoker, geddit? You will not be surprised to learn that the brilliant mind behind the paladin god named Paladine was involved in this project), told me that their vampire venom protects them, but would also turn anyone who drinks it into a vampire. Which, like, is immortality included in that deal? These are pretty ugly nosferatu vampires and I don’t know if it’s possible for them to sustain themselves without killing their victims, but I’m interested in subscribing to their newsletter.
In any case, this is the point where the quest appeared to end for me, as the alchemist at this stage just gave me the processed herb to hand off to Finley. I learned from other characters that a more diluted version of the venom might be capable of vaccinating someone against the plague. Speculation: The actor playing Thurgood (sp?) was told to let the quest dead end here, giving the player the processed horseradish mint needed to get Finley’s symptoms to partially subside (although it does not cure him completely) and thus provide some closure on the initial arc without having to resort to the clunky “uh, we’re locked out of our forge, no keys or anything, just come back Saturday” ending the goblins gave. Other actors did not receive the memo and continued to divulge that diluted vampire venom might provide a cure to anyone who brought it up.
After I gave Clara the processed herb, she sent me to the barkeep Suds (sp?) who relayed a story about Finley’s childhood that’s kind of charming (I won’t wreck it by paraphrasing it, it’s better to hear it in person and anyway not super plot relevant) and then gave me a Droch Lorcan tarot card as a prize for completing the quest. I am not super thrilled that the prize is the same thing I got just for turning up to their both at Comic Con. The card is of perfectly decent quality and I really like the idea of being given cheap mementos of finished quests, but this card isn’t actually unique to this quest. More speculation: The idea of giving people quest mementos was had very late, so they scrambled to find a usable memento from the props they already had. Almost nothing they had was both unique and cheap enough to give away to park guests who only pay $29 to get in (unless, like me, they’re chaining free tickets together until the end of time), so they repurposed the Comic-Con cards because they had nothing else available.
Tangent: The guy who informed me of this was the local fortune teller, who will give you a free fortune reading. So far as I could tell through my goggles, the cards used were not actual tarot cards, but it was still kind of neat. I don’t believe in magic, but that doesn’t mean the experience isn’t entertaining, and there’s something to be said for feeding vague, universally applicable advice into your subconscious, asserting that it’s actually specific advice from a trustworthy source that should be heeded, and letting your subconscious translate it into a specific course of action. Is the fortune teller a literal wizard? I’m gonna bet pretty strongly on no. Can getting your fortune read by him still translate into actually usable advice? I’m not as committed on that one.
And, of course, the fortune teller also serves the age-old role of RPG fortune tellers in providing clues to the plot, which got me tracking down the hunters. Killian, along with Droch Lorcan and the Pooka, gets her own tarot card, so I assume she’s a major character, so it makes me kind of sad that I cannot for the life of me get any goddamn conversation going with her. The character’s sour disposition punts me into a weird place where the character I’m playing would probably respond with some violent bravado, but then real me vetoes that because I don’t want this actor to think I am legitimately threatening to punch her, and then I start looking for a plan B and now I’ve been staring into space for the last seven or eight seconds and Killian picks up the conversation on her own.
Anyway, Killian says that the goblins nicked her weapons, and when you talk to the goblins, they’re locked out of their forge, and that brings us to the sudden stop of the plot.
Also, I should mention that the fey king is now hanging out in town, a giant animatronic who is hooked up to a sound system to have voice acted conversations with the park guests, seen here conversing with a particularly brave three year old:
A Review, I Guess
I retain some amount of trepidation concerning how this arc will turn out. I really enjoyed the first bits, but the hardest part is yet to come. This early quest is a great example of how to do an early exploration arc in a single-player RPG (and because you’re talking to actors and not watching cut scenes, these single-player techniques translate flawlessly to groups of 2-5 people working together – the usual problem of players in groups ignoring the cut scenes to talk to each other simply doesn’t exist in this medium). Whereas the quest hook on preview night was vague and it seems like a lot of people missed it, the NPC posted near the entrance offers up a primary quest hook that immediately launches you into a plot that will have you encountering the primary conflict (the dark blood plague), directs you to an NPC on the other side of town who has a personal connection to the villain and can explain his backstory, and then sends you off to a challenge of sorts to complete the quest. That challenge is the Nosferatu mausoleum, which isn’t an obstacle course or anything, but it’s spooky – spooky enough that one guest, possibly mistaking me for a character, asked me to tell him what was inside so he didn’t have to check himself. Afterwards, you get sent to another NPC who tells that charming childhood story about Finley to give a bit of hope after what’s otherwise been a dark and foreboding plot line, and gives you a memento to remember your accomplishment by.
Side note: after I gave that guy the information he needed, I started walking away, and he said he’d look forward to working with me, and it didn’t occur to me until a second or two later that this very likely might’ve been an invitation to work together on the plot. Which, y’know, might’ve been fun, even though the information I’d just given him was the penultimate step of the story so we were pretty much done, but still.
Anyway, like I said, this structure of being introduced to a conflict, directed to someone who can introduce the villain, and then given something of a challenge to complete, before getting a resolution and a bit of a lighter tone at the end, it’s a really good way to introduce the problem. The fragment of the second leg of the story I completed suggests that it’s going to try and raise the stakes: The hunter Killian is going to capture a vampire and needs to arm up in order to do it. This moves us from exploration, where we’re finding out what the problem is and who the characters are, into investigation, where we’re actively pursuing solutions in preparation for the third phase, confrontation, where we confront and defeat the source of the problem.
Phase one complete and very well done, but what concerns me is that for things to successfully transition to phase two, it’s not enough for the player to hand off weapons to Killian, get another fetch quest, and upon completing it, Killian hands out some vampire venom. That would just be another exploration phase, where rather than actively pursuing solutions, you’ve simply explored and discovered that Killian can capture and/or murder vampires. The transition from exploration to investigation is the transition between the player trying to figure out what’s already going on and becoming an active force in the plot. For that to happen, the player can’t simply ask people who were already here to go fight vampires – Thurgood could’ve walked over and asked Killian to do that himself. Rather, the player must actually help capture a vampire. Except, obviously we cannot do that by having the player drive a wooden stake through the heart of the actor playing Brahm. Granted, that death scene would be spectacularly well-acted, but it would probably lead to some employee retention problems in the long run.
I’ve got a free ticket to the full open, though, so I can set some time aside sometime next week and see for myself if this “capture a vampire” plot arc is going to be more talking to NPCs or if they’ve somehow got a way for the player to actively participate in the capturing of a vampire. If I were Evermore, this is the phase of the story where I’d start relying heavily on puzzle solving. We’ll see how it goes.