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2:41pm on Wednesday, 11th June, 2014:

Nightmare Scenario


The hardest content in The Secret World is the solo nightmare scenario.

Scenarios are a form of procedurally-generated content. You can run them in groups or in pairs or solo. They have four levels of difficulty: novice, normal, elite and nightmare. The progression through the first three isn't too bad, but the final step to nightmare is much, much worse. It's easier to solo duo elite mode scenarios than it is to do a solo nightmare scenario.

There are three maps for scenarios: the hotel, the mansion and the castle. They're lazily and fiction-breakingly based on existing maps from TSW, and the maps themselves never change (although the lighting does: they all take place during the day except, as the name might suggest, nightmares). At the moment, there is one kind of mission in a scenario, "seek and preserve". There are a bunch of survivors dotted about the map, which you have to round up and protect from waves of Bad Things. The hotel has 15 survivors in three camps; the mansion has 12 in two; the castle has 18 in three.

The content generation works like this. At the start, the survivors are positioned fairly randomly and each one is being attacked by its own Bad Thing. You have around 5 minutes to kill the Bad Things so the survivors can go stand in the camps. The longer it takes you, the more health the survivor will have lost, so the quicker you want to do it. Once you've rounded them up, wave 1 comes. This is always the same: ghouls for hotel, zombies for mansion, vampires for castle. These will spawn near to different survivor camps, so you have to run around a lot. You may get 5 or 6 waves in one camp, then one in another, then more in the first; if you don't leave the first then the survivors in the second will get killed, so you have to take the Bad Things you were fighting with you as you race to stop the Bad Things at the other camp, then come back to pick up the new batch that has arrived at the first camp.

After five minutes of this, a boss appears. You have about 5 minutes to kill this boss. Some bosses are easier than others. Some bosses are far more unpleasant than the norm.

After killing the boss, there's an "interlude". In this, a random event happens. Most of these events are disadvantageous or worse. If you get bad weather in the hotel, for example, you can usually forget keeping all the survivors alive. The same applies in the mansion, because ranged Bad Things will stand where you can't really go (because of the bad weather) and pick off survivors at will. The same thing happens if you get a "persistent hazard loop": they get to stand in stuff you can't stand in, so you have to kill them at range while their colleagues are in your face and carving you with chainsaws. There are snipers, too, which can either be friend or foe: friend is usually good but can come with problems (Bad Things might be slowed down out of your field of vision, so you leave one camp to go to another then they speed up and arrive to find unguarded survivors); foe is always not good and pretty well means you'll be abandoning one or more camps in the hotel or mansion. Another event has an "entity" appear, which is like a mini-boss but harder to kill than an actual boss; it's not a problem in hotel or mansion but is a killer for castle. There's also an event in which some of the survivors turn into Bad Things, so you have to run to each camp and try to get the Bad Things off the survivors before they kill them — almost impossible to do in the time available if you get some in all the camps. The survivors are replaced three minutes later by new ones who stand away from the camps and act as magnets for swarms of Bad Things. The best event is a supply drop, where you find crates full of things to help you heal or protect your survivors; well, except sometimes they have a Bad Thing in them. I once got six Bad Things from six crates; it wasn't a good day...

The interlude only lasts maybe 30 seconds, then you get wave 2.

Wave 2 can have the same Bad Things as wave 1, but usually has different ones. Some are easier to kill than others. The ones I don't like are insects in the hotel (they have a silence ability), shotgun cultists in the hotel (they have a knockback), shotgun scarecrows in mansion (ditto) and single vampires in the castle (which appear in the first wave but can also be in the second wave; they also have a knockback). Chained silences and knockbacks can render you unable to do anything but die.

After 5 minutes of wave 2 there's a second boss and a second interlude.

Finally, there's a third wave of Bad Things. This can be the same as the second wave, although I've never seen it be the same if the second wave was the same as the first wave. Some of these are so difficult to beat that they guarantee you'll lose survivors. There are these kamimaze slow-moving upright slugs in the castle that kill the first survivor they touch; they're easy to beat individually but when there are 20 of them coming up two separate stairways close to a survivor camp, you're doomed. The worst, though, are the spectres in the mansion. I have no answer to them. I've had mansion runs in which all 12 survivors were in good health at the end of the second interlude then I got spectres and lost the lot of them.

After the third wave is the final boss. This can be an easy or a very difficult one. The castle has two that are particularly tedious: one casts a leech AOE and tends to stand in it, so if you're melee you can't kill him; the other has three balls following it that you have to separate off before you can damage it, but separating all three at once rarely works out. The worst boss is one in the hotel that attacks survivors, although a recent patch is supposed to have fixed that so it may not be so bad now.

If you lose the scenario (because all the survivors died) or you quit it before the first boss arrives, you can restart immediately. If you kill the final boss, there's a cooldown of 18 hours or something. Otherwise, if you reach the first boss but don't kill the last boss, the cooldown before you can try again is an hour.

If you manage to complete the full scenario without losing any of the survivors, you get a platinum rating for that mission. If you rate platinum for all three nightmare scenarios, it's an achievement: the reward is a white T-shirt for your character or something.

The first nightmare scenario I did on platinum was the hotel. Shortly after, I did it with the castle, too. I've done both several times now, but the rewards for doing scenarios have been throttled so much that there really isn't any point in running them any more. However, the mansion is a different story.

The mansion is my nemesis. Sometimes, I won't even get to the first boss before losing a survivor (usually to slow-moving exploding zombies that appear at the back scattered apart so you can't kill them all with a mine). Sometimes I will get to the first boss but it's the zombie bear that has an overpowered damage-over-time ability and leaves a trail of killer slime behind it; as soon as I die, it heads off to a survivor camp and slimes the survivors there to oblivion. Sometimes the interlude will be snipers or hazard loop or bad weather, which means any ranged enemies (draug, demons, scarecrows) spell be the end of any hope of a platinum.

So, whether you win or not depends a lot on luck.

I did the mansion pretty well daily for three or four weeks. I got to 27 seconds before the end on one occasion before I lost a survivor (to a group of a'kab — a kind of beetle thing — which all targeted the weakest survivor in the camp and were joined by a second group of a'kab as I arrived). Try as I might, I couldn't beat it, though.

Yesterday, not one to miss an opportunity to do some analysis, I decided I would record the cause of my demise. I took a sheet of paper and divided it into columns: rounding up the survivors, wave 1, boss 1, interlude 1, wave 2, boss 2, interlude 2, wave 3, final boss. My plan was to see how far I got before something killed a survivor, and to note what set of circumstances had contrived to reach this state. After a month or so of trying, I should have a good idea of what combinations came up with what regularity, and therefore what my chance of eventually succeeding was.

So, I started the first entry. I got zombies, bear boss, friendly snipers, draug, draug lord boss, supply drop, draug, a'kab boss. No survivors died: I completed it with a platinum rating and won my T-shirt.

Damn! Why didn't I start collecting statistics sooner?

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Copyright © 2014 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).