Mission title: Fortress By the Sea Version 2 (for Thief 2)
Author: Jason Otto (Ottoj55)
Release: September 2003 - October 2005 (V2)
Fortress by the Sea is Jason Otto's (Ottoj55) debut fan mission and first arrived back in 2003. An updated version with better graphics was released three years ago, but the following review is about the classic austere version, that still appeals to me.
The war is not going well for the Baron. His navy is trapped at sea with no means to escape, unless a key enemy fortress is conquered. A captain of the Baron's Fleet has hired the best burglar in the city, Garrett, to infiltrate the fortress, find a way to open the gates so that the Baron's forces can take over and the fleet can escape to safety. One of the objective restrictions, "you can't leave these guys defenseless, no knockouts", which is typically Garrett, who doesn't care who dies as long as he get's his money.
It's quite an interesting assignment and I love the references to the war and the Baron, as originally mentioned in the original T2 missions. I can't think of any other examples of FMs who used this concept . It's a straightforward story and no plot changes are implemented but several writings in the form of diaries are present, giving some background about the fortress, tell about the attempts to get some systems working and share a hint about a missing ring. Sadly no secrets are available, although a few hidden buttons and switches can be located for extra loot.
A missing ring; it's up to Garrett to find it and save this marriage.
No detailed map of the structure is attributed at the start or up for grabs during the game so navigating can be a bit confusing at first, before every room and corridor are charted. Some difficulty could surface in finding a way to the basement level of the fortress, but a diary proves helpful in finding a way down. Don't let the kill and knockout limitations discourage you, for the game isn't that hard to accomplish. Patrols can be easily circumvented, plenty of water arrows are at your disposal, and there are often multiple ways to reach your destination.
The fortress is quite small, with long corridors, nicely decorated rooms and a large courtyard. It looks quite good in terms of textures and AI skins and the layout is convincing. A soft layer of fog is included in the mission and the sky is fully covered by clouds, making up for a sober atmosphere. The view on the courtyard and the water, seeing while standing on the walls, looks very appealing. Don't expect the most realistic fortress or castle mission out there however. Some elements to make it stand out more, like defense systems (catapults, ballista's) to use against the Baron's fleet for example when it sails by, or a large shed to withstand a long siege, are absent.
The Fortress' courtyard; perfect for a walk although the guards won't let you.
The AI battle at the end is the big climax, with each time it takes place a different outcome is possible. The slaughter between both troops makes up for a spectacular watch (popcorn anyone?). Too bad the Baron's troops refrain from patrolling the inside of the fortress for remaining defenders, to deal with remaining archers on the walls, but stick to the inner grounds instead. Prior to opening the gate (or afterwards, whatever your preference) an unfortunate pagan can be released from his cell to cause some disturbance and act as a decoy . Watching the AI fight reminded me once again of how ingenious the AI system in the Thief games is. Drawing your sword at one injured guard prompts him to fly but attack two injured guards combined and they'll launch a joint attack ("come on, together we'll take him").
Blue leads!; the Baron's forces did a poor job.
Most apparent flaw in Fortress v2 is about the Generator Shut Down scroll that displays only a blank page once opened, the same problem I had years ago . This leaves the player ignorant about the correct order to shut the generators down and open the gate, unless he consults this thread or opens the text through explorer. Maybe you can fix this in a potential 2.1 release, Jason?
Other (minor) flaws involve a rat that can be picked up and displays a carry-body icon (humorous ), some sound issues, a few errors in in-game texts, a patrolling guard that walks over the wall onto a lower cliff, and a 'return to your rowboat-objective' that completes before Garrett's returns at his starting point.
But despite the above though, there's nothing actually wrong with Fortress by the Sea version 2 and the flaws can easily be attributed to first-time mistakes by an author who would deliver us with many high-quality FMs in the future. People will undoubtedly enjoy the infiltration of the fortress, finding a way to open the gates while staying undetected, and watching the spectacular AI battle at the end . The fortress itself is nicely designed and decorated, with a convincing layout. Some aspects could be worked out a bit better or more realistically, and the blank scroll bug is a let down, but those fancying a relatively short, small mission involving a fortress exploration with restricted killing/blackjacking, and fans of bloody AI battles, like myself, will no doubt be entertained. Definitely worth it a try.
The Office of Captain Hanover; real classy.
Time: 1 hour 19 minutes 7 seconds
Loot: 1914 / 2114