This is an old story, but perhaps I’ve never told it to anyone. I just found out that Diablo had been released from his crystal prison and I was going to explore the catacombs under Tristram for the first time. There were no lights except for a few torches along the walls. The only survivor of the vanguard that sought to explore these ruins had just died in my arms, revealing the betrayal of Archbishop Lazarus, who released other demons in the catacombs, such as the Butcher.
As I ventured among the graves beneath the Cathedral I looked for signs of the passage of this sadistic demon, so that my head wouldn’t be cut clean from my body with a single stroke of its cleaver. There were no maps of these chaotic corridors, or so I thought, and often a sudden noise revealed me for the coward I am as I ran for the exit.
Every time I returned I got lost in the darkness again, where there seemed to be no way out other than the stairs leading to the village, until I heard his voice.
“Ah, fresh meat …”
My blood froze in my veins and I only had time to throw a firebolt that left the Butcher almost untouched, before rushing back to safety. A very silly action indeed, for once I pulled myself together and got back underground I realised I didn’t have a map and had no idea where I found that bloodthirsty monster.
My first adventure in the catacombs was terrible, but I discovered, after defeating the Butcher, I could view a map of the ever changing catacombs, randomly generated at every new game. Since then, however awful the monsters I had to deal with, I always knew where the safe areas were and where strongest enemies lurked. I was not afraid anymore.
I also remember I once got lost in the ruins of Niryastare, north-west of Kvatch. Some orcs had pushed me in too deep and in order to escape some ghosts I slipped in an area I did not know how to get out of.
Luckily for me I had a map of the ruins and I was able to get back on my feet in no time, quietly enough not to awake other undeads.
Without a map and compass I would have probably been stuck down there until ghosts and skeletons had the better of me, but tools are so taken for granted that I didn’t thank the gods of cartography, let alone good Ptolemy, without whom today we wouldn’t probably have so many maps.
No map describes an area, but each tells a specific story. Maps are vital to move quickly across large distances in games like Dragon Age or Fallout, but they are also necessary to decide what tactics to use in battle.
If you have never tried to assault a Mexican city presided by terrorists with a small team of only four men, maybe you won’t realize the tactic value of a satellite map of the place, but if even once you have accompanied the Ghost team in mission, you know that the only way to survive is to know exactly where to place a sniper and which roads to avoid not to get caught by enemy patrols.
However, I didn’t realise how maps had become the most important tool for my survival until I found myself surrounded by Necromorphs and unitologists on Tau Volantisa.
Walking in the snow up to the knees, mybody temperature in rapid decline and with visibility almost reduced to zero because of a snowstorm, the only way to save yourself is to know where to go… and to get there soon.
Too bad no one had ever mapped this ball of ice and that the only signal I got was the compass directing me toward the nearest building.
At that moment, moving against the wind, my gun pointed to the ground and without the certainty that the road I had chosen was the right one, I just wanted a map.
I didn’t want the storm to subside or my teammates to find me. I didn’t even want that nightmare to end so we could all go home. I just wanted to know where I was and how many steps were keeping me from salvation.
There is no greater fear than that of being lost.