AD&D: Curse of the Azure Bonds (PC)
I decided I'd pick this one back up, as I'd already made a lot of progress in it. I'd previously got two out of five of the titular bonds removed from my characters and was a good ways through the area for the third bond. After a few minutes of getting back into things, I realized why I had stopped playing this one for so long—this third area really sucks! Once you reach the second half of the area you are stuck in there until you complete it... and this involves two difficult back-to-back boss encounters, some unskippable encounters on the way out, and then one final tough boss encounter right before the exit! Making it even worse is that there are no safe places to rest throughout the area.
I almost gave up in frustration, but decided to give it one more try... and ended up clearing the whole area in one go 🤣. I was certain the area was going to just require dumb luck, but in the end careful use of spells was the key.
Now that I'm at what I suppose is the halfway point, I guess I can say that it's a decent enough game but a significant step down from Pool of Radiance. Once you get through the first area in PoR, you really are free to explore the area around the city of New Phlan in any order you like... and then a short while after that have access to the entire wilderness and the several major locations therein. Each area also had varying objectives to "clear" them—sometimes you just had to complete a single encounter to clear the map, other times you could permanently clear random encounters by fighting a dozen or so of them. Other times you just needed to go in and get an item or information.
In contrast, CotAB has a structure akin to what you'd see in your typical SNES/SFC RPG. You can clear the bonds in any order, but there is clearly an intended order of difficulty through the game. Each area also always ends with a boss encounter or encounters. It begins to feel too samey, you explore an area, fight a boss, head to town to upgrade you equipment, then off to the next area. Pretty disappointing in that respect.