I got to play this at Pacificon, and the GM was solid, very prepared.
I was excited to learn that the module was a sequel, but it's sequel to such an old module that I suspected I no longer had a character who had done the original who was also still in the level range for this one. Turns out, I did have one character in the right range, so I showed up to the game with that PC and let the GM know. He played that very well, with the NPCs remembering me and asking about certain details of my activities as a Pathfinder. It was fun.
The module itself is one of the "new school" Pathfinder Society modules -- there have been problems with overpowered characters and combat murder-hobos ruining things for other players in Pathfinder Society, so there was talk about increasing the combat difficulty to stop these overpowered characters from dominating... but then it was decided to instead just pull the rug out, and create a bunch of scenarios that can be solved without combat at all. This is one such scenario. There are a bunch of potential fights, but they can also be side-stepped or negotiated away.
The big season opener of 7-00 also seems to have this kind of option for the boss fight, and some players at Pacificon were shocked to see one table of players finish that module through negotiations instead of a combat slog. Personally, I think this is a good decision that PFS management made. I like it, at least as a "tough but possible if you're really good at talking" option.
So back to this module. In our case, most of the early encounters were in fact solved with zero violence. The final encounter looked to be the same, but we hadn't had any fights and the conversation wasn't going our way, so people just started slinging arrows and everything went wild. When the main NPC sorta froze up with fear, I simply stood by her and readied to attack any enemy that got near her, but they were dispatched so quickly that I never fired a shot. So the combat wasn't super challenging.
Still, it was fun. And it was great to be able to recruit the main NPC into Pathfinder Society. Good conclusion, very talk-heavy scenario (at least the way we played it). I recommend it, but not as a tough module. It's more just for the fun of it.
This module has some extremes -- a cakewalk encounter followed by some extremely deadly encounters. The review before mine had this text: "it is extremely challenging if that encounter is ran incorrectly or is strictly interpreted against the players." And that prompted me to write this review simply to rebut that. The answer to that statement is NO. As in, no, the module is not difficult because GMs run it "incorrectly" or are mean. The encounter is deadly because following the rules makes it deadly.
Being a good GM who follows the mandate of Pathfinder Society management -- "run modules as-is" -- makes that encounter deadly.
The encounter involves not just darkness, but supernatural darkness, so even those with darkvision are blinded. No one can see anything. By the rules, the PCs won't even know accurately where to move, much less how to accurately interact with a machine that they have not inspected. I have seen GMs offer cheats such as allowing some alchemical light sources to penetrate the darkness a little, but that is completely rule-breaking. The darkness effect is not the lower-level weaker version. It's the higher, more powerful one. By the rules, it wipes out all non-magical lights, returns the light "setting" to the ambient light of the surrounding area (which is no light at all), and then moves it 2 levels darker than that. It is absolute darkness, of the kind you would find in a sensory deprivation chamber. Everburning torches and other low-level light spells won't offset it, unless you are playing in a home game (not PFS), where you can get an everburning torch cast at a higher level.
Interacting with a machine somewhere in the room should involve slowed movement or Acrobatics checks, and Perception checks at penalties as outlined in the "Vision and Light" section of the rule book. It should involve miss chances from that same rules section, especially because they are in combat initiative as they interact with the machine. At low levels, the PCs are in serious, serious jeopardy from unseen attackers. They are also at risk of losing the man they are trying to save, since he has mere rounds to live and the solution to the darkness problem can take many rounds longer (even minutes or hours if they have to return to town). None of that is because GMs are douchey or cheaty. It is because those are the true rules, and PFS management has said "don't you dare veer away from the rules." So even if a GM is pulling for the PCs, the encounter can result in death. The GM did not suck at running the encounter. The module is simply too hard to be run as-is for many low-level groups. The fault lies there.
In a home game, all bets are off. I could tweak this in 5 seconds to be level-appropriate, and the problems with the module would be overcome. It would even be fun.
EDIT: I also have a note for GMs, regarding darkness & fog clouds:
In my most recent game, the players were clever: when the enemy dropped Deeper Darkness on them, the PCs dropped Fog Cloud right back. They told me this does 2 things: it turns off the bad guy's sneak attack damage (because while he can see through the darkness, the fog is giving everyone concealment, which ruins sneak attacks); also, it ruins AOOs. It turns out that the latter point is WRONG. So if your players are clever and get a fog or Obscuring Mist, you should know that total concealment (50% miss chance) will ruin AOOs, but these mists & fogs only provide concealment (20% miss chance) and that does not ruin AOOs, provided that the PC and villain are adjacent when the AOO is provoked (for example, as someone runs by). So in a mist or fog, the bad guy cannot deal sneak attack damage, but can AOO.
I just played through this module, and it was rough. The combat was easy and not rough at all, but the skill challenges were a problem. It wasn't that we failed, but that we objected to even trying them. Some didn't make sense. After the game, my GM emailed me and asked me to tell him how to fix things, should he run it again later. Here is the text of the email I sent him:
I'm not sure what tips I have for you. Let's see. I think you ran it well. I haven't read the module yet, so I'm not well-informed. (Some people said that module 1 GM text has lots of spoilers for part 2, so I'm holding off for now.) So far all I did was to open the gameplay forum and read along as other people played it. The problems seem to be endemic to the module.
Lines like, "Praetor Sylien refuses to correspond with me" are in the module text, as far as I can tell. You didn't ad-lib that. All the other GMs use that line. That line tells the players that Praetor Sylien has a problem with Aya, yet the module then requires (or nearly requires) the PCs to mention Aya when they see Praetor Sylien. Which is stupid. That's not your fault.
Similarly, the module has the tent town be hostile to Pathfinders, yet it then expects the Pathfinders to disclose their secrets to random guards in town. That's also not your fault -- the module author had some blinders on or something, and didn't realize the reaction some players would have. You heard us all saying, "let's not tell anyone we are Pathfinders; let's disguise ourselves." Right after that the guard is like, "disclose who you are and what your secret mission is." Uh, no. I understand that in the real world a CEO wouldn't allow a random stranger to come in for a "secret" discussion; the CEO would demand to know what the meeting was about. However, in the context of the module, the author just caused us to be secretive, and then punished us for being secretive. That's just dumb.
None of that is your fault. Nor could you run it better without circumventing the module. Hmm. Wait. Maybe you could have mentioned earlier that the guards will pass a sealed letter on to Praetor Sylien. But other than that, I don't know. As far as I can tell, you ran it exactly as the module author wrote it.
Here's another one. The module is for tier 1-2, so newbies. Yet Praetor Sylien asks us to prove that we are so competent that we are "worthy" of his help. We are newbies. We have no experience. So the way it's worded, what it essentially boils down to is that Praetor Sylien won't help anyone green enough to need help, but he will help anyone competent enough that they don't need help at all. Again, stupid. I am almost certain that the module author didn't predict players thinking like that. He probably just thought, "skill challenge here, yay!"
I like it more now that I had a chance to read other people's play-through. It's more clear who the names belong to, and what the chain of events is. One of the things I'm thinking of doing for the Shades of Ice trilogy is getting some printouts of the main characters and hanging them over my GM screen. My trilogy has the same theme yours does -- we hunt someone down, but don't succeed in the first module. So I have to keep them on track and aware of who's-who over 3 modules. It's possible that keeping the pictures visible with names underneath might help. But that's just a guess.
I'm really looking forward to part 2. I'm almost certain that Amersanus caused this whole problem. In fact, that was a severe temptation to go off the railroad. Since I believe that Amersanus is behind the whole "Pathfinders suck" thing, it was very tempting to wait somewhere for Amersanus, ambush him, and kill him. I'm sure that would have broken the module, but the module telegraphs "THIS IS THE GUY BEHIND THE PROBLEMS" a lot. So the module is kinda begging to be broken by players who want to short-circuit the whole disaster. So far, after having played only part 1, it seems like this would have been an excellent strategy. We would have stopped him from moving into part 2 and causing whatever trouble we are about to deal with.
Maybe there is a way to tone him down so that he doesn't object so strenuously to the Pathfinders looking into things? If so, it would make it less obvious that he's worried about us foiling his evil plan, which would in turn make it less obvious that he has an evil plan. Maybe you can correct that. Or maybe you have a script to follow...?