Ophidian Dragon blogs his way through the entire Ultima series, from beginning to end.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Savage Empire, Day 5

So it ends. I built a drum and beat on it, summoning lizards and humans to my aid. Interestingly, there was no travelto the caves--the game just through me in! The Myrmidex caves are an enormous complex, but having the moonstone-tracking device and the Kotl black staff, made getting through very straightforward! OK, it was still a windy road, but I did eventually get to the end. I was surprised by how little time it took, actually--I made one map, which did not lead me to the moonstone before I was fnally killed. However, it ruled out a huge portion of the rest of the maze as being the location of the moonstone, and the next time, tracking it down was very easy because it was clear where it had to be.

The Myrmidex queen wasn't too tough either. She just sat there unable to move or hit me while I electrocuted her with a black staff. After that proceeded the endgame! It wrapped up a few random loose ends, such as the German guy Fritz, who I found in a cave--it claimed he fought the Myrmidextoo, but I never saw him. In fact, I united the tribes but I didn't see them doing much! On the other hand, the first time I delved into those caves I was literally surrounded by Myrmidex at every turn (even when I would come out of a dead end, they would sneak from behind!), so I guess the other tribes mostly served to draw a lot of them away.

Savage Empire has a bit more of an adventure game feel to it than the other Ultimas--You are given a series of quests, and at least three of them have somewhat unreasonable solutions. The RPG aspects are still in the game--there is magic, and you can raise stats--but they are sbstantially de-emphasized. I played through the whole game never using magic, for example. The reason is that the combat spells are less effective than my fire axe and a rifle, and a spell like the one that confuses your enemies is only useful when you have lots of them. In retrospect, it might have been helpful when dealing with the poison-dart weilding Urali. I also could have used the heal spell some. The overhead map, by contrast, was of limited value because it simply didn't show enough--in particular, the outdoors overhead maps were hard to comprehend. I was also a bit frustrated by torches, which last only a minute or two, and by the day-night cycle, which seems to fly by at a bizarre rate (I could spend the whole day or night simply waling between buildings in a small village).

So the game is a brief, entertaining diversion. I enjoyed the use of various native cultures from a wide array of times. This was not too thoroughly explained--Obviously the Aztecs and the ancient indo-Europeans were not contemporaneous, let alone neanderthals--so I assumed when the Kotl left to visit the outer world, where they endd up was a random time due to the moonstone screwing up time around them, and thus they got an array of different natives. Yet, why no more modern people? Strange. I also wish the cultures had been elaborated on a bit more, with more unique characters.

The only other complaint I have about the game is the tile set, which took some getting used to--it's cool to have a detailed jungle, but it's not cool when it's difficult to tell which trees and plants you can walk over and which you cannot; it always struck me as odd in Ultima VI and in Savage Empire that you cannot walk under those big bushy trees, for example.

The ties between Savage Empire and the rest of the series are tenuous. One of the only references I can think of in the main numbered games is in Ultima VII, when Spark makes some reference to a beast from Eodon towards the beginning of the game. As I recall, the only reference to Martian Dreams in another game is in Underworld II, where you see yourself in a crystal ball.

That's a good segue to my next effort, which is Martian Dreams. Savage Empire took far less time than I anticipated, so my commenters were correct about its brevity! I am unsure, but I think Martian Dreams will probably be a little bit longer, and Underworld much longer. I'd say about 10 hours, total, but happily all that time was spent doing interesting things, whether exploring crazy underground cities, or making tortillas and pots. Savage Empire, overall, took the interactivity of Ultima VI to a new level, and I only wish the plot had a little more depth.

4 comments:

Narcisista said...

You can enter the Myrmidex caves at any time by using ropes BTW IIRC.

It might actually be interesting to see if parts could be bypassed that way.

Calibrator said...

"and by the day-night cycle, which seems to fly by at a bizarre rate"

This may be because of technical reasons.
AFAIK Origin didn't include a speed limiter in those "early" games.
This means the faster your PC the faster the game.
This wasn't a problem with a 386 equipped PC but fast emulation (which can make gameplay comfy in several aspects) can become a problem.

"I am unsure, but I think Martian Dreams will probably be a little bit longer, and Underworld much longer."

I remember reading a bit more text and more fights in MD compared to SE but the amount of exploring felt about the same.
Levelling is IIRC equally non-important (making the fights somewhat unnecessary) and the game surely has the "adventure feel" you mentioned.

The for the time sensational graphics of Underworld make things difficult to compare as I simply had fun "being there".
You'll probably rather go through the game with a normal pace because you are used to better 3D graphics now.

Paulon said...

It is possible to complete the game by just going straight into the Myrmidex tunnels and nuking the moonstone. It's a hard fight though. By uniting the tribes you get lots of the bugs off your back when you go down for the grand finale.

Fritz was Spector's assistant. When Spector went nuts he wound up running off and camping in a cave west of the Pindiro tribe. He took Yunapotli's crystal brain with him as well - if you'd tracked it down you'd have found out a bit more backstory and info about the Kotl city and weapons.

A challenge for Martian Dreams: Find out how to bypass the plot and get home with three clicks of your heels. :-)

Stephen Beeman said...

"I'd say about 10 hours, total, but happily all that time was spent doing interesting things, whether exploring crazy underground cities, or making tortillas and pots. Savage Empire, overall, took the interactivity of Ultima VI to a new level, and I only wish the plot had a little more depth."

I'm glad you wound up enjoying it! The Worlds of Ultima games were deliberately lighter and shorter, more adventure-like than RPG-like, aimed at a more casual audience. Unfortunately, I think this disappointed the "hard-core" fans while the Ultima logo turned off those casual players, so in hindsight the games might have been better received if they hadn't featured the Avatar. But "you gotta dance with the one that brung you," as we said down in Austin... :)

Calibrator is correct, by the way: The suggestion that Ultima, Savage Empire or Wing Commander could run "too fast" would have sounded like a sick, sad joke to us back then. I'm pretty sure we didn't have any sort of frame-rate throttling until 486s came out, which was around the time of Wing Commander II.

Have fun with Martian Dreams! It's still light, but it's a much better game than SE in my opinion. Warren Spector and Jeff George were a great team.