Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Ultima I [GAMES]

Box Art
Fear not peasants, for the evil wizard Mondain has been slain and once again Sosaria is safe from his depredations.

Last night I finished Ultima I after many months of off-again and on-again playing.  My very first introduction to an RPG (computer or otherwise) of any kind was the NES version of Ultima III: Exodus, and I played that game for hundreds of hours until I got its various sequels.  When I saw that Good Old Games had Ultima 1-III as a collection for download, I acted quickly, having always wondered what the first two games in the series were like.  I can confidently report that Ultima I is weird.  If anyone's worried about spoilers for a three-decade old game, avert thine eyes now.

It's a very standard fantasy world with quasi-medieval technology and an evil wizard who must be defeated to save the realm.  Except, eventually you'll need to buy a space shuttle, blast off into outer space, dock at a space station, shift to a fighter ship, and blast 20 TIE-fighters to become a Space Ace!  I spent the entire game running around with a great sword and high-tech power armor.  The morality from later Ultima games is nowhere to be found: to advance in the game, you have to kill a court jester to get his key and then slay all of the (otherwise friendly) castle guards to rescue a princess.  And that's all so she'll give you a time machine!

The deadliest monsters on Level 1 of dungeons
I'm sure if you knew what you were doing, you could breeze through the game after a couple of night's play.  But playing it for the first time, like I did, and avoiding walkthroughs, was an eye-opening experience.  There's so many elements of the gameplay that are counter-intuitive to modern gamers: your character doesn't have a set maximum for hit points (other than 9999) and only has current hit points, which are increased every time you leave a dungeon (it's like temporary levelling).  Ability scores are increased by visiting magic signposts, but unlike most games, you can visit them over and over (as long as you don't visit the same one twice in a row).  The dungeons contain absolutely nothing besides monsters and gold, so the only reason to visit them is that certain kings in the game give you quests to kill certain monsters.  More, I was surprised at how large the game was (I naively assumed that it would be a simple, short game with a couple of towns and dungeons--instead, there's four continents, a couple of dozen towns, a couple of dozen dungeons, and several castles (the downside is that there's little in the way of difference between towns and no difference at all between dungeons apart from layout).  I had to go back to old-fashioned graph-paper mapping just to figure out where things were in the overworld.
Graph paper mapping

Here's my character just before the big final battle:

Temeris, Level 10 Male Human Fighter (Space Ace)
Hit Points: 9276
Strength: 67
Agility: 91
Stamina: 28
Charisma: 38
Wisdom: 22
Intelligence: 52
Coins: 113
Experience: 9999
Possessions: Reflect Suit, Great Sword, Frigate, Aircar, Shuttle, Time Machine, Red Gem (x5), Green Gem, Blue Gem, White Gem

Here's what the ending screen says when you win:

A rain of silver lightning heralds the death of Mondain.  Fleeting glimpses of fates avoided rush through thy mind as the arcane power of the mage's dying scream echoes in thy ears.  A thousand years pass in but a moment's time as a strange sleep overcomes thee.

Upon awakening thou dost find thyself in new surroundings.  A stately youth in violet robes helps thee to thy feet whereupon thou dost see the thousands who gaze upon thee in adoration.

"Thy selfless heroism hath saved our people, my worthy one.  Should our gratitude alone not be enough to sustain thee, know that I, Lord British, hereby ordain that the entire realm of Sosaria be at they service for all time hence-forth.  So let it be done."

Unfortunately, I've heard that the land is again threatened--this time by an evil witch named Minax.  I better grab that great sword and get to work!

No comments: