Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Ultima II: Won!

The horde waiting in Legends never really stood a chance. There were a lot of them, sure, and even my Quicksword couldn’t carve through them like butter, but my sundry of items mostly protected me from their magic, the Power Armour ensured I took few hits, and none hit especially hard when they did – the worst of the lot were the wizards, who unfairly hit me with Magic Missile even though I couldn’t cast it back at them.

In the middle of the island, a few more bunched-up baddies guarded the entrance to Minax’s lair.



I killed them, and entered.



My ring allowed me to pass through the force field unharmed, and the demonic guards within just stood there silently. Not everyone was so benign, though.

A lack of pathfinding keeps the thieves away from me, for now


A lone devil chases me through Minax’s corridors


Here, enemies hit for as much as 300 points of damage! I didn’t dare fight back – Ultima II logic dictates that as soon as you do, the whole place turns on you, and you don't want that. Instead I used my Strange Coins to freeze enemies in place when I could not outrun them.

I soon found Minax, who blasted me for a few hundred points of damage with Magic Missile as I approached, though the balrons in the room stood still.



One hit with the quicksword, and she teleported away, leaving her balron bodyguards to pummel me.



I rubbed another Strange Coin, took a few hits running past the immobile balrons, and continued to search her castle, using more coins whenever encountering hostiles.

Minax was behind that game too? Figures.


She was waiting in Chamber Two, on the opposite corner of the castle, alone.



Another hit, and she retreated back to Chamber One, just as her bodyguards entered the chamber behind me, in hot pursuit.

This continued a few more times, chasing Minax back and forth between chambers. Whenever I had to pass a pursuing balron or devil, I made sure to maneuver them as close to a wall as possible before freezing them with a strange coin. If frozen in the middle of a corridor, they can still swipe at you as you walk past them, and hit you with paralysis or sleep spells from a distance of two tiles.

Even through walls


My fourth hit ended it.



Before moving on from this game forever, though, I wanted to try one last gold farming technique, which turned out to be the best one yet, though you must be fairly strong to do it. The Legends world is mostly open, making it easy to funnel enemies toward you. If you can thin out the initial ranks and then spawn and board a frigate, sail it to the north edge of the island, just out of magic range.

Like so


Then, sail due east (or west), loop around multiple times, and watch the enemies bunch up on the north shore. Blast any pursuing sea monsters or frigates. Keep looping until the land monsters seem to stop spawning.

And then blast them to bits with your cannons.


When they’re all dead, check the south shores, east and west of the starting point.



I got 931 pieces of gold in about ten minutes, which is slightly better than my best dungeon delving attempts, but also more consistent, and doesn’t require the micromanagement involved in constantly going back to town for supplies and spells, or deplete your tools.

And if you’re doing this late in the game and get your ring stolen? No problem – you can just buy another one with all that gold, though you might want to ensure you’re ready to take on Minax before doing that.

GAB rating: Below Average, and this is generous. By the standards of today, when it is no longer impressive to have a world to explore, and it is taken for granted that a game will perform quickly enough that simply moving around isn’t a slog, Ultima II is indeed a bad game. All of its improvements over the original have been seen in subsequent Ultimas and other RPGs.

By 1982 standards, Ultima II has the biggest and most varied game world yet. Every town has a unique layout and personality, every dungeon floor is a maze full of its own tricks and traps, discovering and exploring new locations like New San Antonio and Pirates’ Harbour is fun, getting a hold of an airplane is a feat that definitely feels earned, and even late in the game, there’s a sense of wonder in visiting the planets of the solar system and seeing their new vistas, if you aren’t in a hurry to get the game over with by then. But between the horribly tedious gold farming required in order to get anywhere, the somehow too basic and also too convoluted stat upgrade system, the bizarre difficulty curve that ensures nearly every encounter is either a cakewalk or certain death, and the dearth of motivation to bother exploring every nook and cranny, you may well be.

I don’t mind that Ultima hadn’t quite found its groove yet. I don’t mind the silly game world - though it absolutely did benefit the series when they found a more grounded setting for it – and I don’t mind the fact that character progression and related mechanics run completely against modern expectations. Ultima 1 worked well enough despite some very strange game rules; EXP was currency for buying spells and had no other benefit, HP was earned mainly by killing monsters in the dungeon and collected on return to the surface, levels were gained by elapsed gametime and determined stores’ stock but had no direct benefit to the character, and stats were increased by visiting shrines. But figuring out the rules was half the fun, and the systems more or less worked in the context of overall gameplay; EXP, gold, and HP got built up through natural gameplay, towns would get better stuff over time, eventually selling you aircars that would help complete the lords’ quests, and you'd build up your stats naturally while doing them.

But here, the systems don’t mesh well at all. All meaningful progress is tied to gold. You just don’t get enough of it to sustain your life, let alone improve it and buy the things you need to win, unless you go out of your way to farm it. You may as well get all of your farming out of the way at the earliest opportunity, as the reward curve is nonexistent. Magic is completely unusable outside of dungeons, which play a much more limited role than they did before. The main quest critical path can barely be started at all until you have improved your stats to the point where you can kill guards, which is significant. The planets constitute nearly half of the game content, but there’s no reason to visit them except to see weird stuff.

Ultima II is an important step forward for the open world CRPG, and technically far ahead of anything else before it in several ways, but there are big problems with the execution, and it’s just not very fun to play.

My maps of the overworld:

Pangea


1423 BC


1990 AD


2112 AD


Monday, February 17, 2020

Ultima II: Worlds of Ultima

The only reason you really need to go into space is to visit Planet X and meet Father Antos, but there are eight other planetoids, and I wanted to see all of the sights that Ultima II had to offer. EA managed to screw this part up in their CD-ROM collection, accidentally replacing several planets’ files with files of earth locations from the primary disk, but in the original 1982 release, all of the planets are distinct, though not all are interesting.

You can dive, climb, and steer like you could in Ultima, and there’s a 3D parallax scrolling effect when you do, but there’s no point to any of it. I have to assume that Garriott planned to have dogfighting again, but abandoned that arc after programming the controls.



There are only two meaningful actions in space. The first is entering hyperspace, which requires entering the coordinates of your desired destination as outlined in the manual. Hyperspacing into the sun’s coordinates is, of course, instantly fatal. Each hyperspace depletes one unit of your Trilithium-powered fuel, and for some reason the first hyperspace always drifts off-course, forcing you to try again.



The second, once you arrive at your intended destination, is to land the ship. This necessitates a swap to the long-dormant Galactic Disk, and then brings the ship into low orbit, where landing is quite dangerous.

Did I mention you can’t save in space?


 

Mercury


A mostly water-covered planet with a few swampy islands, only the largest is safe to land on. A moss-covered land bridge leads northward to another island, with a dungeon containing many long, linear, tedious corridors, a few truly nasty mazes (including one that’s as wide open as the engine allows, with the ladder hidden on one tile, and multiple mazes that are 90% secret doors), and nothing else of note except a great deal of trilithium at the bottom.

 

Venus


A bunch of twisty, swampy paths through an ocean. No signs of life or civilization.

 

Mars


A heavily mountainous planet with only a few safe landing spots. The narrow crevasses through the mountains all lead to a clearing with a single settlement called Towne Mary.

Towne Mary is a pretty boring place, with the standard weapons, armor, and horse shop, and pub. As with other towns, there were four NPCs with unique quotes, none of them helpful, though there was an unsettling circle of wizards huddled in a corner.

Everyone gets that quote wrong.


Jupiter


An almost earth-like planet, with two main continents separated by an ocean which can only be crossed from low orbit.

On the larger east continent is a dungeon that I didn’t care to explore, and an unnamed settlement heavy with swamp land.

The settlement had a magic shop, church, oracle, fast food joint, and docks with friendly pirates, who let me borrow one of their frigates, though all I could do was sail around the swamp and locate a jester marooned on an island who cryptically told me “YOU’RE HALF WAY THERE!” A merchant near the restaurant wanted a duck. Dupre could be found by the oracle, but I couldn’t get him to part with his duck.

Why a duck?


The smaller eastern continent had a tower, which I also declined to explore.



Saturn


A single continent, with some interesting terrain, but there’s nothing else. No settlements, no dungeons, no nothing.


Uranus


A forest planet with winding paths, some leading to a lake, others converging at a lone settlement.




A settlement full of those damned jesters! Jesters programmed to swarm you on sight but not attack unless you hit first, which of course you have to if you get boxed in. This seemed a good place to use my strange coins,which freeze everyone in place for a few turns.



Jesters hanging out at the magic shop.




A jester inside a bunch of trees arranged like a fighter.




A jester inside a jester.




Pac-Man eating a jongleur.




Several oracles.




Fast food.




A “stoned” jester.




A Jester hanging out in the swamp.


I left this cursed place, never to return.


Neptune


Almost entirely a wide-open plane, except for a settlement in a small mountain range.




Another silly place, not half as annoying as New Jester, the Computer Camp had nothing of importance, but Richard Garriott made a cameo.



A bunch of orcs and fighters walked around the various cabins and stores, and some NPCs who I assume represent Garriott’s friends blathered inanely. A psychedelic “camp fire” burned for 1000 damage when I touched it.


Pluto



A mostly mountainous planet with few regions safe to land in. The largest area had a dungeon (which again, I avoided), an airplane for easy navigation around the planet, and a town “Makler.”

Four NPCs in the pub all had unique quotes – a bouncer asked “WHERE THE HELL IS YOUR I.D.?”, one pirate reminded me to find Father Antos, and two others told me to seek the clerk in New San Antonio – a clue I doubt you’d be likely to reach space without already knowing. Curiously, this town also had the LB insignia in the middle.

The airplane allowed me to fly around the surface of the planet, where I found one more town, but nothing useful. Two fighters there, Bill and Bob, had this racket going where each one instructed me to give the other money, but nothing ever came of it.


Planet X



It's not mentioned in the manual, but the town in Pangaea gives you the hyperspace coordinates of 9-9-9 to reach this planet, where a single continent spans the globe, and features a town and castle.

The town was pretty useless, with a pub, weapon shop, armor shop, horse shop, and docks, all things I’ve seen already. The bar, called “GET DRUNK AT OZYS,” had NPCs who would only state that they disliked mages. Two fighters in the weapons shop told me to find Father Antos on this planet to earn the ring, but I knew that already. A ship could be stolen from the docks, but on a planet with only one continent, this wasn’t especially useful.

The castle is where I finally met Father Antos. First, I greeted the king and queen (or is it the king and a spy?), who raised my HP for money and told me to seek Father Antos, respectively. Behind the throne were locked doors, leading to the rest of the castle’s rooms. The “kueen’s” bedroom, a sewage-soaked jail full of vile inmates slinging harmful spells at me as I walked through, the kitchen where the cook Sing Lee displayed a bit of casual racism, and finally the chapel.



Earth


I hyperspaced back to coordinates 6-6-6, landed in North America, and took the time gate there back to South America in 1990 AD. There, I walked to New San Antonio, and offered 500 gold to the old man under the tree again.

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