Thursday, July 30, 2020

Game 204: Dunjonquest: Morloc's Tower

Read the manual here:

Is "Morloc" supposed to be a reference to  H.G. Wells? Is it a portmanteau of Merlin and Warlock? Or did Jon Freeman just think this would be a cool evil wizard name?

A second Microquest, once again features Brian Hammerhand in a streamlined, single-dungeon quest. Visiting a city in search of adventure, the townsfolk send him on a quest to kill the mad wizard Morloc, who's taken up residence in a nearby six-floor tower and has lately been flinging down fireballs at the city without provocation or reason. Morloc, he is warned, can teleport around the tower at will, and unless Hammerhand can find a way to interfere with this power, will certainly use it to evade his blade, leaving demonic servants in place to engage him.

The manual notes a few gameplay features unique to this game. Treasures are now usable as items, and are necessary in order to overcome certain obstacles and traps. The tower is also semi-randomized, with traps, items, treasures, and Morloc himself appearing in new places each playthrough.

Loading the game, for the first time there's a difficulty selector with three options. I picked the middle option, as per the manual's recommendation for first-time players with RPG experience.

Hammerhand's initial loadout includes magic armor and arrows from the townsfolk, who promise a better sword awaits in the tower.

The foyer.

During my first trip, I quickly mapped out the first floor, a six-room lobby with harmless vampire bats, nearly harmless hounds, and an intimidating "animated armor" guarding the stairs that ultimately didn't land a single blow on me. In the rooms I had found a hunting horn, a jeweled circlet, and a copper ring, and had noticed shortly after collecting the brass ring that my health had regenerated back to 100% after taking a light nibble from a hound.

Although the rooms are numbered, there are no corresponding room descriptions, which is too bad. As stereotypical as a wizard's tower setting might be, it isn't necessarily bland, and reading about the sights and sounds in each room would have only helped. In addition, it could have helped with the adventuring aspect - for instance, if a room was filled with trophies, then perhaps this would be a clue that blowing the horn might do something.

Each floor, though consisting of multiple rooms, fits entirely on a single screen. This cuts down on drawing times a lot, and makes navigation easy. There aren't very many secret doors, and since you'll never find rooms beyond the edge of the screen, there's no point in searching for doors right at the tower's outer boundaries. There is only one staircase, and it is located in the lower-right room on each floor, but you wouldn't know that without reading the manual.

On level 2, I found a treasure with this description:
A large boxlike device. Most of one face is opaque glass; below this are several knobs.

My carrying weight suddenly shot up by 190lbs! A historical note for any gen-Z'ers reading this, this is what televisions used to be like, but only really extravagant or really old ones weighed that much.

I tried using it, and its purpose was evident.

Room 29 would probably be on the top floor. I put the TV down for now.

In the large room to the north, a fire salamander blasted me with fireballs from afar - a new trick of the engine!

The dot in the upper-right is the salamander.

At 25% damage per blast, I had no chance of walking all the way over and beating it, so I retreated, waited for my health to regenerate, and went up to the third floor. Health seems to regenerate based on real time rather than action, healing about 6% every minute, so I waited with turbo on.

All I found on level 3 was a weak golem guarding a large empty room and a leather amulet filled with nasty-smelling herbs. "Using" it did nothing.

On the fourth floor, animated armor and an ogre did enough damage to cause some concern, but nothing I couldn't survive and heal with my regeneration ring and patience/turbo. On this floor, I found the magic sword, and in a closet in the northmost room, a "creeping crud" designated by a whole new symbol! This donut chewed me up.

Wizardry also had creeping cruds! Was this a D&D monster originally?

Note to self, avoid donut-shaped enemies.

Restarting, I found something surprising - that the treasures were in the exact places that I had found them before, contradicting the manual. A few rooms had different monsters, but these were mostly the same. Some rooms suddenly had traps that hadn't been trapped before, and other rooms no longer had traps, and the cube revealed room 24 instead of 29 as Morloc's location, but nothing was different that really mattered, with one exception. The salamander on floor 2 was close enough to the door that I could kill it with my sword without taking lethal fireball damage. Unfortunately, all it guarded was a very heavy gold statuette, which I left behind.

My next few attempts taught me that waiting to regenerate is always risky. Monsters can spawn while you wait, and eventually will. One time I got toasted by a fire elemental on the first level. But as I got to know the tower's layout better, I got more efficient. I would collect nothing but the regenerating ring on floor 1 and the sword on floor 4. The fifth floor had nothing but simple fights, another copper ring, and another gold statue.

In level 6, there is a secret door to the north of the stairwell - the first secret door I'd seen so far - and a not-so secret door to nowhere.

I didn't survive.

Once I got a chance to explore this area, without getting burned by randomly spawning fire elementals, I found a brass ring guarded by a golem in the second room. My sword flared as I entered the third room and killed another one. Before I could take the mysterious treasure here, a donut-icon "genie" appeared, indicating that I had discovered Morloc. Rather than engage, I took the treasure, which the manual described as this:
On one of a series of shelves cluttered with mysterious devices sits a black metal egg the size of your fist. It is covered with runes and has a button on the top.

Using it blew up the room.

In fact, it blew up the game.

One last run and I discovered the final room here, a large secret area with nothing but a donut-iconed creeping crud.

The manual has a hints section that I had been avoiding, but I felt this was the time to consult it.

Not all the treasures are magic; not all are helpful; not all are valuable. 

Ok, doesn't surprise me, not after finding some heavy gold statues with no obvious purpose.

There may be more than one example of a single treasure type; there may be more than one treasure with the same function. In such cases, the effects may (or may not) be cumulative.

Good to know. I had found two copper rings, but hadn't yet had the chance to find out if this meant double the healing power.

To avoid attack when discovered, Morloc may teleport around the room or out of it entirely. Since he can move about in the tower, he cannot always be found in the same.-room. There are some rooms, however, that Morloc never enters.

Yeah, I knew all that already.

There is no one best way to attack. If you insist on fighting the creeping crud, the best method is to fill it full of arrows from a safe distance. This may not ·always be possible, of course, and is less effective against monsters with armor or thick hides (the golems, for example). Parrying offers similar advantages and disadvantages: except as a  method of regaining energy lost through fatigue, it's utterly ineffective against a target as elusive as a vampire bat. Thrusting makes it easier for you to hit and damage agile or armored foes, but the fatigue cost (particularly if you are wounded and/or heavily laden with treasure) may be dramatic. Since it also makes you easier to hit,  thrusting can also be dangerous against monsters with particularly powerful (the larger golems, the ogres, the animated suits of armor) or multiple (the genie, the creeping crud) attacks. In some such cases, a simple" attack" may be a good compromise. Magic weapons are potent, but it may be best to save magic arrows for those creatures which can be slain only by magic (the genie and the fire elemental). Finally, sometimes the best tactic is to avoid fighting (one way or another).

Good advice, but not immediately useful in figuring out what to do next. This also doesn't help much with the creeping cruds, which rarely spawn far enough to fill with arrows, and even if they do, will certainly live long enough to close the gap and scoop you up.

There is a device which will prevent Morloc from leaving whatever room it is in. 

Already knew that from the manual's backstory.

There is a second device whose sole function is to counter the effects of the first.

Wait, how does that help me?

One (or more) treasure(s) grant the wearer/bearer some protection from fire and fireballs.

I'm guessing the brass ring?

"Not all that glitters is gold."

Hmm. On closer examination, the statuettes have the appearance of gold. Still, I'm not sure how this helps me.

"Some swords have two edges."

No idea what that's supposed to mean.

Below this was a Last Resort section that I read one note at a time.
  1. Although Morloc can appear in about half the rooms in the tower, he is most often found on the 5th or 6th floor.
  2.  There is a secret door in the top (north) wall of Room 6 (the top-floor staircase)
  3.  The TV-like device can be used to tell you Morloc's location at that moment
  4.  Besides aiding you in fighting, the magic sword glows whenever Morloc is in an adjoining room and flares whenever the bearer is in the same room as Morloc.

Yeah, I knew all that already.
  1. The glowing blue pyramid prevents Morloc from leaving any room that it is in.

Woah! I missed this one.

Reviewing my maps, I concluded there must be a secret room in either floor 1, 3, or 5, and sure enough, found one in previously-thought empty corner in floor 3, where an animated armor guarded... a brass amulet. Persistently searching the south wall of a small room in floor 5 eventually revealed a secret door to an utterly tiny room where a fire trap lightly singed me, and the glowing blue pyramid sat on the shelf. I picked up the second copper ring on this floor too, which did not double my regeneration after all.

Back on level 2 I got Morloc's location - room 21 on floor 5 this time, oddly enough the exact same room I had to search to find the closet where he stored the pyramid. His genie harassed me on the way, but I dispatched him with a magic arrow. Searching the room where it appeared, I spotted a trap, triggered it, and Morloc appeared and blasted me with another ineffective fireball. I then killed him with a single thrust of my sword.

Not quite the room the TV said he'd be in, but the same floor.

Then it ended abruptly.

Now that I knew the game solution, I tried the hardest difficulty. Combat did seem slightly harder, and I had fewer supplies - only three elixirs and one magic arrow this time. Nevertheless, I beat it on my first try, knowing exactly where I had to go, and what I had to take. This time, the TV was completely wrong about where Morloc was located. It said he'd be on the third floor, but he wasn't there, and I found him on the sixth floor, the tell-tale sign being when my sword started glow. Apparently, swords are more trustworthy than TV.

Morloc was a bit more difficult this time around. My magic arrow didn't kill his genie outright, but softened him up enough to finish him with a thrust. Morloc himself, who I found hiding in this room, survived my initial strike. Each round he would teleport somewhere and blast me with a fireball doing 10%-20% damage, which was quite aggravating as he never teleported within range of my sword, and only sometimes into my line of fire, but his fireballs always hit, from any angle. Nevertheless, he went down before I did, and I got a score of 1138. I don't know what that's based on.

GAB rating: Below Average. This is definitely a step up from Datestones of Ryn, with a game world that's somewhat interesting to explore, new gameplay mechanics including an adventure-lite inventory system, and a quest that feels less reliant on luck.

Morloc's Tower also has a sly subversion of that nearly-ubiquitous RPG trope of loot gathering, which had been taken to extremes in Temple of Apshai, where players search for and collect vast riches long past the point where it has any kind of use to them. Here, jewels and golden treasures do nothing but weigh you down, and the only jewelry of real value are the enchanted brass and copper rings. I believe it is no mistake that these useful rings are made of common metals, while anything made of gold has no use and is best discarded.

Despite the good ideas, the execution leaves something to be desired. Morloc's Tower is short indeed, well earning the "micro" part of its microquest label, and is padded with trial and error gameplay. Room descriptions are a missed opportunity. Luck still plays more of a role than it ought to - you can tangle with just about any enemy with the right tactics, but there's no way to avoid taking serious damage except being lucky, and you're dead if a creeping crud or fire elemental spawns in your path.

Still, I got some enjoyment out of this, and would have liked to see the Microquest series developed further in this direction. Sadly, there would only be one more game in this vein, Sorcerer of Siva, which technically dropped the Microquest label, and by the account of CRPG Addict just seems torturous to play. My very brief exposure to Starquest: Rescue at Rigel seems a bit more in this vein, but we'll see when we get there. First, I'm going to play the true sequel to Temple of Apshai - Hellfire Warrior.

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