Note from 19 February 2013: Three years after I first posted about the Temple of Apshai trilogy below, I re-visited it briefly in a posting that covers both the original Temple of Apshai and two other games using the same engine, all released in 1979. If you're reading my blog from the beginning and want to get a full picture of this series, I strongly recommend that you read the second posting as well. I don't know exactly why I listed 1981 as the date of this game; the original Temple of Apshai was released in 1979; The Upper Reaches of Apshai came out in 1981; and The Curse of Ra was a 1982 game. As you can see on the title screen, these were assembled into the "Trilogy" in 1985.
This was my first posting while playing a game specifically for this blog. I didn't have my "voice" yet. If you're a new reader, please stick with me until at least Ultima IV before you decide whether my blog is "good."
The rest of the text below is the original 15 February 2010 posting.
Temple of Apshai begins by inviting you to cheat in the worst possible way. When you first start, you can generate a character randomly or "enter thine own character." The manual helpfully explains that you might want to import a character from some other adventure. I don't know whether the creators really thought legions of pen-and-paper RPG players would import their characters to Temple of Apshai or whether they were just providing some easy way to cheat, but choosing this option allows you to give yourself the highest statistics, all the equipment, and as much money and experience as you want.
Generally, I don't regard it as "cheating" if you use features the game provides to you, but in this case to get the full challenge of the game, I chose a random character. Out of 18 maximum, I got 8 for intelligence and intuition, 13 for ego, 14 for strength, 11 for constitution, 12 for dexterity, and 43 silver pieces. Sounds like I'm a fighter, maybe a barbarian. I chose the name "Gnarge" 'cause it sounds like something a barbarian would say. The game has you purchase your equipment from an innkeeper via an all-text interface, and in short order you're in one of three temples, each with four levels.
|Gnarge the Barbarian prepares to sally forth.|
Almost immediately, I discovered something unique about Temple of Apshai. Each of the rooms and corridors, all numbered, have corresponding textual descriptions in the game manual. For instance, you start off in Room #1, of which the manual says: "The smooth stonework of the passageway floor shows that advanced methods were used in its creation. A skeleton sprawls on the floor just inside the door, a bony hand still clutching a rusty dagger, outstretched toward the door to safety. A faint roaring sound can be heard from the far end of the passage." Other descriptions even reference items that you find in the rooms and hint at the presence of certain monsters, treasures, or secret doors. For instance, a warning about hole in the floor and "a very long drop" prompted me to search for, and find, a trap, and a note that "the west wall of the cavern shows the marks of carving tools" clued me in to the presence of a secret door. It's vaguely fun trying to figure out of "the air smells of decaying vegetable matter" indicates something important or not.
The treasures have descriptions, too. "A beautiful cloak, wondrously light, yet tough as nails," the manual says of an early find. (Too bad I can't wear it.) The effect is to make Temple of Apshai like a graphics-enabled version of pen-and-paper RPGs. In some ways, it reminds me of the adventurers' journals that accompanied the "Gold Box" D&D games, which I still remember fondly. The rooms in TOA change quickly, though, and it's tough to keep up with all of them.
The gameplay essentially consists of wandering through the passages, fighting monsters, and gathering treasure from chests. When you leave the temple and return to the inn, the innkeeper automatically converts your treasure to silver, which you can then use to purchase better equipment or more healing salves. I've been playing for a few hours, and I think that's all there is to it. As you fight monsters (mostly mosquitos and rats on Level 1) and get hit, your health slowly decreases from 100%. Healing salves only bump it up by a few percentages, so eventually you have to make your way back to the entrance and return to the inn to rest and save. When you do, the dungeon completely resets. According to the manual, the innkeeper is supposed to be assigning me experience for the monsters I've slain in each sortie, but no matter how long I spend in the dungeon or how many monsters I kill, my experience points remain fixed at 0.
|Gnarge fights the scourge of all first-level adventurers.|
After but a few hours of game play, I have more silver than I need to buy all of the items the innkeeper sells. I don't know yet whether there are any other places to buy items in the game, but I suspect not. Having too much money is one of the things I can't stand about most CRPGs. There should always be something new to buy, some way to spend your money. But almost every CRPG I know reaches a point--often fairly early--in which it no longer makes any sense to accumulate wealth. The only exceptions I know off the top of my head are the Hordes of the Underdark expansion to Neverwinter Nights, in which you can keep upgrading your weapons with more money, and Might and Magic VI, in which you can convert your money to experience via a magic well.
Other oddities to Temple of Apshai: I bought a bow and arrows but I can't seem to hit anything no matter how many arrows I shoot (which is too bad because monsters don't seem to advance while you're shooting at them). Even with melee weapons, I seem to get into positions in which all of my strikes, even against the basest of monsters, miss.You can talk to monsters, even ones like bats and rats that shouldn't logically be able to speak. They generally say "ye may pass" but then attack you anyway. I've noticed that the rooms go in rough order, so if you suddenly skip from Room 3 to Room 9, that's a good sign there was a secret door back in Room 3 leading to Rooms 4-8. The game seems to often think I've pressed the "H" key even when I haven't, forcing me to use up a healing salve.
|Our intrepid adventurer is about to be slain by Pedobear.|
Already I'm suspecting that there is no way to "win" Temple of Apshai. The manual doesn't give any suggestion that there is an ultimate goal except to continue to gain experience (which I can't seem to do) and, I guess, explore every crevace of the three dungeons. My rules say I have to devote a minimum of six hours to a game, so I'll keep playing until I get sick of it or discover hidden depths. If there's any of the latter, I'll write a second posting on Apshai. Otherwise, it's on to the original Ultima.*
*Someone who responded to my original posting on Reddit suggested I would really enjoy Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Alas, there doesn't seem to have been a DOS port for that game.