Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Legacy of the Ancients: Mildly Amusing Curio

Apparently, intergalactic space travelers still wear cloaks and carry candles.

Legacy of the Ancients is an okay game that moves along at a decent clip. I spent enough time playing today to get several entries out of it, if I wanted. My major accomplishments were to:

  • Accumulate a lot of money through gambling and use it to buy magic items
  • Have the Wizard's Compendium stolen (this doesn't sound like an accomplishment, but the game suggests it was necessary)
  • Build up some of my character stats
  • Raid Castle Kelfor for gold and items
  • Plunder a pirate cave
  • Get some quests from the Museum and its caretaker

This didn't make any sense, but I realized later that (for some reason) I needed to visit the museum exhibit on healing herbs before I could buy any.

The game lets me buy up to 99 of each of its 6 spells. The first two, magic flame and firebolt, are the most valuable of the lot, usable in both outdoor areas and dungeons, and they do about 10 times the damage of my best attack. The other most valuable magic item is healing herbs, of which the game lets me carry 40. But buying the full complement of this kit costs around 10,000 gold pieces, and monsters deliver only about 10-50 per kill, so I thought I'd raise funds through gambling.

Cute, but hardly worth the effort.

There are two gambling mini-games: blackjack and "flipflop." The latter game is like a giant Plinko board in which you bet on where a ball will land. It's interesting but too time-consuming, especially given that the rules of blackjack in this game are extremely favorable. I find my edge is around 115%, so as long as I keep my bets modest, I always wind up ahead in the end. This seemed a bit too simple and it was: it turns out that after you win about 2,000 gold pieces, you "break the bank" and guards swarm and pummel you (you can get the same outcome by robbing the bank). The only way around it is to travel from city to city, never winning too much money. What with the monsters I had to fight on the way, this took a little while.

"I swear I wasn't counting cards!"

In the midst of it, some thieves ambushed me and stole the Compendium. Lest I reload, apparently, the game warned me that this step was a necessary part of the game. Scripted events that you can't avoid no matter how badass your character are staples of CRPGs, of course, but it's handled oddly, and I'm not sure why it wasn't just part of the backstory to begin with.

Isn't that handy?

I lost track of all of the different types of monsters I've encountered. Only a few of them, such as "Eaton warriors," have names reminiscent of any other CRPGs. Some of the names include bone dwellers, carrion manglers, mime ghouls, neural clouds, pit strikers, practon piercers, slime weirds, stinging rakishes, venom floaters, ventro flailers, wave skimmers, and wind stalkers. I would give the game points for originality except that the creatures aren't very well distinguished except by name. A few of them (at least, the ones in dungeons) have special attacks, like dissolving your armor, breaking your weapon, or draining your endurance, but for the most part they're interchangeable by name and unmemorable by icon.

Insert "yo momma" joke here.

Part of the game's tactic is supposed to be that certain weapons work better against certain foes--you can figure this out by trial-and-error or by buying clues from seers. But either way, it's hardly worth the time to swap out weapons when most enemies die from a few blows anyway.


  
Weapons, I should mention, come in several varieties--knives, clubs, bladed staffs, and so on--and in various conditions ranging from "shoddy" to "great." I learned the hard way to keep hold of a couple of different weapons for when one gets shattered.

To reach the castle island, I had to buy a boat.

Things picked up when I raided Castle Kelfor, but the game follows Ultima I's and Ultima II's traditions of turning me into a mass murderer for the sake of the plot. I must retrieve certain artifacts from the chests in the castle, but opening chests causes the guards to swarm me, leading me to mercilessly slaughter them.

I'm sure he was just doing his job.

The castle also featured a mysterious woman named "Cassandra" who increased my "charm" attribute.


  
Ultimately, I got hold of a magic tulip that, when returned to the Museum, netted me another boost to my "charm" skill an an extra level.

  
Oh, yes--leveling. From what I can tell, I don't gain levels in this game through combat. In fact, there doesn't seem to be any reason for combat except to get enemies out of your way (and make a few paltry gold pieces). Instead, the Caretaker levels me up when I solve certain quests. I'm level 3 now; I don't know how may levels there are in the game. I had to find my way back to the Museum first, which turns out to occupy a corner on the westernmost part of the continent. Entering it involves answering some copy protection questions with the help of a fan page.


  
After raiding the castle, I followed another monitor in the Museum to the Isles of Three Sisters...


  
...where I explored an eight-level pirate dungeon. The dungeon was in first-person view and featured a variety of tough monsters, chests, and traps (I learned the hard way that I needed to "examine" each corridor before striding on down.) I got very rich (>10,000 gold) from this trip and also found a jeweled crown.


  
When I returned to the museum, the Caretaker gave me a quest to recover the selfsame crown and a scepter. I returned the crown immediately. I'm not quite sure where to go for the scepter just yet--I think I've explored all of the places on the map--but this seemed like a good place to knock off for the day.

I did die twice. Dying has very few consequences: you are immediately resurrected with your full complement of hit points, but with only a handful of food and gold pieces. Fortunately, the game lets you stash money in the bank (where it gains interest) just for such a situation. When I noticed this, it reminded me to take a break from the game to check on my IRA account, which--just like watching Veronica Mars in the middle of Faery Tale Adventure--is a good sign to me that the game isn't really captivating. I'm sure I'll still finish it, since it doesn't seem like it's going to take much longer, but we're talking Ultima II-level game play here, and we've seen a lot of CRPGs advance much further than that.

I'm going to invest a couple more hours tonight, and if I haven't won, I'll take a Le Maitre des Ames break. Otherwise, you might see a "won!" posting tomorrow.

10 comments:

  1. Keep in mind that you can opt out of playing more blackjack and then immediately re-enter into the game with the same dealer, same table, same 'bank' and still make up and close to 2,000 gold. You don't have to travel from town to town.

    At least you don't in Legend of Blacksilver, but the two engines are practically identical so I doubt this won't be the case.

    It hurts verisimilitude to do the walk away/come back to the table trick, but then again so it does that once you break the bank every guard in the whole hamlet wants to murder you, so I consider it fair game.

    Besides, it's funny in role-playing terms if you think you're not really breaking the bank at 2,000, you're just angering a dealer with goldfish memory. Out of sight for a cocktail's worth of time, then you can take his money again.

    Legend of Blacksilver has better gambling, also.


    It's true these games are basic, but there's something really nice about them being exactly that, there's some space for imagination that is missing sometimes in more recent RPGs. So little is happening and in so abstracted, symbolic a level, it's hard - for me at least - to not imagine the goings on in more vivid detail, embellish on the story, as it were.

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  2. RE: your last paragraph. I DO usually feel that way. I was able to mentally embellish Wizardry, Ultima IV, and some other games, but LotA just isn't doing it for me.

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  3. The copy protection scheme originally used a codewheel very similar to that used by Starflight, and Legacy of the Ancients is actually referenced in the "prophecy" at the end of the Starflight manual. It seems that either EA forced some cross-promotion (a little early for that) or the Starflight guys liked Legacy of the Ancients.

    I have very fond memories of this game. I wish you were enjoying it more.

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  4. Wandering back after a few days away... Oddly, while I remember playing LotA back around 1991 and enjoying it, I'm shocked at how little I remembered. That might be linked directly to the problem you mention about not being able to mentally embellish it... It's probably also related to the age issue that seems common in fiction: kids need little description/conversation & a lot of action, while adults need little action & thrive on well-written description & conversation. (Which is probably why Viridian & I both have fond memories: we were kids when we played it!)

    Viridian: I read on one site about LotA that one of the worlds on the codewheel is the location for the sequel. From what I've read/inferred, cross-game references were done mostly for fun back then, though -- besides, EA preferred less subtle cross-game promos like this: http://bit.ly/g5L3sE

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  5. I miss a few days and during that time you post a novel's worth of material. Goodness. On the other hand, lots of good posts. On the other other hand, too bad some of these games aren't doing it for you. Too bad FTA turned out to be a turkey- I guess I never got that far into it. I had better memories, but given my history of gameplaying, no surprise I didn't get far enough into it to discover how empty it was.

    I still try playing LOTA now and again, but that interface just makes me nuts- and I always found the food thing to be a game breaker.

    Man, I suck at games.

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  6. I played the C64 version of LOTA last year and managed to cover the sections you mentioned above. The lack of interest and experience from encounters is definetly a negative for me (though I'm sure I did get some weapons and armour from monsters on a few occasions).

    I enjoyed the Castle Kelfor raid as I felt it was a bit more strategic and took a bit of planning due to the large numbers of guards that could wind up chasing you.

    I also really like the concept of the museum and the displays and the coins - I realise they are just glorified keys to unlock new game areas but still like the presentation.

    I left the game frustrated after getting to the bottom of a dungeon and retreiving the necessary coins / objects but not having enough spells to be able to fight my way up through the levels again. Ultima's eXit spell would have been good! I think I'd assumed I would lose the coins otherwise I would just have kept playing.

    Pleased to see the CGA palette in this game is a bit more pleasant on the eye. It would be great if someone could do some EGA/VGA/MIDI hacks on these games like people did for Ultima 3,4 & 5 on the PC.

    Anyway I might give the C64 version another go.

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  7. Viridian, thanks for pointing that out! I just took a look at the Starflight manual, and there is a very obscure reference to LotA. I can't really see the games fitting together, though, in the same universe.

    William, I'll tell you, this week is a model I need to follow for all my CRPG blogging: get a hotel room near the beach on some warm city, alternate playing games and blogging with long walks, seafood dinners, and gimlets. If only my bank account would hold up, you'd see this same volume every week.

    Acrin1, good point on Kelfor. I guess there could have been a strategy to it. I basically just kiilled everyone.

    If I hadn't gambled enough to make so much money, and spent it on the maximum spells, I would have had trouble in the dungeons

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  8. Ah... reminds me of that 1992 RPG; Waxworks, where you have to enter different exhibits... just like LoTA.

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  9. To me this was my first RPG and most nostalgic. In its day its openess, varying gameplay elements, and progression were brilliant, addictive and rewarding. Finding each new weapon and then getting better grades was way cool. The museum concept was unique with mosaics that drew you into the game. Each little variation such as creatures encountered in different terrains as well as secret passage ways in castles, mini games for character progression and reputation in towns, and switching between dimensions (open world, various town, 3D dungeons) was in its time engaging. With the constant progress of all parts of character up skilling, better weapon/armour, spells, mueum tokens etc you really followed the trail so to speak, which upon completion of the game gives you a satisfying and almost emotional experience as it recounts the grand adventure you undertook. I remember feeling immense pride, but also kind off sadness that all the little hidden nuances of discovery the journey was actually at an end. One i strove for but didnt want to ever end. This game has stayed with me for years, and always will. It was epic A rare gem. When years later I was searching games in a shop I came across Blacksillver I remember looking at the images thinking is this real, am i dreaming, have they really made another LOTA? I loved that too, but unfortunately never completed as i lost one of the disks when i moved house - one of my fave all time games. Gaming magic for me.

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    Replies
    1. Every player has that one nostalgia game that got him hooked. No reviewer, decades hence, looking at the game through modern eyes, will ever sway his opinion as to its quality. That's as it should be.

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