Well, it took longer than I thought, but not in any meaningful way did it take "long." Much of my time was spent screwing around trying to find coins so I could view all the Museum exhibits. I'm not sure I explained this very clearly before. In the Museum are a number of digital "exhibits," each of which takes a certain type of coin--jade, topaz, amethyst, sapphire, and so on. Each exhibit tells you something about the game world, and some of them give you objects or money, transport you to various adventures, or give you a quest. Viewing all of them was crucial to advancing. Some coins I had to find in specific places, like chests in the castle, and others I bought from random merchants.
It turned out I had to return to Castle Kelfor about 9 times, fighting legions of guards each time. Each visit got me some clue or object that I needed to use somewhere else to get me another clue or object that allowed me to penetrate deeper into the castle. I discovered belatedly that some seeds I found on my first visit turn me invisible and would have saved me a lot of fighting.
The ultimate result of Kelfor was to find a mysterious old wizard called the Guardian who branded me so that members of the resistance would be able to identify me. This did exactly one thing for me: it allowed a healer to give me a ruby coin. It took me about 90 minutes to find the healer, visiting every single town in the game before I finally remembered there was a town out on the pirate islands I had forgotten about. That's where she was. Aaargh.
The ruby coin allowed me access to a special dungeon contained within the Museum, where I spelunked eight levels to find the four jewels that would neutralize the Wizard's Compendium. This wasn't too much of a challenge except that I accidental quit without saving and had to go through the whole process of getting the key the second time.
I thought to video-capture it on the second run. The nine-minute clip below contains just about everything the game has to offer: towns, outdoors, outdoor combat, buying and selling things, the Museum exhibits, and a dungeon. Note the primitive sounds, which I neglected to mention before.
After the dungeon, I flew on a pegasus across the sea to the Warlord's castle. It was a long trip, and one wonders how he's managing to terrorize the main continent from such a remote outpost, especially whereas I needed to thaw a frozen pegasus to get there.
The fortress was a bit of a challenge. The game forced me to get captured the moment I walked through the door and stripped me of my weapons and armor.
I escaped from jail by killing a guard, and I soon found an axe and some plate mail. I then had to hack my way through dozens of tough guards who were relatively impervious to spells.
Along the way were two cut scenes showing the Warlord taunting and threatening me. I finally caught up with him in this room where the Compendium itself kept attacking me, not only sapping my hit points but also destroying my healing herbs! Totally uncool. At long last, I killed the Warlord and was informed that the castle would self-destruct in five minutes.
At this point, the game completely wore out its welcome. It took me way longer than five minutes to chop my way through the many guards remaining between me and the exit. This is bad gameplay design, don't you think? I mean, once you've killed the big boss, the game ought to be pretty much over.
At length, I returned to the Museum and was given the Galactic Medal of Honor by the Caretaker. I also videoed the end, from the time the Warlord's fortress exploded to the last scene.
It's quite long, first because I forgot where to find a certain exhibit and I spend a lot of time wandering around. Then the game insists on recapping the entire plot for about five minutes. Still, it's one of the few end-game victory cut scenes that we have in this era, and I suppose I ought to appreciate it. The final shot sets up a very obvious sequel:
This is already pretty long, but I think I'll figure out the GIMLET ranking right here instead of saving it for another posting.
1. Game World. You have to give it points for originality. Sure, the world itself is fairly standard fantasy fare, and the peasant-rises-up-to-defeat-the-evil-warlord has been done to death, but the framing device of the Galactic Museum is quite original. The problem is, I don't know how well it works. If the Museum is supposed to be a secret, why do the shops sell a spell that has no purpose except to take you to it? Why are the coins all over the place? The land itself is a bit mysterious--who is this Kelfor whose castle I keep raiding? Should I feel bad about killing all his guards? The bad balances the good. One good element is that as you get closer to the end, the Warlord's minions start raiding towns and killing healers (I forgot to mention this above); I like games in which the game world changes noticeably in response to the player's actions. Score: 6.
2. Character Creation & Development. Very unsatisfying. "Creation" consists of just giving a name. There is no opportunity to role-play races, sexes, and classes. Leveling is all quest-based (and linear) and has nothing to do with the legions of monsters you slay. The only good points are the mini-games by which you develop dexterity, endurance, and intelligence. I spent over an hour on the intelligence mini-game, which consisted of a variation of Liar's Dice. Score: 3.
The intelligence-boosting mini-game called Stones of Wisdom was actually far more addicting than the main game.
3. NPC Interaction. Ultima I-III-level stuff: you speak to them, they tell you one thing. No dialog options, no role-playing. If you count the Caretaker and seers as NPCs, though, it is necessary to speak to NPCs to learn about your quest and the game world. Score: 3.
4. Encounters & Foes. No other game offers quite the catalog of creatures that Legacy of the Ancients offers, but the only real unique thing about them is their names. They don't really do anything special. The creatures respawn constantly, which I usually regard as a good thing--when killing creatures gets you experience. I suppose there is some very very minor "role-playing" in that you can choose to speak with some creatures instead of fighting them. Score: 3.
5. Magic & Combat. The magic system consists of six spells which you buy in units: two virtually identical blast spells, a "befuddlement" spell that stuns your foes (I never used it), a "kill" spell that clears out dungeon corridors, a strength spell, and a spell that takes you to the Museum. It couldn't be less imaginative. Combat is similarly unsatisfying; you just have one attack option. Yes, some creatures take more damage from certain weapon types, but by the time you've got that nailed down, you're strong enough that it hardly makes sense to bother swapping out equipment. Score: 2.
6. Equipment. Weapons and armor are very basic, although the "rating" system is unusual, and the sale price makes it easy to tell which item is best. There is quite a lot of supplementary equipment that you can find and buy, from grappling hooks for climbing mountains to "magic ice" that allows you to cross small bodies of water. Nothing earth-shattering, but interesting. Score: 4.
7. Economy. Late in the game, you have way more gold than you need, but for most of it, you're spending most of your cash on spells and herbs. I like the gambling mini-games, and I like that the "break the bank" bit makes it hard to get too rich playing. Score: 6.
8. Quests. The game has essentially one quest, arranged in various stages or chapters. No side quests, no alternate outcomes, and no real role-playing. Score: 2.
9. Graphics, Sound, and Inputs. The graphics are decent enough for an isometric game of the era, especially in the Apple II and C64 versions (which I didn't play). The sound is 8-bit throwback and a bit painful. It slows down the gameplay and I couldn't find any way to shut it off. Controls are through the keyboard and intuitive enough. Score: 4.
10. Gameplay. The game is very linear from the outset. Although you can explore much of the world right away, you can't really do anything until you begin the main quest, and that proceeds in a lock-step order. There is no replayability to the game. The difficulty feels right, the pacing is okay, and the five mini-games (three stat-boosting, two gambling) are fun diversions. It's a short game, but I wouldn't want to play it for too long. Score: 5.
The final score of 38 puts it about on par with 2400 A.D., of which it reminds me a bit. Both of the games were short isometric outings in fairly limited and somewhat boring gameworlds despite interesting sci-fi framing plots.
All right, it's well past time to do what I'm going to do with Le Maitre des Ames. After that, it's on to something called Mission: Mainframe.