Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Legacy of the Ancients: Won!

"Knowing nothing of the planet?" Did the game forget its own backstory?

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.

I never could have guessed that password.

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.

The dungeon, despite all the build-up, was actually quite easy.

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.

This is always a tiresome device.

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.


  1. Congratz on the finish! Now you must ask yourself this question...

    Do you wish to use the slime weird's carcass as food?

  2. Congratulations on your win!

    As fond as I am for this game and its sequel, I agree with your rating in the terms of your own scale.

    In Legend of Blacksilver there are more cool mini-games, here's one: and another I couldn't readily find a video of where you move stones around cups (also found in Quest for Glory 3) which I think is a traditional game, probably very ancient too, but I've only played it in video-games.

    As you find increasingly more difficult AI opponents to gain Intelligence in the latter until you are crowned 'master' of the game, I think you'd also become addicted to that for a bit.

    Small inaccuracy as this never came out for the Commodore Amiga but it sure did for the Commodore 64 (the superior version in all fronts) but that's almost an error not worth mentioning (almost!)

  3. @Helm- the game you are referring to from QFG3 is called Mancala, (it has other names too) and is indeed a very, very old game.

  4. Good work as usual! I really did like the videos, they complement your descriptions and impressions very well.
    I'm curious about this Mainframe Mission thing, which I understand is a rather obscure Sci-Fi roguelike? After that, it's fairly familiar (but no less interesting) terrain up to Pirates!.

  5. Someone made a standalone version of Stones of Wisdom for Windows which I think you can download from freeware sites.

    Good to see another game completed. Congratulations. Not really played the next few games on the list much so interested to hear what you think.

  6. Yes, trudodyr, I took a quick dip into MM and I'm not sure it's going to grab me. Helm, thanks for the correction--duly fixed above.

    Mike, I know you meant your final sentence as a joke, but it's one of those things when you really know you're doing the RP part of a CRPG. I never said "no," which indicates I wasn't in the CRPG zone.

  7. Questron2 is the best of these engines, which actually was the only one of these 4 games not programmed by the original pair... which says a lot. But imo all 4 games are good intro/beginner CRPG's.

    Dont forget, this is a port in 1987, it originally came out in 1984! In 1984 it was on par or better than a lot of other stuff back then on the C64/Apple II. In 1984 the only game better than it was Ultima III on the Apple II, and this was before a lot of the CRPG-isms came into play, there were VERY VERY few other tile based CRPG's back then.

  8. I have to add to, Richard Garriot was so upset he sued over this game for stealing the 'look and feel' of Ultima. He ended up being credited in the game/manual... back in the days of 'look and feel' lawsuits.

  9. Stu, I've not heard that one before but I believe that SSI licenced the use of the Ultima format from Richard Garriot for the original Questron.

  10. Ryan, thanks for the name of the game, now I can find it and play it outside of Quest for Glory 3, which is sadly the worst of the otherwise stellar quadrilogy of QFG games (5 doesn't exist). I guess the origins of the game are in Africa, given the tendency of QFG designers, the Coles, for proper research.

    I'm looking forward for when CRPG Addict plays QFG1, actually!

  11. oh yeah did I have a brain fart, I kept thinking Questron instead of Legacy of the Ancients.. you can ignore my comments :P heh

  12. The "Spellcrafting" trope is stuck in committee. Give it a while.

    Also: Ooh! Killing healers! I do so love it when a world under siege remembers to act like one. Do the towns show any other signs of damage? Do the raids worsen with time?

  13. Helm, I actually think QfG4 is worse than its predecessor. But I agree with you that it's a pity the fifth part never made it. ;)

  14. Barton confirms that the Questron developers licensed the "look and feel" of the Ultima games from Garriott; doesn't appear lawsuits were involved.

    Helm, I only played QFG5 once, but I don't remember it being so bad that one would deny its existence. In fact, I recall there were multiple outcomes based on character class, and you could subvert the entire thing if you were secretly a thief. Or is that a different game?

    Anon, I didn't stick around long enough to find out, but it was a neat touch. BG2 could have taken a page from LotA; when you finally show up in Suldanessellar, it doesn't matter if one day or three months has gone by; Irenicus's attack is always in the same status. The attack is treated as an emergency, but you can just wander away and ignore it for years. Imagine how neat it would have been if the developers had modified things so that the longer you wait, the more monsters you have to fight--perhaps even have magical monstrosities roaming the surrounding countryside, bit by bit. Oblivion almost does this, but the invaders stay too close to the gates.

  15. It is the game you think it is. But QFG5 is ugly, difficult to control and a very thin diminished return from a formula that was introduced in QFG1 and not improved at all by the fifth iteration (my favourites are two, then one, then four). It was the product of a confused Sierra. When you play QFG1 and see how 'together' it is, you'll understand what I'm saying.

    Man I'm really looking forward to you tackling that game, actually.

  16. Me, too. I played it once, a long time ago, and I'm looking forward to getting back to it. When I do, I'll have to decide whether to regard the remake as a separate game or not; it will determine which version I play.

  17. I do think you would miss a lot by not playing the original Quest for Glory, as I'm not sure the remake is better in any way. It's just been shoehorned into Sierra's typically poor GUI-system, and have more colorful graphics (not really better, though, too blurry IMO).

    The conversations are better in the original as well, since you ASK ABOUT stuff like in a text adventure. So you have to figure out what to ask the different people about, instead of just having a list of topics prepared for you. It's harder, but more fun. Again IMO.

    Being a thief is very nice in the first two QfG-games, as you can get access to most of the fighter & magic user content as well if you play your cards right (and save & import your QfG 1-character for QfG 2). In the third they start actively blocking off content based on your class. But you can always start a new character if you suddenly decide to be a fighter.


  18. Good points, Joe. I think I will do as you suggest.

  19. I hate games with giant worlds and lots of side quests that make you feel guilty about exploring them "SAVE THE WORLD! YOU ARE RUNNING OUT OF TIME" Oblivion was not great with this, Mass Effect was downright terrible. I really liked how Fallout 3 handled it though, I loved exploring the world, until some mods I installed broke my game.

  20. I thought Morrowind had the best approach, where Caius Cosades repeatedly tells you to go out, join some guilds, and get some experience before taking on the next Blades quest.

  21. I have heard that before. Faalout 3 also did this very well. 'Here are some hints on where your father is, here are some hints on the big plot, nothing urgent. Go explore'

  22. Morrowind was indeed the best about this. Additionally, the ability to become the guild master of ALL the guilds, and the leader of ALL the Houses was a tremendous satisfaction to me as a "completionist", who wants to fully plumb the depth and breadth of an immersive game.

  23. It doesn't make a lot of sense, though, does it? Imagine the imbalance of power if one individual was the head of a major noble house, the fighters' guild, the thieves' guild, the mages' guild, etc.? It also feels like becoming the HEAD of a guild should be about more than solving quests. I can't think of any game where if I do enough quests for the king, he steps aside and gives me the crown.

    1. "I can't think of any game where if I do enough quests for the king, he steps aside and gives me the crown."

      The King of Romaly in Dragon Quest III for the NES gives you his crown after you do him a service. But then you have to give it back to him to continue your quest because the guards won't let your "king" self out of the palace, so it ends up being not much more than an amusing aside.

    2. Ha, yes I always wodnered about that as well - especially since in Oblivion we find out that the Nerevarine has disappeared on a mission to Akavir. It's a great idea to mention his fate, but yeah, he/she was a god-like figure by then.

  24. Not an RPG, but King's Quest I has that plot, actually.

  25. Agreed. It's not realistic that all those groups would willingly agree to consolidation of power to that extent. Two reasons: 1) The interests of the individual groups wouldn't be properly represented, and 2) absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    RPG gamers tend to think we would be good enlightened monarchs who would fairly represent the best interests of the realm as a whole. I suspect that we as a group would be highly vulnerable to the suggestions of brilliant, beautiful women. Grima Wormtongue should have been a beautiful woman...or perhaps that IS how he was perceived by those under his thrall.

  26. Love the cover art on some of the sleeve/box games from this period.
    I remember this one especially had me drooling for the opportunity to put a spear deep into one of those blue lion beasts.

    Of course the games never came close to realizing these artistic visions. The C64 version was SO much better, as you mentioned, visually. I couldn't take staring at those awful palettes of old PC games. And your SOOOO missing out on the SOUND from the other platforms.. PC was like a wax recording compared to the C64 SID. But those emulators can be a bitch to work with. Having to swap out 10 virtual disks is a pain even when it doesn't also take 20 minutes for your old 1541 to load them.

  27. So this was the game where you blew up the castle!

    I was playing another game in the early or mid-90's, forget which one, and I was walking around on a coastline and it told me, off in the distance, that there was a submerged, destroyed castle in the ocean.

    And I was like, "Wait a minute... I recognize this coastline. I'm the one who destroyed that castle!". I couldn't remember when or in what game I did it, but I knew I had done it.

    It was awesome because the game I was playing was not a sequel or anything like that. It made no other overt references to Legacy of the Ancients though it probably used the same landmass. The ruined castle was not relevant to anything in the more modern game - it was just an ancient curiosity.

    The game just happened to be set in the same world and that was all there was to it.


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