I know that when I last blogged about Omega, I was still trying to win for real, but the corruptions kept piling up on themselves, and pretty soon I couldn't recognize half of my equipment. The final straw came when my save game got corrupted. I had some other backups from a couple hours earlier, but I would have lost a lot of playing and I couldn't guarantee that it wouldn't happen again.
Part of me wants to keep playing. I found a later version on a different web site, and there's a chance that it fixes a lot of the bugs I encountered. It also has color!
But I can't see investing the kind of time it would take to rebuild a character right now, especially with Pool of Radiance waiting for me. So I'm going to do my GIMLET and see if I can find an excuse to be pulled back to Omega later. Keeping that possibility open, I've avoided looking at any walkthroughs or spoiler files.
1. Game World. The world of Omega is extensive if not terribly well-described. It has a major city (Rampart), several towns, castles, dungeons, mountains, forests, and other features. More important is the struggle between order and chaos that is present in every aspect of gameplay. This lore is found in the scrolls of Rampart's library and in clues you pick up throughout the game. This is the only roguelike I've played that has bothered to create a backstory and lore for its world. Score: 5.
2. Character Creation and Development. Omega allows a fascinating type of character creation in which you can "play yourself," answering questions about your own lifestyle and attributes to generate your character. Naturally, there is a temptation to lie during this process (warning: the game notes the most outrageous ones), but it's still exceedingly clever, and the most original system this side of Ultima IV. The development process is also satisfying: there are various ways to increase your attributes, and lots of quests, battles, and special encounters to increase experience and levels. The "guild" system is a nice touch--I think this might actually be the first CRPG to allow membership in multiple competing guilds, especially based on alignment. And it's satisfying how you can level in both experience and guild memberships, obtaining items, skills, and spells as you do so. Your alignment and guild memberships affect how others treat you, and this is one of the first games to really allow "role-playing" by alignment. My score of 7 for this category has this game tying with Dungeon Master with a high so far.
3. NPC Interaction. There are NPCs in the game--guards, the Oracle, the Archdruid, the Duke, the Archmage, wandering merchants--but conversation is one-way. The ability to intimidate, bribe, or pick their pockets is an interesting addition but not the same thing as having dialog options. Score: 3.
4. Encounters and Foes. The game is similar to Rogue or NetHack in its wide selection of monsters, each with different strengths and weaknesses. Most of the encounters are random, and levels do respawn when you leave and return. I didn't find any scripted encounters, but the game does offer role-playing choices in regular encounters. There are non-hostile monsters, for instance, and attacking them moves you towards chaos, while attempting to talk to hostile monsters (I think) moves you towards law. The game makes clever references to other fictions and mythologies without being goofy about it. Score: 6.
5. Magic and Combat. Omega does one better than traditional roguelikes by giving you multiple attacks per round and letting you set a "combat sequence" of high, medium, and low slashes, thrusts, lunges, or blocks. It's not as detailed as Might & Magic but it's better than Rogue. The layout of dungeons adds tactics to combat as you try to position yourself in the best locations, and you can try to escape by vaulting or tunneling through walls. Spells are acquired slowly and cast with a "mana" system. This was one thing I didn't understand: my spell points kept draining when I rested, and I have no idea why. Score: 5.
6. Equipment. Like other roguelikes, this game excels in its large selection of equipment: weapons, armor, rings, accessories, cloaks, boots, wands, potions, scrolls, food, and other items. The locations of most are randomized, and the + levels and relative costs, plus the changes they make to your hit, damage, defense, armor, and speed scores, makes it easy to weigh one item against another. What I like about Omega in contrast to Rogue or NetHack is that you can pay to identify your items in town, or by spell, instead of having to figure them out through trial-and-error and the occasional rare scroll. I have to give it a high score here: 8.
7. Economy. Simply put: one of the best I've seen. Gold is hard to acquire and easy to spend, just as it should be. Even advanced characters will still find use for gold in buying the condo, using the gym, studying at the library, recharging mana, or just donating to the orphanage. If you really ran out of things to do, you could keep making repeat visits to the brothel (500 gold) for 100 experience points each. Score: 8.
8. Quests. I never quite got a handle on what the "main quest" was supposed to accomplish, but there are a number of side quests, for guilds, the duke, and the oracle. They're mostly kill-and-fetch endeavors, but still more than most CRPGs of the era offer. The main quest seems to offer several pathways to the end, which is another first. Score: 5.
9. Graphics, Sound, Inputs. This is the game's weakest area. I realize that many roguelike fans find a certain noble purity in ASCII graphics, but I would have enjoyed the game all the more if it had featured real graphics and animation. There is no sound. I found the controls to be less intuitive than some roguelikes, especially as regards the complexity of the inventory system. Score: 1.
10. Gameplay. This is one of the only games of the era to encourage such replayability, both in alignment and in the guilds that the player joins. Again, it allows multiple paths to victory, and it is fairly non-linear. One the negative side are the difficulty (permanent death is a little untenable) the unnecessarily large dungeons, and the whole wilderness/food headache. Even though I enjoyed playing it, it was starting to drag a bit, and I suspect I might have gotten a little tired of it before it was over. Score: 5.
The final score of 53 ties it with Starflight and Ultima IV in third place of all the games I've reviewed so far. Only the time factor keeps me from launching into a new game with different guild choices. I still might, after Pool of Radiance. I'm sure I haven't even scratched the surface of what's possible in this game, especially as regards the religious system. I'll do an update if I play again later. Or perhaps some of you who play Omega can share your experiences.
In our e-mail exchange, Mr. Brothers notes that he only ever received around $200 from dedicated players. Well, I certainly enjoyed myself enough to increase his earnings by about 12.5%. There's an Amazon.com gift card coming your way, Laurence--thanks for such an innovative and enjoyable game.