|Finally, someone has something to say about unicorns!|
A few hours into Quest for the Unicorn, I realized two things. First, I had no idea where to go or what to do. Second, hunger comes upon you so quickly that it discourages random outdoor exploration. You burn all your food in minutes.
Needing some direction, I decided to travel around to the major cities via the "travel agent" and collect as much lore as possible. (There's a travel agent in each city; I'm not sure if the transportation is supposed to be magical or if I'm paying for passage in a carriage or something.) To fund this journey, I first had to spend a lot of time exploring the dungeons, picking up loot, and lugging it back to town for resale every time my pack got full. Fortunately, I didn't have any trouble finding dungeons. Every city seems to have one nearby, and there are around 60 total in the game.
|Exploring a dungeon. I'm in the upper-right. To my left is a scroll (either lore or spell), an orc-like monster, and a cleric NPC. I don't know why NPCs can walk around unmolested by monsters.|
Both The Land and Quest for the Unicorn have pretty good economies. It takes a long time to earn money, especially at low dungeon levels, and there are lots of wonderful things to spend it on--mounts, ships, skill level increases, lore searches, and magic items among them. I didn't really get to experience this in The Land because I used the broken "Die Square" gambling game to make hundreds of thousands of gold pieces in less than 10 minutes. But this game, lacking such an exploit, forces you to collect items for resale to get rich.
|It'll be a long time before I can spend money on training.|
The one major economic imbalance is that the cost of item identification is far greater than the item value. For instance, I currently have a "periapt" around my neck that costs 2,500 to identify but sells for only 784. Thus, I find myself selling lots of magical stuff (primarily weapons) without ever finding out what it is.
|Selling my pack items. This spear is clearly magical, but it will cost more than it's worth to tell me exactly how magical.|
The inventory system in this engine is reasonably good. You get a lot more equipped slots than the typical RPG, including four belt slots and four rings. I don't really like the way the pack works, though. Every time you want to eat (in dungeons or towns), read a scroll, or quaff a potion, you first have to get the item into the "up in air" slot, which means using the (t)ake from pack command and scrolling through the items one by one until you find the one that you want. I wish Mike had implemented some contextual filtering here, so that when you choose (r)ead, only readable items appear, and when you choose (e)at, only food and drink appear. Especially when your pack is loaded after a dungeon exploration, it's annoying to scroll through a bunch of pikes, spears, swords, shields, and armor to find the iron rations I want to eat.
|Chester's inventory slots. I'm not sure what a Cloak of Elvenkind does in this game, but it seems like a good thing to have.|
From NPCs in the dungeons and in towns, I've been able to expand my party to include a pixie, an acolyte, and a "prestidigitator." You get NPCs to join you by simply hitting "J" when standing next to them, though they don't always agree. I also bought a horse in one of the cities (only one city, I think, sells mounts), and he shows up as a party member. Party members have their own levels and hit points, and they earn experience from successful kills in combat. They control themselves when you fight.
|My party member roster.|
|And the party in action, against a couple of orcs.|
Based on Mike Riley's comments, I edited the configuration to increase the maximum dungeon level to 5. Since dungeons get harder as you go down, by having them only go to 2 levels, I was ensuring I'd always get easy combats and thus not progress very quickly. While I was editing the file, I also set the flag to go into "full combat mode" for all encounters. This forces the game to bring up the tactical combat screen even if I'm only facing a single enemy (by default, you fight single enemies on the main screen and parties on the full screen). This has a couple of advantages. First, it lets my party members participate in the battle. Second, it means that I'm not the only one taking hit point damage when we fight. Third, it allows me to hang back and fire ranged weapons while my party members swarm the foes. Finally, you can stand and wait on the combat screen after all enemies are dead, recharging hit points without passing time in the real world.
As I said, in between combats and dungeon visits, I visited the eight major cities of the land, in turn, via the travel agent, (t)alking to everyone I could find to amass lore entries. The first seven cities had mostly geographic and historical information ("Lake Quenar is located inside the Ring Ridges"; "Solat was once the capital of the Old Realm but is now only ruins"), but I hit the jackpot with the eighth city, called Nichorville. (Perhaps for this reason, it was the most expensive to travel to.) Almost every dialogue resulted in a piece of quest-specific lore, differentiated from the others by text color.
|One of three pages of lore.|
When I was done with my "lore tour," I knew that the game world is an island continent called Halkanar. Its capital city is Malduk, and the land consists of a number of provinces and regions, including the Northern Realm, Radon Valley (named after a wizard of the same name), the Great Desert, the Kobold Mountains, Marduk Vale, and the Enchanted Lands.
The unicorns disappeared a long time ago from the Valley of the Unicorns. They were apparently captured by someone named Eshter and taken through "the Gateway." I don't know where the Gateway is, but I know that three items are needed to enter it: a Talisman to find it, an "Aurafax" to activate it, and the Amulet of Yathun to enter it.
The Talisman was last in the possession of someone named Elanther. I don't know who he was except that he was "the builder of the Talning rod" and his followers built a series of temples. In a place called Elanther's Forge, he was defeated by someone. Elanther's Forge is in the Ring Ridges, which are in the Enchanted Lands, east of the Radon River. Since Radon River flows past the starting city of Radon, I have a basic idea how to start searching for this.
The Aurafax was last in the possession of Caldnar, a deceased mighty wizard last seen in the Northern Realm. His tomb reportedly holds a "mystical light weapon."
The Amulet of Yathun was last seen in Larkon, once a major city until it was destroyed "during the Caldnar Droughts." (During that event, or sometime before or after, will-o-wisps drove the people away from the city.) The ruins of Larkon are at the head of the Anjar River, north of the Enchanted Lands.
Lore also talks about:
- A great sword that existed in the Old Realm. It might be the same mystical sword that was "once lost in Areth Knoll," a valley in the Coastal Mountains, which are located west of the Great Desert. I assume, therefore, this is on the west city of the game world, but I otherwise don't know where to go.
- A "strange machine" that can be found under Lone Peak. It might be the same machine that's called the "picture machine," which only works at the bottoms of dungeons.
- A "Triad of Might" consisting of a Crown of Might (last seen in the ruins of Solat, located northeast of New Solat, a visitable town), a Sceptre, and an Orb of Might (rumored to be in the Black Hole). You need all three pieces for their power to work.
There are a number of open questions, including the location of Caldnar's Tomb and the location of the Orb of Might, but these assembled facts gave me a little to go on, and I decided to head east from the Radon River and see if I could find the Enchanted Lands. So far, I've been stymied by a wall of uncrossable mountains, making me suspect that perhaps one does not simply walk into the Enchanted Lands. A pegasus, the lowest level of flying party member, costs 125,000 gold, so either I have to find a way around the mountains or start saving up for this mount. (The most expensive, a platinum dragon, costs 750,000 and sounds awesome.)
|The automap fills in as I try to make my way east.|
Lots of miscellaneous comments:
- You find a lot of scrolls in dungeons. Some of them have lore similar to what you'd get in the towns; some are spell scrolls; some have gibberish. I assume the latter ones are lore scrolls but I didn't make a "Language" skill check.
- One more level and my paladin starts getting spells.
- I still haven't "proven my worth" to the Cavalier's Guild. I don't know what they want from me.
- Five of the eight cities use the same map. This is great because the cities are quite large, and it's hard enough to memorize the store locations on a single map, let alone eight separate ones.
- There's a snake-like creature in the dungeons that has a special attack that puts me to sleep. I don't know how many turns it lasts, but it lasts long enough for the creature to kill me every time.
|A snake slowly kills me while I doze.|
- I have no idea why you'd pay for healing in a town. Hit points recover at a rate of one every couple of steps, and if you're already in a town, it's an easy matter to just regenerate by walking around.
- When you're outside, the (e)at command selects food from your backpack automatically. When inside, it forces you to select the ration or drink from the backpack. I wish it just automatically selected your meal every time.
- There's really good in-game documentation of icons--another reference to the game's roguelike heritage.
I like the engine and mechanics of Quest for the Unicorn, and I admire what Mike tried to do with such a large, open world to explore. Like a lot of early games (and shareware titles in particular), a lack of variance in the dungeons and an overall lack of content undermine the size and ambition of the game, but it's still reasonably fun. I do wish Mike still had the manual and backstory.
It seems likely that there will be a lot of grinding coming up, so I'll probably get started on Space: 1889 while I try to complete this game.
Time so far: 6 hours
Reload count: 18
Coming up, I've already started to play Space: 1889, and you should see a post about it on Tuesday. Looking past that, does anyone want to try to convince me that Circuit's Edge is actually an RPG? It has RPG-like attributes, yes, but it doesn't seem to have any character development (aside from inventory-based development), and the entire feeling of the game is more akin to an adventure game.