Friday, May 15, 2015

The Savage Empire: Love in the Time of Dinosaurs

Those aren't the thongs I want to remove. Hey-oooo!

You'll be pleased to know that things have settled down for Irene and me. We've settled into a two-bedroom apartment near Boston while our house is fully gutted and re-constructed over the next six months. I actually rather like the apartment better, but I suppose we'll likely see another hiatus in the fall when I have to reverse the whole process.

Now that I have a chance to approach The Savage Empire with more time and less stress, I'm finding it a better game than the last time I posted. Still not as good as Ultima VI, of course, but more than what I've been thinking of it as: an obstacle between me and the end of 1990. Earlier today, I didn't want to stop playing to write this entry, which is always a good sign. In playing, I resisted the temptation to start over, but I did re-walk a lot of ground (I revisited all the tribes) and took better notes. 

This is the only device I've found that lets you tell the precise time.

To recap the past, the Avatar has been sucked into the Valley of Eodon by a corrupted moonstone that had come into the possession of the Avatar's archaeologist friend, Dr. Rafkin. Jimmy Malone, a reporter visiting Rafkin, also got caught in the wake. Eodon turns out to be a kind of Lost World, with dinosaurs, giant mammals, and a bunch of tribes with ethnicities and cultural influences drawn from various temporal and geographic points on Earth--some of them regrettably stereotypical but many of them quite creative.

The Avatar quickly became infatuated with Aiela, princess of the Kurak tribe (based on South American Indians), but she was soon kidnapped in a raid led by Darden, leader of the Urali tribe. The Avatar would have rushed off to rescue her, except no one seems to know where the Urali come from; their homeland is hidden. To assist in his quest, the Avatar is joined by NPC companions who look remarkably like his companions in Britannia, including Shamuru (Shamino), Triolo (Iolo), and Dokray (Dupre)--all of whom are recent arrivals in Eodon, with convenient memory loss and odd reactions to dialogue prompts like BRITANNIA and their actual names.

There better be some explanation for this.

With a party consisting of Triolo (a shaman's apprentice and the only one capable of casting spells in the game), Shamuru, and Professor Rafkin, I have been trying to collect intelligence about the location of the Urali. I found their exiled shaman, Tuporo, on an island in the north, but he wouldn't tell me anything until I returned with his "mind," which he said was stolen and imprisoned in a blue rock by the chief of the Barrab tribe.

On the long trip to the Barrab, I visited most of the other tribes and engaged in keyword-based, Origin-style dialogue with everyone I could find. A couple of other quest threads emerged. The first has to do with the history of the land; tribal legends suggest that beings of advanced technology and intelligence brought the various peoples to Eodon as slaves, but the slaves revolted and drove them away. A hidden city called Kotl still contains their technology and power sources, and a mad German professor named Spector has used these devices to take over the Nahuatla tribe and plans to conquer Earth--if he can ever get back there.

The tribes fight a lot among each other, but people speak of a time in the past when a great warrior unified the tribes to defeat the Myrmidex--hostile insect-people. There have been several suggestions that I should try to repeat this feat and unify the tribes. This would be a more pressing objective if I had even once encountered a Myrmidex.

Continuing towards the Barrab, I paid a quick visit to the Disquiqui village, whose people are based off Polynesians. A fat and carnal race, they are usually drunk on an alcohol called pulque. They had Jimmy Malone imprisoned in the back of a hut, and the chief's daughter, Guoblum, was announcing plans to marry him. Fortunately, they didn't seem to mind that I just opened his door and let him go. He automatically joined my party, which surprised me because I thought I was limited to three companions. (Did I notice the Disquiqui NPCs were based on the Three Stooges? Yes. We don't need to dignify their idiotic inclusion with any more discussion.)
Jimmy comes with a notebook in which he records all your active quests and side-quests and will recount them to the keyword NOTEBOOK. I don't remember seeing quest logs in my chronology so far, which makes it all the more notable that they found a creative way to do it. 

Jimmy reviews our active quests.

Moving on, I finally reached the Barrab. The chief, Balakai, related that he had tricked a mentally-weakened Topuru into thinking that Balakai had "stolen" Topuru's mind. Balakai wouldn't give me the blue stone but said that any blue stone would do well enough to convince the addled Topuru. He further related that large blue stones can be found in the caves occupied by the lizard-like Sakkhra.

Girding myself for combats with lizard-folk, I headed in the indicated direction, only to find a large blue stone just sitting in the middle of the dirt a few paces away from the Barrab village. I used a hammer on it, and soon I had a blue stone. I guess the Sakkhra can wait for later.

That seems a little too easy.

I used a teleporter (see below) to get back to Topuru's area and returned to his island by raft. With his "mind" restored, he gave me some turtle food (no idea) and told me that the Urali's land can be accessed by a particular cave in the cliff wall on the east side of the map.

I found the right cave and fought some bears before the tunnel emerged in a hidden part of Eodon. A series of connected island culminated in one guarded by a Tyrannosaurus Rex. T-Rexes are essentially invincible in this game (none of my weapons or spells did anything), and they're capable of killing characters in one bite. The only way I could figure out how to pass him was to activate solo mode for each character one at a time and have him carefully thread his way around the dinosaur's back when he was facing another direction. Still, this guy was responsible for a lot of reloads.

On the other side, the Urali shaman told me that Darden had taken over the Urali by stealing the statue of their god, Fabozz, and sticking it in a cave. He said I could remove Darden from power by restoring the statue. 

I had to fight a number of Urali (armed with poisoned darts) on the way to the cave. Inside, the largest battle of the game so far came with a group of Urali guarding the statue.

When I was done with the combat, it was clear that there was no way to pick up and move the statue. Talking to it produced only one word: "Light." I tried the "Light" spell to no avail. Searching through my inventory, I saw that Jimmy had a camera. I used it and the statue disappeared with the flash. I don't know how you solve the puzzle if Jimmy isn't with you; maybe he's necessary.

The voice of Fabozz rang out that Wamap the Shaman would be the new chief and that I could rescue Aiela in some caves to the south. As I left the cave, I found that the Urali stopped attacking me. I wandered around for a while before I found Aiela's cave, south of the Urali village, guarded by several Urali who were friendly. When I let her out of her cave, Darden showed up and attacked. But he had no one backing him up, and he died in a couple shots from my my rifle.

In the portrait, doesn't she look a bit like Marta from Arrested Development?

Aiela confessed her love for the Avatar...

This is going to end badly.

...and was welcomed back to her village with open arms.

Her half-sister is still kind of nasty.

The next major step seems to involve uniting the tribes against the theoretical Myrmidex threat. This, in turn, seems to involve performing some quest for each of the tribal chiefs. I solved some during the process of finding Aiela; others, I don't yet know how to solve. Jimmy's notebook helps me summarize:

  • Aoloron of the Kurak just wanted me to rescue Aiela. Done.
  • Apaton of the Yolaru wanted me to bring him 10 obsidian swords from the Nahuatla. These are carried by their warriors, most of whom attacked me on site, so it didn't take long to assemble a collection of 10.

  • Balakai of the Barrab wants me to find some medicine to heal his son, Nakai. The medicine comes from the root of a rare flower on top of the Great Mesa. Unfortunately, I can't seem to get to the top of the mesa. There's once place in which a tree seems perfectly positioned to create a bridge, but I haven't been able to figure out how to fell it. Fortunately, I just found an axe in Dr. Rafkin's lab, so maybe that will be the solution.

A tree not long for the world.

  • Chafblum of the Disquiqui wanted me to put a cowbell around the neck of a local Tyrannosaurus Rex so the tribe could hear him coming. He gave me some sleep-inducing liquor to apply to a spear to put the beast to sleep. It wasn't very hard.
  • Halawa of the Barako needs me to rescue her daughter, who was kidnapped by a big gorilla. He's also up on top of a mesa, and I can't figure out how to get up to him.
  • Inara of the Pindiro agreed to join me the moment she heard about my plan to unite the tribes. That was a freebee.

The one person who doesn't demand a quid-pro-quo to do the right thing.

  • Moctapotl, the deposed king of the Nahuatla, is hanging out with the Disquiqui, waiting for me to get rid of Dr. Spector and his puppet king, Huitlapacti. This will involve traveling to the hidden city, which somehow involves a gem that Aiela had in her possession when I rescued her. I didn't take good notes about this and need to ask around more.
  • Wamap of the Urali was happy to join my crusade after I got rid of Darden.

Jimmy's notebook doesn't have anything to say about the primitive Jukari or the Neanderthal-like Haakur. I haven't visited either tribe yet; they're both tucked away from the main travel paths in the far southeast. I suppose I should head there soon.

Late in my travels, I finally encountered Dr. Rafkin's lab and looted it for tools and valuables, including a fully-operational modern rifle, which I gave to the Avatar. Rafkin made more rifles out of bamboo poles, but using them is a bit of a pain in the neck--I lack enough gunpowder, apparently--and combat isn't hard enough anyway to worry about trying to get the best weapons. The combat system remains underwhelming overall, with most battles winnable with no damage to my characters, let alone danger of death.

The Avatar briefly ponders why he never brings one of these to Britannia.

Ultima VI had a decent magic system to augment combat tactics, but The Savage Empire's system is primitive. I suppose this is deliberate, in keeping with the game's theme. Only Triolo can cast spells, and he does so by invoking one of three skulls (Heluzz, Aphazz, or Motazz) and giving it an offering of one of three herbs: chocolatl, pinde, or yopo. The combination of skulls and herbs leads to 9 possible spells: protection, eagle eye, heal, light, detect hostiles, charm enemies, summon animal, curse enemy, and battle frenzy. Of them, I've only found "Heal" to be really necessary. "Light" helps a little at night, but not much, and it's easier just to go to sleep. "Protection" wears off in seconds. "Detect Hostiles" doesn't seem to do any more than trying to sleep, and none of the combat spells have been worth the time to cast so far. "Eagle Eye" is admittedly pretty useful when I get lost.

"Eagle Eye" acts like a gem in the previous Ultima games.

Some other notes:

  • I'm starting to explore the game's teleportation system. Teleporters scattered throughout the land lead to a central hub in the southwest of the valley. The hub has 36 squares but only 7 are "active" right now, and their positions on the grid correspond roughly with their positions in the valley. While I don't have a difficult time finding a village from its associated teleporter, I have a terrible time finding the teleporter if I'm already in the associated village.

  • I also have the hardest time finding specific people in the villages. Their colors just don't stand out enough for me from the background, and often, a key figure like the chief is wandering around the fringes of the village instead of where you'd expect him in the middle.
  • I did find a "store" of sorts among the Nahuatla, where a woman will take emeralds for swords, armor, and shields. It's much easier just to pick them up.

I could pay you emeralds for armor...or I could just go ahead and take it.

  • Fun image of some tar pits with a dead tiger in one of them.

  • You need food to recover hit points when you rest. When I started the game, I kept gathering food from villages, but later I realized it's easy enough to get it from slaughtering animals and, if necessary, fishing.

Jimmy isn't really good for much else.

I have nothing but time to play tonight and tomorrow, so I'm going to shoot for wrapping this up in one or two more postings. I hope the game does something interesting with the plot threads and doesn't wind up "all a dream" or something stupid like that.

Time so far: 11 hours
Reload count: 6


  1. This seems to be a steadily underwhelming experience and one that's gone on for quite some time. I'm gnashing my teeth waiting for Eye of the Beholder because it's a good game, and Hydlide because it isn't.

    1. Well, I just won TSE, so that's one step closer. I just need to figure out what I'm going to do with Operation: Overkill. I don't want to end 1990 on an unfinished game, but it's proving to be a real slog.

    2. Congratulations! I look forward to reading your final thoughts.

      Did you find the original village of the Yolaru? The one with the broken teleporter? I did not find it in my playthrough, but there are walkthroughs that list it. One of the things that I liked about the game is that there are details like that that suggest that Origin does "create worlds". They have created better ones, but to have areas that support the backstory without the average player even stumbling into them is a certain dedication which I appreciate. (Either that or it was for a subquest that was cancelled at that last minute. That is possible too...)

      Also, it seems that if you use a rope to descend into Myrmidex caves early, you can fight to the queen and win without uniting the tribes (although there are a LOT more ants). I read that this at least can be done using Yunapotli since he is effectively immortal.

      And finally, while there is not much of the Ultima goodness here, I like the fact that in the previous time when the tribes were united, it was fighting the Sakkhra. But this time, you are uniting with the humans' ancient foe to combat a new menace. That feels like an Ultima-type plot detail, shame that it did not get the play that it deserved.

      Looking forward to your write-up!

    3. I didn't find it. That's where Seggallion is, apparently. I mentioned it in my next post. I agree with what you say about Origin, but as you note, they do occasionally screw it up. While the idea of the abandoned village and the broken teleporter ties into the game's lore very well, the inclusion of Seggallion--with no dialogue having anything to do with previous incarnations of the character--does not.

  2. So um, should we tell you what you were supposed to do with the turtle food now?

    1. Was the T-Rex supposed to go for it? Oddly, I don't seem to have it in my inventory anymore. Either my own party members ate it upon resting or some bug prevented me from collecting it in the first place. I hope it's not vital.

    2. Weird that your turtle food disappeared, but you can actually use it to attract and ride turtles to get around the T-Rex's island. It's a cute moment that you don't expect from the system.

    3. You don't need it anywhere else, fortunately.

    4. Somehow that never occurred to me. I thought it was just the ranting of a madman.

    5. Obdurate Hater of Rhythm GamesMay 17, 2015 at 10:29 PM

      Thank it for making a water charity.

  3. Rafkin's lab contains a jar full of magnesium strips which, when used, put off a brilliant light. They can be used as a substitute for the camera flash when retrieving Fabozz's head. Actually, I think there might be a spare camera in there as well.

    1. It's possible to kill Jimmy and loot it off his corpse too.

      Also, modern firearms did make an appearance in Britannia... in Ultima IV Part 2.

    2. I think Martian Dreams also had modern firearms as well.

    3. Ultima VII has at least one musket iirc. Perhaps as a reference to this game? Not sure how much use it is though.

  4. Many of the puzzles in the game has alternate solutions and your path past the T-Rex was the same as mine. I have read walkthroughs that have an alternate method however, but I will spare you the details as it may be a spoiler for another aspect of the game.

    According to my notes on Oloro, the guy who united the tribes, he was fighting against the Sakkhra rather than the Myrmidex. I am shocked that you haven't come across any of the latter yet, but you may not just have wandered close to them by accident. I found them on many occasions while exploring off-road and did not enjoy it much.

    I am glad that you are finding the game more enjoyable.

    1. You might be right about Oloro. I didn't take a screenshot in the right place and just assumed.

  5. Nice to know you're not homeless anymore, Chet.

  6. Two things:

    First, I'm finally caught up! I took a solid five months of steady reading, so now I have the pleasure of being in the now and the sadness of waiting for new posts. C'est la vie! Seriously though, and this will sound weird, the blog helped take my mind off of some tough stuff that happened in December and I'm grateful.

    Second, I played Savage Empire about a year ago (it's hard to turn down a free CRPG, so thanks GOG!). I thought it was okay. (whereas I found Martian Dreams fantastic, except for an annoying bug near the very end). That sequence you describe about needing Jimmy's camera gave me a headache. The problem was, I had long-ago ditched Jimmy in favour of a lizard-man warrior NPC who was much better in combat. I had completely forgotten about his camera (which I left with him), and was completely stuck. When I finally resorted to a walkthrough and learned what I needed to do, I had to traverse all the way from the far east of the game world to the far west to retrieve the doofus and then trek back.

    1. For me, this blog has taken my own mind of some tough stuff that's happened in the last five years, so it doesn't sound weird at all.

      Glad to hear that MD is even better. It looks like it'll be the next Ultima game.

  7. Now, I've only worked in hmm, call it seven labs? Visited a few dozen? but I've never seen a rifle in any of them. Nor any other sort of firearm, well, except the tennis ball cannon I got to fire when I was the demonstration TA at my school.


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