|The characters have about as much trouble finding a place to sleep as the player.|
It's a tough time for the Bolingbrokes. We've had to vacate our house of 12 years while it undergoes a complete gutting and rehab, thanks to significant water damage incurred during this year's Winter from Hell. As my work keeps me in a hotel about 5/7 nights a week anyway, the consequences for me have been somewhat light, but Irene is used to the comforts of hearth and home, and shuttling around to various forms of temporary housing has worn down her nerves. On the days that I have been home, I've been occupied with helping her with the house situation. CRPG playing has naturally taken a back seat.
This isn't to say that I haven't had any time to play. I had a long plane ride from Los Angeles to Boston a few nights ago, and it would have been a perfect time to make a dent in The Savage Empire. I found myself opening DOSBox repeatedly, firing up the game, staring at the screen, and closing it. Normally, I give myself a break of 90 minutes between work "cycles" (which vary in time and intensity based a complicated spreadsheet that you really don't want to hear about) to play and blog, but this week, I've found myself preferring to do more work during those times of permissiveness. This leaves me with the question as to whether it's my mood that so disinterests me or the game itself.
Let's assume for a minute that it's the game. It's set in the same universe as Ultima VI and uses the same game engine. I loved Ultima VI. It's my second highest-rated game. Why wouldn't I at least like this one? Why would I find playing it a chore instead of, at least, a diversion from my woes? As something of a preview of the GIMLET to come, this is what I see:
1. A stupider game world. Eodon just doesn't really do anything for me. A land of dinosaurs and tribesmen ought to be more interesting than this one, which is largely based on tropes from a genre (early 1900s pulp magazines) that modern players aren't familiar with and don't care about.
2. Lamer NPCs. NPC dialogue has always been a strong point of the Ultima series, but the NPCs in The Savage Empire are somehow less interesting than the standard high-fantasy ciphers that occupy Britannia. They don't talk in ways particularly unique to their tribes; too many of them are literal copies of each other; and a lot of what they say is just goofy. There are a few notable personalities among them, but not as many as Ultima IV-VI.
3. Depressing combats with innocent animals. Combat wasn't a particularly strong feature of Ultima VI, but it's just worse here, with your own party members refusing to act most rounds and your enemies composed primarily of mindless animals like dinosaurs, great apes, and saber-toothed tigers, all of which seem wrong to kill.
4. Theft or poverty. At least so far, I haven't found many places to legitimately loot items. You either have to steal them from the huts of tribesmen or run about unarmored.
|A roomful of goodies I can't take without feeling like a jackass.|
5. No economy. I keep finding rubies and emeralds and such but no place to spend them. I guess this changes later, but nothing so far.
|That's great. What am I going to do with emeralds?|
6. Jungle camouflage. My colorblindness doesn't do well with the palette used by this game. I can't discern much of anything against the jungle backdrop. I even lose my own party members sometimes.
None of this quite adds up to a game that should exhaust me, but it does. Perhaps it's just all the other stuff in my head this month. No matter how strong the addiction, there are times that you just don't feel like playing a game.
When I broke off last time, I was heading south, aiming for the land of the Barrab, hoping to recover Topuru's "mind" so he'd tell me where the Urali hole up. I never made it. On the way, I ran into a large series of structures occupied by the Nahuatla and got wrapped up in their politics.
Tichticatl is the city of the Nahuatla, and it appears to be modeled after Aztec pyramids. The tribe was recently ruled by King Moctapotl, but he was overthrown by a usurper named Huitlapacti. Huitlapacti, in turn, is supported by an outsider named Zipactrioti, who turns out to be the missing Dr. Spector, a German scientist sucked into Eodon while fiddling with one of the corrupted moonstones. (I met his assistant, Fritz, in the last episode.) The evil duo also imprisoned the tribe's shaman, Oaxtepac.
|...says the shaman who wears skulls on his headdress and earlobes.|
I found Oaxtepac in his prison. Moctapotl is supposedly hiding out with the Disquiqui, who are next on my way to the Barrab. Anyway, Oaxtepac had some things to say about the overall Eodon mythology. Apparently, the Nahuatla used to reside elsewhere (like Central America) before "mighty beings" brought some of them to Eodon to be their servants. The Nahuatla rebelled and killed their masters.
As I wandered Tichicatl, every other tribesman I tried to talk with ended up attacking me. I felt bad killing so many of them, but I didn't see any other choice.
|This didn't work out for your 25 predecessors.|
I ran into Spector's parrot before encountering Spector himself. By repeating everything Spector had said in his presence, he gave a bit of intel. Spector himself gave the rest when I encountered him, although he kept breaking off dialogue to order nearby guards to attack. I had to leave the area, wait a bit, and return to continue the dialogue.
Between the parrot and Spector, I learned that Spector had run across some ancient technology in an hidden city called Kotl. The technology includes belts that create force fields around their wearers, protecting them from all harm. He wears one and so does Huitlapacti.
|A villain more invincible than Lord British.|
Spector--or Zipactriotl--says he plans to repair and reactivate the automatons in Kotl, use them to clear out the caves of the Myrmidex, and recover a giant stone that powers the belts as well as other technologies. He plans to use the giant power stone to teleport the entire city of Kotl to the heart of Washington, DC, and use his army of automatons and Myrmidex to conquer the USA, and then the world.
|Just give us another decade of iPhones and Xboxes.|
Oddly, despite having a diabolical plan and all, Spector, like me, seems primarily concerned with just getting out of Eodon:
|"No. Do you know how to effectively negotiate with Allstate?"|
There doesn't seem to be anything to do to help the Nahuatla until I can find the source of the power and turn it off. Oaxtepac indicated that the city is somewhere to the southwest. The sun has to strike a gem on the right time of day to reveal the entrance, which is guarded by a man of solid gold. But the Urali stole the gem a while back, so I have to find them first.
There's been another interesting thread among the conversations with a few NPCs. There's an evil race of "ant-things" called Myrmidex that I haven't encountered yet. NPCs like Sahree, Aiela's friend, talk about an ancient warrior named Oloro who once united the tribes against the Myrmidex. Oloro did some kind of service for each tribal chief to secure that tribe's allegiance. Then, he beat a giant drum to summon them to war.
So far, I've uncovered a few of the quests that this task would seem to require, such as rescuing the Barako chief's daughter from a great ape. I also ran across the Hill of the Drum, where a crazy guy named Tuomaxx will make a big drum for me out of an animal hide. I imagine that ultimately, I'll have to wander around to each tribe and toss the UNITE keyword at the chiefs, solve their quests, and go beat a drum. But nothing about the Myrmidex has been pressing yet.
|Ascending the Hill of the Drum.|
Two other notes:
- I'm going to complain about the day/night cycle again because it's so annoying. You can barely explore half a city before it's nighttime again and you have to go find someplace to rest. Unfortunately, the game has a very wide search area when it says that you can't rest when "foes are near." You end up having to wander miles into the distance to get away from all foes, at which point you waste half the next day trekking back to your origin point.
- I still don't know how to level up. I can't believe I haven't accumulated enough experience points yet.
- Healing is very slow in the game. You only get back 5 for every night's rest, and casting the appropriate spell only gives you a few more while depleting scarce resources.
We'll see if my mood or the game improves over the next week. In the meantime, why don't you all head back a few posts and see if you can think of anything to say about Hack, which got a measly 13 comments despite everyone harassing me to play it for the last three years. I finally get a post up, which uncovers some interesting stuff about the game, and...crickets.
Time so far: 8 hours
Reload count: 2