|That's because I killed everyone else.|
Well, given this was a Charles Dougherty game, the outcome was inevitable: at some point, I emerged from the royal castle, my mace dripping with the mangled blood and brain matter of several dozen castle guards...a hero. Knighted, even. It's a brutal world we inhabit, and only the strong survive.
As I closed from my first post, I was making my way around the island continent, visiting each city and cathedral, fighting monsters along the way. My fortunes waxed and waned as I won a hand of blackjack here, lost a spin of the roulette wheel there. If money got too low, I did my "Double or Nothing" trick until the guards attacked, and it turns out it's not very hard to kill them. I felt a little bad about that, but they were clearly in the wrong. I mean, we'd all be in an uproar if the Atlantic City Police Department tried to kill everyone who won a few keno hands at Harrah's, right?
|A mace appears on the list.|
Weapons and armor slowly improved. Armor availability went from rawhide to shields to chain mail to plate mail. Weapons upgraded from a flail to a club to a mace to a cutlass. At each city, I talked to prisoners and slowly built a lore book of hints and tips. A sample:
- There are keys for every door
- Find the trumpet at all costs
- The treasure room can make you wealthy
- Cathedrals reward only the good. [If killing guards doesn't do it, I don't know how to be bad.]
- Find the castle to find Mesron.
- You must travel through the northern fog, but only when ready
- You should put money in the bank in case of death
- You can steal, but plan your exit carefully
- The phazor spiders hate the whip
- There is a leaden key in the castle. Steal it.
- Only the club kills the piercing pungie easy
- Give to the evil priest--or he will kill you
|A prisoner imparts a bit from the lore database.|
As I got stronger, I found myself getting attacked by multiple copies of the same monster at once, and their hit points seemed to increase, too. But despite this, combat slowly became easier and less deadly.
Eventually, I started getting the same message every time I bellied up to a shopkeeper's counter: "MESRON WANTS TO SEE YOU." Around the same time, Geraldtown was destroyed. All shops and people were completely wiped out.
I returned to the castle, explored a bit, and found Mesron in a place I'd missed during my first explorations. When I spoke to him, he promoted me to soldier, increased my strength and stamina by 5, and gave me 5 jars of magic powder. He said that "one use" of the powder was to slow down guards in the castle. I'm not sure what the other is. He also confirmed that Mantor had destroyed Geraldtown.
When I spoke to him again, he said, "You're missing one piece of the puzzle. Find it, and I'll help you continue."
Sigh. I knew what was next: looting and killing. I built up some more funds and returned to the Swamp Cathedral, trading everything I had for about 25 holy water potions. Each gives you 100 hit points, but the starting character has a cap between 500 and 600 hit points.
Returning to the castle, I found my way to a random treasure chest and opened it. This put every guard in the castle on alert, and they all headed my way to attack. I learned quickly that I wanted to channel them to me one-by-one, and let them come to me so I could get the first attack. Sometimes, I got lucky and killed them in a single hit. Other times, I missed 4 or 5 times in a row and a single guard knocked more than 100 hit points off my total. I drank the holy water when I got low. I saved the magic powder for when my holy water ran out, but fortunately that never happened.
|There must be a better way.|
I lost track of how many guards I ended up killing. It was more than 50. Among the chests, I found ruby, silver, emerald, lead, and gold keys, and more than 8,000 gold pieces. The keys opened various doors to special encounters. Namely:
- A doctor offered to increase my strength for 10 holy waters. I was reluctant to sacrifice that many, but I ultimately said yes and my strength went from 20 to 40. This made the rest of the guards a little easier.
- A princess increased my charisma from 15 to 35 for 2,000 gold. Thanks to her father's coffers, I had plenty!
- In a "map room," I paid 500 gold pieces for small images of Questron and what I assume is the Land of Evil. I used the Questron one to annotate the cities and cathedrals I'd found.
|The Realm of Questron.|
- A treasure room held a couple thousand gold pieces but automatically spawned 8 more guards I had to kill.
|They were particularly dutiful guards. They wouldn't cross the threshold into the treasure room.|
When I was done looting, the gold key got me into the king's throne room, where I killed about 10 more guards to reach the king. He was understandably unhappy.
But I needed to be there. Behind his throne was a small room with a chest containing the Trumpet, an artifact that I needed to find "at all costs"--according to the word of some random prisoner in a jail.
It turned out to be true, though. This was the other "piece of the puzzle" Mesron wanted me to find. When I re-visited him, he told me that I was now "the most powerful soldier in Questron" and asked me to take on the quest to destroy Mantor. Since I had recently saved, I decided to see what would happen if I said "no." He told me that was wise, then called me a wimp, then petulantly took his magic powder back.
I reloaded and said yes. He told me that I would have to go through the northern mists to find Hidden Port, and from there take a ship across the sea to the Land of Evil. Holy water would be useless there, he said, so I would have to find some way to buy hit points. He dramatically finished with, "Your quest: Seek out Mantor. Destroy Mantor!" He finished by increasing my dexterity from 20 to 40 and suggested I go get knighted.
After I spoke to Mesron, the guards (who had respawned) stopped attacking. I went back to the throne room where, unbelievably, the king called me a "worthy adversary" and said I deserved to be in his service. He knighted me, my stamina went up by 15, and my hit point cap was removed.
|Is that your way of saying that you're scared of me?|
On the way out, I noticed that guards still beat me and took my gold if I spoke to them. What is wrong with this place?
I had one more stop to make before heading off into the northern mists. The map from the map room showed an island in the middle of Questron, and sure enough I was able to buy a raft in Lake Centre. The island held the Island Cathedral, where I was able to buy hit points directly from the priest--no need for the holy water intermediary.
|Having a character refer to them as "hit points" in-game kind of breaks the fourth wall.|
Moreover, the cathedral had a fun minigame that increased my intelligence. It was a variation of Mastermind (a variant of which also appeared in Galactic Adventures, another SSI game) where you have to guess the placement of 4 squares of up to 4 colors among 8 slots. After each guess, the game tells you how many you got right in both color and placement and how many you got right by color alone. Slowly, you deduce the pattern--but you only have eight guesses. I'm pretty good at Mastermind, but I also got lucky with my first few guesses, and I was able to beat it in 6. My intelligence increased by 8 points.
|After 4 guesses, I knew I was going to make it. The white squares indicate both correct color and placement; the gray squares indicate correct color only. If you use save states here, you lack the character to be reading my blog.|
I was just about to head off to the Land of Evil when I got a message that Mesron wanted to see me again. I returned and learned that Mantor was currently attacking the city of Lagoon. I recalled that this exact same thing happened in Questron II, at Seaside. But unlike that game, where I drove Mantor away and saved the city, by the time I got to Lagoon, it was too late.
|I'm sorry. I tried.|
The "northern mists" are a series of squares that lead from the mainland along a narrow isthmus to the city of Hidden Port. Every step you take in the mists has a chance of moving you in a random direction instead of the one where you were going. After a period of frustrating bumbling about, it occurred to me that the Trumpet might have some use here. Sure enough, blowing it cleared the mists. I made my way to the city.
|The trumpet clears the mists and allows me to pass.|
There, I was dismayed to find that a clipper cost over 2,000 gold pieces, and I had spent so much on hit points that I only had 1,300 left. I briefly thought about wagering it on an all-or-nothing blackjack hand, but I first decided to see what happened if I tried to take just a raft across the ocean. It turned out to be no problem at all. I might have consumed some extra food, but that's all.
|Fighting a whale from my raft.|
There were lots of combats with water creatures along the way, but ultimately I arrived in the Land of Evil, where presumably the king will knight me for rescuing maidens and the guards will pat me on the back when I win at roulette.
|In the Land of Evil!|
This session, though brisk and fun, reminded me of some things I don't like about the Dougherty series. It's not so much the slaughter of castle guards--I can hand-wave that by pretending that they were traitors working for Mantor--but rather the intertwining of character and plot developments. Attributes and hit points increase more from achieving the next stage of the plot than from all the fighting and grinding you do in between. We also have the issue with weapons, armor, and transportation becoming available only after passage of time instead of when you can afford it. At the same time--and frankly just like in Ultima and Ultima II--hit points are all over the place. Their maximum isn't dependent on your overall character strength, but rather how many you can afford. It's a bizarre, slightly uncomfortable dynamic.
I look forward to seeing what the Land of Evil has to offer. I assume I'll find the first dungeons here, but I otherwise have no memory of this place.
Time so far: 6 hours
Reload count: 9