Thursday, June 2, 2022

Ultima Underworld II: All in One Mighty Sepulchre

 
The architect of this session.
     
I've become used to some new drama taking place in Castle Britannia when I return from my trips below, and this return visit did not disappoint. It began with Miranda insisting that I see Nelson, who had come up with some kind of breakthrough. 
  
Patterson was suspiciously in Nelson's chambers, and when I spoke to him, he acted as if I'd caught them in flagrante or something.
         
Zip your fly, Patterson.
   
Nelson started to tell me about Batal Thaam, an early sorceress who found a means to manipulate blackrock with a spell. As he tried to tell me the story, Patterson kept interrupting, insisting that he had something more important to tell me. Just as Nelson was about to give me the rune combination, Patterson said, "I'm sorry, Nelson," and stabbed the poor mage in the neck right in front of me. He then dropped the knife and attacked me with his fists.
    
I have to be honest, Patterson: you're not going to like going out this way, either.
     
Patterson became the first enemy to fall to my Axe of Fire Doom, which I was just checking out after taking some levels in "Axe" from Dupre. I'm not sure I like it, since its explosions of fire seem to injure me, but I guess I could mitigate that with "Resist Fire." As he died, Patterson called out to the Guardian to save him, but no help was forthcoming. He then asked me to tell Judith, his wife, that he was sorry. (I tried reloading and just letting Patterson swing away while I walked down the hall to other places; all the dialogue with other NPCs assumed that Patterson was dead, even if he was still punching me as the dialogue was happening.) Guards rushed into the room and I told them what happened.

Everyone seemed to think that this proves that Patterson murdered Lady Tory, too, but I'd hardly call it conclusive. Feridwyn hoped that this meant people would stop regarding him with suspicion, but I told him it doesn't mean anything of the sort. 
 
Making Patterson the traitor was realistic but also predictable. It also goes against the idea--however unrealistic--that everyone is redeemable. Patterson was a villain in Ultima VII, seemed to be rehabilitated, but turned out to still be a villain in Underworld. Yawn. How much more interesting (and devastating) would it have been if Julia, Dupre, Iolo, or Geoffrey had turned out to be the traitor? It's also too bad that the Avatar's role in unmasking him is entirely passive.

Back in the dungeon, I tried the west-northwest facet and ended up in an octagonal room with openings in the cardinal directions and brass or blackrock walls at the diagonals. (Note the repetition of the figure 8 that we see throughout the Ultima series; in this game, the blackrock teleporter has eight facets, too.) Thus began my journey through the Tomb of Praecor Loth, a sprawling, complex, four-level structure with a lot of lore and many puzzles. I would say the Tomb is the ne plus ultra example of what's possible with the Ultima Underworld engine. Another few levels and it would have been a fine stand-alone game. The problem is that it was introduced at Hour 42 of an already long game. Right at the point that we should be hearing the drumbeats that will march us to the conclusion of the symphony, Ultima Underworld II introduces a brand new movement. When it became apparent what was happening, I crashed pretty hard. I didn't want to play, didn't want to write about it, didn't want to even continue with this blog. I took a few days off and it helped, but I still didn't enjoy the Tomb as much as it deserved to be enjoyed. I'd say there's a lesson in pacing to be learned here, but so much of this sort of thing is subjective.
   
Level 1 had corridors shooting out from the central area like spokes, although there was no outer ring "wheel" to connect them. They all ended in dead-ends or rooms. Starting with the northwest spoke and going counter-clockwise, these areas had:
 
  • A dead-end where the corridor had collapsed. A corpse of someone buried in the rubble had an Axe of Great Damage and a blackrock gem. It was interesting to find it so early in the level. Even better, I used Altara's Staff here and got the same sparkles and rumbles that indicated its successful use in other worlds. Except for a couple of things, the entire rest of the Tomb was superfluous after this point.
     
Done!
      
  • A room with three friendly golems just standing around. I didn't see any reason to kill them. There were coffers with gems in the corners, but the golems didn't object to my looting them. A bit of verse on the wall read: "By my hand now eight times parted / Else face death a land / Seldom traveled, seldom charted."
  • A room with a switch puzzle. Rather than try to figure it out, I just cast "Open" on the door that the switches controlled. It led to a small room with a piece of a map. I think this is what was meant by the "eight times parted" line above. The rest of the level had almost (I clearly missed a couple) eight map pieces, all of which annotated parts of the map for Level 3.
       
Yeah, screw this.
      
  • A line of eight skeletons guarding another piece of the map. When I took the piece, they became hostile, but they were just skeletons.
      
This was almost a trap, except that skeletons are easy.
     
  • A water area with raised platforms. I had to jump from platform to platform and "Open" a gate on the far side. It led to a small room with another map piece and a Sword of Stone Strike. This almost-too-good-to-be-true sword paralyzes living enemies when you strike them. It almost makes combat too easy. I wonder if it has a limited number of strikes.
  • Another water area with a large platform in the center and a fire elemental guarding it. I swallowed a Potion of Fireproof, waded in, and killed him. His platform had another map piece and a Breastplate of Very Great Protection. When something is called that, you have to take it, but it made my life difficult for a while because I was so over-encumbered. I had to get rid of anything excess, including food and potions I didn't think I'd ever use.
       
I remember fire elementals being fearsome in the last game.
     
  • A room with a secret door leading to another room with a piece of the map.
  • A large room full of non-hostile dread spiders. On the other side of the room are the stairs up.
    
I don't think I knew where I was until I read the message on the wall in front of the stairs. "Praecor Loth is dead," it said. "Let all mourn the occasion of his passing, this 23rd day of Starsend, in the 28th year of his reign, on the 57th day of this accursed war." This plaque indicated that the Tomb is in the same world as Killorn Keep, which had been sacked by Praecor Loth in ancient times. I had open quests from Killorn Keep to find the banner that Loth looted from it and his horn, which could shatter buildings . . . and perhaps blackrock?
   
I moved up to Level 2, arranged as a series of burial crypts for Loth's family and staff: Teej, carriage maker; Felis, royal physician; Molloy, faithful tailor; Warrinn, chief of servants; and so forth. Some of the rooms had hostile undead, but far more had peaceful undead interested in talking. Molloy, for instance, talked about the king's burial and the rituals performed by "The Three," his top lieutenants. He said that the Loth's chambers would be above this level.
       
If I die, my servants are free to go on living. You read it here first.
    
The largest chamber held the remains and ghost of Praecor Loth's wife, Helena. She filled in a bit more of the history. Praecor Loth's wars of conquest--which he completed with the help of Queen Lethe, Morphius, and Lord Umbria--united the land, but then the Guardian came and instigated the Final War. Loth was driven back to this dungeon and killed 700 years ago. Helena took her own life. Lethe, Morphius, and Umbria somehow survived and became liches or something, erecting all kinds of traps on the third level. Helena urged me to "show them no mercy."
 
Apparently, the Guardian's forces make occasional incursions into the tombs to try to find Praecor Loth's horn, but they're always defeated by the undead and the traps. A ghost named Trystero tells me of the "last incursion" several centuries ago in which Lethe caused a corridor to collapse on the Guardian's agents. The collapse also caught Trystero, who wanted me to find his bones for him. I went back to the first floor and retrieved the bones from the collapse that I was sure he was talking about, but he didn't recognize them.
        
I don't know what he would have given to me, but I hope it wasn't vital.
    
"Let only the strong enter" said the plaque on the way up to Level 3. At the top of the stairs, I met the ghost of one of the Guardian's servants, Silanus, who died trying to make his way through the level. Between us and the exit, he said, "stand terrible machines of slaughter--fire and moving floors and worse!" He mentioned a key that would help me bypass two of the three guardians on the fourth level, but I never found it, and based on the layout of that level, I'm not sure how that would have been possible.
 
By this time, I had most of the level already mapped out from the map pieces I found on the first level. It depicted the exit at the north-central part of the level, about half a map away from my arrival in the mid-east part.
   
My map of Level 3 as I enter Level 3.
    
I was not in the mood for this level, which made my being a mage all the more useful. The maze was full of pressure plates that launched fireballs. I was clearly supposed to avoid or weigh down the plates, but I just cast "Resist Fire," sucked up the damage, and recovered with "Heal." There were corridors full of pits that I was clearly meant to find the right sequence of switches to open and close; I cast "Fly" and soared where I pleased. Doors I was meant to find keys or switches to open, I defeated with the "Open" spell. 
      
Fireballs careen through an open section of the level. I have "Resist Fire" active.
      
There were a satisfying number of piles of bones in the corridors, each with a Guardian signet ring. I found a few other magical items, but nothing better than I already had. I did exchange my Plate Boots of Minor Toughness for some Chain Boots of Tremendous Toughness.
   
I found the stairs to the fourth floor before I'd explored even half the level. In the interests of at least trying to explore the rest, I moved on for a bit. There was a roomful of skeletons in the northwest, maybe 15 of them at once. New ones spawned for every one I killed. They were incapable of damaging me, and I could have grinded here infinitely for skill points, but it got boring fast, so I moved on. When I died (stupidly) because I entered a roomful of fireballs without "Resist Fire" active, I reloaded and just went upstairs.
       
The Corridor of Infinite Skeletons.
      
Level 4 was pretty linear. It started with a chamber occupied by Morphius, who said he had been a thief before Loth pulled him out of the gutter and gave him some responsibility. Our dialogue collapsed into a probably-unavoidable battle (though there were some dialogue options I didn't try). He was tough, but between my skills and equipment, I feel pretty invincible these days. I had to cast "Heal" a couple of times, but otherwise I killed him by just whacking away with my Sword of Great Damage. 
         
Morphius explains his loyalty for Loth.
     
Umbria was next. He didn't have any dialogue--he just attacked, first by sending a barrage of fireballs down the corridor at me, then by rushing me with his sword. He must have had "Fly" or "Levitate" active because he floated above the ground. When he died, runes exploded from his body, including VAS and FLAM.
    
Umbria attacks me from the air.
    
There were two earth golems in his chamber, tougher than he was, but his chamber had some platforms. Every time the earth golems damaged my hit points, I could just jump on one of the platforms, out of their reach, and take my time healing.
   
The corridor beyond Umbria's chambers had some kind of magical barrier at the end of it. There was an alternate passage heading east. It led to an area with water at the bottom and a bunch of flat-topped pillars in the middle. This was probably some kind of jumping puzzle, but once again, I just cast "Fly" and made my way to the opposite side of the chamber, where a pentagram was set up with a crystal ball in the middle. I wasn't sure what to do to disrupt the pentagram, so I picked up all the candles and tossed them into the water. This seemed to do the trick, as the barrier was gone when I returned.
        
What is it with this game and pentagrams?
      
Lethe was waiting beyond. She stopped to talk a bit, saying that Loth had seen her prowess in the arena and elevated her to his assassin and mistress. Like Morphius, she couldn't be deterred by words, and we ended up fighting. She beat the hell out of my equipment but didn't do a lot of damage to me. When she died, she dropped a Black Sword of Great Accuracy. I don't know how that compares with my Sword of Great Damage or my Sword of Stone Strike, but I grabbed it to check out.
       
Lethe had a cool graphic.
       
A pair of massive double doors beyond her refused to open even to "Open," so I took another passage east. This led to a large swamp full of lurkers, slimes, rotworms, and other creatures, including a demon. I killed some of them by luring them back into the hallway and others by casting "Fly" and swinging my sword as I levitated over the swamp. A dry spot in the middle had a key, which opened a door at the far end, which led to a small hallway with a pull chain. This chain opened the double doors back in Lethe's chambers.
         
A tomb is kind of a weird place for a swamp.
   
Beyond the double doors was a chasm full of fire and fire elementals. I cast "Fly" and made my way to the other side, but I'm honestly curious how you possibly cross this chamber if you're not a spellcaster.
      
Seriously, what am I missing?
     
The final chamber had Praecor Loth's ghost, which delusionally thought we were back in his castle surrounded by living members of his court. Through a long conversation, I slowly convinced him that it was centuries later, he was dead, and everyone he knew was dead. He finally accepted reality and told me about his wars with the Guardian and the horn he carried: "To wield it requires great strength in the lungs--few can attain such strength, save by sorcerous means." He gave me the horn and slipped into the afterworld. A couple of platforms beyond held some treasure, including the banner looted from Killorn Keep.
       
If Louis Armstrong were the Avatar, the game would be over now.
      
I stopped in Helena's room on the way out, but she was gone entirely. I thus made my way back to Britannia. Surprisingly, nothing horrid had occurred in the castle since I was there last. Nystul had somehow heard of Praecor Loth and reiterated that we need to find some way to blow the horn. 

I spread some skill points around with Geoffrey, Syria, and Nystul, had Nystul treat the latest blackrock gem, and headed back to the basement. I had intended to go back to Killorn Keep, but I forgot what I was doing and entered the final facet of the gem. It's a freaky world full of a lot of platforms and vertical space, and I can tell "Fly" is going to be a big help.
    
This world looks like it's going to be interesting.
     
In the end, I blunt-forced my way through the Tomb of Praecor Loth and probably missed a lot of its subtleties and treasures. But I also think the game packed just a little too much content. I'm ready to be moving on to other worlds.
    
Time so far: 46 hours

59 comments:

  1. Reminds me of my experience playing Avernum recently: "Congratulations! You have finished the first of the three great quests in the game"
    Even though I had enjoyed my time with the game (maybe 40 hours at that point), I still let out a bit of a sigh.

    Similarly when I finished Baldur's Gate:EE last year, I really didn't need to head off to Ulgoth's Beard or whatever the expansion town is called.

    I find the closer I get to a story's climax, the less inclination I have to engage with freshly introduced content. I guess I want games to start quite open but gradually narrow to a linear end point.

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    1. You definitely get your money's worth with Spiderweb. He really packs in the content. It's almost too much of a good thing.

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    2. It's not necessarily how close to the climax it is - but the more I'm "done with the game" mentally the less I want to engage new content - so frontloading the variety and then letting me be more linear to the ending makes sense in general so that when I' m mentally done with something it's not that much more to get done with it.

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    3. I never finished Avernum - it is old-school and too long. Geneforge and Avadon can be finished, though; they are Jeff's best IMO and they do not outstay their welcome.

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    4. I had a great time with the first two Avadon games, but I was close to reaching burnout point before their ends. Can't argue that you don't get your money's worth, I suppose.

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    5. With Spiderweb, the first in the series is always the best. In subsequent games, he iterates the plot, at increasing length. Can't blame him, it's what the true fans want.

      I thought Avadon 1 was about right, though not as perfect as Geneforge.

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    6. By the way, my recollection of Avadon 1 is that it had an exp limit that you would reasonably hit, and the plot took you on to the end once you hit a certain point. It actually seems like the one that most prevents burnout.

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    7. Ah yes, the "I enjoy this game but please end now" phase of game playing. I agree that there definitely comes a point in every game where the game is clearly progressing to a climax but then they randomly introduce some new content and it's a real downer.

      I have also had problems lately when buying a 5-10 year old game off steam for the first time because it always seems to make sense to get whatever version
      comes with DLC ("Complete Edition", "Platinum Edition", etc), but DLC was usually originally designed for people who had already finished the game and wanted more several months after finishing. It instead has the effect of making the base game much more of a slog on the first playthrough as you are tempted to go off and do the DLC even though you are starting to tire of the game.

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    8. I always hated board gamers who showed up with a new game and every single expansion already. Like, what's wrong with the base game? The expansions change the game, for people who have played it to death already and have gotten bored. But no, the first time we play we have to deal with a million exceptions to the rules, hidden information, the Joker token, blah blah blah. And yet to suggest playing without all the expansions might as well be suggesting to punch a cute little puppy.

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    9. I think I order the Geneforge games: 2,1,5,4,3. They're each about 80 maps though, and I think that could be condensed to 65 without losing much.

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    10. I too love Spiderweb's games, but I wish the RPG part of it hadn't been so simplified throughout time.
      Still trying to find which of his "modern" games has a character creation as interesting as the first Exile trilogy

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    11. I wish there was a "game length" setting next to the difficulty setting when starting a game. "Compact" and "Full".

      The "Compact" setting would skip 40-50% of the levels and would place their NPCs, quest items and clues on other levels. The experience points for the other levels would get scaled accordingly so that the difficulty level stays the same.

      It'd be a decent amount of work for the developers to keep both variants coherent and bug-free, but, depending on the game, not necessarily *that* much.

      I'd probably mostly choose "Compact" except when playing a game for a second time, then I might choose "Full".

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    12. Interesting. I never got fatigue from Spiderweb games - they seem just the right length for me, usually at about 40-50 hours (Geneforge series entries seem shorter at about 30 hours, but I really don't mind 50-hours games).

      One game got me beat, though - Terse Brothers "Heroes of Steel". I was about 100 hours in when I felt I could no longer press forward - character development reached the cap, battles grew very repetitive and yet I felt the story would probably go on for 100 hours more. One of the very few RPGs I ever dropped without reaching the final boss.

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    13. I completely agree with the 'I like this game but I'm done' being a serious phase of gaming. I'm happy when games end right as I'm entering this phase, that's probably 'the perfect length'.

      It's also interesting seeing people's opinions about Vogel's various series, since unlike one of the above commenters I'd say that Avadon is the one that outstays its welcome the most because despite being short you hit the level cap easily and there's not a lot to work for.

      Avernum at least lets you slowly continue to level and had a greater variety of interesting items and encounters and a lot more spells/powers. I think it's the perfect complexity with Exile being way too complex and Avadon being too simplistic.

      Geneforge is definitely the series I thought I'd hate but actually love, although I can't imagine playing as anything other than somebody as magic second or primary.

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    14. Exile III is my favorite rpg, followed closely by Exile II. Exile I is fun, but way too clunky. I found the Avernum remakes to be a watered down experience and pretty forgettable.

      Also, since the Exile series was brought up, there's a Youtuber called SallieKat who did a Let's Play of Exile I and is now more than halfway through Exile II. She's quite good because she has a long history with the games and knows all the ins and outs.

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    15. SKCarr,

      I'm curious what you think the remakes water down as compared to the originals?

      I've tried to get into the original Exile games multiple times and have bounced off. I'd been planning on taking another run at them when I learned about the remakes. I thought they might be more to my liking, so I'm curious what makes you think they are lesser.

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    16. I'm having this problem with Elden Ring. I guess there is such a thing as "too much of a good thing".

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    17. Justin,

      For the most recent Avernum remakes, the usual complaints are things like simplified skills, smaller spell library, 4 party members instead of 6 and other simplified or removed mechanics. The justification for these choices is that it makes a more streamlined and accessible game. You won't die as much trying to figure out all of the combat spells and there will be less restarting to try and find the optimal party composition. So I definitely see where Toren is coming from with his comment above and if you haven't played the Exile series, you'll probably enjoy the remakes. However, I found them to be way less engaging. I should note, I actually liked Avernum V and VI which had no Exile counterpart, but they aren't classics like Exile II and III.

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    18. Game fatigue really does depend on how much the lore and characters engage you. For example, there's a JRPG Radiant Historia Perfect Chronicle on the Nintendo 3DS (which Chet will reach in 2030) that I got so hooked on that I kept on putting off the final battle and exploring every single side quest and DLC mission I could get because it was so much fun being in that world that I just didn't want to get to the end. But the main quest of that game is 30 hours so it doesn't live out its welcome and the side quests / DLC missions are well written and add depth to the characters and lore that I already loved. OTOH Dragon Quest 7 3DS was just long and I was ready to be done long before the end.

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    19. SKCarr, I do believe that Exile is amazing for just.. Jeff throwing the kitchen sink at a game and it basically still ends up working. It's wacky, weird, huge, inventive, with tons of spells and abilities and it's a historical masterpiece. I could never be sad about somebody having it as their favorite. That said, I would also never recommend it as 'the game to start with' for anyone modern, which you sort of alluded to as well. Whenever I try to get somebody new to try one of Vogel's games, I point them at the re-remake of Exile, Avernum: Escape from the Pit.

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    20. "unlike one of the above commenters I'd say that Avadon is the one that outstays its welcome the most because despite being short you hit the level cap easily and there's not a lot to work for."

      In my case I hit the exp limit when I was already entering the home run. So it worked for me. If you were grinding more and hit it earlier I can understand how it would be frustrating.

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  2. a guy named Trystero guarding a horn.... Pynchon reference?

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    1. Dunno why I can't sign in with Google; guess I'm anonymous for this one. Anyway:

      Yes, I'm glad I'm not the only person to notice this.

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  3. I think your approach is fair play. UUW games are the precursors of the immersive sim genre after all, which prioritizes consistent rules and emergent situations that stem from them to scripted content. After all, if they didn't want you bruteforcing (spellforcing?) these levels, they could have introduced the same restrictions as in castle level or the mage academy.
    It's rather paradoxical if you think of it - and kinda sad - that as technologies developed in the 21st, RPGs started becoming more scripted and less simulated than they were before. It's particularly evident in the evolution of TES - every game after Daggefall becomes less and less sandboxy and more and more scripted. But even roguelike these days tend to rely less on emergent interactions of something like Nethack and more on randomizing a deck of pre-written events.

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    1. Hmm...sad?

      I agree that modern games have a stronger narrative element to them, but sad seems like a, shall we say, pejorative description.

      I was a huge fan of roguelikes in my day (Nethack, Angband and (shout-out) Larn being particular favorites). I really loved those games (and the hundreds of hours I spent playing them).

      Still, modern "roguelikes" are to my mind, just better games. Hades marries the traditional roguelike to action that even a 50 year old can master.

      More importantly, it gives a narrative thrust to the game as a whole -- each individual playthrough still matters, sure, but losing advances a story.

      Man, if I'd had Hades instead of Angband in college, I probably wouldn't have graduated at all.

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    2. I don't know if RPGs became less simulated, but I think UU's lineage became less RPG (eg Dishonored), UU's RPG-specific elements are pretty weak to begin with.

      Similarly to Justin, as much as I love ADOM, I wouldn't recommend it to many people ahead of FTL, Monster Train, Dungeon of the Endless, or Hades.

      I think modern roguelikes have demonstrated that you dont need to lock cool emergent gameplay behind obscure rules and punishing death mechanics.

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    3. stepped pyramidsJune 3, 2022 at 8:13 PM

      It's not like simulationism has disappeared in gaming, and the immersive sim genre was always kind of niche -- and in practice I think a substantial part of the audience for immersive sim games liked them despite the jankiness inherent to simulation (and another part liked them for the simulation elements without caring much about the storytelling).

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    4. There's also people that like the jankiness in it's own right. Breaking games can be fun, and simulationy games have considerably more potential points of failure you can play around with.

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    5. Simulationism hasn't disappeared, but it's greatly decreased. Which is paradoxical - the current tech is way more powerful than what existed at the time of U7 and UUW development, yet few of contemporary games reach the levels of interactivity of these 30 year old titles, not to mention that none seem to have surpassed them.
      Take TES for example: Morrowind greatly shrunk the gameworld of Daggerfall/Arena; Oblivion removed levitation spell and introduced immortal "essential" NPCs; Skyrim removed the rest of the terraine traversal spells and killed spellmaking. Where in Morrowind and Daggerfall any (unless I'm forgetting something) door could be opened with a high enough skill/spell, lots of doors in Oblivion and Skyrim can only be opened with respective quest items.
      That's why I find it sad - the more RPGs aim for scripted, narrative-heavy, cinematic experience, the less freedom they leave to the player. Which makes sense because while systemic interactions can lead to potentially infinite emergent situations, scripting means manually accounting for everything.
      And regarding immersive sims - to my knowledge, there are exactly two studios making them: Arkane and Eidos. Not exactly a huge market niche.

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    6. I read those complaints against TES games all the time, and while I KIND OF agree with them, I also recognize that the comparatively open worlds of Daggerfall and Morrowind came at the cost of either narrative simplicity or narrative confusion. No procedurally-generated world like Daggerfall is ever going to completely immerse me, for instance. And while in Morrowind, yes, you could lockpick your way to Lord Vivec the moment you had enough skill, the resulting conversation wouldn't make a lot of sense--much like what happened to me in The Black Gate when I used "Telekinesis" to get into Hook's chambers well before I was "supposed" to be there. So a few NPCs you can't kill and a few doors that require specific keys aren't, to me, a huge price to pay for a little more narrative cohesion. It's not like Skyrim and Oblivion are closed worlds. You might occasionally encounter a door you can't open, but there's still a pretty big world to explore in just about any order you want.

      There's no excuse for Skyrim's spell system, though.

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    7. Sure, but the question is - why has narrative complexity become preferable to gameplay complexity, to the point that the latter could be sacrificed for the former?

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    8. I don't think they have. To me, it sounds like you're after a very specific sort of game, for which there are only a handful of examples, ever.

      There are tons of games with far more complexity and emergent behaviours than UU, and a lot of them even have an RPG vibe: https://www.gamesradar.com/au/games-like-minecraft/

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    9. Sometimes devs pull back from what can be done to focus on what should be done. I always laughed at how in 1985 you could push furniture around in Knight Lore on the Spectrum, and it was at least 1995 before any new game would let you move furniture!

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    10. And in Dungeon Master from 1987 you could throw objects through metal bars. I remember thinking how ridicilous it was that you couldn't do it in Oblivion nearly twenty years later. And I wouldn't be surprised if modern games have the same limitations.

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    11. @Tristan all I'm after is the experience of a PnP RPG - of being able to improvise solutions to problems with the capabilities that my character build gives me. Simulation-heavy RPGs and immersive sims give me that experience; scripting-heavy RPGs do not.

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    12. It's one reason why I was so impressed by the otherwise very flawed Metal Gear Solid 5. It's an action/stealth game, but there were lots of different ways to complete the missions, some obvious and in keeping with the genre of the game, and many not so much. I remember thinking that it felt more like the "tactical infinity" of a tabletop rpg than many computer rpgs.

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  4. I think Tomb of Praecor Loth is one the best worlds and storied of the game. It's a pity that you are burned out on the game already. Hopefully you'll enjoy the next one, from the screenshot it looks like the Ethereal Realm. As I recall... things can get really wacky there.

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  5. It's ironic that - more often than not - one will notice that the final quests in a game are perfunctory. But Chet gives us a reason why maybe they should be!

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  6. I didn't want to seem truculent, but now that you've complained about it as well, I figure I have carte blanche.

    This game is utterly ruining the shock value of pentagrams! There are just too many of them for each individual one to come across as anything but banal and trite. The same goes for the Guardian heraldry. They are not shocking to come across, a sign of true evil and vileness, but are so common that when you see one you just think "Oh boy. The game wants me to know this is EEEEEVIL."

    Not to disregard how uncreative it is that the exact motif of a pentacle with a candle at each point is considered to be evil in both Brittania and all the worlds that the Guardian has conquered, EXACTLY the same meaning that it has (for some people) on Earth. And don't even get me STARTED on Pagan's box art. Or the name, in fact. I know I just slagged on the recycled Guardian-head motifs, but even his eyes gazing from behind the flames would have made for a more striking image to introduce the buyer to a broken world full of malice and evil rather than... that.

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    1. People at Origin were just really into the occult and paganism and loved putting these symbols into their games.

      It could be worse, it could be furries. We only had to put up with a centaur stripper mural and some bunny transformations.

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    2. the pentagrams are summoning circles and are used as such throughout the game, not as "evil". I would doubt they were ever supposed to be "shocking", I certainly wasn't shocked by them playing this as a youngster!

      Also these are worlds conquered by the Guardian, there will be guardian-related stuff there, it's not supposed to be a surprise or shock (after the first Prison Tower anyway), it's supposed to show a theme, and what might happen to Brittania if you don't succeed.

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    3. I love that P-Tux is so passionate about this too much to argue.

      Pagan is like Lords of Midnight in that once you find out what the word means in the context of the game, the title becomes a lot less cool. I'm trying to think of other games we could put in that category.

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    4. One that jumps out at me is Gwent in The Witcher 3. Perhaps it seems a fantasyish name to international audiences, but it's basically "Would you like to play a round of New Jersey?"

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    5. Perihelion is another.

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  7. "It's also too bad that the Avatar's role in unmasking him is entirely passive."

    *Or* was his plan all along to convince you to do the work of saving the kingdom for him? I wager he chuckles to himself over a fine cigar and a brandy while you're off battling the Guardian. Then you get back and he's all like, "What?"

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  8. It's a bit sad you got a bit burnt out on the game here - the Tomb is one of my favorite worlds. But you were very thorough before, e.g. I sometimes skip level 3 of the Pits entirely, so maybe that is part of the reason.

    On Patterson I agree that it is a flaw of how passive the Avatar is in discovering him - just being at the right place at the time. On redemption I'd disagree and will say that I am fine with that - I think a realistic and still positive message is that everyone can be redeemed, but not everyone will take the chance when they get it. And resisting the Guardian can be hard - this is one of the parts I like about UW2: seeing all the worlds he already conquered. If redemption gets too common it's not special anymore - a good example (which I like otherwise) are the Star Wars Legends where having at least a brief stint on the Dark Side and then returning to the light was practically a rite of passage for Jedi.

    Umbra definitely has dialogue, even some call-backs to previous games in the series. I am not sure why he started out hostile for you - can't recall that happening to me.

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    1. I'm curious how you skip Level 3 of the Pits. Don't you need the djinni from the Z-guy?

      Fortunately, the game came around again during the last session. It was a temporary malaise.

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    2. You do, but Z-guy is on level 2. Though you can skip most of level 2 with levitate.

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  9. Having someone other than Patterson be the traitor might be more "interesting" but would it make any sense? I'm not sure how you would justify the betrayal of one of the Avatar's close friends and allies.

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    1. It's not like their personalities and back stories are well-scripted. Dupre's love of wine, women, and song is the closest thing we have to a real characterization. Julia, Jaana, Maria, and Katrina change completely across the different games. I could hardly say it would be "out of character" for Julia to turn on the Avatar because she doesn't have a consistent character in the first place.

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    2. I couldn't quite follow what happened with Patterson, but it seems he's not a traitor from the start but just couldn't handle the situation anymore? That could have happened to other characters just as well.

      And why does he drop the knife and starts attacking someone armed with an axe with his fists?

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    3. Yeah they could easily have turned one of the companions logically, but there’s no way a side game would ever be allowed to do so… particularly right before Ultima VII Part Two.

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    4. they don't have much character to that point, but they are established as being the Avatar's friends or allies, and most were specifically examples of a particular virtue in Ultima IV (Dupre was Honor, Jaana was Justice etc.). So a betrayal would be of quite a magnitude in order to subvert the whole system that is what they themselves helped establish. Writing this would be a bit of a challenge because you'd need to justify why someone who, up to this point, was a staunch defender of Britannia and the Virtues throughout everything so far, would decide to betray everything... for what?

      There are other characters, but I think you'd probably have the same criticism as for Patterson if it were a minor character like Lady Tori or someone who was just invented for this game.

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    5. Honestly, they had a whole dimension of evil doppelgangers to work with. They could've made absolutely anyone the traitor and then have you rescue the real one from Killorn's dungeons later. (I suppose that would mean allowing others to travel between worlds too, and that might've broken some rule somewhere.)

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    6. Yeah, Patterson was always a weak-willed man. Guardian must've found him an easy target.

      As shown in some dialogue options, he regretted what he did, and at first tried to help - but everyone kept pushing him away as 'useless'.

      It's not disproving 'everyone is redeemable' but shows some might not manage it on their own.

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    7. All right, I'm persuaded. Patterson was the sensible choice.

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  10. It's fascinating seeing you run out of steam and burn out at just the same point I did on my replay of this game about a year ago. I suspect, unlike me, you will still finish. I wonder if it's because you've essentially capped yourself? You don't need any more points in skills, you are extremely unlikely to find any more interesting loot that changes how you play the game, and now you're just slogging through puzzles to try to achieve the end.

    I honestly remember nothing about the last world other than my first view of it on clicking the facet so this isn't a spoiler, I just remember hitting it after the tomb of Praetor Loth, looking at it, deciding I didn't have the willpower for another puzzly zone, and shutting the game down and never making it back.

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    1. I haven't finished yet, but I can't imagine I won't.

      I don't feel too harmed by the game's level caps. Nothing much is "capped" except for maximum hit points. You still continue to gain skills, and they're still useful.

      The fortunate thing is this feeling goes up and down. I started my next session (in the Ethereal Void) still wishing the game would just be OVER, but I was in a pretty good mood by the end of it, particularly because I think the game did something amazing (as you'll read).

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  11. I had a similar burnout experience with Witcher 3 recently. By Act 3, I just wanted to get it over with but the game kept throwing more and more stuff at me. I also did Hearts of Stone at the same time with Act 3, which might have been a mistake.
    Witcher 3 casts a good glamour spell, but eventually you start being bothered by the repetitive and simple quest design that always has some mandatory boss battles thrown into it (UU2 has much better gameplay, much more immersive).
    I pretty much hated Hearts of Stone. Was burnout at the end of Act 3, only remotely invested in the emotional stakes.
    But a few months later, I'm enjoying Blood and Wine immensely.

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