Posted by: Ben | December 24, 2009

Man vs Genre: Akalabeth: World Of Doom

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The Facts

Written by Richard Garriott (aka Lord British, hereinafter referred to as Lord British the Poet). Published by California Pacific in 1980.  One of the first computer RPGs, and the precursor to the Ultima series.  This is the DOS version, obtained from what looks like a legit web site, and running on DOSbox via DOSBox Game Launcher.

The Cover

What I think is the box art shows a large winged demon somewhat resembling the Balrog in the Lord Of The Rings movie, leering and salivating over an individual in a dress who is either cowering in fear or about to smite it with magic.  The typeface for the game’s title looks like it was drawn in crayon.  The cover of the manual, on the other hand, has an illustration of a mad-eyed bearded fellow smashing a skeleton’s head in.  The artist is Denis Loubet, who would stay with the Ultima series to the end.

The Lore

‘Tis said that long ago, peace and tranquillity covered the lands.  Food and drink flowed freely, man and beast lived in peace, gold and silver abounded.  It was the golden age of Akalabeth. To summarise: we’re in the land of Akalabeth, named for a section of Tolkien’s Silmarillion, which was a nice place until the king’s second son Mondain turned to the bad, establishing a series of dungeons throughout the land.  Mondain was driven from Akalabeth forever by a hero called British, who was then proclaimed Lord British (hereinafter referred to as Lord British the Pilgrim).  Our Hero is drafted in by Lord British the Pilgrim to help restore stability to the land of Akalabeth.

Character Building

The star of our adventure is Keema Korma, whose lucky number is 14 and who looks like a + sign.

Keema is a mage, with skills (automatically applied) as follows.

Hit points        21
Strength           18
Dexterity         23
Stamina           22
Wisdom           19
Gold                23

The Game

The game begins in the Adventure Shop, where food and weapons can be obtained.  As a Mage, I can’t use rapiers or bows.  The magic amulet looks tempting, but I have been warned about the risks of starving to death so I select a cheaper axe instead, leaving me with more money for food.  I also buy a shield.  I don’t spend all my gold, hanging on to some of it in case I need it later.

Right, now we’re on the overground view.  My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to find the castle.  Soon I get there.  No, wait, that’s a tree.

After wandering around for a while, it occurs to me that I’m lost. I haven’t made a map, which is a schoolboy error.  It was too much to expect these old games to have automapping.

Eventually I find my way back to the starting town.  I’ve already used more than half my food supply.  Best spend what I have left on food, I can always buy some more.

Following further exploration, I find the castle at the far end of the map.  Inside I meet Lord British, who calls me a peasant and gives me my first quest:  Go into the dungeons and kill a carrion crawler.  Piece of cake.

The only features of importance on the map are the dungeons, the towns and the castle.  Ideally what I want is a dungeon that’s adjacent to a town, both of which are nice and convenient for the castle.  A little more exploration is in order.

Eventually I find a likely-looking dungeon.  Time to go inside.  The dungeon is presented in first person 3D.  There’s a ladder in front of me leading up, which must be the way I came in.  Mapping time.

Oh God, it’s… a thief!  Right, have at ye!  Killed him! And I receive 3 pieces of eight (which is apparently equivalent to gold.)

Exploring the dungeon a little further, I realise that my mapmaking has gone awry and I’m right back where I started.  The first-person perspective is making this incredibly difficult.  Eventually I settle on drawing only the square I’m standing on and ignoring the landmarks I can see in front of me.  It’s still iffy on plain unlined paper.  Time I invested in some graph paper, I believe.

Having thoroughly explored the top level of the dungeon I fear that thief might have been the only bad guy here.  I’m faced with the choice of descending into the second level or leaving to find a shop.  If I wasn’t so vulnerable I’d be down in that dungeon right now. But I fear death, so I leave.

I find a different dungeon, one that’s a little handier for a town.  This dungeon contains a thief and a giant rat.  Better.  Hey- that thief stole my axe!

Descending to the deeper levels produces a wider variety of foes, such as orcs and vipers.  On Level 2 I get lost again. I fall through a hidden trap and end up in a closed section with no exits.  Fortunately I had my magic amulet to get me out of it. I tried the Ladder Down spell, thinking I had discovered an easy way to enter and leave the dungeon, but this seemed to cause the loss of the amulet, meaning I had to fight my way out of the dungeon without knowing the way.  While down there I find a carrion crawler, or it finds me.  It’s a tough monster that looks a bit like a jellyfish.  I kill it with an axe, but now I have only 8 hit points and no obvious way of getting back up.  I get as far as Level 2, where I am cut down in my prime by the unlikely team of a thief, an orc and a giant rat.  Lord British will have to find another adventurer to do his dirty work for him.

Total play time: 45mins.

Missions completed: 1.  (Killed a Carrion Crawler.)

Verdict: A pure experience of going underground and getting into fights.  “Role playing” in this context seems to be purely a matter of having stats and being able to improve some of them.  Limited but appealing.

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