Posted by: Ben | December 31, 2009

Ultima Part 2: Graves, Princesses and Outer Space

Man vs Genre is here.
Part 1 is here.

As I discovered last time, when you die in Ultima you respawn outdoors, with 99 health and 99 food, having lost your vehicle and any more advanced armour and weapons. It seems you usually retain basic armour and weapons. If I hope to progress from this scenario I need to pick a dungeon and a town and stick to them, which is how I managed to get the aircar in the first place. Weirdly, the dungeons are safer than the open air. Foes are easier to kill, and you gain hit points just for leaving. Once again I favour more expensive equipment, theorising that RPG logic will be the same as my wife’s, ie better = more expensive. Given that I am a wizard, I also invest money in a magic staff (which I imagine will make my magic better) and some killing spells. The staff is promptly stolen by a thief in the dungeon. I die again.

I don’t recall having these problems last time I played it. With its expensive and inefficient magic, this is not a game that is biased towards squishy wizards.

I proceed cautiously. Sticking to the safer levels of the dungeons, I battle my way to the cash for another aircar. I wonder what they fuel them with. Soon I have crossed the ocean and found the Grave of the Lost Soul. Back to Lord British and he gives me 10 strength. Woo-hoo.

There’s a big world, which is actually enjoyable to explore and map, or at least it would have been enjoyable to map but I got halfway around the coast of the Lands Of The Feudal Lords, realised I’d missed a few squares and would have to start again if I wanted to put it right, so I gave up, meaning I could whizz around Sosaria at approximately 5000 times my previous speed, although I don’t know where I’m going and am therefore more likely to run out of food.

Right, we’re motoring now. Time for the free weapons exploit. One landmark (the Pillars of the Argonauts) gives you a weapon upgrade every time you enter it. The other (the Pillars of Ozymandias) increases your wisdom. Fly back and forth between the two for long enough, and you will be very wise and exceptionally well-armed. That there is the essence of the computer role playing game distilled into one action. Now I buy ladder up and down spells to get to the deeper dungeons effectively. I discover that if you cast a ladder down spell at the entrance to a dungeon, you change the exit into a ladder down and are trapped in the dungeon forever, unless you have a ladder up spell to turn it back.

Using ladder up and down spells, killing the carrion crawler is a simple matter. I am surprised and frightened by the nature of the beasts on level five, which include minotaurs that can claim hundreds of hit points at a time.

And now, the walkthrough gets interesting. Apparently, I have to rescue princesses from castles to gain experience. The walkthrough advises – “Enter the Black Dragon’s castle again and kill the jester. Run to the prison and unlock the door, if it doesn’t unlock, restore and try again.” No restoring for me, I’m afraid. If it doesn’t unlock, I don’t know what I shall do.

Ok, I’m in the castle. I’ve got 1009 hit points. The jester’s singing “I’ve got the key!” This is a good sign. I murder him in cold blood with the blaster. I head for the prison. The guards are pursuing, although they are unintelligent and keep running into walls. There is a guard in the way, who takes some killing. The castle guards are considerably tougher than the assorted warlocks and necromancers who are supposed to be terrorising the populace. I wonder why these kings can’t spare a few for wilderness patrol duty. I try to unlock the door. Forsooth! Thou hast not the correct key! Let’s hope I can get out of the castle without getting deaded. I can, but at the substantial cost of 389 hit points. I decide to top up on hit points before attempting another rescue. Returning to the castle, I wonder if the guards will remember my face. They don’t, and the ones I killed have regenerated. So has the jester.

I notice the guards don’t object if you take pot-shots at the jester, only if you actually kill him. The jester still doesn’t have the correct key. I’m assuming that if I keep coming back to the same castle enough times, the key will be the right one. I now have more money than hit points, so I decide to buy hit points off the king before stealing his daughter, or is it somebody else’s daughter?

Nice princess. I'll take it.

On the third attempt, the princess is released. All I now need to do is get her out of the castle. She’s so grateful that she gives me 500 health, 500 experience and £5 in change.
A short while later I return to buy more hit points from the king. He has recaptured the princess and recruited new guards and a new jester.

I head to Dungeon Level 7, The Hole, to look for a Lich. No Lich. One Tangler and a placid Wraith. Best go down to Level 8, where there is a disappointingly tiny Gremlin. These creatures of the deeper dungeonsdon’t carry any more cash than those higher up, disappointingly. And still no Lich. I tangle with a Tangler, and have a lucky escape with 32 hit points remaining. Most of those are replenished on leaving the dungeon, but I need more hit points before looking for another Lich. I find one in another nearby dungeon, called The Long Death. Returning to the king, I get a blue gem, to go with two red ones that I appear to have acquired. “My! You are so good at this,” says the walkthrough, sarcastically.

Once I’ve made some more money (by rescuing the same princess five more times – the grind is starting to get pretty tedious now), it’ll be time for the space combat section. It is comparatively easy to die in space, which would effectively send me right back to the beginning.

Okay, here we go.

Space: The Final Frontier

Right: I’m in space. I’m in a shuttle, but what I need is a fighter with hyperspace capability. There’s a station nearby where I can change ships. Simply fly into it, then tap very gently on one of the directional keys that you’re already using to fly the ship, then you can… oh no, got the wrong ship… let’s try again. That’s better.

I fly around for a while, and shoot some aliens. Not that difficult, really. I’m running low on fuel, but fortunately there’s a space station where you can change ships. Every time you do this, the game very quietly deducts you 500 coins. When you’re down to your last 500 and running out of fuel, it’s probably time to get back in your shuttle and go home… oops, wrong ship, let’s just… what do you mean I can’t afford the docking fee?

There’s nothing left to do but crash my star figher (equipped with hyperdrive, but not, sadly, heatshields) right into my home planet. I survive, of course. With 99 hit points, no weapons, and a good three hours’ grind in front of me before I get another shot at the shoot-em-up section. That’s not my idea of a reasonable penalty for dying in an arcade game.

Part 3 is here


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