Sunday, June 29, 2014

Ultima II: Trudgin' Along

Life is picking up speed again, or at least it has for the past week or so, but I'm still pushing forward, albeit slowly. This post is a couple days due at this point, covering a session from... Wednesday-ish, I think, but hey, slow and steady wins the race and all that!

And now on to the good stuff.

Not yet, but I'm sure I will eventually.
There comes a point in the Ultima games (and indeed, most RPGs) where the game readily and definitively opens up. A point where the training wheels come off, a point where basic survival is no longer an issue and honest-to-goodness exploration becomes truly possible, where early stumbling blocks become little more than a small speed bump, if that. The definitive transition from Act I to Act II, from the humble beginnings to the real meat of the story and the game.

For Akalabeth, that moment is figuring out the magic amulet, skyrocketing your stats to nigh deity-level, whereby the only real limiting factor anymore becomes your food counter - and even then, you've got an easy way to beat up beasties for the gold necessary to replenish it.

For Ultima I, I think that moment comes when you obtain your first ranged weapon, able to start wearing down enemies before they can strike you back, allowing you to approach fights with less worry that each one will turn into a battle of attrition. This in turn allows you to put your money toward things other than hit points, and lets you push your way further into dungeons and spend longer out in the world rather than attempting to keep to the safety of the towns or castles.

For Ultima II, that moment is unequivocally the moment you commandeer your first ship.

Yep, he's definitely programmed to receive.
Up until that point, it's a desperate dashing about from here to there, hoping enemies will spawn where you can actually do something about them, hoping that your stats are enough to not make you lose too many hit points, hoping that you'll be able to scrounge up enough gold to replenish your food or at least be able to swipe enough...

That all changes once you get a ship. Your cannons can strike down most enemies in one hit, their location is no object to you as you can reach the islands, food has no meaning as it doesn't decrease when you're on a ship - you can then turn your goals toward more far-reaching things. Collecting enough gold to increase your stats, stocking up enough food to make exploration a bit more feasible.

I have no idea what this thing is.
And indeed, that was the first thing I did. This post actually covers two sessions, but I took no screenshots through the first as it was entirely spent sailing around the AD years looking for literal cannon fodder - I don't know how many creatures I blasted in the name of treasure. By the end of it I was swimming in gold and had gained a couple levels. (Which reminds me - what's the point of keeping track of levels and experience if they have no discernible effect whatsoever? Gaining levels doesn't increase my stats, and it's not even a requirement of anything else as far as my knowledge goes - at least Ultima I required you to be level 8 before a princess would tell you where a time machine was.)

When I started my next session, I blew all my gold on raising my hit points to respectable levels, then sailed over to the Hotel California to up my stats. Musing briefly on being a prisoner there of my own device, I wandered around New San Antonio to get a sense of the lay of the land - I'd come here often, after all. There were monsters in the pool there (whose bright idea was that!?) and I learned at the pub that mages carried wands and staffs, and that aviators needed skull keys. I also explored Lord British's castle a little more, and found a brother by the name of Antos in the chapel that asked me if I'd met his father yet.

With that under my belt, I decided to timegate myself over to Pangaea and see what I could see there - the map took some deciphering, but I eventually made my way over and stumbled my way into Baradin's Town. The deli was rather crowded there, and I stumbled across an oracle, but I had no money for a reading, so I made a mental note to check back later. On my way back, I realized just how many monsters crowded the very beginnings of the planet - I made a mental note to come back when I was a little stronger.

What the heck is this referring to?
While I was out exploring, I decided to snag a couple clerical spells (that was why I had no money for an oracle reading) and a new sword, then make my way into a tower. Dungeons and towers are different experiences than they were in Ultima I - I needed torches to see my way, I came across monsters that would blow them out, I stumbled across many traps that tools helped me get through... all in all, dungeons and towers struck me as rather more dangerous places than they had been in Ultima I. Less variety of creatures, but more interesting to navigate.

Still, I was losing more than I was gaining from the venture, so after gathering some more gold, I went back to Baradin's Town to see if I could get any good advice from the oracle - and promptly got swarmed. I'm pretty sure I had to fight through a conga line of at least a dozen creatures before I could make my way into town. That was... well, one of the most entertainingly tense experiences I'd had yet in this round of Ultima II. I gained little use from the oracle for my trouble, being told that the Queen is the King and the King is a spy, whatever that meant, and a musing on the evil man is capable of. I suppose I should know something about that, considering all I'm about to do.

It was about there that I drew my session to a close again, my next goal getting enough resources to up my stats to the point where I could start smacking guards around and beginning to enact some of that aforementioned evil that men are capable of. Grinding ahoy!

Everybody wants a piece of me...

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