Friday, February 27, 2015

Ultima IV: Into the Depths

It strikes me that the terminology for an avatar to be can be a little confusing at times. An eight-part avatar is not automatically the Avatar, despite the fact that that's kind of what it suggests, seeing as there's eight parts to the code of virtues that Avatar must abide by... I'm not sure what a better term would be for one who's attained enlightenment in all eight virtues but not yet completed the Quest of the Avatar proper yet. Almost-Avatar? Junior Avatar?

Well, this has 'long nap' written all over it.
Well, whatever the term, that's where I found myself at the end of my last session, and so this session meant it was time to gather the rest of the items that I needed for my eventual venture into the Stygian Abyss. As I saw it, I had two options of going about that. On the one hand, I could seek out the hidden city near Lock Lake. The citizens of the realm had pointed me there for information on all kinds of things - the white stone, the black stone, the Candle of Love, the Word of Passage... I'd need to follow up on all of these leads eventually. When it came to information and clues, it seemed like all roads led to Cove. On the other hand, there were six other stones that needed to be gathered, and I knew that these could be found in the various dungeons scattered over the land. I knew there was a secret entrance to Hythloth in Lord British's castle somewhere, and I'd stumbled upon the entrance to another in my travels. I also knew that there were altar rooms deep in the bottoms of the dungeons that connected them to each other (and I can only imagine the convoluted geography necessary that would make such a thing possible). The only question was which route I should pursue first.

I opted for a plunge into the dungeons. I'd have to make my foray into their depths sooner or later, and I'd have to get used to the nature of the gloomy passages that wound their way under the surface of Britannia - they were sure to be worse in the Abyss itself! Besides, it would be a good way to gather more gold for supplies, build up the strength of my companions, and get used to guiding this group. Of course, since Lord British had recognized my growth at the end of my last session, I could add another to my band. We were lacking both a fighter and a mage, so after a moment's consideration, it was off to Moonglow to pick up Mariah (along with a bit extra food, now that the party was larger we were going through rations quicker), whose magical prowess would surely be a boon to the group.

SO glad I have ranged weaponry for this one.
Having expanded the party to seven, and with an excursion into the dangerous world of the Britannian underground looming, I opted to take some time to gather what supplies I was able, and outfit my fellows with the best equipment I could get. That meant a trip to Buccaneer's Den, where I sold a few of the Mystic Weapons I'd obtained in Serpent's Hold - not that I doubted their strength, but I had learned long ago that range tended to trump power in this age of Britannia. In a sense, that almost seemed fitting, based on the lessons I'd learned - that there are things more important than brute strength and raw power. (I'd be rather surprised if reflecting that idea was a conscious part of the design of Ultima IV's combat system, but I must admit I do find it fairly fitting for the theme of the game, if only in a small way.) After some negotiations with some questionable merchants (this was Buccaneer's Den, after all), I along with Iolo and Mariah were brandishing magic wands, while Dupre, Shamino and Julia had magic bows at the ready. Poor Katrina was still stuck with her sling, but she assured the rest of us she was quite content. We were all clad in the mystic robes we'd found in Empath Abbey's grove, and while we were in the Den we saw fit to spend the rest of our funds on magic gems for mapping purposes within the dungeons, and reagents for whatever magical assistance we could make use of in the depths. We even made a foray into the forest west of Britain in order to gather a little nightshade - not much, but enough to provide that little boost, just in case. Katrina and Mariah earned enough experience during these preparations to gain a level each.

With our coffers emptied, spent on amenities for subterranean exploration, we trekked through the mountains to the entrance to the dungeon Despise, situated just a little ways north of Britain's moongate. (I never remember where any of the other dungeons are. I really should fix that one of these days, my mental map of Britannia is missing that crucial detail.) We took a moment to gather ourselves and steel our nerves, then with a breath of trepidation we set foot into the darkened cavern and lit a torch.

Those poison fields were not kind to my little band.
Going into this playthrough, I was determined to refrain from making use of the dungeon teleportation spells, the Up, Down, and X-it spells. They're useful things, to be sure, and I made copious and repeated use of them during my first time through the game (and many of them after), but I've never really taken the time to explore the dungeons proper, or at least try and push my way through them without zapping myself past all (well, most) of the obstacles. It does present an interesting trade-off, though - expediency for experience. Actually pressing through all the obstacles, while time-consuming and taking a toll on resources, provides a fair amount of experience, because these aren't just the orcs and rogues and skeletons that wander through the overworld - these are the zorns, the balrons, the dragons, the liches, the reapers - the harder monsters that deliver experience at a more rapid rate. Either you can zip through the dungeons and claim their prizes, or you can take your time and get rewarded for the experience. I like the fact both options are possible, as I've had uses for both approaches in my past playthroughs.

Despise was a fairly straightfoward dungeon, I found. There was only one real 'fork' in it that I came across, one leading to the yellow stone and the other down to the bottom floor where the altar room of Love could be found. I panicked upon seeing a room full of gremlins on the way down, and Tremored my way through it, only to realize I went the wrong way and had to fight my way through it again. Fortunately, my party was strong enough to pound the gremlins into the ground before they had a chance to steal any food from me - in fact, through all my dungeon crawling, I only had a gremlin swipe a couple units worth of food twice. Dupre touched a magical orb in the dungeon, taking a hard hit in exchange for extra dexterity, and Shamino would do the same further down in the depths. This was also where I and my entourage encountered our first reaper fight, which meant a lot of us got a mid-battle nap. It wasn't long before I found the yellow stone on the fifth floor past a windy corridor, though, and with plenty of supplies left we pushed onward into the depths.

After working our way through a room absolutely covered in fire, sleep and poison fields (many cure spells were needed during the plunge, as I'll make mention of later), we made our way into Covetous through the altar room of Love. It turned out the orange stone lay just one level above the altar room we'd come in from, through a fair few secret walls, but it was otherwise pretty much just a straight shot. Having come what I came in for, it was back to the altar room for me, and I ducked into Wrong. That turned out to be slightly less straightforward, but still rather simple - all we had to do was zip up a level via a ladder that was right outside the door, and then back down again via a different ladder. From there it was a pretty simple, direct route to the green stone - though I had a bit of trepidation when we passed through a room with a few lava lizards, which we hadn't come across yet. Fortunately the lava in the room stayed pretty contained, otherwise it could have become a little tense.

Oh, so THAT'S where I am.
The altar room of Truth was in a corridor just past the stone, so I slipped in there and headed for Deceit. Which was more full of traps rather than tricks, though I did take a somewhat roundabout way of getting to the blue stone, past several magical fields. Fitting, I suppose, for the dungeon that was supposed to be the antithesis of the virtue the mages hold to. I was running fairly low on reagents by this point, and I figured that it might be wisest to climb my way back to the surface and restock. Again, it was more traps than tricks that did me in, although there was one trick on the second floor that tripped me up for a bit - the room's exit kept disappearing on me! I eventually figured out I had to stick to the room's edges to get it to reappear and let me out. I also found an orb that I let Mariah touch which boosted her intelligence - as my party's mage, I figured she'd get more use out of it than any of the rest of us. And indeed she did - despite being three levels below Aric, she's already got more magic power than he does.

Of course, when I crawled out of Deceit, I discovered I was on a small secluded island with no way off except by ship. Normally this is the type of situation where I Gate Travel spell myself elsewhere, but since I'm sticking to information that I've been able to pull out in-game, and nobody's yet told me the ingredients necessary for that spell, that wasn't an option for me this time. So after peering through a gem, I took stock of my location and found myself not too far from the island housing the Shrine of Honesty, so a couple blink spells (and many poisonings in the swamplands) later, I was back at Moonglow and restocking on some badly needed garlic. I'd started my dungeon ventures with about fifty or sixty, and I was down to about five by this point. (I told you I got poisoned a lot! And this was not helped by the fact that I was attacked by snakes during a rest just after I cured everybody.)

Blinking around reminded me of the usefulness of the spell for travel's sake, though. So after moongating back to Britain and wandering around the northern edge of Lock Lake, I decided to see if I could blink my way to Cove. Expending a gem or two to line myself up properly, I cast the spell... and there I was at the town's outskirts! Success!

So there ended my session for the day, with half of the stones I needed in my pocket and on the doorstep of the hidden city of wisdom. Guess what my plan for next time is!

Snakes... why did it have to be snakes...

No comments:

Post a Comment