Saturday, October 31, 2015

Savage Empire: Into the Woods

I haven't gone particularly far in Savage Empire yet, but I'm finding myself with a decent amount to say already, so I'm just gonna run with it anyway.

If only learning languages were always this easy.
Starting up the game proper leads to me waking up in the the hut of Intanya, shaman of the Kurak tribe and my caretaker during the time I was unconscious. His treatment apparently had the side effect of granting me the ability to understand the dialect of the peoples in the valley, and to assure himself of my mental state and recuperation, he asked me a question. Answered to his satisfaction, he then proceeded to give me the rundown of the current state of affairs. He suggested finding Aiela, the kidnapped daughter of the chieftain, along with the two companions I had accidentally fallen into the valley with via the corrupted moonstone, Professor Rafkin and Jimmy Malone. According to Intanya, Jimmy was likely to be found with the Disquiqui tribe far to the south, while the professor with with the Yolaru tribe, some distance east. He also suggested I speak with Aloron, chieftain of the Kuraks and Aiela's father, if I wished to aid in the search for her, which I most certainly did - I had, after all, failed to rescue her the first time around (hence the unconsciousness), and felt a certain responsibility to see the job through to completion. Intanya had a few other things to say, such as a mention of the insectoid Myrmidex, fierce warriors and the enemies of most of the valley from what I gathered, and by the time we had finished speaking, I had a decent sense of the current situation, and what I should be doing for the immediate future, at least.

To aid in my tasks, Intanya sent his student Triolo to join me, who bore more than a passing resemblance to a certain bard I'd traveled with on several occasions previous. Talking with the apprentice shaman revealed that he too was not a native of the valley, though he could not remember his life previous to it. I let it rest - he seemed content with his position as it was, and I had other matters to attend to. After familiarizing myself with what exactly his shamanistic abilities could do, I left Intanya's hut and set about getting to know the locals while figuring out how best to outfit myself for the tasks ahead.

So many things for the taking...
I know the manual justifies it by a more communal mentality and larger proclivities to share resources and different stances on ownership and the like, but it still feels a little weird to be able to just... pick up anything lying around without fear of it being owned by anybody. After three games of having it drilled into me that it's not right to take anything that isn't expressly mine, it's... somewhat jarring to suddenly be able to just throw it out the window. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it, at least thematically speaking. It's a spinoff, I suppose, so it has more leeway to do its own thing, and at least the manual makes attempts to give reason for it in-universe, but at the same time, by tying it to the main series as it has, it feels a bit dissonant in some ways after thievery being so explicitly called out and penalized in previous games. Although it does set up an interesting position for the player coming off the Age of Enlightenment, in some respects - I mentioned way back in my second post for this blog that I consider the next few games an 'Age' of their own, tied together by means of the Avatar taking what he's learned in the Age of Enlightenment games and applying them to contexts outside of Britannia itself without the oversight of its authority figures, learning to stand on his own two feet, as it were. Setting things up like this in Savage Empire kind of puts the player in the same position. There's no real reason not to take whatever's lying around - but does that make it right? Can you still hold to the ethics the last few games have championed when there's no longer any visible or tangible reason to do so? It's an interesting thing to ponder, at the very least, even if I'm not sure I quite like it, per se.

Of course, it's something of a moot point to a degree, on account of the fact I'm already running into weight issues as far as my inventory goes. Not having really done any combat yet, I haven't got a good sense of what's a good 'load' to carry for my playstyle, and as a result I may be overcompensating a bit as far as what I'm carrying with me. Which made it all the more important to pick up a few extra party members ASAP, if only to have another packhorse or two, so to speak.

Well, I do need rations for the trip, after all.
Anyway, back to business. I chatted with the Kurak tribesmen to see what they could tell me about the surrounding area, and they were all concerned about Aiela, of course. I learned that the Urali, the tribe that had captured her, were rumored to live far to the southeast, though nobody but a man named Topuru knew exactly where, and he was thought to be mad. He was said to be near the Barako tribe, on an island to the north across the river canyon. I made a note to seek him out once I'd fleshed out my ranks a bit more. The tribesmen told me a bit about the rivalry with the Yolaru - though it seemed to be a friendly one, as they considered them noble warriors - and the Myrmidex, which they spoke of in quite the opposite manner. They were both hated and feared, made all the worse due to the fact they had a nest just to the west. I made a note to avoid that particular direction until I was better equipped. Aloron, the chief, told me much of the same information, corroborating a few rumors and giving me an idea of how I might go about finding the Urali and rescuing his daughter.

Well, one of them. Because before I left the village, I met his other daughter. I bumped into Tristia.

It ain't just beauty I go for, ya know.
And in so doing, bumped into one of the reasons I had less options when it came to choosing specifics about my character. Savage Empire is the first Ultima game to feature something of a romance subplot, and again, I'm... not entirely certain how I feel about that. Again, it makes sense in the context of the game in and of itself, as it does feel like something that's very much a part of the genre that Savage Empire is paying homage to. But it feels a little abrupt and forced. I'm not really one who needs romances in games to begin with (there's far more to explore as far as character relationships go than just the romantic, after all, and more often than not I find other sorts more interesting), having only seen two 'romance paths' to completion in all of my gaming that I can think of. It's just... never really been something the series has spent much time focusing on. Sure, a fair number of Britannians flirt with the Avatar in Ultima VI, and one can even have a little one-night fling with a gypsy, but the focus has been more on the heroism and the teamwork than the romance. Again, I do give the genre shift some credit, but with the potential to do so right off the bat (Tristia's quick about it and is right there in the starting village, after all), it's just way too quick. You've got to ease into these things to make it feel right, or if not that at least introduce circumstances that make it reasonable to accelerate such a thing - I imagine I won't be quite so jarred when I finally do rescue Aiela.

But back to Tristia. She was a haughty, proud sort, considering work beneath her and her status as a daughter of the chieftain. Aloron took her in after her parents died in a fire, though she didn't seem to particularly care much about it, and claimed to be the favorite. She quite evidently didn't think much of Aiela at all, thinking Darden a fitting mate for her and the Urali tribe a better place for her adoptive sister. And then, somewhat out of the blue, asked if I loved her. She... did not take my answer well, to say the least. I figured it best to hurry on my way after that particular experience.

Oh you do, do you?
Just outside the village I bumped into a woman named Sahree, who was the daughter of the Yolaru shaman and a good friend of Aiela's. She expressed her concern for her friend, mentioned a few of the antics they liked to get up to, and most intriguingly, a plan to strike down the Myrmidex, involving uniting the various tribes of the valley. The insectoids were far too numerous and powerful for any one tribe to stand against them, but Sahree and Aiela had reasoned that, like the story of the valley's legendary figure Oloro that Sahree related to me, if the various tribes could band together, led by one who had done a great feat for each of them, perhaps it would be enough to push back their common enemy. It's certainly worth thinking about, once I get the band back together and rescue Aiela.

I passed a few parrots on my way to the Yolaru village, and neither Apaton the chief nor Mosagann the shaman had much new to tell me, only confirming much that the Kuraks had already told me - when they told me anything at all, as Mosagann seemed in a hurry to finish our conversation as soon as possible. I did learn from the tribesmen, however, that Rafkin was indeed around, as they all referred to him as their 'schweitzer,' and sure enough, I found the professor himself not long afterward. He stressed the importance of finding Jimmy and Aiela as well, and thought it would also be worthwhile to find the remains of his lab that had also traveled through the moongate, thinking there might be useful supplies there. He was fairly sure that it was close to the Kurak village, and also told me he had some thoughts as far as crafting makeshift weaponry went, specifically bombs and rifles. I made a note to ask him about that later, introduced him to Triolo, and the three of us sat down to make further plans.


Well that's just rude.
I called it there, as it felt like a good deal to sift through already. I know that one of the series' trademarks was to use a new engine for each successive entry, but there's something to be said for the games that re-used and refined previous engines, too - I really, really like the look and feel of Savage Empire. It's vibrant, it sets the tone well, it's clear and clean, and the decision to move conversations into the much larger game world panel is very much welcome, albeit it means I have fewer screenshots of the pretty landscape as a result. I'll admit I miss a bit of character depth, as there's a lot of generics hanging around with the same thing to say as all the rest, and even the unique characters don't always have much to say, making them somewhat less memorable than Ultima VI's cast, but there's still moments that shine through even now (I found myself rather liking Sahree a lot, for instance). There's a lot of little bits of interactivity that I'm enjoying, too - from using a knife to get meat off an animal corpse I found and leaving bones behind to getting into conversations with the parrots (and being called an 'Ingrate!' when I broke it off). I'm hoping I won't have quite the inventory problems I'm having now once I get into a few fights and figure out what all I really need to have on hand, but all in all I'm enjoying myself, and I'm looking forward to seeing what else the game has in store for me.

Now, should I go track down Jimmy, or will he be able to wait a little longer while I seek out what's left of Rafkin's lab...

Yes, yes, I know, I know!!

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