Saturday, May 28, 2016

Savage Empire: Forging Alliances

As if to prove my newfound zeal for the game like I mentioned last post, I spent most of a Saturday evening tearing through the Valley of Eodon - buckle up, don the pith helmets and break out the machetes, we've got a lot of ground to cover this time!

I began the day's adventures just outside the cave Aiela had been held captive in. Though I had fulfilled both her father's request and the demands of my own sense of honor (it is a virtue, after all), I still had business in this part of the valley. Darden had not just disrupted the Kurak way of life, but his own tribe's as well, and the brute's demise brought the Urali no closer to having their idol Fabozz back. I would need all the help I could get to push back against the Myrmidex - I would get a proper sense of that before too much longer - and misfits that the Urali were, antagonistic as they had been under Darden, theirs was still aid I was certain I could use.

At least Fabozz has some nice crystal gardens to tend here.
Wamap had told me Darden had hidden Fabozz away in a cave to the north, so I turned my sights in that direction, Aiela in tow, more than willing to lend a hand in our further exploits. The Urali tribesmen continued to attack us on sight as we pushed back through the village and onward to find Fabozz - I suspect they were either unaware of Darden's demise or else just upset that he perished before he could be convinced (or forced) to bring Fabozz back. Whatever it was they blamed me for, I yet had a duty to do, and while discretion may have been the better part of valor, I did what had to be done, hoping all the while that I wasn't slashing the tribe's numbers down too horrifically. Eventually I made my way to the cavern in the north, which was small but well guarded by Darden's lackeys, who had lost none of their zeal for having lost their leader (if they were even aware of that fact). We fought hard - or rather, Triolo, Jimmy and I did, the other three got stuck around a corner - and found Fabozz stowed away in the rear of the cavern. There was, of course, the question of how to move the statue, but Fabozz provided a clue, uttering only a single word - "Light." Jimmy's camera provided a quick burst of such, and however it happened, it did the trick. Fabozz vanished, and his voice declared us friends of the Urali, allowing us safe passage through their lands. We confirmed his presence back in the village, exchanged a few words with Wamap to solidify the alliance, and went on our way.

We shuffled some weaponry around to account for our new party member, then decided to make a pit stop at the Kurak village, both to take some much needed rest at Intanya's hut and to give Aiela a chance to assure the tribe of her safety. Along the way, she had a chance to reunite with her friend Sahree, and to pass the time, she told us of the gem she carried with her. Apparently Darden had stolen it from the Nahuatla and presented it to her as some sort of token of his love, thinking he could get in her good graces that way. It hadn't worked, of course, but she had kept the gem anyway.

Oh, now you've just piqued my curiosity.
Rested, renewed, and ready for further travels, we navigated the teleportation pads once more to arrive in the southeast of the valley, where the Jukari and Haakur tribes lived. They were the only two tribes I had yet to meet, and so I figured it was high time I did so. The Jukari were closest to the teleporter, so I began with them. It seemed we had come in the middle of something of a shift in leadership - the tribesmen told us their chieftain had recently died as the result of a lava flow. His son Jumu was now acting chief, and speaking with him revealed that the lava flow had caused more trouble than just the death of his father. It had also killed their shaman, and blocked off access to their sacred cave to the east. Inside the cave was a hide that detailed their tribe's history, and retrieving said hide was Jumu's request from us before he would agree to joining an alliance of tribes. To sweeten the deal, he told us of the diamonds and emeralds within the cave, and told us we were welcome to help ourselves to them as reward, if only we would bring the hide back to him. A difficult position for a young man to be in, but Jumu seemed to be handling it as best he could. After assuring Jumu we would do our best to make sure the record of his tribe's history made it back to them - Rafkin seemed to have an idea how to find our way over the lava flow - we departed.

Easy there, Dokray...
We found the Haakur a little further on, and they had little to tell us, on account of most of them barely even being capable of proper speech. They were the most primitive of the tribes we had met in the valley, "Neanderthal" being a rather unflattering but apparently accurate descriptor for them. A few of the tribe were able to hold a decent enough conversation with us, however, most notably their chief Grugorr. In contrast to Jumu, Grugorr was a father who had recently lost his son Krukk, who had gone spider-slaying in a nearby cavern to the south and never came back. If we could do what he could not, kill the spiders and burn their webs, and return with Krukk's shield, Haakur agreed to join the alliance against the Myrmidex. On our way out, Dokray bumped into an old rival of his named Ugyuk, and neither of the two had any love for each other. It nearly broke out into a fight right then and there, but Dokray refrained after I told him this was not the time for it. The two glared daggers at each other as we departed, though.

Having spoken to all of the tribes now, Jimmy and I bent our heads over his notebook and refreshed our memories as to what they all required of us, so we could best form our plan of action. Four of the tribes had already thrown their lot in with the forming alliance - the Kurak for rescuing Aiela, the Urali for defeating Darden and retrieving Fabozz, the Disquiqui for belling the cat-I-mean-T-Rex, and the Pindiro simply because it was the wise thing to do. That left seven still to sway, and two of them could be convinced via feats in the caves in this part of the valley. So after gathering some branches, dunking some cloth strips in tar, and making some makeshift torches, we ventured into the spider caves to find the shield of Grugorr's son Krukk.

Well that looked like it was messy...
The cave was expansive and difficult to traverse due to the webs spun over nearly everything. Both spiders and Myrmidex assaulted us from nearly every turn, and I left most of the fighting to my companions as I occupied myself with burning the webs in the cave, both to make exploration easier and to do a bit of damage to the spiders that way. Beneath them were all sorts of things - we found many, many corpses of villagers, several dead Myrmidex, and even what seemed to be a more modern man, judging from the camera and rifle we found on his body. We found Krukk's shield in a corner, but even more interesting was a hole that we found in another part of the cave, surrounded by dead Myrmidex and dead tribesmen. It seemed a rather good-sized battle had been fought here, which suggested it would be wise to avoid the hole itself. The warriors had all been wielding obsidian swords, so we collected them for later delivery to the Yolaru and returned to the Haakur to give him his son's shield. Satisfied, he thanked us and agreed to the alliance.

Our next task was to find a way over the lava to get to the sacred cave of the Jukari, and at Rafkin's suggestion I made use of the fire extinguisher from the remains of his lab to do so. For some reason or another it worked, and from there it was a fairly simple matter to navigate our way to the cave and find the hide. It was a much smaller cavern and considerably less... occupied... so it wasn't long before we were presenting Jumu with the recorded history of his people, and received in exchange his promise to join the alliance of tribes. (As an aside, yes, it's incredibly silly that the fire extinguisher works to cool lava, but at least despite its nonsensicality the game provides ways of pointing you toward it, whether it's the letter to the editor in the manual or Rafkin in the game itself. Considerably less adventure-game-logic that way, which is always a good thing.)

Obligatory "I can't believe that actually worked" goes here.
With the tribes in the southeast of the valley firmly on the side of a valley-wide alliance, I turned my attentions in the complete opposite direction and turned my sights to the northwest and the Barako. The trek there introduced us to a few new enemies, including a serpent woman and a tiger, but we defended ourselves with alacrity, and before long we'd returned to the ledge where we'd seen the silver backed gorilla that we suspected kidnapped the chieftain's daughter. The question was how to get up there. Some exploration revealed a cave behind a waterfall, but the falls itself was too forceful to allow us to get by it easily. The solution - a makeshift grenade, made by stuffing a few handfuls of gunpowder in a clay pot and sealing it with a tar-soaked strip of cloth. Lighting the fuse and lobbing it at a large boulder atop the cliff shifted the boulder and blocked off the waterfall, making passage easy. A quick jaunt through the cavern brought us to the very ledge the gorilla called home, and a brief fight later, we stepped past the beast and found a girl who introduced herself as Halisa. Grateful for rescue and relieved that the gorilla had been taken care of, she thanked us heartily and gave us a head start for a race back to the village - which she still managed to win, somehow. We had a victory nonetheless, though, as her safe return ensured her mother's support in the forming alliance.

My kingdom for some pruning shears!
After a quick pit stop to heal up once more - and another skirmish with Myrmidex on the teleport hub, which brought about both more complaints about public transit security and a level for Aric (his first since the beginning of the game!) - we directed our attentions toward the plights of the tribes in the southwest. Atop the Great Mesa was supposed to be the plant that the Barrab chieftain wanted in order to heal his son, but here too there was a navigational problem. There was a gap atop the mesa that we had no way of crossing. No way, at least, until we took note of a large tree, and a solid smack with a fire axe soon gave us a way over. Some more wandering later (and even more Myrmidex!), we came across the plant in question. What we hadn't realized was that the gigantic orchid was, in fact, carnivorous. A fierce battle ensued, in which many vines were chopped and many wishes for some weed killer were made, but we eventually came out victorious, and after scooping up the now motionless remains of the Little Shop of Horrors reject, we took it back to Balakai and his son Nakai, who perked up immediately. We rested for a while (Jimmy had gained enough experience for another level), chatting with the pair, and discovered that Topuru wasn't the first Balakai had pulled the mind-in-a-stone trick with. Apparently the Disquiqui Tuomaxx on Drum Hill had been a victim of the stunt as well - although in stark contrast, he'd actually thanked Balakai for doing so! It seemed the whole family had ways of getting the better of others - Nakai told me his sister had done so with Nawl, who'd I'd bumped into just outside the village, and when I asked him about it, he just got scared and scurried off.

"Now begone, before someone drops a house - I mean boulder -
on you, too!"
Then it was back into the area surrounding the Great Mesa to find Thunderer and the fruit trees he was stalking about, and taking care of him was a rather simple matter. We found him prowling about a cliffside with another boulder tilting precariously just on the edge of it. Another makeshift grenade, and *blam* - down it came right on Thunderer's head, and that was another problem solved. Truth be told, the Myrmidex swarm that assaulted us on the way back to the Sakkhra was more of a problem than Thunderer had proved to be. (I ran into a LOT of Myrmidex during this particular session - my notes mark my encounters with increasingly numerous intesifiers, culminating in all caps by about this point - although this last one got Aiela a level, too!) After informing the lizardfolk of the liberation of their little grove from its reptilian tyrant, I called it a good day's work. A full nine of the tribes had pledged their allegiance to an alliance of tribes, leaving just the Yolaru and the Nahuatla. The former wanted swords, the latter wanted their city back, and the one would lead to the other. But it could wait until next time.


Details are what make or break immersion. I can write a scene about a man's last moments, but it's a lot more difficult to connect with it if I don't take the time to show you his feeble, fumbling attempts to get the picture of his family out of his wallet so he can ensure it's the last thing he sees despite through increasingly unfocused eyes. I can write a proposal, but if you don't see the bride-to-be's quivering lip as she makes several attempts to speak before all the breath rushes out of her in one exultant affirmation, something's going to be lost. It's the old show-don't-tell adage - the tiny, concrete details are what make the illusion of story that much more tangible, more real.

How'd you get here?
That's as true for any form of storytelling, games included, and it was a subject I found on my mind a good deal during this particular foray into Savage Empire, because the game's full of examples of both how effective details can be and how a lack of them can make things fall flat. The bodies strewn about the spider caves added a lot to my perception of the caves themselves - they weren't solely of tribesmen, there were several Myrmidex and even a modern man among them, suggesting that these spiders were, indeed, a serious threat if even the better equipped and stronger foes found themselves entangled within the webs. The sacred cave of the Jukari felt all the more important when I found the totems used in shamanic magic on a table near the hide I'd been sent to retrieve, a reminder that this was a place the shaman came to often, a place that meant something. I even noticed for the first time that the background in the conversation portraits change depending on where (and in some cases when!) the conversation occurs, be it cave or village, day or night or sunset.

Perhaps most stark were the details when it came to the tribes themselves, though. All of them have their own unique aesthetic, and while granted, some of the portraits do feel a bit caricatured at times, the tribes all feel like distinct entities. The Sakkhra caves are full of crystal gardens in contrast to the sparse Haakur caves, which again stand distinct from the stepped mesa the Barrab call home, which feels different from the Jukari by the lava, and so on and so forth. The way the villages are laid out, the fact that each tribe seems to have their preferred weaponry based on what can be found in their huts, even the manner of speech of some tribes (I particularly enjoyed seeing the importance placed on names when it came to the Haakur and Urali, the former only being bestowed upon those who've earned recognition and the latter guarding theirs to avoid another having power over them, which is why it's a big deal when Wamap gives the player his) - there's some real steps taken through the detail work to make each tribe feel like they stand out just a little from the rest, and serves to emphasize the running theme of bringing together a bunch of different tribes together to form a single alliance.

Those totems in the corner there were a nice touch.
Which, on the flip side, only makes the moments where the game falls short in terms of details all the more glaring. While each tribe has a distinct aesthetic, the unique-ness of each falls a bit flat once you realize that most of the tribesmen all have the same dialogue tree. There's a very small handful that actually have anything unique to tell you, and beyond that there isn't much. There's a lot spoken of the inter-tribe rivalries among the valley, but there's little evidence of them beyond words. I've seen complaints of that when it comes to Ultima VI and the threat of the Gargoyles, but at least there, you saw (and potentially fought) them at the shrines and could see the aftermath of one such skirmish via the recovering soldiers in Cove. Here in Savage Empire, there's... not really anything, besides Dokray and Ugyuk's spat, and even that's more of a personal thing than any representation of tension between entire tribes. Consequently, it feels a bit closer to checking things off a list than the game's overarching goal of attempting to unite eleven very disparate tribes who can't stand each other at first.

Not to mention Aiela's father, as far as I could tell, didn't have much to say about the rescue of his daughter, despite the fact Sahree did have some different dialogue with Aiela in the party.

Which hasn't made the game any less enjoyable to play, when it comes down to it, it's just something my sense of narrative has picked up on. And to be fair, I'd probably be paying less attention to the lack of detail in some places if it didn't stand in such contrast to the parts of the game where it is rather effective. That's the give and take you deal with, I suppose.

In any case, time to head into Tichticatl proper, finally! Been looking forward to this.

There are some days where I might feel the same.

1 comment:

  1. Your day's adventures are not the same as anyone else, it's truth. It seems to me that Savage Empire game isn't very addictive, but if you have a free time, you can play it.