Monday, 6 October 2014

One for joy, Two for sorrow

Ugh, Ultima 2. That is a game I never want to revisit. I knew it had a bad reputation, but I thought that meant it would be a bad Ultima game, and not just a bad game. I was wrong, it's a terrible game. The first Ultima actually wasn't too bad - it had some bonkers ideas and not much in the way of story, but it was still an enjoyable game and didn't outstay its welcome. Ultima 2 is just...ugh. The worst bits of the previous game are still here - space travel, weird levelling system, confusing quest progression - but they've added loads more rubbish on top. The monsters are crazy hard starting out, and will swarm you, you run out of food incredibly easily, dungeons are present and pointless, moongates are introduced, but they travel through time instead of across the world map...and so on. It's a really hard game to get into, and feels like a backwards step. There are also some weird technical limitations, for example, the game saves your character to a specific file, and also saves the positions of monsters. I presume in the old days you'd save all of this stuff to a separate player disk and then wipe the contents of that disk when the player died. On a hard drive, it means opening up the player file in a text editor and deleting the contents. I only managed to do this with the player file, though, not the monster one. That meant that whenever I died and restarted (which was frequently), all of the monsters would still be in the same position. So, if a group of evil monsters killed me last time, then said group of baddies would still be in exactly the same place when I restarted ready to kill me again. Not fun. I usually play mage characters, and mages in Ultima 2 don't start with any spells - no biggie, you might think, just have to grind for a bit to earn the money to purchase some and become a magic-missile-tossing death machine. Unfortunately, of course, mages are pretty awful fighters, so when starting out you'll be slaughtered with alarming frequency, and once you died once, when you respawned the chances were that you'd be immediately killed by exactly the same monster again. I found myself exploring a bit of Sosaria as the mage that I wanted to play, dying, restarting as a fighter a few times to clear out the monsters around me, then restarting as a mage again to explore a bit more. Not ideal, and not fun. I guess I should have just stayed as a fighter (and did in the end), as it turns out that mages are rubbish in Ultima 2 anyway. It turns out that the ability to actually cast spells on the overland map (a pretty fundamental ability for a mage) was removed in this game, so you can only cast spells in a dungeon...which you never need to go in. Anyway, I finally managed to grind around and proceed with the main quest, and ultimately travel to the time of legends and defeat Minax, Mondain's evil apprentice. Even that final battle was a horrible chore, with Minax teleporting between two corners of her castle whenever she got badly injured, meaning I had to run from place to place fighting hordes of demons in order to hit her again. After a few tries, I realised the only way I could do this was by spamming "negate-time" coins, which stop monsters in their tracks for a short while, and then running around them to get to Minax. That of course meant an awful lot of grinding for said coins. Yay. Anyway, it's done and I'm never going back to it. Next up in the series is Ultima 3. This is widely considered a return to form and sets things on the right track that leads to Ultima 4 and subsequent glories. My enthusiasm has been slightly dampened after Ultima 2, but I'm still looking forward to it. I had a quick go at M1 Tank Platoon, and it's a fairly hardcore sim/wargame, so not really my cup of tea. I'll have a good read of the manual and see if it gets more fun (I know it's regarded as a classic in its genre), but I can't see myself sticking with it too long.

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