This is one of the numerous question that find an answere in Savage Empire.
And this is also a perfect illustration of the brillant design ideas that can be found in Worlds of Ultima.
But first things first, for as usual I began my exploration of this new Ultima game… by reading its manual! As always in Ultima, the manual of Savage Empire takes a fully “in-universe” approach – but rather than the “History Book” feel the Britannian Ultima have, this one is instead presented as very earthly and pulpy magazine called “Ultimate Adventures” with articles, fake ads, letters and so on… It is just very well written and just a thrill to read. The most important aspect of this manual however is the “Valley of the Thunder Lizard” which is actually the introduction of the game written and told by the Avatar himself! This is an awesome read in itself especially since the introduction in the game itself is a tad too short for its own good.
(On a side note, I’ve found out that the writer for this manual and the game itself is none other than Aaron Allston – which is known for having written many Star Wars books – small world it is!)
Starting the game was pretty neat. One thing I like about Savage Empire is that it kept the traditionnal Ultima character creation aspect through questions, but transposed it in the Eodon context of the game. Which is pretty much a great idea (and really what we are doing for Return to the Serpent Isle as well). The creation is a bit short on account of having only 3 questions, but it’s a nice touch.
After that came the game itself.
Now while Savage Empire is a great game – it should be noted that it does not have the scope of an Ultima VI. Eodon is much smaller than Britannia, and while it offers close a dozen of different tribes to visit and speak to, each of them only have a handful of true NPCs, and many more generic NPCs serving has ambiant background (basically: they all have a different name, but all say the same thing). Also Savage Empire continue the transformation iniated by Ultima VI in that the hardcore RPG elements really are in the background this time – indeed you actually start directly at level 6 which leaves little room for character progression, and there aren’t that many combat. But the game does shine in world simulation and interactivity, and also kept the traditionnal night&day and schedule (altough day tends to feel a tad TOO short).
The purpose of the game is basically simple : you need to unite all the tribes of the Valley to fight against the Myrmydex, big gigantic ant-like creature which threatens all human life on the valleay and also holds to key to getting back to regular Earth. It has more than that ans some interesting subplots but the ghist of it consist of going from one tribe to the next and do task for them to accept to join your cause. (Yes! This was Dragon Age already!)
Now these tasks vary depending on the tribes and can be long and multilayered like saving an imprisoned princess or as simple as getting a bunch of swords for the Tribe’s elder. But they can be inventive, as show as the bell T-Rex.
For instance the Disquiqui quest I just did !
The elder asked me to put a bell around the neck of a dangerous T-Rex so that his warriors could see him coming. The thing is that T-Rex in Savage Empire are unkillable: no matter how experienced you are you can’t attack them head on or you’ll die. So you basically have to use a powerful and stunnign liquor on a spear and then throw it at the dinosaur to stun it. Then you can use the bell on hims and the quest is done.
So I’m sure some people who argue that this is more of an adventure game approach than a RPG one – but I would say only if you hold a narrow view of RPG and consider these should be hack’n slashy. This is exactly the kind of creative quest and design modern RPGs ought to have rather that just having us kill anything that come close.
But I digress.
In any case I’m really having a blast playing Savage Empire. While it might be a RPG Lite, all that matter is that it is a great game. I like the tone, style and atmopshere of the game, and speakign of which I should menstion one aspect: the music.
Savage Empire has a pretty neat soundtrack really: you see it was made by George A. Sanger, better known as the Fat Man – who did a lot of Origin music back in the day (notably Wing Commander I&II, Ultima Underworld I and Martian Dreams) and it really helps to create a great tone. It also offer some variety which is most welcome considering Ultima VI tended to get repetitive. Altough much like U6 I wish it’d had conditentionnal music alll the time.
In any case this is it for now… Eodon awaits me.