Saturday, December 3, 2016

Ultima Underworld's Biggest Flaw

A Stone Cold Classic

I love Ultima Underworld; it's one of my favorite dungeon crawlers and to this day I prefer it over many of the first person RPGs that succeeded it, even the ones with huge outdoor environments.  What it lacks in towns it makes up for in an extremely detailed, meticulously designed levels that have only been surpassed by a few games since (Arx Fatalis, System Shock, and Deus Ex come to mind, though others probably exist).

So why am I writing this article?  Simple; the game has a huge flaw that keeps me from replaying it as often as I would like -- the character customization, or rather the lack thereof.

First you pick one of eight classes, are randomly assigned three main stats, and may choose from a large selection of skills (20!), ranging from thievery to negotiation to swordplay and magic, and finally what your character looks like.  You can even select your dominant hand!  So far so good.

Unfortunately there's only two real ways to play the game; either a straight warrior, or a warrior who uses magic sometimes.  The thief-like skills such as stealth, picking locks, or disarming traps are all completely worthless.  Stealth only works if you turn your lights off, making everything nearly pitch black, doors and chests can be smashed much more easily than their locks can be picked, and traps don't even really start appearing until the second to last dungeon level and are never a real threat.

 Forget about sneaking past this guy -- unless you want to try it in the dark

Don't bother being an archer; ammo is so rare, weak, and heavy that you'll be better off using your bare hands instead.  You can't even shoot if an enemy is within striking distance, which they almost invariably will be.

Being a straight mage is probably more possible, but would be unbelievably tedious.  You simply aren't given enough mana to make spellcasting worth anything more than a utility most of the time.  Fireball spells are certainly powerful, but a mage with a maxed out mana skills will only be able to sling a handful before running dry on mana and having to resort to his melee weapon.  Not only that, but it takes quite a long time to even find the necessary runes to create a decent attack spell -- in my last playthrough I raised all of my magic stats to their maximum before I even reached the area where your second attack spell can be found!

If you're playing without cheating, it won't be until level 6 until you can even begin specifically raising your mana skill.  Before that you'd have to rely on random level-ups that frequently gave you useless skills instead.

I recommend everyone cheat and look up the skill mantras before even starting the game.  Seriously; unless waiting 'till 1/3rd of the way through the game before being able to raise your axe skill sounds fun to you.

Underworld 2 fixed the leveling problem, but I'm not sure if the magic is any better
Don't by any means let this deter you from playing either Underworld game, the level design is nothing short of legendary and the gameplay holds up remarkably well.

Just don't try anything cute while you're making your character, at least not until you've learned to break the game six ways from Sunday.

No comments:

Post a Comment