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Ultima Underworld

Ultima Underworld. First smooth first-person-point-of-view 3D RPG. Unbelievable advanced game for its time. I’ve just completed it, second time in my life. First time it was in 1996.

Back then, everything looked very impressive for me. Medieval style, 3D graphics, dark atmosphere, sword combat, water, spells, conversations, trade, skill system. It is good that I forgot most puzzles, so this time completing the game was still challenging. This time I was dissapointed with plot and quality of dialogs: they seemed not deep at all. But I understand now that for this game plot is secondary. Focus was made on exploration and combat.

I don’t think that character class matters in the game. I suspect that it only defines main stats and a set of skills you can have initially. Those could not be changed in game, as opposed to skills, which could be trained. Most important stat for me is strength, because it determines both damage and max weight you can carry. So, probably best choice whould be fighter or paladin, because such character will be able to fight efficiently in the beginning and will be able to carry much more belongings with him. Later in the game, if you want, you can train your magical abilities to become a good mage.

Training is done by “praying” near the shrine. You just choose mantra, which determines which skill will be improved. Training will reduce the amount of free skill points. More skill points can be earned through advancement in experience. Unfortunatelly, there are no indicator of remaining skill points. Experience is given for exploration and defeating enemies. So, if you can’t defeat some monster, then go try a different route, and come back later then you’ll become stronger. Fortunatelly, game is always non-linear.

Fighting is essential. There are four classes of weapons (swords, axes, maces and ranged) and you can also fight unarmed. In each class there are weapons with different damage. Each weapon has a “condition”, and from frequent use they will become damaged. Some weapons are magical. To determine a magical property you need high lore skill or special spell. I don’l like ranged weapons myself, so I just use swords, axes and maces. Also I’m not just standing and wielding with weapon: I’m running forward and back, so I will hit my enemy and get away then he hits me.

Magic is useful, however it is not essential. If you have low magical skill, then you still can use wands, scrolls, potions and rings. However, I’ve found “flameproof” extremely useful in lower levels, so I whould advice spending some skill points to train magical skills, especially mana capacity. Offensive spells could be powerfull, but they require some space to be released, and they consume lots of mana.

Magic in the game is “rune-based”. This means that you assemble your spell from runes. Then I first time played this game back then, I had a pirate copy without any manuals. Just after start I’ve found some runes, and then I’ve tried combining them I’ve discovered some spells myself. Later in the game some characters revealed more spells. So I thought that all game spells should be discovered by player, and was dissapointed with small amount of clues. This approach seemed great to me, because it requires some intellectual work which is supposed to be done by mages. Later I discovered that game manual has a list of spells, which is much less fun for me. However, since clues will help you discover only about dozen of spells, I sugges you to download official manuals from here

This game has a “rogue” aspect. Monsters can hear you and see you, but you can train to be less noticable. This is not very practical, since this game has lots of narrow tunnels where this skill will not help you. “Lockpick” skill will help unlocking doors without keys, but this skill is also not practical, since almost all locked doors have keys for them. Other means of opening door or chest could be by force (just hit them), however, this will not work for massive doors or portcullis. And, of course, there are magical spell for opening. Skill “search” will reveal secret doors, but it is also replacable with spell.

So, I’m using half-figher half-mage character, and usually don’t train rogue skills. Spells replace all rougue skills very well and provide protection against fire and magic.

I like very much the fact that all the characters in game are like me: humans and humanoids wear armor and fight in same manner as main character. Mages will cast the same spells. So, everything is fair.

So, enjoy the game! Plot and dialogs are stupid, as well as some puzzles, but exploration, fighting and atmosphere is great. Lots of attention have been put into details: there are skulls and broken weapons everythere, fire blasts burn some items, expired “fly” spell turns into “slow fall” spell, dead opponent drops all its items, and lots of other interesting moments. So, it’s very much like living world.

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