Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Game 3: Ultima: Exodus (NES) - Cave Crawling

Dungeon crawling is an erratic game of chance in Ultima: Exodus. The main reason are the enemy encounters. Unlike the over-world enemies, those found in dungeons don't seem dependent on the party's level. No matter if I were level 1 or 5, I'd still run into gargoyles, demons, and griffins; so, I've bit that bullet I mentioned before and leveled my characters for good. Everyone is level 5 and happily at 550 max HP, and it's a good thing too because caves are much harder than I first imagined.

Battles in caves are random; when I say random, I mean chaotic, unpredictable, wildly different between each encounter. I could traverse multiple floors without fighting a single enemy, or have three battles in three successive steps. That's not the worst of it though, the enemies themselves range from simple to "OMG, I'm going to die!" Then there's the fact I have to deal with anywhere between 1 - 8 units. Early on I learned that the only way I'm going to get through more than one battle per cave was to exploit the AI (I mean... use better tactics). So, instead of good tactics, like protecting my flanks, I put one person in front causing a pile up.
Even at full health, this is what death looks like
There are some things that make the whole endeavor endurable. First of all, mapping is made much easier with gems. These show a screen that has the map of the current floor, but not just the layout; it shows ladders, secret doors, and other points of interest shown as question marks (?). Mapping on my own takes a lot of time, and is prone to errors. Second, spells: both clerics and wizards have spells that move the party up or down a floor. I'm not really sure what happens when (or if it's even possible to) move into a wall this way. I think I might try that out some time. Also, if MP is low, or being saved for the aforementioned spells, there are tents to heal the party. Lastly, there are fountains that will either poison, cure, damage, or heal. Unfortunately, they all look the same, so CanaG has been my taste tester most of the time.
*blushes* We just met... ;)
Preparation is key for exploring any of the caverns. I've ensured I have full HP and MP, enough torches and gems, and crossed fingers before entering. Torches (or glow/light spells) are needed to see in the dark, but there are some spaces that will blow them out, so it's important to have a stockpile. There are traps as well, and the first I ran across reminded me of the 'Order' command, which allows me to put Trick in front to disarm them (he has about as much luck with that as chests). I also keep forgetting about the Sands of Time I purchased, which are supposed to freeze the enemies. This is probably most helpful on the enemies that have magic attacks.
What's Powder? Hey, where'd my Sands of Time go?! Oh...
So, last night Chet got some new Iron armor (honestly, I noticed no difference), we stocked up on food, raised the party level, and we're off! Some bad luck with enemies had everyone dying within 10 minutes of being in the cave. I'm sure that isn't the last time to happen. Next venture goes much better, and I start making some progress on the Cave of Gold. Not sure what I'm looking for (other than "marks"), the best place to start looking is probably on the bottom floor. So, any time I find a ladder I go down. I'm not sure if I got lucky, or if it's just this easy, but I found a ladder chain from level 2 down to level 8. Exploring this area reveals a fountain that heals me, and the Mark of Fire. "Yeah! My first mark!" I shout. Not 10 seconds later, "Yeah! My second mark!" as I unexpectedly find the Mark of Kings cater-corner to the previous mark. I easily escape, and save, thankful to finally feel like I've made some progress.
I am the Fire King!
With new found confidence I galloped on to the next cave thinking I could easily pass two more by the end of the night. How mistaken I was...

The Cave of Fire was my next stop. I didn't think much about the connect between the name and what could possibly be found, so off to mapping I went. Then bad luck hit, 3 encounters within moments of each other depleted my health, but I managed through it back to the exit. Being on the first floor, this actually wasn't too much trouble. Healing up and heading back in proved a bit easier. After mapping everything though, I discovered no ladder. Searching for a secret door allowed me to find it on the first wall I tried. On the third floor is when I ran into some more trouble (and when I started using my "improved" tactics). Beaten down and very close to death, I searched my tool bag for the tent I knew was there. My hope that I could use it inside proved well placed, and I felt a bit better about continuing on. I also realized I had plenty of gems to do the rest of the mapping for me.
Please arrange a queue in front of AmyK, and we'll get to your death in the order received. Thank you!
Gems were now my only mapping tool (although for more complex paths to the next ladder I drew it out to better remember), and I easily made my way down. Before I met any greater threat I found a fountain, and luck was with me this time. With full health I pressed on, and ran into the toughest enemy yet: griffins. Luckily there were only two, but they had magic attacks that did nearly 100 points of each. I could only counter with 10 - 20 at best. Somehow, I defeated them with no losses, but once again I was low on health. My only hope was to reach the fountain before the party met with another strong opponent.
Why make my own maps when there's an auto-map this good?
Once again I found myself at the fountain with full health; however, after facing some of the toughest creatures, I wondered if I could manage this cave. I resolved to get to the end though, risking all progress to see what's at the bottom. Getting there wasn't a problem though, it was getting out that was the toughest challenge. So, I made my way to the bottom floor, checked my gem and find only another ladder. Following this lead me to some more fountains, and in a side room, another mark! The Mark of Fire! "Wait... I already have the Mark of Fire..." was what I said as another thought slowly crept in, "what else did you expect to find in the Cave of Fire?"

So, I left mostly empty handed. I mean I did have the extra experience and gold, so it wasn't a total wash, but it was definitely less than what I could have gotten in safer conditions outside. As I'm making my way back to the fountain (my safe spot), I fight some tough fights. When I start to ascend again (the action, not the spell), I realize I have enough MP to use ascend (the spell, which is also the action). There were many fights, and by the time I get out, none of my characters had more than 100 HP (most enemies hit for 30 - 40). But, I was out, without a single death. Instead of waiting to heal fully, I start to make my way back to the castle, and I come face to face with a hard enemy.
Just wait right there, I'll be right back

I'm fairly sure I'd be toast if I didn't have my horses. While they don't allow my party to actually move faster, I'm getting the feeling it allows them to move more spaces between enemy movements. I turn back to the cave to reset the enemy encounters, and I make it back to the castle without incident when I leave again.

I agree with CRPG Addict (I'm glad I took on his rule to only reset/load a game when I've been completely wiped out) that the experience of surviving through all odds--of coming back beaten, battered, and bruised, but alive (at least partially)--makes for some of the best moments in a game. It also makes for some good stories... if I ever have anyone to tell them to. Four caves Fool, Sun, Moon, and Death, and Ambrosia are all left to explore. Also, the castle of Exodus, but if the hints are true, I shouldn't head there until I have all four marks. Speaking of marks, I don't know what use they actually have (if they have one beyond Exodus). I'm also told that some Guild store has a pick I need. So, I'm going to find a way inside the guarded town next, and maybe explore Ambrosia again before going into another cave. I'm still looking for those shrines I heard about so long ago.
P.S. Thank you to whomever built the ladders.


  1. Yeah, guys, take a number. Sheesh.

    I am here to tell your battered dungeony stories to. I was without internet for a week, but now I'm back. :D

  2. ;D

    Good to have you back online, I was wondering what had happened to you. Glad it was nothing serious.

  3. Thanks. It was just what some people refer to as a "cashflow problem." Ahem.

  4. Very interesting, keep it up, just letting you know you have a new reader