Written by  :  Pix (1205)
Written on  :  Aug 22, 2008
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars3.6 Stars

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Journey to the center of the earth - Ultima style

The Good

Origin had a state of the art game engine with Ultima 6 complete with an editor. This would have been a little wasted on just the one game which is where the World Of Ultima series comes in. The premise of the series was that the black moonstone you got at the start of Ultima 6 could be used to send you to anywhere in space and time opening up limitless possibilities for new standalone RPG's. Despite drawing on the Ultima heritage, the series was more aimed towards new RPG players and Savage Empire is a lot simpler and shorter than Ultima 6.

Savage Empire was the first in the series and the story sends you to a lost valley somewhere on earth along with a reporter and your stereotypical scientist/professor friend. Apart from a plethora of dinosaurs, the valley also contains about a dozen tribes picked from various locations and times from history. If you think of something along the lines of Journey to the Center of the Earth then you won't be far off. Finally there is a race of giant ants called the Myrmidex who are the main enemy in the game. The game centers around your attempts to unite all the tribes against the Myrmidex. The plot is fairly typical B-movie stuff and very different to anything in the main Ultima series. Each of the tribes wants something or other from you and you have to complete this quest before they will join the union. Despite the repetitive structure things never get dull as the quests are very varied and range from putting a bell on a T-Rex's neck to crossing a lava flow using a fire extinguisher to fetch a sacred hide.

The interface for the game is instantly familiar to anyone who played Ultima 6. Its been given a visual overhall and there are a new set of tile graphics which give the game a different feel and there is an excellent original soundtrack by the Fat Man. The Origin FX engine first used in Wing Commander has also been bolted onto the front of the game to do the introduction but this doesn't seem to be used at any other point.

The interactivity of the world that you expect in an Ultima is here in spades. To give a couple of examples you can make gunpowder by gathering sulphur from volcanic sulphur pools using a metal cage, get branches from trees and burn them in a fire pit to make charcoal, get your scientist to gather saltpeter from crystals and grind the lot together to make gunpowder. You can gather flax from Yucca plants, weave this into cloth at a loom, cut it into strips, impregnate it with tar and wrap it around a stick to make a torch. The world itself is a bit smaller than Ultima 6 but any larger and there would be too much walking between locations.

The Bad

Although its an Ultima by name and some familiar characters turn up (without explanation or good reason), this game doesn't have any real ties to the series other than the engine. You go through the game taking anything that isn't nailed down right out of the natives houses and the virtues play no part whatsoever.

Every RPG aspect has been toned down from Ultima 6. For example you start the game at Level 6, Triolo (one of your starting companions) is Level 7 with a maximum of 8 leaving little scope for improvement. The spellcasting system is hugely simplified with just 9 different spells, all available from the start of the game. The heal spell for example heals all your party and cures from poison at the same time. Spellcasting is also unlimited by magic points - the only limit is how many of the reagents you can carry.

In Ultima you could talk to pretty much anyone in the world and get a unique conversation. In this game each of the tribes will have a couple of special characters (usually the shaman and chief) who have their own conversation trees but all the other tribe members will say exactly the same things. It makes the whole thing quite formulaic as you just go to each village, talk to the chief, complete their quest and repeat.

I wouldn't say the game had a great storyline. It's moderately interesting but the nearest thing to a twist or turn is where you find out how all the tribes ended up in the valley. Otherwise it works its way predictably towards an obvious conclusion. It left me a bit underwhelmed by the time I finished the game.

The Bottom Line

This is a worthy RPG but not in the same league as either Ultima 6 or its sequel Martian Dreams. If you consider it an introductory RPG for people who never played an Ultima, it does the job pretty well as the game is always quite easy and goals clear cut. It didn't sell too well and I think Origin would have been better served not trying to tie it into the Ultima line if they were aiming it at new players.