Ultima Underworld - The Stygian Abyss

Ultima Underworld is one of my favourite games. I have actually played it through twice. The first time struggling on a 386SX not long after its release, and just recently again on a Pentium 150. Compared to todays crop of games Underworld I can still hold its head high. It has an atmosphere that many modern offerings failure to deliver.

The basic plot of UW1 finds you suspected of being involved in the kidnapping of Arial, Baron Almric's daughter. You are thrown into the Stygian Abyss either to perish or rescue Arial. Without giving the plot away rescueing Arial is not that simple and is only part of the ultimate quest. The Ultimate quest will require you to not only free Arial but collect eight arcane Talismans. The Stygian Abyss was once a civilised place where creatures of different races co-operated and lived. Unfortunately it has fallen into decay and ruin. A few groups of creatures, humans, goblins, mountain folk, lizardmen, etc, still cling to Sir Cabirus's dreams of a harmonic society, but for the larger part the residents of the Abyss are now hostile and other foul creatures also lurk. You must battle your way down through 8 levels to the final goals.

The graphics were state of the art when the game was released. Even now they are still good. The view is a first person 3D type perspective, the graphics window takes up less than half the screen. The rest of the screen being inventory, control icons and text message area. The advantage of the smaller graphic window is that the graphics are quite detailed and crisp, even when compared to Doom and the like, although monsters will pixelise when close up. Music is good, even better than some modern games. Digital sound effects are however minimal. Combat is real time and can be set to easy or standard. At the beginning of the game you get to create your character, make sure that his / her strength is at least 25, you will find the game much, much, easier. You can choose between several classes such as Fighter, Mage, Tinker, etc. I chose fighter first time and Paladin on the second. The Paladin did seem the easier choice.

Ultima Underworld's strong point is its plot. Compared to most modern offerings it is far superior. The game is superbly balanced. The puzzles can be hard, but there are clues to all of them. Listen very carefully to everything the non player characters have to say. Talk to them more then once. Always perform the sub quests and erands they wish. Always be honest, polite and don't kill anything that does not attack you first.

There are a couple of things I did not like, but they are mostly trivial. Some of the skills you invest hard earned experience in can be utterly useless, such as Repair and Charm. You will also pack your inventory full of gems and gold only to find that it isn't much use either, a bit trading, but thats all. Ultima Underworld has a couple of bugs, the Inventory bug being the worst and most infamous. The Inventory bug strikes usually around level 7 or 8 and manifests itself as the contents of your inventory getting screwed up when using stairs between levels. There is a patch but it must be installed before striking the bug. Patches Scrolls has the update file. Always save before entering a stair and check your inventory afterwards. If your game enough however you can turn the bug to your own use. In the last game I just finished two of my sacks were duplicated into another sack. When I dropped the duplicates I was credited back the weight of the dropped items as well. So in affect I was able to carry far more than my character's strength should have allowed.

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