Origin Systems is standing tall amongst its CRPG competitors after having just released Ultima VI: The False Prophet. The elegant mix of action and thought involved in their games has made them both critical and financial successes. Capitalizing on this winning formula, Origin has released a spin-off series entitled the Worlds of Ultima. With Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire, Origin, quite logically, is expecting another huge hit.
The game depicts a quite novel CRPG atmosphere (prehistoric-meets-modern era -- think Land of the Lost), complete with the strong graphics and play control of the Ultima VI: The False Prophet engine. After firing the game up, a quite pleasant and informative opening animation leads you through the background of the story -- how the Avatar came to be sent to this alternate reality seemingly through the experiments of his scientist friend.
The action begins with the main character waking up in a hut in the middle of a prehistoric jungle, the memory of the laboratory and subsequent explosion driving him to find answers. This proves to be a solid method of throwing you directly into the action. The beginning parts of the game deal with the Avatar's attempts to discern as much about his surroundings as possible, trying to figure out exactly what happened and finding a way home. Of course, the need to stay alive is also prominent, though "death" in this game merely plops you back in the same hut in which you first awoke.
The game has an engrossing story from the very beginning and the graphics are no slouch either. Utilizing the dazzling 256-color array of VGA, Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire provides plenty of lush jungle scenery, an abundance of colorful and interesting native creatures and people, and exquisitely drawn portraits of all the game's NPCs during conversation. The graphics, in fact, are occasionally even superior to Ultima VI: The False Prophet. All of the music in the game is written by prolific game-soundtrack musician The Fatman. The sound effects are also fairly good considering the limitations of the PC speaker.
The game, however, is not without its problems. First, it's simply too hard. Unlike previous Ultima games where your sword is your best friend, Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire requires use of your musket at times to dispatch some of the difficult creatures you encounter. The musket has limited ammunition, but to the game's credit, you can create more (although it's a challenging prospect).
In addition, the Tyrannosaurus Rex featured so prominently on the game's cover is actually immortal for all intents and purposes and requires a special quest of sorts to finally dispatch. Any game with a creature roaming its world that can kill you almost instantly is bound to generate some negative word-of-mouth from frustrated players.
If you persevere through the initial difficulty of the game, you'll be amply rewarded with an abundance of mystifying plot elements, amusingly anachronistic characters and situations, engine enhancements and, if you last long enough, a well done ending sequence. Also, for Ultima fans, the requisite appearance of Shamino, Dupre and Iolo, just as in any Ultima game (though their names have been appropriately changed to reflect the environment), is a welcome feature.
Overall, Origin's quality control is sufficient. Most bugs are noticeable only to gamers specifically looking for them and the game runs quite smoothly. Essentially, Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire is quite solid despite its tendency to be a bit too difficult at times and certainly will form a solid foundation for the Avatar's adventures away from the typical realm of Britannia. In the end, Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire remains a testament to the game construction abilities of the Origin team and is certainly well worth a look.
Graphics: The game uses a modified version of the Ultima VI: The False Prophet engine and is capable of quite impressive 256 color artwork; Origin graphic artists have always been top notch. The lush colors of the jungle are represented quite nicely based on current technology.
Sound: The sound effects are well done PC speaker fare but the music, over an AdLib card, is reasonably appropriate for the jungle setting and attributes well to the overall atmosphere.
Enjoyment: Just as with other Ultima games released previously, this game provides abundant enjoyment with its interesting mix of character interaction, combat and world exploration.
Replay Value: Ultima games have a long-standing tradition of worlds chock full of places and items that are easily missed on a first play through the game as well as secret areas that require diligence to locate. Thus, playing through the game a second time is quite enjoyable.
The Worlds of Ultima titles took the Avatar into strange and mysterious places outside the scope of a conventional dungeon-based RPG. This one visits Eodon, an Amazonian world dominated by dinosaurs. There are dozens of characters to interact with, including stone-age tribes, mad scientists and lizardmen. Get ready to fight for survival as gorillas, pterodanodons and tigers encroach. All this is done in a familiar engine somewhere between those used to Ultima VI and Ultima VII
People who downloaded Worlds of Ultima: Savage Empire have also downloaded:
Ultima: Worlds of Adventure 2 - Martian Dreams, Ultima 7: The Black Gate, Ultima 8: Pagan, Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss, Ultima 7: Part Two - Serpent Isle, Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness, Ultima 6: The False Prophet, Ultima Underworld 2: Labyrinth of Worlds
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