Ultima Underworld I Review - HTMLized by Ganesh (Bootstrike.Com)
As with the Ultima 7 review, we're please to offer three, count'em, three
very thorough reviews on Origin's hit, Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss.
Enjoy all three reviews.
ULTIMA UNDERWORLD - post-game review
by Mitch Aigner
PROS: Great user interface, great graphics/animation during play, weeks of
CONS: Seems to have problems running on some machines. Several people have
reported bugs in the first release.
MIXED: Requires 13 MBytes of hard-disk space for full installation (sound, anim-
ated cut sequences, etc.), 8 MBytes for minimum configuration.
Requires at least 1 Meg of expanded memory (not extended), which means
that you must already have an expanded memory manager (EMM).
Requires at least a 25-MHz 386 machine to get smooth action/graphics.
Requires VGA display card.
All of the above requirements are neccesary evils. If you want great
graphics, real-time animation, and giant play areas, you shouldn't have
bought that old PC XT. To get the most out of a super game, you have
to have a super computer (I have a 40-MHz 386).
OVERALL: This game provides the best "Alternate Reality" that I have seen
since my drug-crazed youth. With the lights off, and SoundBlaster
cranked up, the illusion is complete.
You are the Avatar, unjustly imprisoned in the Great Stygian
Abyss. Your primary mission is to survive, which is not easy. There
are a myriad of wonderfully animated, but extremely hostile nasties
to deal with. The battles are intense, and best of all, under your
complete control. You parry, thrust, dazzle 'em with fancy footwork,
and occasionaly run away like crazy if the above fail. Very realistic,
and fully animated.
There are also a number of fairly civilized bands of critters
who make the Abyss their home. These are informative and entertaining
to talk to, as well as to trade with. Just don't make them angry
(always be polite, and respectful,.. like any great hero).
Your secondary mission is to clear your good name of the crime
you didn't commit by locating, and dealing harshly with, the actual
perpetrators. This is also not easy, as they are located on the lower
levels of the dungeon, which you must fight your way down to.
The game provides 8 very large play-levels. Loaded with secret
doors, hostile nasties, and wonderful treasures. You can count on
spending many hours exploring and mapping each one. By the way, the
automatic mapping feature is great. You never have to write down any-
thing with pencil and paper,... it is already there. Everytime you
venture into a new area, your map of each level is automatically
updated to show where you are, and where you have been.
areas remain blank until you check them out. In addition, there is a
"pen" and an "eraser" to allow you to make extensive notes on your
maps, as well as a few extra blank pages on which to record additional
information that you come across in your travels (which you had better
take full advantage of). Keeping track of all of the characters you
meet, the hints they give you, the mini-quests that they send you on,
bonus magic spells that aren't in the book, and where you left that
darn recipe for worm stew,... gets hard to keep track of if you don't
write it all down.
All in all, I was very impressed.
TIPS FOR BEGINNERS:
- When the game begins, you create your character. Some of the skills you may
choose yourself, some the computer chooses for you (more or less at random).
Of the computer-chosen skills, Strength is one of the most important. If
the character you create does not get a Strength factor of at least 25,
throw that character away and try again. Strength determines how much
wonderful stuff that you can carry at once. During the course of the game
you will have many opportunities to improve your skills in most of the
categories,.. but Strength isn't one of them.
- Talk to everyone who isn't actively trying to kill you.
- Save your game often,.. you never know what horrors may lie behind that
door that you are about to open.
- Write down everything that seems even remotely useful on your maps with
the simulated "pen". If you forget where something (or someone) is, or
what they told you, it could put a real crimp in your day.
- If someone asks you to go off on some senseless quest for them, do it. The
rewards are almost always worth the trouble. The good guys (who are easily
identified by the banner outside their door) may be rude, and occasionaly
disgusting, but they will never steer you wrong.
Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss by Origin Systems
by Andrew Stevens, Oxford, UK
First of all I would like to emphasies that overall Ultima Underworld is
a superb computer game. It is definitively a great step forward in the
state of the art for the FRP game genre, I don't know of anything better
overall. O.k. it needs serious machine to run it on, but there are no
free lunches. Big GFX, big dungeons, and fancy gameplay need megabytes
and CPU cycles. The minimum level machine for the hardware to be
``invisible'' (no slowings of frame-rate etc) would, I suspect, be a
cached 33 Mhz 386DX with a respectable VGA card. Slower machines would
probably have to start having to trade-off texture mapping on floor and
or ceiling for improvements in frame rate.
The ability to move and look around freely 360 degrees horizontally +/-
45 degree vertically adds incredibly to the feeling of ``being there''.
The Dungeon becomes almost tangible. My wife, not easily impressed and
*not* by no means a regular gamer, was immediately hooked and now keeps
*me* up late playing ``just a few rooms more''. The lack of implausible
restrictions in movement - you can jump/swim/fly as well as walk -
adds an amazing feeling of ``depth'' to gameplay. E.g. why not
play dirty and beat up that monster from on top of that platform where
(oh how sad!) it can't reach you. Even more impressive is the
fact that the games programmers have actually built a gameplay engine
smart enough to cope with all variations this kind of freedom introduces.
A very positive mention must also be given to the design of the combat
system. The fluent mouse-driven interface combined with fluent movement
that actually influences the outcome is a real strength. No tedious
grinding away of hit points at point blank. You rush about, maneuvre,
strike, maneuvre, get flustered and lose track of your enemy and so on.
Wonderful stuff. I was especially amused by the (in my opinion
``realistic'') frantic fumbling that occurs when you want to cast a
spell in the heat of combat.
Finally, given the size of the dungeon (8
large levels), I cannot thank the programmers enough for the inclusion
(why doesn't everyone do this?) of an automapping facility. As you
wander around the dungeon the initially blank map is automatically
extended to include the areas you have explored. No more tedious
fumbling with pencil and paper when you have a fancy computer sitting in
front of you. This facility also plays a key role in playability in
that acts as kind of prosthesis for the ``sense of direction'' available
to a real explorer of a real dungeon in real (slow) time.
However, Origin's competitors needn't close up shop quite yet. There
are plenty of areas where improvements could be made.
The ``strategic'' game structure is perhaps not *quite* as good
as the superb tactical level. I, personally, would have appreciated a
the need for little more lateral thinking in the puzzles. So far (I
haven't yet reached the end-game), all the crucial information is simply
told you straight out once you find the right characters / objects / bit
of the dungeon. A option for more cryptic clues to the main quests
might have been nice.
My (addmitedly cheapo) AdLib clone sound-card emmitedly decidedly
unimpressive noises during the game. O.k. with an AdLib you don't
expect individual effects to be staggeringly good. Yet, that shouldn't
impinge on the overall use of sound and its sync-ing with game. I was
particularly disappointed with the small number of different sound
effects used and the rather erratic foot-step effect. Your footfalls
tend to run on after you have stopped moving, and don't adjust properly
to the speed at which you walk/run. A flat-out sprint ticks along
barely faster than a brisk walk. With multiple characters about
``footsteps'' just degenerated into a kind of random clicking.
Even an AdLib can do a rather better when its told to. Furthermore,
there are a lot of AdLib's / AdLib clones out there, so it is not
entirely unreasonable for a game to drive them reasonably well.
Another mild infelicity was hearing supposedly intangible ghosts (etc)
banging around in rooms supposedly seperated by many feet of solid rock.
The game suffers from the well-known ``hard-drive active =
monster around the next corner syndrome''. Given the availability
of plenty RAM on my machine this seemed a bit silly.
The code handling mouse selection of objects in the dungeons was
sometimes a little erratic. Similarly the checking for ``no room
to drop item'' tends to be rather conservative. Often you can't
drop something you've just picked up without moving about a bit.
The original batch of games were released with buggy inventory handling
code. A patched version of the main .exe is available to fix this.
However, all complaints really are quite peripheral. Ultima Underworld's
depth of gameplay grabs you by the throat, drags you into its game-world,
and then keeps you there. That for me is what a FRP game is
all about and ``Underworld'' it does it in spectular style. I certainly
got value for money for my 40 pounds sterling ($60-ish) and I keenly
await a leap-frogging response from Origin's competitors.
They will have to work very hard indeed to do much better.
Ultima Underworld : The Stygian Abyss
Graphics : VGA
Sound Cards : Roland / Soundblaster / Adlib Supported.
Recommended : 386 16 megahertz or better 2 MB RAM required
By : Origin (Blue Sky Productions)
List Price : $79.95
Review by : Jason Kuo
Reviewed on : 486 / 386-25, Sound Blaster
Once again, Origin has taken the IBM hardware to its limit with one of its
newest games, Ultima Underworld. Ultima Underworld is a "Dungeon" game in the
first person perspective. It is special in that it is one of the first games
that actually puts you in a "virtual reality". However Ultima Underworld
requires that you have at least a 386 with at least 2 megabytes of memory, and
about 13 megabytes free on your hard drive.
In this game, you are once again the Avatar, a person of the 8 virtues. You
have been having a recurring nightmare where a ghost warns you of emminent
danger. You draw yourself to the ghost and find yourself in a castle where
you see a wizard who has just kidnapped a princess. The wizard disappears,
leaving you as an obvious suspect. You are taken before the baron, who
declares that to prove your innocence, you must find his daughter the
princess in the Stygian Abyss where the wizard has taken her. And
thus begins your quest.
Included in the game is a map of the first level, and background information
about the Stygian Abyss. Reading the documentation is highly recommended, not
just to find out about spellcasting, but to also learn how to control your
character in the game. It gives you a background of the characters you can
choose from such as Paladin, Magic-User, Ranger, Druid, Shepherd and Fighter
to name a few. It also gives you a background of some of the races that
you will encounter as well.
In Ultima Underworld, you are in a "virtual reality dungeon". So for every
step you take by "moving" forward, the screen reacts by going forward
and simulating the movement to portray real movement. So if you "run", the
screen will simulate it by increased speed in getting to the other side,
of say a corridor, right down to the detail of the screen bobbing up and down,
as you take each step. Objects such as swords, shields, and monsters such as
spiders, and ghosts can be viewed from any direction and are portrayed with
the exact angle in which you see them. So if you run behind a spider,
and if the spider has not turned around, you will see it's back. Throwing an
object against the wall will cause the object to bounce before it lands, and
depending on what you throw, say a ball, it may take a while before the object
settles down. Lighting is portrayed realistically as well, using a candle,
you cannot see as far as you would with a well-lit latern.
There's a cost for creating a "virtual reality" on an IBM or for any machine
for that matter. In this case, the cost is in the graphics. The graphics
while impressive for a "virtual reality" are at times blocky, especially as
you get near any object. The window (first person perspective) to "virtual
reality" is about a third of your screen on your monitor. One reason is the
need to keep the virtual reality in "real time". I'm sure no one would
appreciate doing a jump, and having the game pause to calculate and update the
graphics on the entire screen, then have a third of the screen updated exactly
as you jump. And though at times blocky, each object is distinguishable.
Although you are in a "virtual reality", the game play is not unlike many
other role playing games like Eye of the Beholder 2. There are puzzles such
as pulling levers in the correct sequence, and combat against monsters. The
puzzles consist of visual clues, and interacting with NPC's (Non Player
Character) to complete quests and gain various items. Combat is interesting,
as it happens in real time, you need to take the time to swing your blade, and
distance to fire your arrows.
In hand-to-hand combat, there are different
types of attacks that you can do, such as slashing, and thrusting which have
different effectiveness against certain monsters. As you go deeper into the 8
level underground volcano, the plot will reveal itself to be more than a
simple kipnapping. And even after the "end" of your goal, you will still need
to accomplish further goals as well.
One nice feature is the mapping function. Ultima Underworld will automap each
location which you wander off to. And you can write any comment on the map
Music & Sound:
The Music for Ultima Underworld isn't spectacular, and can get right down
irritating at times. The sound effects are average, although there is stereo
for those with a Sound Blaster Pro.
One problem with Ultima Underworld is inventory. It's not to say this "bug"
will happen on your computer, but in this reviewer's experience, items in his
inventory disappeared that were critical to finish the game. Supposedly this
has been fixed with newer versions of Ultima Underworld, but I've still heard
of missing inventory problems in the newer versions. To help anyone out there
who may have encountered these problems here is a guide to get back some of
your missing items.
- Go into the directory of the savegame with the problem and make a backup.
It's best that you move your character to the level where the item is
supposed to be in the first place before going to Step 2.
- Create a new character and save in position of the savegame with the
- Copy from the backup "player.dat" to the new character save.
- Now when you play the new character, he/she will have the old items of your
old character, and you can retrieve your missing inventory. You will also
find yourself in the location of your "backup" game. A warning however;
when you do this you are reseting the entire dungeon, so monsters
which you may have killed before are now reincarnated.
- When you have finished retrieving the item(s), copy back the backup into
the new game save, but DON'T overwrite the player.dat file.
Of course the best way to conquer this bug, is to always check your inventory,
and save, even if it means expanding your 4 save positions by backing up the
old saves and using the 4 save positions as new save positions.
Ultima Underworld is a landmark game in that one gets to experience a "virtual
reality". It really needs to be experienced. One way you can do this is by
going to your local software dealer and trying the demo, find a friend who has
Ultima VII and ask for the Ultima Underworld Demo, which is included with
Ultima VII, or try ftping it if you have access to the network.
Unfortunately, although one does experience a "virtual reality", the plot,
puzzles, and the NPC interaction isn't really different from any other
"Dungeon" game. I would recommend trying it out before buying it. It's not
because it's a game that wouldn't appeal to the public,
In fact, if it
weren't for the inventory "bug", I would wholeheartedly recommend this game to
any RPG gamer, who have enjoyed games such as Eye of the Beholder, Wizardry
VI or to anyone in general. But an inventory "bug" such as this one can ruin
all the work you've done. On the plus side, if you've ever wanted to really
experience what it would be like to be stuck in a dungeon, you can either buy
Ultima Underworld or be locked in my room. I would say its worth a risk of
buying Ultima Underworld if you can't get your hands on the demo. You just
cross your fingers, and hope the inventory problem doesn't happen on your
computer, try it and follow the above instructions if you have problems,
and/or complain to Origin. Right now, you should be able to buy Ultima
Underworlds for about $54.00 at CompUSA.
For those who would like some tips on Ultima Underworld, here they are:
Choose a character with high strength. Character classes with high strength
include Druids, Fighters, and Shepherds. It's not really necessary though,
Rangers, Paladins, etc. are fine, you just have to be more critical about what
you carry with you. Skills I would recommend investing in are : Mana,
Casting, Search, One Weapon skill, Attack, Defense. The other skills have
their uses but are not that important. If you ever get stuck in one
situation, skip it, a solution may come along later. In fact some puzzles can
be solved very easily when you gain other items on lower levels.
For those of you who must see a rating system:
Ultima Underworld : The Stygian Abyss
Graphics : 8
Sound : 6
Playability : 9
Plot : 7
Overall : 8.5