The Savage Empire. (computer game) (evaluation)
by Barry Bernesal
When the people at Origin Systems issued their new, much improved gaming engine in Ultima VI, they knew in advance that it would be a hit. Understandably, they didn't want to wait another year or Ultima episode until series producer Richard Garriott made use of it again, so the Worlds of Ultima spin-off line was created.
The Savage Empire, the first release, re-creates the steamy Grade B jungle epics of 1930s Hollywood films and pulp magazines. Once again you play the Avatar, good guy extraordinaire. Sent to a hidden jungle valley that's been cut off from the world for tens of thousands of years, you'll find a variety of oddly juxtaposed cultures and large, carnivorous reptiles. What begins as your party's attempt to rescue the kidnapped tribal princess Ayesha turns into a broader conflict against a deadly, well-organized foe.
Origin Systems' post- Ultima V products mark a radical departure from the standard role-playing interface of icons and stick figures. Conversing with NPCs NonPlayer Characters) brings up images and short descriptions of each person. Cities are full-size, citizens work, fish gotta swim, and birds gotta fly. The price one pays for this detailed, animated reality is a good computer system; you really should have VGA, a sound card, and (above all) an 80386 microprocessor to sample Origin's universe-in-a-program.
Ultima's basic gaming components remain unchanged, however. You're in charge of up to seven characters at once, who work, fight, and converse according to your whims. You, in turn, are at the mercy of Garriott's computerized world and a host of fictional people whose vividness tends to lurch at you through the screen.
Many people will prefer this game to Ultima VI. Character images are better drawn, and command response time is slightly faster. Its designers made Savage Empire a little more forgiving of errors of judgment and omission than their mainstream product. Should you pass up something important like a jar of sulfur, for instance, you'll find ways to acquire more in your surroundings. The quests are more varied, too, with shorter ones building confidence before you crash into the major efforts. Savage Empire is lengthy and involved, but not quite as complex as Ultima VI, and some moments of humor (involving a celebrated comedy team of the past) are better integrated with the plot.
In sum, it's an auspicious debut to a gaming series from an old and reliable source. Break out the pretzels, and keep plenty of mosquito repellent handy.