Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Moria: All The Good Things

Occasionally while I'm playing Moria I feel as though I should be enjoying it more than I am.  Sure, it's empty and huge, and a bit of a chore to play, but the game has so many innovations, and the list of things appearing in a CRPG for the first time ever is pretty big.  I start to wonder if the problem lies with myself rather than the game.  Am I playing it wrong?  Am I unable to appreciate it because of my modern perspective?  Then I spend an hour mapping empty corridors, and I'm right back to blaming the game again.  Even so, there are a lot of cool features in Moria, and I've decided to list them below so that their significance isn't forgotten.

  • Stats That Advance Through Use: Your four stats (Cunning, Piety, Valor and Wizardry) all increase as you win more battles, but only the ones that you use.  So if you rely on Valor all the time, that's the only score that will get higher.  It allows you to fine-tune your character to an extent, and decide what you want his strengths and weaknesses to be.  I've been focusing on keeping my characters as well-rounded as possible, but it seems almost inevitable that Valor increases the fastest.  Wizardry seems to be the hardest to increase, because casting spells always drains your Vitality.  It's hard to train your spellcasting when every spell you cast brings you closer to death.
  • Character Classes:  Character classes, such as Fighter, Cleric, Thief and Magic-User, are a common element of Dungeons & Dragons style fantasy games.  Although in Moria you don't have a classes as such, there are four guilds that correspond to the classes named above.  In addition to that, the way your stats advance shapes what "class" your character most resembles.  If you mostly use Valor in battle, your character is closest to a Fighter; if you use Piety, you're a Cleric, and so on.  In the other three CRPGs I've played (pedit5, dnd and Orthanc) your character is a hybrid of all the classes.  Moria is the first CRPG that allows you to differentiate your characters based on anything other than equipment.
  • Food: This is the first CRPG in which food and starvation are a factor. You begin the game with a supply of rations (about 16 months worth, which makes me wonder where I'm carrying it all), and can replenish it by purchasing more at one of the Supply Stores in the city.  If your food runs out, you slowly lose Vitality until you're dead.  It's got the basics covered, but one thing I've noticed is that, after killing certain monsters, my food stores increase.  Presumably my character is cutting them up for their meat. It's a super cool feature, and a surprising one to see in such an early game. There will be later CRPGs that include a food requirement, but very few of them will factor in the ability to cook and eat the corpses of your enemies.  I haven't paid enough attention to notice which monsters are edible, unfortunately.
  • Water: As with food above, you begin the game carrying about 16 months worth of water, and if you run out you will slowly die of thirst. You can buy more from the Water Houses in the city.  Water Holes are scattered about the four dungeons with reasonable frequency (usually two or three per level). Some of these are good, but some are poisoned and will damage you if you drink from them.  It's not as innovative as the food thing above, but again I'm appreciative that the designers factored in the ability to find water in the wild.
  • Aging: You begin at age 13, and gradually grow older as the game progresses.  The character I played for the longest got to age 23.  During that decade of life he mapped six levels of the Forest dungeon, which doesn't sound like a particularly efficient use of his time, but in his defense the years pass relatively quickly. The game's help file says that your character can live until at least 100, and after that there's a chance of  death every time you age a year. If you live long enough without dying, you can apparently become immortal.  This is pretty rad.
  • Heirs: I've mentioned this in an earlier post, but your character can leave some of his possessions to his heir.  You need to make sure that you've stored some spare equipment at your guild, and if you do so your next character can go and claim it.
  • Haggling: Not only is the equipment list extensive, but you can haggle with the shopkeeper for every single item on the list.  No matter the price he quotes you, you can bargain him down to about 2/3 of that, without fail.  It would save time, of course, if he'd just give you the lower price to begin with; it's not like your haggling can ever backfire.  The idea is a good one though, if not perfectly executed.
  • Stealing: You can attempt to steal gold from any of the four guilds.  I haven't tried this yet, because if you get caught you are thrown in prison, and will only be released if someone pays your bail. I'm not sure if that's something I could do with a new character, or if it would require another player on the system to bail me out, so I haven't risked it. I might try it the next time I start a new character, just to see how much can be stolen (and how risky it is).
  • String: One novel feature, that I've never seen in any other game, is the ability to tie a string to any area.  Later on you can simply press a few keys to instantly return to that point. It's a handy navigation tool, though it doesn't always work, as monsters will sometimes find your string and cut it.  I'm not sure if it works between dungeon levels, either.  It's failed every time I tried to do so, but it's possible that a monster cut the string.  I should do some more tests.

Everything on that list is a feature that is appearing in CRPGs for the first time ever.  I've probably missed some stuff, as well, because I'm constantly discovering new features.  It's a remarkably sophisticated game, it's just a shame that it's is so large.  If it was of a more manageable size, I'd probably be singing its praises.  There's also one other thing to remember: a big feature of Moria is that it's a multi-player game.  A lot of its features are intended for multiple players, to help them form groups and tackle the dungeon as a team.  I imagine that with a large group of players involved a lot of my problems with the size and emptiness of the dungeons would be alleviated. So while I'm not having the greatest time trying to finish this game, it's always good to remember the many things that Moria does right.  It may not be the most fun game I've played, but it is probably the most sophisticated and innovative.

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