My last post left off with my capture of the Grail, which is one of two items needed to win. The other is the Orb, which sits at the bottom of the Caverns, one of three 30-level dungeons in the game. The instructions mention that the Orb is guarded by a Dragon, but give no guidance as to how strong the Dragon might be, or how it might be defeated. Version 5 of The Game of Dungeons had a special Dragon Spell that would kill the Dragon instantly, but at the cost of draining every last bit of your magic. That spell isn't in Version 8, and to be honest it was more trouble than it was worth. I didn't use it to win Version 5, so I won't miss it here.
The Caverns, despite being the third dungeon, were easier to map than the Tomb of Doom. There were a few hairy ones; Level 25 was nothing but one-square rooms with doors on every side, and Level 30 was full of hallucination squares, making it impossible to know what was adjacent to my character. Level 30 was also chock-a-block with teleporters leading back to Level 29, and the constant random teleportation was really frustrating. There was nothing as bad as the worst levels of the Tomb of Doom, though, which still take the cake as the most difficult mazes I've ever had to navigate.
|Level 25 of the Caverns. Brown lines are for doors, black for walls, blue and green for teleporters up and down. Good luck navigating this sucker: remember, every time you enter you'll be in a random location.|
Looking at my notes, I just noticed that I either forgot to map Level 15, or it got deleted somehow. I must admit to some small temptation to grind up another character and finish that last map, but there's no way. I can get obsessive about these things, but even I have limits.
After mapping out the Caverns (with the aid of many Astral Potions), it was time to make the final foray. As I did when going for the Grail, I made sure to drink a Potion of Revival before heading to Level 30: it would ensure my resurrection if I died, albeit at the cost of all my magical items, including the Grail. It's not ideal, but it's better than outright death. This is a hard game, but I'm thankful that there are safety nets in place for players that want to use them.
Level 30 can be accessed quickly by use of the Excelsior Transporter (found on Level 1), at the cost of a small number of hit points. Getting back up is more difficult. With an Astral Potion you can easily move up and down between levels, but without one doing so eats up your spell slots. I was being careful, and the whole process should have gone easily, but I had one last scare that almost ruined everything.
After buying a Revival Potion, I left the Potion Shop and started teleporting myself down, not using the Excelsior Transporter but using my own spell power. This is what I would normally have done while Astral, and I had gotten into a routine with it. By the time I realised my mistake I was on about Level 20, and I started frantically teleporting back up. My spell power ran out on Level 13, and I had to make the long slog back to the surface with no magic to protect me. I managed it with about 50 hit points (out of 800+), despite one heart-stopping moment where I fell in a chute I hadn't marked on my map and tumbled from Level 4 back to Level 10. It was one last bit of stupidity and suspense from a game that's provided me plenty of both.
Finding the Orb and the Dragon was, as expected, a bit of an anticlimax. There's no warning that they're nearby, and I'm not even sure that they're always found in the same square. They just appeared suddenly as I was exploring, and even though I was actively looking for them it still took me a few moments to register that I'd reached my goal.
|The poor old Dragon doesn't even get his own icon.|
Killing the Dragon was similarly anticlimactic. The game's two most damaging spells are Fireball and Lightning Bolt; I wasn't about to try casting a fire spell on a Dragon, so I opted for the Lightning Bolt. It was enough to kill the Dragon instantly. Like I said, anticlimactic, but in a game that's so long and time-consuming I'm not going to complain that the final battle was too easy.
With the Orb in hand, I started teleporting back to the surface. My magic ran out on Level 9, but I had no trouble in making it cautiously back to the surface. I took a quick snapshot of my character on the verge of success, to preserve for posterity.
It should be noted that the name 'npm' was something I typed in accidentally (it was meant to be my password). I could have changed it to something more evocative, but I ended up just going with it. I also didn't begin the game as an Elf: I was polymorphed when I read a cursed book. I hate elves on principle, but being polymorphed costs a point of Endurance. As much as I hate Elves, I don't hate them enough to compromise my stats.
And now, the long-awaited victory sequence:
See that, above? That's what I got for my efforts. One word, marred by a bunch of vector lines. There's an extreme pettiness to this, as though the creators of the game just refused to graciously congratulate anyone who beat the game. There's also a certain amount of humour to be gained from the fact that I strove for a whole year just for this. I laughed, anyway.
This is more like it: a leaderboard! There I am, at the top, and even though my character had a terrible name, it's the second-best name on there. Huzzah! Huzzah for npm!
Having finished version 8 of The Game of Dungeons, I'm glad that I played it. I very nearly didn't bother; I assumed that it would be slightly altered or improved from version 5, but basically the same game. While there are similarities, the two are different enough that I would consider them different games. It makes me wonder about the other versions, and in what ways they might have been different. At this point in time they're lost to the ages, which is a damn shame.
The main reason I decided to play Version 8 is that I loved Version 5 so much: it's currently ranked second out of all the games I've played on the blog, and it's the top-rated RPG. Version 8 is larger, longer, and more difficult, but there's one thing it isn't: better. The earlier game was tight, and although it was difficult and featured perma-death, it wasn't so long that it felt like a slog. Version 8 is a poster-child for the idea that bigger is not necessarily better. It has a total of 90 dungeon levels, which would be a lot even in an RPG where you can save your game. With perma-death, it's just way too many.
I guess I have to do a Final Rating for this, don't I? It's a strange feeling to be boiling a year of my life down to a few numbers, but that's the nature of the blog, innit? Besides, it's not like playing The Game of Dungeons is all I did in the last twelve months. Watched a lot of pro-wrestling as well. It's a life well lived.
Story & Setting: Like most games of this vintage, these categories are virtually non-existent. There's not so much a story as a goal: get the items from the dungeons. Why are those items there? Why are they important? Why are those monsters guarding them? Pretty basic questions given the set-up, but there are no answers forthcoming. The story is the game, and the game is the story. Rating: 1 out of 7.
Characters & Monsters: The game has a strong variety of monsters, with differing strengths and weaknesses, but by the end those differences get smoothed away because you can brute force your way through most encounters with little regard for tactics. The monster variety is on a par with those in Version 5, with the main difference being the addition of the various slimes. I'm not even sure they qualify for this category, as they're more obstacles than characters, so I'll rank this game equal to its predecessor. Rating: 2 out of 7.
Aesthetics: The graphics are simple, and there's no sound, but I do love that orange-and-black PLATO colour scheme. There's a lot to be said for graphics that are functional, as well. Rating: 2 out of 7.
Mechanics: While combat and spellcasting in this game are simple (involving little more than a few keystrokes), the game has a lot of functions and implements them flawlessly. Just think, how many times have you screwed up a keyboard-based game because of an errant keystroke? It's happened to me more times than I can count, but in this game, which I played for a solid year, it didn't happen even once. The key commands are set up in such a way that the really important ones are paired with the SHIFT or CTRL keys, which makes it really hard to screw things up. I don't think I've ever played a game that has considered this so carefully, and I have to give it kudos for that. Rating: 5 out of 7.
Challenge: This is where this game is going to take a hit, because it's just too long. I really like perma-death as a game feature, but it only works for very specific types of games. While this is the right style of game to feature perma-death, it's exactly the wrong length. I was prepared to rate this at the minimum score, but the ability to buy potions saves it. If I'd figured that out earlier I would have finished this game months ago. Rating: 2 out of 7.
Innovation: I'm struggling to think of anything this game does that wasn't done better in other, earlier PLATO RPGs. I was thinking that it might be the first RPG to feature multiple dungeons, but then I remembered Moria, which has four. The use of slimes as a hazard is a first, though not a particularly notable one. Rating: 2 out of 7.
Fun: I vaguely recall enjoying this game once, in the dim dark days when I first started playing it. The fun long since drained out of the experience, and it simply became something I did. It was part of my schedule, and by the end I was playing just to win, not because it was fun. Rating: 1 out of 7.
Does this game earn the bonus point? HELL NO. The above scores total 15 , which doubled gives a Final Rating of 30. That puts it fourth from the bottom, and the lowest-rated RPG on the list. That's perhaps unfair: a lot of care went into the interface of the game. It's a better game than, say, Space or Dungeon Campaign. It's just a shame that it was hurt by being so difficult and so, so interminably long.
NEXT: I've started Moria again, which is another PLATO RPG and could be another multi-month affair. I'm pretty sure, though, that it might be the last massive mainframe RPG I have to tackle. There's Oubliette, but I've heard that game is basically unwinnable as a single player. My current plan is to go hard at Moria and get it out of the way. It's going to harm the blog in the short term, but I really want to get these huge games behind me.