Saturday, September 12, 2020

Akalabeth: World of Doom

 Akalabeth box.JPG

That ‘70s RPG

Those who have played computer roleplaying games since their inception are probably familiar with Richard Garriott’s Ultima series, among the earliest in the gaming genre since the 1980s. Before then, however, he developed an RPG that many today refer to as “Ultima 0”, entitled Akalabeth: World of Doom, which saw limited release all the way back in 1979, and saw a later release in 1998 as part of a collection of Ultima games. I’ll admit I’m not a huge, huge fan of western RPGs, and while Akalabeth shows its disposition as the first of its genre, it was in respects a welcome surprise.

When starting a new game, the player can choose to play as a fighter or magi, with the former versed in use of melee weapons but not magic amulets, and the latter with weak physical prowess but skilled in the use of magical amulets, and choose a difficulty setting from 1-10. Players start in a town where they can shop for things such as weapons and other items such as the aforementioned magic amulets, not to mention food, which is critical to surviving in the game’s world, with total expenditure resulting in a Game Over, as does defeat at the hands of enemies in dungeons.

Combat occurs exclusively in dungeons, with the player receiving tasks from Lord British to slay certain monsters, and battles are generally straightforward. Pressing the A key in first-person 3-D dungeons puts the player in combat mode, where they can attack enemies with a weapon they encounter. Combat is generally a quick affair, and food consumes more slowly than on the overworld. One particular helpful trick when playing as a magi is the use of magical amulets, which can turn the player’s character into a lizard man and dramatically increase their stats, which is pretty much the key to completing the game.

Akalabeth can definitely be difficult if the player hasn’t referenced any material on the worldwide web, and saving is only allowed on the overworld. The mentioned magic amulets also double to allow the player to warp instantly to ladders leading upward or downward through dungeons. Regardless of whatever issues the game mechanics may have, I found the gameplay actually preferable to that in future western RPGs, given the lack of influence from complex tabletop RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons. Those expecting a deep, engrossing battle system will definitely be in for disappointment, although I’m definite a fan of the “keep it simple, stupid” school of game design.

As long as players reference the in-game introduction, they shouldn’t have much issue with control, although one can find it easy to get lost on the overworld and find Lord British’s castle so they can get story missions to complete, and the dungeons themselves don’t have maps, either. The player also can’t save their game in dungeon, although given the food system, it’s a bit of a mixed blessing since it would potentially allow for an unwinnable situation had a save-anywhere feature been present. In the end, interaction is certainly by no means game-breaking.

As with most RPGs of its time, Akalabeth’s story mostly consists of supplemental material accessed outside the game itself, with the player’s character being blank-slate, and development for the game’s world being largely nonexistent. What very little narrative does exist is decent, and while this area has its issues as well, it’s far from a dealbreaker.

While there is little musical variety in the game, what few tunes there are sound pleasant, even if they aren’t overly-memorable, although the sound effects are unexpectedly primitive.

The visuals too show indicators of being primitive, given the dominant black hues, with a white cross indicating the player’s character on the overworld, squares representing towns where the player can purchase items, and jagged line patterns indicating mountains. The enemies in dungeons have a wireframe design, as well, though they have smaller versions when more than a space away, and the dungeons themselves differentiate in color the deeper the player goes. Ultimately, the graphics aren’t great, but again aren’t deal-breaking.

Finally, the game is beatable within an hour, with a surprisingly-high amount of lasting appeal for its time given the different difficulty settings and ability to venture deeper into dungeons even after the player has finished Lord British’s quests, although there isn’t any extra content otherwise.

Overall, coming from someone with largely limited experience in western RPGs, I actually found Akalabeth to be a decent start to the roleplaying game genre, given its straightforward combat, a few good if limited musical tracks, and plentiful replayability. Granted, it does admittedly have issues with regards to the minimalist storytelling and the simplistic visuals, although I definitely don’t regret playing, and am actually more interested in western RPGs such as the main Ultima series as a result. As the temporal and monetary investments aren’t that great (the game being free on, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to experience this critical piece of RPG history.

This review is based on the MS-DOS version of the game downloaded from

The Good:
+Straightforward combat.
+Some decent music.
+Plentiful lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Minimalist storytelling.
-Little musical diversity.
-Simplistic visuals.

The Bottom Line:
Not bad for the very first computer RPG.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PC
Game Mechanics: 7.5/10
Controls: 5.0/10
Story: 4.0/10
Music/Sound: 6.5/10
Graphics: 3.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 9.5/10
Difficulty: Adjustable
Playing Time: < 1 Hour

Overall: 6.0/10

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