Reconciling the Past: Escape from Mt. Drash
Ultima: Escape from Mt. Drash
Ultima: Escape from Mt. Drash has an odd history, even for an Ultima game. The game was originally written by Richard Garriott’s friend Keith Zabalaoui in 1983 for Sierra On-Line, Inc. The game was a combination of dungeon crawling, in faux 3D with an overhead map, and combat, in side-scrolling battle. Sierra did not think it would sell well without a product name behind it, and Garriott consented to use of the Ultima brand.
Escape from Mt. Drash is a game of life, and unless you can prevent it, a game of death. You are a prisoner of the evil, wretched Garrintrots whose stronghold is high atop the treacherous Mount Drash. The mountain is honeycombed with old mining tunnels that have been long since abandoned by humanoid life. The Garrintrots have stocked the caverns with all manner of creatures, and now use the caverns as gaming arenas where you are the main attraction.
– from Escape from Mt. Drash manual
Seemingly set between The First and Second Age of Darkness, despite being released following Exodus, Escape from Mt. Drash is the fourth wheel in the Age of Darkness Trilogy. Let’s take a look at some of the incongruences of Mt. Drash, and we can tie these up in the Age article.
The game pits you in the titular Mt. Drash, which is actually mentioned three times in Ultima I, but then fades into obscurity. The first is in the manual, in the section on Starwalking:
Should a champion emerge from the mists of legend, the means by which to combat this menace from the sky will appear — so say the prophets. The legends which foretell of this hero include a number of writings and several ballads sung by the bards of our realm. Among the more recent discoveries pertaining to the coming of the starwalkers is an arcane manuscript, found on the foothills of Mt. Drash. Since it appears to hold instructions for the use of some form of transport, it has been broadcast throughout the land in hopes that it might prove useful to one engaged in the quest to rid Sosaria of Mondain.
The other two notes are dungeons found in the Lands of Lord British, the Mines of Mt. Drash and the Mines of Mt. Drash II.
The mount’s tie to both mining and space are interesting, but neither are explored in the game. Instead, the fifteen levels of Mt. Drash are randomly generated, requiring you to navigate each maze to escape, and as you progress requiring you to obtain one or more gems before continuing.
No Dialogue and Interactivity
Drash has no NPCs to speak to, and no objects with which to interact. Therefore, it is impossible to know exactly what happened throughout the game. While this allows players to use their imagination and immerse into their character, it does make it difficult to establish an exact recreation of the events.
One would think that anachronism would be high in Mt. Drash, given its ties to Ultima I, but actually there is none of this in the game itself!
The Races and Professions
Although part of the Age of Darkness, Mt. Drash is interesting in how it treats the player. Much like later Ultima games, you take the role of a single, specific (but unnamed) hero. Perhaps you are the Stranger, entering Mt. Drash to battle evil (as Ophidian Dragon suggests); perhaps not.
Magic does appear in Escape from Mt. Drash, in the form of three spells: Blast, Sleep and Teleport. These are not guaranteed, and their use is extremely limited, but seem to require no focus. Indeed, no equipment at all is found in the game, although you do battle enemies throughout. Perhaps the Stranger retained the Triangle blade found beneath the Pillars of the Argonauts?
Most of the enemies encountered beneath Mt. Drash exist in other games as well: gazers, gremlins, ghosts and slimes. But what are the Garrintrots? Do they have any relation to Mondain’s elite forces?
Perhaps the easiest explanation is that Garrintrots is the name of the person in charge of Mt. Drash, possibly in honor of Richard Garriott. If he is a henchman of Mondain, it is likely that he was the overseer of the mines during the wizard’s reign. The spectacle of arena combat within a slave mine would be a great backdrop to the story. If it did need to tie in with the Starwalkers, that should be easy enough to do.
Escape from Mt. Drash seem to have tenuous ties to the Ultima series; the title and location are taken straight from Ultima I, and even the box cover is borrowed from Ultima II. The flaws are fairly large, but are they any worse than the other Age of Darkness titles? Stay tuned for Ultima III!
Escape from Mt. Drash was long considered lost, and after it began appearing for auction it went for big bucks. It wasn’t until Telemachos ported the game to the PC was it suddenly available to every Ultima fan. You can download Escape from Mt. Drash from Dino’s Ultima Page and try it yourself!