My Exile on Pagan has ended!

I’m coming for you Guardian! I’m COMING FOR YOU!

Err… sorry got carried a bit!

So as I mentionned I went to consult Mythran… and we basically agreed I should need the Five Blackrocks fragments to recreate to Obelisk the Guardian first used to enter Pagan in order to get back home.

I already had two of them, but first thing first: I went back to the Sorcerer’s Enclave and freed Pyros by walking on his Pentagram with the Tongue of Fire.

This really brought the world to hell, and turned the screen reddish with fireball falling from the sky.

Yeah well… except nobody in the game reacts to it. Meh.

After that I returned to Devon and asked him about Hydros’ artefact: the Tears of Seas. As it turns outs, Devon had conventienly fished back the stone a long time ago and had put it in a chest in his palace. How convenient!

(Did I mentionned all the cuts about the Water plotline? Yeah I believe so…)

Next was the Breath of Wind which could be found next to Stratos after using some Theurgist magic to reveal it. The downside of this is that it basically removed all their healing powers from the Theurgist, but oddly enough the elder Stellos take the thing pretty well, agreeing this probably had to be done. Altough well… that did kill him.

Finally came the Heart of Stone found in Lithos’ City of the Dead next to his domain. One point of note is that originally this was meant to start up an invasion of undeads upon Tenebrae. But you know… plut cuts and all…

So now let’s sum up the situation here: Hydros is flooding the land, Pyros is burning it down, Stratos no longer offers healing, and Lithos is theorically sending undeads.

The Avatar really has made a mess heh?

For all the talk about how the Avatar is evil for summoning daemons (which actually made it into the original Bob White plot of Ultima IX, I mean seriously?) this is the real essence of the Avatar’s misaction in Ultima VIII.

To be fair, this mess is not necessarilly a misaction – one might argue this was for the greater good in order to free Pagan from the Titans, and in the ends it works out and it feels logical to think Pagan will be better off without the Titans and the Zaelans’ deities coming back.

The thing is the Avatar just didn’t really do that for Pagan’s sake. He did that out of selfishness just to get back home. Not that he wouldn’t want to help Pagan… but it’s secondary to his main goal. And this is the main issue here, because in the end he put Pagan on the brink of destruction (not knowing whether of not he would be successful) in order to get back home.

And even if things worked out in the end, that’s the real nature of the Avatar’s sin in Ultima VIII IMO.

But in any case, having now the five blackrock fragment I could cast the latest spell Mythran had given me and teleport to the Ethereal Void.

Now the area has something weird, because basically it offered a big Pentagram… and some sort of construct with four doors leaving to each of the Elemental planes.

The point here is to go to Each of these planes and face the Titans in their own grounds to drain their powers by using theire respective blackrock fragment on them. Note that I say drains their powers, and not “Kill them”, because it has always felt to me it was the essence of this part of the game. It’s not about destroying the Titans, but rather about stealing their powers and leaving them powerless in their respective Elemental planes.

Indeed even the final dialogue of each of the Titans seems to go this way, with some hinting of revenge to be taken. (Which shall lead to a missed opportunity in Ultima IX, but more about that when we get there).

The areas are rather straigthforward, so I began with Pyros, which basically involved jumping over a bit of lava. Altough point should be noted there is a tiny bit of background information to be had there.

But well, good ol’ Pyros didn’t last long. See you later!

After that I went to the plane of Air, which basically consist of a lot of Jumping over flying rocks, some of which can fall underneath you. It is however fairly easy with the targetted jumping, so as they say: hasta la vista Stratos!

Next came the plane of Earth. This is actually the longest of all the planes. You need to move around a lot, and it also has a lot of undeads (altough I chose to avoid them instead).

And well you know the drill about Lithos!

Which lead to the final area… meaning jumping over stones in water to get to Hydros.

Sayonara Titans!

With blackrock fragments charged up, all needed left was tu use the last one (the obelisk tip taken from Kumash-Gor’s tomb) on myself and turn myself into the Titan of Ether.

As the Avatar says “I feel very powerful!”

(This should probably be a time to point that the Avatar’s lines are really terrible in Ultima VIII, but this hardly deserve a notice).

After that all that is left is putting the Blackrock fragments on the Pentagram in order to recreate the Obelisk.

And I can’t help pointing out that the pre-patched version of the game did not give any hint as to where you had to put each fragment.

But in any case the Obelisk was now the built.

And all that was left was basing through this Black Gate to get back home.

And here came the ending… which is short but that I’ve always liked. The fun thing to point is that there has been for a long time debate as to WHERE the Avatar ended in this ending, some felt it was Britannia, others Earth, others the Guardian’s world… and of course the later was the correct answer originally.

And thus ended by journey into Pagan… which was certainly short, but certainly great fun!

I know eagerly look forward to starting Ultima IX, one of my favorite episodes!

Altough I need to ask: what’s with the the cheesy Titan armor? I wanted to keep it :(

The joy of Sorcery!

To begin on a totally unrelated side-note: there is actually one good side to that awful rain effet: you can actually know if you’re inside or outisde now! As great as Ultima VIII looks (and it actually aged surprisingly well, especially with Pentagram’s improved resolution and filter), the fact that it doesn’t have light & day cycle lead to the fact that it does have lightning of any kind really! So outside or inside… everything tends to feel the same. Oh well

Well… in any case I was just arriving at the Enclave.

Needless to say the Sorcerers aren’t really to happy go lucky people the Theurgist. To be fair, Pyros the Fire Titan is pure evil with no other desire than to destroy everything… he actually looks a bit like the Guardian!

But first things first. The Sorcerer’s Enclave actually provides you with a bit of a moral dilemas. Basically two of the Acolytes offers to take you as their disciple, give your their True Name… and ask that you spy on ther other one, because he/she supposedly plan to kill the Master Sorcerer and each Acolyte supposedly just want to scry using the True Name of the other.

Except of course they want to kill the other, which is rather obvious, but I guess you can argue that the Avatar really did believe them!

You basically choose to side either with the beautiful Sorceress Bane, or the ambitious sorcerer Vardion.

I basically decided to take side for Vardion, basically to honor his grandma Mordra whose ghost I met in Ultima VII.

And so Bane…. there wasn’t much left of her after Vardion sent a Deamon on her!

Sorry lass! :(

But I was now a disciple, ready to learn more!

Sorcery is obviously the magic of fire. And it’s basically based on a ritual using Pentagrams. Basically you need to bind sorcery spells to a Focus (which can be a talisman, a rod, a staff..) by doing a ritual: which is basically about placing candles of a specific color and reagent on a pentagram at the place appriopriate for the Spell you want to bind to your focus.

The thing can seem a tad tedious, but it is also quite fun. But that is really one of those stuff that you either love or hate. To be fair, it could use a more point & click interface… but it’s still a great aspect of Ultima VIII.

(And for those who followed carefully, yes Ultima IX’s magic is pretty much a mix between Thaumaturgy and Sorcery).

So the first test when becoming a disciple is to create three spells in front of your “Master”, after which you are sent to the Obsidian Fortress to pass even more tests before geting face to face with the Master Sorcerer, Malchir.

One point of note, you actually meet Arcadian again in this Fortresse – the very same deamon for which you build the Shade Blade in Forge of Virtue. Except he doesn’t remembers you which suggests this has yet to happen in his life, and show the issues of travelling between world!

The major area of the Obsidian Fortress is pretty nice dungeon area. The concept is that you need to get 4 symbols which are each in a different part of the dungeon. And to get them, you need to use a specific sorcery spell which will help you to find the symbol: such as Armor of Flames to protect yourself from fireballs hurled as you, or Flash to teleport yourself over traps or fields of explosive mushrooms!

A very well thought out dungeon on the whole, altough with perhaps a tad too much undead for my taste.

Once you get the 4 symbols, you can then teleport to Malchir himself for the final part of your test.

This test is actually very much like the first one you do: you need to create 3 spells and cast them at Malchir, before finally banishing he Daemon he sends at you.

After that, the time of the grand summoning of Pyros has come.

This is obviously one of the most iconic moments of Ultima VIII. A lot of fuss has been about the whole summoning Daemons aspects of the game, but this particular scene has been used extensively in promo materials of the games – some people actually thinking this was the Guardian being summoned!

Also, Pyros is probably the only one in the whole game who has a decent VOID and don’t make your ear bleed when you ear him talk!

The scene is itself is impressive (altough one whould argue no very useful from a plot standpoint) and can actually go several ways depending on how well you prepared and if you follow orders carefully (the worst case scenario leading to to the death of everyone around the Pentagram, including the Avatar!)

After this scene Malchir congratulates you (or scorlds you if you screwed) and asks not to be disturbed.

But at this point you basically do need toe Tongue of Fire – the Blackrock Artefact it holds to free Pyros so that he can counter Lithos. So what is the most logical conclusion?

Aye I thought I should go see Malchir at this fortress and talk to him. Except he just doesn’t take kindly to it, and attacks you!

Now there’s actually been a LOT of fuss over this part of the game for MANY years – with many fans saying that this shows the Avatar as a MURDERER and how evil he was in Pagan (note: I’ll talk about the Avatar’s evilness in my next blog post…) and some fan projects has put a lot of focus on this scene.

Are they fracking kidding me?

Now some people obviously need to the see the definition of murder. The Avatar in now ways enters the Fortress to kill Malchir, but solely to talk to him. Malchir attacks without provocation: that’s self defense. Period.

But in any case I was know unwillingly the Master Sorcer, which lead to all the other Acolytes licking my boots.

I also got the Tonguer of Fire from Malchir’s body… and I feel it would be a good idea to consult Mythran on the matter…

A Pilgrimage through Air and Water…

Moriens’ Pilgrimage. It actually is a fairly simple thing: you find the sign showing his birthplace in the Catacombs, go there, and supposedly sleep here to have a vision (which never happens). And there, it’s done!

It does in truth have a nice little altar and such.

The thing is… this didn’t existed in the original version of the game. Vividos sent you to find this birthplace (supposedly near the Pit of Death)… but you can’t find it since it nevers exist. And the place where Moriens’ Birthplace now is was simply called “Shrine of the Ancient Ones” which is an ancient Zealan temple and where you need to go to further the plot. But a far cry from the birthplace of the first Necromancer!

Now as it turns out, this is obviously one of the many plot cuts than Ultima VIII suffered, altough Origin did their to fix it a bit with the patch, by adding this sign and altar next to the ancient Zealan Shrine.

Now the Shrine of the Ancient one is pretty nice place in my book.

It’s basically a puzzle centric dungeons, but a a few traps (altough nothing to serious) but mostly puzzles (such as lever puzzles to create a stair, sending a ball on a plate to open a grate) with some use of necromantic powers. Also no combat at all, wich is a welcome thing in my book. So it is a nice place to explore, and it has a wonderful music track as well!

One point of note is that this is one of those area where a Golem can really be of use. Since if you don’t want to play through all the puzzles you can basically create Golems to open all the doors, and getting a direct passage to to the inner shrine at the end of the dungeon.
Now in the end you get to the center of Temple where statues inhabited by the three Gods of Emotions of the ancient Zealans are there – and you obviously need to summon them by putting a ceremonial shield (found either in this dungeon or at Mythran’s) in the Altar.

Now these Gods basically seek your help, but also to help you – by first asking you to go face the spirit of Kumash-Gor to get a Blackrock Artefact.

So you basically need to suffer through quite a bit of terrible voice acting (altough I guess Kumash-Gor is okay, but then he was voiced by Ev Lunning who voiced Lord British in Ultima IX so it makes sense!) and you learn that these Gods basically want you to become the Titan of Ether!

So for this purpose you need to learn the powers of allo the Titans, to eventually steal them from them, as well as in the end garnering followers. Note that this is a point that is not fully developped though… on account that it was really meant to me the central point of Ultima IX. Whoops.

After being done with the Zealan gods, you now basically decide to go wheter to see Stratos or Hydros. For reasons that will appear obvious later, I chose to go with Stratos and his Theurgist on Argentrock Isle.

Now Stratos… is the Titan of Ether. And she basically appears to be a good Titan whose only purpose is to heal people. Unlike the sorcerers and the necromancers, there Is also nothing creepy about the Theurgist as there only goal in life is to heal people! As such… this lead to a lot of debate amongst fans about whether of not Stratos was truly evil. In truth all this seems to go to be true, but there is no real hint of evil design behind the scene, altough one might assume that following the submissions of Lithos and Hydros she might have devised a more subtle approach to gain followers.

In any case, all you need to do is… join the Theurgist, which of course begin by a couple of test. First you need to answer some question with answers fitting to the Theurgist’s philosophy. And then you need to do an equilibrium test where you stand on the top of a simile mountain while wind blow and tries to get to fall and die.

After that you are officially welcomed and are sent in the catacombs below the Monastery of the Theurgist to get 8 pieces of silver in order to have the blacksmith from Tenebrae create Foci from them.

You see, Foci are the basis of Theurgism. Each focus has a different shape which represents a different spell. Casting a spell doesn’t require anything else that the focus and mana. The magic is mostly focused on healing and protection: but effective.

Before that you do need to put each of your foci on the altar of the Monastery to get them working.

And after that a final task if given to you: heal a poor hurt beast with your new powers below the monastery.

As you return however you discover that a healing focus of another Theurgist has been stolen and you need to inquire about it. As it turns out a young apprentice named Torwin stoled it… thinking he might be able to reach Stratos and learn how to resurrect his father: the poor guy you saw executed upon arriving in Pagan! Also he ends up plunging to his death, and all you can do is report his death to his already weeping mother :(

But well… no time to grieve! There is a world to save! So the next step was actually going to talk to Stratos who appears well… somewhat nice and gave me my last Focus to allow for big ass jumping (which will be necessary later to get to the Sorcerers).

Two magic gained! Two to go!

After Stratos, the next step was going to Lake Carthax to meet with Hydros, Titan of Water.

As it turns out Hydros was trapped in her lake by the original Tempest… and asked me to free her in exchange for getting her powers. The original Tempest had locked water from her Lake, leaving just enough to keep her alive, and agreed to do so in exchange for her power. All I had to do was to well… open the valves if you get my meaning.

Now you get where this is going of course.

Yeah, once freed Hydros screwed me over so as a result: no Tempest powers! And she began to throw torrential rains and storm upon Pagan.

And it looks UGLY. Somehow having actually rain must have been to resource heavy at the time, so all you get is an ugly white filter. Which is why it is recommended to go to Stratos first.

So this lead me to return to Tenebrae and speak with Devon… who recommended that I seek the help of the Sorcerers in this matter. So I went straight to the Sorcere’s Enclave, ready to learn the secrets of Pyros: Lord of Fire!

Now one point of note to close this post: it feels pretty obvious that the Tempest plotline has been very much cut down and it was likely the plan was for the Avatar to eventually learn Tempestry. Outside of the thing I mentioned about Devon in my earlier blog… there is also the obvious fact that the Sorceres never make any reference to Hydros’ liberation. Indeed you might argue that there really was no point in limiting access to the Enclave at that point of the game since doing it before Stratos or Hydros would not change anything!

In any case I gotta say things are going very fast – and much faster that I anticipated. So I expect to be done with Ultima VIII tomorrow. But I don’t mind… Serpent Isle was so long, that the shortness of Ultima VIII does kind bring a bit fresh air!

For now, I’m gonna go set stuff on fire!

The Hall of the Mountain King

The “Necromancer Hunt” as I call it, is actually a very nice part of Ultima VIII and pretty smart game design.

The concept is simple – at each Necromancer you learn a new Necromantic spell that you need to use to survive before reaching the next dead Necromancer. Simple, but effective and it is a good way to get a good sense of your new magical powers.

Once you get to the last Necromancer, he teach you the Golem spell and aks you to get to the Stone Cove where you’ll find the entrance to the Hall of the Mountain King.

Now the Stone Cove is accessible from the south of the Catacombs. It actually leads an underground “hub” area with passages and door that basically leads to the other area of the island. Altough at this point of the game only the door to the Stone Cove is accessible.

Upon reaching it all you need to do is summon a Golem to open the double doors leading to Lithos’ abode.

One point of note: the Golem is actually a very useful character – while you can only summon it on brown earth… it can actually open ANY locked door in the game, which means it can get quite handy at various times.

But passing the doors well… you enter the Hall of the Mountain King. Also known as the widowmaker. Or the are that left for dead many Ultima fans, or made them quit Ultima VIII in disgust.

And I’m not even exagerating.

The Hall of the Mountain Kings have a lot of traps. But also a lot of jumping, which feel like it has been taken from Super Mario Bros.

Notably two areas of the kind:

And a couple of others like this:

Now anyone who discover and play Pagan nowadays, will probably wonder what is the big deal. Sure the second screen shows dissapearing platforms, but it’s not that big a deal. And they’re right.

But this is why I really ought to describe the Jumping as it worked in the original pre-Patch version of Ultima VIII.

You see, the patched version of Ultima VIII offers targeted jumping. Basically all you need to do is double-click where you can to jump and your Avatar jumps there. It’s not hard, and while the amount of Jumping can get a tad annoying, it’s so easy so it’s a breeze to go through that.

Not so much in the pre-patched version.

Originally you couldn’t control the distance the Avatar jumped. You could jump in any of the eight directions… but the jump distance was fixed. Now matter where you jumped, you always jumped the same distance. Which means that any sequence of jumping in the game basically turned into some kind of jumping puzzle where only one point of the screen would land you the proper jump on the next stone and platform. Jumping from any other point would lead to death.

You can see how that would get even more annoying with moving stones and disspeareing paltforms – but see that first screen? Well originally these platforms were moving horizontally as in any platformer game. Combined to the original jumping system: it was hell.

In addition with the kind of computer we had back then, loading could be very long which really added to the frustration. So jumping puzzles on my 386 DX 40 was like: “Jump => Fall and Die => Wait 20 minutes for reloading”

I would say the jumping always has been my major issue with Ultima VIII, so you can see why this infamous patch really improved the experience for me!

The rest of the area is prettry straightforward: it has fireball traps, exploding mushrooms and a few monsters (one point of note: I don’t think i’ve killed any monsters except ghouls and changeling in that game…).

One point I like though it this force field area which can get annoying but is already quite clever : you need to throw mushrooms between pillars to see if they have a force field or not until you get to the chest that contains the key to the next area.

After that though, I finally got to Lithos, happy to be facing with the Mountain King (and his terrible voice acting that has so much echo it is hard to understand!). He agreed to make me a Necromancer apprentice and I had a new task, bury Lothian the dead Necromancer.

So I returned to the cemetary (thanks god for the teleporting disc Mythran gave me!) and talked to Vividos which made me his Scion and game me the Key of the Scion. This is another staff that I could use on Lothian to bury her… but also as a key to open all the locked door in the Hub area… thus it would give me access to the other Titan’s domains.

But before that Vividos has given me another task now that Lothian is intered: do my Pilgrimage at Moriens’ buriial site in the catacombs.

Boy this is gonna be a “fun” story to tell!

A dark and bloody world…

That would basically summ it up the world of Pagan, and why it feels so different from Britannia.

Of course I began by reading the manual “Chronicles of Pagan” which is written by Bentic, who also happens to be an ingame scholar. It’s a nice read as well and clearly it feels different from previouses manual solely on its contexte – Britannia barely gets a footnote in it, and it’s all about this strange and unfamiliar place.

It’s a good read, but also comes on a short side, especially went you get to the description of places and monsters… which pretty much show from the start how much things have been scaled back from previouses games. It does have a nice propagrandish feel, not in the same sense as Batlin – but knowing Ultima VII you can see how much everyone was dupped by the Guardian.

For the first and only time in the series, the game actually started exactly where the previous episode ended, with the Avatar inside the Guardian’s hand (altough well… the Guardian appears to have some magical power that changes cloth) before he drops our hero in the world of Pagan.

You wake up on the coast of the isle of Morgealin, saved by a fisher named Devon.

You rapidely get the sense that you are pretty much an alien in this land, much more so than in Serpent Isle, and everything is made so that you feel out of place in this world.

But after a few minutes of gameplay you immediately get an image of the violent tone of the game, as a bloody execution takes place in front of your eyes.

To say the least this is a very well done scene… it continues the tradition of Serpent Isle’s scripted then really but take sit a step further by removign portraits and having all dialogues portrayed over the characters.

This is a choice that was often critized, but there is some sense to it really especially when you consider that the plan down the road was to release a fully talkie CD-Rom version of the game – and full speech would not have worked with portraits. Indeed this is probably the very reason the decided the drop the Britannian english as well.

But in any case you don’t really feel welcome here and well the purpose of the game is clear: find a way to get of this rock!

Now to do this, you’ll basically need to get an understanding of the various school of magics of Pagan. Small history lesson: Pagan was destroyed by a big red evil creature called the “Destroyer” aeons past that four elementals which had been created through the devotions of the people and the Guardian’s help (who you know… wanted to save the world from the Destroyer) fought in order to save the world.

Now of course anyone who know Big G, know that this is BS and that really they just destroyed the world with him. But since the people of Pagan don’t know this, the Titans just want their devotions, and as such a school of magic exist around each of them, based on the four elements.

But more on this later.

After this execution I went on to explore the city of Tenebrae. Now this is actually a nice city – it is pretty big, altough it doesn’t have that many unique NPCs.

One point I would like to note though: Ultima VIII often gets a lot of criticism for its lack of NPC depth. This is just not quite true. Pagan suffers from just not having a whole lot of NPCs, true. The NPCs there are though, tend to have a lot of depth and things to say. Indeed: a regular Pagan NPC probably had at least twice as much to say as a regular Ultima VII one (which tend to get overestimated in term of word count).

This is crazy, but it’s true.

The most interesting people in Tenebrae is the scholar Bentic though, which suggest you get the help of a hermit sorcerer named Mythran who live on a plateau north of the city. Now to get to there, you actually need to get through a cave.

This cave will actually be a good definition of the dungeon crawling tone of the game: with clickfest combat, traps, puzzles and… well. Jumping.

There is a lot to say about Jumping in this game… but I’ll get back to this when I get to the Hall of the Mountain King. People who have played the game will understand why.

One note about combat: I’ll go and say but I find it somewhat enjoyable. Say what you will about clickfest, but I take that over UVII’s boring autocombat any day.

Replaying it actually gave me a new sense of combat. Because actually it made me realize that contrary to what I have been thinking for 15 years… parrying actually works!

Also it should be noted that combats are actually easy to avoid in Ultima VIII, and it actually has little in term of mandatory battles.

But in any case after arriving to the plateau, I got into Mythran’s house. It actually is a very weird place, because it is an Ethereal house which is basically bigger on the inside by existing in the Ethereal Void. And well… it also has traps you first time you want to enter.

Now this is also an aspect that got quite a bit of criticisms – but I liked it. Because at least in this case (contrary to Ultima VII and Serpent Isle) you can AVOID this stuff. And traps you can simply avoid is fun.

This area is rather simple in any case, so I could get to Mythran.

Now Mythran is a great source of information and is essential throughout the game. I mean in a way you could compare him to role of the Time Lord in Ultima VII as he will guide you in your adventure. He is also a powerful magician and will offer you a first taste of magic. Thaumaturgy.

Now Thaumaturgy is a form of magic unrelated to the Titan’s magic and is actually the closest to Britannian magic as it uses Spellbooks and Reagents. The difference however is that you each spell has its own spellbook and that you only need to use reagents once in order to activate the spellbook, after what you can use it as much as you want as long as you have mana. (In many ways this is very much the premise of Ultima IX’s binding magic).

In any case talking to Mythran lead to the revelation that the Titans essentially prevent travels to other world, and he suggests learning from the Titan’s school of magic, starting with the Necromancers of Lithos.

So I went west of Tenebrae, but before going to cemetery I went to a small underground area next to it. It’s a regular dungeon crawl area (note: one flaw of Pagan’s art is that it probably lacks a bit of variety in term of dungeons) but the thing is that it leads to one of the best weapons of the game: the Slayer Mace.

With my new weapon in hand, I head to the cemetery to get to meet the chief Necromancer. But as it turns out, she was sick and her apprentice needed a dagger for a ritual which had been stolen from Mordrea, the Lady Tempest Leader of Tenebrae. So I got back the dagger (note: this is the only point in the game in which you’ll see a NPC sleeping…) and went back to the necromancers… where I assisted in a gruesome event.

The apprentice Vividos killed his master with the dagger I had just brought, thus becoming the new Necromancer.

Now this is just very dark and gruesome. But also very cool a good demonstration of the tone of the game. As you see this was not murder, simply the way in which the Necromancers end their life, in order to rejoin Lithos in servitude.

You see, in order to stop his earthquakes, Lithos requested for all Pagans to serve him in death. As such any people who die has got to interred, in order to serve Lithos eternally as undead beyond life. Now I don’t know what you guys think about afterlife, but this is definitely not the way I’d want it.

So Vividos was now the Necromancer and agreed to make me his apprentice. My first task: finding two reagents for him. Now a “funny” trivia bit. In order to solve this quest you need to find two reagents: some sticks called “Deadman’s elbow” and “Executioner’s Cap”. The thing is in the pre-patch version of Ultima VIII, Vividos asked you for WOOD, which is an actual Necromantic reagent and these sticks were also named wood. So basically there was no hint as to the sticks you were supposed to bring to Vividos, which lead to some hair-pulling.

As I was coming back to Tenebrae however a terrible news came: Bentic had been executed and Devon was next! Now this lead to some inquiries – as it turns out Bentic found out that Devon was the legitimate Tempest and ruler of the city and was executed for it, and Devon was next. But you know, an Avatar is always there to help his friend, so I said it all just as he was about to be executed, which lead him to reveal his Tempest power.

One point of note: at this moment Devon mentions he need to get away from Tenebrae for some time in order to think about what he needs to do, before coming back and rule as Tempest. Except if you return to the palace, here is Devon all ruling!

Yeah well… I guess that’s a plot cut for ya!

In any case I could now return the Cemetery and bring my reagents to Vividos which officially made me his apprentice and gave me the Key of the Caretaker, the essential tool of Necromancy.

The way it works is simple: you need to put the reagents appropriate for the spell inside a pouch and use the Key on the pouch. This creates a small talisman containing the spell than you can use at any time. Which allows you to prepare multiples spells in advance. So basically: a good system and easy to use!

But now I had a task: getting into the Catacombs to find the knowledge of dead Necromancers.

Getting into the Catacombs is easy. It’s an area full of traps and undead and is gonna be rather central to the rest of the game… but a hidden hole in the ground lead to the Necromancers.

I quickly found my first dead necromancer and invoked his spirit… but this was just the beginning and I shall share more about this in my next post…

Pagan: Ultima VIII

“PAGAN: Ultima VIII” went on to be released in March 1994. As one will have noticed, much like Exodus before it (and originally Ultima IX), the main title of the game remains Pagan… with the “Ultima VIII” only kept as a subtitle.

Originally planned for Xmas 93, the game ended being postponed in no small parts due to the various delays Serpent Isle suffered before it. Of course knowing that Ultima VIII got delayed almost at the last minute is somewhat ironic considering the end result… but more about this below.

After a Serpent Isle that was critically acclaimed by reviews and fans alike… Ultima VIII would end up on the opposite side of the spectrum, remaining to this day what is probably the most controversial episode of the series (with Ultima IX being a close second though it is hard to objectively said which was ended up the most controversial). Fans for the most part panned the game, and reviews varied a lot depening on what part of the world you were in: while it often got outstanding review in Europe, the US press generally panned the game as well.

In hindsight, however Ultima VIII was not a bad game at all – however there are many reasons which lead to these reactions, some legitimate, others not so much – but all very much understandable.

At first sight, Ultima VIII felt glorious. It offered graphics of a quality unseen of at the time – they were beautiful, colored, with an animation absolutely breathtaking (the Avatar sporting over 1200 sprites of unique sprites!). Rather than the top down view of Ultima VII, it took a true isometric approach with a camera closer to the Avatar. The UI and interface was also pretty much like Ultima VII, except with the addition of a jumping capability.

This technical quality was also found in sound and music as well – with a lot of quality digitized sound and absolutely amazing music composed by Nenad Vugrinec (who had worked on previous Origin games such as Strike Commander and Privateer).

So on the whole you might feel this had everything to be an amazing game.

The issue really is that it took an approach that is… quite different from previouses Ultima games – or rather that removed quite a lot of features.

Now for starter, while the game looks great – everything is broken up into zones. Which meant the end of the seamless world introduced with Ultima VI. Dialogues abandonned the keyword for a sentence approach – but removed the character portraits that were dear to many fans (altough I personally feel this was a good move). Also due to the world being plunged in an “eternal twilight”, there were no night&day cycles anymore and NPC schedules were reduced to their bare minimum, with people just teleporting to the place they were needed depending on the time of day.

But the “coup de grace” really was the removal of a party system, with the Avatar having to play through the whole game in solo with no companions of any kind. While this was somewhat logical due to the context, this just didn’t went well with many fans.

Ironically though, all these cut features and removal are but the tip of the iceberg to what really was the main issue of the game to many fans: Ultima VIII just took a much more arcadish approach than any Ultima game before, with real time combat consisting mostly of clickfest (altough I would argue this is better than Ultima VII’s auto combat) and a lot of action elements in dungeons with sprining traps or fireball to avoid as if you were in Prince of Persia or Zelda… and a lot, a whole freaking lot of jumping which lead many disguntled fans to nickname the game “Super Avatar Bros”. The design of the world also left little in term of cities and NPC with only one actual city and two other smaller settlements – which means most of the game was comprised of dangerous dungeons areas, making Ultima VII feels more like a hack’n slash dungeon crawler (indeed in some way one could see Ultima VIII as some sort of predecessor to Diablo!) that an Ultima game.

The reason for this approach is simple: Origin wanted to attract new players the series and choose to take a more mass market approach. It actuallly payed of, because Ultima VIII did brought a lot of new fans and while there is this misconception that lives on that Pagan sold terribly, Origin actually stated on record that this was the most successful Ultima in terme of sales.

But this new approach just didn’t sit well with fans, which also for many criticized the plot and the writing – altough to be fair a lot of content ended up being cut on the Altar of corporate deadline (much like Serpent Isle before it, and of course Ultima IX later) which left a plot that felt incomplete with a lot of plot holes and hanging plot threads. The fan reaction however drastically changed the approach to be taken with Ultima IX – but we’ll get to this once we get to Ultima IX.

Altough I’m gonna stand on my soapbox a bit and argue that in some ways Ultima VIII does feel like a logical continuation of the Serpent Isle philosophy.

I mean when you look at it, Serpent Isle had like barely 3 cities, and a couple of other settlements and NPCs throughout the rest of the world. All the rest, all things considered, was just wilderness and dungeons. When you compare it to Britannia and its dozen of cities/village or so… you could almost say Serpent Isle was a dungeon crawler as well. Now personally I tend to think Ultima VII focused too much on the city side, and Serpent Isle striked a better balance – but in essence you could argue Ultima VIII just pushed the same philosophy forward (to the point that IT became more dungeons crawling than anything). I mean, jumping aside, the dungeons design on the whole are also very much in the same kind of design as Serpent Isle as well – even the whole fireball coming from everywhere was very much present in the Ultima VIIs – except the arcadish approach of Ultima VIII actually makes it possible to avoid them.

Personally, Ultima VIII is one of those games that just grew on me over the years – and I am not ashamed to say that I love the game.

Now when it was released it was a different matter. For starter I couldn’t play it right when it was released and I had to wait at least a whole month before actually getting it. The reason being that it was freaking expansive and my mother refused that I bought it (that’s the hard life of a teenager!) – but I knew a guy with contacts at EA who could get it to me cheaper, so I eventually did got it cheaper… except that it took a long time, which made the wait even more frustrating as already many people where playing (and panning) the game.

Of course I began with by reading the manual (which I loved) and I started the game, happy that it wasn’t hard to get to work unlike the Ultima VII and their Voodoo crap! Now one point of note: I actually played Ultima VIII on a 386 DX 40. I’ll even go and say it: it ran well. There was some disc trashing when there were too many people moving around at the same time, and loading a save could take a very long time – but the game was definitly smooth beside that, which for a long time made me wonder why so many people claimed it needed a 486 DX/2 66 to run. I found out later on however that the Speech Pack of the game actually slowed down the game to a crawl – as it happens I didn’t had it (which annoyed me because I was supposed to), so this was a blessing in disguise (especially since I found out ten years later that the french voices of said pack were terrible).

Now for the first few hours I really loved the game: it had a great atmosphere and exploring Tenebrae was very fun. Getting to Mythran was nice too, altough I could already begin to sense some frustrations with Jumping.

My whole world collapsed by the time I arrived at the Hall of the Mountain King with its dissapearing and moving platforms straight out of Mario Bros. The frustration was already building up to that point, but something just broke in me at that point. I just realised how dissapointing this game was. I completed it, and was eager for Ultima IX anyway… but it left a bitter taste in my mouth.

Over the years however – and due in no small part to the patch which fixed most of my frustrations thanks to the new Jumping system – the game grew on me. I loved the look and feel of the game. I loved the world and the atmosphere of it. And for all its issues and cuts, I really enjoyed the plot as well. I’ve come to realise that while It wasn’t an Ultima game in the strictest send of the term, it was still a very good game on the whole and a nice addition to the series, albeit different.

So I really look forward to replaying it.

One point of note, while I could use DOS Box to play it, I’ve decided to use Pentagram to play it this time, in order to have a higher resolution – and using the opportunity to report any issues I might find to the team and hopefully It’ll work better than the last time I tried (where unfortunately I end up with a systematic crash by the time I reached the dead Necromancers in the Catacombs).

So here goes: Pagan awaits!

Ultima VIII

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