Happy New Year!

Well, it’s been a few month since I’ve posted an update so I guess I gotta say: whoops!

Admitedly, having completed all the Ultima games it might feel this blog is gonna die, which is true to some extent. I don’t think I’m gonna be blogging in the foreseable future… but I definitly plan to down the road.

But about what one might ask?

Well, there are quite a few other Ultima games remaining of course! All the Nintendo ports (well Ultima VI notwithstanding since it’s a straight port) and the Runes of Virtue games of course.

But also I’d like to expand eventually this blog to other games with some relation to the Ultima legacy, such as some of the other RPGs Origin released back in their day, and some of the games that were created using Ultima technology such as the Crusader series of games, or System Shock. I could also picture some blogging about spiritual successor to the series (It’s been so long since I played Arx Fatalis!) since this would be interesting.

In any case let’s hope for a year filled with Ultima and I look forward to posting more over here!

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The long and hardeous development of Ultima IX

As I am now done with Ultima IX, I figure it’s better late than never to go and talk a bit the development of the game, and how it evolved over the years. Notably since it explains a lot of the issues the final game had.

Because you see: the game we had was nothing short of the fourth iteration of the final episode of the “Guardian Saga” and even nowadays, it is extremely rare for a game to evolve that much during its development.

The *real* original design of Ultima IX was to follow the same core design philosophy as Ultima VIII. It was to be set on the Guardian’s homeworld, and used a revamped S-VGA version of the Crusader engine (which was already a heavily modified version of Ultima VIII’s engine).

The game was already called Ascension for this was to be the focus and the main thematic of the game: the Avatar ascending to the status of Titan of Ether. It was basically about gathering followers in order to because an entity as strong as the Guardian to be able to face him on his own ground – but this without falling to dark side and turning into a second Guardian. The basic thematic sounds interesting, but little else is known about this version of the game and no plot details or images of it were ever released.

This iteration was in development for about a year until Richard Garriott pulled the plug on it, dissatisfied by the direction it was taking (which was reportedly even more arcadish than Ultima VIII).

In addition, the fan backlash about the commercially successful Ultima VIII lead Origin to rethink their strategy for Ultima IX and restart the project from scratch. Thus it was decided to return to a more traditional Ultima by having the final chapter of the “trilogy of trilogies” taking place on Britannia, after it had been conquered by the Guardian and using it to bring back a lot of elements from the entire series, and tying things back to Ultima I.

This is what is commonly (mis)referenced as the original Ultima IX which used the infamous “Bob White plot.” It should be noted that this plot was not written by Bob White but in truth imagined by Richard Garriott, Brian Martin and John Watson. Bob White was only brought aboard much later to polish it, but as he is the one who released a summary of this original version to the public, it became known as such.

This second iteration of the game was meant to use a 3D engine with an overhead perspective that could be zoomed in and out, and rotated as you wished – in essence very much like the engines of more modern games like Neverwinter Nights or Dungeon Siege. It was also set to mark the comeback of the party system (albeit with only two companions) and several elements seem to suggest this version was meant to use a dual scale map rather than the seamless maps of Ultima VI&VII (notably the leaked design docs we got a while ago which mentions balloon travel).

This original plotline shares many elements to the final game. In this version, the Guardian had also entered Britannia with Blackthorn serving as his lackey, and crafted Eight Gigantic Columns from the Runes that ravaged Britannia. It did not have much focus on the Virtues however, and the story resolved mostly about a brooding civil wars (obviously set by Blackthorn and the Guardian) between the two ruling factions of Britain and Moonglow while Lord British remains helpless on the throne: aged and weak. Various characters present in the final game such as Raven and Samhayne were also a bit part of this plot.

The world depicted was much bleaker, and really on the brink of chaos. One of the most interesting aspect of the plot however, was that it pitted the Avatar and Lord British pitted one against the other, with the Guardian having “sendings” sent inside Lord British’s dream, depicting actually actions from the Avatar… but in a twisted way to make him feel he was acting against him and wanted to take the throne (eventually leading to a point where the Avatar would not be welcomed anymore at Castle Britannia!).

The most shocking aspect really was the ending however: as the whole Civil War plan was just a ploy to keep the Avatar busy and that the Guardian’s real plan was to suck Britannia of all its life force, and being rebirth stronger than he ever was by its destruction. Which lead to the end of the game… where the Avatar and Lord British basically have to cast Armageddon and destroy Britannia to get rid of the Guardian. Both Lord British and the Avatar ended up dead (or in the case of the Avatar, he ascended beyond mortality by his death… and he was actually gaining etheric powers throughought the game, thus not forgetting the whole “Titan of Ether” aspect), with Britannia completely destroyed , except for the Isle of Skara Brae… floating in the void with the remaining survivors of the land thanks to the protection of the Runes of Virtues.

This was a bold and shocking ending to be sure. And it feels even crazier when you know that at this time Ultima IX was NOT meant to be the final episode of the series and that an Ultima X was planned, which would then be focusing on a new player character (and was also to be the last Ultima game with a roman numeral in its title).

That would have also been a very controversial ending. I remember a lot of people complaining about the ending of Ultima IX and how they just “killed the Avatar to kill the series.” I can’t even begin to imagine the reactions an ending featuring the death of not only the Avatar but also Lord British AND Britinnia would have been.

Indeed I am pretty sure this iteration of Ultima IX would have been a very controversial game. The ending is a point, but I feel even the British/Avatar opposition as interesting as it is would not have sited well with some people. Nevermind the fact that Blackthorn’s is the Guardian’s lackey – this would never have agreed with some fans who felt he should have come back on the good side. The lack any definite Origin with the Guardian would probably have been controversial as well considering for how long fans have debated about this very aspect. And there is reason to believe that some other controversial elements and retcons of Ultima IX would still have been found in this version.

But most importantly really – it would all have depended on the execution and the quality of the Writing. It is easy to say that this would have been great from a small summary… but a poor execution could have ruined everything. Indeed: the basic plotline of Ascension was known for month before the game’s released and most people loved it!

I do have to admit I would have loved to play this version of the game tough, although from the leaked design document I can only wonder whether we would truly have seen the game as is: because of how crazy ambitious it was.

In any case development originally went well with a planned release for Spring 1997. But when Ultima Online (which was at the time Origin’s little black sheep project to which nobody belived in) entered alpha test and unexpectedly drew 50 000 players: EA realized the potential of this game and decided to put Ultima IX on hiatus and transfer its team to finish Ultima Online.

Unfortunately, while this transfer was meant to last only a few months – the development of UO took longer than expected, putting Ultima IX on hiatus for over a year. By the time Ultima Online was released, the team had lost a lot of its motivation and more and more people didn’t believe in Ultima IX anymore, some people even leaving the team.

What changed things however was the release of 3Dfx’s original Voodoo video card. Now for those who might not have know of this era… the Voodoo was a revolution, bringing to gaming a new graphical novelty: bilinear filtering. This is something so common in games, that you wouldn’t even imagine life without it: but what I mean what the end of pixelization by blending pixels together thus leading to a whole approach to graphics. You sometime see people nowadays complaining about pixilated graphics: trust me – they don’t know what pixilated means. Pixelated games ended with 3Dfx.

When programmer Mike McShaffry ported the engine to 3Dfx, everyone at Origin was blown away. Within another day of coding, he had brought the camera closer to the land and behind the Avatar and that was a revelation: everybody became excited again by all the possibilities 3D offered and decided to do a true 3D engine with a behind the shoulder perspective that would follow the Avatar around and provide a more immersive world than ever before.

So the previous iteration of Ultima IX was scrapped, and development restarted in late 1997 with a brand new 3D accelerated engine. It’s not exactly fair to say that they started from scratch since a lot of art was recycled and the new engine was built on legacy code from the old one (a decision however which probably caused more trouble that what it was worth in the long run). Release however was planned for XMAS 1999.

Development of this new version rapidly proved controversial however, with some people saying from the very first shot that the game would be a Tomb Raider clone because of it’s point of view (because you now, point of view if everything, after all Ultima Underworld was a FPS you know), and the new producer Ed Del Castillo was deemed responsible for the direction this new version was aiming had of a lot of the design decisions behind it. Controversies even went on amongst Origin, with many team member leaving Origin due to their dislike of this new version of Ultima IX, including Bob White, which a few month earlier at begun opening dialogue with the fans on the Ultima IX Horizons forum.

To be fair there were reasons to be skeptical: it was announced that the party was cut (again) and the game was aiming at a more arcadish design. Indeed it was clearly marketed as a action-adventure game during E3 1998 it ended up being renamed as “Ultima: Ascension” with a new logo dropping the traditional Ultima font, and to add insult to injury the game was marketed by the use of heavy metal music (yep… they did not wait for Dragon Age to do this!)

I don’t think everything was all bad though: while it was controversial I actually like the idea of having to play other characters (such as Shamino, Lord British and Raven) at times where the Avatar was unavailable or in jail, and behind the doors presentation of the game for the german magazine Gamestar did show gameplay elements more reminiscent of traditional Ultima design.

To be fair there was also some overreaction on the fan’s part – for example the E3 1998 presentation of the game feature no Inventory because it hadn’t been implemented yet, which leads many fans to believe that this mean the game would not have a true inventory.

Little is known about the plot details of the game in this iteration though, altough it appears it followed mostly the same premise as the Bob White plot. There were controversial additions by Ed Del Castillo’s rewrites however, notably in the form of a romance between the Avatar and Raven. I do have to admit however that I would love to know more about this oft-maligned version of the game.

But in any case the dismal reception of the game during E3 1998 by both gamers and the press lead Richard Garriott to rethink the project again, even admitting later on that he felt the direction taken by the game at that time was a mistake and that he had let himself be influenced by the wrong people. Thus Ed Del Castillo left over creative difference in Summer 1999, and Seth Mendelson was brought in as the new Lead Designer of the project.

This proved to be a drastic change in the scope and tone of the project however, and Garriott and Mendelson decided to craft a new plot focusing more on the Virtues that would bring the series full circle, and less about the war against the Guardian.

While it is often claimed that the plot was just “simplified” because of technical limitations – this is not quite true. It seems reasonable to think the war aspect would have been more present with more time to complete the game, but this really was the story Richard Garriott wanted to tell at the time. And Seth Mendelson being himself a great fan of the Ultima IV~VI era (more than an Ultima VII fan) wanted to craft a game that was more in line with the previous trilogy of Ultima.

However this was yet another major design shift for a game that had already known two of them. The end project was extremely ambitious – but in truth very little people at Origin and EA believed or even cared about the game, and truly only the dedication of Richard Garriott and the dev team allowed this game to be made. The real issue however really game from Ultima Online’s unexpected success which leads EA to turn Origin into an “Online only” company and in turn spelt the doom of many single player projects (most notably the upcoming Wing Commander games) in favor of new online games (which ironically never materialized in the end).

As irony would have it, the sole reason Ultima IX was spared was because it was an Ultima… and as such tied to Ultima Online. Which means the execs of the time felt it could be a good opportunity to bring more players to the series.

Alas, Ultima IX was eventually given a ship or kill for Thanksgiving 1999. Which lead to development being rushed, content being cut from both the world and the plot, as well as many features such a reduced interactivity or even character schedules. A lot of this was in the code and implemented really – but the issue is that there wasn’t any time to debug it properly, simply because the game had to be completed and as playable as possible by Thankgiving.

Another issue also came at that time when it appeared that 3Dfx (which was the thing back in 1997 when development got started) was losing ground in the 3D accelerated front to Direct3D compatible cards which had become a major part of the customers. Porting the engine to Direct3D came as a nightmare however as it brought a whole lot of technical and graphical issues – causing a lot of crashes and bugs. Anyone who tried the demo that was released in September 1999 can attest to that.

And the bottom line is that by the time the game was released, in addition to all of the bugs still present in the game, it was simply NOT ready for Direct3D cards. So while the game ran really well on 3Dfx cards, it was a nightmare on Direct3D cards and required a computer much more powerful that what was truly need. While most of the issues were eventually fixed by the alter patches, the harm had already been done. But it’s no surprise that the game had a much better reception on the European markets where it was released already patched.

Note that while it is easy to blame EA for all these issues – I do not feel to this is completely fair. EA has their share of blame, and releasing a game in such a state is something of which they should have been ashamed – but I can also understand from a corporate that they’d want to release a game that had been in development for over five years, even if the latest iteration was being worked on for less than two year, with a major redesign in between.

And to be fair Origin has their share of blame – I can’t help to think that they should just have continued development of the original version, simply with added 3D acceleration which would already have been enough to impress everyone.

But well… no point dealing in the past is there?

But I felt it was interesting to come back on this long development and shed some light into it.

A new take on the Ending…

As I mentioned in my last post, I decided to try to alter the ending credits of Ultima IX so that they sport a more traditionnal musical instead of that terrible Electro track that butchers both Stones and the mood of the ending.

I am pleased to share the result:

I’ve used the Ultima IX rendition of Stones (taken from the same MP3 that was then offered on the Ultima IX website) and I basically extracted the original audio track of the video, cut the credits part and pasted this version in before reencoding the whole thing.

The downside is that the track comes a tad short, thus ending while the THX credits appears on screen. I’ve tried to make the opening of the track loop to make it a bit longer, but the result was not satisfactory. On the whole it works since it stops almost as it should – but if anyone feels he can do a better work, feel free to do so!

The good thing however is that I can confirm this works IN GAME by simply replacing the old video by the new one and the tone really fit the feeling of the ending. Hopefully fans will enjoy that!

In addition I also made another version, this time based on the Ultima Online 2 Stones MP3 – which was also a beautiful rendering by George Oldziey.

It’s certainly better than Electro track… but it just doesn’t feel quite as well as the other version IMO, probably because it wasn’t meant to be used in Ultima IX, while Oldziey’s Ultima IX remix was done to fit stylistically with the rest of the music.

So I hope you guys like it – and for those who’d like to try this in game Aiera will we hosting the MPEG fils of both version very soon (probably in a couple of days) and the Forgotten Worlds team has already expressed interest in integrating this altered video into their upcoming patches.

Neat heh?

I know already I’ll be replaying Ultima IX a couple of years when Forgotten Worlds will have released more fixes!

Farewell to Britannia…

For I have completed my Ascension… and the world shall never be the same again.

Upon completing the restoration on the Shrine, Dupre comes to you to inform you that when the last Shrine was cleansed, he was brought back to life. And so were any other companions you might have killed in the course of the game. As crazy as it was to ressurect Dupre (and it was, really!) I do have to admit one thing: it always felt heartwarming to see him back in the flesh.

Upon return at Castle Britannia… you learn that Lord British has assembled all the Companions and wants to talk to you.

Now for all the flaws and the issues Ultima IX has. For all the reasons one might have not to like it. I just can’t understand how any self-named Ultima fan could NOT be moved by this sequence as you go to each of your companions in turn, and bid farewell to them and to Lord British.

I’ll say it: this is heart-wrenching. My eyes tore up eleven years ago. They still did today. There’s been too much investment with all these characters not to feel extremely sad to have to leave them behind. And there is also something of a dual meaning here – because it’s not just about the game and the character but also saying farewell to Ultima in a way. Even the crazy Richard Garriott character bidding you farewell in the cell below the castle has something touching in there.

I can’t say this enough: but they really nailed perfectly this aspect of the game.

And so when you leave Lord British behind to set sail for Terfin… it’s with a deep feeling of sadness, and the sentiment of leaving a part of your life behind. And even when you say your farewells to Raven, there is something that really hit the spot… because for all the cheesiness of her romance with the Avatar – well she was a nice character, and a companion who followed you through the whole story – even if she stayed on her boat!

Terfin. I’ve tried. I really tried. But after half an hour of playing through it I gave up and decided to circumvent the final dungeon.

The dungeon is not bad… but it’s pretty common with some tones to find to open the passageways and so on (although it also offers a very interesting moral dilemma in the form of a young girl poisoned by Gargoyles that you can either let as she is… or kill to end her suffering – reminds you of a certain Virtue question?). But this dungeon is also fairly long and it has a lot combat which can get really hard even with the best equipment. And it feels like a rip-off because it’s supposed to be the “easy way in”. Yeah Right.

But most importantly really: it breaks the mood. By the time you leave Britain all you want is to get to ending and finish it… not spend a few hours in another dungeon crawling. I do feel it was a design mistake to put this dungeon here (even if I guess it’s the “norm” to have a Final Dungeon) and that Terfin should have been put earlier in the game – perhaps the first time you went there.

So I decided to bypass it – but not with a real cheat. I went back to Britain and bought a teleport scroll. Then I returned to Terfin and cast the spell through the cracks of the big door: and it works! This might sounds like cheating… but I would argue that it feels like a legitimate and logical possibility!

And so I passed through the corridors and came upon the Throne Room of the Guardian.

I put each of the Sigils on a pedestal and called forth the Barrier of Life. Imprisoning both me and the Guardian within it.

The plan of the Guardian during this dialogue sounds pretty clear to me: he wants to absorb the Avatar to gain unlimited power – which makes sense since a whole is more powerful than two halves. But of course by having the Avatar doing the ritual instead, it would mean that HE will be the one absorbing the Guardian back into himself. This is not about creating a new entity for me, but more about the Avatar absorbing the powers of the Guardian to be reborn in another plane of existence.

While all this happens, the Companions also do their part by putting the Runes inside the Columns, thus having them nurturing the Virtues.

Which does not mean brainwashing people (-sic-) into following Virtues, but quite simply reverting the effect the Columns had on the Moon’s orbit thus preventing them to collide with Britannia and destroy the world.

Thus the Guardian had been thwarted – and all that was left was to cast the ritual of Armageddon and bid farewell to Britannia…

I actually like the ending. Yes it is short and doesn’t give much answer as to what happens to Britannia after the end of the game. But it is focused on characters so it works. I mean, Ultima is not Fallout – it never has dealt with the aftermath, so why should Ascension be any different?

It works as an end and it has George Oldziey’s beautiful music to illustrate it. Although… I will admit that the rendering of the characters during this sequence is rather mediocre, especially the Guardian who looks damn ugly.

And of course: the end credits music is ATTROCIOUS. Will all due respect to Seth Mendelson, he was a great lead designer to the project, but not so much with music. I’ve been thinking for years about trying to modify the audio track to put Stones instead… and I feel it should be doable so I’ll be working on trying it. I’ll let you know.

As for the Avatar… Well there has been a lot of debate as to what happens to him really, and what his ascension means. Some people even feel he simply died. Ultima X: Odyssey went with a schizophrenic approach, with the Guardian and the Avatar forming a new entity… and fighting to get control over it. Personally I’ve always felt the Avatar had simply ascended to a god-like entity (the Ankh constellation being an obvious indication of it) destined to become some form of Time Lord-like figure (though less related with Time I’d guess)… with the role of being the protector of Britannia for all eternity – watching offer his beloved land.

Yes Ultima IX is a flawed game. Yes it has many issues with the canon and taken as a sequel to Ultima VII – it is certainly a poor sequel. But Ultima IX was not just meant to be a sequel to Ultima VII – or at least not in this iteration. It was meant to provide a closure to the series and the story of the Avatar. It was meant to be a come back to the Ethical and Virtuous roots of Britannia. And it was meant to really close the book on the history of Ultima.

And at all this, it succeeded.

I cried when I finished Ultima IX eleven years ago, because it was a trully moving and memorable experience. But most importantly because if felt really like the end of an era, and a time to bid farewell to a beloved world and characters once and for all.

Truth be told we’ll probably never have an Ultima like this anymore. And by this I don’t mean like Ultima IX, but like the old series as a whole. Even Ultima IX for all its ground breaking aspect, also had very old school approach of design that didn’t sit well with gamers of the late ’90. And this certainly would not in 2010. But most importantly it really was a personal mindset of Richard Garriott, which anyone else would certainly have a lot of troubles to emulate.

In truth there is something heartbreaking to think that there hasn’t been a new Ultima since Ultima IX came out in spite of various attempts. I don’t think anyone would have predicted that this would really be the end of Ultima – we all expected to have new games come out over the years, even if these were in online form and without the guidance of Richard Garriott.

There has been rumors lately about a new supposed Ultima project being done at Bioware Mythic. This is a very exciting prospect, and I hope it’s true and come to pass.

But what I’ve realized too is that the old Ultima ended with Ascension and whatever will come out next.. will probably be a new beast altogether.

One thing I’m sure though is that I want new Ultima games and that I hope the franchise will come back stronger than eve!

Because having just replayed and completed the entire series, all I know is that… I feel sad now 😦

To the Abyss and Beyond…

So as I was saying, I was quite stunned by the revelations of Shamino. But he had also news about Lord British and seems the old man had blocked the entrance he had used to get inside the Abyss, which meant the only way to get inside would to summon a huge daemon to get you inside.

And so at that point, the ghost of Malchir the sorcerer appears.

He is really pissed off at the Avatar (and for good reasons), but thankfully Shamino does his thing and mange to appease him… and he teach the Avatar the way to summon Pyros. So you need to get to the Isle of the Avatar and performs the ritual in order to enter the Abyss.

Yes I know: this was just a way to recycle the cutscene from the original plot (which was just a sending by the Guardian making it seem like the Avatar was sending Pyros at Lord British)… but who cares?

The thing it is: it fits! Now granted I would have preferred Malchir to have a more sorcerer model.. but this was a really nice touch and even for the ritual they were very careful in term of creating a scenery which fits the cutscene.

I really liked that part personally but it feels it showcase a problem with Ultima IX: Origin showed WAY too much before the release of the game, and continued to use cut content to promote the final game. Which leads to wrong expectation and disappointments. I tend to think that many people would not have been so bothered by reused elements if they hadn’t known anything from the original plots and cutscenes.

In any case, I left Shamino behind, the Well of Soul… and it was back to Raven and her ship. Next step the Isle of the Avatar!

And most precisely the pentagram in the middle of it.

So I put all the required reagents, and here I was – Pyros was sending me into the Abyss!

Now the Abyss is rather peculiar dungeon, because it is essentially a hub toward the Elemental Planes – yes the very same planes you explored at the end of Ultima VIII!

The level is consisted of four areas: each offering some form of puzzle which gives you and Orb to use at the bottom of the pit – which opens a gate in each of these area to its respective plane.

Air.

Fire.

Earth.

Water.

Each of the planes are pretty straightforward and really reminiscent of Pagan – notably the Air plane with its jumping to do! The concept is simple: you need to find the big creature in each area (a Dragon, a Sea Serpent, a Golem and a Deamon) and kill it, opening a teleporter back to the Abyss and each removing a seal to the lower level of the dungeon.

Now I think this is pretty fun… I do feel they missed one HUGE opportunity here. Because instead of killing a big random monster… wouldn’t it have been AWESOME if you had actually faced the Four Titans of the Ultima VIII in their planes? That would have tied loose end and had just been al kind of awesome. Oh well.

Before getting to the lower level of the Abyss, I ought to mention a peculiar message you find during the Earth level…

This come as another revelation: Hawkwind IS the Time Lord. To be fair it makes sense in the game – because really from the way he talks to you in the tutorial, to the text in the manual, doesn’t it feel very much like the Time Lord? He also gives some hints of Blackthorn’s plan as well as it mentions a future where Blackthorn rules Britannia… which means IF he gets the Codex for himself and remove the Guardian and the Avatar.

I do wish however this had come as something more than a silly scroll you can miss! I tend to think that the Hawkwind=Time Lord angle must have been there from the start for a simple reason: the Bob White plot has a LOT of Hawkwind in it, but makes no mentions of the Time Lord… which doesn’t make sense considering how much details from past games was poured into it. Which makes me think this was probably a plot point in the original plot as well. Indeed the lack of Hawkwind past the tutorial is odd really… and even leaked plot details from the final version of the game hinted at a stronger presence of this character. Another victim of time and cuts. Oh well…

But in any case it was time to descend to the bottom of the Abyss… and the base of the final column.

And to assist to what is undoubtedly one of the most ass-kicking sequence of the entire Ultima series. The showdown between Lord British and Lord Blackthorn.

And most importantly, the fact of seeing Lord British actually ACTING to save his kingdom, and kicking some ASS! This was gratifying in 1999, and having just played the entire series in order, you can’t imagine how much this feels even more gratifying.

Now of course Blackthorn died. I’ve seen some complain about this, and how British is a murdered! But this is stupid really. Argue what you want about whether or not Blackthorn should have returned as a villain: but considering the action he committed in this game – this is justice, and rightly deserved.

I will say this personally. Blackthorn is a great villain. Now I won’t be hypocrite: I was disappointed that we never get any form of explanation for his return and how and why he ended working with the Guardian (especially since it’s likely that such explanations WERE written at one point or another during the development of this game), but regardless: he is a great villain.

Why?

Because outside of the fact that Doug Forrest offers a wonderful performance: he acts. This is exactly what a good villain should be: instead of sitting there doing nothing, he constantly acts, appears and tries to hinders the hero’s plan. He a threat and a menace that is felt throughout the whole game. And truly: one of the best villains we’ve had in the Ultima series. Alas he remains a bit underdeveloped (altough he obviously does have his own agenda) but every one of his appearance was a memorable moment of the game.

So kudos to Blackthorn.

But the most important aspect of this part of the game really is the discussion with Lord British following this confrontation – which really shows the brilliance in Ultima IX’s plot of premise.

You see, you basically have Lord British admitting… that the Quest of the Avatar was a failure.

And he’s right of course.

While you can’t argue the Quest of the Avatar was a success on a personal level for the Avatar it really didn’t achieve what it set out for Britannia. The Avatar was supposed to be an model for Britannia, an example to follow – he wasn’t meant to be the one and unique Avatar, he was supposed to inspire people.

Instead: he became Britannia’s lackey – saving the world from every danger while Lord British sat on his throne, happy to let his champion do his work. Helping every people for their little problem as well, even when there was no need to (this is retribution for all Ultima VII’s crappy love quests!).

And what it means is that it’s time for Britannia to stand for herself and not depends on the Avatar forever. It’s time for Britannia to grow. And time for the Avatar… to move on.

If there is one point moment who sold Ultima IX to me: this is it. Because it basically put the entire series in perspective, and makes you reconsider the whole concept of the Avatar. And it fits with the entire series.

And this is very much the core thematic behind Ultima IX: this is about the Avatar teaching to Britannia the true meaning of Virtue in order for its people to fend for themselves. And this is symbolized by Lord British himself finally taking action. Now I won’t pretend this aspect could not have been handled better since I mentioned it before with some city who really missed the point such as Yew and Moonglow: but this is very much present inside the story and this is why I love the game, and why it is a true and great Ultima story.

Hell I’ll go and say this: this is much more an Ultima story that whatever was cooked up with the Bob White plot. Because whatever its qualities might have been – there is no doubt that telling a story about ethics and virtue and their role in the world is much more in line with Ultima than a story about civil war and destroying the world to kill a big red evil Foozle!

But enough digressing, because I still had a last Column to deactivate.

Upon this Lord British teleported me back up and it was time to consult the Codex and get it back to its Shrine. Now truly; the look of the Shrine inside a cave does take some creative freedom – but you do have to admit it looks beautiful, especially with the two gargoyles statues in front of it.

You have no idea how long I had craved for this moment – the lack of Codex was one of my biggest disappointment of Ultima VII.

The message was clear though: Sacrifice was the only option. I needed to get to the Guardian’s throne, cast the Barrier of Life to seal him and I inside… and cast the ritual of Armageddon so that both of us could be destroyed and reborn as a new entity. Beyond mortality… but that was an end.

Upon returning to Britain, Lord British was awaiting me in the courtyard.

He was about to use his power to align the Moons so that I could access the Shrine of Spirituality in the Void.

But this would also mean that the rate of the moons descending would be accelerating: there is no turning back anymore!

The void was nice to look heart, but already my heart was far away… although it was nice to see Mariah’s ghost (sorry I killed you!)

And came the Shrine of Spirituality!

It was done. All shrines were restored. All runes were cleansed.

My destiny awaits!

The Spirituality of Good and Evil

As I arrived in Castle Britannia to talk to Lord British one realization came to mind: the king was nowhere to be found! Talking with his annoying seneschal revealed a surprising truth: Lord British had left for the Abyss in order to face Blackthorn in battle after reading a letter asking for a final showdown the villain had sent to me!

Apparently, Britannia’s good King was getting tired sitting on his throne doing nothing…

The Abyss being unaccessible, there was not much left for me to do except head to Skara Brae in order to hopefully find a way to get to the Abyss.

Upon reaching the island I could notice alas that it was nothing more than ruins and rubbles, having been totally wiped out by the Guardian. The good news however is that finally, I got more news from my old friend Shamino!

Technically, Shamino is supposed to talk to you at a couple of other statues during the game (since there are basically one of those next to every city)… but for some reason this doesn’t trigger to you have to wait to Skara Brae. The ghist of it being that the link to his body is weakening and he might be lost forever in the Spirit Realms if I don’t help him soon and that to reunite his soul with his body, I will need to get into the Well of Souls and be in possession of the Book of Truth, the Candle of Love, and the Bell of Courage.

In addition I was also greeted by the Sentinel of Skara Brae.

The Sentinel was the protector of the city and laid at the center of city until it was broken during the Cataclysm. Albeit broken it continued to bestow its protection on Skara Brae, allowing its inhabitants to resist the influence of the Columns. Alas… there are no inhabitants left 😦

The Sentinel taught me the Mantra of Spirituality, but also that to enter the Well of Souls, I need the Ankh of Spirituality that is in possession of Lord British.

So since my progress on the ruined city was impossible for now, I left the island behind and set to Trinsic. You see, since I have already the Book of Truth and the Candle of Love, I figured I might as well go and get the Bell of Courage, which lay deep in the ruins of Serpent’s Hold. So I began to sail manually (thanks to a reduced field of view to prevent crashing heh) toward the remnants of the Isle of Deeds.

You see, the Isle of Deeds were flooded during the Great Cataclysm, and the remnants of Serpent’s Hold now lie deep under the sea. So I began to swim to the entrance on the ruins, taking a potion of mana breath in order to survive.

Except that… it didn’t work. I tried everything: swimming closer to the top, the bottom, the middle, the side… everytime I died befor e reaching the force field, and in spite of my blue potion. I decided that well, I might as well use the flying cheat… and it worked. Except that the inside of Serpent’s Hold was totally flooded. And you see, it’s not supposed to be: it’s supposed to be dry and also have two NPCs: a Knight guarding the bell of courage (which can also trains you in the last tier of one handed weapons) and an evil necromancer who want s to take over the world. The bell was at its place… but that felt unrewarding. And needless to say this was very frustrating and annoying.

So I reloaded and figured I might be missing a trigger – so I decided to return later and I went back to Lord British’s castle. At that point you can actually learn Stones from the court musician and use it on Lord British’s harpsichord. The result? It opens his sandalwood box and reveals the ankh of spirituality.

A really nice and awesome touch!

So I returned to Skara Brae and head to that huge beautiful temple behind the isle.

Which houses the new Well of Souls (which must have been rebuilt since Ultima VII or something I guess).

Entering the Well of Souls lead you into what is called the Spirit Realm. It is basically an ethereal freaky version of the village of Skara Brae haunted by spirits who can’t find peace. So you basically have to do the same thing that Shamino does his parable of Virtue tale (that was on the official Ultima IX website ten years ago): helping these spirits find peace to send them in the great beyond – and it is very much awesome and very rewarding to do!

More specifically, you need to help three people in there by making each understand one of the principles: Love, Truth and Courage and how their failings in this respective principle are haunting them in the afterlife. At peace, each of them reveals about the whereabouts of one of the three artefacts, although at this point you usually already have them. But it was a nice touch none the less!

Having done that I returned to Serpent’s Hold… but no avail it still didn’t worked. So out of frustration and annoyance at getting bugs I never suffered from before, I just used the fly cheat to pass through the wall and grab the Bell. Meh.

So back to Spirit Realm again (yes that’s a lot of back and forth isn’t it?) and I could no deal with Shamino… who was standing in a weird protective field.

The ritual is simple really: all you need to do is place each of the artifacts on their respective pedestal and then read the book, light the candle, ring the bell and say the mantra of Spirituality. And there: Shamino was back!

I gotta say I keep getting impressed at how much they NAILED Shamino in that game. Not only he looks like Shamino, feels like Shamino… but he also SOUNDS like him. I’d really love to know who voiced him because he basically sounded just exactly as I always imagined, but was just wonderful. And he also gave a great performance, so what else to say?

But Shamino comes being the bearer of troubling news, as during his quest in the void he learned the true nature of the Guardian. The Guardian was in truth born from the Avatar’s evil side that was stripped away when he became the Avatar… which of course explains a lot about his nature, his disdain toward the Virtues… and why you can’t hurt him without hurting yourself. I’ll point that I think it makes sense the Guardian CAN hurt you – because while the Guardian is (or rather was) a part of the Avatar, the Avatar was never a part of him technically which makes sense ( think: Dragonheart).

When I played the game for the first time I stood speechless at this revelation… because of how awesome it was. Some would argue that it plays a bit with the canon, which is true to some extent – but it jus feels FITTING, and especially considering how focused this game was on the Virtue.

I mean really – did we really wanted the Guardian to JUST be a big evil bad guy from the netherworld and period? Say what you will, but a LOT would have been disappointed if the Guardian had no origins or no twist about them.

The argument that is often brought forward by the haters it that it totally ruins the ending of Ultima IV. But I disagree. Just because the Guardian was born from the Avatar’s evilness doesn’t mean that the Avatar is suddenly this perfect being incapable of doing anything but good – and some haters feels to me like they have a too simplistic view of things.

As much as I love the origins of the Guardian though, it should be pointed that like many things it was cut down and simplified. Here are the true origins of the Guardian envisioned by Richard Garriott, straight from his mouth in the Ultima IX Clue Book.

“If you go back to the very beginning, in Ultima I, and the first evil wizard, known as Mondain, you remember that he was in the process of creating a gem of immortality … a way to make his ultimate evil survive forever. The way you stopped that was that you went and shattered that gem. That process had a very profound impact on the history of all Ultimas. The first impact that the player is aware of is that the three major shards ultimate manifest the three Shadow Lords, which affect Blackthorn and the evils that take place in that era. What you also discover in this game is that, in fact, of course, the three shards were first uncovered/discovered between Ultima IV and V. In IV, as you become this person of pure virtue, the fiction we’ve created is that that process of casting out the darker side of yourself, and where that goes and how it happens, also goes back to that gem as well. This gem, from the fact that you’ve had contact with it from way back, is where the dark side of you resonates and maintains itself. So the Shadow Lords really are a part of you, that dark side of yourself. As you banish them in Ultima V, and send them off to some other plane of existence, which you think of as non-existence, they get back together and plot their revenge. It’s that darker aspect of yourself that comes back in Ultima VII. Ultimately you discover that you really can’t wipe that out without wiping out yourself.”

So the basic concept was that the Stranger somehow became tied with the Gem by destroying it and that by becoming the Avatar it resonated within it until spawning the Shadowlords from his “dark side” and THEY later coalesced into the Guardian. Remember how we were promised that Ultima IX would tie everything back to Ultima I? Well… that was it.

That also explains quite a bit in the final story, notably the reason for this focus on corrupting virtues, and why you’re greated by Shadowlords statues when entering Terfin. This might even really give some explanation to why Blackthorn is by his side and so on…

(Also it answers one of the things that kind of disturbed me about the concept as presented: the whole “Would another Avatar spawn another Guardian?” question… which would mean no since this was because of the Gem).

The interesting thing about this, is that the way Garriott talks of it – he talks of it as if it is the way the Guardian’s origin *is* in the final game and that these are the elements you discover while playing the game. He definitly *not* mentions this as being some cut plot element. And this is why I tend to consider this version of the origin of the Guardian to be the true canon, even more than the game.

(I shall stress that this really concerns the final version of the game we’ve got – and not the “Bob White Plot” version of it)

The thing is that the way it is presented in the game is not exactly contradicting the elements here – more like the way it’s presented in the game was overly simpliefied, and this certainly gives credits to the rumors we had heard about the suits of the time wanting the team to diminish ties with earlier game.

Now this do not change that I did love the way it was in the game but this really leave me with a big interogation: If they could cut something as important as THIS, what else were they forced to be cut?

But I’ve digressed enough and this will be the end of this post for it is long enough already but expect the next one about my adventure in the Abyss (which are already done) in a couple of hours tops…

Dragons and Daemons – all in a day’s work!

So I was back in Britain and had to head to the Dungeon Destard.

Now there are two ways to do it: the easy way it just go back to Yew and go southward until you reach the dungeon (actually you can reach the dungeon right when you get access to Yew, and even play it through at that time… but this might be a tad too difficult at that point in game!). The proper way though, is to begin with talking with a Sir Robin who has just appeared in the tavern of Britain.

Robin was actually part of Sir Drake’s expedition. A while back a group of Valorian Knight lead by Drake headed to Destard to close the Dungeon with the Word of Power in order to keep the Red Dragon Talornia trapped inside. The expedition was a success and the dungeon was sealed… but Drake perished along with most of the other knights, and Robin only escaped because he ran away like a coward. He does however reveal the existence of a secret entrance to Destard that can be opened through.

Going through Cove, you hear that a Valorian Knight was found by the healer there and died recently, revealing much of the same informations.

You’re then supposed to get a valley close to a village of Giants and use the levitate spell to float above the mountains, and come directly on the hidden entrance of Destard.

Except that well, for some reason the Levitate spell refused to work this time. Meh. So I just used the fly cheat to get over the mountains, as if well… it had worked as it used too!

One point of note: next to the dungeon lies the ruins of the small village of Dawn (which might or might not be the same Dawn as Ultima III), which has been devastated by Talornia. There is supposed to have a NPC in there to which you can talk to and learn more about the area. Alas… for some reason this NPC on modern computers tends to just “shot up” in the air whenever you get close to her… Meaning you can’t talk to her. Nasty bug.

So I returned to the hidden entrance and casted a few fireball to make the ice entrance melt. So here I come Destard!

Now Destard… well. It’s another pretty damn good dungeon with some really epic stuff! For those who did not like the puzzle approach of Shame, this one has a more traditional approach – and a more detailed background too! You see: the inhabitants of Dawn always lived in fear of the great Dragon… which lead a group of them to form a cult to honor the Dragon and serves her wishes. In the end those who resisted ended being killed or serving as slave for the cult: mining previous gems for Talornia. In addition, this cult has also made a recent alliance with the Wyrmguard, with Talornia furnishing her eggs to the Guardian’s army – altough only as a means to further her own goals: dominate Briannia herself.

Talornia however is protected by a force field established by her followers, and you need to find five pieces of an eggshell to deactivate it.

Of course this lead to exploring the dungeons – it has little in term of puzzle, though much in term of combat, making it perhaps one of the most combat heavy dungeon of the game. It has some nasty fights: many wyrmguards, undeads, and you can also face the cult leaders if you wish it.

Once you have all five eggshells, you can then go and face Talornia herself… unfortunately she is not as strong as she appears and can be vanquished easily. Oh well…

At least you get a nice Dragon head for your trouble – and you can loot its treasure room!

But of course what is a dungeon without its Column? The base of the Column is actually very near from where you enter the dungeon… and in most likelihood, you’ll head there before getting to Talornia (in any case: I did!)

One thing to note is that the Wyrmguard guarding the Column is actually your old companion Geoffrey. Like Mariah in Deceit however, there is nothing even hinting at this in dialogue and you might ended up killing it without wanting it! What is odd, is that the usecode has more dialogue for him as a Wyrmguard, notably him apologize once you have removed the Glyph. Oh well, more triggers issues…

But in any case, with the Glyph in hand and Talornia dead – I could now return to Valoria. Well actually I travelled around a bit first in order to get mastery in a couple of skills, but I’ll spare you the details!

So I returned to Raven’s ship and was back to Valoria!

From a design standpoint, Valoria is pretty nice – notably I’ve really got to stress how much I love the look of the lava in this game. However it also really small and feels more like a big single building with a few rooms than a city. No doubt the place was originally planned to be bigger than that but well… you know.

Upon entering Valoria you do get to learn more about the problem the city faces: it is being threatened by a group of Daemons called the Daemon Triumvirate who were awakened following the Great Cataclysm and want to get their hand on the Sigil of Valor. The daemons are seemingly invisible, and all attempt made to kill them ended in blood and with the death of many Knights. To make things worse: one of the Knight eventually betrays the city out of fear and give the Dagger of Valor to the daemons… who rewards him by killing him!

You learn the key to defeating the daemons by a book found elsewhere on the isle called the Tome of Demonology. It stats that the Triumvirate is actually a single evil spread over three bodies, and as such all the daemons have to be killed simultaneously in order to be destroyed.

So here comes the cool part: you go and convince the remaining Knights to face their fears and fight by your side against the daemons. As such you each go and tackle one daemon at the same time, the Avatar handling the one at the Shrine of Valor.

And thus by allying their forces, the Avatar and the Valorian Knights manage to kill the Daemon Triumvirate. Now the great part, is that just as Trinsic it is handled brilliantly: upon killing the Daemons you can return to Valoria and see that really: Valor HAS returned to the town! There is another change in dialogue once you cleanse the Shrine but it feels like a detail – cleansing the shrine just restored the Rune, it didn’t had any effect on the town, because Virtue was already back before that! I know I repeat myself but man… if only all the cities had been such perfectly executed, the game would have been perfect. (And if only the music would change too… Meh).

So it was now time to leave Valoria. I only have one Shrine and Column left!

By the way remember how I said the thing about Raven’s boat being far from the shore never happens?

Yep. It happened this time. Ironically though, I noticed this when I was still looking for the Tome of Demonology… and by the time I had cleansed the Shrine, Raven was back at the docks. Oh well.

Now: Spirituality. But that creates an issue since the Shrine can only by accessed by Moongates… which are not working! As such Raven suggests getting to Britain, and speak with Lord British…

Britain, here I am then!

Honor is safe, Valor is on the loose…

So upon returning to Trinsic with my new plain Chalice… well things did not really got as planned and this mostly lead to mockery, as nobody seemed convinced it could be transformed in the true Chalice of Honor. Meh 😦

There was one point of note though… a new guy arrived in town, a farmer named Virgil.

As it turns out, his farm has been overrun by phase spiders who appeared through a rift in dimension. Rift that can only be closed by a fully trained Paladin. Alas, nobody is willing to help him and honor the old agreements his family passed with the Paladins ages past.

So I returned to Lucero and try to convince him to join me to fight back the spiders. He eventually agreed after the ghost of Dupre appeared to explain him the true nature of Honor.

This is one neat quest here – but also frustrating because it feels really obvious by the way it is presented that it was originally conceived so that Lucero would join you and you’d need to get to the farm together. Alas… cuts and all, all you need to do is “rendezvous” there.

Upon getting to the farm, both Lucero and Virgil are awaiting you and you get to battle phase spiders with the farmer while Lucero is closing the rift.

So upon returning to Trinsic with my new plain Chalice… well things did not really got as planned and this mostly lead to mockery, as nobody seemed convinced it could be transformed in the true Chalice of Honor. Meh 😦

There was one point of note though… a new guy arrived in town, a farmer named Virgil.

This is actually a pretty cool moment, as it is the only part of the game that allows you to fight side by side with someone else. It’s interesting to note that these kind of semi companions events planned for Ultima IX, altough they ended being cut, later found their ways in other solo RPGs such as Oblivion and Gothic!

The first was closed, but alas…. Lucero had been mortally wounded and he died, knowing however he had regained his honor. At that point all that is left is putting the plain Chalice on the statue to empower it: Trinsic has regained his Honor!

What is really interesting… is that at this point most dialogues in the city changes. And this is a first in the game and shows how each city was really supposed to be handled. Again, Ultima IX is not about magical shrines that changes people and it’s very obvious here: Virtue is not restored yet, but still people are moved by Lucero’s sacrifice and began to think about getting their life together and the importance of Honor.

People are already regaining their Honor so restoring the Shrine of Honor is very much a bonus.

And upon returning to Trinsic after that, what changes there were there! Some bridge and doors had been rebuilt and people were back on track. Yes Trinsic was restored, Honor was back and the lesson had been learned by all, leaving a happy Avatar!

Indeed – Trinsic really was a great city. I only wish more of the cities in the game had been handled such as these because this would have made it even better! As I said: execution is Ultima IX’s biggest issue and this is an exemple of a city that is VERY well executed.

So leaving Trinsic behind, I now sailed toward Valoria.

Valoria is the new city of Valor and was established after Jhelom was destroyed by a huge Volcano that rose during the cataclysm and erupted – leaving no trace of the old city behind. And the new city was established within the Volcano itself… but the inhabitants are not very welcoming and are cowering inside their fortress, far from the numerous undead populating the Valorians Isles.

And they only accept to let you in one condition: bringing the head of red dragon which can only be found in the depth of Dungeon Destard.

So as they say: it’s back to Britain!

(On a side trivia note: when arriving at Valoria, Raven mentions the danger of the isle and that she’ll build a fire for you to call them. You see once you leave the ship, it is supposed to stay a small distance away from the docks until you call it with the fire – however this only properly happened to me ONCE for all the times I played the game, although lightning the fire when the ship is already docked can have some funny buggy visuals results!)

Honor comes from within (and from solving puzzles)!

And here it is: Trinsic – the City of Honor !

Trinsic as it is, is actually quite a sight to behold! The original city was destroyed and flooded by the Cataclysm and the city had to be rebuilt on the ruins of the old. As such is was actually rebuilt over water with many bridge leading to the different sections of the two. In a way it is actually quite reminiscent of Fawn of Serpent Isle, albeit with its own unique vibe.

Now of course… Trinsic has lost its Honor. Notably since the theft of the Sigil, the Chalice of Honor, the Paladins feel they were cursed and suffered a Shame too much to bear, for without the symbol of Honor, how could they retain their Honor? As such many Paladins have eventually left their order, leaving their last member Lucero to live in shame, and pondering about the nature of Honor… but without acting upon it for he feels his Honor and Trinsic’s are both gone unless someone finds the Chalice. To makes things worse, the bastion of the Paladin is also haunted by the ghost of Paladins from the pasts, enraged that their successor have lost the Chalice and plunged the city into dishonor.

In term of the more regular people though, it’s more like they have all fallen into some form of apathy, and doesn’t feel like doing anything anymore and want to live on without caring about honoring their responsibilities. As such the town has even begun to fall apart, with broken bridges and doors everywhere.

Now guess who’s got to fix this mess, heh?

To begin you need to explore the Bastion where you find a friendly ghost who recognize you as being the Avatar.

He recommends you to find a way to summon the spirit of the greatest Paladin that had ever lived: Sir Dupre! You find this way by talking to the Keeper of the Shrine of Honor, who tells you that you need to get Dupre’s ashes from the Paladin’s tombs and put them on the Shrine of Honor to summon his spirit.

Now I’m just gonna digress a bit to say this a part that always annoys me. Summoning Dupre makes sense… but the simple fact that his ASHES are there is a clear illustration of my biggest issue with this game: the blatant disregard of Serpent Isle. There were a lot of possible ways to explain this return while still taking into account the Serpent of Chaos thing. Even his resurrection in the end could have been explained… but there is nothing, and just having the ashes although they disappeared when he merged with the Serpent of Chaos is irking. But well… I look at the bright side, this blatant disregard IS what makes Return to the Serpent Isle possible, heh?

But in any case I did get the ashes from Dupre’s tomb, and summoned his spirit.

I’ll admit in spite of the consistency glitches, it feels good to see my old friend back. And well, he told me I was to get into dungeon Shame to get the Chalice of Honor within.

So here we go! Shame it is.

Shame is a pretty good dungeon in my book – although that would really depend on one’s appreciation of puzzles. The dungeon is supposed to be proving grounds for Paladin and offers a lot of logic puzzles – such as for instance not being seen by moving eyes, pushing buttons to make a moving sphere bounces off walls, or turning all the statues into a room in the same color. This is ALL about puzzles, so all the dangers came from failing them. Except for a single undead – there is no combat at all in Shame.

I’ll admit this a bit more far-fetched than Covetous or Wrong… but well I love this kind of stuff, so this is fun. 😀

But any case once you finish all the puzzles, you get access to a teleporter which gets you to the bottom of the dungeon… where of course a Column guarded by a Wyrmguard awaits you! Thankfully she is NOT a companion, so you can kill her to your heart’s content.

And of course: get the Glyph!

After that you can get in the last chamber which contain the Glyph… but well guess who’s there? I mean who’s been putting a wrench in your adventure since day one? Yep. Lord Blackthorn!

He actually offers you a deal: the lenses for the Codex in exchange for the Chalice of Honor. He claims he only seek knowledge from the Codex… but well should you offer him the lenses, you get the Armageddon cutscenes and the end-game. So you need to refuse and well… he destroys the Chalice. Whoops.

There is a sense that Blackthorn is having his own agenda with the Codex and wants to use it for its own purpose (indeed the scroll you get from Hawkwind later on mentioning a future Britannia ruled by Blackthorn gives a good idea). It does feel however that the Guardian is also seeking the Codex.
Note that there is a cut line from the Guardian at that point in the usecode, when he talks about the lenses to Blackthorn and says ““Do not fear him, Blackthorn. I am here for you. The lenses can wait for now. He cannot proceed without the chalice which you have just destroyed”. This is also interesting has it gives a sense of the relationship between the two – could the Guardian have saved and protected Blackthorn since his banishment in the Ethereal Void?

But in any case it makes sense that the Guardian would want the Codex too since he wants to absorb the Avatar. So Big G and Blackthorn are playing playing each other a bit.

But well, that’s the rule of the Sith you know: backstabbing one another…
But well what to do now without a Sigil?

Well fear note for Sir Dupre is there!

He tells you that you can recreate the Chalice of Honor by taking one of the plains chalice in the room (which were most likely chalices taken by the Paladin who went to Despise to prove themselves), and embedding it with true Honor from the acts of someone in Trinsic.

Guess it’s time to get back to Trinsic and get that new Chalice done!

The futility of it all…

Upon leaving Cove (or Yew if you did Cove before will go and say that it is time for the you to learn to control the ship yourself and propose to gets back to Buccaneer’s Den to buy sea charts. However before you can arrive there, she lose control of the boat and you are drawn toward… Terfin.

Yes. That Terfin. The place where you arrived on Britannia. The place which has this huge Guardian Fortress.

And you’re not left with much of a choice as you need to enter this Fortress… alone. Please take special note of the three SHADOWLORDS statues at the entrance, we’ll get back to this in a later post…

Now you finally came directly inside the Guardian’s throne room: the very same where he discussed with Blackthorn in the introduction!

You there assist to a nice little in-game cutscene as the Guardian kills Samhayne (who barely has time to tell you Raven is his daughter) in front of you… before… engaging you in battle.

Except there is not much you can do: every attack you inflict upon him is reflected back upon you: you can’t hurt him or kill him and it becomes obvious that this story is just NOT gonna end in a epic one on one battle like most RPGs… His point made, the Guardian then goes and destroy Skara Brae (which was the only city resisting his influence) right in front of your eyes during a small cutscene and teleport you out of his palace, having made it clear that he could destroy Britannia as he wished.

You’re then left to tell Raven about these events, and about the death of her Raven. Nice day, heh?

To be honest I’ve always had some mixed feeling about this scene. I LOVE the scene conceptually, I love what transpires in it, I love the underlying message in it, the dialogues… but I’ve never been fully convinced by how it looks. You see, ingame cutscenes really weren’t that common back then, and especially not amongst western 3D RPGs… so it feels a tad well, amateurish. It’s good – but it should have been magnificient and I’ve always felt this is one point where she should have put some extra money and made it a CG cutscene.

On a side note, I actually feel the Guardian model does look pretty good – but that he really should have been made bigger. Oh well…

After this it is time to get to Bucs Den… where Raven has a small surprise for you and awaits you in her room with a nice little dress and offers a night of passion…

…with a red hot metal stick, wait what?!

Well actually this part is all about making you a member of the Guild. This was actually a very important scene in the original plot, to which Lord British also assisted in a twisted sending of the Guardian, but here well… all it does is giving you access to a new store in Buccaneer’s Den.

One point of note too is that you can actually refuse to sleep with Raven and get the mark – it’s really all up to the player!

In any case this is a good opportunity to step up and take my defense of Raven.

You see Raven has been getting a lot of hate from Ultima fans since… well… the beginning really. Ever since word came that there was a “pirate girl” in the game, and that she would be the “love interest” of the Avatar, she has been getting a LOT of hates from fans which has spread for month and even years… and basically for now reason at all except she is a love interest.

I mean REALLY?!

The irony about this is that Raven is a GOOD and INTERESTING character. She actually has depth and is well developed throughout the game. And while I won’t be defending the execution of the romance itself (which goes from very corny to down embarrassing at times), this really is a character you get attached too for she is always there to help you in your quest. For all the talk there was about the lack of party and companions in the game – I have to say that Raven is really THE character that sometimes made me miss it, because often I’ve felt it would have been great if just once she would have come done her boat to adventure to adventure with me.

You know I’ve actually considered having her as a character in Return to the Serpent Isle (Indeed… she was in the fanfic I wrote) but I decided against it solely on account of how controversial it would have been.

Oh well. Enough digression for it is time to get back to restoring Virtues. It should be noted that at that point you can go pretty much anywhere with the boat, which opens you new possibilities and secret to explore – altough manual boat travel is… well very slow. Interestingly enough: you can fire canons with you ship… which has no use but showcase another example of cut content.

In any case… Trinsic awaits me for now…

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