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…