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!