As I left Britain, I came upon Sarah the Keeper of the Shrine of Compassion. She actually has some interesting thing to says about the Corruption of Britannia and informed me that the Shrine of Compassion had been corrupted by the Column. She also advised me to go meditate there and gave me the Mantra of Compassion for that purpose (like I didn’t remember it!)
On my way to Shrine though, I had a most unexpected encounter when a statue began talking to me. It was Shamino!
As it turns out, my old friend was trapped in the Ethereal Void after he went on a spirit quest to try to learn more of the Columns. I’m not what else to say except that this is… awesome? That came as totally unexpected and it really works as things will show later on.
But alas he couldn’t talk for me long, although he did stress the actual purpose of the Column: to corrupt the Virtues and twist the people’s way! So I continued my road to the Shrine, which was alas in a poor state.
I can’t even begin to say how great it is to finally be able to pray at Shrines, tu use the Mantra and to hear them talk to me – especially after Ultima VII rendered them so utterly useless. No XP or level to pass here though, but the Shrine did inform me how to cleanse here: by using the corrupted Glyph, the Sigil and the Mantra.
Now the Glyph is actually a corrupted Rune of Virtue which is being used to power the Columns, while a Sigil is a symbol representing Virtue that can be found in each city. Aidon supposedly has the one from Britain… but he claims he knows nothing about. Oh well.
I continued my way to Destard and came across a small home. My old friend Gwenno was inside! Now I’ll admit, I’m not really that fond of the character model and voice they chose for her which are both way too youthful but that’s okay. The important thing to learn her is that Gwenno is obviously corrupted by the Columns as well, and that Iolo has left for Despise a long time ago and has never returned.
Si with no further ado, I made my way to the entrance of Despise.
On a small technical note, it should be pointed that the dungeons kind of break the seamless world approach because they are set on a separate map than Britannia, sometime spreading on a couple of map as well. The reason for this was mostly technical: they could have put the dungeons on the same map as Britannia with no issue, but the game at the time had already huge smoothness issues – so they basically did that in order to offer a very smooth gameplay inside dungeons.
They did that very well though: since it works as an instant teleport to the dungeon area with no loading whatsoever. This is even truer nowadays where the teleport feels basically seamless.
Now Despise is a great showcase of one of Ultima IX’s greatest achievement: dungeon design. Note that it was also part of the Ultima IX demo back then, and it was a great idea to say the least as even then it excited me a whole lot.
Now I’ll just go and says it: most dungeons in RPGs suck. There. In most RPGs, dungeons basically consist of hack’n slashing crap with little else to do beside killing gazillions of monsters, which just ends up being boring to death by the time you finish. Now I’m sorry but Ultima should be more than that, and really dungeons were my major issue with U6P for this very same reason.
There are been people complaining that the Dungeons in Ultima IX had something Zelda-ish to them. This is rather with some puzzles forms (such as the use of magic to light torches or bows on targers), but how can anyone who appreciate good game design even remotely complain that Ultima takes hint from the series that has the best dungeons of all time, rather than… well… doing Diablo-ish crap?
As it turns out, Despise strike a good balance of everything. It has monsters to kill – but not to many of them. It has quite a bit of exploration and looting to do – but not to the point of getting lost. It has just enough of puzzles and secrets passages to find to feel rewarding. It basically is just a great deal of fun to play through – and I don’t know about you, but FUN this is what I ask in my dungeons!
But this place also has the luxury of offering a couple of NPC and have its own story! You see, soon after entering the dungeon you’ll stump across a couple of peasants imprisoned inside a room by a “guy a weird armor”. As it turns out these peasants came looking for something called the Kiran Stones and you learn more about this history of this place. It seems a long time ago, Despise was the lair of a wizard named Kiran who had created four stones to hid a secret artifact – this is a nice piece of background, especially since I remember that there WAS a wizard who had his lair in Despise in Ultima VII! Now the two peasants hoped to find the stones and pay their way back into Britain… but this misadventure kind of changed their mind, so it’s left to you to do what you will with this information.
Searching for the stones and the treasure is completely optional, as is talking to these peasants – but this is just some great stuff! As it turns out I did went and got all the stones though because the treasure IS worth it: a very nice shield which offers additional mana!
But I was already getting close to the end of the dungeon… and soon enough here came the base of the Column, with one of those Wyrmguard guarding it!
He was easily dispatched, but as I was about to slay it he begged be to spare his life with a shocking revelation: this was actually my old friend Iolo! To say this was unexpected is an understatement. While Ultima IX cut the party, you certainly never would have expected your old Companions to come up on the side of the Guardian!
This really came as a shock the first time, and even some puzzlement: I mean was this really Iolo or was he lying to me? But there was something really heart wrenching about seeing him like this (and really: even more after having played all the series in a row before this!) and I let it go, saddened by this turn of event.
Now there are fans who have complained about the idea of using companions as Wyrmguards. How this is not consistent. How the companions would NEVER be corrupted by the Guardian. I call BULLSHIT on this. If anything this is one of Ultima IX’s most brilliant idea. It could have pushed farther – but this is just both shocking and interesting and a perfect showcase of how far the corrupting powers of the Guardian can go.
So seizing the Glyph at the base of the Column, I proceeded to exit from the Dungeon… but another unexpected surprise awaited me.
Blackthorn was there, and he managed to capture me with one of his Wyrmguards! But before he could take me away, a strange woman appeared to save my life…
Now this cutscene is okay… but it does showcase a tiny bit issue with them: the cutscenes that were done later in development doesn’t quite offer the same rendering qualities as those done for the previous iteration of the game. Funnily enough the Avatar also looks somewhat different in these cutscenes, with a face appearing more cubby and a lighter Ankh on his torso.
On a content standpoint I do feel this scene is fine, although the whole “Blackthorn! I should I’ve known you’d be licking at the guardian heels” line is a bit silly, since the Avatar should probably have been more like “WTF?! Blackthorn ?!”
And thus came Raven. Well there is a LOT to say about Raven I think… but I’ll refrain a bit for now, and wait until we get later into the story. One thing I’ll say is that she is a nice character, actually well developed and who is also very well voiced by Audrey Peterson.
As it turns the pirate lass wants me to meet her boss Samhayne… but she first wants me to prove that I really am the Avatar by presenting her with a Rune of Virtue.
Guess I really do have to get that Shrine cleansed, heh?