Buccaneer’s Den. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum or villainy.
Erm. Wrong universe?
One thing about Bucs Den in Ultima IX: is that it really looks and feel like a pirate town. Getting out of the town can get dangerous, and the people living there aren’t all exactly the nicest there are. It’s also a beautiful place to behold, with building completly made of woods, and mostly from parts of old ship! And the area has got a wonderful music which gives a very nice piratey feel to the place.
So far, so good.
One point of note about Buccaneer’s Den is that is the only place in the game that gives you a clear picture of how much time has passed since Ultima VII, with the sailor Bjorn mentionning to as discussion with the tavern keeper Aneassa that the Avatar hasn’t been seen in 200 years.
I gotta say – I still don’t get why so many years after the fact people are still refusing to take this line as face value, solely because of a line from Dupre near the end saying he’s been dead for “20 years”. This even lead to some crazy stuff such as the Ultima Wiki taking into account BOTH dates. Ugh.
Now outside the fact that the structure of time can vary from world to world (and nevermind between Britannia and the Ethereal void where Dupre was)… it’s just a matter of sense. Ultima IX takes places twenty years since this appearence of the Columns. It can’t be that Columns appeared at the time of Serpent Isle, because that just doesn’t make any sense for the sole reason that Britannian society prior to Ultima IX had nothing to do with the society as it was in Ultima VII: Virtues had become once again the forefront of Britannian society, new forms of magic had been discovered and so on.
I’ll agree with those who says that two hundred years feel a tad much for the Guardian’s new assault to happens (which is why I liked the 80 years context of the Bob White version), but still – 200 years makes a lot of sense considering how much the context of Britannia evolved since the last game.
This digression over, I also want to the point that the discussion between Bjorn and the tavern keeper is actually quite funny. Also it one of the rare occasions where talking to a NPC leads to another NPC talking as well, which is always very nice!
But well, I wasn’t her to do some sightseeing. So I headed to meet with Raven’s boss Samhayne.
Now Samhayne is actually a decent guy, although he is also the leader of the Guild. But he’s not considered a pirate no, but a “business man”. He’s a good guy though, really trying to make life better in Bucs Den and notably taking on poor orphan, such as Raven. But well… as he points himself he’s not a virtuous man like the Avatar. So if the ends justify the means…
And so he has a deal with the Avatar: the Column of New Magincia is causing huge whirlpool at seas, which is basically causing a lot of trouble to Samhayne’s business. And he wants him to go and deal with this Column first.
And in exchange he offers you the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom.
Now I actually like quite a bit the idea that Samhayne HAS the Codex. Although the manual kind of suggest that the book had been returned to the Isle of the Avatar prior to the Great Cataclysm, it does show a lot of resourcefulness on his part. I was actually puzzled on my first play through, especially considering the shady nature of the character: was it really the Codex or some form of trap?
The only with this really – which is really the main issue with Ultima IX – is that the game offers now explanations as to how Samhayne got his hand on the Codex, while there are numerous that could be thought of.
In any case I now had to get to New Magincia and since boat travel was out of the question, I had to use a underground tunnel connecting both island – which in all fairness is a pretty neat idea (a shame they didn’t put the one leading to Britain as well!). The tunnels on the whole is straightforward albeit with some traps to avoid. But as I’ve pointed before – it’s easy to do in a real time 3D game!
And so here I was: New Magincia.
Now, New Magincia was never actually recovered after the Great Cataclysm. Most people felt there was no point in the humble ways of the city and ended leaving one after another leaving a ruined city behind and only single shepherd to inhabit it.
And this is actually a very beautiful piece of land, illustrated by a very sad and melancholic musical piece. Interestingly the approach is somewhat different than with the other cities since Magincia not being strictly opposed to any of the anti-Virtues, it actually use the positive themes… but in a manner that would make you go nostalgic and sad.
But that sums up the tone of the city pretty well, which really had this feeling of what I would call “ruined beauty”.
As you would expect, there is only one inhabitants left on the isle: your old friend Katrina. For all the fuss there had been about the characterization of companion, I felt Katrina was nailed pretty well – and you know there is something really sad about seeing her well… basically at the same point you originally met her: alone in a ruined city. 😦
Katrina will reveal mantra of Humility, but also hold the corresponding Sigil – albeit she acts somewhat as a prick (showing a more subtle approach of the Column’s influence) but refusing to give it to you until you have gotten read of the Vultures (by burning their nest) and the wolves (by killing the alpha male) threatening her herd.
At that point you need to get to the Shrine of Humility nearby to hopefully find some access to Hythloth whose entrance that laid near the isle has been sealed.
Well… granted this is quite a change in geography, although it has some sense from a game design perspective. To be fair I’m not really that shocked that the Shrine has moved (and Katrina actually does mention that Britannia has “changed a lot”) – I mean the Shrines had to be erected in the first place, so it could have been re-built near the city after the Cataclysm especially since most people believe the Isle of the Avatar to have sunk. (Also well… the shrine WAS erected on a isle that nobody knew about at the time of Ultima IV but hey!).
But as usual the issue is really more the lack of explanation.
In any case, following a meditation at the Shrine of Humility, the waters opened before me during a short cutscene… to lead me to the underwater city of Ambrosia.
Now Ambrosia is the Gargoyle City.
And it really is one of my favorite parts of the game.
For starters this is just a beauty to behold, as proven by the above screenshot. Unlike Ultima VII which offered us crappy architecture for Terfin, Gargoyle Architecture from Ultima VI was back with a passion, with beautiful pyramidal designs that are just jaw dropping.
What is interesting is that this city fits very with the previouses games consistency-wise. As I discussed in a previous blogpost – the nature of the Gargoyle actually comes back to the concept of the Ultima VI, with the Gargoyle Drones being obviously the less intelligent workforce – albeit with the ability to speak this time. But it also continues the two mains aspect of Gargoyle society shown in Ultima VII: the conflict between men and gargoyle (which drove them to leave the surface to build this underwater city) and the conflict between winged and wingless gargoyles (where the leader of each caste try to lead you to kill all the other ones, nice heh?)
Of course the second aspect has taken quite an extreme turn, due in no small part to the effects of the Column. Now I’ve seen some people complain about how idiot it was to have the Gargoyle affected by Pride since it is a human Virtue and how they should have affected by some warped Gargoyle Virtues.
Don’t be silly guys! The Columns were erected by warping the Runes of Virtues into twisted Glyph to emanate anti-Virtue, of course they CAN’T create anti-Singularity. And Ambrosia being close the Column of Pride, this actually makes perfect sense.
In addition the Gargoyles have also kind of fallen back to the old ways, with some of them convinced that Avatar is gonna destroy them all by accomplishing the prophecy of the False Prophet and they show some obvious well… pride with open disdain for the inferior human coming to them. But you know, while this is not exactly subtle this whole area is actually very well written!
That being said one of the most interesting exemple of how far has gone the conflict between Winger and Wingless is the gargoyle called the “Nameless One.”
You see this is basically a gargoyle kid, who has known nothing but hatred in his life, and be told his whole life how much winged are superiors. As such, this lead him to consider his wingless brethren as inferiors and kill one of the workers to steal his flying boots: this way he could now fly above the others and we like a winged himself! This is twisted logic of course, but there is also something very sad about this poor kid. He doesn’t have a lot of dialogue – but he clearly comes as memorable. And people say there is no character depth in Ultima IX?
Now since you free the poor nameless, he actually allows you get these boots, so you can fly around and get to home of the big architect Wis-Lem who constructed the dome, and his the only one who will allow you a meeting with the Queen Zah who can give you access to Hythloth whose entrance lies beyond her chambers.
Now Wis-Lem is arrogant and blinded and asks you to do a simple task: put a power cube on the Queen’s statue atop of the Dome, which will activate it and be the shining jewel on top of the marvel that is Ambrosia. So you go and activate the Statue… but what the Avatar’s couldn’t know was that the dome was already suffering through sheer pressure and that activating the statue would add so much pressure… that it would destroy the dome.
And such the Dome collapsed, leading Ambrosia and the Gargoyle people to their doom. 😦
At this point you do find the dying Wis-Lem who realizes how his pride lead to the collapse and the dome of the Gargoyle people and begs you to save his race by saving a Queen Egg. Ironically this also show an aftermath of the story of Nameless… as even with the world collapsing around him, all he cared was killing a winged gargoyle 😦
Now I’ll be ranting a wee bit: I’ve seen many haters going about as to how the Avatar is a asshole, and caused a whole genocide and is responsible and so on. I mean REALLY? The Avatar could have known helping Wis Lem and activating a statue would destroy all the gargoyles? Well that doesn’t deserve any comment except that it show some kind of hypocritical statements from haters.
In any case I could now get access to the Queen’s quarter.
The Queen. This is also one controversial addition to Ultima IX.
Personally I’ve never had any issue with her. Neither Ultima VI nor Ultima VII brought any explanation of Gargoyle reproduction, so this feels consistent. Also there would also be a lot of sense about the existence of the Queen being kept from humans at the time of these games. So while it can be considered a slight retcon I guess – I just don’t see how it can be inconsistent. I just could have used… well… More explanations. (I said that before didn’t I?)
Ironically, Amy Sage who designed Ambrosia in Ultima IX, later ended writing the Gargoyle fiction in Ultima X which explained very well the apparent discrepancy around the Gargoyle Queen. Which always made me wonder if these explanations were already thought up at the time of Ultima IX. Oh well.
Now while I like the Queen concept…
…yeah no, sorry. This is just freaking ugly. I’m all for a gargoyle queen, but I’m all for reimagining her visually. This just does not work.
One point of note, the first time I played I killed the Queen – since you know she is rather pissed at you because of the collapse of her Dome, never thinking this would give a Karma drop. You can actually avoid this by simply taking an egg and go to the exit – although you could argue that ending her suffering would be compassion considering she’ll soon be crushed by the water pouring in Ambrosia.
In any case having now seized an Egg… I proceeded the exit teleporter.
And here was my next step: the dungeon of Hythloth!