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!

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