Is Underworld II really that consistent?

Now this is a post that is probably bound to get me some flames from hardcore fans, especially being the evil Ultima IX lover that I am.

Note that this is in no way as an insult to Ultima Underworld II. I love this game, this is still one of my favorite episodes of the series and replaying it confirms that fact.

I do feel however this is an interesting aspect to discuss, especially since it tends to show how much in flux the nature of the Guardian was at time, and might also explains why this aspect of him tend to have been ignored by following games.

To put it simply: the way the Guardian is handled in Ultima Underworld II is very interesting. On the other hand – it does not really feel coherent with the way the Guardian is portrayed and described in the core Ultima games.

Some might argue we don’t learn that much about the Guardian in the core Ultima games, and that Underworld II is merely a way to get a sense of his “true might” – which is a good argument.

But let’s look at the episodes more closely.

In Ultima VII, the Guardian is quite simply describde as the Destroyer of worlds. An evil entity from a different dimension who strives by destroying worlds for his own pleasure. The Wisps even go as far as to say that should the Guardian enters Britannia physically, it would be the end of Britannia. His followers like to think they will be rewarded and rule at his side – but there is actually one who makes a good argument in the game: the false Avatar Sullivan which says he stopped following the Fellowship because he felt that should the Guardian come- he will kill everyone and everything, even his followers. This aspect of the nature of the Guardian is further reinforced in Serpent Isle, and most especially in Pagan which basically does show what would have become of Britannia had the Guardian entered the world – a destroyed and ravaged world, with but a handful of inhabitants still clinging to the ways HE enforced upon them and thinking of him as the savior. Debates about Guardian’s nature aside – this is also very much his nature on both Ultima IX versions where his end plan is the complete destruction of Britannia. Not conquest.

Now let’s look at Ultima Underworld II. In this game, the Guardian is more or less portrayed as a big interdimensional warlord. He is evil, and destroy anyone who would resist him, but as this supreme overlord, he rules over multiples worlds (where according to some people, things are not so bad as long as you follow him), has loads of followers and armies he sent throughout the multiverse to conquer worlds in his name. We even have Lord Thribis suggesting how he once joined his force to celebrate (!), and what to say of Anodonus which was destroyed because the city simply refused to give the materials and resources he asked for his war efforts?

Now matter how you look at it – there is something that just doesn’t quite fit when you compare these two visions of the Guardian. Now there are not necessarily incompatible, but they don’t really feel consistent with each other.

There is also the modus operendi of the Guardian to consider. The thing is in the core game the Guardian is always presented as a very patient and subtle being. He takes his time and always works in the shadows, behind the scenes to manipulate his people and the land he intends to conquer. This is true about Ultima VII, about Pagan, but also about Ultima IX.

Having the Guardian bringing his off-world armies to conquer Britannia and rule it would have felt wrong (this is also why really some Ultima fan-fics view never worked for me). On the other having the Guardian making the Britannian turning on upon themselves through civil war and manipulations (as in Bob White plot) or by warping their vision of virtue (as in Ascension), while in the meantime he works upon his real plan leading toward destroying the world to become stronger: now *that’s* the Guardian I know of.

He does not need to come and bring armed force to “conquer” world – because the people inside the world are doing it for him. This is what makes part of his genius (and also why I have always believed that the Wyrmguard of Ultima IX were simply Britannians. Nothing more.)

Also there is some sense of philosophical meaning to all this. Because this is not just about destroying the world physically (even if this is the long term plan) but first by destroying its values, and its morals. If we consider the Guardian for what he is supposed to be: basically the purest form of Evil – this does make a lot of sense. These Virtues and morals are the opposite of what he is – so destroying them is almost the point as much as destroying the world itself, and also explains the disdain he has to it all. Even the corruption of the virtues in Ultima IX completely fits with this pattern in the end (and I would argue even explains it in a way), by the way he tries to corrupt Britannians. Even if you forget Ultima IX for a minute and get into the Silver Seed aspect which suggests that the Guardian might have been more or less behind the Ophidian Wars – it does follow the same form of logic of having him working behind the scenes to have cultures destroy themselves.

Now there is a bit of that philosophical approach in Underworld 2 by the way Killorn Keep has a mockery of the Eight Virtue. But it feels more like farce (even to the point of having his own Avatar Mors Gotha) while the corrupting of the core values of the world he wants to destroy is central to his plans in Ultima VII, VIII and IX.

Admittedly the view of the core games I have outlined about is probably more black&white that the one presented of Ultima Underworld II – but what’s it always the point of the Guardian Trilogy? To have the nemesis be THIS ultimate form of Evil? The Guardian is not meant to be subtle in his ultimate goal, he is not to have shades of grey – he is meant to Evil. As such he can only be black&white.

So perhaps this is the mistake that did Ultima Underworld II (although it wouldn’t be fair to blame the developers considering how sketchy the Guardian’s nature was back then), in trying to make the Guardian and his rule more subtle, and less black & white.

One thing to point as well – is that Richard Garriott had no involvement whatsoever in Ultima Underworld II, which might also explains why the Guardian is somewhat more peculiar in this game – because I would argue that if you stick in the core games, his basic goals and personality remains very consistent – and yes even in Ultima IX! With Garriott having no influence on this game, this might explain why it went in a somewhat different direction with the Avatar’s Nemesis.

Now as I mentioned above, these two views are not completely inconsistent and there are ways to make them reconcile. But no matter how I look at it, it feels to me that Ultima Underworld II is off is some ways and kinf of a different beast that the one we see in the core games.

And in my view, I’ll admit liking the one in the core games a lot more. I still love very much the content of Underworld II, but somehow I just can’t help feeling this would have been more fitting to another sort of villain.

As a closing word, I’ll repeat this is in a no way an attack about Underworld II – I love the game. But for all the complains Ultima IX got about the Guardian’s nature from some fan, I feel is there is one game that was “off” with the Guardian, it was Ultima Underworld II and that really – Ultima IX was just back to the roots of the characters, just with an added twist.

The Black Gate has been destroyed!

Well that went… fast.

Of course with two generator down, I was already very close to the ending mind you, but these last parts went faster than I expected.

So as I mentioned a couple hours ago, I was heading for the Fellowship’s Meditation retreat near Serpent’s Hold. Of course Elizabeth & Abraham weren’t there having left for Buccaner’s Den (duh!). Explorations of the caves behind the retreat however, soon revealed the presence of the third generator: The Cube which allows the Guardian to speak to his adepts.

Alas, the Cube was protected by a high pitched sound which could kill my character, so I had to ask the Time Lord for help which told I needed to get Caddelite from the lost continent of Ambrosia, a material that came from a meteor that basically ravaged the lost isle.

So here I was on Ambrosia… Which in all fairness really has nothing in common to the Ambrosia I’ve already visited in Ultima III. But in any case, it was a nice thing to bring back anyway.

After getting the caddelite which was protected by a nasty Hydra (which did like last a couple of seconds before my party), I had helmets done by Zorn in Minoc and went back to the Cube.

The generator was no issue this time, and thus the three Guardian generators had been destroyed. Only one thing left: the Black Gate. Of course I needed to find it first.

The thing about the Cube, is that like all the generators it offers you a smaller replica of it – except that the small Cube offers one nifty capability: it drives the Guardian follower to tell you the truth, and ALL the truth. So it’s actually quite fun at that point to travel through all Britannia again to get the truth from corrupt Fellowship members.

The purpose at this point is to get to Buccaner’s Den (which I had already visited prior to that) in order to get all the details. It turns out the Black Gate is being built on the Isle of the Avatar, and you need to get a key from Hook’s lair in Bucs Den’s mountains to open the entrance to the Fellowship hideout (which in all likelyhood probably is in Dungeon Hythloth).

And so here I was flying away to the Isle of the Avatar… and the old Shrine of the Codex.

Now one thing I got to point: the first time I DID play Ultima VII, I hadn’t yet finished Ultima VI (still stuck at the Shrine of Diligence remember?) – so I had no idea the Codex had been banished to the Ethereal Void. So when I first went to the Isle of the Avatar, I was expecting to find the Codex to reveal me some nifty thing.

Except there was no Codex. It was heartbreaking.

I actually tried in vain to consult it with the Lenses from the Museum – but alas the developpers hadn’t considered the possibility.

And so here I was, ready to face the final dungeon of the game. Now I’ve been overly critical to Ultima VII’s dungeons – which have been mostly crap due to the fact that the engine limitations meant they had to be reduced to very little inside the actual mountains of the game.

Hythloth however is the exception: it’s actually really big by Ultima VII standard, it has branching, some puzzles, you can get lost easily… so I can really take you quite a few hours to finish it. At least the first time – since this is one of those area where knowing the solution makes it a tad too easy alas.

So after half an hour or so of exploring, I came upon the Black Gate and the Fellowship Inner circle. Hook, his gargoyle, Elizabeth and Abraham didn’t prove to be much of a threat alas and they perished really quickly at the point of my blade. Unfortunately Batlin escaped… Dang.

So here I was poised at the final choice.

You see, while traditionnal Ultima games usually offer little in term of choice to solve quests or plot – Ultima VII has the previlege of being the only game in the series to offer an alternate ending.

For indeed, you can choose either to destroy the Black Gate and prevent the Guardian from entering Britannia OR to pass through the Black Gate to return to Earth, and leave Britannia in the Guardian’s clutch.

(Obviously the former is the good one!)

One point of note too, it that Ultima VII was the first Ultima game (and probably one of the first videogames even) to have a movie-like ending credits, which of course have not become the norm!

I’ve actually watched the entire closing credits as usual (with one point of trivia to note, the main writer of Ultima VII – Raymond Benson has gone to write many James Bond novel as well as novelisation of Metal Gear games!), soletly in order to listen to the beautiful of the game that pass through the credits.

It sure was fun! While Ultima VIi still remains my least favorite episode of the “Guardian Saga” (yes – I realy DID say that), it is still one hell of a game and quite a fun romp to play.

Batlin awaits me on Serpent Isle… but alas it will have to wait a tiny bit – since the Guardian is now gonna strike Britannia again in Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds!

Two down, one to go…

I shall get thee Guardian!

On a side note – I forgot to mention that upon my travels to Yew I recruited my last party member: Tseramed. He is a companion unique to Ultima VII (which is based on the likeness of programmer Ken Demarest III), which has a nice personality and background and well – just contribute to the charm of Yew’s area which is also why I’ve always taken him inside my party rather than some other traditionnal companions like Katrina or Julia.

So in any case, following my outburst at Lord British which unfortunately didn’t lead to an act of Regicide, I returned to the Dungeon Despise. Well it’s a big a word since I didn’t get inside the dungeon the first time – merely to the entrance to get the Magic Carpet that was laying outside.

Exploring Despise does showcase one of the major issue of Ultima VII. They’re very small. And they’re not that interesting to begin with. Despise basically consists of fireballs casting from walls you can not avoid (note: this is why Ultima VIII is better in a way) and teleporters thave move you randomly throughougt the Dungeon.

Ironically I wanted to explore all of Despise this time… remembering there is a NPC in there. But I got unwillingly teleported to the area with the Sphere.

So that’s what I did: I went to the Sphere!

Alas the Sphere was protected by a Moongate which just teleported be back earlier in the Dungeon. So consulting the Time Lord brought be to understand that I needed a magical hourglass from my crazy olf mage friend Nicodemus. Alas he had sold the hourglass to an antique shop in Paws (I bought it back) and he could ne re-enchant it due to the Ether being screwed.

Since the Time Lord suggested waking up Penumbra in Moonglow… well I first when to Vesper since it was on the way and also where Elizabeth and Abraham (which just happens to be heading to Moonglow after that!) were last headed. Vesper is kind of an interesting city because it’s only dual human/gargoyle city in the land. Which means there is basically a lot of racism and hatred between the two races, and this makes you feel perhaps the Gargoyle will end up going far away in an Underwater city or something… but more about that in a few games. Admitedly the whole thing is a tad heavy handed and just very subtle, but interesting none the less.

After that I did went to Moonglow. Quested around a bit… and got to Penumbra.

Ahh Penumbra. Now this is an interesting thing. You see Penumbra has put herself into a magical sleep since Ultima VI and legend say only the Avatar can wake her. You need to put some specific items next to a plaque giving it before her door to open it – not too hard, altough I kind of lost my proficiency at rune reading.

The thing about Penumbra is that the first time I played the game: I woke her up the first I got to Moonglow. Big mistake because it completly breaks the plot since the game assume you would not wake her without having first being asked to do so. So here you go mentionning the Time Lord, Nicodemus and the Hourglass without having seen them.

Yep, that’s bad design.

(Note that in term of bad designs Moonglow also offers the Fellowship poisoning quest which is unsolvable due tu usecode bugs. Whoops.)

Penumbra mentioned another generator – A Tetrahedron this time – in Dungeon Deceit. But I first needed the Ethereal Ring she had given to Lord Draxinusom, kind of the Gargoyles.

So I went to Terfin. Which was nice since Elizabeth & Abraham were supposedely there too! (But or course they had JUST left for the Meditation Retreat near Serpent’s Hold…).

Now Terfin is another interesting area and yet again prefigure some of stuff we’ll see in Ultima IX (and here I thought this game didn’t take ANYTHING from Ultima VII into account!). Interestingly I also managed to solve for the first time in my life the Altar/Fellowship quest – I always thought it had no resolutions before.

But in any case the ring. Alas my Gargoyle friend had sold it to the Sultan of Spektran (which is the isle where Sutek was in Ultima V, and Hawkins’ cave was in Ultima VI). So I went to Spektran, which had a crazy Sulta with an imaginary harem, and a vault with the ring inside, guarded by a Stone Harpy.

Which lead be to cheating a second time, because you see: the Stone Harpy was unkilable. I tried everything: weapons, magic and nothing did any damage. So this is getting really annoying in terme of bugs.

So basically I used the hack mover *again*, removed the Door and got the ring.

*sigh*

After having Penumbra enchant the Ring, I now headed the Dungeon Deceit. Comments made about Despise’s size apply there too.

So I rapidely ended up at the Tetrahedron.

Thanks to the Ring I could enter it and faced the terrifying creature inside. Which in me memory was so strong I always used a Glass Sword to kill it.

Except it was no match for my Black Sword-er and maxed out Avatar.

With the Tetrahedron gone, I could finally get Nicodemus to enchant the Hourglass (and also all mages in Britannia to stop talking nonsense) and get back to the Sphere and enter it, where I had a simple Moongate puzzle to solve.

And thus died the Sphere.

Alas destroying the Sphere, while it freed the Time Lord, kind of rendered all the Moongates inoperable, meaning I could not go back to Earth unless using the Black Gate. Meh.

Of course there also was a last generator to destroy: the Cube that supposedly lies at the Fellowship’s retreat near Serpent’s Hold. Funny how thing goes, heh?

Two down, one to go!

Well err… thank you Wisp Guys…

Never trust a flashing ball of light, I tell ya.

So here I was on the road to Yew – ready to go in what is one my favorite area of Ultima VII.

Yew is very peculiar in this game, because it doesn’t really exists anymore. There is a “town” called you (which the first time you play the game make you go like “Huh ?”) more like a few random buildings over the forest. But it’s actually very nice, because it offers this feel of being into REAL wild lands that really give this sense of exploring this wild and untamed area – which on the whole the Britannia of Ultima VII is sorely lacking.

I also very much like the Emp and their subquests as well – altough it does feel to need to get the Emps to talk to the Wisps, consdering I’ve played four games where you could just talk to them directly. And of course the bastards wanted some things in return. The notebook of the sage Alagner.

So here I was going to New Magincia. Actually using Moongates because well… might as well make use of them while they’re still available! I quickly did that Locket quest, and headed for Alagner and revealed him I was trying to infiltrate the Fellowship (surprise!) but of course he refused to let me take his notebook until I get the answer to the questions of life and death from the ghost of Skara Brae.

Typical!

So of course: I went to Skara Brae. Now Skara Brae is another really cool area in Ultima VII. The city was destroyed decades before when an experiment go destroy a lich went awry, and basically caused a fire who ravaged the entire island. It is now a ghost town, filled either with nice and tormented spirits and evil skeletons.

It’s a plotline which is actually very awesome, with a lot of things to do to complete the quest. The development of this particular story is also very good – the setting is very creepy, and the liche Horance has something very chilly to him (especially when you think of the weird mage he was in Ultima VI).

I gotta say I’ve always found it unfair for Caine to end up being this spirit destined to be tortured forever over his “crime” – for in the end he was not responsible, the Mayor was because he did a mistake with the ingredients. Caine might have been the one doing the experiment, but he could not know that he had been given the wrong ingredients. So basically: free his soul dammit!

Needless to say – the Lich didn’t last against me and I managed to give Horance back his sanity (which would make him… a GOOD lich I guess – kind of an original concept :P)

Actually considering how much of a bad ass I am, I’m sure I should technically be able to kill it (I should perhaps have tried to Black Sword on him, heh!). But well not much choice in this case.

So with the answere about life and death from Caine (ie: “There is no answer”) I went back to Alagner which agreed to let me borrown his notebook. Except of course I need to go into his storeroom (which is filled with secrets passages and levers) and you need to build stairs using crates to get access to his last room which is above room.

Except there it didn’t work.

I’m gonna digress a bit and say that the latest snapshop of Exult 1.4 seems to have a lot of issues. Major instabilities (freezes and crash: save a lot), companions which pop up a statue where they were before dying (!) and this – because for some reason I just couldn’t stack up enough crates to get to the entrance. Comparing to my previous Exult version and save side by side – it almost feels as if the room looks HIGHER in the new version. Odd isue, but it was annoying.

So after half an hour of trying I gave up and used the hack mover to get the notebook. Which suchs, because I would have prefered to do that without cheating.

I read the notebook which had a good description of the TRUE Fellowship philosophies and informed me they were working for a an evil entity called the Guardian.

Now that’s an unexpected turn of event! (Yeah that’s sarcasme).

Giving the notebook to the Wisp lead to more information about the Guardian (notably that should he enter in Britannia it would be the end of the world: yeah right you’ll in Ultima IX you morons!), and also how to contact my good friend the Time Lord with my Orb of the Moon.

So I used my Orb and found the Time Lord which I hadn’t seen since Ultima IV (except I didn’t know it was him) and is now trapped in some weird time prison in the Shrine of Spirituality.

He gave me more information about the Guardian, but most importantly told me that there was a huge blackrock generator in the form of a Sphere in the Dungeon Despise that needs to be dealt with. So Despise here I come!

Except I thought it would be a good idea to bring his notebook back to Alagner. I mean I did promise it to him!

But upon arrival I stump upon this gruesome scene.

The Guardian had read the info in the notebook and had Hook and his croonies kill him. Thank you Wisps! And of course the shipwright did told me he saw the Crown Jewel and a man with a Hook on board the day before. How convenient!

Of course I was shocked!

Britannia is in peril! It needs to be saved!

So I did the logical thing, I headed straight to Lord British to tell him these terrible developments. And I got this:

And there are people who dare complain that Lord British finally move his butt and do his part in saving Britannia in Ultima IX? Really?

But now that was the inneffiency of Britannian’s government to the fullest. I wanted to slap him and shake him saying “People are DYING! The world is in danger you MORON!” and at these time using the Shade Blade to get rid of him become tempting. But I guess this is not very Avatar-ish.

(Also killing Lord British would lead me to make a whole post about his supposed child with Nell, and the sillyness of how some fans have turned this funny and silly easter egg into some huge major plot element – but I wouldn’t want to hurt peope’s feelings!)

Trust thy worthiness in thy brother’s Unity!

Or… something like that now, is it?

In any case, now armed with brand new magical weapons, I went down through the test of Courage. Alas the big Dragon at the end proved to be unkillable without yet another more powerful weapon.

Which thus lead me to doing the thing that gave this add-on its name – forging the Shade Blade or as it would more often be called, the Black Sword.

Note that is actually something fun to do: you need to heat the blade, hammer it on the anvil and put it into the water afterward. Isn’t it really cool?

Now of course this wasn’t enough, so I had to bind the evil deamon Arcadian which laid in the mirror to my Sword to make it work. Which means I am now tied forever to an Evil Sword that I can’t drop or else it is magically back in my hand.

Good enough for me!

With my new blade in hand, I returned to the Dragon.

And well my pet deamon destroyed it with his powers. Isn’t he nice?

Having now all the three talismans, I was able to send back Exodus’ Dark Core into the Void, much in the same way I did with the Codex two hundred years ago.

Huzzah.

Now all that was left was getting back to Lord British to get my reward.

Now… you see I love Forge of Virtue. It’s a great add-on which has pretty awesome gameplay quests and a neat story with awesome ties to Ultima III.

But it really DO spoil the whole game. I mean after the Isle of Fire your Avatar is maxed to 30 in every stats, combat and magic. And Lord British rewards you by doubling your Strength (and thus HPs). Knowing you also have the most powerful weapon of the game with the black sword.

In other words: it’s pretty much God Mode from now on.

So it was time to get back to the main quest.

But first I head to Jhelom because as it happens it was were Elizabeth and Abraham were, but most importantly: I wanted Dupre in my party. So I recruited Dupre and solved that banner quest (which is actually nice in that it’s one of the rare that does offer multiple way to resolve it!). But most importantly I confronted DeSnell about the Serpenine Dagger found at the crime scene in Minoc.

Now I hate the resolution of this “quest” because it basically makes no sense. All you do is show a dagger to DeSnell, he just says it has been stolen a while back… and attacks you, you kill him, nobody cares. The end.

This is just dumb, since really DeSnell has no reason to try to kill the Avatar since his version of the events is plausible. Now considering you do hear later in game if you have the Cube that DeSnell was the first assassin of the Fellowship, THEN it would have been a good point to have this subquest solved. Oh well…

Now that I had Dupre, I decided to finally get to that abandonned dungeon of Destard to get the hidden Fellowship funds. But… no funds in there just LOADS of Dragons (and no trace of the Abyss’ inhabitants either…). Was this a trap like the strange voice in my head (which sounds suspiciously like the Guardian) warned me when I entered? Could that nice and friendly Batlin bloke had wanted me dead?

But maybe not, I mean I AM the Avatar, so who cares about Dragons? And beside there was also a loot of loot, money, gems, gold bars, gold nuggets. So I killed every thing in there and got all the loot.

I went back to Britain, and informed Batlin that alas there was no trace of the Fellowship funds in the chest (well… it is true, I found a LOT of money – it just was not the funds of the Fellowship) and loads of monsters. The poor lad was very sorry, and said I would be welcome amongst the Fellowship tonight.

In the meantime I went and sold all my loot.

Rich is good.

(After all there is nothing in the Eight Virtues saying you can’t have a lot of money).

So it was 9 PM and I went to be intronized into the Fellowship by Batlin after answering a couple of copy protection questions.

So here I am, now able to SPY on them muahahaha!

Now let me say one thing though: I think the way this ceremony goes is a bit silly. Iolo, Shamino and Dupre each try to talk you out out doing this folly. But really – shouldn’t the Avatar share with his companions that he is only joining the Fellowship in order to learn their true nature and not out of love for their pilosophy?

Oh well…

Now a happy member of the Fellowship, I am now heading straight to Yew (and on foot… while I did get the Magic Carpet, somehow I just enjoy walking around) to get to see my old friends the Wisps…

The Next Generation of the Serpent Forge of Virtue’s Hold…

Now how’s that for a title, heh?

So as I mentionned earlier, I decided to head to Cove. It was fairly quick since my main purpose was to get Jaana. I also got and went all mushy mushy with Nastassia and stole a kiss or two. You know, Nastassia is a nice enough character but I never really got why some fans seems so obsessed over her. I mean, outside of the fact that any true Ultima knows that Aiela is the Avatar’s one true love, I never felt she could even remotely be this kind of character for the Avatar personally. She’s nice enough sure but well… nothing to write home about.

Now following these events, I headed toward Minoc. Which is nice since it finally allowed be to do a little of combat.

Which reminds me I didn’t talk about combat in Ultima VII. Well… to put it basically: it sucks and it amongst the worst any RPG has ever had. You just press “C” and do nothing. There are strategies that are useless due to the amount of companions you have. So basically it’s like the ancestor of the boring MMO combat sandwish (except that unlike MMOs, it goes fast enough not to be boring).

In order words: even Ultima VIII’s clickfest was better than this.

But in any case: I got to Minoc… and as it happens there had been two other ritual murders, JUST when the Fellowship founders Elizabeth and Abraham were in town. And in addition there was a Fellowship Candelabra at the murder scene. But of course it has GOT to be a set up gainst the goody Fellowship, right?

On a side note – and I’m sure I’m not the only one here – the first times I played Ultima VII I never did see this crime scene, because the game was buggy as hell, and usually the bodies were gone by the time you first got to Minoc. Annoying.

So after getting Owen to kill himself, raided the mine for Serpent Venom to sell at Britain (hey, this is not theft this stuff HURTS people!) I also had my future told by the Gypsy Margarita (note: why are ONLY Gypsies allowed to read the future in Ultima?) that I needed to join the Fellowship to learn their true nature, and to contact the Time Lord through the Wisps. Yay!

So I went back to Britain and did Batlin’s personality test (which feels like a twisted version of the traditionnal Ultima Virtue questions) and his first quest consisting of getting a package to Minoc.

At that point though, I decided to do Forge of Virtue because I felt that plotwise it actually made more sense to do that before starting really the main plotline of Ultima VII.

Now small history lesson: Forge a Virtue is an add-on for Ultima VII that brings the character to the Isle of Fire where you killed Exodus in Ultima III and have you do some virtues test to prove your Avatarhood. It’s an excellent add-on really, altough I’ve always felt it would have been neat to be able to have the isle solely pop up halfwar through the game (which is basically how I did it back when I player the DOS Version).

Now personally I played Forge of Virtue *very* late. You see I had Ultima VII in French, but its add-on was never translated and the english version of Forge of Virtue did not work with the french version of Ultima VII. So I only got to play it around the same time I got Martian Dreams and Savage Empire… since my compilation CD which had Savage Empire also had the english version of Ultima VII. Neat heh?

So I first did the Truth Test. Which took like 5 seconds when you know the trick. Then I did the Love Test, which is an amazing quest about two Golems who love each other as brothers and amongst the best Ultima VII as to offer. It went easilly, but it’s always a pleasure to do it.

Then I started the Courage Test… and I got faced with two Golem on the second room. And I couldn’t kill them. And I figured “Dang I need magical weapons!” as I didn’t had any then. So where could I get magical weapons for free?

That’s right.

Serpent’s Hold.

Now I have to say it I hate Serpent’s Hold in Ultima VII. I actually kind regret my first play through when I didn’t yet know Star Trek: The Next Generation. It felt a bit irky even then, but that work. Now… it just get my eyes rolling. This is basically THE exemple of what you must not do with an easter egg: overblow it. So I did the quest there about the damaged Lord British statue, but I’ll confess: I rushed it.

So I trained my character at the blacksmith’s in order to improve their strength, then I looted the Vault (I’m the Avatar, I need to save the World!) and then I noticed a creepy thing.

Yes Riker and Worf are sleeping together in the same bed. Gargoyle love? I mean is sexualy intimacy even possible between humans and Gargoyles?

Leaving the two love birds behind I got back to the Isle of Fire using the Recall Spell on the nice little Red Stone I had marked… and I am not ready to face to trial of Courage!

In other words: big evil Dragon here I come!

What is THAT doing in a Britannian field?

I mean that crazy Kilrathi ship!

Of course I gotta admit that this is probably one of the most awesome easter egg in videogame history, so heh, it certainly deserved a mention AND a screen!

So I have now begun my quest against the Guardian in Ultima VII.

Now can I say that I’m just not very fond of Ultima VII’s introduction? I mean really in the end it has too many holes in logic… the Guardian appearing just so that you get to the Moongate which is already, the Avatar NOT taking his Orb of the Moon and so on… it feels to me the introduction was put together without giving much thought to its content really.

Also, I’m gonna flamed for this but I’ll say it, Bill Johnson really sounds terrible in this introduction – and really in most of Ultima VII, as if he didn’t really put his best into the voice until the next games. For me the only line where he DOES sounds like the Guardian he when he says “aknowledge my authority”.

Oh well…

Trinsic went pretty fast as you can expect. I thought the Christopher murder was a nice quest, and really gruesome – which is always nice! You know, it sounds to me there is something fishy about that Fellowship thing…

In any case I recruited Spark (which is annoying but feels logical at having) and went north to Paws.

Now I really like the idea of having turned into this poor village and such. But becoming adjacent ot Britain, it really is kind of ludicrous when you think of the layout of the maps in previouses games. This came as a tad too much. The venom quest in Paws, is pretty nice as far as design goes, altough the whole holier-than-thou attitude and hypocrisy feels a tad too much for my taste.

I really wish Ferydwin could have come up in this game the same way he does in Ultima Underworld II.

But then, having finished with this, I headed straight to Britain. After a short passage at the Blue Boar to get Shamino, I headed straight to Lord British’s Castle. He of course doesn’t seem to have a clue about anything, altough he did gave me the deed of his ship to go to the Isle of Fire (But we’ll see later about this). The point of coming to Castle Britannia of course was to get my EQUIPMENT because really the game don’t let you start with much. Altough if I may complain, how come I don’t get my own room this time?

But in any case after that came the exploration of Britain. I gotta say for a long time, the exploration of Britain felt painful to me. Really because the city is big. TOO Big I might argue. So the first few times I played it, I tended to get lost, miss a few NPCS, and so on. Now of course – Ultima VII seems ridiculously small by today’s standard, but you have to think back to a 1992 context.

I also used the opportunity to gain a bit of monney by getting mutton at the market and selling it for more at the castle. Mesa luuuve commerce!

To be fair, there isn’t much interesting to do in Britain in terme of quests, altough I did get Sentri into my party as usuall. I like the poor lad!

So having now finished Britain, I am making my way east toward Cove… and then toward Yew in order to follow Chuckles’ clue.

Ultima VII: The Black Gate

Released a mere month after Ultima Underworld in 1992, Ultima VII was not only the new core episode of the Ultima series, but also a brand new step in the series as a whole.

After three episodes focusing about the Avatar and its Virtues, Richard Garriott wanted to go back to an epic against a big evil Foozle. Except the idea from the start was to conceive a villain that would last for the entire “trilogy of trilogy” all the way to the final confrontation in Ultima IX, and thus craft a somewhat overarching story that would last the entire trilogy.

Thus was born the idea of the Guardian.

Of couse, as the following games would rapidly prove, there never was much of a plan beyond that – which lead as usual to a very loose continuity. But really was novelty for Ultima at the time.

The context also took a peculiar approach, since it brought the Avatar into what is seemingly a peaceful time with no threat on the horizons, 200 Britannian years after Ultima VI – which had lead to the Avatar into becoming some kind of a legend, and most people not recognizing him at all!

But Ultima VII really was a drastic evolution of Ultima in term of look and gameplay. While it retained the seamless overhead perspective of Ultima VI, it complently revamped the look and feel and the game. For starter the whole game was now in full screen, with a new graphical scale offering a much more realistic scale between characters and items in the game. But most importantly it went with a fully mouse based interface, much more intuitive than the previouses games, and which had the advantage to remain pretty much effective even by today’s standard.

Of course some fans did not take kindly to this change back then, feeling that dropping the keyboard interface was betraying the Ultima spirit. But what do they know?

What made Ultima VII impressive though was its sheer scope, cumulated with his truly seamless approach (unlike Ultima VI, dungeons were also on the same game map) – which made a really big world for its time, with a lot of exploration to do throughouth Britannia.

In addition interactivity was pushed even farther away (though some might argue not quite as much as Savage Empire), wich the abilite to put items one on another, bake bread and other stuff.

For all of these reasons, Ultima VII was yet another breakthrough in the Ultima series, and is widely considered as one of the best episode of the entier Ultima legacy.

Well.

Not by me though. 😛

I have always been somewhat ambivalant about the game. There are some aspect that I truly love, but others I’ve always dislkied and just profundly irked me.

A bit of context first: I played Ultima VII in summer 1993, the year we got that computer. I had already played through a lot of Ultima Underworld II by then, but most importantly I had just completed Serpent Isle after months of playing and as a matter of fact, I went and bought Ultima VII the very same day I finished playing Serpent Isle.

I knew the gameplay already, and loved the engine, so that certainly wasn’t an issue.

The first point of issue was first the lenght of the game – after having spent month on Serpent Isle, Underworld II… and really pretty much all Ultima games before then, I fully expected Ultima VII to take at least as long.

And I got it done in less than a week, which left me with like a bitter tast in my mouth.

But really when it comes down to it, my issue comes from two things: the plot and Britannia.

I’m not that fond of Ultima VII’s plot – there are some brillant stuff (notably all the Time Lord aspect), but admitetly the main plot aspect regarding the Fellowship is just not very interesting due a lack of subtelty and predictabilty. It’s all very black&white (indeed the little subtelty that was brought to the Fellowship would only come with Ultima Underworld II) and perhaps it would have been starter if you know… the Fellowship had NOT been evil? No I don’t necessarilly mind black&white but the way it was presented was just really not that interesting.

But most importantly I would guess that the issue with the plot is that it sometime feels like there just isn’t much of a plot, and that the story takes a secondary place in the game, which is more focused into creating a beaufiltul virtual world and bringing a heavy handed pseudo social subtexte that really has no place in an Ultima.

As I mentionned I also wasn’t very fond of Britannia as it was into the game – because it just didn’t felt like the Britannia I had grown to love over the past three games and more like a separate place altogether. The lack of anything related to Virtues also really irked me.

Now of course I guess this was also the point of the game in some way, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

That being said I still enjoye playing Ultima VII and certainly feel it to be a very good game – but it’s too flawed in my view to be amongst by favorite episodes of the series.

Needless to say, I will be playing this playthrough with the help of Exult. While Ultima VII runs just fine with DOSBox, it does feel silly to use it considering Exult just offers a lot of improvement, digital music and bug fixes.

Ultima V Cover