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.