The Sacrifice of Countless Undeads!

With Justice restored, it was but a matter of returning to the Court of Yew and there: both Raven and I were proven innocent of the charges against the Gargoyle. Funny how things go much smoother once Virtue is restored, heh?

On an unrelated note I forgot to mention one thing when talking about Wrong and its horrible performace back in 1999. I feel in retrospect it really proved how removing schedules was (unfortunately) a good decision for the game in the end. We know they had been removed because of technical and performanaces issues – and really when you see how much Wrong could get to a crawl with but a few guards constantly moving arounds, it’s not hard to imagine how much of a toll schedules must have been on performances in cities. Oh well…

In any case it was time to get back to Britain (I did say by dropping from the mountains next to the Despise Column) and return to Raven.

Next step: Cove and Minoc!

The original Cove was destroyed was Lake Lock flooded during the Great Cataclysm, which forced the inhabitants to move to the east and settle near the Shrine of Sacrifice. The situation did not get better though as riots broke out which lead to many more death and power was taken for a loon named Raxos who is convinced he can restored the Shrine of Sacrifice by…. sacrificing people on its altar. Yuck!

Minoc is not much better – since the original town was destroyed and the city is now little more than a Gypsy Camp which are all mired by greed and selfishness and think more about gaining a quick buck than helping their brethren.

This area is nice really… but it really a sad reminder of how much had to been cut due to the time constraints put into the project: Cove basically consists of a single house and burned down one, and Minoc the CITY of Sacrifice is but a small gypsy camp. This seems even crazier if you look at the unused maps of Ultima IX which allows you roam around a pretty big Cove, originally designed as a nice mining village. It’s hard to to imagine how big all the cities would have been with more time.

There is not much to do in Cove. The most important thing to do there is to free Nico, a mage from Britain, from the clutches of Raxos. (One point of trivia… Nico was actually meant to be named Nicodemus, altough whether he was meant to be the same character from Ultima VI&VII is hard to say) You can do this by killing Raxos… but the easiest and most Virtuous way is to wait until the Shrine is restored, so that Raxos will just give you the key. This has its importance because Nico will offer you an Orb of the Moon which will allow you to use the Moongates toward cities you have already cleansed.

Upon getting to Minoc however, you have a nasty surprise: Blackthorn (which has really made a job of getting in your way), is there – threatening the gypsies to get the Blue Lens they possess. He flees as the Avatar approach, but not until casting a curse upon them: anyone who will try to help the Avatar will die in flames!

This means that you don’t feel very welcome in Minoc really since the people there don’t really want to help you. Also… the all have really crapy fake gypsy accents which are a pain to hear! The only person willing to help is an old gypsy named Morgana – she actually hints that she has met you before, meaning she could potentially be the same Gypsy who first sent you to Britannia, but it’s just speculation. She does however try to help you as much as she can, and reveals you the mantra of Sacrifice at the cost of her life.

Besides that, Lazlo, the Rom Baro leader of the Gypsies says he will help you find the lens if you bring him the Blackrock Crystal Ball – an artifact which is said to always predict the future with certainty. Alas it has been stolen by a lich which now resides in the Blackrock mines of Covetous.

In other words: it’s time to get dirty again!

Covetous is another great dungeon of Ultima IX, and a testament to the variety of the game.

Covetous is one of the biggest dungeons of the game, spreading four actual levels. As in Ultima VII, it is mine – and most importantly a Blackrock Mine. However a few years ago the mine was overrun by undeads and an evil lich named Kellereth made it its domain. Guess whose job it is to get rid of it, heh?

But things can get a bit complicated. Since the dungeon is filled with Blackrock, it renders any use of magic impossible, whether we’re talking about spells, scrolls, potions or the magical effects you weapons might have. Also, it has a whole LOT of skeletons in it which can be a pain since they can already be hard to kill, can do a lot of damage… and resurrect unless you take their ribcage with you and put it far away.

Nevertheless, the dungeon is just very interesting. Now for starters you need to repair the elevator on the first level by getting a wheel that is missing it its mechanism and put it back. But before you can get to the elevator… you must face Lothar, the Sword Wraith!

You see Lothar was one of the most powerful swordsman of its time that was bound a skeleton by the Lich Khelereth against his will and is forced to fight for him, but wish only one thing: to rest in peace. Lothar however can only be vanquished by a magical sword called Gringolet that you can find in a underwater passage near cove. So you need to get back to Cove, and return to face the Sword Wraith. This is just VERY neat, and he also is quite a nice guy, since he warns you that Julia (whom you can find the diary in Minoc already hinting to this) has turned into a Wyrmguard

On level 2 you also find a talking skull which is looking for its tomb and make witty comments! You find his tomb on level 3, and get in exchange the key that opens level 4.

This last level is where you find the Lich, the Blackrock Crystal Ball… and of course the Column!

So I fist begun by going to the Column, and came upon my old friend Julia, unfortunately dressed a Wyrmguard as well 😦

Now first thing about Julia… the voice director mistakenly gave her a gypsy accent which is just terrible. Ugh.

Second thing however: her Wyrmguard story is actually treated very well. I feel she actually does have a point when saying how the Avatar always received all the credits while his companions who fought and died at his side where always forgotten (I mean hell, you just need to look at any Ultima manual) and how it would create bitterness. She also confess to an unrequited love toward the Avatar, which I felt was a nice touch.

But most importantly you can actually reason with her, and once you remove the Glyph from the Column, she gets actually strong enough to resist the Guardian’s influence and decides to return to Minoc.

With the Column dealt with, all that was left was fighting the evil Lich! Alas… you need to discard Gringolet to enter, which is a same because it was a very effective weapons against undeads 😦

But of course Khelereth was no match for the mighty Avatar, and the Blackrock Crystall Ball was now mine!

I gotta say that I really love the plot development of this dungeon because it has a really well thought out background, a believable settings and between Lothar and Khelereth: it just feels EPIC!

In any case it was time to get back up to Minoc and talk with Lazlo. Which was very happy to get his Crystal Ball… but refused to tell me anything about the Sigil and the Lens because he doesn’t want to die!However upon gazing in the Orb he sees the future (through a cutscene that originally was the original ending of U9!) and that if he doesn’t help the Avatar his people and the entire world will be destroyed!

This make him realized that his sacrifice is necessary for the sake of his people and he helps the Avatar, giving him the key to his home where the Lens and the Sigil are kept, dying in the process.

Thus died Lazlo, kind of the Gypsies. He was a nice character on the whole, but most importantly this lead to the Minoc plotline being treated pretty well and really much closer to the effect intended that Yew and Moonglow! Of course there are still quirks such as people not reacting until the Shrine is cleansed, but you know…

With the Sigil and the Glyph I could now go and cleanse the Shrine. Five down, three to go!

I went to talk a bit with the folks in Cove and Minoc (who were really moved by Lazlo’s sacrifice) and also got Nico out of his cell: I want that Orb of the Moon!

So it was time to leave Minoc behind. With the two lenses I have put a wrench into Blackthorn’s agenda and there aren’t that many Columns left, are they?

Prison Wrong, or game design done right…

But before getting into wrong… I had to get there of course!

So having now seized by frost sword thanks to Iceblade’s tips (comments are good, use them! :P) I continued my way through the northern mountains until finally arriving near the entrance of the Prison Wrong.

Pretty impressive, don’t you think?

Of course the main entrance is barred from the inside, so you actually need to find Vasagralem nearby to get access from the rear entrance.

Now this is a personal feeling – but considering the plan was to have NPCs that would accompany you from time to time, I’ve always felt that you were originally meant to go through these mountains up till this point with Vasagralem. Dang, I’d love to find the design docs of this version of the game!

But in any case you actually need to infiltrate the prison by swimming a bit:

I haven’t mentioned it before, but I like how they implemented swimming in the game and that they used it well with world design with often stuff or passages to find deep in water! Admittedly, swimming could get annoying pre-patch when you had to pass an underwater door or a small passage, but that was fixed thankfully.

And so here it was. Wrong.

Now probably anyone who played Wrong at the game’s release back in 1999 would tell you horror stories about this place: basically because it was near unplayable. In spite of being a Dungeon Area, frame rate tended to get to a crawl which could make the whole thing really annoying.

But Wrong is a pretty awesome concept in itself – because basically it’s a stealth dungeon.

While you could say that Deceit felt as if it had been lifted straight from Zelda, this was one nothing like it and felt more like inspired by Thief! You see this really is why Ultima IX shines in term of dungeon designs: because no two dungeons are alike and they offer a lot of variety which is something you rarely seen in RPGs alas. (Indeed Oblivion is possibly the only modern RPG I can think of which offers some variety).

Technically you can try getting through it gun… err… sword blazing and try to kill all the guards – it’s also one of the nice thing, there different possibilities there but it can get difficult because if a Guard touch you, you’re automatically put in a cell with no equipment. Of course there is a secret passage to escape but it can be difficult. (On a side note it really should be pointed that contrary to what you can sometime hear – NO you don’t have to get captured to finish the dungeon).

So the obvious solution is to zigzag between the Guards, who can only detect you if you come straight at them. So you need to walk behind them, use cells to hide… and even some more obvious possibilities such as using invisibility potions and spells works perfectly! You can also get use your wits a bit and so some stuff like… well, you know putting a Guard into a cell so that he does not bother you anymore!

Now of course, you need to find hidden passages and keys to go through all the dungeons – but that works! You can also find some nice equipment such as pieces of Wyrmguard armors and talk and free some prisoners possibly.

Notably there is this nice lady called Cleo.

She’s worth mentioning because she’s basically an easter egg gone bad. You see this lady is accused of killing all the horses, and tells you that Smith is found in a tree in Paws. Upon finding the body you were supposed to come back to her and she would give you a clue about Ultima VIII – warning you that the Titans are evil!

Alas while Smith’s body can be found in Paws, he is no different from any other horse visually so you can’t tell it’s him, and it doesn’t trigger the dialogue. 😦

But in any case the dungeon goes in two steps: first you need to find and free Raven into a specific cell hidden in flames. Once this is done, things are not over since of course you need to get deeper into the dungeon to get the base of the Columns.

But of course someone waits you there… your old companion Jaana, or rather Anaaj! That came rather unexpected for me at the time – since I thought the Wyrmguard in Deceit was someone nameless I didn’t really expect anyone else to turn as a Wyrmguard: I thought this was a one time thing with Iolo.

Anaaj is rather pissed at you for letting the Guardian invade Britannia and corrupt her and unfortunately she can’t be reasoned with, and you only choice is to trap her into a cage.

You then need to bargain with her so that she opens the portcullis leading to the Column per se… in exchange for letting her leave her cage. You can promise this and still let her inside but that cause a karma loss. In any case if you free her, your only choice is to kill her, and run to avoid her. Unfortunately… once you remove the glyph, this doesn’t change anything about her.

Alas this unresolved issue with Jaana goes further than this… since even if you did not kill her she doesn’t appear in Yew once Justice is restored, even though she does have dialogue in the usecode 😦

But in any case, having spared Jaana and seized the Glyph, I exited Wrong and left the dungeon behind. It was really a pretty awesome dungeon though, and in truth it is better to play now with a fully smooth computer as opposed to the crawl it could get back then!

Now I proceeded to get back to Yew and the Shrine of Justice which means a lot of walking through the mountains again. But well – what can I say? At least you can’t just teleport magically anywhere!

And so here I was at the Shrine, ready to restore it:

It is now time to get back to Yew, and have Raven’s case revised…

Yew, its trees, its wood and its (expeditive) justice…

So I was back in Britain. And very happy to be far away from the bugs of Moonglow. I did had a lot of loot to sell, so I began by going by all the shops to get money. It can come in handy! I also had the very first romance dialogue between Raven and the Avatar which is just… too ugly to mention really!

After that I did get to Lord British, which told me of a tunnel that would lead be to Yew and that he unsealed at my demand. He also informed be of a very worrying development: apparently the Columns are drawing the moons toward Britannia, meaning doom is at hand!

After leaving Britain I began by exploring around a bit around Paws since I was no a lot stronger that last time.

But after a while well… It was time to get on with the plot, and head to Yew!

The tunnel is rather straightforward and has the merit of not being a different zone. You then need to cross the Deep Forest which has hordes of Goblins.

I’m gonna digress a bit, but I gotta say: this game has a freaking LOT of Goblins. Not only there, but everywhere on the main land really: in the Deep Forest, around Paws, in the Mountains, around Wrong, around Trinsic. You know it just hit me, but if someone made a mod that replaced all Goblin models by Wyrmguards models, It’d really make it feels like there is an open war with the Guardian going on here! (Forgotten Worlds? *wink wink nudge nudge*)

In any case I rapidly came unto the city of Justice.

Once again this is just a very beaufitul place to behold. The look of all the houses amongst the trees is just gorgeous and made in a way that feels natural in the nature of the place.

Now of course, Yew is having kind of a Justice problem. It’s not that they abandoned justice – more like they switched to a very EXPEDITIVE kind of Justice, where people throw lawsuit around everything, and people are just found guilty without any proof. There is actually a very obvious satire of some of the abuse of the American judicial system here, notably by the way people get sued over ANYTHING, even for the most ridiculous of reasons (such as bowyer being sued for selling defective bows by his customers… because they can’t hit their targets :D).

I’m actually kind of mixed on the subject – there is something very funny about this… but it feels a bit out of place for an Ultima and something that would feel more in its place a more off-beat world such as Fallout 2 (but then the Ultima series did have the crew of the Enterprise D so….)

As it turns out, you find out upon arriving at Yew that Raven has been arrested and his being charged for the genocide of the Gargoyle people by their king Vasagralem (as a point of note if you do return to Raven’s boat after talking to Lord British, you will notice that she is gone!). Indeed Vasagralem considers the Avatar responsible for the Genocide but want to make him suffer by having him assist powerless to the death of his loved one, beginning with Raven. Of course you get NO chance to defend her, and she is sent to the Prison Wrong while awaiting her execution.

Thankfully you do get a chance to clear up things with Vasagralem and his follower Desbet, by explaining them how the Column and pride had lead to the destruction of the Dome of Ambrosia, and by proving the Queen Egg which will ensure the survival of the Gargoyle people. Upon realizing his mistakes, he offers you the Red Lens needed for the Codex (which he magically has found since mentioning the last time it had been stolen – hello plot cut!) and ask you to find him near Wrong by passing through the Northern Mountains in order to help you.

So here goes mountains!

Now the Northern Mountains to the east of Yew are definitely one of the most beautiful locales of the entire games, and serves as a lesson in world design. You begin by going up slowly, until reaching the snowy heights and follow a path with a lot of twists and turns that is just jaw dropping. It also is a prime example of how 3D affects world design and how the designers used this new dimension to their advantage. I’ll always remember this first time I played a game… where after moving around for half an hour in this area I had this realization that I had just arrived right above where I was earlier!

Amidst these mountains, you first come upon a strange Vulture. This is actually the Creature of Justice who is the keeper of the Quill of Justice, the Sigil you’ll to cleanse the Shrine.

The questions are rather nice, altough the answer is rather obvious in each case, and you end up leaving with your latest Sigil. Yay!

Next to see amongst the Mountains are the ruins of Empath Abbey. Now granted… this is just very wrong geographically, but I’m willing to forgive this because theses ruins just look so damn cool in the middle of these mountains!

This is also the opportunity to find the Candle of Love which will come of use later.

But another point of interest are the frozen island not far to the North which are guarded by a beautiful Ice Dragon!

Now you’re actually supposed to get a Frost Sword by killing it, but I did not! This is just freaking unfair 😦

And so I am now back on these trails and getting close to the rear entrance of Wrong, and Vasagralem…

The City of (dis)Honesty and buggy bugs

Moonglow. City of Magic and Honesty. Well except things have kind of gone haywire and it has not turned into a bastion of lies and deceit.

Well… perhaps she should just have renamed the city Moonshade then?

You actually get your first sign of this dishonesty upon exiting Deceit, where a knights threaten to kill you if you don’t give him his dagger back. He had been sent toward you by Tydus, the keeper of the Lycaeum, who claimed you had his dagger – a family heirloom. Altough the Knight is reasonable and once seeing you don’t have his dagger, realizes he has been played for a fool and warms you about Moonglow.

One thing about Moonglow though, is that is trully a beautiful city to behold, especially when coming in at night when this magical fog hovers on the ground. It’s really beautiful and immersive to look at, the the isle of Moonglow is also very neat to explore with some nice things to find, notably a wrecked ship!

Alas, there is not much else to be said in favor of Moonglow.

Remember when I talked about how the point of Ultima IX was to have the Avatar showing the true Virtues to people and how this lead to a major character in the city showing Virtue and inspiring the others? Yeah well… looks like Moonglow’s designer didn’t get the memo as it’s not really present in there (except for a poorly handled kid who cries wolf but is too minor a character to inspire anyone).

There are basically two majors characters in Moonglow: Batista and Tydus.

Batista holds the Sigil and agrees to offers it to you in exchange for a Shield you can find in Mariah’s house – saying that this shield will allow her to resurrect Mariah (if she’s dead) or cure her (if she’s ill). Note that is she is still alive, Mariah will appear when you get the Shield, telling you Batista is full of crap, and teach you the ritual of Restoration which you can perform at any Shrine to restore your health and mana. But well… in my case she was dead, which doesn’t change anything

Not that it matter since this screams of poor design, since as I mentioned in my previous post, there is nothing hinting in the game that the Wyrmguard in Deceit would me Mariah, and no references even to this encounter. Meh.

But in any case you quickly get the Sigil, which at least lead to nice dialogue from Batista about how the Avatar will not always be able to save Britannia.

Now Tydus will gives another example of poor design. Since you see the point of him is to make him reveal the rebuild Lycaeum (who now exists as a nice floating building in the middle of town) in order to learn the Mantra from the Oracle. But well… if you’ve played any other Ultima you already know it and nothings prevent you to get to the Shrine and restore it once you have the Sigil. Except that this lead to Tydus still acting like a bastard even with Virtue restored. It doesn’t break the game, but as I said: poor design!

Tydus is basically sending you on a wild goose chase twice to get a supposed Staff of Wisdom, with both account meant to kill you. The first time you find Duncan’s dagger (who then agrees to give you training in 2 handed weapons, which is always nice!), the second you stump upon a daemon… who agrees to make a deal with you and give you the source of Tydus’ power: his Heartsone. You see the daemon was bound to protect it, but the trick is that he was not bound to attack an unarmed invader… so the Avatar agrees to come unarmed he can get the Heartstone.

At that point, Tydus admits to his lies, and agrees to reveal the Lycaeum.

The Oracle in the Lycaeum actually doesn’t reveal the mantra to you, but only says that it can’t be seen in the skies at night. One other point of note is the Book of Truth which you can get at that point is you admit that the Avatar is the cause of the evil in Britannia – which gives a first hint at the true nature of the Guardian.

So all in all, I’ve got to admit that while Moonglow does have its highlights; it’s probably Ultima IX at its worst in term of writing and execution.

But that was not really the issue here: it was bugged to death! I had so many crashes that this whole thing took me twice as long as it should have, corrupted saves and even had me redo a lot of stuff over and over.

The issue is this: when Tydus send you on his wild goose chase: each time this show the entrance of the cave you are supposed to go with a small cutscenes. Showing this scene renders the whole game unstable though and causes crashes almost right after this. Ditto for the cutscene revealing the Lycaeum. Even worst, saving after these scenes (as a mean to try to circumvent the issue) basically screw your save which is bound to crash every time upon reload. And miraculously if you didn’t had any crash but end up quitting and reloading; you might still end up with the same issue!

The only solution I’ve found: basically putting all clipping planes and details to the minimum. By doing it works and no crashes… but got that was annoying and frustrating – which I why I hurried to get the Book of Truth (I originally wanted to obtain it later) so that I wouldn’t have to return to this bug riddled place. I am not sure what caused the issue (it never ever happened to me before), but annoying it was.

In any case with Honesty restored, Raven is back with her Ship at Moonglow’s dock – revealing that Samhayne had no choice in delivering the Avatar to Blackthorn as he threatened to burn Buccanner’s Den down with his Wyrmguards. She also brought back ALL my stuff, my spellbook and my backpack, which is certainly welcome!

So now at this point you’re basically offered to go either to Yew (through Britain) or Minoc. You see as Blackthorn has the Codex, Is important to get the lenses before him so that he would not be able to read it.

Happy to leave this bug riddled mess behind, I decided to head to Britain – Yew awaits me, and while it’s not exactly a model of Virtuous execution either, it offers some pretty awesome gameplay areas!

Two dungeons and a funeral…

And so here we are: the infamous Sewers of Hythloth.

Wait, what?

What do you mean, Hythloth is not a Sewer?

But it is. Look:

Well okay. The truth of it is that this dungeons ware actually meant to be Britain’s sewers. In the end the sewers had to be cut, and there most likely wasn’t time to do a proper Hythloth. So these were recycled as Hythloth. Which is well… fine by me, I mean I can understand the issues so it’s okay.

In any case as far as dungeons goes, Hythloth is pretty nice. I would probably rank it at the bottom of Ultima IX’s dungeons to be honest but it’s not because it’s bad – it’s more because the others are just much better. It’s kind of a labyrinth really – except sewers looking. It has more combat than Despise – but it’s mostly with Spiders and Rats, so not that big a deal, altough the nasty fishes in the water can get annoying!

The concept is rather simple though: there are four statues and four pedestals scattered around the dungeon and you basically need to put the proper statue on the proper pedestal, and each open one of the grates leading to the exit. As for the Glyph and the Columns, they are guarded by a nameless Wyrmguard that is easy to dispatch though,and very close the the beginning of the dungeons so it’s actually not the main point of it. The main point really is to escape back to New Magincia.

There are some levers and valve to push here and there, as well as a single jumping puzzle (to which you can find the solution on a scroll, but which is so easy that it’s not worth all the complains you can hear about U9’s supposed jumping puzzles), but on the whole it’s not too hard as long as you don’t get lost. So it’s a well conceived too much, although it probably lacks the little spark some others have.

Now the interesting bit about Hythloth… is that you only have to play half of the dungeon. Halfway through you get a teleporter getting you to the exit next to the Shrine of Humility. The reason for this… is that during QA it was put forth that second half of the dungeons was too difficult and frustrating.

To be fair. That was true. I never did play this second half before today, and well – it is somewhat annoying. There are actually a couple of very smart ideas (notably a part which require the Avatar’s size to be reduced in order to enter a smaller tunnel. But it’s all ruins with a couple of poorly designer valves levers which tend to get annoying. Oh well. Thanks for that telepoter, heh?

In any case here I was back at the Shrine of Humility. So it was cleansing time!

And thus Humility was cleansed.

This lead to a new restored music that sounds really nice, altough unlike Britain well… there aren’t many NPCs to talk to since only Katrina is there (altough she does apologize for her lack of humility earlier!).

So it was time to return to Bucs Den through the tunnel, where people there actually do react to the whirlpools being gone, which is nice! But of course Samhayne was awaiting me. I mean I am going to obtain the codex right?

Except of course a trap was awaiting me.

Blackthorn was there! And he kicked my butt, captured me, hurt Raven and stole the Codex. Not too bad for a villain I guess!

I’ll say it I love that cutscenes. I knew from trailers there would be a cutscene at Samhayne, but I didn’t not know what. I was completely blown away the first time I saw it, basically going: “OMFG!!!!” Unlike the ambush one, it also looks VERY good, pretty much on par with the introduction. Alas the compression makes it suffer a bit on today’s hardware but well…

Unfortunately, it is followed by what is a butt ugly video where the Avatar is put into a prison. Those who saw the Ultima Collection trailer will remember this scene showing Lord British in it watching the scene through a sending. Of course Lord British has been erased, but the whole scene just feels… off graphically.

And yeah the worst thing about this is… you’ve just be shown the Avatar being thrown in a cell. With a door. And you wake up in a cell. With a GRATE. I mean COME ON! Would it have been so hard to put DOORS instead? Geez…

One point of note is that at this point: you lose ALL your inventory except whatever armors you wear. So no more backpacks or nothing for a while. Whoops.

In any case while this might not be apparent at first, you are actually in another dungeon, or most precisely Dungeon Deceit.

As its name suggest it actually has quite of bit about illusions and such. It has however very little in term of monsters, except for a couple of Mimics and focuses on puzzles. But it is a pretty awesome dungeon!

The first area pretty much involve pushing buttons and turning statues to get at targets. The second and larger part of the dungeons well… It admittedly feels like it has been taken straight out of Zelda, but I did mentioned Zelda is great right?

So you basically need to get magical orbs to put them on pedestal in four areas, where each one offers a timed formed of puzzle which basically involves throwing arrows at target. It’s really not that hard, especially since the controls are so intuitive – but it just really that fun.

Screw monster crawls! Ultima IX should be put up as an example of HOW to craft dungeons in RPG games. If you want hack’n slashing just go play Diablo and leave my Ultima alone!

In any case once you have done all this you gain access to the teleporter leading to the base of the Column. You first face a big nasty Hell Hound and then… a Wyrmguard witch!

Now one point of note: while there is NO indication of it, this is actually your friend Mariah. So you have to be careful if you don’t want to kill her. In this case I wanted to, because I felt it works better for the Moonglow plotlines. But something odd happens because after killing the first clone, I was sending loads of arrows to the two remaining images… and well they both vanished with no body and the transporter appeared. So I’m not sure if she died or not…

Oh well

I then went on to get the Glyph within the Column.

And then the last teleporter to the exit!

Moonglow here I come!

Across and under the Seas…

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.

Oh well.

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.

Duh.

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!

Britain is restored!

Following my talk with Raven I decided to return to Britain and have a talk with Aidon about the Sigil of Compassion. Not that I want to accuse him of blatantly lying to me… but actually yeah I do!

As it turns out, Aidon was nowhere to be found, and had indeed travelled to Paws. You see, he ended being a victim of its own policy: his daughter Meribeth got sick… and ended being carted to Paws in spite of him! So in a unexpected act of courage, he decided to go to Paws himself to get her back.

Alas she had been captured by goblins hiding there… so of course it fell to yours trully to to save her. The consequences were good though as Meribeth decided to stay in Paws to help the people there, while Aidon immediately realized the stupidity of his policy, and agreed to put a stop to it!

Now I can’t stress this enough really: but no Ultima IX is not about “Shrine magically brainwashing people” is is about people realising the true sense of Virtue (usually thanks to the actions of the Avatar) and leading the change on their own. Now as you’ll see outlined as I go through the game, this is alas a message that don’t always come across clearly due to obvious execution issue — but still very present in the game.

And what could be more Ultima-ish than that?

Thankfully it is quite obvious for Britain and the first Virtue to cleanse which makes the area on the whole pretty well executed.

So I could now return the Shrine of Compassion and execute the ritual to cleanse it from the Column’s influence by putting the Sigil and the Rune on it. I’ve always loved this part of the game because it really is very neat visually speaking!

So I now had increased strength: which means less hits to kill monsters and most importantly, more health!

Except I had no more Sigil… because I suffered that infamous bug which stuck both the Sigil and the Rune in the air after the cleansing. Meh. I’ve played Ultima IX many times, and it’s the only time it happened to me! Thankfully when you are aware of it this is not that big a deal – all you need is using the flying cheat a couple of seconds, but if there is really one bug that would need fixing that’s the one!

But in any case, Compassion was no cleansed… and things in Britain were just getting a lot better!

Now I can’t even begin to express what a wonderful feeling it is to return to a city in Ultima IX after cleasing it. Of course a lot of dialogue changes – in the case of Britain, most people have new dialogues and will go about the errors of their ways before. But the important thing is that the music changes and create a whole new different tone.

The music of Ultima IX was written by George Oldziey, who was most known for having composed the music of Wing Commander III, IV and Prophecy. It was also performed by a 50 piece orchestra, which was a far cry from the FM and MIDI music of previous episodes (note that there are people who actually complained that the game dropped MIDI music, need I comment?).

The result is simply marvelous, but what is really interesting is the way Oldziey handled city music. You see, he’s actually written a theme for each of the three Principles of Britannia (Love, Truth and Courage) and their opposites (Hatred, Falsehood and Cowardice). So a corrupted city uses a theme based on the appropriates anti-Virtues, while a cleansed city used a theme with based on its corresponding Virtues. Noting that each city also has its own set of instruments to set it appart.

So for instance Britain at the beginning of the game use a theme based on Hatred… and when you set foot in the city after the restoration of Compassion you get a whole new theme based on love… which is just wonderful.

To say the least it basically creates a wonderful and heartwarming feeling of having done the right thing and putting the world back to normal. If feels like actually being a Hero!

If feels like really bringing back Virtue to the World. And it is just magic!

Now at this point I considered going to explore around a bit… but I rapidly found out that well… I still get my ass kicked (in spite of having trained in one handed weapons, staves and ranged weapons), so I guess it’ll have to wait a bit again!

So I decided to go back to the docs and bring the Rune to Raven to prove my Avatarhood.

Buccaneer’s Den now awaits!

Dungeons and Columns…

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.

Oh oh.

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?

Compassion is not what it used to be…

So using the teleporter, I got transported immediately to Lord British’s castle.

This is basically the point where you lose all hope of having a flawless voice acting when you talk to Hennington, Lord British’s seneschal, who is addition of being annoying and useless has terrible voice acting!

Oh well…

Things are better upon talking with Lord British, who is wonderfully voiced by Ev Lunning. This a good dialogue, altough the king appears as usual to be a bit clueless about what happens to his land. And in any case he does provide with a bedroom this time, and allows you to take any equipment you want in the Castle.

He also sends you on your first mission: to inquire to the closest Column in the nearby dungeon of Despise and see if anything can be learned about its nature.

Talking to the people around is nice and teach you a few things… but it’s pretty obvious the people in the Castle are… not quite in tune with the rest of the world.

The most interesting person to talk into the Castle is Vasagralem, King of the Gargoyle which informs you that he has been exiled from the Gargoyle underwater Dome of Ambrosia and that one of the Codex lense has been stolen.

I must say I’ve always felt Ultima IX has pretty much nailed the Gargoyles. I wouldn’t have mind for the winged to be a bit more bulky, but most importantly the voice of Vasagralem is just perfect and fits wonderfully with what you would expect from a Gargoyle!

But there’s only so much you can do in the Castle… so it was time I began the adventure proper and enter the city of Britain.

Now Britain appears at first glance to be much like you would expect and to have recovered really well from the Cataclysm.

But there is obviously something wrong when you hear the speech from the Mayor’s Aidon. It appears he has basically created a new policy to banish all the sick and poors from Britain to the nearby village of Paws.

The Compassion of it is questionnable, altough there is some form of twisted logic in there. The idea being that by banishing all poverty from Britain the city will prosper, get richer and that these riches can be use to seend food and medicines in Paws, thus making everyone better in the long run.

It’s a bit of twisted policy… but I guess you could argue this might work. That is until you get into Paws… but more about this later!

While I’ll freely admit that some parts of Ultima IX lacks subelty, I do feel the way Britain in handled is actually pretty good. It does basically show how the Columns are subtly corrupting the minds of people and not just, say, turn the Compassionate people of Britains into hateful people.

That does in the end summs up well the concept of Ultima IX: this is about war with the Guardian – but it’s not about building vast armies and leading an open war, it’s more about a philosophical war and corrupting Britannian and its core values from the inside.

And I would argue it’s more than fitting for an Ultima finale!

You realize that this policy is supported by most people of Britain though, altough there are a few exceptions. It is also pretty obvious that most people feel Lord British is clueless and has lost touch with its people… but it’s hard to disagree with them now, is it?

One point of note the visit in Britain is the Cathedral of Love though.

It doesn’t have that much to do in terme of plot, altough you learn that it was built in replacement for Empath Abbey which had been destroyed during the Cataclysm with the other Keep of Virtues. It also offers a couple of subquest to do for later in the game.

The other point of note is the museum, which as always in Ultima housed many items from previouses games, and a beautiful “Tapestry of Ages” showing events from various Ultima games.

The museum for me is a good representation of everything that is wrong with fandoms nowadays. It’s basically a nice gift for fans to reminisce of prior games and adventures… and some of them had nothing other but complain because you know, this medaillon should not have this shape, or this staff should have a different color! It actually doesn’t even deserve more comment that.

In any case, having talked to everyone in town, I figured I might as well visit Paws and see what the fuss is all about.

One point though: getting to Paws was hardeous. And I mean really. At this point of game, it is hard by default – unless you got a class which added some strength (and thus life) to your Avatar, most monsters can basically kill you in one or two hits. In addition since I used the monster/economy patch to make combat harder, this means that any people can be really difficult and has to be taken carefully.

And this is they key of Ultima IX combat – while you can clickfest away, it’s more efficient to take things slowly.

But well… after a few death and reloads (and encounter with that funny bridge troll and I mean it – asking him to count to ten is great :D), I finally got to Paws.

And this is basically there that you graps the complete ridiculousness of Aidon’s plan.

Paws is basically a dump in the middle of a swamp, with houses getting engulfed by it! So in other words, you can forget about people getting better in such conditions. Paws in Ultima VII was already a mess… but here, that’s hell.

On a design perspective though, it is trully wonderful place and incredibly immersive. You really get the sense of the place it is, and the dangers around with rats, goblins and more! The music accompanying the area is also just really creepy and atmospheric.

I got to point that the first time I played Ultima IX, it also offered me one of my most baffling and immersive moment of my entier gaming life.

This:

Here I laid, having just killed a rat… reduced to a pile of goo. And suddenly a vulture came upon me. I expected an attack… and all it did was go and eat from the remains of the creature.

Now can you name any other game in the history of videogames with something like that?

At this point I really would have liked to explores the areas around Paws and Britain a bit – because you see contrary to what some people would want you to believe, Ultima IX remains a fairly big game for its time and offers a LOT of exploration to do. Because while it is true that the game gets cities which are much smaller than Ultima VII – the wilderness has a lot to offer. And most importantly what some people tend to forget is that Ultima IX being in 3D, it really offers a new dimension to the world design… because it’s also about exploring things above and below.

So much like Ultima VII before, Britannia is a pleasure to explore and indeed, pretty much each time I replayed Ultima IX I’ve always discovered new things!

But as I said… exploring at this point in time feels of kind like suicide. So I returned to Britain and exited through the easter entrance – ready to do the mission Lord British has given me and head for Despise…

The Stonegate to Lord British…

And thus has it was foretold, I stepped through the Moongate and entered Britannia.

This actually marks the beginning of the actual introduction video of Ultima IX. This video basically consits of two parts.

The first half is basically a reimagination of the Ultima VIII ending, with the Avatar magically appearing in Britannia and facing a gigantic fortress modeled after the Guardian’s face. It’s not a direct retranscription of this ending since the Guardian Fortress is obviously much smaller than the mountains seen in the end of Pagan, and the Avatar has lost his freaky Titan of Ether outfit for a more traditionnal Avatar outif. But it does basically take things were Ultima VIII left of, and the game was originally supposed to start with this very video before it was decided to add the Earth tutorial.

As opposed to the end of Ultima VIII, the events go farther as a Wyrmguard appears on his dragon and attack the Avatar engulfing him in flames. This events also has this importance since this was supposed to be how the Avatar lost his Titan’s powers before regaining bits of them at each Column deactivated. But I digress.

The second half of the video cuts to the Guardian’s throne room where he is discussing these events with his cohort which is reveled at that point to be none other that Blackthorn!

I have to say that I love this introduction, and this undoubtedly the best introduction any Ultima game had to offer. I was very impressed the first time I saw it (both with the Gamestar video that only showed the first part with UO’s introduction music AND by the full introduction showcased in the demo), and I sitll am every time I see it.

The tone is set from the start, it’s exciting and George Oldziey’s wonderful music really set the mood. It’s also very well done technically and beautifully shot and framed. While there has been some complains about the reimagined look of the Guardian (he now has ears and a larger chin), it’s important to note how detailed he is in the video, with a very detailled skin, pulsing veins… in other words, he feels much more like an actual living creature than its rendering in previouses games.

The video also offers what is simply wonderful voice acting. Doug Forest is quite simply perfect as Blackthorn (gotta love the way he says “Shall I reduce Stonegate to a cinders, my lord?”) but Bill Johnson also offers what is by far his most impressive performance as the Guardian. This is just chilling.

The only last thing I would point about this video is the Ultima logo.

Now, I actually really like the new Ultima logo they had come up with for Ultima IX, and especially the colored version on the box. Likewise, I like the illustration done by Dennis Loubet for the cover. But I gotta admit a part of me really wished they would have gone with this logo where the game was originally called “Ascention: Ultima IX” and used the traditionnal font. It would have been fitting to end the series.

But in any case after this introduction you appear inside the tower of Stonegate, saved from the dragon’s flames by Hawkwind. The former abode of the Shadowlords has been cleansed by the spirit, and now stands as the last place in the world where Virtue still stands.

And it also serves as the second half of the Tutorial.

You begin by getting some gear (which will varies depending on the class you ended up with at character creation), and then get your end on your Spellbook. As this point of the game, only linear spells are available but this is enough to showcase the point of magic and also give a sense of dungeon design to come as the area requires how to uses these linear spells to further to the exit of the Tower.

Much like the Earth part, this is actually a very effective tutorial… not very long, but already tends to show that dungeons promise to be very interesting. The area if of course not big – but it does not have to be.

Upon exiting, you face a few monsters and eventually come across a Wyrmguard who tries to kill you. After killing him, you can finally take a teleporter to Lord British’s castle…

And with this, the adventure is about to trully begin!

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