Monday, March 30, 2015

Ultima V: How Can I Resist?

Lot of resisting going on as I begin my venture through Ultima V, not the least of which being the only semi-effective attempts at resisting the temptation to spend my game time diving into Pillars of Eternity. Which I've been enjoying a very good deal (absolutely loving the writing), but hey, I've got Ultima to play, too! So I mustered up my willpower, shoved it aside, and plunged into Ultima V proper.

This feels like defeating the purpose, in... a lot of ways.
And right off the bat, Ultima V sets the stage with a much more uneasy sort of tone than its immediate predecessor. Though I started the journey with Iolo and Shamino at my side, that's not quite the boon that it seems at first - Shamino was severely injured, scant inches from death. I had a couple Mani spells to spare, so I made use of two or three of them to get him back into stable fighting condition before we all left Iolo's cottage, but the very fact the player has to deal with a party member that close to death right from the start does help set up Ultima V as a less lighthearted journey than Ultima IV. Putting the player at a disadvantage from the get-go does give a sense of the distance one has to go in order to achieve their goals, and when delivered at the hands of one of the game antagonists (in Ultima V's case, Shamino's wounds come from the Shadowlords, as depicted in the game's intro), it also helps establish the threat the antagonist presents. But I like this approach much better than the 'supposed-to-lose fight' method, simply because it doesn't set the precedent of setting the player up for failure. Instead, it just forces the player to either tread carefully or expend a few resources to care for the injured, or perhaps just drop Shamino off at an inn and let that be that. Whatever the case, it lays out the dire circumstances without putting the player into a situation they can't mitigate themselves. It's a nice little design choice.

After leaving Iolo's, I wandered the west, hoping to come across a settlement where I could start getting a feel for the lay of the land, how things stand in Britannia during the rule of Blackthorn. This led me to Empath Abbey in short order, where I quickly bumped into a young, spry student named Toshi. A bit of conversation led him to ask if he could join my entourage, and so after a moment's thought, I said yes. He was certainly inexperienced, but he was a bold and enthusiastic young lad, and anyone who knew what stood against the forces of Virtue and yet still wanted to join the fight was quite welcome. Here too did I run into my old friend Julia, and our group grew to five. The residents of the keep had much to say on other subjects as well - Hardluck the castle jester, for instance. His songs reminded me that Blackthorn himself might not strictly be a villain on his own merit, but that he too is held under the sway of the Shadowlords that wreak havoc upon the lands, a reminder that even the good and well-intentioned can still fall under the sway of evil if one does not remain vigilant against it. The lord of the keep told me of a demon who lived in the eastern desert who could tell me more about the Shadowlord of Hatred, which I suspect I will need as I make my way further. One cannot hope to defeat an enemy one does not know, after all! Finally, Barbra told me of a vision she'd seen, that of a man, as through a looking glass, trapped there.

My reaction to reading this stone: "...oh dear."
From there it was a quick trip to Yew, the location of the high courts of the land - and it was a harsher place than I remember it being in past games. From the wanted poster listing my name and that of my companions to the Fourth Law of Virtue posted at the town gates, it paints a very stark reminder that this is not the Britannia of yesteryear. Two individuals were in the town's stocks, having broken some of Blackthorn's other Laws of Virtue - a man for violating the Law of Sacrifice by only donating forty percent of his income to charity instead of the requisite half, and his son for failing to turn his father in. Taking pity on these poor souls, I used the few keys I had on me to jimmy the locks, setting them free - after having met Judge Dryden, I quickly realized that they would get neither sympathy nor mercy from the legal system, and I could not simply leave them to their fates.

I have to say, I really like the feel of these first few bits of Ultima V. Yew and Empath Abbey are the settlements closest to the player's starting point, so it's a very good chance that it's going to be among the first impressions the player gets of the game. And these encounters I've mentioned - the pair in the Yew stocks, Judge Dryden, the contrast with the residents of Empath Abbey and their understanding of what it is their settlement is meant to represent - paints a very nice portrait of Blackthorn's stifling rule as opposed to Lord British's. There's no room for understanding or sympathy or mercy in Blackthorn's regime, only law and overly legalistic interpretation. And yet via Hardluck, it's a reminder that even Blackthorn had good intentions, only to fall into shadow and corruption. It's a glimpse into how the virtues of Ultima IV can be twisted, and the need for nuance. Even the gravestones in Yew suggest a harsher game world than in its predecessor, mentioning those dead from the rack, dying in shackles, the upper and lower halves of Blackthorn's former jester being buried separately (ugh) - Ultima V definitely knows how to build a solid atmosphere.

Oh, like THAT'S going to prove your innocence...
Having trepidations about being too open about who I was and my purposes in Yew, I decided to head for Britain, more specifically Castle Britannia, to see what was up over there in Lord British's absence. I didn't find out much, and even the music as I entered the castle was dreary, mourning its missing monarch. I chatted with Chuckles, learned that Smith was staying with Iolo from one of the castle stablehands, and I found a man named Drudgeworth in the castle dungeons, claiming he could lead me to something if I would let him out. He was very obviously a miscreant, though, and didn't seem keen on elaborating on exactly what he would lead me to. It was a moot point as I didn't have a way of getting past the magically locked door he was imprisoned behind, but even so, it was something of a dilemma to decide whether I wanted to truly follow up on that thread later or not. We'll see.

There was much more to explore than just Lord British's castle in the neighborhood, though. I learned a lot in the city of Britain, and even bumped into Iolo's wife Gwenno, who I of course had to let into the party as well. I was going through food at a more rapid pace than I wanted to as a result of the six members of my group, though, so I dropped Toshi and Julia off at the inn while I decided on who I wanted to bring with me - it only seemed right to let Iolo and Gwenno reconnect for a little while. Annon informed me of the Great Council, who, after confirming who I swore my loyalty to, told me about the Words of Power, and even gave me the one that opened Despise. He also told me that the daughter of another Council member works as a sailmaker, and that I should ask her about her mother to obtain another. Greyson told me of the Guardians that protected the Codex, only allowing those on a sacred quest garnered from the shrines to pas, and reminded me of the Mantra of Compassion. Eb the busboy told me to talk to Malik in Moonglow about glass swords, and Terrance let slip something about the Resistance, telling me I should ask around at the Arms of Justice to find out more.

I wonder if it worked. They did kinda fire themselves in the process.
The three villages surrounding the castle gave me some useful information as well, learning about Master Hawkins and the HMS Cape that he designed, though the plans were now lost. A few hinted at the Resistance and further information to be gained, but they weren't yet telling me anything more. So I headed back to Yew where I found Chamfort, who gave me the password to the Resistance and told me to seek out Landon through a secret passage behind his fireplace. Jaana was there as well, who joined up with me, and Landon told me that Blackthorn has Lord British's Crown in his castle, which prevents the use of magic. He told me to seek out Sir Simon, on the mountainous isle west of Spiritwood, to find out more in retrieving the Crown. With the password to the Resistance, I learned more from the folk of North Britanny as well, being invited to a meeting by the town well at midnight. There was much to learn of the Shadowlords, and I was told to find Sir Shawn at the Lycaeum to find out more about them and where they dwell and Sutek on an island in the Great Sea to find out how they may be defeated. The graveyard here also spoke of the state of the kingdom - while most of them were buried over mundane things, the one whose employees ended up lynching the frugal Sir Robert to 'ease their poverty' was telling, especially when remembering that giving too little to charity is a crime.

Feeling like I'd learned all I could in the vicinity of the castle for now, I headed south, dropping by Paws, where I learned that shrines, if I ever saw them desecrated and destroyed, could be restored with the Words of Power, giving me another reason to make sure I find them all. I talked with a man in the stables about horses, and he seemed very interested in seeking out a talking horse - having learned where Smith lived from the stables in Castle Britannia, I told him where he could be found, and he thanked me by telling me that he'd gifted a magic carpet to Lord British, which I could pick up from his private quarters, if I could gain entrance to them. From there it was off to Trinsic, where Jimmy told me more about the HMS Cape and its qualities, and I asked a sleepwalking wizard, on a hunch, about the Council, which ended up earning me the Word of Power for Shame. After talking a bit with Gruman, who refreshed my memory on the Mantra of Honor, I made my way to the Shrine, since it was close. Meditating there, I heard a voice exhorting me to learn the darkness of dishonor - my first sacred quest from the shrines. I figured that was a good time to rest, and Shamino even got a level out of it after an apparition came in the night.

I try. I mean, it is one of the Virtues.
I called it a session at that point, and so far Ultima V is going rather better than I remember it. Still getting a hang of all the new mechanics (my fingers went on autopilot when mixing reagents for cure spells which it wouldn't let me do on account of muscle memory telling the system I wanted to mix a CORP BET CORP spell), and the vast new variety of items and spells and equipment is taking some time for me to wrap my head around, but all in all I'm enjoying myself. Buying anything from the guilds seems dang expensive if the one in Paws is anything to go by, but it's nice that fights now provide items as well as gold, as I get the feeling it's going to be my main source for keys. Once I get a better stock of reagents I'm looking forward to messing around with the wider variety of spells, too - I've long enjoyed Ultima's magic system, even though I haven't really played around with it as much as I could. So it's taking a bit of time to settle into Ultima V's groove, but the process is proving enjoyable.

Not sure whether I'll head for the other mainland settlements (well, Minoc) or see if I can snag a boat and follow up on some of my seafaring leads yet, but at least I'm not lacking for things to do!

1 comment:

  1. Awesome. There are a few Ultimas I haven't finished. 1, 2, 3, SE, MD, Underworld 2, and 5. Seeing you play 5 now makes me want to play the series again, too.