|Does this mean Mystic Armor is fireproof?|
On to the game itself! With Faulinei defeated, that left two other Shadowlords to deal with, which mean further ventures into the Underworld to gather the Shards needed to do so. After some consideration, I decided to track down the Shard of Cowardice first - Hythloth was a fairly easy jaunt by ship from the Lycaeum, and it would have the added bonus of putting me within reach of the mystic equipment, which would be very handy to have on hand, the armor especially. I sailed south and around the Isle of the Avatar, taking a moment to shout the Word of Power that Hassad had given me in order to open the entrance of the dungeon. What met my eyes was a very long ladder down, down, down into the depths of what seemed to be a mine. Further and further we made our way, until we found ourselves in a small room at the very bottom, full of bats and with a decent amount of gems. There was no other way out of the room, however, so after clearing out the vermin and gathering the gems (they would prove useful, after all), we climbed back up the ladder to see if we'd missed anything.
|Navigating tight spaces|
|Ha ha, you can't get me now!|
Immediately we set sail for Serpent's Hold, heading for the chamber that held the Flame of Courage to see another of the Shadowlords eliminated. Calling out the name I had been given, I raised the Shard above my head - and hesitated, the hand holding the Shard beginning to tremble. I'd come far, yes, but would I really be able to see this entire venture through? We had seen the power of the Shadowlords, the terrors they had wrought upon the land through the hand of Blackthorn, the wounds they could inflict even on their own. What if there was worse out there before we rescued the rightful monarch? Could my fellow adventurers bear through it? Could I? It was Shamino's hand on my shoulder, his resolute expression, that snapped me out of such thoughts, and as Nosfentor lunged, her whispers in my ear letting the fear take hold just long enough for her to advance, I threw the Shard into the brazier.
|That's two down...|
It turned out to be a bit less so, as the Shard was within a rocky region that required careful climbing to approach. The less able of our group slipped often, and we were all fairly well scraped before we caught our breath in the middle of the little mountain. The shard lay within, and we took a moment to rest before we inched our way back, bit by bit over the rocks, keeping a careful eye on each other, not wanting to lose anybody to the perils of the steep outcroppings. Jaana in particular was in fairly bad shape, and so rather than try and make it back to Covetous, we decided to work our way back to the surface through Wrong, which was a bit more of a direct route with less mountain climbing. It also had the advantage of being closer to Empath Abbey when we emerged again, so that was a second reason to take the alternative route.
|There were another four demons in here when we entered. Oy.|
In a way, it felt almost appropriate. My first brush with the Shadowlords had not been particularly far, and it was to Iolo's cottage just a little further into the woods that I had brought Shamino to in the aftermath. It only seemed fitting that I should end my struggles with them in the same vicinity. Boldly I stepped into the chamber holding the Flame of Love, thundering the name of Astaroth as I did so. The Shadowlord appeared at the same instant I pulled the Shard from my pack, and the surge I felt in the process - a rush of memory, of all the damage the Shadowlords had done to the land, to my friends, of all that they had put us through, directly and indirectly - the utter rage I possessed as I flung the Shard into the fire--
Well. Suffice it to say that I can't really say whether the angered scream that rent the air as Astaroth dissipated was his... or mine.
|Love conquers all. Including Shadowlords.|
When all was said and done, though, we set sail one last time. We docked our ship, set out through the waterways in our skiff, and as Shame came into view, we remembered the words of the Codex:
That which the world has lost awaits thy coming.
It's occurred to me that while I've definitely taken some dramatic license with in-game events in my telling of them pretty much from the very beginning, I've stepped it up a fair amount in the last couple of posts, and I think a good deal of that is due to the fact that Ultima V has a lot more dramatic moments worthy of some narrative embellishment as compared to its predecessors. It does lead to something that's been in the back of my mind for a while, though, and this seems as good a moment as any to bring it up.
I've said before that it's story that I look at most when I'm playing a game, which stems from the fact that, first and foremost, I'm a writer. There's a lot of ways to tell a story, and there's been some fantastic ones told through the means of games. Planescape: Torment is very high on my list of favorite games, occupying a spot not all that far behind Ultima IV, and my experience with Pillars of Eternity speaks of a well-told story in much the same vein. Both games, and others that I've enjoyed, feature some brilliantly atmospheric writing that takes advantage of subtlety, of nuance, of the little details that make a scene truly evocative.
|Boy that scepter came in handy.|
Planescape: Torment told me a fascinating story with some powerful writing, evocative imagery, and allowed me to wind my way through it and define my character's personality with a myriad of possible reactions in dialogue choices. Ultima V has allowed me to craft that tale myself, in my own words, with as much or as little attention to the specifics as I've chosen. And both experiences have been extremely memorable - there's nothing inherently better in one approach over the other.
That's the beauty of storytelling through the medium of gaming, though. Sometimes you give the player a brilliantly made story - and sometimes you give them a springboard to make one of their own. Both have their place, and both can be very, very effective.
Well, that's enough of another one of my side-musings, I think. I'm just about ready to dive into the last stage of the game here - it took me a bit to decide whether I wanted to raise Aric to level eight for access to those big high-level endgame spells, and eventually went 'why the heck not?' So I did, clearing out some of the rooms of Covetous and Wrong in order to do so (I love the dungeon design in Ultima V too, by the way. This post has gone on long enough already as is, but I need to remember to bring it up before I'm done with the game). I mixed up some of my new spells, restocked reagents, and now I'm raring to get into Shame and rescue Lord British. Should be wrapping up soon - stay tuned for the (hopefully) thrilling conclusion!
|Lord British, here I come.|