I had things to do before I took the fight to my enemies proper, though. I still wasn't sure whether my little band would yet be up for the obstacles we had to face, so the beginning of this particular round of gameplay started with running around the area near Lord British's Castle, with the occasional dip into Despise, to train up my party and earn enough cash to outfit my party proper. My immediate plans would likely prove more fruitful if I evaded notice entirely rather than a direct assault, but even so, I wanted to make sure that the six of us were well prepared in case things went sideways.
|Well ain't this ominous.|
And on that note, this seems like an ideal time to bring up the subject of loot gained during combat. No longer is it just a reward of gold - monsters now also occasionally leave behind equipment, and the tougher the enemy, the better it's likely to be. I haven't bought a single torch, gem, or key (save for skull keys, of course), subsisting entirely on what's been left behind by enemies and what can be scrounged up in dungeons. Combat feels a bit more rewarding in this respect, especially with the hard fights - it's satisfying to pummel a few dragons into submission and find myself a few In Mani Corp scrolls richer for it. With the addition of potions, scrolls, and magic rings into the mix as well, I feel like I've got a lot of options for dealing with the situations in front of me, though I'm not sure how many of them I'll actually think to make use of. Just the fact that it is available is something, though.
With a good deal more experience under our collective belts, it was time to push onward. I'd had a taste of the Underworld already when I picked up Captain Johne, but Despise had been a rather simple dungeon, with only the occasional beastie and pit trap to worry about as far as obstacles went. I was under no such impressions that it would remain the same for the other dungeons, and thus I figured it best to finish up what I could on the sunlit lands before I plunged back into the darkness.
|I said no. Very quickly.|
I met a few other denizens of the castle as well, and they were as much a shifty and unsettling lot as Blackthorn himself - his jester Foulwell issued thinly veiled threats when I informed him that I didn't find the tale of a drawn and quartered woman particularly amusing, for instance. The cook Gallrot talked of the slop he made out of horse meat, and a few young children when he could get them. The fact he wouldn't touch the stuff himself made me think only just barely slightly better of him. (Seriously. I think I stared at that blurb of dialogue for a full minute, thinking 'Well, they're going all out to establish Blackthorn as a villain, aren't they?')
|This isn't yours, Blackthorn.|
As an aside, I was glad that I'd made it through the castle safely, but since it's such a big and memorable part of the game, I couldn't resist going back in and intentionally getting caught (after saving, of course) just to see the interrogation scene. And man. Was that well done. Forget the dramatic cutscenes of modern games - Ultima V pulled it some stunning work with nothing but blocky, pixelated graphics and a few lines of dialogue with pauses in just the right spots. Even though I knew the results of the scene whatever I told Blackthorn, that I was just going to reload afterward anyway, I really did pause just a moment as the usurper thundered at me to TELL HIM THE MANTRA OF HONESTY, to consider, to wonder. And the fact that I did says a good deal about how effective that little bit can be. (Incidentally, it was Dupre that ended up the bargaining chip, and one of my responses to Blackthorn's threats to kill him was basically 'He can't die yet!' I mean c'mon, he has to have his big moment in Serpent Isle!)
|Pretty sure this doesn't belong here, too.|
Obtaining the scepter itself took considerably more work. It took some very deft maneuvering with the magic carpet to avoid the encroaching Shadowlords, and it took several attempts to lead them into a corner before I made a mad dash for the scepter and fled the keep. I think I had to back off at least five times before I managed to make a convincing feint, and when I saw my opening I took it, rushed for the door, and never looked back. I was well aware of how dangerously close I had come to another confrontation with the Shadowlords, and wondered whether my hubris was very nearly our undoing.
|Always good to have a plan.|
--only to pause, remembering Remoh's mention of not having found a viable way back. Obviously one existed, else the journal itself would not have found its way to the surface again, but it would not be easy to find. But I had a backup plan, I realized. I hurried over to Trinsic, then turned south, and after digging around for a bit I found exactly what I was looking for - a moonstone. This would serve as my exit strategy. I was glad I had taken the time to ask Goeth, odd as he was, about this new property of the moongates.
|Quite the somber scene here in the dark.|
But if one could be found and rescued, then so could the other.
We took a moment to remember the five souls that had lost their lives here. None of us had truly known them personally, but their valor, their honor, and their ultimate sacrifice deserved not to be forgotten. Then we buried the moonstone anew, and took our leave, emerging near Yew. I remembered leaving a frigate moored not too far to the north on an earlier journey, and so I decided to head for Deceit to take one more trip down under before calling it a day. The Shard of Falsehood lay beneath it, and of the three Shards, I had the most concrete path recorded for this one. It seemed even the dungeon itself wanted to expedite the journey, as not far past the entryway was a hole labeled "Bottomless Pit." I glanced around at my companions, and after an exchange of small nods, we dived in.
|Talk about whitewater rapids!|
It was very, very gingerly that I picked it up, memories of my fight with Mondain surfacing in my mind, the moment I had shattered that gem in the first place, one of those splinters now in my hands again. I vowed to see this one truly destroyed, never to give rise to anything akin to the Shadowlords ever again. Of course, I had to return to the surface in order to do that, and even through careful climbing to make the trek back up the long fall we had taken along the water, impassable peaks blocked our way back to the lake itself. We would need another method, and we found it in a judicious use of an In Por spell, putting us right back on the route we had taken to get here. From there it was simple to get back to Deceit, and we took it one step at a time as we slowly made our ascent back through the dungeon. Undeterred even by hallways littered with skeletons, we found a secret door just behind where we had entered the dungeon in the first place, and emerged into the light of the Britannian sun once more with much relief.
|"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."|
A flash, a quake, an acrid scent and a rending screech - and then he was gone.
Only two more left to take care of now.
Dramatics aside, I had a rip-roaring good time with this session. I've never been this far in Ultima V before, and man, have I been missing out. Charting out Lord British's path in the Underworld and following in his footsteps, seeing the sign and the abandoned skiff and the graves - I don't get that kind of feeling from many games even now. And people talk about those gaming moments that they're somewhat sad they'll never get to experience for the first time again... I think I can add 'destroying a Shadowlord' to my own. Even though I have two more to hunt down and defeat, I know what to expect now, and that shake of the screen just won't hold the same effect now that I know it's coming.
But that doesn't diminish how much I'm looking forward to it in the least.
Hythloth's up next, I think, those mystics will be useful and I need to grab the Shard of Cowardice anyway. And man am I raring to find it! There's not a whole lot of the game left for me at this point, and yet based on how the past few sessions have gone, I get the feeling I'm still going to have a lot left to say about it for a good while yet. I suppose we'll see!
|Without a doubt, one of my favorite details in the game thus far.|