Thursday, April 23, 2015

Ultima V: Return of the King

...what? What else could I title this one, really?

Anyway, as that title may imply, I finished up Ultima V yesterday evening, and spent a good while afterward wandering around my apartment with the words "Man. Freakin' DOOM" falling off my tongue.

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself, aren't I?

Right off the bat, this ain't gonna be simple.
When last I left my intrepid band of bold adventurers, we were camped out just outside the entrance of Shame, ready to make the journey into its depths, beyond which the Codex had told us lay the way to the core of the world, where Lord British awaited our arrival. This was it. The last stage of our rescue mission. We'd neutralized our main adversaries (hopefully Blackthorn would mellow out once he was truly free of the Shadowlords' influence). We'd managed to pry the Crown Jewels back out of their hands. We'd been told, albeit cryptically, what we might expect during the expedition, and we'd prepared as best as we were able. All that was left was to enact the mission itself, facing down the dangers at the very heart of the Underworld, pushing past them all in order to rescue Lord British and bring him back to his rightful place as ruling monarch.

The first obstacle we encountered was one rapidly dealt with. As with all the other dungeons, the entrance to Shame had been sealed with a Word of Power by the Great Council. My investigations had long since provided me with the word necessary, so it was simply a matter of speaking it to provide us access to this first leg of our last foray into the depths. We braced ourselves for an onslaught - surely, if Lord British had been imprisoned in a section of the Underworld only accessible through Shame, it would be a tough fight to get through the dungeon if the king himself could not fight his way back to his own realm. We gritted our teeth, readied our weapons, and pressed forward into - an empty room. Nothing but rocks as far as our eyes were able to see in the dim torchlight, not even a way down or further in. Nothing, at least, until we took a closer look at the walls, after climbing our way over some of the rock piles that littered the room. After pushing a series of secret switches, we managed to find the way forward and pressed on.

Even a gem couldn't pierce the darkness.
Beyond the entryway, the hallway diverged in three different directions, each ending in a ladder downward. Each was labeled: one "Deep," another "Deeper," and the third "Deepest." Naturally, seeing as we were aiming to make our way all the way to the bottom, we chose the third. The ladder took us all the way to the bottom floor, but rather than simply Des Por our way out, as we had on a few occasions previous, we thought a bit more exploration might provide us with further amenities we could make use of in the trials to come. We found ourselves fighting against sea serpents, slimes, and even a few reapers, though the last were easily rendered helpless through the use of the Crown, and they were guarding some very precious treasure indeed. Numerous viewing gems, potions, scrolls, magic rings, all of them were ours to claim once the reapers had been defeated. Stowing them away for future use, we eventually found the exit point, and emerged one final time into the dank realm of the Underworld.

The land in this part of the Underworld was rather swampy, so we hopped aboard the magic carpet and set about exploring. Over rough waters and even a stream of lava we directed our makeshift vessel, and it was harsh going through such conditions - we were glad that our trek through Shame had not proven overly difficult, for if we had come out of the dungeon with large injuries, it surely would have made this part of our journey all the more unbearable. Slowly we closed in on our target - only to come across the most oppressive, impenetrable, utterly crushing darkness any of us had ever known. Torches, light spells, nothing could push through it - not even a glance through a viewing gem revealed anything through that shell. It was only Lord British's amulet that revealed our goal to us, and even then, only just barely. Deep in the darkness lay a sealed crevasse much like those that heralded the entryways to the dungeons above ground. This, we discerned, was the "core of the world" the Codex had referred to. We took a few hours to rest before venturing in, and as if knowing we were on our way to him, the spectral visage of Lord British appeared to us, restoring us to the fullest of our ability. We stood before the passage, and the echoes of my shout of "Veramocor!" reverberated in the empty space, bounding off deep into the inky black that surrounded us.

A deep breath to steel ourselves, and we ventured in.

Immediately we were thrust into a room with no exits, even the opening we came in through sealing off behind us. Strange purple barriers blocked our passage in every direction, but the king's scepter proved able to dispel these ethereal wards. With no way of knowing which way to go, however, we picked a direction and hoped for the best. The first few floors of the dungeon Doom were a conglomeration of ladders, though our route proved mostly straightforward.

Then the difficulties began.

SO glad I took the time to get access to those 8th Circle spells!
It all started with a ladder we found on the second floor, taking us down to - a trap! We found ourselves in a rocky room strewn about with the remains of the dead, our passage forward - and more importantly, our passage back - indiscernible. Remembering that first room in Shame, we began to search the walls, but Jaana noticed a strange look in Shamino's eye, and too late did we realize we had not taken the precaution of donning the Crown - he'd been possessed! Frantically we hurried to rectify our oversight, all while trying to find a way out of the room. It was a deadly dance we performed, skirting the edges of the and trying to give Shamino as much distance as the small quarters allowed, praying all the while for him to throw off the effects swiftly, until we managed to find the hidden switch that lowered the ladders again, and we climbed back out. Shamino followed suit some time later, with a very sheepish look on his face, though we assured him we could hardly hold it against him. No harm was done in the long run, but we resolved to be more careful in the future.

We pushed deeper, encountering a fair number of demons as we climbed up and down pits, the maze-like passageways of the middle floors of the dungeon connecting with each other in intricate ways that we could hardly wrap our heads around. Eventually, however, nearing what we perceived to be the bottom of the dungeon, we came across a series of rooms that required practically every trick we had to even survive. First came a sandy room full of dragons, demons and sand traps, all hardy enemies, and all standing in the way of a ladder downward. Brute force was not enough here - it was a combination of In Vas Grav Corp spells and An Tym scrolls that eventually won us the day, scarred and weary. After picking up the remnant treasures the enemy left behind, we pushed onward, exhausted, only to find ourselves in even tighter quarters beset upon by more dragons, with their aquatic kin, the sea serpents, supporting them. Those defeating using much the same tactics, and donning regeneration rings to give us a hopeful edge, however slight, we set about finding a way to cross the river in the room, eventually finding a space on the wall that a carefully aimed shot triggered to form a bridge. Unfortunately, it also triggered a swarm of mongbats at our backs, which meant another arduous fight.

Note Dupre's dead body. That was my fault. Entirely.
I'll admit, I full-party-wiped multiple times during this section of Doom. I was throwing everything I had at this batch of baddies, but the onslaught just would not stop. I cleared out as many enemies as I could in the first room, though noticed I hadn't triggered the 'VICTORY!' message that indicated I had blasted through them all, only to get caught off guard by even more enemies in the following room, and once I'd taken care of them and formed the bridge, the mongbats took me by surprise again and I didn't have enough resources to handle them and survive. Eventually I took it one step at a time - I cleared out the first room with strategic aiming of area effect spells, doffing and donning the Crown as necessary to entice the wisps in the room to warp in where I could attack them, and went back out to rest back to full health before taking on the second in much the same manner, making sure I oriented my party properly before triggering the mongbat swarm. Thank goodness dungeon rooms stay cleared in Ultima V!

Not exactly the reward I was hoping for.
When all was said and done, and we limped our way away from the scene of all the carnage, we were barely clinging to the last threads of life, and Dupre had given his own in the fracas - by my own hand, I'm sorry to say, he was in the wrong position when I fired off an In Vas Grav Corp spell and there was no time to amend such. We had to resort to a scroll to resurrect him (thankfully he didn't hold it against me), and it was some time before we had recovered enough to push onward, even with Vas Mani spells and regeneration rings hurrying the process along. We next we found ourselves thrust into a fight, we were relieved to see it was simply sharks and wisps. Sharks were no trouble at all for us anymore, and while wisps were dangerous no matter how you looked at it, we nullified the risk of getting charmed by them with the Crown, and used the terrain to our advantage to take them out before they could get close enough to retaliate in kind. It was refreshing to have a relatively easy fight, but it didn't last long, when more ethereal wards made a fight with demons and mongbats difficult to orchestrate due to the tight quarters, and complicated even further when half the room started filling with lava. Shamino and Dupre didn't survive to stagger their way out with the rest of the group, but fortunately, just after that was our goal.

Through a pit in the floor, we descended into a simple, well-furnished room with a mirror, though it was not our own reflection that we saw in it - but that of Lord British! One by one we were absorbed into the mirror, Shamino and Dupre resurrected in these final moments, and presented with the sandalwood box we had retrieved from his quarters, Lord British extracted a strange stone from it, casting it to the ground where we were all bathed in the crimson glow of a summoned moongate.

We all stepped through, and we knew our purpose had been achieved.

What the world had lost, it had now regained.


A difficult choice, either way.
So ended the tale of my venture through Ultima V. I was catching my breath as I went through the last few scenes of the game (thanks to the harrying combat in the final sections of Doom), as I watched Aric take note of the various items stolen from his home in his absence, and dreaming of Blackthorn's judgment, choosing to face the unknown in exile from Britannia rather than the punishment of the Council. It's a bittersweet ending in several respects - the hero returns victorious, but that's all he has upon his return, his very home broken into and robbed. Blackthorn - and Lord British as well, in his own way, as far as his dealings with him - is caught between a rock and a hard place. It's acknowledged that British's regent's actions were not entirely his own, but they are still actions that demand consequences, and Justice needs to be doled out, the heinous acts answered for. It's not a completely happy ending by any respect, though it is, at least, hopeful - acknowledgement that Blackthorn can change, that there is still satisfaction in doing The Right Thing even at personal cost.

As rough as it was, I really enjoyed the endgame, and part of that's an extension of the improvements made to the dungeons in Ultima V over IV. In Ultima IV, they all felt rather same-y, the same blue-and-green hallways in each of them, and more often than not, the floors of a dungeon felt fairly isolated from each other, self-contained and mostly a puzzle to figure out how to get from the ladder going back to the ladder going forward. In Ultima V, each dungeon feels more unique, from the layout to the design of the corridors. The prison of Wrong is laid out in cell blocks, the crypts of Covetous are littered with tombstones and skeletons, and Doom is one giant three-dimensional maze, necessitating one to go up and down and back and forth between several levels multiple times in order to find the way to the end. It's very much an improvement over the game's immediate predecessor, and I had a good time running through them. But still - man. Freakin' DOOM. What a ride.

As always, I'll have one more post drawing together my final thoughts on Warriors of Destiny, then it'll be time to put the game behind me and move forward onto Ultima VI. Finishing this one has put me in an interesting position, to be sure - but I think I'll leave that one for my next post. Until then!

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