Thursday, May 7, 2015

Ultima VI: Early Battles

It took some time to start my trip through Ultima VI proper, both due to general life reasons and the fact I needed a bit to really get the hang of the controls and interface of the new engine before I truly got started. I must have played through five brief sessions of simply the opening fight and some running through the castle messing with everything before I felt comfortable with them. But with that under my belt, it's time to get going.

I can't get started, however, without taking some time to go over the in-game introductions. Normally I'd save this for my opening thoughts, but in this case, the introduction is too tightly tied to the first moments of gameplay for me to do so. While Ultima V made use of an introduction to set the stage for the game proper, Ultima VI stepped it up a degree further. Ultima V kicked things off with a bit of showdown between Shamino and the Shadowlords, giving the player a taste of the power his adversaries hold. When you're dropped into the game itself, your initial circumstances are reflective of the events the introduction tells of - you're at Iolo's hut, which is where the introduction describes you running off to, Shamino's HP is low, and Iolo's description of the state of Britannia sets the tone for the rest of the game.

I feel sorry for Lord British's janitorial staff.
Ultima VI ups the stakes considerably - not only is the player the one to be jumped rather than Shamino, this time for a ritualistic sacrifice, the gameplay begins with a fight between the player and his allies against the three gargoyles that follow them through the moongate at the end of the introduction. Not only that, by using Iolo, Shamino and Dupre in the rescue, it establishes the connection between the Avatar and the Big Three of his companions for new players, and re-emphasizes it for those returning to the series. I couldn't help but notice that the length of time and the disillusionment as a result of it since the last adventure is brought up as well - the Avatar is almost impulsively eager to return to Britannia, not even taking the time to gear up as he did when he received the summons of Ultima V. In a way, by comparing the reaction to the summons in V to the appearance of the red moongate in VI, we can get a sense of the shift in the Avatar's mindset after the events of Warriors of Destiny. It solidifies Ultima V as the game in which the Avatar's role in Britannia is concretely defined, and the drive the Avatar has to fulfill the duty such a role demands - and a glimpse of what Britannia means to him, personally, at this stage. I think it's telling that the only thing the Avatar brought with him is his ankh - if he didn't take the time to prepare, then it must be something he carries with him normally.

It was with all this running through my head, then, that I tumbled into Lord British's throne room, three gargoyles in hot pursuit, unarmored and with nothing but an ankh and a sword Dupre had thrust into my hands only mere moments before. All was frenzied for a moment, but old skills returned to mind swiftly, and between that, Dupre's strength, Shamino's swiftness, and Iolo's accuracy, this initial skirmish was over swiftly. After we'd all taken a moment to catch our breath, I spoke with Lord British, who took some time to go over several matters with me - the collapse of the Underworld after his rescue, the subsequent gargoyle invasion, the capture of the Shrines, a recent attempt to retake the Shrine of Compassion, and on advice from court mage Nystul, the operation of the Orb of the Moons that I'd picked up before charging through the moongate. My old friend Geoffrey, now Captain of the Guard, told me a little more about the failed attempt to recapture the Shrine, telling me that the survivors were now recovering in Cove. Nystul, meanwhile, took an interest in the book Iolo had taken from the ringleader of the gargoyles we'd just escaped from, and thought it would be best to bring the book to Mariah to translate.

Hostile birds were around this carcass - vultures, I suppose?
With these two initial leads to follow up on, I took Lord British's invitation to gather what supplies I needed from the castle before setting out. Armor, a spellbook, reagents, potions - all were there waiting for me, and it wasn't long before I felt myself ready once more. In the process, I bumped into Chuckles the jester, who after some of his usual foolish antics suggested that there was a clue waiting for me in a chest of Nystul's, which pointed me to look under a plant in Serpent's Hold. Knowing Chuckles, this probably won't work out to anything of proper use in the end, so while I made a note to look around when I was in the vicinity of the keep, I didn't give it much import.

It was thus to Cove that I turned my sights, figuring that it was best to know the enemy I was facing, and the memories were freshest to those recovering there. Loath as I was to make things more difficult for those soldiers as they attempted to cope, they seemed my best bet for the time being. My path there, however, would necessitate me going by the Shrine of Compassion, and as I had suspected, the gargoyles that had taken and held the shrine were still around - one of them large and winged, and as we would find out in the ensuing fight, capable of wielding powerful magic. Shamino was paralyzed by a spell and took rather a beating, as did we all from the explosive magic slung around by our foe, but we persevered and managed to send them off running to lick their wounds while we pressed on toward Cove - though not before taking note of the moonstone surrounded by a force field resting atop the shrine itself.

No wonder she seems so serious...
Ahrmaand, the mayor of Cove, made mention of it as well when we talked to him, likening it to the mysterious force that had required a proper rune to bypass back in the days of the Quest of the Avatar. He pointed me to Tholden, mayor of Britain, to find out what had happened to the Rune of Compassion since I last held it, and then went on to tell me a bit more about the recent battle fought, as well as the fact the survivors were at the healer's, should I wish to speak with them. Only their leader, Gertan, was in any shape to tell me much, remarking about the moonstone and the glow that surrounded it as well. It seemed I would need to seek out the runes once more to reclaim the Shrines for Britannia, so after purchasing a spell or two from Rudyom, Cove's resident mage and apparently specializing in healing spells, I used my Orb of the Moons and returned to Britain.

Now that I had need to poke around Britain for a while, I took the time to get to know some of the townsfolk. Lazeena, a bard currently plying her trade in the Blue Boar, sang of the shipwreck of the Dutchman and recited a poem about the healer Artagel, missing after taking a trip to the Shrine - I wondered what his fate had been, a sinking feeling told me it was likely not pleasant. I learned that Lord British was looking for a copy of The Wizard of Oz, and was offering a reward - perhaps the Lycaeum's library might have it? I chatted with the town weaver for a bit, who praised Charlotte of New Magincia for her skill in weaving silk. I exchanged the gold nuggets Dupre was carrying for coin at the mint, then left in a hurry - Terri was an absolutely shameless flirt, and I found myself a touch uncomfortable in her presence.

So do I, kid! Well, the modern equivalent, at least.
It was Tholden who told me the most critical piece of information, though, namely, that he had given the rune to the bards at the conservatory. So I paid a visit to Sir Kenneth, and after we spent some time catching up (I took the opportunity to demonstrate I had, indeed, been practicing since the lesson he gave me in Greyhaven), he told me he'd given the rune to Ariana, a promising young harpsichordist at the conservatory who'd been playing since the tender age of three. She was unsure whether she should part with the rune after she had been entrusted with such an important object, so she wanted to check with her mother Anja first. I'd spoken with her earlier at the Blue Boar, so I returned to explain the situation, and was swiftly given permission. With the rune in hand, we headed back to the Shrine of Compassion. The gargoyles protecting it were back, having recovered, but we knew what to expect this time - not one of them escaped us alive. The rune, combined with the proper mantra, dissolved the force field, and we took the moonstone with us. Everyone but Shamino was experienced enough to find themselves a bit stronger after some meditation at the Shrine as well, so we took the time to do so before we set our sights toward Minoc - we surmised we'd have to repeat the process for the remaining seven shrines, and we were already on the road to the City of Sacrifice.

Upon arriving, we sensed the residents of the city were less... concerned about the threat of the gargoyles. Lady Isabella pointed me toward the guild and its head Selganor for the rune, and he informed me I'd need to join the guild proper before he could give it to me. To do so, I would have to craft my own set of panpipes and learn how to play Stones on them. It seems like a good deal of work to put in when time is of the essence, but I agreed (for any man who holds a preference for stringed instruments cannot be one of completely unsound judgment, in my personal opinion), and sought out my friends Julia and Gwenno to assist me with the project. Julia told me I'd need freshly cut wood for the pipes, so I should get a log from Yew, then take it to the sawmill on the eastern edge of town, have it cut there, and bring it back. Gwenno, meanwhile, refreshed my memory on the tune. Once again I took the time to get to know some of the townsfolk as well - Doris, the innkeeper, stood out to me in particular simply because how rudely standoffish she was, with her nose in a book and an elitist air about her. She did, however, let slip that Xiao over on Verity Isle could teach spells of the highest circle, which could prove useful. I also met Michelle the basket weaver, who made mention of a story her father told her of weaving a basket large enough for eight people! It sounded fantastic, but who knows? Perhaps it is not as far-fetched as it may sound.


One down, seven to go...
And there was where I called it a day, making a note to head for Yew next to pick up a log and take care of the Shrine of Justice in the process. I didn't cover much ground plot-wise - this is probably in part due to the fact that I'm walking everywhere, at least for the first visit, but I think the sheer scope of the game was the main factor. I spent a heck of a lot of time running around Britain and Minoc conversing with its residents, and having a grand old time while doing so. The conversation system continues to grow more extensive and complex, which naturally leads to more well-defined characters as well. Michelle's eager cheerfulness, Doris's haughty scholasticism, Terri's flirtatiousness, Lazeena's morose stories, Gwenneth's teasing... the dialogue's definitely improved further, and that coupled with the portraits are making Ultima VI's characters even more memorable. I'm finding it easy to get lost, and that can make it a bit complicated to sell off unnecessary equipment (along with the fact shops only take certain items, as well), but overall I'm enjoying the game thus far. Still trying to figure out what I want to do party-wise, though. I've already bumped into Gwenno and Julia, both of whom are willing to join my party, but I'm leaning more toward Segallion and Blaine when I bump into them - Ultima VI is a game about bringing very different worlds together, in a sense, so it seems thematically appropriate to include another visitor from another world and a gypsy (who are scorned to nearly the same degree as the Gargoyles come Ultima VII, in some circles) in my little band. But we'll see what happens! I'm only just getting started, and there's still a lot of story left to tell. Who knows what might shift in the telling?

1 comment:

  1. off topic comment:
    I found about this blog from the Episode 5 of Spam Spam Spam Humbug.
    I really like reading your adventures.
    I myself have played some of the Ultima games, but never got through them all.
    So reading about someone else playing is like playing myself.

    Thanks, and please continue.