Saturday, July 4, 2015

Ultima VI: Getting Lost

Britannia is big.

Okay, okay, so I'm not actually certain whether the game world of Ultima VI, in any sort of measurable terms, is any bigger or smaller than its predecessors, but I've played Ultima IV so often that I know its general layout practically like the back of my hand, and Ultima V didn't shake things up much in that respect, so it made getting around and knowing the relative positions of everything a fairly simple matter. Ultima VI, however... while (almost) everything is in the same general position, the shift from dual-scale to single-scale has meant that my sense of... well, scale, has been somewhat off and I'm finding it fairly easy to get lost when I'm not sticking to the roads. Which, I suppose, is actually reasonably realistic, though it's making it a bit of a chore to figure out where I am in relation to everything sometimes.

How the heck would you WIELD it?!
It also means, however, that I have a greater appreciation for Ultima VI's map, on account of the fact that I've had to scrutinize it considerably more than I have for any of the other games up until this point. And to its great credit, it's remarkably detailed and very well reflective of the game world - and yet it conveys that information in a rather unique style all its own, as well. It complements the game itself very well, and I'm finding myself wishing that I could have played Ultima IV all those years ago when I first went through it with the original map as well.

But on to the game itself! As can probably be surmised from my musings on how easy it is to get lost, I did so a couple times during this particular session. Having freed the five shrines accessible via the mainland, it was now time to hit the high seas and explore the islands. I'd bought a skiff in Britain at the tail end of my last session, so after a few minutes' worth of figuring out the commands to board, exit, and carry it around, I shoved off from the pier and turned my vessel to the south. It was on this maiden voyage that I first got a real sense of the size of Britannia and my need to re-learn the landscape - I found a shipwreck in what I thought was the southern tip of the main continent, guarded by ghosts and skeletons galore, until I remembered that I hadn't passed Paws yet and was, in fact, currently sailing through the Fens of the Dead! Serpent's Hold - my first stop on my marine journey - would be quite a voyage yet.

After that brief confusion in the Fens, I resolved to stick closer to the coast until I was certain I'd passed Trinsic, and once the walled city came into view, I paid close attention to the pattern of islands on my map and tried to match them up with where I was. I found another wreck on an long, thin strip off land just off the coast of the city of Honor, and made a note to come visit it again later - I had things to do, places to go, people to see! (Although it did amuse me that ships apparently can do 30 points of damage. I wonder how you wield one of those?)

Dunno about that, but your help is welcome.
I carefully navigated my way through the islands until I reached the Isle of Deeds - does that archipelago have an official name, incidentally? - and the official grounds of Britannia's knightly order, Serpent's Hold. As tends to be typical, I first poked my head into the local tavern, since a fair few types pass through the doors of such establishments, and it's a good way to meet people and pick up the flavor of the settlement. The first person I spoke to was Koronada, a fortuitous meeting indeed as he turned out to be the guildmaster of the Order of the Silver Serpent. The son of the lighthouse keeper of Greyhaven (or at least, keeper until it was destroyed by an earthquake), he now served as the head of the Order, and took the stories of my previous deeds as evidence enough of my worthiness to join its ranks - though he still wished me to make my own shield before letting me in officially, which Gherick could help with. We said our goodbyes and my attentions turned to a burly man named Seggalion, who, after telling me his story of his arrival from a place called Ashtalarea through a moongate, expressed his desire to join my quest in the hopes of meeting someone who might be able to help him get home, or at the very least assist the people who helped him by aiding in the effort. Moved by his story and its similarities to my own, I agreed.

Having thereby increased our little band to six, we next spoke with Sir Caradon, who originally hailed from Yew. He told us that he had fought the gargoyles near the Shrine of Honesty, speaking of some substance that they ingested that made them fight like living cyclones. His tale spoke of a fierce and harsh battle, of which there were few survivors, though I admittedly found myself wondering just how well the young knight adhered to the virtue of the shrine he fought by. Our last meeting in the tavern was with Shubin the cook, who asked if we could bring him a dragon egg if we came across one - he apparently needs one to cook Magincian Pastry, a recipe he learned from Sandy of Trinsic. We'll have to see about that one - that would be no small task.

The tests of Humility continue.
There were a few other figures we met while exploring Serpent's Hold. Tessa and Simon I remembered from my last adventure, the two of them settled in Serpent's Hold once Bordermarch sank in the resultant earthquake once Lord British had been rescued. There was also a woman named Morchella who balked at Dupre's accusation of being a pirate, and refused to talk to us further. Baron de Hugh, a man in training on the island, mentioned his desire to gather an army to go defeat the "mighty demon" Sin'Vraal, referring to him as a malevolent creature lording over all sorts of miscreants in the desert. The knowledge Sin'Vraal was still around was information I filed away for later use - if Baron de Hugh's bravado was not so obviously a mask covering his lack of skill, I might have been more worried for him.

Gherick, the local smith, was indeed helpful in crafting me a proper shield for the Order with a gold nugget and viewing gem (Seggalion happily provided us with the items from his own personal stash), and to thank him for his help we purchased a halberd for Dupre to use. We trained for a bit with Loubet the fencing master, exchanging friendly greetings and caught up with our old acquaintance Sentri, showed Koronada the shield Gherick had crafted for me, and then set sail to the west, aiming for Jhelom. It only occurred to me afterward that I forgot to follow up on Chuckles' clue while I was in the vicinity, but I was sure I would be back again later.

I came across more wrecks - and more ghosts and skeletons guarding them - amongst the islands on the way to the city of Valor, and Dupre's new weapon was tested as we fought them all off. We gave the island that held the Shrine of Valor a wide berth for the time being - we didn't want to get ourselves into the fight we expected there until we were prepared to reclaim the Shrine proper. Skirting the island meant it wasn't long before we made landing in Jhelom itself, though, and we were met by an impoverished sailor with a hook for a hand. He asked if I could spare a doubloon for him, and after I obliged, he regaled me with his tale. His name was Heftimus McPry, a name once feared in Buccaneer's Den, but he had fallen from grace since his fight with Captain Hawkins that lost him a hand - which Hawkins promptly threw to the sharks. A nasty figure by all accounts, to be sure, that elevated him into infamous legend.

Odysseus you're not.
I had more pressing matters to see to at the moment, however, and sought out the town's leader. Zellivan seemed quite a decent man, and we exchanged a few stories of past battles fought for a time. It seemed the only battle he fought now was attempting to keep the boisterous residents of Jhelom in line these days, though that in itself seemed an unenviable task to me. When asked, he told me the Rune of Valor had been given away in a tournament, the winner of which would be entrusted with its care. He told me, with a sly sort of grin, that 'no man' was the winner - had I been a cyclops, this might have confused me more, but thankfully I'd read my Homer and asked Nomaan about it when I bumped into him at the local smith. In return he spun me a tale of the raucous celebration after the tournament in the pub, where a large rat scooped up the Rune when it fell out of Nomaan's hands and rushed it into its little hole. Too small a space for anyone to reach it, there it likely remained.

With this bit of knowledge, our next stop was obvious. We made our way to the Sword and Keg, where Shamino waved to a man wearing a rather distinct, oddly-shaped helm and exchanged a few bits of news. The man was named Stelnar Starhelm, whom Shamino had traveled with before. He introduced himself as a monster-slayer, killing wisps and gargoyles for the past year in Spiritwood. He too wished to go slay Sin'Vraal, with no regard for the part he had played in the rescue of Lord British. He did suggest that he may be found where we last met him, however, so that was another useful piece of information. Stelnar also made a remark that ugliness is only skin deep, just like beauty, which seemed a bit odd coming from him though no less well to keep in mind.

I wonder where the rat found that ring...
It was Andy the serving girl who seemed the most sensible out of the lot in the tavern, though - which, considering the bluster of most of the fighters in the area, was a bit less surprising than it might have sounded. It was she who actually thought of a way to retrieve the Rune of Valor from the rat hole, having remembered stories of Sherry the Talking Mouse in Lord British's castle, who might be convinced to help out. Dupre was dubious, but sure enough, a trip to the castle proved fruitful, as Sherry readily agreed to make the trip in exchange for a bit of cheese, and not only did she emerge from the hole in the wall of the Sword and Keg with the Rune, but with a magic ring as well! We took her back to the castle and said goodbye, with many thanks for her help, then set sail over the wine-dark sea for the Shrine of Valor. It was a rather arduous fight - it seemed like the gargoyles sent their strongest to guard the Shrine, and we certainly proved our Valor as we fought tooth and nail against them. It was rough, but we did emerge victorious, and after reclaiming the moonstone, we turned our sights to New Magincia, where I decided to call it a day.


It occurred to me while sailing the high seas just how little combat I've encountered in this game. I mean, I knew that pacifist runs were a thing for Ultima VI, but I've run into remarkably few random encounters as I meander from place to place. I can probably count them on one hand when I was running about the mainland, and sailing about probably doubled that number. I'm not entirely sure what I think about that - on the one hand, it's nice not to constantly be interrupted every few steps with beasties, but on the other, I'd like at least a little something to shake up the exploration. Maybe it's because I've mostly stuck to the paths thus far, I'm expecting the dungeons to be another matter entirely once I get to them.

Writer's block is a nasty thing when it rears its ugly head (I've been sitting on this post for a few weeks now because of it), but I seem to be through it for the moment, and I'm eager to free those last two shrines and move on to a segment of the game I've never really done much with. Onward to the island of shepherds!

Another suggestion all may not be as it seems...

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