Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ultima VI: Pieces of Eight

(I suppose more accurately that should be 'Eight Pieces,' but 'Pieces of Eight' sounds considerably more piratey, and thus more fitting.)

As nice as it would have been to kick back for some much-needed - and arguably well-deserved - R&R on the lovely banks of scenic Dagger Isle, I only had a scant half of the map in my pockets, and four other pieces yet to seek out. Two lay in Britannia's dungeons, one in Shame, another in Wrong, and after my harrowing experience in Destard, I wasn't yet sure of the wisdom of chasing after those two yet. Perhaps a somewhat thin rationalization, admittedly, of my reluctance to do some more dungeon-delving without further magical backup, but there it was. So too did the scorching desert heat seem unappealing at the moment - Sin'Vraal was a capable sort, it wasn't as if he couldn't take care of himself and whatever pirate might be making his way to confront the demon. And so there was my decision - it was off to Empath Abbey next, to seek out Nathaniel Moorehead and hope that he wouldn't send me on yet another wild goose chase.

I suppose I should have expected 'no response.'
I summoned a moongate to Yew via the Orb of the Moons, and made my way down the meandering path to the Abbey. It was dark by the time I arrived, and I was surprised to note that Skara Brae was not the only haunted locale in Britannia - passing by the graveyard, I saw a good number of ghosts floating amongst the tombstones! They were less... distinct than Quentin had been, likely due to Quentin's death being a recent affair, and none of these ghosts seemed hostile in the least, simply the remnants of the graveyard's occupants that had decided to linger around a little longer for one reason or another. I left them alone to their own devices and awaited the morning.

When it came, I made my rounds among the townsfolk, asking after Nathaniel and if anybody knew where I could find him. Eventually I was directed to his widow - Nathaniel himself had been dead for some time, leaving what profit his piracy had brought about to his dear Sylaina, who lived off of that and what money she could make as a seamstress and embroiderer. She was familiar with the crap I sought, but here too was another snag - it had been kept in a locket of hers that was recently stolen by a band of wandering gypsies. I despaired of finding them in the vast landscape - Zoltan and his band had been tricky enough to track down when I was looking for them - but Sylana eased those fears when she told me that this particular band was known to frequent the road passing from Britain to Trinsic.

I did, for the record.
So pulling out my Orb of the Moons once more, I made my way to Trinsic, and sure enough, just north of the town, I caught sight of a traveling caravan, making camp just as night fell. This band were a rather less savory sort than Zoltan and his entourage. Indeed, while on the surface they seemed genial, nearly all of the actions they took were designed to either bilk me or distract me so they could take what gold I had for themselves. Even the piece of the map their leader Arturos held, which he himself said was hardly interesting, ended up costing me fifty gold once he learned that I did indeed have some use and desire for it. The exchange I'd made with the wisps meant I had more than enough to make the deal, but I was not sorry in the least to part ways with these folk.

From there I made my way to the Shrine of Sacrifice in the desert, and after a brush with some giant ants came across the cottage where Sin'Vraal called home. Hurriedly I warned him of the pirate that was likely headed his way to kill him, and after a moment, with a bit of a confused expression, he told me that he'd met a pirate once, but that he'd been dragged off by the very insects that I'd bumped into on my way here. It turned out they were numerous, building large mounds in the desert that they called home. It seemed that I would have to plunge into the depths of these tunnels that they dug in order to find the poor man - although it was hard to feel a good deal of pity for him, knowing that he'd intended to kill someone who, despite a frightening appearance, was rather a good sort at heart.

I didn't sign up to be an exterminator!
The ant caverns were extensive and winding, and I'm fairly certain I spent a good deal of time wandering in circles before I managed to push my way deeper into the colony. All the while we were beset upon by swarms of the beasts, though thankfully they proved just as squishy as their normal-sized versions. We were little worse for the wear even as we finally reached the body of the pirate Sin'Vraal had mentioned. There was something vaguely ironic about a man who had gone out into the desert seeking to kill, and ending up dead himself. He did indeed have a scrap of the map on him, so after taking it and paying our respects, we made our exit.

The skirmishes we had with the giant bugs were enough to give both Blaine and Dupre reason to visit one of the shrines again, so it was off the the Shrine of Compassion for Blaine and the Shrine of Valor for Dupre. It also bought me a bit of time to decide which of Shame or Wrong were the lesser of the two evils, for they now contained the only two pieces I had left to collect, and I couldn't stall the expedition any longer. Remembering what lay beneath Shame the last time I paid it a visit, I decided to head for Wrong, and we gated to Minoc, sailing across Lost Hope Bay to the dungeon's entrance. It still seemed to be functioning as a prison of some sort, as there were many monsters in cells. There was a guard keeping watch over a room that held the switches to many of them, and he lashed out unheedingly when we stepped in. Many of the creatures were locked and barred away, which meant we could safely pass them by, but the problems were complicated when we came across a dragon, which could summon demons. We took advantage of the natural chokepoint of the doorway to keep the dragon itself in check, and charm spells were flung left and right as the demon fought to turn Shamino against us - the poor ranger must have been so confused mentally when everything was said and done. Demons, dragons, drakes, we faced them all, until we came to a locked door guarded by a hydra. The creature couldn't do much to us from its position, though (seriously, I fought it THROUGH the door, which was... weird, to say the least), and it was a relatively simple fight. The room beyond looked empty, but I found it odd to have a room guarded by a magical lock and a hydra, and sure enough, closer inspection revealed a secret door that not only held a seventh piece of the map, but a new magical bow for Iolo, now that Blaine had caught up with most of the party and I didn't have to worry about him outdamaging the gypsy.

Note the hydra covering the door. How does that work?
Heartened by the fact that our trek through Wrong had been comparatively simple, we headed for Shame, hoping that things had changed since the last time we were in there. And for the most part, it had - there were many, many creatures that wished us ill in its depths, but most of them were the likes of skeletons, alligators, rats, and the like. Hardly a problem for any of us at this point. We did come across a reaper (that I SWEAR actually MOVED), which did take some time to deal with, and a cavern off a side corridor was absolutely filled with a mixture of trolls, mongbats, and headless, but a single explosion spell took care of them. In truth, the most arduous aspect of the trek was getting lost more than the monsters. I actually found myself wishing I'd paid a visit to the dungeon sooner, as it was absolutely littered with gold nuggets everywhere, and there wasn't much lack of torches and salvageable rations, either. Eventually I found Old Ybarra down at the bottom of the dungeon, starved and raving. He was all too happy to exchange his piece of the map for some of our food, though no matter how much we gave him it never seemed to be enough. He eventually collapsed, and having done all we could have for the man, we left him - but not before squashing the gremlins that danced about his little campsite. No wonder he'd had problems with food.

Ah, explosion spells. So useful.
With all eight pieces of the map in my possession, it was time to head back to Buccaneer's Den and get Homer to cough up the location of his own. Not before another trip to the shrines, however, as both Aric and Shamino wanted to reap the fruits of their battles in Shame. So after a jaunt to the Shrine of Honesty for Aric and the Shrine of Compassion for Shamino, we set sail once more for the den of pirates, and as the sun rose, we sought out Homer once more. Before he told us what we wanted to know, he made us promise to give him the storm cloak that lay among Hawkins' treasure trove. Reluctantly, we did so, and it turned out the final piece of the map was in his pocket the whole time. Should have known. He informed us the island in the upper left corner of the map was the Den itself, and once we arrived at the island indicated, he gave us directions to follow from the center of three standing stones we would find there. Once we pieced the map back together, it wasn't hard to find the island in question, and following Homer's directions and fighting off another hydra, we dug just to the south of a dead tree and found an entrance to another cavern.

It turned out that this was the cavern I should have been worried about, over Shame or Wrong. Hawkins' grave was the first thing we found, along with a few supplies, including a sextant, which would certainly come in handy. The pirate captain clearly was not well liked at all - even his epitaph read "He died a hard death and he deserved it." It wasn't hard to see why, if he went to the lengths to hide his treasure in such a dangerous place. Lava everywhere, demons and drakes hiding out on it, poison fields, traps everywhere, signs that outright lied to us, numerous slimes - this place threw everything it had at us, and we did not back down. Once again, I was glad I'd stocked up on reagents, as several spells came in handy during the trip. Vanish spells dealt with the traps we came across, fields were dispelled, and the Chain Lightning spell Aric had just gained access to just tore through the hordes of enemies hanging out in the lava. It was also an Explosion spell that blew down the door that led to the stash itself, and once we cleaned up the slimes crawling all over it, we claimed our prizes. Gold coins, gold nuggets, gems, invisibility rings, a magic fan which I suspected to be similar to the one (if not the same) that Utomo had mentioned back in Yew - to say nothing of the storm cloak Homer wanted so badly, and the object of this whole excursion in the first place, the silver tablet.

More than ready to be done with this place, we headed once more for the Shrine of Valor for Iolo to boost his strength, then back to the Lycaeum to give the tablet to Mariah. It took her some time to translate the tablet - whether I helped or hindered by peeking over her shoulder with a good deal of interest and the occasional remark, I still don't know - but eventually she had a good idea of what lay within the books pages, and it made my blood run cold.

The Rosetta Stone of Britannia
The book spoke of a prophecy of the Gargoyles, how they would know the approach of the end times of their race by the coming of a great evil, who would ravish their kind three times. This evil would be of another race, who would consider him a great prophet, but he would be false, not knowing the ways of the Gargoyles and leading them only to ruin. Upon his first arrival, he would desecrate the most holy place of the Gargoyles and steal their most holy relic, the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom. Secondly, he would descend into the bowels of the earth and cause the underworld to collapse, causing earthquakes and great ruin. The final time, he would come with warriors, to destroy the Gargoyle race forever. And the only way to avert this prophecy would be the sacrifice of this False Prophet.

Suddenly everything came into focus. I was that False Prophet. I had taken their sacred texts, desecrated their holiest place, shattered their world, and for that they had determined that I must die. And so they called up a moongate of their own, snatching up to sacrifice me in the name of saving their way of life.

This was not going to be something easily fixed.

Mariah suggested paying Sin'Vraal another visit, as he was no demon, but one of the Gargoyles himself, and I mentally chastised myself for not having realized this sooner - and not just that, but the lesson he so clearly represented that not all of a terrifying exterior, or indeed, a different way of life, were necessarily an enemy.

I made a few detours before heading back to the desert, mostly as a way of settling my reeling mind. I dropped by Xiao's to restock on reagents, went back to Homer to deliver the storm cloak as I'd promised (an Avatar does need to be honest and honorable, after all), exchanged the nuggets I'd found in Shame for coins, bought a new skiff (I'd left mine on the shores of the island where Hawkins buried his treasure), then finally made my way to the desert once more and took the time to catch up with Sin'Vraal.

Ya think?!
He told me a bit more about his kind, that he was not free among his people because despite the fact he had wings, he could not fly, and that ranked him among the wingless - the lower, working caste. He told me of their Temple of Singularity, the place that once held the Codex and the most holy place of the Gargoyles - and also the fact one needed to be able to fly to reach it. Upon telling him of my situation and what I hoped to do about it, he remarked on the point that 'sacrifice' could mean many things in the Gargoyle language. Wondering if this would all boil down to a matter of semantics, he suggested I seek out a Gargoyle scholar, and that I could reach those lands through the dungeon Hythloth.

I knew what my next steps would have to be.


I rather like Ultima VI's sense of pacing - there's always something to do, and it's not all clumped together so you're spending long stretches of the game just running around without any true feeling of progress behind it unless you're intentionally doing so, which was a big problem back in Ultima II - but Sin'Vraal is probably the one point I've felt thus far where things get disrupted. It's too easy to get him to share the dialogue about the Gargoyles when you meet him while seeking out the pirate in the desert, and it kind of short-circuits that big revelation that should get dropped only once you get the tablet itself. That's just my writerly sensibilities talking, though, and considering that the whole pirate's treasure sidequest can be skipped in its entirety, it's a good thing there's a second method of getting at least an inkling of that bombshell in the game somewhere, an alternate path to the next plot point. I just wish it was via some other means, it feels a little odd to have that particular reveal happen "too soon."

...I don't think that's how names work.
This bit of the game also brought up something that I really appreciated about Ultima VI, the fact that it ties in not just to its immediate predecessor, but everything that's come before it. Granted, it does so by way of a few retcons and such, but I don't find them particular obtrusive, and moreover, it's not necessarily done in a way that makes it impenetrable for newcomers to the series. The Book of Prophecy basically interprets all of the Avatar's deeds during the Age of Enlightenment from another angle, and the Age of Darkness gets its time in the spotlight later in the game too. But at the same time, the game doesn't expect you to know everything that it's talking about, either - Mariah spells out that she thinks it's fairly clear the book is referring to your deeds, saving new players from both an infodump and confusion as to how in the world any of that relates to you. It's a nod to the series as a whole without being so hamhanded as to alienate anybody unfamiliar with canon in its entirety, and it's the way I think a series is best handled.

On a more personal note, it's taken me some time to get around to typing this up, mostly due to the fact that life has kind of gone a touch tumultuous again, but it has, to some extent, got me thinking about this blog and where I might go from here. No, don't worry, I've no intent of halting my efforts in the least - I'm actually discovering I'm enjoying this immensely, and while it's taking me longer to play through the games, I'm finding myself paying more attention to the detail work knowing that I'm going to be blogging about it later. I've actually learned a good deal through his venture, and that's what's got me thinking. As for what I'm thinking about - I think I'll save that until after I finish Ultima VI. That seems a good point for a 'state of the blog' type post, I think.

I'm eager to dive into this next portion of the game, as I'm excited to see what the Gargoyle Lands have in store for me and I've never really seen them before for myself, and I've got another post in the works focusing on the Gargish alphabet and what can be discerned from the Gargish language from it, but I'm not sure whether I'm going to toss that up before or after I venture through Hythloth and what lies beyond. But I'm nigh-giddy over getting it out there - I've been sitting on that one for a long time - so stay tuned! There's still a good deal ahead of me.

No comments:

Post a Comment