Just as the avatar is returning to Britania after years of resting and inactivity, I am also returning to the blog with a bit of rust in my hinges. In addition, Ultima 5 is a very daunting game to come back to. It is going to take a long time; a very long time. The scope is much larger than the previous installment and my past experience is literally nonexistent. Please stick with me as I go through Ultima 5 as I will probably be breaking it up and not power gaming in marathon sessions. Playing slowly, thinking about my next step, and how it fits into the whole story will be the most difficult aspect. Anyway, without further delay, let’s head back to the world birthed from Richard Garriott’s insane dome: Britania.
Back in the Saddle
Years after returning to earth as the paragon of the virtues, The Avatar, our in-the-matrix alter ego is eager to get back to Britania to visit his friends. The long silence is finally broken when he is awakened by the floating symbol of the codex which indicates it is time to suit up and get ready for adventure. After donning the garb of the Avatar, he enters the moongate only to see his friend and former companion, Shamino, be struck down by the cursed magic bolt of a Shadowlord; the corrupting forces of Britania. After scaring off the Shadowlords with the power of the magical ankh, we take Shamino to Iolo’s hut where we are filled in on the whole situation.
[Much improved over the last entry.]
Things are not well: Lord British has been lost in an effort to secure the underworld after sealing the dungeons, his formerly upstanding vassal named Lord Blackthorn has taken over the land, and all of its virtues have been subverted into tyrannical laws. It is up to us to find out what has happened and restore Lord British to power. How we do this is unclear and, having no previous experience with Ultima 5, I have no idea where to begin.
Welcome back one and all! I am happy to begin blogging again, but I am not as happy as the Avatar to get back to Britania. Let me back up. I am very eager to play and am looking forward to it, but the idea of a whole new Ultima game is extremely daunting. The world of Ultima 4 was huge and had many secrets that required training, research, travel, and, most importantly, time to uncover. Starting up the game for the first time was a little bit of a gut check for me.
[Hal has been unceremoniously nerfed by Ultima 5.]
The interface is quite familiar and the graphics have improved vastly from the earlier version. Many more tiles are available to represent terrain and objects, there is no longer the need to use weird signs for shops as they can be represented accurately as pictographic signs, and the world is much more interactive. Everything seems ripe for exploration when…
Richard Garriott strikes again. This is the runic alphabet that was touched on in Ultima Underworld, but now makes its first real appearance in a strictly canonical Ultima game. Not only does this require frequent translation by me, but is also used for spells which are called upon by using a series of syllables instead of simple names such as “cure” or “fireball”. I understand the world building itch that this kind of thing scratches, but if my character is intimately familiar with the world of Britania he would be able to read this easily. Since the Avatar is my lens into the fantasy world, can’t you just print it in English to let me read it more easily? (This adherence to verisimilitude continues through several more games in the series.)
Fortunately, other than that small complaint, everything is just as it should be and I have begun my journey by visiting the close by Empath Abbey and town of Yew which has been changed quite a bit. The city formerly represented Justice, but now it has been taken to the extreme and anyone who does not confess any crime they have committed, no matter how small, they will be put to death. The town square also holds a set of pillories confining a man who had not donated 40% of his income to ‘charity’ and his young son who had failed to report his crime. I have the option to free them, but I will probably take that opportunity when I am a little stronger.
After buying some supplies and reagents for some curing and healing spells, I returned to Empath Abbey where I collected a new follower and some information. I was reunited with Julia from Ultima 4 who has become a bard for some extra fire power. It appears I can only have a maximum of five followers in Ultima 5 instead of eight, so I may trade some characters out later. I also learned that I could find more about the Shadowlord of Hate (foil to Empath Abbey’s love) from a Daemon located in the desert to the east. At least I have one lead I can follow up on.
I traveled back to Yew and found a mage to join my quest (Jaana), but when I tried to look around some more I accidentally bumped into a guard who immediately demanded a tribute for Blackthorne. Not having enough money, I refused and was forced into a fight. Fights are generally the same as they were in Ultima 4 with a battle grid and cardinal movement directions. One big difference is characters are now allowed to attack diagonally making combat much more flexible. Unfortunately, it did not help in this case and I was wiped out almost instantly.
[British brings us back. (I didn't mention Toshi, but I restarted and left him behind)]
As in other Ultimas, after the party was killed Lord British resurrected us in Castle Britain where I stopped journeying for the night. I plan to visit some of the towns and look around, but getting stronger will take top priority before I get too deep into the plot.
Why I like the idea of Ultima 5
Ultima 4 was written in direct response to criticism of the previous Ultima games in which theft, murder, and being what is considered ‘evil’ was actually rewarded instead of punished. Parents said this was a bad influence and warranted a change in tone. Garriott agreed. Ultima 4 was the ultimate tale of being a do-gooder who can serve as an example for the rest of the world. It was literally impossible to finish the game without being a squeaky clean hero. After becoming the Avatar, players were sent back to Earth and served as a religious figure in the world of Britania.
Unfortunately, pure good can still be twisted by men into something bad, which is why I like the concept behind Ultima 5 so much. Even though I am not really caught up in the mechanics yet, the idea of having the original eight virtues (humility, honesty, justice, honor, compassion, sacrifice, valor, and spirituality) be subverted into enforced laws is very compelling. As in Yew, any failure to follow the virtues results in torture and execution. Of course it is a similar ends, but the way in which the virtue is enforced is reprehensible.
For me, personally, one of the most frightening things I have come to consider is that “Evil” is not going to come in the form of a moustache twirling sociopath who is looking for the next crime he can commit. Evil will always come camouflaged as good; as necessary means to keep what could be called order, morality, or justice. Evil will not reveal itself until it is too late and everyone has subscribed to its twisted whims. Thinking about Ultima in this way is very worrying when compared to our society and world both presently and in the past. Will we see evil as it is happening? Or will we actually think it is good?
With regards to Ultima, this corruption is blatantly spelled out as many citizens regard Lord Blackthorne to be a good man, worthy of being a successor to Lord British, but he has just been corrupted by the Shadowlords who haunt the land. We can translate this to the possibility of any world leader or any person with great power who is attempting to do what is good but by the wrong means. Unfortunately, the shadowlords will not be at fault and any corruption will lie in the heart of men themselves.
Anyway, I think that is what Richard Garriott was trying to explain, if only the mechanics were a little smoother. I’ll get the hang of it. I was cruising through Ultima 4 before I knew it. Check back next time where I will investigate the areas surrounding Britain and maybe do some moongate hopping.