This second day on Ultima 9 has been a long time coming. I got side-tracked by the new Wallace & Grommitt game which then led onto the Strong Bad games which I bought at the time but have been too busy with all these Origin games to ever actually play. All of them are great games but none of them took too much finishing and I’m back now to play U9 through to the end with no more distractions.
I start out by exploring LB’s castle. First off a find LB’s bedroom which contains a scary looking mirror.
Clicking on the mirror gets me a cutscene showing some sort of cataclysmic wave sweeping over the landscape. This is a cutscene that couldn’t be fit into the new storyline anywhere by the looks of it so I get it here. I think its showing the destruction of Skara Brae (which I’ll find out about much much later).
There are a few people about in LB’s castle to talk to but its a bit less well populated than in previous games. The conversations tend to be just a few lines so there is no room to weave in subtle hints or much sidestory. Most of the conversation is directly linked to matters at hand although its not always obvious what I’m being pointed towards. Siona here gives me a clue about the powers of music which sounds a lot like the old clue about playing stones in LB’s bedroom from an earlier Ultima.
There is a gargoyle called Vasagralem in LB’s main hall. He has been banished by the gargoyles when he disagreed with them building a dome around Ambrosia. I’ll be seeing this dome later.
I get a clue about fighting styles from the guy in charge of the armoury. He offers to train me but I’ve no experience yet.
Theres a nice joke for the fans as in the jail, is a guy claiming to be LB (played by Garriott).
There isn’t a whole lot to do in the castle so I start exploring the grounds. The mayors house is just outside.
The mayor isn’t around but his associate tells me that he is helping to banish all the poor and sick from Britain. The mayors daughter is in here and doesn’t sound too well herself but denies that anything is wrong. I see an obvious plotline coming…
LB’s castle now has a hedge maze, complete with giant rat accessories.
In the middle is a flaming sword which is going to be my weapon of choice for the early stages of the game.
I’ve not been outside LB’s castle grounds yet but the world here definitely feels large already. This is going to be a much bigger environment than U8’s it would appear. I like the little details like these butterflies which hover around the water in the bowl and fly off when I get near.
I head for Britain next, which as ever is right next to LB’s castle. I meet the town baker who is complaining about the miller being shipped off to Paws as he lost an arm in his milling machine. He now has no flour of course.
The town mayor is making a speech about how sending off the sick and poor to Paws is actually compassionate as it enables Britain to be more prosperous and it can then send aid to Paws which would otherwise not have been available. That sounds like a reasonable point but I don’t expect its working out quite like that.
A storm starts to roll in while I’m looking round – the changes for this are really subtle and I don’t really notice the sky gradually clouding over and the fog drawing in at first. This is all needless as such but this sort of thing really adds atmosphere.
I head in the pub – it has a crowded pub sound effect running in the background but there are about 3 people in here. I hear that the runes have all been stolen from the museum – I’ll have to look into this.
I get another quest from a w0man hanging outside the church who wants me to fetch some serpentwyne.
The church is probably a good place to look for this stuff so I head in.
I discover that the three holds have all been destroyed by the columns and this church is the replacement for Empath abbey.
I also can’t get any serpentwyne as the silver serpent has been stolen. I’m getting plenty of sidequests here at any rate – this is another improvement from U8 which has a grand total of 2 side quests if I remember right.
Tthere is a magic shop in town but its shut as I’m told by the guy hanging around outside. Apparently the columns have broken magic also so it makes little different for now.
Next stop is the museum. This is a nice touch and is full of artifacts from earlier games – some of these shouldn’t technically be here for one reason or another but its no big deal. I’m told that the runes dissappeared …… just after the columns appeared. I’m hearing this a lot, has no one thought to look at these columns in the last twenty years?
The main exhibit in the museum is the tapestry of ages which has 3 pictures for every ultima and buttons underneath to highlight and describe each one. This came as an extra with the game but unfortunately wasn’t this large. Exodus is shown as a demon which seems a bit odd although I remember from earlier manuals that the avatar didn’t reveal the nature of Exodus (presumably not to spoil the ending for anyone yet to play it) so this is fair enough.
I’m sure there are places I haven’t been yet but I leave Britain for now and decide to look for Despise. I’ll be back later to pick up anything I’ve missed. I’m impressed with the size of the place anyway. It’s not the monumental scale of U7’s Britain but its big enough.
Just outside Britain, I run into Sarah who tells me how the columns have perverted the virtues and the people in Britain are not to blame for the state of the place now. She tells me that the shrines have also been corrupted …. just after the columns appeared and wants me to attempt to restore them.
I head off looking for the shrine and instead find a lighthouse which makes a return after missing U7 (I think…).
It’s not working though. This is one of 3 new lighthouses but it never received the gem it needs to power the light. This is another side quest for my growing list.
I carry on looking for the shrine and Shamino talks to me via a statue. He is trapped in some sort of spirit realm – he confirms what I already know about the columns and sends me off to sort it out.
The shrine is just up from here. These corrupted shrines play havok with the local weather and there is lightning crashing down all around. By meditating at the shrine, I learn that to cleanse it I will see the rune of compassion (now corrupted and in Despise) + the sigil of compassion which is in the possession of the mayor. This is going to be a pattern from here on out where I go to each town, get the sigil and mantra, then explore the dungeon to get the glpyh.
Iolo’s house has moved a bit (a lot infact) and is now east of Britain. Gwenno is here but doesn’t have a lot to say to me. This is a real problem with the full speech used in the game, the dialog is just too short and often inappropriate.
I know I’m getting near Despise when I see a giant column looming out of the ground.
I head to the nearby entrance and I’m in familar dungeon territory.
Near the entrance is a locked door with two guys stuck behind it. There is a key right outside so I open up the door and free them.
They were here looking for something called the Kiran stone which is split into four parts. I don’t know why yet but I’ll probably find it useful so I’ll look for this on my way through.
They give me a couple of clues to two of the pieces. One is on the highest column which is just in the next room and involves jumping up progressively higher columns. Jumping is similar to U8 and is pretty much point and click.
From here on I’m working my way through the dungeon. The dungeon is more of a series of puzzles than anything else. I kind of miss the overwhelming and foreboding dungeons of the earlier games like U5 but this is pretty good fun for all that. It’s not quite the usual gameplay but you could say its not far removed from earlier games where you had to step in the right place or push walls, etc. to open doors. The main difference is that combat is quite easy here and certainly less tactical. This is still early in the game though so there is plenty of time for it to get harder.
I’m really quite enjoying my return to U9 so far. My only complaints would be with the dialog. The voice acting is on the sub-par side. RG’s attempts with his character in the dungeon were at least up to the level of the rest of the voice acting, and anyone who has heard the UW1 intro will know this can’t be a good sign. More than this there just isn’t enough dialog for nearly all the characters. I’d like to be seeing around 20 times as much, at least. My reunion with Gwenno should have been a major event but here its just a few lines of text. I’m not entirely convinced by the quality of the writing either. This could be a symptom of having so few lines to get your point across but it feels a bit like the dialog in a Kings Quest game and I expect more from Ultima.
Sacrifices have definitely been made to have 3D with full speech – the short dialog, no underworld, no NPC schedules. This is more along the lines of Ultima 4 in 3D than Ultima 7 for those reasons. But I still loved U4 and while I don’t think this is going to live up to those standards either, it still strikes me as a much better game than most reviews would lead you to believe.