I’m glad to say I had an entirely bug free day on Ultima 9 yesterday. Whatever the problem in Moonglow was, it stayed in Moonglow. I was wrong about the reagent seller being in Yew unfortunately so I’ll have to wait a while longer. I really could do with something to spend my money on as I can only carry 9999 and I’m getting close to my limit now. There is always Duncan back in Moonglow who will teach me a new two handed sword move for 2500. I’ve been concentrating on raising dexterity so I should be able to learn most, if not all, of the new moves now. Whether or not they are any use I’m not so sure yet. I’ve picked up a couple of new moves so far. My new sword strike seems to do more damage against some opponents but its not hugely useful and I’ve got a feeling that most of the other moves will be the same.
I start out by carrying out a few of the odd jobs around Britain that I’ve been leaving off. First off I give some serpentwyne to the women outside the abbey. I then sell my gems at the local shop.
I head for LB’s hall next to try to hand over the queens egg but Vasagralem in nowhere to be seen. I talk to LB while I’m here though and he opens up the way to Yew for me.
He also tells me that the columns are dragging the moons out of their orbits towards Britannia.
There isn’t so much of a rush that I can’t bind a few spells while I’m here. If nothing else this clears out my bulging inventory a bit.
Then its off to Yew. I find the newly opened goblin cave without too much trouble.
The area around Yew is going to mark a big increase in monsters and from this point on combat becomes a bit more serious than earlier in the game. I particularly like the mimics in this game which spring giants legs as soon as you try to open them. Along with the tougher monsters comes much larger amounts of dropped gold. I’m getting seriously wealthy by the end of todays session.
The goblins aren’t the biggest problem in this cave, as it has some monumentally big spiders.
I emerge at the other side in a wooded area
I’m not in Yew yet though and there are more goblins here than there were in the cave.
That includes this guy who towers above me and can cast fireball. He isn’t quite as tough as he looks thanks to a new axe I picked up off the last goblin. This doubles my attack power and I can kill most things in a single hit with it.
There are a myriad of directions to go in from here. This is like the Ultima of old. The rails have gone and I just have to explore. I notice a column and decide to try for the dungeon first. This leads me to a barren, scorched area full of hellhounds.
I also encounter my first zombies. These are quite tough and carry on attacking even when they have been chopped in two.
I find what looks like a dungeon entrance but its blocked up. I’m beginning to think I shouldn’t have come here first after all.
There is a burned up village nearby with just one resident left who doesn’t want me around. I’m told that the people of the village became prey to a dragon who lives in the nearby dungeon. She doesn’t actually tell me where I am, although I guess I could work it out if I got my map out but this is clearly the wrong dungeon.
I carry on exploring and run into another new enemy – some sort of ice hound. This can freeze me to the spot with one of its attacks but it wears off after a few seconds.
Further wandering around leads me to a camp out in the woods. This is full of bandits but I do appear to get a karma boost for killing them all off.
Eventually I find Yew. Predictably enough their idea of justice is a little off these days. Worse still, I discover that they have captured Raven and she is being tried later today.
As ever Yew looks completely different to every other town and most of the houses are up in the trees.
The first building I go is a library and has a notice to return books to the shelves which has been ignored by the last person in here. Returning the books reveals the book of justice.
This book tells me the mantra + gives a clue to the location of the sigil.
There is a complex system of lifts in Yew to get about between all the houses.
I find the local pub but I can’t have a drink without signing a waver incase I get drunk, hurt myself and sue.
I also find a house with a gargoyle but he just ignores me if I try to talk to him. I guess I’m not supposed to be here yet.
The court is a little out of town and takes me some finding but I get there in the end.
The local tavern keeper is being put away for allowing his customers to get drunk without forewarning. This guy can’t act to save his life but he only has a couple of lines thankfully.
Vasagralem then shows up with Raven for the next case and accuses her of destroying the gargoyle race.
I try to intervene but the judge isn’t having it.
The punishment for contempt of court is a little on the harsh side around here.
Predictably enough Raven is sentenced to death. Justice like this would explain why all the towns in U9 are so much smaller than in U7.
I run into another gargoyle, when I leave the court who has a go at me for killing off his race. I plead my innocence and show him the queens egg as proof.
He tells me to take the egg to Vasagralem. I already know where to go – maybe he will talk to me this time.
He does talk this time and after a bit of protestation I convince him that I’m telling the truth. He even offers to help me get into Wrong and rescue Raven.
He also has the red lens which he hands over without making me complete a quest first.
He makes it sound as though Wrong is just next door – its actually a long trek over the mountains but there are at least a few signposts to keep me on track. I pass Stonegate on my way. The world in U9 is probably smaller than it feels as I get within viewing distance of places like LB’s castle and the like fairly often while I’m up here.
I get to see the sun rising while I’m out here. The passage of time like this is one of the best things in U9. I also see a dragon on a distant rock. It look enormous even at this distance – I’ll be steering clear of this for now.
On my trek through the mountains, I see a symbol for justice on one of the side paths and go to take a look.
Right up at the top of the mountain is….. a talking vulture. I really do feel like I’m in a Kings Quest game now. Not only is it a talking vulture but it lectures me (the avatar) on the nature of justice and tests me by asking me three questions. They are at least easy questions and I get the quill of justice without any problems.
The jail Wrong is obvious when I find it and looks quite foreboding at a distance.
Vasagralem is just off the side of the bridge and has a boat ready for me. I need to take this boat to get to a secret underwater entrance to Wrong.
The boat takes me right to the entrance so its no trouble finding it.
I’m dropped into a guards office and find a book here with a bit of a clue about how this place is going to work. This being a jail it is of course full of guards. If these guards catch me I’m instantly put in jail without my possessions and have to break out. This is another conceit but at least it’s something new. U9 has managed to come up without something original like this for every single dungeon and this sort of sneaking gameplay makes this a new experience yet again. I’m of course going to be taking the more direct approach – you can kill the guards off as long as you don’t let them get too near. So I just strike once, back up, strike again and repeat until they are dead.
I find a woman locked in a cell, who wants me to release her. She is guilty of killing all the horses which is ludicrous so I agree to let her go.
She tells me that Smith is in a tree next to Paws. I don’t think Smith is in U9 but I’d like to find him if he is.
Like every other good jail cell in a fantasy game, this one has a secret door but there is just a bit of equipment behind it and it doesn’t get me any further.
A lot of searching later and I discover that clicking on a painting in the office I was in earlier reveals a button.
This button opens up one of the cells which has the obligatory secret door to get me further into the dungeon. This cell is actually the one that I’d get locked up in if I got picked up by a horse.
I find Raven is a spooky looking cell and let her out.
The moment I step in Raven turns out to be some sort of mega-zombie who takes a bit of killing.
There is a book in here which gives me a combination I’ll be needing later.
I find my first skeleton down here. These things are a real pain. They are fairly tough in the first place, but don’t stay dead and reform afterwards. The only way to keep them dead is to grab a bone and stick it in my inventory.
I find a flame filled room with a load of skulls on the door. I use the combination from earlier to open this up.
Turning the valves in here turns off the flames and raises Raven up out of a pit. She gives me a key and says she is going to hide up until I clear her name.
I carry on exploring and find another cunningly concealed button under an inkwell.
I find another cell through here with a woman who wants to be released. She is in here for slaving but says it is legal in Buccaneers Den. I decide on this occasion not to release her.
There is a room just down from here with a narrow stone bridge in the middle and water on each side. The bridge drops shortly after I go in letting all the carnivorous fish feed on me. If I’m quick I can run to the ledge at the far side of the room, stone the fish to death, then plunge into the water. I have to turn a tiny valve to open up the portcullis to get out of the room.
Jaana is down here and has been subverted by the guardian also.
Since I know for sure this is one of my companions I’d prefer not to kill them off. As luck would have it she is standing under a giant cage and I trap her in it. The snag here is that only she can open the portcullis to the column. I bargain with her to let her out if she opens it first. She agrees to this and then attacks the moment its open. I still haven’t let her out at this point so shes a bit premature. I keep my word and let her out anyway but just avoid her rather than killing her off.
The column looks to have sprouted right through the building and there is rubble around the entrance. I can just about climb over it to get and grab the glyph.
I make my way back outside now. The jail has a bit of a courtyard with more guards to cope with.
I now need to find the shrine. I do a lot of searching around Yew. I find these giant statue heads which let me into a cave if I light the fires in their mouths.
The shrine is just down from here and I go through the usual procedure to cleanse it.
Yew now has new music and the people here are all apologetic about their previous actions.
I head to the court and Vasagralem is pleading Ravens innocence.
The judge concurs and she is pardoned. I now have a long trek back to Britain to get to her boat.
There is a bit of banter with Raven when I get back. She tells me how she was raised by Samhayne and how he has used the business to help orphans.
I suggest “relaxing” for a few hours but Raven thinks we should get on with the task at hand.
So its off to Minoc next.
Today has been the best yet as the game has started to open up a bit and I got to explore the world. This is where Ultima 9 really shines and the detail and variety of Britannia is amazing for a game of this age. I could have done more exploring but I’m trying to do a shrine a night which is challenging enough as it is. In all honesty, Wrong was probably the least interesting dungeon so far but it was still enjoyable.
I didn’t expect to enjoy U9 anywhere near this much. I think all the negative reviews must have sunk in since I originally played it until I believed them all. I should bear in mind that the version I’m playing has dozens of bug-fixes compared to the first American release which immediately alienated a lot of people. I was caught by this one myself as I ordered the Dragon edition (at huge postal expense) on pre-order to get the game as early as possible. This edition was never going to be made available in Europe so the only way I was ever going to get a copy was to import it.
You could argue U9 isn’t a true Ultima I suppose as the RPG elements are very toned down, but they haven’t really been all that significant since Ultima 5. After playing through the entire series, its pretty difficult to say what constitutes a real Ultima game anyway. We’ve got stats of a sort and combat here. The magic system is nicely done – combined with the option to drag spells to my toolbelt for quick casting it works really well. The virtues and dungeons are central to the game. This still feels like an Ultima to me.
I’m actually quite happy with U9’s gameplay as it stands – it could be better but its still fun. Given another few months to squash bugs and another few months (+ an extra CD) to improve the dialog and make a few tweaks and this could have been the series finale everyone expected with the dungeons and world left exactly as they are. What we are left with here is still a brilliant game apart from the bugs. It ticks all the right boxes gameplay wise but ultimately doesn’t really provide the narrative and final conclusion that Ultima fans expect. There are also aspects of the story that I strongly disagree with, but I’ll deal with them when I get to them.
There was a fan made dialog patch for U9 which I’ve never actually tried but I think I’ll add it to my list of Origin related games to have a look at. I’m not sure how much latitude there was for changing the dialog – I know you had to turn off the speech (but this isn’t a bad thing) as it only replaced the text. I don’t know if the patch actually added lines of dialog or just replaced one line for another. If its the former then it would have the potential to transform U9 into the game it should have been.