Ultima 7 – PC Review

I was leafing through a few more old magazines and found this one page review of Ultima 7 in the July 1992 edition of PC Review (click on the scan to see it full size). It’s harsh to say the least but does give an idea of the bugs people had to cope with at the time. You expected a game to work out of the box back in those days when getting a patch meant the manufacturer mailing it to you on a floppy. 4 out of 10 though? Omar Shariff’s Bridge got 6 out of 10 in this same issue…..


Day 88

I headed straight for Bucaneers Den. The effect of the cube was immediately evident from the first guy I talk to who tells me that the Crown Jewel makes regular trips here and has just gone to the Isle of the Avatar.

Danag at the fellowship hall is just full of information now. The fellowships special project at the moment is building the black gate for the guardian to come through. I will need Hooks key to get it which I can find in the caverns behind the house of games.

Hook is nowhere to be seen but inside a locked chest I find a list of murder victims with myself and LB next up. I also get the key to the black gate caverns here.

While I’m here I have a look around these caverns in Bucanneers Den. Considering the item I actually needed was right at the start they are pretty extensive and connect to all the main fellowship buildings in town.

The fellowship even have a torture room down here complete with a few prisoners and a troll/orc torturer.

After following the caverns for long enough I get to the back of the baths. There is enough money here to supply me for the whole game but I really don’t need it. There doesn’t seem to be anything to accomplish here so I leave for the Isle of the Avatar.

I find the altar easily enough, the codex isn’t here any more of course and there is just a note explaining how to view it now.

Off to the side I find a giant stone throne the guardian is planning on using.

Flicking a switch behind a secret wall to the NW gets me into another dungeon. The whole of the island is pretty much taken up with this place so it takes a bit of navigating.

The trickiest of the puzzles in here involves sitting on a “throne of change” which appears to do nothing but actually teleports me to one of several identical locations. Its simple enough once you realise its teleporting you.

I find another throne which makes the throne of change teleport me to the final location.

So days after starting out I finally find the black gate.

All the main protagonists are here so I finally catch up with Elizabeth and Abraham after chasing them around the whole game.

After a few brief words the final battle starts and is pretty easy. A couple of my companions die but I resurrect them after its over. Batlin runs away to no doubt show up again in Serpent Isle. I place the three prisms on the pedastels around the gate, use the wand on it and it triggers the end cut scene.

The last cutscene is superb. It doesn’t last long but the music, acting and graphics are probably better than the introduction. Its a fitting end and while blatantly plugging the sequel it doesn’t leave me feeling short changed.

 Now I’ve finished the game I thought I’d put a few thoughts about it up here. I won’t attempt a detailed review as there have been plenty of them already.

For some reason I never really got sucked into this game in the same way as the previous Ultima’s. I never got bored but somehow there didn’t seem to be too much incentive to push on. Its hard to say why this was but my guess would be that the overall plot of the game just doesn’t play that big a part in things. You spend far more time just talking to people who have a lot to say, none of which really affects the game overall. This isn’t a bad thing as such but the actual story in this game is probably more basic than some of the older games like Ultima 5. For me this is a game to play over a long period of time and just slowly explore the world rather than just concentrating on trying to get to the end. I do like my story based games so its perhaps not the best suited to my temperament of the series so far.

As good as the new engine is, there were quite a few minor annoyances which probably contributed to me not playing it for all these years. The inventory system almost seems like a step backwards. Rooting around for items in backpacks is just a pain in the neck and the contents shift around by themselves all the time so I can’t attempt to organise them. I really struggled with being able to carry enough also – its hard to know what could be important so I don’t like to leave stuff behind. A couple of other minor things – to attempt to go into a situation with 1 character I have to ask every party member to leave one by one. There is a similar problem getting LB to heal the party one member at a time. These are steps backwards from Ultima 6.

Ultima 5 was too combat intensive for my liking. The Ultima 6 engine games got this about right offering full control of the avatar with the other characters sorting themselves out. Here, I think it went too far the other way. Combat was just a case of hit ‘C’ and hope for the best with little feeling for what was going on. The fights tend to be dead quick as everything (my party included) seems to die in no time. When I played the forge of virtue pack right at the start of the game, I complained that it was essentially an authorised cheat to make the combat easier. With hindsight now, the combat just gets in the way in Ultima 7 and something that makes it easier is definitely a good thing.

I don’t know if its the easy combat or smaller dungeons but Ultima 7 didn’t have the epic feeling that the earlier games did. Making your way through the abyss at the end of Ultima 4 or 2 dungeons in a row in Ultima 5 at the end of the game feels like a major achievement requiring preparation, tactics, learning the dungeon and quite a bit of luck. There is a real forboding feeling about taking on some of these dungeons and its just not there in Ultima 7.

This isn’t really an RPG as I understand the definition. Tangled Tales was described as an adventure/lite RPG and I would class that game as having a similar degree of RPG-ness to this. It is definitely closer to an adventure game where walking around the world, talking to everyone and using the right items in the right places are the most important aspects. Each Ultima has been an incremental change from the one before it but after so many games this is simply miles away from the series roots.

Despite my minor gripes, Ultima 7 was definitely an amazing achievement. The size and detail of the world is just incredible and I’m sure I’ll go back to pick up some of the bits I missed at some point. I know some long term fans didn’t like the game much.  Its curious how some people can regard this as one of the greatest games of all time and others see Ultima 6 or even Ultima 5 as the last one thats worth playing. I can understand this point of view but the fact that the series changed along the way is probably what kept it alive for so long.

I’m hoping that Serpent Isle which was headed by Warren Spector will be more story led (in the manner of his last game Martian Dreams) and if thats the case it has the potential to be my favorite of the lot. I remember the reviews at the time seemed to rank Serpent Isle as the better of the two games but I never even got started playing it.

Next: Wing Commander Academy

Days 86 & 87

I set out to find Despise. The description NW of Britain was quite vague to say the least. I end up going all the way through the Serpent Spine mountains and around the top of them and do find a dungeon entrance after a while. Shamino doesn’t give  me a name for this dungeon when we get near which isn’t promising but I have a look anyway. This dungeon turns out to be pretty huge so I assume I’ve got the right place but after a lot of walking around I get to a locked door I don’t have a key for. There is a mage behind this door who is lost and wants to know the way out. I tell him, he disappears and I still can’t get through the door. With nothing left to do I make my way out and look for another dungeon. What makes me think this may not be the right one is the mention of the magic carpet from earlier being at the entrance to Despise and I haven’t seen it.

I find a really narrow path by the side of a river nearby and follow this along.

Sure enough there is a magic carpet at the end of it. Its not quite what I expected I have to say – its a little big to carry around unlike the Ultima 5 one. There is also the entrance to Despise at last. It took me about 1-2 hours to play to here in this session without really achieving much so I held off on posting until I had more to say.

Despise turns out to be smaller than the dungeon I was just in if anything. I stumble across some sort of invasion party intending to attack LB’s castle but we wipe them out pretty easily. They have some nice equipment including a complete set of magic armour.

After a bit of walking around I come across a red moongate which looks highly suspicious. If I walk into it I get teleported back a few steps so I cast mark here. (The first time I actually walk straight through in an obvious bug!)

Walking round the side, I can see the sphere so this is definitely the right place. I exit the dungeon via a convenient teleport.

This brings me back to Britain. I mention the guardian to LB but he doesn’t seem to believe me.

As instructed I go back to ask the time lord how to get to the sphere. I need to get an enchanted hourglass from Nicodemus it seems.

Nicodemus has sold his hourglass but I can buy it in Paws cheaply so this is easily solved. Getting it enchanted is another matter.

The moongate from the timelords drops me in Moonglow this time. I’ve not been here before so I take the time to look around.

There is an animated model of the planets here which doesn’t seem to serve any purpose that I can see.

The lycaeum is full of books each of which can be read although I’ve pretty much skipped reading the books while playing this.

Penumbra the mage is still around having put herself into a sleep for 200 years to await my return. I need to solve a series of clues to get into her house though. These are just a series of objects to find. The first clue above “Hammer here to enter” means I have to find a hammer and drop it on the ground. I don’t have one with me so I carry on looking around Moonglow.

Nelson in the observatory says he can make a viewer for me if I fetch him a crystal. I’ve no idea why I need this but the guy in the pub has already offered to sell me a crystal so I know how to get it if I want it.

I find a hammer in one of the house and take it back. The plaque changes to a different object which I have to find.

The fellowship here is about as trustworthy as ever. The leader here is being usurped by his assistant and gets me to unwittingly deliver some poisoned wine. I don’t know if there is any way to catch him out in this crime but he gets away with it for now by denying knowledge.

A lot of objects later I get into Penumbra’s house. I wake her using a potion lying on the table.

She can’t think straight presumably for the same reason as all the other mages and wants me to fetch some blackrock to make a shield.

There is blackrock aplenty in Cove. I get four pieces and put them on each pedastle.

Shes not done with sending me on errands yet. The generator causing the problems with magic is in the nearby dungeon but I can’t do anything about it without some ring I need to fetch from Terfin.

The gargoyles have embraced the fellowship like everyone else it seems although they also still have their old shrines. I pretty much ignore any side quests here and head straight for Lord Draxinusum.

Nothing in Britannia is ever simple and he has sold the ring to the Sultan of Spectran. That is a new island just to the NW. I sail over to take a look.

The Sultan is quite mad and talks to an invisible harem. He will let me take what I want on the bright side but seems a bit too jovial about that.

Sure enough a “rock hard” stone harpy attacks as soon as I approach his vault. This thing is tough. I try a few strategies after getting my party wiped out several times. The one that seems to work is just giving Iolo a magic bow + magic arrows. As soon as I did that we took the harpy down in no time. I take the ring from the vault.

Penumbra enchants the ring and I set off to the dungeon to shut down the generator.

The dungeon is quite brief really and not too hard. I have to instruct my companions to wait when I get close. The generator sends constant lightning bolts against me but they don’t hurt whilst wearing the ring.

Inside the generator is a big red monster. I use the death power of the sword to take it out in one hit. Using the little box destroys the generator.

I regather my party and we head back to Yew to get the hourglass enchanted. I recall straight back to the sphere. Inside this one is a series of moongates where I have to pick one of 2 each time in the correct order to reach the end. This is really easy and I make it in a couple of attempts (although I’m possibly just lucky here).

After destroying the sphere the time lord chimes in with a load of new information. I need something to destroy blackrock – I’m still carrying rudyoms wand around so thats not a problem. There is another generator to destroy at the fellowship retreat – this is the one that transmits the guardians voice.

After that I need to head for Bucaneers Den it would seem. Before any of this I decide to head for Jhelom. I’ve gone through most of the game here and still not picked Dupre up.

I’ve missed Elizabeth and Abraham yet again in Jhelom. I’ve pretty much stopped trying to find them anyway – it seems like a wild goose chase.

Dupre is hanging around the pub as ever on a survey of Britannias pubs. I get him to join up.

The obligatory local crisis I have to solve in Jhelom this time involves the owner of the pub who has managed to steal the standard of honor, hand it to a thief and accepted three duels with the hardest fighters in Jhelom.

I find an old fighter who suggests we make a fake flag to get around this problem. Unfortunately he takes forever to finish it by which point I’ve been attacked by the duellists and had to wipe them out. It solved the problem at any rate….

Why he didn’t tell me this at the time I don’t know but I can’t get to the generator without a caddelite helmet. Caddelite comes from meteors so I need to find one of these. The observatory has to be the place to go.

Nelson is pretty helpful and points me in the right direction.

The meteor landed on Ambrosia (is this the place from Ultima 3?). Its somewhere in the NE of the map apparently so I go looking for it.

It doesn’t take much finding. There is an over-friendly sprite called Kissme here who confirms I’m in the right place.

The cadellite is guarded by a fearsom looking hydra..

It dies in about 1 second and isn’t half as tough as I expected. The corpse contains its last 2 meals.

The caddellite meteor is just to the south. I take a few lumps of the rock.

Zorn in Minoc makes me some helmets free of charge so its back to the fellowship retreat.

Inside the final generator is a strange maze. Paths or traps pop up when I step in certain places. The path through is complicated but there is pretty much only ever one option so its not that hard to get to the middle.

After destroying this final generator the time lord pipes up again. The small cube I get by destroying this big one will work on fellowship members to make them tell me the truth. This sounds seriously useful – I should really head from Britain and try this out on Batlin but he advises me to go to Bucaneers Den which is what I’m going to do next.

Day 85

This is my first post in a few days. I’ve not exactly had much time and also got distracted this weekend by a request to update one of my other projects (an audio enhancement for a few games which I hacked into scummVM).  This meant setting up a PSP development environment which takes near enough a full day of compiling and tweaking. Anyway thats out of the way now, so its back to Ultima.

Last time I played I’d just been told to fetch a bar to complete this soul cage at the blacksmiths. The bars are very close by in the cemetary railings. I hand one over and he finishes the cage.

Mordra gives me the required instructions to banish the liche. Step 1 involves taking all her potions from her house and combining them into the fireball potion.

The gadget for doing this is at the tortured ones place. I hook up each flask, put an empty one at the other end, light the burner and get my fireball potion.

I also need to dip the cage in the well of souls. This is behind a false wall at the back of the dark tower.

Thats everything in place but I can’t use the cage until midnight when Horance summons everyone to the tower. A lot of waiting later everyone appears at the tower lying still on all the slabs.

I slap the cage on Horance and use the potion.

Rather than killing Horance outright this just banishes the evil spirit from his body and he becomes himself again. I may have just saved his soul but just like everyone else he still has a quest or two for me.  First I have to take the blacksmiths wife back to him.

This part is simple enough.

Next I need to find someone who will go into the well of souls and sacrifice themselves to release all the souls within. He suggests I ask the mayor, but the mayor wants me to ask everyone else first.

While I’m asking everyone, I take the chance to get my reward from Caine. There are no answers to life and death after all – that was worth the effort then….

No one volunteers so I go back to the mayor and he agrees to do the job himself.

I lead him to the well, he jumps in (eventually) and all the souls are freed.

Horance rewards me with his staff. This weapon shoots fireballs and is quite powerful but I’ve not quite decided how useful it is yet as Iolo tends to shoot other people with it in combat.

Thats everything in Skara Brae done. I hitch the ferry back and sail all the way back to New Magincia with the “answer”.

Rather than just handing over the notebook, I have to fetch it myself from the mysterious building to the south. This is a small maze of secret walls, levers, teleports and the like.

It doesn’t prove to be too difficult and I get the end 10 minutes later. The room with the notebook is out of reach so I stack the convenient crates to make steps.

Horances notebook turns out to be more interesting than expected.  Its a detailed critique of the fellowships principles which pretty much states what should be apparent to anyone whos made it this far in the game.

More than this, it also says that the fellowship is being controlled by the guardian who is attempting to take over Britannia and that Batlin, Elizabeth and Abraham are his lieutenants. Its tempting to go over to Britain and take out Batlin but I expect that isn’t an option so I’ll stick with the quests which means taking this notebook to the wisps.

The wisps give me some further information. The guardian is some sort of creature from another dimension who has already conquered other worlds and will destroy Britannia if he can. He is attempting to come here through some sort of black moongate (which is where the title of the game comes in at last).

The wisp also tells me how to reach the timelord. All I have to do is use the moonstone to the NW which seems far too easy.

It works though and I get teleported to some sort of tiny shrine in a void. The time lord has been trapped here by the guardian in some sort of time fold.

The time lord doesn’t say a lot about himself – his job is to help time flow in some manner. He was the one who summoned me from Britannia in the first place but didn’t mean to drop me in Trinsic.

He gives me my next quest. There is some sort of generator in Despise NW of Britain and I need to destroy it. He hints that I won’t be able to do this but I can come back and ask him how if that is the case. He even goes as far as to tell me to use recall spells so I don’t have to do the whole dungeon again which suggests to me that Despise is going to be tough. I should really take the notebook back first I suppose. I’ll see how I feel about that next time I play – I think there is some sort of reward but I don’t really need any more weapons.

This was the session where I finally found out what is really going on in Britannia. You can pick guess of this stuff up along the way from whats happening in the towns but I like the way you see the effects on the world of the fellowship and a chance to make up your own mind before being told outright. 

Day 84

The hardest part of getting the logger to sign the contract turns out to be finding him. I wander backwards and forwards for ages before finally finding him at the SW of Yew fairly near the sea. He agrees to sign up straight away once I explain things.

I take the contract back and get the leaders permission.

Trelleks wife has now changed her mind and won’t let him join me. She suggests an alternative once I tell her why I need his help and Trellek makes a whistle which I can use to contact the wisps.

I go to the building with the wisps, blow my whistle and the wisp comes over and talks to me. The time lord wants to speak with me but nothing is ever that easy.

The wisps want some information first. I need to go to New Magincia and get Alagnars notebook and they will exchange this for the details of how I can speak to the time lord.

Before I go to New Magincia I go back to Cove to tell Natassia about her father. I get the offer of settling down in Cove but there’s a murderer to track down first.

I sail off to New Magincia. This is a fairly quiet town although there are a few shipwrecked pirates who seem quite out of place here. I find Alagnar but he won’t just give me his notebook. 

I have to first prove my thirst for knowledge by asking the tortured one at Skara Brae for the answers to life and death.

Instead of heading straight over to Skara Brae I call in on Bucaneers Den on the way past to see if I can track down hook. One of the pirates tells me that the Crown Jewel stops around here regularly which sounds promising.

There is a house of games here where I can gamble. I get strong hints that fellowship members always win but I don’t notice it myself when I have a a go. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot to do here. I don’t get any leads on hook as everyone denies knowing him. The fellowship is obviously as corrupt here as everywhere else. The baths are obviously a brothel and the house of games is just a crooked casino but the head of the fellowship here describes them in a very different light. Since there isn’t much to do here, I’ve decided I’ll just go to places where I know I have quests from now on. I’ll no doubt need to come back here later.

To get to Skara Brae I need to use a ferry. The ferryman refuses to talk to me until I use the seance spell. After this he takes me to the island for 2 gold.

Skara Brae has been completely wiped out. At some point a mage here turned to evil and became a liche. In the attempt to destroy him one of the town members created a huge fireball which killed the whole town. Now the spirits of these people haunt the town, slaves to the liches call.

There was some sort of plan to kill the liche, involving a soul cage and a less powerful version of the magic fireball that killed everyone. A ghostly blacksmith is still working on the soul cage but is too mad to even realise he is dead. Working on a hint from another ghost, I take a music box he gave to his wife from his smithy. His wife is now enslaved by Horance the Liche but wakes briefly when I play the box.

She gives me a message and ring to take back to the blacksmith before going back into the trance.

The blacksmith regains his composure when I give him the ring. He sends me off to get him an iron bar to complete his cage. I’m clearly going to have to destroy this liche before I can get any answers from the tortured one. The tortured one turns out to be the guy who created the fireball that wiped the town out. He blames himself although it appears that the mayor told him the wrong ingredients so is really the one at fault.

I think I’ve talked to everyone in town at this point although I’ve not seen Horance himself yet so I’ll get the cage finished next and see if anyone offers any more information on  liche killing.