My next stop is going to be Argentrock Isle – I use a map in my clue book to figure out where to go which saves me a lot of searching. The entrance is in the catacombs on the way to stone cove. My key of the Scion opens up the door.
This gets me straight to Argentrock Isle – the map I got with the Ultima Collection cluebook has little annotations on it and shows this as the little island right at the top of the map. This doesn’t bear any relation to where I’ve actually been going. I don’t get why all these locations come off the catacombs anyway. It made sense with the necromancers being in a tomb but why would the only access to the healers be through here. If you can make it to them you didn’t need healing in the first place.
There is the first recall pad I’ve seen for a while in here which I activate. This should save me some walking around later.
Argent Rock is the first new settlement I’ve seen in a long time, with a small collection of houses and a few people to talk to. The population is only around 5 but at least its not another dungeon. Everyone here is a disciple of Stratos the air titan whose powers can be used for healing.
I’m here to learn air magic and volunteer to become enlightened at the first opportunity. I have to pass a series of tests first though. The first of these is a test of wisdom where I have to read about the beliefs and systems of the healers and answer a series of questions.
The monastery has an extensive library full of books I need to read. This give all sorts of examples of virtue and what I should do in a given situation. Stratos seems to be a much more virtuous titan than the last valuing honesty and compassion. Casting resurrection using air magic here costs you your sight I learn though as you have to make a sacrifice of a sense.
The test is easy, once I’ve read all the books. This is just a way to force me to learn the culture of the place more than anything else.
Next up comes the test of centeredness. I’m guessing the writers struggled to come up with a title for this…
This test involves climbing to a high point and Stratos tries to blast me off it with wind.
The high point is just to the NW. As soon as I climb on I’m surrounded by wind. This pushes me in various directions. I have to walk in the opposite one to avoid being pushed over the edge. As long as I don’t try to run this is easy.
I return having passed the test and am sent to find Stellos next.
Stellos has more work for me. I have to create foci which I can use to cast the spells of this order. To do this I need to collect the silver they are made with, from the levels below the monastery, then take this to the blacksmith and finally activate them on the altar.
The levels below the monsastery are accessed through some stairs in a kitchen behind the library. This place is the usual dungeon complete with timing puzzles and the like.
The dungeon is pretty small however and I soon find loads of silver ore in a room to the far east.
I use my recall spell to teleport out of here to Tenebrae and get the blacksmith to make my foci. I have to ask him to make each one at a time (there are a total of 8).
While I’m around, I recall to Mythrans and buy a spell off him. I’ve only got enough money for the one right now. I’ve found things I’d quite like to sell if possible but I’ve not found anywhere sell anything yet so I’m not sure if its possible in U8.
I head back to activate my foci on the altar. I just have to place each one on it. This would be a lot easier if my backpack wasn’t in such a state. I decide to see if I can’t do something about it and sort some of my stuff into bags.
I move all my reagents into one bag and stack them all up. I move potions and scrolls into another and decide I’ll put all my foci into a 3rd after they are activated. This clears up my backpack no end and should save me ages in the long run. It wasn’t exactly entertaining in the meanwhile but its 10 minutes well spent.
I head back to Stellos with the news and he now wants me to go back to the caverns and complete another test. He doesn’t tell me what it is but says I will know what to do.
Down in the caverns to the west is an injured creature. I jump over to it and cast heal on it. The new magic is very simple to use – I just double click on a foci and the foci represents one of eight spells.
I return with the news and get congratulated but now a healing foci has been stolen. It will clearly have to be me that tracks down the villain.
I walk around talking to everyone but don’t learn much. When I return to Stellos, he gives me a bit of detail about one of the people here (Torwin) who is apparently conducting reasearch about combining foci. Torwin isn’t exactly the politist of people here and is the obvious culprit. There are only 4 people to choose from anyway, 1 of them is the guy that has lost the focus, Stellos is clearly not going to be the one so that only leaves the other 2.
The focus was apparently stolen during the night while its owner slept. I’m dropped a hint about using magic to learn the truth.
One of my spells is a hear truth spell. I cast this and talk to the monk in the library. He says one thing and I presumably hear another in brackets afterwards. He thinks Torwin has taken the focus and he has gone to the high point where I took my second test.
I head straight there and find Torwin. In a long cutscene he tells me that his father was the man I saw being executed at the start of the game. He’s too impatient to complete his training and wants to ressurect him. This would involve fetching him from the halls of the dead but since he was sent to the lurker this isn’t even a possibility. He wanted the second foci to attempt to combine both for more power. He won’t listen to reason and attempts the leap of faith to find Stratos.
This doesn’t work out and he plummets to his death. Before leaping he throws away the focus and a ring and I pick both of them up.
I return with the news and now get sent on the final test. I have to take the leap of faith myself and talk to Stratos.
The leap of faith involves jumping all the way to a platform I can only just see to the NW of windy point. Stratos must give me a helping hand as I make it no problem and carry on jumping all the way to the platform infront of Stratos. She sweeps me up in a load of air and I get to talk to her briefly.
Stratos is definitely a kindlier type of titan. She gives me a new focus and also mentions another item which she refuses to give me as it would sever her link with the healers here. I’m clearly going to need this in the long run but I’ll leave it for now. Apart from anything else I expect that would sever my link also and my spells would stop working. My next job is to seek out the water titan.
Today has been a big improvement on the last few days and far more along the lines of what I’d expect from an Ultima. The settlement at Argent Rock is ridiculously small but I’ve got the change in gameplay that I was looking for. There are still minor irritations such as having to create the foci 1 by 1 but the monastery was a lot more interesting than the dungeons that have gone before.
I don’t think the engine copes very well with indoors/outdoors. I’m sure Argent Rock is outside but with walking through the catacombs to get there and the graphics, it feels like its been built inside a giant cave. There are no clouds or weather in Pagan and its always dark. With the whole layout of the world being built around a catacomb hub, I really get the feeling that these areas were all just shoved together in an attempt to get the game released a year earlier than it should have been. Putting together arbitrary dungeons has to be a quick process compared to designing a realistic village complete with characters, dialog, books, schedules, etc… If that is the case then I’m hoping I’m past the filler and onto the meat of the game now.