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