Ultima The Technocrat War Book 2 – Masquerade

Apologies for the lack of updates recently. I’ll go into the reasons why later, but I’ll stick to the subject of the post first which is the second book in the Technocrat Wars series, Masquerade. This was published by Pocket Books in 2001.

The book picks up two years after the events of the previous one. The war against the Technocrats is still raging in Jukaran. Both Thullan and Montenegro are amongst the battles searching for information about the enemy, and their paths cross when hunting down some schematics for a Technocrat weapon. In the middle of this, the saboteur Raveka is still on the run from Thullan, whilst trying to stop them getting the plans. There is an unlikely romance brewing between her and Montenegro and he is helping her to keep Thullan at bay whilst keeping the plans for himself.

There are a lot of twists and turns in the plot, but most of it is based around 2 central points. The first of these is the super-weapon that the plans belong to called Braum’s Needle, which is being built by the Technocrats to attack Britannia. This is a giant airship which creates a monstrous hurricane around itself. Much of the book deals with the attempts to defeat this behemoth.

The second major plot device is a pact between 4 high-ranking members of the various factions involved in the war. They are trying to maneuver events to benefit each other, but possibly have the interests of their own races in mind as well. This is definitely a book where nearly all the characters in it are in shades of grey. Even the Technocrats themselves don’t necessarily come off as evil, and appear to want peace with the exception of their leader Blackthorn (who doesn’t appear in this novel). The novel is definitely at its strongest when dealing with these characters and their relationships although there is plenty of action also.

The journey of the main characters is continued and Montengro and Thulann have an even rougher time of it than in the first novel. They both come out of the book worse for wear in some ways, but possibly wiser for their experiences.

In the nature of most fantasy that I’ve read, the second novel tended to spread out and follow some of the other characters, with part of the novel following the adventures of the thief/minstrel Toria who was under the care of Thulann at the end of the last novel. It stays focused however, and all the individual paths interweave throughout the tale so it never strayed far from the central plot.

I very much enjoyed Masquerade and it’s at least as good as the first entry in the series. The story moves along rapidly and it would take a lengthy explanation on here to cover all aspects of it. I’m not normally wary of spoilers on this blog given the nature of all those playthroughs on this site but I’ll try not to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t read it yet. I will say the book doesn’t have an entirely satisfactory ending but it’s not too much of a cliffhanger for the middle book of a trilogy and sets up the next book nicely.

These books have been head and shoulders above the Ultima Saga, and barring something going wrong in the final part, they are my clear favourite from the novels produced from Origin games. I’ve enjoyed them enough to seek out more books by Austen Andrews but it appears that this trilogy is the lot unfortunately. I’ll have to make the most of the last part which will be coming up as soon as I make the time to read it.

To get back to the reason for the delay in posting, apart from holidays, it’s mainly due to other gaming distractions. The Steam Summer sale has certainly contributed to this. Some of the prices were too good to refuse and I’ve bought a stack of games on there which have been keeping me occupied.

Before the Steam sale started, I’d been playing Darkstar (Website) which I’ll give a mention to. This is a fairly new indie adventure game and is a complete throwback to the days of FMV adventures like The Journeyman Project or numerous others. The scale is unprecedented with 13 hours of FMV and the production quality of the video is great, but the actual game engine and gameplay is less polished. It hasn’t learned any lessons from the games of that time and it really does feel like a throwback to the mid 90’s as a result. For instance, you would be hard pushed to find an adventure gamer who ever wanted to see another maze of any sort, let alone one with unskippable FMV every time you move. If you can see past its weaknesses, then Darkstar is still well worth looking into, if like me you enjoy this style of game. Where else are you going to find a new FMV extravaganza these days? If nothing else, any indie developer showing this level of ambition deserves supporting.

I’ve also been reading the book recently published by hardcoregaming101 on classic adventure games. This is a giant collection of reviews and interviews covering as far as I can tell every major and most not so major adventure game before 2000 and many later titles also. It’s basically the definitive book on adventure games and is a great coffee table book for when you have a few minutes to kill. I’ve only read through the section on Sierra games so far (about 200 pages) but the reviews are well balanced and detailed. I’m expecting to find a few things to put on the shopping list when I get to the less familiar games but it’s already made me want to dig out the Sierra titles that I never found the time to play.

I had been planning on playing Freelancer for the blog after Darkstar but that’s on hold for the moment and I’ll stick with the books. I’ve only got 3 left from my original list but I have picked up the guides for most of the non Origin games I’ve played through on here namely Deus Ex 1 & 2, System Shock 2, Freelancer, Thief 2 and Terra Nova which will be making an appearance eventually. It will probably be one of those next before I start on the final Technocrat War novel.

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