Every once in a while, I get obsessed with the idea that I'm not playing a game "right"--that I've broken the natural order. I realize this conflicts with my preference for non-linearity, but there it is nonetheless. The last time I played Oblivion, I was about 40 hours into it before I realized I hadn't gone to Anvil yet. I don't know why this bothered me--there was no role-playing reason why I should have gone to Anvil yet--but it just seemed like in previous games, I had somehow gotten to Anvil a lot sooner. It nagged me.
There are a few others. Like in Baldur's Gate II, something feels wrong if I don't solve the Copper Coronet slave quest early. In Might & Magic VI, I just have to go to Castle Ironheart within the first few hours. In Morrowind, if you play the factions in a certain order, you can end up on a quest inside the Ghostfence way before it feels like you ought to be visiting the place. Do you have anything like this, or am I just crazy?
In any event, from the beginning, it feels like I've been playing Ultima V wrong. I tried to role-play it by following Lord British's path early, but I don't think I was "meant" to go into the Underworld until much later. Now I've compounded the error by doing pretty much everything there is to do on the surface before really exploring a single dungeon. And I did all the shrine quests at once instead of spreading them out over the gameplay. I've visited every town, but my characters have only risen a couple of levels. I've talked to every person I can find, but I've yet to cast a single spell except for AN NOX (cure poison) and MANI (heal). It's like I ordered a steak dinner, but I ate all the vegetables before eating all the mashed potatoes before eating all the steak. You're supposed to spread it out a little.
So now I've gotten myself into a situation in which pretty much the only thing to do is go exploring all of the dungeons in succession, with occasional trips to towns for equipment. I'm not complaining, but it just feels...wrong.
For those not interested in my roleplaying angst, here are the things I've accomplished since I last blogged.
- Thanks to reader DGM for pointing out that my lost magic carpet re-appears in Lord British's private quarters. I went and got it immediately. I'll just pretend that Blackthorn gave it back to Lord British's steward, knowing that it didn't belong to him. Yeah.
My poor party trembled and wailed when they saw the fireplace and the charred remnants of their own bodies within.
- I visited Sir Simon's keep, Bordermarch, hidden amidst some mountains west of the main continent. This was a valuable trip for several reasons. First, I learned that I need Lord British's crown, crown jewels, scepter, and amulet to rescue him from the underworld. I have the crown and amulet. I haven't even gotten a clue about the jewels, and the scepter (which dispels fields) apparently resides in the Shadowlords' fortress. Not sure where that is. The crown, incidentally, turns out to negate magic when I put it on in combat. I'm not sure whether this negation stops daemons from summoning each other or possessing my characters, but that sure would be nice.
- While looking around for Sir Simon's, I found the "Island of Sherlock the Strange." No idea what this is about. I searched it and didn't find anything useful.
- In Bordermarch, I also finally found Dupre--I had been wondering where he was--and a character named Sentri joined me. The name seemed familiar, so I searched my notes and found that he's the guy who sold me the Quicksword in Ultima II and was the baron of Serpent's Hold in Ultima IV. Unfortunately, both characters are fighters--including Dupre, who as a paladin had some magic points in IV. My only major character from IV that I haven't found is the mage Mariah. I'm probably going to drop Sentri for Jaana in a bit, because I need more of a pure spellcaster.
- There's a store in Bordermarch that has some awesome equipment, including magic shields, magic bows, regeneration rings, and amulets of turning. I know where I'm going after I max out on magic axes.
- The game kind-of screws you over with guards. Several times, in towns, I've been approached by guards who demand a 70-gold-piece tribute. If I capitulate, I'm a wuss. But if I say no, I get launched into a combat that I can't possibly win. I've generally done a good job of avoiding guards (especially with the carpet), but sometimes I've accidentally run into them.
- The shrine quests were a bit repetitive. Each one required me to first meditate at the shrine, then go to the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom on the Island of the Abyss and read about the associated virtue, then return to the shrine. At this point, I got increases in strength, dexterity, or intelligence depending on the virtue. When I finished the last one, I got a message that: "Beyond Shame's egress is the center of the Underworld. There is a place of darkness. Beyond this darkness lies the gate to the core of the world. When thou art ready, thou must call forth 'Veramocor' to unlock the gate and venture past ethereal wards and stealers of souls. That which the world has lost awaits thy coming."
And I interpreted it without consulting the guide once. I feel like those people who learn to speak Klingon.
- I'm not sure the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom really lives up to its name. All that it offers are mediocre platitudes about living a virtuous life, like some alternate-dimension edition of The Eight Habits of Highly Virtuous People.
- An urn containing Shamino's ashes apparently has found its way to the Codex, though. It appears there and at every shrine--a constant reminder of my failure. Thanks, Codex.
I almost want to find out what happens if I keep going back to Blackthorn's and getting characters executed. Do I get a whole line of urns?
- I'm getting very, very sick of sea battles. I don't have much in the way of missile weapons, so I have to pelt the monsters with slings or wait until they deign to come within striking distance of one of the ship's openings. Unlike land battles, there's no way to escape. I've lost a few characters that way, and resurrection is expensive. On the other hand, sharks are an experience gimme. They have no missile attack, so I can hand a sling to my least experienced character and take them out one by one with no danger to myself.
- On some island keep, a Lord Segallion, an ex-pirate, gave me a spyglass so I could track the planets and comets at any time.
- Like the lighthouse with the two strange keepers, a few of the other keeps have baffled me a bit. One was called Windmere, and seemed to be populated with a bunch of people loyal to Blackthorn, but I couldn't get anything useful out of them. There was a sign outside the keep warning of "rodents of unusual size." I looked it up, and The Princess Bride predates Ultima V by a year. That surprised me. Ultima V feels older.
- I have information about where to find the Shard of Cowardice and the Shard of Falsehood. I'm just not 100% sure what to do with them when I find them, nor where to find the Shard of Hatred.
So I'm still stuck on the scepter and the crown jewels and the shard, but rather than go around asking everyone about them randomly, I'm going to explore the dungeons, gain some levels, cast some spells, and earn enough money for some magic axes. I have three postings half-written about dungeons, combat, and magic, and I want some more experience with all of them before I put them out. After that, I suppose it will be time for a second overland voyage, picking up any clues I've missed and visiting any towns and keeps I haven't already found (I'm sure there are some, but I need more gems to fully explore).
Despite my misgivings about the order in which I've done things, the game really is a joy. As I said in a comment a few days ago, I think it's the pinnacle of the isometric, tile-based genre, in both the variety of terrain (indoors and outdoors), objects, and the ways you can interact with them. [Later edit: my use of "isometric" was incorrect here. See comments.] The NPCs are also fairly amazing for the era. In most games of the time, you have barely any interaction with NPCs, and when you do, they're always found in the same place. Here we have NPCs that keep daily schedules and who are crucial to your understanding of the game world and the main quest. Both Richard Garriott and Origin had some clunkers, but they never stopped innovating.