Usually, my CRPG addiction is manageable, but yesterday I utterly succumbed. I played Ultima V from sunup to way past sundown, logging more hours in a single day than I had played in the entirety up to this point. I didn't win, but either I'm very close or insanely far away--more on this at the end.
The day was taken up by two tasks: first, a systematic exploration of the surface of Britannia, in which I entered every town and building, generally for the second time, and asked every person I could about the Shadowlords and Lord British's scepter. This bore fruit, but it was tedious. The second task was to explore each of the seven dungeons (if there's a dungeon that's the antithesis of humility, I can't find it) and the parts of the Underworld beneath them.
Although these tasks were interspersed with each other, let me describe it in logical order. First, my discussions with NPCs led to some revelations about the Shadowlords and their associated Shards of Cowardice, Falsehood, and Hate. It seems that the shards are actually the broken pieces of Mondain's gem, which I had to destroy in the first Ultima game. I got this from a guy named Sutek on an island I had previously overlooked.
As soon as he said this, I remembered this facet of the game from my previous experience with it, more than 15 years ago, but I had completely forgotten about it until now.
But why did the Shadowlords so recently appear? Well, it turns out that a ship and its crew got sucked into a whirpool and deposited in the Underworld, where they found the shards. They were so evil that they drove the ship's captain, Johne, to kill his three companions. The three Shadowlords sprang "from their blood"--one suspects this is a fanciful way of saying that the shards possessed the corpses of the three murdered crewmembers. I got all this from Johne himself, whom I found living in the remains of his ship beneath the dungeon Despise.
This raises a host of questions. Was Mondain's gem sentient? Are the Shadowlords really facets of Mondain himself? That would certainly explain his hatred of Lord British. How did the Shards get into the Underworld to begin with? (My favorite theory: Lord British gave them to some ship's captain to throw into the ocean, and he tossed them into a whirlpool, assuming they'd end up on the bottom of the sea.)
Anyway, the aforementioned Sutek went on to explain that I needed to destroy the three Shards by casting them in the Flames of Truth, Love, and Courage, which are found in the three keeps (The Lycaeum, Empath Abbey, and Serpent's Hold), but only after calling the associated Shadowlords' names and making sure they were standing on top of the flame when I destroyed the gem.
All of this, of course, first meant finding the three shards in the midst of the Underworld. This took a lot of time, first in getting to the Underworld from the surface, via the dungeons, and second in exploring the Underworld itself. The Underworld isn't like the surface; it's not a contiguous landmass. Instead, it's a series of "pockets," some of which connect to each other and some of which don't. I had some idea where to find the shards based on visions from NPCs, including detailed directions for one and specific coordinates for the other two--but this was of limited utility, since the sextant doesn't work in the Underworld, so I had to try to find the coordinates by using the dungeons' egresses as relative positions. It took a while. [Later edit: it would have taken less time, as PetrusOctavianus points out in the comments, if I'd noted the existence of a simple Level 2 spell.]
Before I get into the dungeons, I'll just mention that after talking to several characters, I found the location of the Shadowlords' surface keep, Stonegate, where they were keeping Lord British's scepter. After getting past a daemon who offered to let me pass by answering a riddle and then attacked me anyway when I got the answer right, I used my magic carpet to dodge the three Shadowlords and grab the scepter. It came in handy in the dungeons, as it dispels poison, sleep, and energy fields.
Okay, let's talk about the dungeons. They're well designed and would have been a lot more fun if I hadn't insisted on exploring them all at once in a marathon session. I technically only needed to explore three to get the shards, but to get the full experience, I traversed each one in turn (and good thing I did, or I never would have found Johne). There are seven--each named something that indicates the opposite of an associated virtue (Deceit, Despise, Destard, Wrong, Shame, Covetous, and Hythloth--yeah, okay, the last one doesn't work). Each one has a sort of "theme" attached to it. For instance, Wrong is a prison and has "cells" in the rooms; Covetous is a catacomb and is filled with undead; and Despise is more of a cave with few rooms and lots of animal enemies. These variations meant different textures, enemies, and styles to the rooms.
Some varied notes on the dungeons and dungeon exploration:
- Each one has eight levels, but none progress directly from Level 1 to Level 8. There are rooms on upper levels only accessible from lower ones, and it's better to think of each dungeon as a unified maze rather than a series of levels.
- UUS POR and DES POR--this game's equivalent of the (Y)up and (Z)down spells from Ultima IV--are nearly worthless. They almost always failed on me. And there's no equivalent to Ultima IV's (X)it spell, meaning that I mostly had to retrace my steps from the bottom to the top.
- There are a lot of pit traps. You have to check gems frequently or just make a habit of searching squares before going forward.
- As in Ultima III and Ultima IV, some mysterious benefactor has erected healing fountains in many of the dungeons, which fully restore health. There are occasionally poison fountains, too.
- There are chests in some corridors, but nothing like the respawning treasure levels in III and IV.
- Dungeon rooms do not respawn, not even after you leave the dungeon and return. However, if you leave a room incomplete by failing to kill all of the enemies, upon return you find the room "reset" with all the original enemies and treasure in place. If I wasn't already getting rich without cheating, an easy way to cheat would be to loot each room but leave one enemy alive, leave, return, and do it again. It would also be an easy way to build experience.
- Lord British's crown was vital. Donning it cancels all magic in the area, which means that dragons can't summon daemons, daemons can't possess you, ghosts can't turn invisible, wisps can't possess you or teleport, and gazers and reapers have no attacks. For this reason, reapers became my favorite monster in the game. With the crown active, they can't attack, they can't move, they drop loads of treasure, and they offer a lot of experience.
- The crown is a double-edged sword, though. Very often, a room will have wisps trapped behind the walls. With the crown active, they can't teleport out, and thus you can't kill them and clear the room. However, if you take the crown off, you run the very likely risk of a wisp possessing a party member--a condition that takes forever to wear off. Thus, wisps join my list of most annoying CRPG enemies of all time (I'll update it when I remember to take a screen shot).
- The most difficult creatures I've found in the game are gargoyles. They divide like slimes every time you hit them, but their attack is far worse than slimes--far worse than most monsters in the game, actually. I lost my Avatar in the battle below and had to flee the screen.
I would note here that these "gargoyles" are clearly made of stone and actually leave piles of stone when they die. This will become important in the next game.
- I encountered several rooms, like the one below, that had multiple dragons or daemons, who would have wiped me out if not for my rings and potions of invisibility. Invisibility is almost a game-breaker in Ultima V. Creatures utterly ignore invisible characters, even when they attack. An easy strategy is to have all characters except one flee the room, equip the last with a ring of invisibility, and then just walk around massacring things. It gets even worse, actually--if an invisible character is the only character in the room, the game seems to set all of the enemies' statuses to "critical"--one hit kills them. Fortunately, the rings disappear after a short amount of use, so you can't completely abuse them.
- The rooms are full of secret triggers that open up new areas. To fully explore a room and ensure that you've gotten all the triggers, you have to: 1) step on all the squares; 2) study the walls for secret doors; 3) (K)limb on any rocks; 4) (P)ush rocks, pillars, and objects; and 5) attack all walls and objects. Fortunately, it's usually clear when there's something left to discover.
To give you a sense of the dungeon rooms and the "triggers," I recorded my progress through one of the rooms below. As I enter, I need to get through it to the ladder at the bottom, and the way seems blocked. The video shows the different things I try to find the triggers, as well as several combats. When the dragon appears, my 57-hp Avatar seems on the verge of death, but I equip my ring of invisibility and am able to take him out. On the second dragon, I get sick of how long it's taking, so I send the rest of my characters out the door and kill the dragon in one hit. The treasure that one of them dropped is so plentiful there's actually a chest within the chest.
After cleaning up from the dragons, I leave, grab my party, and head back into the room, hitting the triggers to take the latter down. After that, I do a little Underworld exploration before I remember I'm still recording a video.
I found the three Shards beneath Covetous, Hythloth, and Deceit. Each took quite a bit of exploration and a lot of gems (fortunately, many of the dungeon rooms had piles of them). My grapple came in handy, but there were a lot of peaks I couldn't cross, necessitating the use of the IN POR ("blink") spell to move about.
Finding the Shard of Cowardice beneath Hythloth took about an hour by itself, and I was on my last IN POR when I finally found it. Fortunately, I had capitulated and brought some of the moonstones with me, so I was able to make a gate to get out of there. From now on, poor bastards thinking they're traveling from Minoc to Britain are going to end up in the middle of a dark cave. I hope someone erects a warning sign.
Once I had the three Shards, destroying them--and the Shadowlords--was fairly easy. I made a short video of it below. I had to walk up to each flame, (Y)ell the associated Shadowlord's name to make him appear, wait one turn so he would walk into the flame on his way to attack me, and then (U)se the Shard to cast it into the flame. Within a few minutes, all three Shadowlords were dead! It would feel like more of a triumph if they'd really been difficult enemies throughout the game, but frankly I was able to avoid them fairly easily.
My dungeon explorations made me rich beyond all dreams of avarice. The maximum amount of gold you can carry is 9,999, and I reached this several times. I bought magic axes and magic shields for everyone (about 22,000 gold total); bought 99 of every reagent, mixed a ton of spells, and bought 99 of each reagent again; bought five or six ships to leave scattered around Britannia; and stocked up on more than 5,000 units of food. And I still have a ton of gold left.
The message at the end of the shrine quests told me that the final dungeon is in the Underworld near the exit from Shame. I did explore Shame, and when I got out, I immediately planted a moonstone so I'd be able to travel quickly back to that part of the Underworld when I was ready for the endgame.
So how ready am I? Well, I certainly have enough equipment, reagents, and money, and I think I've done all the stuff I need to do, and gathered all the equipment I need, to hit the final dungeon. The problem is, my Avatar is only Level 6, and the other characters are only Level 5. That means I'm lacking two whole spell levels. I'm not sure how much experience I need for Level 8, but I think I needed 100 for Level 2, 200 for Level 3, 400 for Level 4, 800 for Level 5, and 1,600 for Level 6. That would suggest that Level 7 comes at 3,200 and Level 8 at 6,400. That's going to take a long, long time. I might just attempt the final dungeon now and see how hard it is.