Ultima VI ended up consisting of three major "acts":
1. Visiting each town, getting the runes, and liberating the shrines
2. Collecting the pieces of the treasure map to find the silver tablet and translate the Book of Prophecies
3. Going to the gargoyle world, learning about them, and finding a way to "sacrifice" the Codex back to the void
The game, however, is far from linear. You could do the pieces of #1 at any point, and as we've seen, #2 is almost entirely optional.
You do have to hit the gargoyle world in the right order, though. If you just blunder into it (such as with the Orb of Moons), you just get into fights where you end up killing important NPCs. You have to learn Gargish, have a garogyle in your party, and agree to wear the Amulet of Submission (in that order) to survive.
I'm afraid this is going to be a bit long.
Stranger in a Strange Land
The gargoyle world is accessed through the dungeon Hythloth on the Isle of the Avatar. Like most other dungeons, it's four levels, reasonably hard, with a dragon or two before the exit. There were also several areas where the entire party was forced to walk across lava.
|I never said it would be easy, men.|
At the bottom level, I ran into Captain John, who the gypsies had told me about. He's been living there for a while, studying the gargoyles and befriending a young gargoyle named Beh Lem. He was distressed that the silver tablet had reached Mariah via a round-about route, but he was happy that I had come. He related that the gargoyle world has been slowly disintegrating and only one city (conveniently containing all of the shrines) remains.
|It would be nice if people would stop blaming me for everything.|
John gave me a scroll that "contains a basic vocabulary of the Gargoyle language." All I had to do was (U)se it, and suddenly I was fluent in Gargish.
|I wish Italian was this easy.|
Hythloth exited near John's house, and right outside, I encountered his friend Beh Lem, a winged gargoyle who hadn't developed his wings yet. Without him in my party, the gargoyles in the city would turn hostile and attack, so using my new Gargish vocabulary, I added him to the group. Oddly, when I returned to Britannia, no one--not even Lord British--cared to comment on my new party member.
|I hope Captain America never finds this place.|
There are about a dozen gargoyles to talk with in the city, and only a couple of them are key. Early on, Beh Lem's father, Valkadesh, suggested that I visit the gargoyle king, Draxinusom, to surrender myself.
Draxinusom made me wear an Amulet of Submission to prove I was willing to sacrifice myself to save the gargoyles. He assured me he wouldn't call me back for the sacrificial ritual for several months. I wonder if anything happens if you "wait out" this time period. It's quite difficult to make time pass in this game, so I declined to try.
With the Amulet on, all the gargoyles became particularly friendly, flattered that I'd give up my life to save them. But the gargoyle scholar, Naxatilor, didn't seem to think that was necessary. He indicated that "sacrifice" isn't exactly clear in Gargish, and it could easily mean that I needed to sacrifice something of value or sacrifice another person. He wasn't happy when I explored that second option.
|How many times do I have to say it? It wasn't my "misdeed."|
What we settled on was that I would have to sacrifice the Codex back to the void (the gargoyles had originally taken it from the void before the Great Council took it from the gargoyles). Naxitilor had this plan by which with a couple of specially-crafted lenses, creatures on both sides of the world would be able to see the Codex in the void. He had me take a broken one in the gargoyle Hall of Knowledge for repair and then get a Britannian glassmaker to craft a concave one. I knew from my notes that Ephemerides, north of Moonglow, was the man to ask.
|He required a glass sword. Fortunately, I had several.|
The "repair the broken lens" quest seems so unnecessary that you wonder why the creators had the lens broken in the first place. Later, I realized that if the lens had been intact, the Avatar wouldn't need to speak to any gargoyle to win the game. Making him take the lens to the lensmaker requires him to first learn Gargish, get Beh Lem in the party, submit to the Amulet, and so forth.
Speaking of sacrifice: you know that slab where they tried to plunge a dagger in my heart at the beginning of the game? Well, it's in a pretty prominent place, surrounded by a circle of stones. It looks like a permanent fixture. It makes you wonder what they're using it for when they're not trying to avert prophecies by sacrificing Avatars. This suggests a dark side to gargoyle society, which we need to explore a little further.
The Peculiar Institution
Gargoyle society is odd. On one hand, it seems socialistic, with its lack of money and shops. Craftsmen make goods, weapons, and armor, and then just leave them in their businesses for anyone to come and take as they need them. Only a few gargoyles--even winged ones--get actual names; the rest are just named after their professions, like "farmer" or "lensmaker." On the other hand, their version of the virtues is extremely goal-driven and individualistic, as if the model had been created by Tony Robbins.
|"Control, Passion, Diligence: Towards a New Singularity in Personal Achievement"--on sale at booksellers everywhere.|
This particular virtue set isn't very well thought-out (how is "singularity" a virtue? And why does "order" exist outside of the three principles?) but it doesn't need to be, as it doesn't have much impact on gameplay. It would have been fun if the Avatar had been forced to live for a while in the gargoyle world, performing acts and deeds that exemplified their virtues, becoming their Avatar of Virtue, before proceeding. As we'll see, the game doesn't ignore the virtues, but it doesn't do anything quite that clever, either.
There is a weird vibe going on in the gargoyle world when it comes to wingless gargoyles. Sin'Vraal had already told me that only the winged ones are intelligent, can cast spells, can speak, and are fit for leadership. John confirmed this, but read his specific words:
At first, it seemed as if the wingless ones were slaves. But now I know that the wingless ones are beloved and valued family members. They must be told what to do, because they are not truly intelligent.
Already, that ought to be ringing some alarm bells. Later, we encounter a friendly gargoyle farmer named Nash, who says that he is "far kinder to the wingless ones than most of my kind" and indicates that he feels that "the wingless ones should not be enslaved simply because they lack our intelligence." Wait a second--I thought they weren't slaves? But it gets even better when he talks about his neighbor, Farmer Krill: "To be ashamed that Farmer Krill treats his workers so harshly. To be appalled by his lack of concern for their thoughts and feelings."
Krill, meanwhile, justifies his treatment of his "workers": "To be forced by necessity to give the wingless ones no room for choice or freedom. To acknowledge that it may seem harsh, but to assure you that there is no other way to treat the wingless ones. To receive good harvests only through firm control and clear direction."
Thus, we have a society of happy little plantation gargoyles, "beloved" by their masters, who nonetheless insist on "firm control and clear direction" because the wingless ones are too dumb to make decisions on their own.
What really puts the nail in the coffin is that we encounter plenty of wingless gargoyles in Ultima VII who are fully capable of speech and even spellcasting ability. Maybe the intervening 200 years saw a lot of miscegenation.
Downloading the Proper Codex
The exact nature of the Codex has always been a bit of a mystery, and it changes from game to game. Obviously, finding my way to it was my main quest in Ultima IV, and in Ultima V, I had to visit it frequently to read about the virtues. But suddenly in Ultima VI, you're unable to pass through its guardians unless you're on a "sacred quest." You'd think this would severely limit its utility to the Britannians--particularly since, according to this game, the only way to get a "sacred quest" is to visit the Temple of Singularity on the gargoyle side of the world. This is another area where the developers really didn't think things through.
|Trying to save the world isn't enough?|
In the gargoyle Hall of Knowledge, we learn that the Codex originally floated in the void, but Lord Draxinusom got the lensmaker to create a "vortex lens" by which he could see the tome. He then created the "vortex cube, to focus the power of the moonstones and draw the [Codex] down to the world." The gargoyles enshrined the Codex in the Temple of Singularity and began a "great time of prosperity." It's left a mystery where the Codex came from in the first place, and how it came to be floating in space.
|Part of Draxinusom's account.|
The Codex's abilities are not insignificant. When you open it, it will automatically take you to a page that has the answer to whatever question is on your mind at the time, which sounds awesome in 1990, but today can be accomplished with a combination of eHow and Wikipedia. It amuses me to think that the Codex is basically an iPad with the Safari homepage set to Google.
To make all of this fit with Ultima IV, you have to assume that the Stygian Abyss somehow connected to the gargoyle's Temple of Singularity. When my Avatar reached the bottom and found the Codex chamber, he didn't realize he was in a temple on the other side of the world. Maybe he didn't see the doors. Similarly, in "raising" the Codex, the Great Council somehow overlooked all the gargoyles, or perhaps thought they were daemons and just slaughtered them. Either way, it wasn't me.
|It. Wasn't. Me.|
The goal now was to "sacrifice" the Codex back to the void and let both races benefit from its knowledge, although I'm not entirely sure why we couldn't have just built a chamber halfway through Hythloth instead. Or just kept it on the Britannian side of the world, since all the gargoyles would be moving there soon anyway.
No one knew exactly how to send the Codex back whence it came, but as Naxatilor pointed out, the Codex itself would know. I just needed to get a "sacred quest" and ask it. This required visiting the Temple of Singularity, which was just over the mountains from the gargoyle city--not a problem for any of them, because they can all fly. Or, at least, the Special Ones can.
Up, Up, and Away
The quest to make the balloon was long and not very interesting. The hardest part was getting the plans for the balloon, which you ultimately have to (U)se to craft it. I asked the NPCs at Minoc about it, and Selganor told me that the balloon's inventor had flown it to Sutek's castle.
Sutek had appeared in Ultima V as a "young, solemn mage" who imparted the key information about where the Shadowlords' shards had come from and how to destroy them. Sometime between that game and this one, he re-located to Blackthorn's former fortress (couldn't Lord British think of anything useful to do with that?), went mad, and started creating abominations like hostile rabbits and two-headed cows. The guy keeps a meat cleaver in a magically-locked chest next to his bed.
|Getting into Sutek's fortress involved blowing up the main door, then using "Telekinesis" on the winch to lower the drawbridge. Note the two-headed cow off to the side.|
I had to solve some lever puzzles, find some secret doors, dispel some fields, and whatnot before descending into the catacombs. An NPC named Gorn had been a prisoner in Blackthorn's dungeon in Ultima V, and I guess he didn't go far after that game, because he was still milling about the catacombs. Like Seggallion, Gorn had accidentally been transplanted to Britannia when he stumbled through a moongate on his home world of Balema. (Both the character and the land appear in The Quest and Ring Quest, adventure games from Origin.) He offered to join my party, but I was already full.
The plans were on the poor balloonist's body, near a dead-end in the dungeon.
The plans required me to get a huge wicker basket, a cauldron, a silk bag, and an anchor. Actually, I think the anchor was optional, since the thing never used it. Obtaining these things mostly just meant showing the plans to the right craftsmen. There was an annoying part where I had to go to Paws to get the silk thread, then to New Magincia to have Charlotte make the cloth, then back to Paws to have the cloth made into a bag, but for the most part, obtaining the items was easy. Once I had the plans, I used them, and the various parts automatically assembled into a balloon.
The rest of the enterprise was pretty pathetic. The balloon is needed to cross exactly three squares of mountain, so all you have to do is cast "Wind Change" to get the wind coming from the south, or use the magic fan, or just wait for it to blow from the south--and in a few moments, you're across.
I was looking forward to drifting all over Britannia with it, but it turns out it won't go over buildings or the tops of high mountains, so that's pretty useless. I did use it for one other fun thing that I'll talk about next time.
Axis of Evil
The Temple of Singularity featured an intelligent altar that asked me for whom I sought the Codex. After trying LORD BRITISH, DRAXINUSOM, OBAMA, and YOUR MOM and getting nowhere, I thought to say "EVERYONE," which the altar liked.
|"Thy twenty-fifth answer is wise."|
But it went on to suggest that I needed to really understand the gargoyles if I was going to condescend to help them, and it told me to visit the shrines of Control, Passion, and Diligence on the island. "In each," it said, "wilt thou find the final resting place of the being who most exemplifies that principle."
Now, at this point, the altar is just looking for the mantra of Singularity, which is composed of the mantras of Control, Passion, and Diligence: UNORUS. A player with this knowledge could avoid the shrine quests. But they're really the last challenges in the game, so it makes sense to get through them.
The Shrine of Control was a brief dungeon with no combats and an uncomplicated lever puzzle. Different levers in the opening room controlled different gates along the way, and I had to keep switching between my Avatar and another character to pull the levers and view the results. It wasn't very hard. Within a few minutes, the Avatar was standing in front of the shrine and the being that "most exemplifies" Control, and of course it was . . . Mondain!
Ultima VI was the first game to retcon Ultimas I-III so that the Avatar was the hero of those games. It's stupid for a lot of reasons (you could be of non-human races in those games, you had four heroes in the third game, etc.) and I've always preferred to ignore it or treat it as manual errata, but I had forgotten that when you encounter Mondain in the shrine, the game makes it clear that you remember defeating him.
|It wasn't "Britannia!"|
The game also makes it clear that it's really Mondain's spirit in the statue, and not just something that's supposed to represent him. One wonders how the gargoyles managed to capture it, or why they don't really know what "humans" are when they have statues of them embodying their most sacred virtues, or how old their virtue system really is. Anyway, Mondain relates that he's harmless, and his time in the statue has caused him to re-think his life a bit. He muses that "desire for more control overcame me" and "I forsook my self-control in my hunger for conquest." He realizes now that "the strong must lead--but to be strong one must control oneself first." He admires the gargoyle view: "their society is based on the strong guiding the weak." Yet another red flag, in my opinion.
Mondain had me recite the mantra of Control with him (UN) and sent me off, saying that "I admire thy deeds and they control."
The Shrine of Passion was very easy except that I had to walk through fire and lava at a number of places. I just left my party behind and had Gideon do it. The shrine was occupied by the spirit of Minax--probably the most poorly-defined character in the original trilogy--and she also had come to an epiphany about how unrestrained passion had been bad for her.
Here we have to note that the gargoyle principles of virtue are a little bit different than the Britannian ones. Theirs seem to suggest that Control, Passion, and Diligence work to check and balance each other; that too much of one is a bad thing. You don't find the same philosophy in Britannia. Sure, if you balance Love and Courage, you get Sacrifice, but no one argues that you have to do this. There are professions and individuals that exist entirely (and happily) within a single principle of virtue.
The Shrine of Diligence was the toughest. First, I had to navigate a maze of rooms to find a barely-visible secret door in one of the many walls. Diligence, indeed.
|It's just to my south.|
The shrine itself was in a room full of daemons, making it one of the most difficult combat areas of the game. Since there's very little afterwards (unless you deliberately go looking for it), this serves as the "final battle" of the game.
My Avatar nearly exhausted himself casting "Reveal," "Dispel Magic," and "Great Heal" to deal with their invisibility, charms, and powerful attacks, respectively. Ultimately, I either killed them or caused them to flee, and I was able to approach the shrine. Hard as it was, it wasn't anything that I particularly needed to grind for. An Avatar in solo mode could probably have slipped by them with a Ring of Invisibility or otherwise just run up to the shrine, gotten the mantra, and gated out.
Diligence was, of course, exemplified by Exodus, presented as a sort-of demonic figure, although the game does call him an "accursed machine." Like the others, he provides the mantra and sends you on your way with good wishes.
|Is the game honestly suggesting that Exodus's original goals were benevolent?|
With the three-part mantra, the Shrine of Singularity was happy to give me the "holy quest" to seek out the Codex:
The Codex's instructions required the two lenses, the vortex cube, and all of the moonstones I'd collected from freeing the shrines--better not plant any of them in the ground! I had the lenses already. Of the vortex cube, the caretaker of the Hall of Knowledge said: "To regret that that item is lost, stolen by human thieves years ago. To have heard the humans mention the name Stonegate as they fled. To have heard them say they would sail through Lost Hope Bay."
The creators aren't even trying at this point. Stonegate was the Shadowlords' fortress in Britannia, but why would "human thieves" steal the cube and bring it there? While "fleeing," why would they offer detailed instructions about where they were going and how to get there? For that matter, gargoyles don't speak English or know that humans are called "humans."
I remembered where Stonegate was, and I found it occupied by two friendly cyclopes and their adopted human child.
The male cyclops was happy to give me the key to the dungeon beneath the fortress in exchange for a fish, which I caught quickly using his convenient fishing rod. I'm sure I could have also pickpocketed or killed him for the key, or for that matter just blown up the door in the basement.
|But I did it the Avatar Way.|
The cube was surrounded by force fields, and I had to dispel one to get to it. Otherwise, not a very difficult quest.
I made one last visit to Lord British before visiting the Codex, to see if he cared at all about DRAXINUSOM, VORTEX, CODEX, CUBE, BEH LEM, or any of the other things that had transpired lately, but he didn't have any dialogue about them, so I headed for the Isle of the Avatar and proceeded to the Codex.
Following the instructions, I put one lens on one side, one on the other, moved all of the moonstones into the vortex cube, put the cube on the ground in front of the codex, and (U)sed it. The Codex promptly vanished.
This cued the endgame text, which read as follows:
A glowing portal springs from the floor!
From its crimson depths, Lord British emerges, trailed by the mage Nystul. Anguish and disbelief prevail on the royal seer's face, but Lord British directs his stony gaze at you and speaks as if to a wayward child.
"Thou didst have just cause to burgle our Codex, I trust," His Majesty says. "But for Virtue's sake . . . WHAT HAST THOU DONE WITH IT?"
|Perhaps Lord British's least regal moment in the entire series.|
You pick up the concave lens and pass it to the King. "Was the book ever truly ours, Your Majesty? Was it written for Britannia alone? Thou dost no longer hold the Codex, but is its wisdom indeed lost? Look into the Vortex, and let the Codex answer for itself!"
As Lord British holds the glass before the wall, the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom wavers into view against a myriad of swimming stars!
Yet the book remains closed.
And waves of heat shimmer in the air, heralding the birth of another red gate!
King Draxinusom of the Gargoyles strides forward, flanked by a small army of wingless attendants. Like Lord British, he seems to suppress his rage only through a heroic effort of will. His scaly hand grasps your shoulder, and your Amulet of Submission grows very warm.
"Thy time hath come, Thief," he says.
Quickly, you reach down to seize the convex lens and you press it into the hand of the towering Gargoyle king, meeting his sunken eyes. "Join my Lord in his search for peace. I beg thee."
At your urging, King Draxinusom reluctantly raises his lens to catch the light. As Lord British holds up his own lens, every eye in the room, human and Gargoyle alike, fixes upon the image of the Codex which shines upon the wall.
The ancient book opens. Both kings gaze upon its pages in spellbound silence, as the eloquence of Ultimate Wisdom is revealed in the tongues of each lord's domain. You, too, can read the answers the Codex gives. And when wisdom is gleaned, when Lord British and King Draxinusom turn to each other as friends, hating no longer, fearing no more, you know that your mission in Brtannia has ended at last.
Boom. End of game. No word about me returning to Earth or any celebrations or whatnot. Based on his past behavior, I'm sure Lord British turned around, hucked his Orb of Moons on the ground, pointed to the gate, and said, "See you next time." But it's rather nice to assume he didn't.
A couple of notes on the endgame:
1. It's kind of silly that you can't warn Lord British what you're about to do before you go do it.
2. Lord British's orb can take him directly to this room? Do you know how much time he could have saved me?
3. Lord British again shows that he's not exactly King Solomon. If I were Richard Garriott, I'd like that line about as much as I'd like "But I was going into Tosche Station to pick up some power converters!" if I was Mark Hamill. The difference being Mark Hamill wasn't the director of the film.
4. I believe this is the first time in the series that the game puts specific words in the Avatar's mouth
5. All of the "thous" and "thees" just sound moronic. We're both from Earth, Lord British. Drop the act.
6. Similarly, I'm not crazy about calling him "My Lord." Note, too, the capital "L" when I'm referring to him in generic terms to the gargoyle king. God complex much?
7. Speaking of gods, we had a brief discussion about the Ultima series' treatment (or non-treatment) of them in some recent comments. Note that even at the height of emotion, Lord British says, "For Virtue's sake" (with a capital "V," no less). I think that demonstrates what side of "theism" his "a" is on.
8. I do like the final message here, though: that wisdom and truth can instantly change one's thinking to the extent that mortal enemies become friends. If I wasn't an atheist, this is what I'd like to think the afterlife is like: two people who hate each other meeting and saying, "Oh! That's why you felt the way you did and acted as you did!" and the other saying, "And that's why you felt the way you did!" and everyone just, at last, understanding. Wisdom conquers all. That kind of thing.
Finally, it's worth noting that while sending the Codex to the void may have satisfied another definition of "sacrifice," I didn't exactly avert the prophecy. The gargoyle world finishes collapsing, and the remnants of the dying civilization have to move to Britannia for Ultima VII. Maybe they really did need to sacrifice me on the slab.
I don't know. I'm not quite ready for the end just yet. Are you? Let's have one more post of messing around a bit before the final rating. What do you do just to have fun in Ultima VI that I haven't already covered?