Thursday, May 5, 2022

Ultima Underworld II: A Song of Ice and Fire

Listen to the music on the (frozen) lake.
"Where am I?" I wonder as I emerge from the second facet of the gem and step out of a small blackrock alcove. Thus, it's helpful that the first person I see, a guard, asks me what I'm doing in "Killorn Keep." I give him my true name, and he directs me to someone named Mystell, noting that I might have to undergo a "loyalty test" to see if I am versed in "His Law." I suspect I know who "his" is, and that this guard will soon be at the end of my blade. Sure enough, tapestries with the Guardian's face line the walls.
What a welcoming sign.
I notice a large cat behind the guard, and just for fun, I speak to it. To my surprise, it speaks back: "Hssst! Do not speak to us here, lest you call attention to us. Speak to us only in the stables. Chirl is too dimwitted to suspect anything." Nearby, another guard tells me that Killorn Keep is a flying fortress, hovering "1257 feet above the sands of the Krain desert" in the Great Northern Wasteland. And already we have the game's excuse for why I won't be able to explore an outdoor area.
Most of the guards speak in a brainwashed monotony. A friendly merchant named Aron boasts of his goods but only has an apple, a cudgel, a short sword, and a torch to sell. An insulting woman named Bishay has a few pieces of armor. Much more useful is a robed merchant named Merzan who promises to serve as a near-endless money sink. He sells potions of "Lesser Heal," "Mana Boost," and "Resist Blows," identifies items, recharges magical items, and will provide hints as to the locations of spells. Suddenly, I'm not upset that I brought such a large pile of money. He identifies the jeweled sword I've been carrying as a Sword of Major Damage and a short sword as a Sword of Minor Damage. I decide not to ask him to identify everything, but just the things I've already identified as magical.
As I move through the keep, I find broken weapons and other debris all over the floor, suggesting recent unrest. In the southeast corner of the level, I find some stables run by a hand named Chirl. Instead of horses, the stables house more of the giant cats, apparently called Trilkhai. That's an anagram for "Kilrathi," the enemies of Origin's Wing Commander series, and I guess they're also feline, though they look different than the cheetahs I'm seeing here. However, one of them soon makes the connection explicit: "I have heard many stories of our race's past, wild tales of Trilkhai who flew among the stars, and hurled fire at the humans."
Apparently, the cats aren't actually talking but rather speaking to me telepathically. This one is called Blackie. She tells me that the humans in the keep aren't aware the Trilkhai are intelligent, but she can read my mind and she realizes that I have "virtues that will prevent [me] from betraying [them]." She wants to know more of her race's past, and I promise I'll return if I can find any more information.
Let me tell you about a certain hoe . . .
More NPCs on the first level:
  • Kintara, a traveler from the land of Javra, "beyond the Tuay Mountains." She is heading for Mashan to collect a shipment of "Shalathian dream-spice," which supposedly gives people dreams of other worlds. Many of them see a "strange and beautiful shrine." She sells me a pair of Boots of Fire Resistance for a sapphire, but Merzan later identifies them as just regular leather boots.
  • Ogri, who comes from a long line of servants in the keep. He hints that someone keeps it afloat at the Guardian's will, and that it was built to "keep something in." During his ancestor's day, the keep was sacked by a warrior named Praecor Loth, who took the keep's blue eagle emblem. He says if I bring it back to him, he'll tell me secrets about the keep. He also offers "Lore" training.
  • Lobar, a drunken fighter. Once a champion duelist, he now spends most of his time drunk to keep the voice of the Guardian at bay. "I'll be damned if that red bastard will make me his toy." He indicates that the Guardian promotes his own system of virtues: Sobriety, Punctuality, Obedience, Vigilance, Conformity, Efficiency, Silence, and Diligence. He also offers "Sword" training.
  • Lord Thibris, ruler of the keep, hangs out in his throne room. I don't know what to make of his name being an anagram of "British." A servant of the Guardian for centuries, he conquered the keep from Praecor Loth, who fled north and died in a mazelike tomb. The Guardian had hoped to recover Loth's magic horn, which could shatter buildings, but it was lost in the tomb.
I bet this guy doesn't put up with servant rebellions.
  • Mystell. She immediately starts grilling me. I tell her that I am "Ratava, Avatar of Britannia and sworn enemy of the Guardian," and she thinks I'm joking. She just gets angry when I answer where I'm from, so I take the only available option and fill in the blanks from what Kintara told me: I'm from Javra, bound for Mashan. She asks me the seventh of the eight virtues, and I answer from what Lobar told me. Satisfied, she asks me to serve as her spy and see if I can dig up dirt on the sorceress Altara.
Are you related to Nystul?
  • Altara, who is in the next room. Figuring the enemy of my enemy is my friend, I introduce myself and explain that I'm from another world being invaded by the Guardian. She says that she's heard of me from Bishop. She warns me that the Guardian has likely planted a spy in Castle Britannia, "some magical creature lurking in the sewers and tunnels." She says it will stay near a body of water and surround itself with walls of fire. I remember fire walls in one part of the sewers. She gives me a dagger to kill it with (Merzan identifies it as a "Dagger of Unsurpassed Accuracy"). She also offers "Casting" and "Mana" training.
Our names share a lot of the same letters!
A barracks has a ton of locked chests. I bash one open, but it takes about 30 blows and I don't have that kind of patience with all of them.
There are three stairways out of here. I take one going down from the pantry next to the tavern. It leads me to a dark, stone basement full of trash and rats. I follow a corridor to a sturdy wooden door, locked, but I bash it open in a couple of minutes. It has a couple of giant spiders, which I kill, and a barrel with a wand, plate boots, a couple of lockpicks, and a red ring.
I am unable to bash down a portcullis on the east side of the level. Continuing to search, I find a secret door that brings me down a hallway. Here, the entrance to another room is decorated with a rug with a candle in each corner. Stepping on the rug teleports me to a freaky room with a floating skull (that does nothing to me). Moving forward here, I am teleported and find myself back in the Britannian sewers. Weird. 
What new devilry is this?
Before heading back to Killorn Keep, I decide to check out what Altara said. I remember the location of the fire walls on Level 4 and head up there, finally killing some annoying bats on Level 5 on the way. The fire wall is where I remembered, in the southeast corner, but there's an opening I didn't notice before (or wasn't there before), heading down a corridor and into an open room. The creature flying around the room looks like a mongbat, but I guess it's not because blue lightning crackles between its hands and when I kill it, it drops coins that, the game says, "belong to a daemon."
I hit the creature about 20 times with my sword to no avail before pulling out Altara's dagger. It shatters but kills the creature in one blow. He leaves only 8 gold pieces behind.
Fighting some kind of demon amid walls of fire.
I return to Killorn Keep and report my success to Altara. She says that she's trying to put a powerful enchantment on a pearl but she needs the egg of a dread spider and am amethyst rod. I don't have either, but I suspect the dread spider's egg is to be found in their area in the Britannian sewers. Finally, she gives me three magic runes: AN, CORP, and QUAS, none of which I have. 

It's been a while since I checked what spells are available to me. As a ninth-level character, I can cast up to fifth-level spells. The new runes give me the ability to try "Night Vision" (QUAS LOR), which allows me to see more than "Light," but in black-and-white. It works for me, but I suspect it will make for less pleasant screen shots.
You probably don't want the rest of my images to look like this.
In other news, I've been wasting time with "Lesser Heal" (IN BET MANI) without noticing that "Heal" (IN MANI) has been available to me for at least two levels. I've also been neglecting "Open" (EX YLEM), which takes half my magic and backfires when I try to cast it in the barracks. Alas, I lack the HUR stone for "Levitate," and the first-level "Magic Arrow" remains my only offense spell until I find the FLAM rune.
I try another down stairway in the southwest corner off the barracks, A guard blocks the corridor and orders me to return to the previous level. I have hostile dialogue options, but I'm not ready to turn the entire keep against me yet, particularly when I need Altara's help.
I'm not forgetting that you called me "missy," though.
An ascending staircase in the throne room simply leads to the Thibris's bedchambers, where there's a huge chest that I can't open (EX YLEM casts, but it just says it has "no effect"). I return to the stairway off the pantry. EX YLEM opens the portcullis I couldn't open before, which dumps me in a pit with two headless. I swiftly kill them. Loot in their chamber includes 6 gold pieces, another blackrock gem, and a magical short sword.
At some point, I stop to sleep and I get a vision from the Guardian suggesting that his soldiers are ravaging Britannia while we're all trapped in the castle. I wonder if this is true. I don't remember any discussion of it in Ultima VII, Part 2, but then again that game takes place in another world. These visions impart a sense of urgency that the quest doesn't otherwise have.
He'd better stay away from Nastassia.
Finding nothing else to do in Killorn Keep, I head back to Britannia. I go up one level and enter the domain of the dread spiders. Whatever detente I have with the beasts is spoiled when I start messing with their eggs. I have to kill about six of them, then heal my poison with leeches. I hope it was worth it; the game specifies that I found several egg shells belonging to the spiders, but not entire eggs.
Before I head back upstairs, I find that "Night Vision" is particularly useful for tracking down all the miscellaneous bats that flit about the lower levels, making noise, but never seem to die. Oddly, however, "Night Vision" turns into just regular light when in the presence of the blackrock teleporter. I wonder if it has to do with limitations on how the facets of the teleporter can be depicted.
I finally kill this damned bat. Although I'm operating with "Night Vision," this part of the dungeon is colored normally.
Upstairs, people continue to complain about Patterson. Feridwyn, another former Fellowship member, says that he's "a constant pest."  Julia says that she tried to teach him fletching, but he ruined a batch of arrows. Patterson, for his part, is aware that everyone hates him, and he claims to feel bad about it. I have a tough role-playing choice here.
#2 is the honest answer; #1 the compassionate one. Which would you choose?
Lady Tory says she's feeling strong emotions coming from Feridwyn ("he has either committed an evil act without remorse, or he is afraid of being falsely accused") and doesn't trust him. Miranda reports that Dupre is restless, which Dupre confirms, but I have no dialogue options that give him anything to do. Syria has tried to spar with Geoffrey, but she destroyed him in their first bout.
Nanna says the Guardian has been speaking to her in her dreams, promising "a world where the workers have equal representation in all levels of government," but she's resisting him. It seems like she's going to get what she wants anyway: Lord British has decided to accede to their demands to end the caste system, though he has no dialogue on what that means practically. 
The Guardian is a Bolshevik.
Nystul takes the new blackrock gem I found and performs a ritual over it, turning from "cool" to "warm," which I hope means that more facets of the teleporter in the dungeon will become available, but it doesn't. When I use the gem on the stone, it freezes the Killorn Keep facet so that it's always active, but the third facet--the only one I haven't taken--continues to blink on and off, and the rest stay dark. 
Two skeletons welcome me to a new world.
I enter the facet I have not tried and find myself in a dark tunnel of ice, where I'm immediately attacked by a blue version of the bloodworms in the Britannian sewers. As I move forward, blocks of the floor occasionally collapse under my weight and dump me into frigid waters. There are other places where I go careening uncontrollably across the ice. I find that jumping a couple of times stops me, allowing me to proceed more carefully, albeit slowly.
I enter a large cave with a couple of skeletons. After I kill them, I find the remains of previous adventurers strewn everywhere, including several backpacks. One of them has a map scroll that automatically gets added to my automap, along with some notes speculating about the location of the "lost city of Anodunoslies." There's also a WIS stone, plus a mandolin that the game allows me to "play" with the 1-9 keys. 
The previous explorers' map not only fills in my automap but adds text.
I spend a while exploring the two levels of these ice caves, finding small treasures in crevasses. Ice balls start pelting me from afar; it turns out these are thrown by yetis. Despite their fearsome mien, they die in just a couple sword blows. I reach Level 10 after killing a group of them.
I feel bad killing these guys, but they won't stop pelting me with ice balls.
I find a third blackrock gem poised on the edge of a precipice above an icy underground river.  
Well, that was a smart place to leave it.
In a small cavern on the second level, I find an NPC named Mokpo the Mad. He refuses to believe that the world we inhabit is the "real" one, as he periodically has visions of a different world with "shining colors, fabulous beasts, vast plains of light, great pillars of light reaching up into the blackness." He talks of an "endless walkway of glowing blue" and a "golden maze." He accuses me of being an illusion, though, and I risk turning him hostile if I try to get anything else out of him.
I'd choose option #2, but I don't want to mock poor Mokpo.
My explorations take me across a broad, flowing river (with a lurker, of course) and into a large chamber in which water pours in from three sides. Up some stairs, I find what I can only describe as an ice golem. He introduces himself as "Sentinel 868" and says that he won't let me pass through the door behind him, where I will encounter the controls "to the dam in the reservoir of Anodunos." Only two operators can pass at once, "as each operator only knows half the combination to the controls."
He did not give me a chance to leave immediately.
"I must pass through this door!" I say, which is kind of silly because I didn't even know about this place until the golem told me about it. He turns hostile, and I'm forced to kill him, loot the key from his body, and continue.
Beyond the door is a large area that I'm not sure I've finished exploring. I reached a column with a different control--switch, dial, pull chain, and button--on each side, and by fiddling with it I managed to open the way to a room with a key, but I suspect there's more to do in an area as elaborate as "dam controls." I'm going to take another pass through the area. If that doesn't pay off, I always have the new blackrock gem to take back to Nystul.
There are also lynxes or something here. I forgot to mention it in my narrative.
I've enjoyed the ice caverns. The ice reflects light and makes them much brighter than the dim chambers of the other worlds. The rest of the game may be realistic in its darkness, but it's still too damned dark. The caverns also feel sufficiently different from the other worlds. The prison tower and Killorn Keep, while ostensibly in other universes, had the same look and feel as Britannia.

Time so far: 19 hours


  1. "#2 is the honest answer; #1 the compassionate one."

    You forgot #3, the cowardly one.

    I loved at the time going back to the castle and getting updates on the situation (as nonsensical it is for those people sitting on their ass while you do all the work), it gives the impression of the plot evolving in parallel to your actions.

    1. You could perhaps make a case for #3 as the "Humble" one, since it's arrogant to assume I should be part of the solution to this problem.

  2. I find it odd that there's a daemon in the sewer. Are there any actual gargoyles in the game so far? I mean, human/gargoyle relationships have been a major plot point for U6 and U7.

    Also, "sword of major damage"? That's the lamest name for a magical weapon I've seen since 8-Bit Theatre :D

    1. Ravenloft: Stone Prophet had Sword of Wounding. Because usual swords don't cause wounds, you know.

    2. And sword of minor damage sounds even like a sword for LARPing

    3. I seem to remember that the Sword of Wounding was in the 1e AD&D DMG. Yes, it sounds silly.

    4. You were expecting a Sword of General Accuracy? Axe of Corporal Pain? Staff of Private Contemplation?

    5. U6 and U7 also had non-gargoyle daemons, although I agree it's kind of weird that there apparently weren't any gargoyles at the castle.

    6. Yes, the D&D Sword of Wounding caused extra bleeding damage.

    7. The game implied (heh, imp) that the Guardian put that little demon there from god-knows-where, so who's to say if it's native to Britannia. The first UU tinkered with canon quite a bit, but the second is at least justified in doing so with its extradimensional activities.

      As for why there were no gargoyles at King British's castle during the celebration party, maybe they objected to the choice of music? British insisted on classical, while they're more into rock.

    8. "U6 and U7 also had non-gargoyle daemons." And U5 had non-demon gargoyles.

    9. I'd wager that Gargoyles are into *gothic* rock.

    10. Daemons in U3, U4, U5 are human-sized with wings. Daemons in U2, U6, UU, U8 are human-sized WITHOUT wings. Daemons in U7 are non-physical spirits. Daemons in UU2 are tiny and imp-like, with wings. Yeah, it's all over the place.

    11. Ultima Underworld (both 1 and 2 actually) don't have the Gargoyles - I think in UW this was sort of explained by Cabirus not liking them. But at least they are sort of consistent with the earlier Ultima 4 and Ultima 5 demons - it's true that Imps are a new kind of Demon introduced in UW1, but the classical kinds from U4 and U5 are very much around.

    12. Sword of Wounding makes sense in D&D context as it inflicts wounds which are different from regular HP damage.

      But it doesn't make sense outside of the context of a HP system.

    13. Yeah, the sword of wounding creates wounds which reduce your hit points, as opposed to any other effects that damage, wound, or burn you (which instead... reduce your hit points!)

      Wait no, that's exactly the same thing, and the name is silly. But then, early D&D is full of jokes and puns, from spell components to the special credit for invisible stalker art; its rulebook even has a picture of adventurers being chased by a giant pac-man.

    14. The sword of wounding in D&D creates wounds that do not respond to regular healing - spells and potions don't work. There's a distinct difference.

  3. Possibly unpopular opinion: the first few worlds are more interesting than the later ones

    1. I don't know about that. The later worlds are pretty good too (in my opinion). They extract more of the story anyway, which I find to be the point of the game.

    2. I find level design more bland, even when compared to most of UW1

    3. Might be interested to discuss favorites at some point. I think all worlds are decent, but I especially like 2,3, 6 and 7.

    4. Without getting spoilery, I liked how it went from a goblin tower to an ice cave (which at least seemed kind of outside-ish). I don't remember which specific numbered facets correspond to each world.

      @Pedro Q. - FWIW, I really liked the level designs in the first one, though conceptually it's completely different. Especially the first and fourth (where you become a knight?) levels, IIRC.

  4. A very entertaining read conveying a real sense of adventure.

  5. Hi! I'm enjoying this adventure, but mostly posting because I've spent a little time almost every day reading through this blog for the past two years, and today I finally caught up to the present. I support the workers of the world!

  6. Based on his description, I'm wondering if Lobar is that world's Dupre analogue, and if it also has analogues (again) to Iolo and Shamino?

  7. If the Trilkhais are anything like the Kilrathis of Wing Commander, don't trust them and blast them with photon torpedoes as soon as you find some.

  8. I dunno if this is an unpopular opinion, but I really like the concept of Killorn Keep despite it being another exercise in keeping the player indoors. The idea of a floating fortress feels much more at home in a fantasy game than some of Ultima's other weird anachronisms sich as the hot-air balloon or the Sphere/Prism/Tetrahedron Generators. I only wish they had spared one of those "illustrated" scenes in order to let you look out over the desert landscape through a periscope or something.

    Also yeah yeah, time for me to simp for the graphics again. As classic and pioneering as the ganeplay was it's amazing to think of how much bigger this is than Dungeon Master. Not only are there sixteen times the colours, but four times the floppy disks to store separate sets of dungeon graphics (let alone a cave) and now a 3D texture-mapped engine. No wonder Origin games were supposedly infamous for their extensive (and expensive) system requirements.

    I never really thought about it while you were actualy playing that game, but even Ultima VII has so many colours, objects on screen, and gigantic maps that you can look at it and know it's a type of game that would be impossible on the Amiga, which was able to do other graphical RPG favourites such as the Gold Box games and Dungeon Master without even blinking. It's crazy to think that Origin was supporting Ultima VI on the clunky old Commodore 64 just a few years before they'd release such insane-even-for-a-PC games like these. The era from Ultima VII-VIII (1992-1994) feels like the last hurrah of RPGs as a big-budget proposition before the reinassance that came with Diablo and the MMORPGs - one that would for better or worse result in a paradigm change for non-shareware CRPGs (not to say that shareware Diablo clones weren't a thing, either!) for at least a few years.

    1. I agree. The idea of Killorn Keep is nice, but it doesn't feel like a "floating fortress" without any graphics. It would have been nice if they'd done maybe an establishing shot of each world as you warped in.

  9. Did you notice that you can pick up those snowballs and throw them back at yetti? :)

    1. What kind of snowballs are these to be so deadly, did the yetis put rocks inside them?!?

    2. Could be 90% ice? Iceballs thrown with enough force could be pretty damaging.

    3. I played this game much a long time ago, had lots of fun with the enchantment spell, once made myself a snowball of unsurpassed damage, put it in my attack hand and one-punched every non-plot critical thing in the game. Every chest, door, enemy, NPC, and 3d furniture was demolished in no time.

  10. Rest in peace, Sentinel 868. You gave years of loyal service, keeping terrorists and wildlife from interfering with our vital dam, only to suffer an ignominious end by a random murderhobo. You will be remembered by all.


I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. If you don't want to log in to Google to comment, either a) choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank, or b) sign your anonymous comment with a preferred user name in the text of the comment itself.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.