Sunday, June 11, 2023

Serpent Isle: Shedding Our Skins

Another missing item recovered.
Here we are, 14 entries and 50 game hours into Serpent Isle, and we're finally about to confront Batlin, the reason we came in the first place. There's a palpable excitement as we cross the threshold of the outer walls--an excitement diminished when we see that the portcullis has been dropped again. We sigh and make our way back through the secret mountain pass and up into the pantry again.

This time, instead of a magic barrier, there's a wall of flames in front of the entrance to the main keep. I cast "Great Douse," and of course it doesn't work. We walk through the fire, which I guess is illusory. 
That it didn't burn the doors is probably a hint.
The foyer is full of discarded armor pieces, the stairway upward choked with rubble. We head right into what appears to be a throne room. A paladin and a gargoyle are standing at the north end of the large room, staring at the throne. They turn as we enter. "'Tis the avatar!" one of them cries, and they attack. During the ensuing combat, Batlin enters from a western door. I frankly didn't expect to see him so quickly. We exchange a few blows.
Suddenly, he cries, "Thou art too late, Avatar! Nothing can stop me now! The girl is dead and the last Bane is mine! Soon I shall rival the Guardian himself and crush thee like the irritating insect thou art! I shall open the Wall of Lights and destroy the world! And thou art powerless to follow me!" He yells for Palos to follow him and blinks out of existence.
Have we heard of this "Wall of Lights" before? I don't remember that we have.
Our battle has left a paladin and a fighter dead on the floor. I'm not sure who they are. As we continue exploring the keep, the Earth Serpent suddenly speaks to me telepathically: "Seek the Temple, and within it, the Eye of the Moon." There's a lot of new terminology in this keep.
We head upstairs and discover that, unfortunately, Batlin wasn't lying: Cantra is dead, spread-eagled on the bedroom floor, surrounded by blood. A Xenkan monk gates in as we contemplate the scene--honestly, why does everyone have that spell except for me!?--and says he'll take her body to Monk Isle to see if it can be resurrected.
Got it. We won't let the massacred teenager trouble us.
An amulet on the floor is labeled "Batlin's Medallion." We grab it. There's nothing else in the keep except a few magic scrolls, a little money, and another fighter who attacks us in the western dining room. Beatrix makes no more appearances, Shamino has nothing to say about the castle, and there's no way that I can find to reconcile the former lovers.
Batlin mentioned going to the frozen north, so that would seem to be our next stop, except that we clearly need some warmer clothes. As far as I know, that means going all the way back to Monitor to buy them from [shuffling through notes I wrote a lifetime ago] Cellia. Back we go, back through the forest, back through the grass (swish-swash, swish-swash), back through the swamp (squelch, squelch), and so forth. We fight a lot of swamp battles and get poisoned. The Avatar has to cast "Mass Cure" when we reach the other side.
Note that the runes for "Cold Blast" seem to be VAS FLAM. This is because in this game, "F" means both FLAM and FRIO.
We stop at the Sleeping Bull and exchange everything for Monitor's currency (monetari), then head to Monitor. (For some reason, Devra won't exchange for gold bars. Why make an already-complicated system more annoying?) At Cellia's shop, we buy four sets of fur boots and four sets of fur hats. We already have one set, and we already all have cloaks. I haven't seen fur gauntlets or anything to replace body armor. I then head to the training yard and have Shamino, Iolo, and Boydon train with Shazanna; they all need dexterity. They all manage to defeat her in their training. At this point, all my characters are Level 7 except Boydon, who's Level 6. I don't know how many experience points are needed for Level 8. Dupre is in the lead with 4,690. It occurs to me that I never found an intelligence trainer, not even in Moonshade.
I'm glad Celia is one of the few Monitorians left alive.
After we leave Monitor, it occurs to me that I didn't think to stop by Harrna's house and tell her about Cantra. Whoops.

Next, we take the teleport hub to Moonshade, exchange everything for Guilders, and visit Pothos the reagent seller. If there's an easy way to figure out how many reagents you have, I don't know what it is. Reagents don't automatically stack in your containers, so if you want to know how much sulfurous ash you have, for instance, you have to take the time to manually drag each clump of ash on top of the others until you've consolidated them all. But the spellbook tells you how many more times you can cast each spell, so an easier way is to triangulate based on the numbers in the spellbook. When I arrived at Pothos's, the lowest number in the spellbook is 14, corresponding with "Flash," "Reveal," and "Unlock Magic," along with others. The reagent they all share is sulfurous ash, so clearly that's what I need.
Do you want to try to count all that?
I'm not sure I've mentioned in any entry so far that Serpent Isle makes changes to the reagent list for the first time since Ultima IV. In addition to the long-time canonical list (blood moss, black pearl, garlic, ginseng, spider's silk, sulfurous ash, mandrake, nightshade), we have blood spawn, serpent scales, and worm's heart. (Agnium, phosphor, and zerine are not reagents for spells, so I don't know why I've been carrying them around in my reagent bag. I have no idea what they do.) Unfortunately, Pothos doesn't have most of what I need. Blood spawn has to be created by mixing stoneheart (from the Mountains of Freedom) with blood from the caster via a ritual bloodletting device. Blood moss is not sold on the islands (at least, not in Moonshade or Fawn); it has to be picked up in the swamp south of Moonshade. Pothos doesn't sell ginseng. Thus, after a couple of purchases, I head to the swamp but only find a few sprigs.
The teleporter hub takes us back to Monitor, and from there to Sleeping Bull, where I finish buying Ensorcio's spells. Then, Darva changes my guilders for filari, and we're off to Fawn to buy ginseng from Delphynia. I nearly give up the enterprise when she proves impossible to find, except at night, when she won't sell me anything. After two days in the city, I finally catch her in her house during the day (and yes, I check the healer's place regularly, too) and spend most of the rest of my money.
Back we go, through the swamp, fighting alligators, fighting tentacles, fighting slimes, everyone gets poisoned again, we get lost, we figure it out, exit at last, "Mass Cure," hopefully for the last time. We go north through the forest to the mountains, then west to the cave. At the entrance, everyone dons their new furry outfits. 
Hopefully it doesn't matter that I'm wearing metal armor and gauntlets, as long as I have a warm hat and boots.
We take a slightly different way through the pass and find something we didn't find before: a teleporter in the middle of some ruins, surrounded by flame. It dumps in a cave where a ring of water surrounds an island. A stone path leads to the island, which has a raised stone dais and a statue of a harpy. A plaque reads: "GANNT THE BARD WANDERS NO MORE." Something appears and just as quickly disappears--I don't even see it. But it drops a note on the ground. The note purports to be from Gannt--author of those awful books of poems. The note asks the reader to take vengeance on Captain Stokes of The Mustang. One night at the Sleeping Bull, Stokes stabbed Gannt in the stomach when Gannt complained about Stokes's noxious pipe. A key lies on the dais, and the note says it will open Stokes's house, west of Fawn. I think I remember a locked building there. A teleporter pad takes us back to the dungeon we came from.
This was a fun diversion.
I don't know what's going to happen when I visit Stokes's house, but I like this little side quest so far. It tells a very human story and rewards players who have taken the time to read the books. I do wonder who set up this elaborate tomb, complete with a teleporter from another dungeon, but I'll let that go. Both parts of Ultima VII are at their best when they're using the full screen interface to set up these little vignettes, but I think The Black Gate rewarded this type of off-plot exploration better than Serpent Isle. It would be fun to have a Skyrim-sized game using the Ultima VII interface in which you just wander around and find things.

The rest of the dungeon is legitimately difficult in ways I didn't notice or didn't experience the first time, maybe because my armor class is lowered. In addition to lots of goblins and acid slugs, there are traps everywhere, including blue flames shooting out of the ground and caltrops scattered throughout corridors. The caltrops are particularly annoying because you can pick them up and move them, but there's never any place to put them so that your party won't go blundering into them anyway. I have to heal a few party members when they fall unconscious.
Shamino falls asleep on top of some caltrops.
We make it to the exit, and mercifully no one starts complaining about the cold. I study the map. Rather than circle the frozen north in a resolutely clockwise or counter-clockwise pattern, I decide to explore it in sections. The fingers of the mountains create natural canyons that look easy to explore one at a time, starting with the one I've emerged in. We've actually explored most of this area already. There's the cave with the bears and the cave of the ghosts of the trappers killed by the sorceress.
Ah, Maine in June.
Soon, we're out of that first valley, looking at pack ice on the coast. The next valley dips a bit east into the mountains, and there's a cave in here on the north side. It leads to a small t-junction with another polar bear, both passages ending in dead ends. We can see some Ophidian ruins on the other side of the corridor but we can't reach them. There do not seem to be any secret passages.
A little ice worm is waiting when we exit the cave. We kill it. It has a worm heart on its body; so that's where they come from. There's another cave just to the west of the first, but it also dead-ends without taking us anywhere. A third cave to the west of the second gets more interesting. We find five pedestals, each with a plaque depicting a single serpent rune. Two of the pedestals have runes on them, and there are three runes on the floor. The skeleton of a previous adventurer lies on the floor, with a full set of warm gear.
Was Roe Adams involved in this game?
I have to cast "Translation" to read a note on the corpse. It seems to have been written by a representative of the forces of Chaos. He taunts the forces of Order, saying they'll never get into his city because they don't know the password to open the gate. The plaques have the letters CISIG, which doesn't anagram to anything. The same letters are found on the runes, so I put the runes on their associated pedestals. Nothing happens. I find that by double-clicking on the runes, one of two things happens: a nice sparkle, or a puff of black smoke. I assume the sparkle is good, and through trial and error, I string together the runes in an order that spells ISCGI. There's a puff of smoke at the gate and a vision of the Great Earth Serpent appears. He says, "Thou hast forgotten something." 
Oh, yeah . . . the second reason we came to the Serpent Isle.
No sooner have we entered the next valley than a furry horned creature appears. "Thou . . . the one . . . Gwenno spoke," it says. He introduces himself politely as Bwundai of the Gwani. The supposedly ferocious "ice goblins"  are actually intelligent teddy bears. Suddenly, we become conscious of the fact that three of us are wearing Gwani cloaks. "But you seek Gwenno. Gwani death temple on island north," he continues. "West of Ice Dragon Caves." That doesn't sound promising. Assuming we might meet more Gwani, we run back to the trappers' cave and grab bear, wolf, and leopard cloaks from their bodies and treasure chest, leaving the Gwani cloaks behind.
The party performs a quick change.
This valley has four caves. The first leads to a large cavern with two Gwani. "Thou art Avatar!" The first one greets. They are Baiyanda and her mate Mwaerno. Mwaerno is a hunter and doesn't say much. Baiyanda is a healer. She drops the unfortunate news, although it was telegraphed by the seance in Moonshade, that Gwenno is dead, her body interred at the sacred Gwani Death Temple. I ask where that is, and she says it's not for me to know. Gwenno is at rest, and even if I found the temple, I could only unseal her body with the sacred Horn of Gwani, which has been "taken by [a] fiend who steals our dead from us." She'll heal us, but she doesn't use magic. She uses herbs and other natural methods instead. She mentions that the blood of the Ice Dragon can cure almost any sickness; it's probably the only thing that can cure Neyobi, the daughter of the chief, who has fallen ill. She asks us to help find some and gives us a bucket to put it in. She knows of two dragons, one to the east and one to the north.
Iolo has absolutely nothing to say in response to Baiyanda's account, but when I speak to him afterward, he laments Gwenno's death. "Oh, Gideon," he says. "How could our good and noble quest have ended in such tragedy?" In fact, that's 0 for 2 on noble quests ending in tragedy.
Anything the Avatar can say in response is amusingly insensitive.
The next cave has a single adult Gwani and a Gwani child sleeping on a fur pelt. "It is the one foretold by Gwenno!" he greets. (Didn't Gwenno mention her husband to these people? Am I the only one she talked about?) This is Myauri, the hunting master and mate of Yenani, the Gwani chieftain. He is also the father of the sick Neyobi and another Gwani named Kapyundi. With him, I get to ask how Gwenno died: "Gwenno killed by The Trapper's men." 
I'm already fantasizing what I'm going to do to The Trapper when I wander into the next cave and meet the Gwani chief, Yenani. She tells how the Gwani used to rule the north with the help of the Horn of Gwani, but it was stolen by a thief who took it to Skullcrusher. Gwenno apparently told her that the Avatar would save the Gwani from extinction. 
Given our track record lately, I wouldn't count on it.
Penguins appear as we head north into the next valley. One of them follows us for a time. We kill another polar bear, another ice snake, and some blue tentacles that erupt from the ground. A snow leopard appears but fortunately isn't hostile. A train passes by--no, that's outside my house. What the hell? It's two o'clock in the morning! 

We come to another cave. An injured Gwani passes by and warns us that an Ice Dragon is inside. He tried to kill it but was wounded and is heading back to Baiyanda for healing. We enter, but he must have meant a different cave. This is an abandoned Gwani home with nothing of value but some spider silks in the corners. 
Penguins, polar bears, and snow leopards co-exist in the Serpent Isles.
Further north, I find Kapyundi, also injured. He says the Ice Dragon killed three of the hunters that went after it. "Must return to village in shame." He suggests when I get to the Ice Dragon cave, I use a second, secret entrance instead of the main one.
We've now reached the northern coast. We move east and find another cave, but a locked door greets us immediately on the other side, and it can't be picked. A little further along from there, the mountains end at an inlet. The map makes it look like there's room to squeeze between the mountain range and the water, but there isn't, so there must be some other way to reach the northeastern part of the island. 
The answer turns out to be an "ice raft," near where I met Kapyundi. Once the party is on it, I double-click and find that I can maneuver it in any direction, although there's no visible means of propulsion. At first, I wonder if I can take it all the way back to Monitor, but it turns out that the sea is a maze of ice floes that limit your movement. I follow a leftmost path. A new enemy rears its head from the frozen waters: a frost serpent. It has missile attacks that devastate my party, killing Boydon. I have to reload. 
These guys were a lot harder than the Ice Dragons.
After a long while, I come to an island so far to the north that it's hidden by the title of the map. It has a network of caves blocked by ice walls. There seem to be groups of megaliths on the other sides of the walls. I try attacking them and casting "Explosion," but nothing works. I assume this is the Gwani death temple and I'll need their horn to bring down the ice barriers. I return to the ice raft.
I shall be back with the Horn of Winter.
Another long journey through the maze puts us on another island, this one swarming with hostile snow leopards. We come to a field of corpses and scattered limbs. Suddenly, the Ice Dragon appears! I have all kinds of plans to try potions and spells on him, but two seconds after we enter combat, he's dead. Someone must have gotten a critical hit. I use the bucket on his body and get a bucketful of blood.
That seemed too easy.
A cave beyond the dragon beckons. We enter and are immediately confronted by a second Ice Dragon, which also dies quickly. Then two Ice Dragon babies attack us, and we also kill them. I feel a bit bad because the Gwani gave me a long spiel about how they live in balance with nature and only kill Ice Dragons when they have no other choice. I've apparently just killed an entire family. The rewards are a lot of gold--coins, nuggets, bars--a magic axe, and a magic sword. We find even more treasure on another part of the island, by the body of a slain adventurer. Only on leaving the island do I remember that I was supposed to go through a secret side door. I didn't notice one.
The dragons tidily keep their valuables in chests but leave body parts all over their lair.
There's another cave on the eastern side of the island. Polar bears and--fine, I'll go to the manual and look it up--"ice corpsers" attack as we explore the hallways, where teleporters send us this way and that. We fight some "magical ice creatures" and a few ice trolls and find some more treasure, spell scrolls, and magic weapons. Honestly, there's not much else the game can do for me in the way of weapons. I'm sure some of these magic melee weapons are better than magic axes, but magic axes still seem like the best choice for most battles. More useful are a pair of magic gauntlets and a magic helm for when we don't need these fur caps anymore.
Did someone at Origin get paid for this?
More maze, then another island. There's a wrecked ship on it, bodies strewn everywhere. A skull has a sparkling crown on it, which I cannot take. Nearby barrels have reagents, gold, and potions. I use a crate to step up to the ship's deck, where I can see a book. This causes the corpses to come alive and attack as skeletons. They're easy to destroy. The logbook indicates that the sailors were looking for the "miser's treasure" but their nerves were frayed by constant storms and other obstacles, and they eventually turned on each other. The hold has more gems and gold.
Geez. Pack it in, pack it out, guys.
One final island. It has more penguins than the others. And penguin nests. Sitting in the middle of one of them is Magebane. As I noted when I saw the image of it, the sword is on a nest that also has a blue egg. There's a nest nearby with neither. I take the blue egg from Dupre's pack and put it on the vacant nest, then grab the sword. The penguins start attacking us. Of course, I'm not going to kill penguins, so I go running back to my raft, off the island, and back to the mainland.
Back at the Gwani caves, we take the Ice Dragon blood to the sick child and use the bucket on her. Nothing happens. We go around talking to the Gwani, and they don't acknowledge that anything has changed. I have to reload the game from the penguin island and try again. Apparently, we were supposed to just give the bucket to Yenani. We do that, and later when we visit Neyobi, she's all better. 
I think it's the name of a Jedi.
Unfortunately, the Gwani give me nothing for my trouble, so I'm not sure why we did all that. Yenani says that she hopes "some day" she can help us. Thus, I'm not entirely sure how to move forward. I don't think I missed any paths that I could take with the ice raft. I can't use the obvious password to get into the Ophidian ruins because I've "forgotten something." I didn't find any new serpent teeth. Maybe I need to poke around looking for secret caverns or something.
On the matter of equipment, we're still missing:
  • The glass sword, which is apparently in the hands of Hazard the Trapper.
  • Rudyom's Wand, which was replaced by a strange apparatus that might have belonged to the exiled necromancer Vasculio. I might have missed something back in Moonshade on this.
  • The blackrock serpent, which Batlin probably has.
  • Five torches replaced by a pumpkin. Since Shamino's list didn't even mention this substitution and torches are a dime-a-dozen, I assume we'll never be sure about this one.
I enjoyed this session. There were a lot of serendipitous encounters, and the Gwani didn't have the same exhausting level of dialogue as other NPCs in the game. I don't like feeling stuck, though.
Time so far: 56 hours


  1. Back when I first played Serpent Isle, I got stuck at the Ophidian ruin password gate. It was the only time in the game I needed to consult a walkthrough, and when I found out *why* I was stuck, I thought it was one of the worst-implemented bits of RPG railroading I'd ever seen.

    Spoilers in ROT-13: Lbh arrq na nqqvgvbany fcbxra-jbeq cnffjbeq sebz Lranav ohg lbh pna'g rira nfx sbe vg (ab qvnybthr xrljbeq) hayrff lbh'ir nyernql nfxrq gur Ubhaq bs Qbfxne gb genpx Ongyva guebhtu uvf zrqnyyvba. Va zl pnfr gur erny xvpx va gur nff jnf, V unq npghnyyl qbar gung ohg gura sbe jungrire ernfba eriregrq gb n fnir sebz orsber Funzvab'f pnfgyr, naq qvqa'g guvax bs qbvat vg ntnva ba gur ercynl. "Gur ubhaq cbvagf abegu!" Gunaxf, V unq ab vqrn gung erqhaqnag ovg bs vasbezngvba jnf na rffragvny cybg gevttre. Naq lrnu, gur Terng Rnegu Frecrag Ebr Nqnzf vf ab uryc ng nyy.

    1. Really, I've always found that fairly clever: the game gives you exactly what you need without being obvious about it.

      Lbhe tbny vf gb genpx ongyva, naq lbh unir bar bs uvf orybatvatf cyhf gur ubhaq juvfgyr. Ng n yngre cbvag va gur tnzr, lbh'yy arrq gb genpx lbhe guerr pbzcnavbaf naq vg gheaf bhg gur tnzr unf fhogyl neenatrq sbe lbh gb unir n xrl vgrz orybatvat gb rnpu bs gurz, cyhf lbh fgvyy unir gur ubhaq ng gung cbvag. Cerggl pyrire jvgubhg unaq ubyqvat.

    2. What the game gives would be fine -- if the clues were an optional player aid. This gate and the barrier at Shamino's castle are just ways of enforcing a certain sequence of plot progression which 1) ends up being totally unnecessary at a storytelling level and 2) has enforcement mechanisms that are arbitrary and nonsensical within the game's world. Maybe both of these are consequences of the rush to publish, but -- the game is what it is.

    3. I agree with Radiant. I also think actually quite clever. But it seems like Chet has not tried using item on item yet.

    4. This is an example of something I've given the name of "irrational flags" -- it's when the game won't let you pass a certain point without doing certain things, but there is no logical connection between the things you have to do and what is blocking you. There are often no hints, and sometimes it's not even clear where the actual block is, you just can't figure out what to do next. This is a common feature of bad JRPGs.

    5. But there is a hint. Nf va lbh whfg cerivbhfyl qvq n fvzvyne guvat. Lbh xabj gurer vf fbzrbar jub pna frrx guvatf. Lbh xabj lbh unir fbzrguvat bs gung crefba. Lbh nyernql qvq gung bapr. Why not do it again?

    6. There were rational clues.

      Gur tnzr erpragyl unq lbh hfr gur Ubhaq. Naq whfg tnir lbh na vgrzf fcrpvsvpnyyl fnvq gb orybat gb Ongyva.

      Gur svefg guvat V gubhtug jura V ernq gung cneg urer jnf, "hfr gur Ubhaq".

      Giving you some skill that you use once right at the beginning, is completely useless everywhere else, and is then used once near the end of the game is more irrational.

    7. The problem isn't the lack of clues per se, but that there is no logical link between what you need to achieve and what you need to do to achieve it.
      Divinity: Original Sin has a similar annoyance at the beginning where the game doesn't let you pursue other leads until you complete the widow quest. Even though pursuing other suspects would be one of the most logical things to do to determine her guilt or innocence.

    8. The biggest problem here is puzzle stacking. You read the note that says you need a password to open the gate. You solve the stone puzzle and you find out you still need something else. The player is going to think there's something else they need to do related to the puzzle they already solved. There's absolutely solutions to this problem: sbe vafgnapr, gur ragenapr pbhyq or pbaprnyrq naq lbh pna bayl svaq vg vs gur Ubhaq vf frrxvat Ongyva. I suspect that they intended to do something like this but ended up not having the technical capability and/or time to do it.

      Also, (more severe spoilers): gur tnzr vf gbb fznyy sbe gur Ubhaq tvzzvpx gb jbex cebcreyl. Va n zbqrea bcra-jbeyq tnzr lbh zvtug npghnyyl arrq uryc svaqvat n pehzoyvat ehva va gur zvqqyr bs fbzr zbhagnvaf fbzrjurer. Gur yngre hfr bs gur Ubhaq gb genpx gur Onarf vf rfcrpvnyyl abafrafvpny orpnhfr gurer'f yvgrenyyl bayl bar erznvavat cynpr va gur jbeyq sbe gurz gb or. Naq va gur bevtvany tnzr cyna, lbh jbhyq or genpxvat gurz gb... gur guerr ovt gbjaf va gur jbeyq, jurer rirelbar fnlf "fhpu-naq-fhpu Onar vf gur ehyre urer abj".

    9. Just like JWL, the first time I got this far I was brought to a screeching halt by a poorly-timed reload. In my case, though, I didn't have access to a walkthrough, so I wasn't able to recover.

      Worse, though I was able to progress past this the next time I was willing to give the game enough of another chance to start over, I've had at least two other playthroughs end here. The action needed to progress is purely informational, doesn't actually give you any information you don't already have, and isn't the sort of thing you think is necessary to do if you've played the game before and already seen how useless it it is. Which is why I thought for the better part of a decade that sometimes this part of the game just bugs out, and the only workaround was to start over from the beginning.

    10. After exercising my reconstructive memory for a while, I'm thinking my own poorly-timed reload happened because I broke into Shamino's castle with Telekinesis and got Beatrix's messages out of order (and after confronting Batlin). Since she just kind of stops talking after a while with no clear resolution, I started to worry that my break-in had also broken her plot sequence and I replayed it going through the secret door as the developers intended. In hindsight I don't think it actually matters except by making the dialogue weird(er).

    11. Two months later, after replaying the game, this puzzle still fresh in mind: yeah, it sucks. I take back what I said before.

      It would feel more natural if the password to Skullcrusher was always a reward for helping the Gwani, irregardless of where the player is with the Batlin plot in the game. Because you can already do these things before Shamino's Castle, and then the player might not think of talking with the Gwani again.

      It would be even better if the game would just let the players pass the gate whenever they figure out the correct password.

      It's such an artificial bottlenecking moment and there's reason to believe that it wasn't supposed to be like this originally.

      In Skullcrusher, there are 4 ghosts who guide the player towards the penguins (for Magebane), but the previous Gwani stuff had the player already visiting those parts. There seems to be a remnant puzzle with Vasculio and Magebane, as if the player could only advance with the Magebane in possession, but Vasculio is a wimp and all that ghost stuff feels unnecessary now.

      The North however, I think, is the best part of the game. Even with these bad bottleneck moments. It's still exploration joy.

  2. Well, that answers the question of whether Batlin is still working for the Guardian. Frankly I'm not sure why the Guardian sent him here in the first place.

    By the way, Batlin stole his blackrock serpent from Andral, the sculptor back in Monitor; it had been a family heirloom since the city's founding. The Avatar's blackrock serpent was given as a sidequest from some goblins back in Ultima Underworld 2 (I'm really not sure where they got it from), naq vg gheaf bhg fgrsnab va zbbafunqr pheeragyl unf vg; lbh'yy svaq bhg yngre.

  3. Nice entry. Besides all the events covered and the "train cameo", as so often I especially enjoyed many captions - not only references to WizIV and ASoIaF, but also some chuckles there.

    Haven't played SI myself yet, but while you think about the main quest and whether to read the spoilers or not, maybe you could always go check out Stokes's house in the meantime?

  4. AlphabeticalAnonymousJune 11, 2023 at 8:34 AM

    > (swish-swash, swish-swash) .. (squelch, squelch)
    Going on a Batlin hunt?

    Another fascinating and plot-intensive tale - many thanks.

    A question to the community: is there anyone here who came to the Ultima games late in life, rather than re-playing them after being introduced in their youth? As perhaps one of the few readers here who has never played an Ultima title, I'm frequently curious how well the games would hold up without that extra dose of nostalgia.

    1. I would say it depends upon where you started playing CRPGs... I started in the early 80s in the world of 8-bit, so booting up Ultima III is still quite fun. If you started in the 2000s, it would seem very very primitive.

      I think Ultima I-III are largely proof of concept and devleopmental games... the real deal starts with IV and goes through Serpent Isle. I've not played 8/9, but they are felt to be very flawed and borderline playable.

    2. I'm a 90's kid, meaning I was too young to play Ultima's back then. I became a gamer around the time of Diablo II.

      I played Ultima's in the 2010's. And I think they do hold up well. Ultima 5 and Skyrim are very similar games for example.

      Well, maybe you need a RPG nerd mindset to properly appreciate them... but game design wise, Ultima's still have a lot of ideas to offer.

    3. I'm adding some extra thoughts to my previous comment.

      I think generally Ultima 5 is the greatest.

      That's a masterpiece of an open-world RPG. There hasn't been any other game on such a scale where the player is made to feel like a fugitive. The towns are more dangerous than the wilderness. And the element of hiding from and trying to undermine the oppressive regime is so immersive.

      Ultima 6 has too much silly Ren Faire vibe to my taste.

      Ultima 7 and Serpent Isle are pretty cool. Ultima 7 has pretty good writing also.

      I even like Pagan. It's a butchered game, but there were good ideas in it.

      Ultima 9 is offensively naive in it's take on virtues and human nature.

    4. I played U7BG/U7SI and U8 when young. Much mater (10-12years ago), I started backtracking them in order. The first one I really liked was U5. I liked U6 but did not finish it. I even disliked U4.

    5. @Joshua I agree about Pagan -- it was ultimately a failure I think, but it felt like a failure that was made with good intentions by the same people that made the previous games.

      9 was just a complete travesty. And it was especially insulting to me because it was the first Ultima that was released after I had been introduced to the series, and it promised to be an epic conclusion to the whole thing.

    6. I agree with Joshua about U5. I'd love to play a modern game along the same themes, perhaps even more intense: you're a fugitive every where you go, you have to sneak around and avoid all guards. etc.

      >Going on a Batlin hunt?
      That was the original subtitle of the entry, before I decided to go back to snake puns.

    7. Yeah Pagan’s not bad. If someone were say playing through literally every CRPG ever made I’d say they should even look forward to it!

    8. The problem wit Pagan was the jumping mini-games. When U8 was released they were rage-inducing and showstopper. Once the patch allowing you to jump where you pointed the mouse was released, they were a minor nuisance, nothing more, but too late - the reputation of the game was ruined.

    9. Ultima 9 is a strange situation, because it's a travesty and betrayal by the standards of its own series, but when you compare it to most other long-running series, it's only a mildly-clumsy transition to 3d around the time EVERYONE was clumsily transitioning to 3D, and its continuity with the rest of the series is a lot stronger than many of its contemporaries.

      Ultima 6 is the "Now, MY Ultima" for me. 7 I can appreciate as a good game, but I never really connected with it because to me it felt like the game was pivoting to be more in line with mainstream games of the period.

    10. I bought a NES copy of Exodus back in 1994/5 and loved it immediately. Maybe just the nostalgia talking but I think I prefer it to the DOS version (still I love the music). The only RPG I'd played previously was Wasteland, which I also loved.

      I didn't think Pagan or Ascension were all that bad, really. They were both a little buggy, and Ascension's story didn't follow, but the game was supposed to feel like the end. There is a fan created dialogue patch that changes the story and aligns it closer to the Bob White plot. My favorites in the main sequence are VI, V, III, VII, IV - in that order. Didn't like II and for some reason never finished Martian Dreams (the only one I didn't). I always start it excited and then lose interest. Too difficult to get from one place to another.

      @Chet: There is a modern version of U5 called Lazarus, using the Dungeon Siege engine. It might be worth checking out if you get into a decent game slump.

    11. Even with the jumping puzzles fixed, the level design for Pagan is extremely dull, and in a lot of ways it feels like a step backwards from VII. (At the time there were a lot of complaints about losing the ability to pick your avatar's gender and portrait, something the series had let you do since VI.) I like what they were trying to do with it plotwise, though.

      IX was a technical mess when it came out, which contributes to its poor reputation. I don't think its retcons are the end of the world -- every Ultima game managed to trample the continuity at least a little bit. I recall complaints about Lord British being a useless old fart but that's been canon since False Prophet. Even the Avatar being a goofy idiot isn't out of character for someone who says "job?" to every child and horse he meets. The actual premise of the game is bad, though, and it retroactively makes the metaphysics of the series very silly.

    12. I only ever tried IV a few years ago. I really liked the character creation, and the game itself was okay, just felt a bit like you were grinding for virtues. I never got far and lost my notes, but I'd like to restart it eventually and at least make it to one dungeon.
      Somethings putting me off about the later ones, though it's hard to put my finger on it. I'd like to try Ultima 9, though, see how it is for someone who doesn't care about the lore.

    13. In the mid-90's, Ultima 6 was my very first role-playing game. There is no evidence on the web that it was ever released in my country, therefore it must have been a bootleg edition (I paid it about 10€). Also, there was no map included and the badly translated manual explained that experience points must go DOWN to zero to advance to the next level.

      If you are curious, when the Avatar got to zero Experience, the game crashed so badly I had to delete and reinstall it. I got there a few times in a row, then gave up the game.

      About 15 years later and after some linear, plot-rich Japanese role-playing games (FF7), I discovered Ultima 3 and 4 (Nintendo ports), and from there the series grew on me.

    14. Ultima 4 is still my favorite role-playing game ever, hands down.

    15. AlphabeticalAnonymousJune 12, 2023 at 9:32 AM

      Gentlemen, you intrigue me. I think I'll have to give Ultima a try.

    16. Pagan commits one sin i just can't forgive, by giving you a quest to find a location that doesn't even exist as a way to get you to move on to the next area.

    17. My first exposure to Ultima was the NES port of Ultima IV, which wasn't a horrible experience, but I never got very far in exploring it It wasn't until later that I discovered it wasn't really the complete game (you can only have 4 party members, for one thing). As I started gaming on a Commodore 64, then Amiga, and finally buying my own NES, more primitive graphics and sound never bothered me. I just recently finished my first playthrough of Pool of Radiance, actually. So going back to the earlier Ultimas has been fun, though I haven't got very far. Still playing through Ultima 1 right now. It's been a while, so I probably have to start over to remember where I left off.

    18. I can't remember this ; which location / quest is it ?

    19. @The Wargaming Scribe it's the last quest the earth wizard gives you, he asks you to visit the tomb of a previous earth wizard but it just straight up doesn't exist, its real purpose is to funnel you towards the air wizards

    20. "I'd love to play a modern game along the same themes, perhaps even more intense: you're a fugitive every where you go, you have to sneak around and avoid all guards. etc. "

      Sounds like a Robin Hood themed RPG would fit the bill.

    21. Good question, because I got introduced to the Ultima series by a friend showing off his high-powered pc with the dreaded part IX of the series. My first thought was, if that's supposed to be an rpg, then where's the party?

      I'm not sure whether it's just me, or the Ultima series wasn't as well received in Europe, but M&M and Wiz were the name of the game with us back then.

    22. @Wonko I remembered seeing the tomb of the "First Necromancer", but checking the Ultima Codex wiki not only it is nothing like I remembered, and the quest is actually to find the "Birthplace of Moriens [the PREVIOUS Necromancer]"... in the middle of the Catacombs because that's where pregnant women go in the last trimester, as we all know. Childhood's memories played a trick on both us.

      The birthplace exists, but only in the patched version so maybe I met it and never thought more of this.

    23. I'm quite the rpg fan but for various reasons mostly to do with the state of the UK games scene, I didn't play an Ultima until 7, and haven't played another since.

      I did very much enjoy 7 though.

    24. I got into playing RPGs at the end of the 90s, as they were released here in localized versions on cover CDs of gaming magazines - namely Quest for Glory 1, 3, and 4, Albion (albeit the translation caused a bug that blocked access to later parts of the game), Stonekeep, and Fallout. Before that, I just could not cope with the games in English.
      I tried Ultima 7 in 2010, but I just couldn't get into the game and ditched it for another run of Jagged Alliance 2 :-)

  5. It occurs to me that I never found an intelligence trainer, not even in Moonshade - Which is why the Avatar starts the game with the stat more or less maxed out. Minor spoiler: gurer vf na vagryyvtrapr naq zntvp genvare va Fvyire Frrq.

  6. I'm pretty sure there was a teleport pad somewhere north of Gorlab Swamp which would have saved you the trouble of traveling to Sleeping Bull.

    1. Hmmm. I missed that, I guess. But I wouldn't have been able to get back that way in any case.

  7. Nobody enjoys killing penguins, but if you have to kill penguins you might as well enjoy it.

  8. >A train passes by--no, that's outside my house. What the hell? It's two o'clock in the morning!

    That's New Brunswick Southern (and its affiliates in Maine)! Their line runs directly behind my Mother's apartment building and a good blast of the horn at 2 AM will awaken the entire neighbourhood.

  9. With the Lazarus remake Ultima 5 is looking nice enough to enjoy the plot - if you are like me and cannot stand graphics worse than VGA. As far as I know there are even some side quests added. All in all a good story focus cRPG. The combat is as bad as Ultima 7 though.

    1. Lazarus and the original Ultima 5 are actually two very different games, even if the general plot and idea is the same.

      I like Lazarus. They really excelled at dungeon design. But it often feels very un-Britannian. It just has a different feel. It's like Man of Steel to Christopher Reeve's Superman (I like both).

      Lazarus even does some of it's own inventive Ultima lore harmonizing. For example, New Magincian's are the returned descendants of the former Magincians, who are all vaguely ethnically asian.

      It also invented a dark and moody backstory for Blackthorn and of his coming to power, which gets referenced a lot.

    2. There IS a VGA patch for the DOS Ultima V, but it's still very much in the realm of 16x16 characters on black backgrounds. They're just coloured and shaded a little more now.

  10. Avatar, "furry outfit" hath acquired a new meaning since thee left Earth all those years yonder. Ask thy friend Dr. Cat if thou art curious.

    Also, Gannt was totally right about Stokes' pipe. Even if we disregard the dangers of secondhand smoke and the question of consent in breathing it, it still smells awful and is gonna get itself in every nook and cranny of the ship.

  11. Long time reader, infrequent commenter. I read "There were a lot of serendipitous encounters" as "serpentdipitous" which I thought was nice.


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