Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ultima V: Raid on Blackthorn's

Absolutely nothing happened to me after this exchange. Maybe I was just too fast on the magic carpet.

I didn't mean to hit Blackthorn's palace so soon, but I was on my way to the Island of the Abyss, and then suddenly there it was. I figured the worst that would happen was I'd wake up in Lord British's castle again. As it turns out, with the magic carpet--which moves faster than the guards--I was able to get in, get Lord British's crown, and leave quite easily. In the meantime, I freed a bunch of prisoners, collected an NPC named Gorn, and talked to Blackthorn himself.

After I got through it the first time, I actually quit without saving just so I could do it again and make a video of it. You can see the result below. The video also highlights a bunch of gameplay elements.

At the end of the video, I decide to attack Blackthorn just to see what happens. First, when I attack what I assume is Blackthorn sitting on his throne, it turns out to be his jester! Then, when I hit Blackthorn in his chambers, he and his daemons slaughter me almost instantly. I remember from playing previously that he's an unkillable character, so I'm not overly upset; I just wanted to see what would happen.

Blackthorn's chef is unpleasant.

After reloading, I skedaddled and went to the Island of the Abyss, where I learned a lesson about honesty--as if I needed it.

All right, fine. My name isn't really "Chet."

In quick succession after Blackthorn's, I hit Jhelom, Buccaneer's Den, New Magincia, the Lycaeum, Cove, Empath Abbey (again), Greyhaven lighthouse (again), and Blackthorn's castle (again--I found out a clue later on that the prisoner Hassad had a Word of Power).

Some quests and items along the way:

  • I now have the names of the three Shadowlords: Astaroth (hatred), Nosfentor (cowardice), and Faulinei (falsehood). Lord Shalineth suggests that knowing these names somehow gives me power over them, although I'm not sure how.
  • Each of the Shadowlords is apparently associated with some kind of shard. I have a line on where to find two of them in the underworld (including coordinates), but not exactly what to do with them if I find them.

  • I also have the Words of Power for seven of the eight dungeons. I'm not even sure what the eighth dungeon is, frankly. But I got each of them from the associated council members--the last was Hassad, in Blackthorn's castle, who I encountered on my first visit but didn't know he had a Word of Power until someone told me in New Magincia. My return trip to Blackthorn's had some pretty bad consequences, which I cover below.
  • I have the eight mantras (which I still had from Ultima IV anyway), but I still have to meditate at each of the shrines and apparently visit the Island of the Abyss after each meditation. That's going to get tedious.
  • Just as I was wondering where I was going to find the sextant in this game, a guy in Buccaneer's Den told me that David, the lighthouse keeper in Greyhaven, had it. David gave it to me without a fuss after I complimented him on it.

  • A pirate in Buccaneer's Den told me that he heard of glass swords hidden somewhere in Serpent's Spine, the mountain range north of Lord British's castle. At first, I wasn't sure how I was going to get up on the mountains (there doesn't seem to be a balloon in this game), but then I heard about a grapple that allows you to climb over mountains. Someone told me that Lord Michael in Empath Abbey had it, and in short order I got it from him and, with the help of some gems, found the glass sword. My recollection about glass swords is that they do a lot of damage but shatter on the first hit, so I'd better save it for something special. (K)limbing through mountains with the grapple, incidentally, makes you take damage every move, so I won't be using it a lot.

  • From a mad wizard in Jhelom, I got a clue that when moongates disappear, I can search and get moonstones at those locations and move the moongates to new places. I guess that would help me get out of the underworld or something, although for role-playing reasons I'm wary about moving the moongate locations around. People use those! I don't want some guy traveling from Britain to Moonglow suddenly surrounded by mongbats.

This guy has this schtick where he talks backwards.
  • In New Magincia, where almost all the NPCs oddly had Asian names, I found my old companion Katrina. She had been a humble shepherd in Ultima IV before I apparently ruined her:

Violence begets violence, Katrina.

As I mentioned above, when I went back to Blackthorn's some unpleasant things happened. I got the Word of Power from Hassad, but then I accidentally ran into a guard. Instead of giving me a chance to fight, the game just said I was bound and shackled and blindfolded. Pretty soon, Blackthorn showed up and ordered me released, claiming he was seeking Avatarhood. He wanted to know the mantra for the Shrine of Honesty. I wasn't about to tell him.

Furious, he had his guards grab Shamino and put his head on a guillotine or something. Three more times, he demanded the mantra. This was a fairly difficult role-playing choice for me, as Shamino is a good fighter and...well, he's Shamino, for god's sake. He's in every Ultima game. He was one of my original companions in Ultima IV. But I stuck to my guns, hoping Blackthorn was bluffing. Unfortunately...


That unbelievable bastard. Even worse, he stole my magic carpet! Now I have to walk around like a caveman. He tossed my party back in prison, but I managed to pick my way free and get out of his castle, minus one stalwart companion and one handy traveling device.

Nice use of a Goethe quote.

My last "to do" before doing the shrine quests and exploring the dungeons in earnest (I still have to save up enough for magic axes) is to visit Sir Simon's place "west of Spiritwood." I couldn't find it in my first pass, but I suspect it might be surrounded by mountains and I need the grapple to get there. I also need to collect two new party members--I'd ditched Gorn at some inn, and of course I lost Shamino. I figure I need at least one solid spellcaster, so I might return to Yew and pick up Jaana.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Ultima V: World Tour

Thanks for getting my hopes up, Nikolaj.

Aboard my magic carpet, I decided to follow up on my clues, visit the major towns, and see the world, hopefully earning enough money from random encounters to buy a frigate and start hitting the Island of the Abyss.

I started heading for the eastern desert, but I popped into a lighthouse called Waveguide and encountered this guy:

No one who says "in the name of Mondain" (the very evil villain from the first Ultima) can be a particularly good fellow. He didn't have much to say except to yell at me, and his wife was practically catatonic, like Chris Cooper's wife in American Beauty. A sad little side trip.

In the eastern desert, much sooner than I expected, I found the hut of the daemon who supposedly knows something about the Shadowlord of Hatred. I found him working in a field.

Now, I want to be clear here because I think Ultima VI or Ultima VII does a major retcon on this character. He's a daemon. There's no question about it. He has the daemon icon. If I attack him, he's capable of summoning other daemons and possessing me. If I (l)ook at him, it says "thou dost see a daemon." Got it? He's a daemon. Not anything else.

Anyway, he says that he served evil until Lord British apparently did a reverse-Stockholm Syndrome on him, and he made his way to the surface to be a farmer. None of my prodding got him to tell me where Lord British actually is. He gave me the name of the Shadowlord of Hatred--Astaroth (which traces somehow to Babylonian mythology)--but warned me not to yell it.

From there I went to Moonglow, partly because it's the first city in the order of virtues and partly because I had a clue to ask someone named Malik about swords of glass ("it was a passable game to which thou didst not give enough of a chance"). While there, I chanced upon Lord Stuart the Hungry, who had a "create food" spell that he gave me. I found Malik, just a kid (not a Sith lord), and he sent me on to a pirate in Buccaneer's Den for the glass sword clue. His grandmother, a fortune teller, told me where to find Blackthorn's Castle, the Word of Power for the Dungeon Deceit, and the Mantra of Honesty. The developers got a little lazy on this one.

A guy in a tower in the center of town cleared up my question about the stars and comets. (judgemonroe gave me the clue in a comment yesterday, too.) The stars represent the eight towns, the three comets represent the Shadowlords, and looking at the firmament tells me which Shadowlords are in which towns. Since the worst you have to do is wait a day if they're present, I'm not sure what this information does for me--unless I need it to go hunting them later. Anyway, when I gave the wizard the Resistance password, he sent me on to a mage named Goeth in Jhelom to ask about a new "power of the moongates."

Leaving Moonglow, I decided to go along the north coast of Britannia, stopping in Minoc before turning south to Skara Brae and Sir Simon (someplace "west of Spiritwood"). I'll spare you a blow-by-blow account of all of the towns, but here are some highlights from the cities and my wilderness exploration:

  • All of the towns are in the same locations as Ultima IV, but there are a lot more places to explore. IV had eight towns, three keeps, Lord British's castle, and I think three hamlets (oddly, Vesper is gone in V, or I somehow missed it). V has almost all those plus a bunch of lighthouses, huts, castles, and new villages. I like finding new things in familiar territory.
  • The game doesn't do a great job of it, partly because there isn't quite enough dialogue and it's not subtle, but it accurately portrays how some people, even "good" people, can come to support tyranny. We have a healer in Minoc, for instance, who praises Blackthorn for instituting martial law--it's cut down on factional skirmishes that leave people injured. A mayor likes the new laws for their unambiguity. Complexity and nuance are the enemies of tyranny.
  • A frigate will run me 1121 gold. I found this out from Captain Blythe in Minoc, who works his two apprentices 7 days a week making sails. One of them gave me the mantra of sacrifice, and her mother Fiona, who runs the poor house, knew the Word of Power for the Dungeon Covetous.

I pictured her looking like Fiona from "Burn Notice."

  • A beggar in Minoc, after I gave him a bunch of gold, told me that the armorer had been going about town at noon looking shifty. So I followed him and watched him dither around by a tree. Searching the tree after he left, I found "5 odd keys." Apparently, they open magic locks. I bought 5 more from a chef in Serpent's Hold.
  • Like Ultima IV and Might & Magic, the game map wraps back around on itself, which makes no sense unless the world is a cube (and even then it might make no sense; I'm having trouble visualizing properly).
  • I found Iolo's hut again and talked to Smith, and got the joke where he told me about INFINITY. Dumb horse.

  • In Skara Brae, I found Froed, whose father, Greymarch, I had met in the jail in Yew. I returned to Yew to tell Greymarch, who gave me a clue about Lord British's sceptre, which apparently has protective powers. I need to find Sir Simon (who I was already looking for) to ask about it.
  • Lord British finally showed up at night and raised me a level.

  • At some point, I realized that the Ultima IV classes no longer apply. I am an "Avatar"; Shamino is a fighter instead of a ranger; Iolo and Gwenno are bards, so that's cool; but Julia is also a bard instead of a tinker.
  • Toshi wasn't doing anything for me, so I dumped him at the inn in Skara Brae. At the same inn, I met Saul, who told me where to find mandrake and nightshade (same places as in Ultima IV). Oddly, though, these reagents are for sale at shops now. You don't have to find them in the wild.
  • I have a pocket watch that tells me the time (it's more precise than watching the sun at the top of the screen). I just noticed.
  • Blackthorn is seeking the mantras to the shrines so he can destroy them. This from a guy named Kindor who was nearly killed by Shadowlords.
  • In Serpent's Hold, I met a manacled prisoner who claimed he helped build Blackthorn's castle. He said it was full of traps.
  • I started hearing about "shards." This vaguely rings a bell from the time I played the game as a teenager. Apparently, there are three of them--one for each Shadowlord--located somewhere in the Underworld. A guy in Serpent's Hold said he had a vision about where to find one of them.

That is one specific vision.

  • Monsieur Loubet, the fencing master of Serpent's Hold, gave me the clue that was probably supposed to start my quest for the magic carpet. He said he arrived in Britannia on one as a child, then sold it to a mage named Bandaii in Paws (who first gave me the clue). He was oblivious to the fact that I was, in fact, riding his magic carpet during the entire conversation.

Eventually, I decided I had seen all of the world that I could see from my magic carpet, so I decided to head into the Dungeon Covetous, which is about six steps from Minoc, until I had enough gold to return to Minoc and get my frigate. The dungeon had an undead theme, and it took about two hours to get the necessary gold, but when I was done, the world was open to me.

Next stops: Buccaneer's Den, New Magincia, the Island of the Abyss, Jhelom, and that island where Sir Simon is.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ultima V: You Don't Know What We Can See

Fantasy will set you free.

I did the coolest and stupidest things today. While dithering around trying to think about exactly what to do next, I decided to head back to Lord British's castle and see about that magic carpet I had been told about. I figured it would be in his private chambers on the top of the castle. When I got there, the guard that had thrown me off a few days ago was gone, but I found that the door was surrounded by a magic lock. I read in the manual that the IN EX POR spell would defeat such locks, but although I had the reagents to mix some, I didn't have enough levels to cast it.

Just as I was about to leave, I took notice of a cannon on the ramparts south of me. On a whim, I tried pushing it, and I found I could move it away from the ramparts and towards the door. One shot, and...

God, I love cannons.

Entering the chambers, I was able to (g)et the magic carpet in the doorway, which provides me transportation around mainland Britain faster than any horse, a way across swamps, and coastal transportation easier than a skiff. Awesome! And all because of a chance encounter in Paws.

But that's not all. Inside Lord British's chambers, I found a harpsichord, and remembering that Kenneth (from the lighthouse) had told me that "Stones" is Lord British's favorite song, I looked to my notes for the sequence and gave it a play. This caused the screen to shake and a secret door to open in the northern part of the chamber. Inside was a "sandalwood box." I forgot exactly what it's for, but I do remember I need it for the end of the game.

The fireplace in the room held--predictably--a secret passage behind it, and I decided it wasn't "stealing" to take stuff from Lord British's chambers specifically to rescue him, so I got a scroll of AN TYM (negate time) and a black potion (don't know what it does).

Just as I was congratulating myself for a game well-played, guess what happened. I decided to (k)limb up to the rooftop using the ladder. There's a telescope there, and at nightfall I was able to see a bunch of planets and comets or something. I'm not 100% sure what this is telling me:

Heading downstairs, I found that...goddamn it. The door is magically locked again. Remember what I said yesterday about levels re-setting when you go up and down? I didn't have a cannon inside the room, and I was no more capable of casting IN EX POR than five minutes earlier. Even if I was willing to reload a saved game, I couldn't--for some reason, I had chosen to save it on the roof.

Thus, I made the worst decision for my party that I have ever made in a CRPG: I stood in the fireplace until all of my characters burned to death. Just imagine what that must have been like for them.

We awoke, shrieking and traumatized for life, in Lord British's throne room. Again. Is there any maximum for these things?

But, anyway, wheee! I have a magic carpet. (It seems a little unfair that I got to keep it.)

Something...something...calamari...something. Look, I just died in a fire, all right?

After that, I decided it was time to spend some serious effort restoring my lost experience (I think I have less than when I started the game), equipment, and food. Xyzzy suggested yesterday that I do that by visiting dungeons instead of grinding against bridge trolls, so I thought I'd give it a try. I had Words of Power for both Despise and Wrong, and I remembered from Ultima IV that Despise was in the mountains north of Britain. With a little exploration and a couple of gems, I found it and (y)elled the Word of Power to open it up.

I'll spend more time talking about the dungeons later. For now, I'll just note that the dungeon textures are much better than in the previous game--though still not up to the quality of, say, Dungeon Master. A plaque near the entrance proclaimed that I was in "THE MAZE OF LOST SOULS." Ooooh. Anyway, long story short: the dungeon had virtually nothing in it except pits that I kept falling down, bats (who give you no treasure), and gremlins (who steal your food). No rooms or treasure chests or anything.

So after stocking up on food to replace what the gremlins stole, I took my magic carpet north to the coast above Yew to find the dungeon Wrong. On the way, I popped by the Shrine of Justice and meditated. I didn't realize that this game doesn't require you to find the runes before using the shrines. After meditating, I was given a quest to go to the Codex and "learn of the weakness of the unjust."

I'm the Avatar! Why do I have to prove myself all over again?

The Dungeon Wrong was completely different than Despise. Instead of a "cavern" texture, it had more of a "dungeon" texture--bricks instead of cave walls, with skeletons hanging from manacles. There were rooms in this dungeon, and they had a kind-of "jail" theme. I soon found that, unlike Ultima IV, dungeon rooms in Ultima V do not respawn--at least, not while you're still in the dungeon. Many of the rooms offered good opportunities for level grinding--especially the ones that allowed me to attack through windows with missile weapons, while the enemies just sat there helplessly. By using the feature to "set active character," I could ensure that the character who most needed the experience points got them.

Like shooting rats in a locked jail cell.

The dungeon stopped being fun when I nearly got beat up by some ghosts, so I returned to the surface to camp and see if I could increase in levels. I'm pretty sure that the apparition of Lord British takes care of that when he appears, but he didn't show up the first night I tried it.

I might spend a little more time in Wrong and then start making my rounds of the towns and following up on leads.

Today, I did part of my playing on an airplane, and the guy next to me--he seemed about 20--was utterly baffled as to why I would play a game so old. I tried to suggest that it was no different than watching old movies, or listening to old songs, but he clearly didn't do that sort of thing, either, so I had to give up.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ultima V: Towns and Their Folk

The adventurers arrive in town in time for a Tea Party rally.

After my underworld fiasco, I traveled overland to Yew, the City of Justice, to seek out information on the Resistance (I'd received a hint in one of the little Brittany towns). To replenish some equipment, finances, and experience, I ground against some bridge trolls along the way. (The game makes it easy to find combats by just standing on a bridge and holding down the spacebar.) Opening a chest and finding a whole pile of treasure and items, instead of just gold, makes combat in this game very satisfying.

Ultima V offers a succinct and perfect description of CRPGs: "Some torches! A ring of keys! A sack of gold! A weapon! A weapon!"

But when I got to Yew, a Shadowlord--likely whichever one is associated with falsehood--was hanging around, and he chased me as soon as I saw him. I fled the town with the Shadowlord hot on my heels. I figured the Shadowlord wasn't always in town--I would have remembered that from the last time I played the game--so I decided to go wandering around for a while until he disappeared. He was gone by the next morning, but the Shadowlord of Cowardice was there instead. Annoyed, I stalked off for Empath Abbey for the day.

Empath Abbey, as you may remember from Ultima IV, is one of three keeps dedicated to the principles of virtue: truth, love, and courage. In the courtyard, one of my wishes came true:

One of the few things I remember about this game from childhood.

In the Abbey, a small man named Toshi offered to join me; after he did, he turned out to be a bard, bringing my current bard complement to 3. A little while later, I found Julia the tinker, one of my companions from the previous game, in the same place. She joined and brought my party to its maximum of six.

A cook named Cory hand-fed me some fried shark and squid au poivre.

The Avatar discovers muffulettas.

A jester named Hardluck sang a song about Blackthorn, suggesting he was once a good man whose soul was corrupted by Shadowlords, but I remain skeptical. Lord Michael, the castle's ruler, told me that a daemon living in the eastern desert knows of the Shadowlord of Hatred. After finishing my exploration of the keep, I mounted my horse (which made overland travel a bit faster) and made my way to Yew.

Yew is the City of Justice and, as such, has Britannia's court and prison. Upon arrival, I was a little distressed to see this sign:

Little do they know if they get me dead, I'll just resurrect in Lord British's castle.

Blackthorn and the Shadowlords are not happy that my old friends managed to summon me here. Clearly, justice has gone awry in Yew, so I had no compunction using some keys to jimmy the locks on the prison doors and speak to the occupants. Because I want you to continue to have a sense of the dialogue, I'm going to transcribe a couple of conversations:

  • You see a sorely beaten fighter.
  • NAME: "My name is Greymarch."
  • JOB: "I once sought adventure on the open range!"
  • ADVENTURE: "I've been sitting in this cell now for quite some time, with no word from my son."
  • SON: "I fear Froed was killed by the wicked guards that threw me in here!"
  • FROED: "My son! Hast thou seen him?"
  • NO: "Then why taunt me?"

After talking with Greymarch, I freed the poor prisoner in the manacles next to him, earning me (I hope), a boost in virtue.

  • You see a quiet, solitary man. "I am called Jerone."
  • JOB: "Well, I used to be an adventurer!"
  • ADVENTURER: "Now I'm a prisoner!"
  • PRISONER: "I was convicted of heresy!"
  • HERESY: "I stated my belief that Lord British was alive!"
  • BELIEF: "It happened one night when I was camping out on the moors."
  • CAMPING: "A strange apparition arose before my fire!"
  • APPARITION: "It was HIM, I swear it!!! Surely thou dost believe me?"
  • YES: "Then surely thou must agree, there is hope! If only my brother would hurry!"
  • BROTHER: "He is collecting the 500 gold crowns needed for my release."
  • RELEASE: "He used to give me keys, but I kept getting caught!"
  • KEYS: "I'm sure if thou woudst ask he wouldst give thee a key. He comes by around ten each morning and evening."
  • BYE: "I'm sure we'll see more of each other."

Later, I met his brother, Jeremy, donated 30 gold crowns to his cause, and got a key from him, and found that Chamfort knows the Mantra of Justice.

A barely-perceptible break in the wall pattern behind his bed revealed a secret door.

In the third cell, I met a former Great Council member, Felespar, who had participated in the sealing of the eight dungeons. I asked him about the Word of Power to open it, but when he asked if I was with the Resistance, I had to say no (not yet). On the way out, I encountered the Head Inquisitor, Judge Dryden, who asked if I was here to confess or plead for the release of a prisoner. I gave him the names of each of the prisoners, but he insisted they "deserve no pity!" Outside in the stocks was a child named Aleyn, who had been imprisoned such for failing to turn in his father for not donating enough to charity; nearby, his father, Mario, said that he could only afford 40%--the virtues have been twisted indeed. I jimmied the locks and set them free.

As in Ultima IV, the towns, the NPCs, and their dialogue serve three major purposes: to inform you about the game world, to give you quests and clues, and to offer opportunities to display virtue (or lack thereof). I'm not entirely sure what role virtue and avatarhood play in this game, but they must play some role, or Lord British wouldn't keep assessing my progress when his apparition visits at night. Examples of "bad" things I could do in the towns are: lie about my name when asked, tell the jester I don't like his song, tell Greymarch I'd seen his son when I hadn't, tell Jerone I don't believe him, lie to Felespar about being with the Resistance, steal items from barrels and chests, or attack innocent townsfolk. This is all much like Ultima IV, of course, but this game is more expansive: more dialogue key words, more places to explore (and get in trouble), and more decisions to make.

But I really need that potion!

On to the main quest. Chamfort, the owner of the Arms of Justice, helped me in a couple of ways. One was to give me the Mantra of Justice (BEH); the other was to tell me of the Resistance. When I asked him, he demanded "Who told thee to ask me?," and I had to consult my own blog entry for the name of the character who had given me that clue. I'm glad I was detailed. Once I convinced him I wanted to aid the Resistance, he sent me on to someone named Landon with a password: DAWN (not "Dawn is breaking," fortunately). I had already met Landon in a secret passage behind the jail cells. There's a whole network of secret passages in Yew, including one behind a fireplace.

In fact, there are enough secret passages behind fireplaces that you end up having to walk into every one, just to check.

Landon told me that Blackthorn has personally seized Lord British's crown and keeps it in a small room on the top of his castle, and that I should recover it. Its powers apparently prevent the use of magic within the castle. He finished off by saying, "Seek out Sir Simon on a mountain isle, west of Spiritwood," but I'm not sure why. Now, firmly with the Resistance, I returned to Felespar and got the Word of Power for the dungeon Wrong.

Also in the Resistance stronghold, I met my old friend Jaana, who couldn't join because my party was full (I'm not really sure how to ditch someone). I finished up my trip to Yew by buying some more reagents at Madam Pendra's (the game doesn't give you the option to pay whatever you want, as in IV), and selling my extra arms and armor. I found a weapon to save up for:

My horse had disappeared at some point when I went down a ladder, so I exited Yew on foot and began thinking about my next steps.

A few gameplay notes relating to towns and people:

  • You frequently encounter locked doors in the game, which you can open by "jimmying" them with a key. If it works, you get to keep the key; if not, the key breaks. The same process works for disarming trapped chests after a battle. I assume success is related to the dexterity of the character. There are also magically-locked doors, surrounded by a blue glow, and I don't know how to unlock those yet.

I can see into this cell because the door has a little window. Look carefully in the wall above the pillow on the bed for the secret door. Also note the difference in icon between the unlocked door (in front of me) and the locked ones (on either side). Finally, see the trap door and grating south of me. I can go down through both methods, but only one doesn't hurt.

  • As mentioned above, there are secret doors hidden in walls and represented by tiny breaks in the brick lines. Sometimes you have to (p)ush furniture or plants out of the way to get to them, and then you have to (s)earch to find them. There are also secret passages behind fireplaces.
  • You can sleep in any bed--it's not like Oblivion where you can't sleep in "owned beds." However, if the bed does have an owner, he'll show up and boot you out at his bedtime.
  • Characters in the towns follow a day/night cycle more complex than in most modern CRPGs. (I was just playing Dragon Age: Origins and noting that it never gets dark, and nothing ever closes.) Not only do NPCs go home at night and then get up and go to work in the morning, they take lunch breaks! Some of them show up at places at very specific times, such as Jeremy, who visits his brother at morning and night and spends the rest of the time in the kitchen of the local restaurant. And some are nocturnal. Functionally, this means that I have to wander around town a few times if I want to be sure I get to talk to everyone. Also, shops close at night and towns bar their entrances--you don't want to get stuck in a town after dark unless you intend to stay.
  • There are multiple levels to most towns and castles, accessible via ladders, stairs, trap doors, and gratings. Leaving one level for another causes the first to "reset"--anything you've pushed out of the way gets put back, all unlocked doors are re-locked, and your horse disappears.
  • The game has fun with different viewpoints. Torches cast light only on certain parts of corridors; windows offer views outside or inside, but only when standing next to them; and balconies will show you a snapshot of what's below.

Looking out a second floor window onto the courtyard at night.

I'm not sure exactly what to do next. It seems a bit early to try to infiltrate Lord Blackthorn's castle, so I suspect I'll start working through the towns in some kind of order. I still have to figure out what role the virtues, mantras, and shrines play in this game, and I still don't know how to level up.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Ultima V: Into the Underworld

Yes, I know it's too early for me to be here. It's called "role-playing."

The Ultima V manual has a journal kept by "Remoh" (read it backwards), the scribe to Lord British. It describes the journey that Lord British undertook to the underworld, accompanied by knights named Arinois, Meridin, Geraci, Shaana, Noin, and Roin. The journal describes how they reached the underworld by following a river east of Spiritwood and plunging down a waterfall, and it gives detailed directions of their path once they reached the first underworld cavern.

The narrative describes assorted horrors that assailed the party, generally accompanied by Lord British kicking some serious ass--something he never does in any of the other Ultima games. One by one, the knights fell until only Lord British, Shaana, and Rehom were left. Then the three Shadowlords arrived, blasted British unconscious, and hauled him away. The fates of Shaana and Rehom are unknown, as is the method by which the journal reached the surface.

The obvious thing for my Avatar, Invictus, to do would be to retrace the expedition's steps and see if he can find any clues, or even Lord British himself. I don't fancy getting stuck down there, but it'll be ages before I have a character with enough spell points to cast "gate travel," so I'll have to take my chances.

To follow the path, I first needed to buy a skiff, so I spent a little time grinding against bridge trolls until I had the 175 gold to afford it. Their loot also provided a decent supply of weapons, food, and keys. When I had about 500 gold, I bought the skiff from Hawkwind in East Brittany and stocked up on rations in Britain.

I had this idea that I could carry the skiff with me, but I guess not in this game, so I boarded it for a long trip south, around the cape, and back north to the mouth of the River Maelstrom. The skiff, I soon discovered, is only good in light coastal waters. If you try to take it into deep water, the game tells you "rough seas!" and you lose a bunch of hit points.

I stopped in Paws on the way south, where I patronized an inn owned by the enigmatic "Dr. Cat," a figure who appears in a little more detail in later games and is based on a real-life programmer. I bought some torches at the guild, but keys, at 3 for 224 gold, were too dear. An adventurer named Glinkie told me that he thought the Shrine of Spirituality was destroyed (in Ultima IV, you could only find it by entering moongates at when the moons were full). Just for the heck of it, I searched a random tree stump and found a ring of invisibility.

A mage in a field of horses was looking for Smith, and when I told him that he could find Smith at Iolo's place, he "rewarded" me by telling me that I could find a magic flying carpet in Lord British's chambers at the top of the castle (the place the guard evicted me from yesterday). I briefly considered going back and trying it, but I figure I need some more resources for that kind of caper.

Then I made the mistake of stopping in Trinsic, a walled city. The gates closed at night, and a guard demanded a 40-gold-piece tribute to Lord Blackthorn, which I refused. Then he demanded my arrest, which I also refused. That didn't work out so well for my party:

"You should have paid the fine!"

Waking up in Lord British's castle again, I vowed to be more careful in towns at night. I walked back to Trinsic, picked up my skiff, and continued south.

Ultima V has a lot more little keeps and houses to explore than its predecessor, and I soon found myself in a lighthouse called Greyhaven. A poor confused boy was studying Blackthorn's version of the eight virtues, and when I told him they wouldn't make him an Avatar, he told me to piss off. In the keep was the fugitive royal coinmaker, Sir Arbuthnot, who apparently minted the codex coin that called me to Britannia in the first place.

Named after John Arbuthnot, or Arbuthnot & Co., a mercantile bank in India?

Also living in the lighthouse was the court composer, Sir Kenneth, who taught me Britannian musical notation, which is similar to standard western musical notation except that the staff has only four lines. The notes corresponded with numbers from 1-9, and I was able to sit in front of a harpsichord and play a little bit--if you watch the video with sound, you may recognize the tune. Afterwards, I wandered around the lighthouse a bit and then went to bed. Lord British appeared in my dreams and healed everyone, which was nice of him.

At last, I made my way around the cape, up the west coast of Britannia, down the River Maelstrom. I plunged down the waterfall shown at the beginning of this screen capture and landed in the underworld, in the middle of a small lake. I ignited one of my few torches, noting that the game started me with enough sulfurous ash for about 6 "light" spells.

From here, I started following the directions in Remoh's journal. He noted landing his skiff on the western shore of the cavern and erecting a sign, which I soon found:

I'm starting to re-develop the ability to translate runes without referring to the documentation: "HEREUPON BEGAN THE QUEST OF HIS MAJESTY LORD BRITISH TO EXPLORE AND CHART THE NEW UNDERWORLD ON 11/27/137."

I continued following the directions down a couple of rivers, winning battles with sea serpents along the way, though at considerable damage. Other creatures I was able to outrun. My party started to wonder if visiting the underworld was really a good idea, given that, you know, Lord British couldn't make it.

On the southern shore of a lake, I found Lord British's party's skiff, right where the journal said they abandoned it:

"If we ever return to Britannia," says the journal, "It will not be by retracing our steps."

Beasts began attacking me. Giant rats weren't so hard:

But a group of mongbats was so large as to be ridiculous. I had to flee, probably taking a hit to my valor. I found myself having to camp a lot to heal.

I had several fights with regular bats who were as numerous but not so hard, and I dared hope I was racking up experience points (although I don't quite yet know how to level up).

At length I came to a large cavern in which almost every square was swamp, which of course poisons your characters. Poisoned characters lose 2 hit points with every action. The game started me with a reserve of AN NOX spells, but there was no point using them to cure characters who were going to just get poisoned again two steps later. I carefully made my way across the cavern, using AN NOX and MANI (healing) sparingly, and I reached the other side nearly bereft of mixed spells, reagents, and spell points.

Have I ever mentioned before how I feel about poison?

Finally, nearly out of health and resources, I came to a cavern in which I found the remnants of Lord British's party. They encountered a battle against a legion of mongbats, and only three survived.

"Today the tree of us remaining buried the valient knights Arionis, Meridin, Geraci, Noin, and Roin, here upon the underground battlefield where they fell. Tomorrow we shall seek our way back to our own world; our disastrous quest here is finished."

On the battlefield was Lord British's amulet, which I took. I have no idea what it does. When I put it on, it made some kind of icon in the middle of the character stat screen. I searched the graves and found nothing. There were no other exits from the cavern.

Just as I was about to start retracing my steps to see if I could find a way out of the underworld, an earthquake shook my characters down to their last few hit points, and I was attacked by dragons.

Aside from making devastating attacks, dragons can summon demons, who can in turn summon other demons and possess your party members. Moments later, I was resurrected in Lord British's throne room, minus 50 experience points for each character.

I now know Lord British's fate, and I still have his amulet, but I face a difficult journey to restore my experience and repair the damage to my valor caused by running away from so many mongbats and other assorted beasts. Right now, my best bet seems to be to seek out the owner of the Arms of Justice in Yew and find out news about the Resistance.

From now on, I'll highlight gameplay innovations as I continue my quest to rescue Lord British. Despite the limited amount of time I have to play it, I'm really enjoying this game.