|The Avatar gets the Orb of Cheating|
Ultima VI begins with the player receiving the Orb of the Moons, a handy artifact that allows instant travel to practically every key location in the game. The satirical Ultima IV, Part II (which I reviewed in September 2011) refers to it as the "Orb of Cheating," which isn't far from the truth. The Avatar activates the Orb by "using" it on the ground in any direction from his current position, up to two squares. This provides 24 possible locations (though two don't seem to be used). Using it two squares to the north opens a portal to Britain, for instance, while using it a knight's move to the west takes you to the Shrine of Spirituality. Every town and shrine has a position.
Testing these locations is a bit of a trial at first. At the beginning of the game, all shrines are occupied by hostile gargoyles, so accidentally blundering to one of them means an inevitable combat. Traveling to towns is less lethal, but unless you're intimately familiar with the geography or willing to look up spoilers, it can take some effort to find out what town you're actually in. You have to talk to random NPCs until one of them happens to say the town's name. I used the Orb this way to get the screenshots for Minoc and the edge of the world (via a boat in Jhelom) for the first post, but of course I reloaded afterwards.
|As I eventually discovered, using it two places to the northwest takes me to Moonglow.|
But after only a little testing, I found the pattern. The outer squares take you to Britannian destinations and the inner ones take you to gargoyle destinations (with the exception of one square north, which takes you to Lord British's castle). Starting in the northwest corner and proceeding clockwise, you visit each town in the standard virtue-based order (Moonglow, Britain, Jhelom, Yew, etc.) followed by its shrine.
Including the moonstone in the game, at least the way that it works, was in my opinion a bad decision. A careless player can wander into the gargoyle world (somehow, Shamino knows the names to their shrines) long before the player should actually be there. At worst, an early-game player who still thinks the gargoyles are "demons" could end up killing some key gargoyle NPCs and create a "walking dead" scenario very early in the game.
|Have you been here before?|
It's also kind of lame that the Orb works in the middle of combat, enabling instant escape--directly to Lord British's throne room for healing, if you want--when things get tough. I certainly don't mind cutting down on travel time, but I think the Avatar should have to visit the stone circles associated with each destination before the Orb will take him there. That's the way I'm going to play it.
It's left a bit of a mystery where the Orb actually came from. Lord British said it wasn't his. I guess the gargoyles used it to open the portal to Earth to fetch me for sacrifice, but that suggests the Orb works in a weird way: you place it on the ground, it opens a portal, and then it can be found on the ground on the other side of the portal. What would have happened if I hadn't entered the gate, or hadn't picked it up before I did? Some kid could have found it later and blundered into a pack of hostile gargoyles. I also don't quite know how Lord British knew where to open the moongate so that Shamino, Iolo, and Dupre could come save me from the gargoyle sacrifice.
|I think this is the place where the gargoyles tried to kill me.|
When I last blogged, I was leaving Britain on my way to Cove, so I could talk to the wounded soldiers about their bungled attempt to free the Shrine of Compassion (the gargoyles have taken over all the shrines). But the path to Cove made me walk through the Shrine of Compassion, so I ended up liberating it from the gargoyles before getting any useful intelligence from the soldiers.
|I attack a winged gargoyle while my companions deal with the unwinged brutes off-screen.|
The gargoyles had placed a moonstone over the shrine and covered it in a force field, but using the Rune of Compassion (which I had obtained back in Britain) and chanting the mantra removed the field, allowing me to take the stone. If I put the moonstone in the ground, it opens up the moongate that should be in Britain. Naturally, with the Orb of Moons, I don't need this extra method of transportation, and I have a vague recollection that I need to keep all the moonstones, so I resisted the urge to go plant it in its proper stone circle.
Liberating the shrine also gave me the ability to meditate at it, which in turn leveled me up and awarded me with 3 dexterity points. Even from this one experience, the pattern is pretty clear. I'm guessing the Shrine of Courage gives you 3 strength points, the Shrine of Honesty provides 3 Intelligence points, and the others provide the appropriate combinations. Importing my character from Ultima V had already started him at near-max (30) in all attributes, so the selection of shrines is really only important for my other characters. Of them, only Dupre needed to focus on dexterity right now, and he didn't have enough points to level up.
|Meditating and leveling up at the shrine.|
That I was able to defeat the shrine's three guardians so easily says something about the martial abilities of the native Britannians. Even though I no longer needed their information, I continued to Cove anyway. In this game, it's a small town, consisting only of a healer and a mage named Rudyom who sells reagents and spells. I found the wounded warriors recuperating at the healer. Two just moaned in pain when I tried to talk with them, but the third, Gertan, told me of the gargoyles at the shrine and the force field. I wish the game engine was sophisticated enough to alter dialogue based on changes in the game world, because it would have been fun to tell him that the shrine had been freed.
|Gertan also had a little to say about Freitag.|
Rudyom lived in a house with an annoying little drake who shot fireballs at me from the safety of a cage. I bought some reagents from him, but I didn't have enough cash to buy his spells.
The next step of my quest was to head to the Lycaeum, find Mariah, and see if she could translate the book I'd stolen from the gargoyles. I left Cove heading east. I soon found that the landscape of Ultima VI constrains you in more ways that the previous games, and going to the eastern end of the continent involved threading my way through a specific mountain pass and then on a path through the Fens of the Dead. As in the previous two games, stepping in swamp instantly poisons you unless you're wearing "swamp boots," and I only had one pair. Fortunately, the AI is smart enough to keep your companions from accidentally walking into swamps as long as the lead character doesn't.
|I don't want to go south.|
The Lycaeum is on an island on the far eastern edge of the map, so you can't just walk there. But I'd risked some karma loss by stealing a skiff back in Britain. Shamino was toting it on his back, taking up nearly all his available inventory weight. I figured I'd get to the eastern coast, drop the skiff in the water, and row to Verity Isle. Unfortunately, as I soon discovered, the game won't let you use a stolen skiff. You have to have a "deed" to it. Thus, I changed directions for Minoc, reasoning that as a port city, they'd have a place to sell skiffs.
|Really? Who's enforcing that right now?|
Ultima IV, in introducing the "tinker" profession, seemed to interpret them mostly as blacksmiths. I can't remember what the city looked like in Ultima V, but in this game, it's been reinvented as a kind-of artisans' village, with NPCs making instruments, baskets, clocks, glass, and ships.
|You know, that's a good point.|
I found Iolo's wife, Gwenno, living in the city temporarily, rendering classic Britannian songs into musical notation. Julia was crafting musical instruments. Both were willing to join my party, but I didn't want any more companions just yet, so I saved them for later. Although I was in town for a skiff, I took the time to ask Isabella, the mayor, about the Rune of Sacrifice, thinking I could liberate the Shrine of Sacrifice on the way to Verity Isle. She told me that Selganor, the head of the Craftsman's Guild, had it.
|My least-favorite NPC so far.|
Selganor would only give it to me if I was a guild member, which meant creating a set of panpipes and learning how to play "Stones." Gwenno readily gave me the numeric sequence for the song, but Julia said that to make panpipes, I'd need some fresh wood from Yew, so I guess this little quest will have to wait for later. It's not like I'm trying to save the world or anything, guys.
The skiff was cheaper than I feared, so in no time, I had a proper deed and Shamino had a new boat on his back. In a change from Ultima V, you can row a skiff into deep water with no penalty, so I'm not sure if there's any reason to ever buy one of the larger, non-portable ships.
With the skiff, I made the long journey around the eastern horn of Britannia and to Verity Isle. The trip was uneventful, and I eventually found my way to the Lycaeum and met Mariah. None of her dialogue suggested that she remembered me from our previous two games, and she wouldn't join me this time.
She did, however, have some insight into the gargish book. She had half a silver tablet that served as a Rosetta Stone between gargish and Britannian. With it, she determined that the book was called The Book of Prophecies and said something about the end of the world. She said she needed the other half of the tablet to translate the full thing. She had received the first half from some gypsies she met at a pub, so I guess my next step is to travel from city to city, visiting bars and looking for gypsies. That's my kind of quest.
I spent a little time in Moonglow but didn't accomplish much. The mayor said he gave the Rune to a guy named Beyvin, who was living with a mage named Penumbra. I couldn't find either of them, but it's possible that they live in this house, whose entryway is filled with force fields:
I don't have enough reagents to "dispel" my way through all of this. This is one of many areas that I've had to annotate for a later return. There have been force fields in other areas (the Lycaeum in particular), plus various magically-locked doors for which I don't yet have the spell or the money to buy the spell. Rather than continue half-visiting these various cities, I decided perhaps it was time to do a little grinding and earn some cash.
|I simply must know what's inside this building.|
Thus, as I end this post, I'm back in the dungeons beneath Lord British's castle, looking for hauls of treasure. So far, I've only found a few cyclopes, trolls, and headless, none of whom have had more than a few gold pieces, but I'm going to keep exploring.
|No gold in the aftermath of this battle. I'm definitely not hauling all this stuff up to the surface for sale.|
I fought a number of random combats in my explorations above, none of which were worth recounting. There were some trolls hanging around a bridge near Cove, rats off in the Fens, and snakes on Verity Isle. I'll have a longer posting about combat some time later.
|Boy, did this troll like his throwing axes.|
A few more notes before I wrap up now:
- My party members are always "hearing something" in various directions, but at least half the time, when I head in those directions, there's nothing there.
- Some of the geography in the game is funny. We're supposed to believe that these mountains are snow-capped and uncrossable despite taking up less space than a house.
|Shamino hears something on the other side of this unscalable peak.|
- Some of the inhabitants of Britannia are extremely lazy--especially the mage types. I've had to wait until noon for some of them to get out of bed. There's no in-game way to wake them up ahead of schedule.
|Apparently, just shaking him awake will cause me to lose an eighth.|
- When cyclopes are nearby, their stomping around causes the screen to shake.
- In the first post, I noted how Lord British clumsily asked me for information from the manual during our first dialogue, as part of the game's copy protection system. It turns out that other random characters do it, too.
|That was smooth.|
- Michelle, a basket-weaver in Minoc, tells tales of her father making a basket large enough for eight people but says she doesn't have the plans. I suspect I'm going to be making a hot air balloon and gondola at some point in the future.
|Today I learned that beehives are woven.|
- I thought my Avatar was a little ostentatious for strapping an ankh to his forehead. This NPC is even more dedicated:
With luck, by the next time I post, I'll have met those gypsies and I'll have a bead on the main quest.