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The Avatar loses, over and over

Last time, I set things up with just how awesome and heroic the Avatar was: embodying the virtues (Ultima IV), saving the world from tyranny (Ultima V), and saving two worlds at once and stopping a war (Ultima VI).

Ultima VII: The Black Gate is sometimes considered the peak of Ultima. Narratively, it’s probably the most complex game, and the engine allowed for a lot of fun little things. I will almost certainly talk about the engine and how the world felt both large and tiny at once in a future post, because I want to explore some game ideas, but for now, we’ll say it’s a sprawling narrative (with some well-deserved digs at EA) and an interesting premise.

There’s now a new Big Bad, The Guardian, who is threatening Britannia not by being evil and invading but by being evil and setting up a cult-like organization (The Fellowship) which is pretty clearly up to some bad stuff. You find out eventually they’re building a gate out of Blackrock, a new and weird magical substance, that will let The Guardian come through to Britannia.

Hey, great! A Big Bad to stop!

And the world has definitely gone seriously downhill since the last time you were there! Stuff to FIX! Which is what you’ve been doing for THREE GAMES STRAIGHT.

You can’t really clean up the mess. Or stop the pollution. Or restore the city where everyone died. And you go around destroying the generators powering the Guardian’s plans, and then destroy the gate he was to come through. Cool video, really, but… it ends on a somber note. You’ve actually BROKEN magic in the world, BROKEN the moongate travel system, and the closing informs you that you’ve chosen to stay trapped in Britannia instead of returning to your world (as you do at the end of every game).

You’re trapped in a world you’ve made worse in the process of saving it. And the game ends there.

Then, Origin reused the engine for the next game, a full installment of its own called Ultima VII: Part Two: The Serpent Isle. The first game NOT set in Britannia since Ultima IV introduced it (III was in “Sosaria”, II was actually on Earth in several time periods, and I was in four separate island continents — which will become relevant in a moment).

It’s not really a continuation. It’s a highly linear plot, and while you finally stop Batlin, the head of the Fellowship in VII who escaped you, it’s really barely connected to VII at all. But it’s the same engine, whereas every previous installment was a new game engine, so, sure.

(I’m ignoring the Worlds of Ultima games that were weird bits of tangential fun built in the Ultima VI engine, because they’re not exactly main plotlines.)

Instead, you find yourself in a new world, called The Serpent Isle, and people who had played the whole game may have found the map to be very familiar. It’s an Ultima VII-engine updated version of one of the four island continents from Ultima I! That was so cool to early 20something me when I realized it! Look! They linked back to the history!

The world is undergoing massive “chaos storms”, it’s falling apart fast, and you don’t fix it. In fact, as the game continues, you eventually do some things that kill almost everyone in the world. Most Avatar-like (NOT!). In the end, you fix nothing (well, there’s a cool video where the three serpents of Order, Chaos, and Balance form a caduceus and proclaim that balance is restored, saving the multiverse, but you never get to SEE this), and you’re left floating in space. No longer in Britannia (which you broke magic in and left the world in disrepair) nor on the Serpent Isle (which is practically depopulated and damaged possibly beyond repair), you’re grabbed by a giant red hand after the Guardian mocks you for a while.

And he pulls you to the world of Pagan.

So not only do you never see the results of restoring balance, there’s no way the world snapped back to where it was. Because (nearly) everyone’s DEAD.

And Ultima VIII: Pagan is even worse. Or so it seems. Honestly, I never made it all the way through. Or even past the first set of instant-death jumping puzzles in an engine which really doesn’t support jumping. And the world was so depressing in its introduction that I just couldn’t play it.

I loved IV, V, and VI. I was heroic, virtuous, and kept saving the world — and making it better.

I enjoyed the interactivity and depth of detail in VII, but never really replayed it, because it’s such a downer of a storyline. And Serpent Isle is worse. And Pagan is terrible.

Look, I get it. The “middle” story should drag everyone through hell before you end on a triumphant note, and that’s fine for the MIDDLE of the game.

It’s not fine for the ENTIRE game. If it’s a serial storyline, boy it’s no fun to end on an unsatisfying note. I mean it. Six games, you’re the hero, and game seven, you’re kinda a villain, and eight (or seven part two) and you’re definitely the villain? EWW.

And this is why I’ll probably never play the games after VI again.

(I do replay IV, V, and VI from time to time.)

Interestingly, this ties into Skyrim, which I largely enjoyed. But that’s a post for another day.


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