Somewhere, many years ago, I caught sight of Ultima VII on YouTube - one of the versions at least. I don't know whether it was The Black Gate, Forge of Virtue, Serpent Isle or The Silver Seed, but I am definitely aware that Ultima VII is an interesting looking top down role playing game.
The 1001 list expresses this title to be the peak of the Ultima series, with designer Richard Garriott holding it as one of his favourites - though with two parts, each with an expansion, there's a lot of Ultima VII that players should find something to like, right?
Let's dive right into The Black Gate and see what's what.
Good Lord, the plot doesn't start slowly here, does it?
We play as the Avatar, someone who seems to be able to travel between the real world and the world of Britannia if I'm reading all of this text right. Two hundred years have passed since we were last here, should we have played Ultima VI, and we're dumped right into a ritual murder in the stables.
It - and damn near everything on screen - is really rather graphic. Ultima VII looks like nothing else I can remember seeing, both in terms of the textures and colours and the unnerving perspective upon which you look down on the world.
It also feels unlike anything else I've ever played because of its mouse only (or mouse 99% of the time) control scheme, and it's not quite the point and click kind. Movement is assigned to the right mouse button, where holding the button and moving the mouse will send you and your party around town in whichever direction you drag them.
It definitely caught me out at first and did take a little while to get used to, but there is a lot of downtime as you'll be stopping every few steps to click and double click on eeeeverything.
Further Fun Times
Ultima VII reminds me of the first time I learned about what you could do in Oblivion, the first Elder Scrolls game I came across. The notion of everything - item wise - being interactive to the point of dropping them into piles wherever you damn well please was awe-inspiring (which must mean I set incredibly low standards for myself or was incredibly easy to impress back in the day).
In Ultima VII, if you see it and you think it could be an item, it's probably an item. If it looks like a box, it probably contains items, and those items, like a proper RPG, are all useful to a point, and all count towards your encumbrance stats. Juggling your inventory is as easy as clicking and dragging from one box to another, or from the floor onto a character.
While immersive and much truer to life than an inventory list in a menu window, it's bordering on an absolute chore to manage sometimes. If there's an item you want to refer to often, like a compass, it better be easy to access in your baggage, otherwise, you'll be dragging bread and gold and unused torches and God knows what else out of the way to reach it.
That's probably what adventuring bags are actually like, to some extent, but management can get messy, especially when you're juggling the inventories of character upon character - your party might as well be armed and armoured donkeys at times.
Another love/hate relationship can be had with the dialogue between characters. If you're able to read the font, you can find some amount of pleasure in natural sounding dialogue options appearing as and when you learn new information or have an opportunity to ask another question to expand upon an answer.
It gives your playthrough a bit of personality, allowing you to glean as much or as little information from people as you need or want. If you can read it...
Ultima VII has so much going for it, but so much that, personally, gets in the way. To be fair to it, I think it's better to say 'I find this and that a bit too fiddly for my liking', as oppose to 'there's something broken here'.
The world of Britannia is rich with content and looks excellent, but I can't see myself getting too far into it. Even watching a Let's Play of it is a little telling, with the player immediately going about 'breaking' the game in order to get a whole lot of admin out of the way before starting the adventure - remember, it's not stealing if you put your stolen items straight into your parties inventories, rather than your own...
Then again, The Elder Scrolls had the whole 'put a bucket over the witnesses head and the crime is unseen' thing I suppose.
I have watched far more Ultima VII than I've played (can you tell, with all these screenshots of the first town?), and I think I'll watch a bit more. Will I stick around to see it all? I don't know. Will - or has - anything I've seen made me want to get back into the game and see what I can do on my own, albeit with little tricks here and there? Harder to say, that.
I think it may always be a case of 'Let's play Ultima VII! Oh, wait, fiddly. Maybe next time'. If you're a fan of the genre and haven't yet checked Ultima VII out, then do so, fiddly or alien or not. I think there's plenty to get out of it, even with potential slowdowns and gripes.
Technology! Characters can die from hunger, throw up from seeing particularly violent scenes and even get impared vision from being drunk. Ultima VII is full of details.
Ultima VII: The Black Gate, developed by Origin Systems, first released in 1992.
Version played: DOS, 1992, via emulation.
Version watched: DOS, 1992 (Kikoskia)