We're going to try something new with this issue. This review of Ultima 7 actually contains two perspectives on this landmark game. Both are presented here in their entirety. The screen shots apply, of course, to both reviews. - Editor
Rating: **** (out of five)
Origin's latest fantasy-adventure PC-compatible game. At 70-odd US dollars, an expensive game, but worth it. Expect to spend one to two weeks of heavy playing to solve this one. It's up to typical Origin "blow-your-mind" standards. The sub-plots are many and colorful. Conversations are more animated than ever before. The graphics are gorgeous, and the animation is excellent.
The modelling of sounds (you can perceive distance) is a nice touch. Keeping it from being a 5-star game: the inventory system is clumsy, the need to reboot before playing is inconvenient, you can't control your party members individually anymore, and a bug involving disappearing keys. Don't bother playing it on most 386SX's as it isn't too fast on a 486/33, but this depends more on your video card interface and hard disk speed than anything else.
Overall, the game is definitely worth it. I can't give it the 5 stars, as the most important question is, are you going to play it alot? The probable answer for this one is "yes." After you've won, if you're still the sicko "maim-and-destroy" type encouraged way back in Ultimas I-III, you can see what it's like to slaughter the general population after winning. Besides, the excellent plot and effects just make the game incredibly addicting.
Requirements according to the box:
IBM or 100% compatible 386SX, 386, 486 PC System REQUIRED: 2 megs RAM, 21+ MB hard disk; 256-color VGA graphics; MS-DOS V3.3 or higher RECOMMENDED: Microsoft or 100% compatible mouse; 20+ MHz; sound board MUSIC/SOUND EFFECTS (optional): Roland MT-32, Sound Blaster, Ad Lib, Sound Blaster Pro or 100% compatible sound board. DIGITIZED SPEECH (optional): Sound Blaster or 100% compatible digitzed sound board (Hear THE Guardian Speak!) $9.95 exchange form for 5.25" HD disks.
Requirements according to Dave:
100% IBM-compatible 386, 486 System REQUIRED: 4 megs RAM (use 2 for a disk cache), 30 Mb FAST hard disk; 256-color local-bus or 32-bit EISA bus graphics card (don't bother with co-processors: aren't used); MS-DOS 3.3 or higher, RELIABLE mouse or track ball (you won't be using the keyboard), 25+ MHz or faster, sound board- if it doesn't talk, you're missing out.
Origin's long-awaited release of "Ultima VII," the latest in their famous fantasy adventure series, is very ambitious and very large. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, "Size isn't everything," but it sure can impress. This game will chew up almost anything your hardware can throw at it, whether it's CPU, memory, graphics or hard disk performance.
Origin has a history for ambitious, leading-edge games, so when they're released, our standards are artificially high. They're the Cray Research of the computer game industry. Origin sells expensive games for which you simply can't find substitutes.
This game has done exceptionally well. They recouped their development expenditures on day one with 60,000 orders (they needed 50,000 to break even). An impressive feat if you consider the amount of time and money that went into this product. Check out the "Credits" when you start up the game to see why they're fond of calling their products "interactive movies."
So is U7 worth the $70-odd they charge? If you like role-playing, then the answer is a definite "yes."
Installing the game was uneventful for me. It was easy, and considering the size of this monster, was fairly quick. Time to play! Not! You have to reboot your computer with a different setup if you use an expanded memory manager. However, if you have 4 Mb of extended memory free and use the EMM386 that comes with DOS 5.0, you can get a utility called EMMHACK designed specifically to let you suspend EMM386, run Ultima 7, then resume EMM386 upon exit.
Also, in your Ultima 7 boot configuration, give yourself a 2Mb disk cache if possible. You'll be hating life without it.
The game starts out with a happy, woodsy scene with a butterfly flitting about the screen and happy, woodsy music to accompany. Suddenly static, and the screen is taken over by a pulsating background featuring the evil red face of "The Guardian" who explains to you that he's moving in on Brittania as the new ... well ... "Guardian" of the people. He then goes on to explain how you, of course, will help to serve his ends, in classic ultimate evil-dude style. This is definitely a cool part of the game. The face is pre-rendered and animated at a fairly good clip. His lips match what he's saying pretty closely and Bill Johnson (voice of The Guardian) has a most excellent evil red dude voice.
Onward. No creating characters in this one. You pick a name and a portrait (male or female- big choice) and "Journey Onward." You start out watching a conversation between your old archer friend Iolo and a townsperson. They're talking about a murder just committed in the horse stables. That's when you magically pop in (you're normally an earth-bound dude, but tend to get popped into the fantasy land of Britania when things aren't kosher). So the mayor of the town quickly approaches you and charges you with finding the murderer, "but oh by the way, check the stables first."
So you go to the stables. (Wait a second. Forgot to mention. Origin labelled this game "MP-13", mature players only.) In the stables, you find a man tied to the floor with stakes. All of his appendages have been severed, and 'bloody' is a dry way of describing the scene. His assistant, a gargoyle, is pinned up to the back wall with a pitchfork through the abdomen.
Wow. Neat start to a neat game. I'm not too used to this kind of gore, but Origin's getting brave. (See "Wolfenstein 3D" from Apogee for truly tasteless). The plots are further complicated by two rather insidious elements recently introduced to Brittania. "The Fellowship" is a new religious organization which promotes questionable values and has grim cult-like overtones. On top of this, you have the Brittania Purity League (equivalent to the Klu Klux Klan) wanting to rid the land of those "nasty gargoyles" trying to become integrated into Brittanian society.
The first thing you're struck by when entering the game is the complete lack of a grid-like feel to the world. Trees go up two stories and are modelled that way. You hear birds. A lady walks up to a street lamp, gets up on her tip-toes and turns it on. She later opens the shutters to the house and says, "It's too nice a day for these". Every character in the game has his/her own daily routine, and they're incredibly detailed.
The whole game is mouse-driven. I've never been a big fan of mouse- driven anything, primarily because I hate the way mice tend to skip. Doing this game with a keyboard, though, would've proven very difficult. You click the right button and hold it down to walk towards the pointer. You clik the left button once to identify something. You click it twice to use it. You click and hold the left button to move something. These few commands more or less take care of you throughout the game, but keeping a finger near the "c" key isn't a bad idea (it's a hot key for getting into combat mode).
The screen is centered about your character which means that it scrolls by to keep you in the middle. Unlike most games, there are no "status bars". Every square inch of your screen is scrolling by. This is definitely one of the most obstinant bottlenecks of the game. It uses the 256-color 320x200 resolution so common in games today, but it's changing every pixel on that screen with every step. That means having a local bus video card or EISA bus video card will improve the performance of your game considerably.
The other thing you notice is these big red check marks you have to click to make pop-up windows go away. Eeww. That's not too hip at all and makes the inventory system in particular a little clumsy to use as it takes up a lot of screen real-estate in the first place. Another slightly irritating feature is the need to click on the inventory of your character before you can do so for any other character. Readying and moving items to and from your backpack is simple, but one wonders why it's left to the player to juggle items around instead of being given a complete inventory for your whole party in one pop-up window.
The conversations with the townsfolk are very easy. Double click your talking target and choose from a list of topics to talk about. The topics change as the conversation progresses, and sometimes, you'll be given new topics to chat about after doing something, seeing something, or more often than not, talking to someone else. This is pretty fun at first, when you're eager to learn new faces. But when you get to big towns like Britain, the novelty wears off. Wow, you could spend a while networking in this city. Fortunately, that's not really required.
You're discouraged from attacking town members unless they provoke you (which does happen later on), but in the countryside and dungeons, don't expect any niceties. However, you should always keep watch to see if the monster is approaching you menacingly. A very few of those things are actually characters, and you don't want to kill them. Combat isn't quite as exciting as it was in previous games because you aren't allowed to control the individual actions of your party members anymore.
You give them overall strategies from a list of about 10, and they try to interpret those best they can. Problem is, I've yet to find one which says, "stay just barely within range of the bad guys, and rain arrows on their heads." Sometimes your characters will go off fighting the wrong bunch of monsters, so the "proximity" strategy is the one you'll probably use mostly.
A neat feature I found which I didn't really realize until I was well into the game is that I no longer need to keep track of what's going on with a pencil and paper. Maybe my memory's starting to improve, but this was really nice. The conversations will prompt you with "hot" topics based on conversations you've already had. Your job is to lead the guy around be the nose. He can more or less take care of the conversation himself as long as you can network him.
Bad Bug #1: if you have keys and go to sleep, in the morning they'll be gone. Solution: stick all your keys in a bag, put it on the ground, then go to sleep. Pick it up in the morning.
Bad Bug #2: I personally experienced the total discombobulation of the game. A dragon with a yellow outline appeared in a tavern kitchen. Walls started to occasionally disappear until all the buildings everywhere were wall-less (yet plaques and tapestries were still hanging in midair). Not sure why this happened and haven't heard other cases of it, but if you experience the same, let me know how it happened. Solution: only affected one game thread. any other saved game was fine.
Not-so-bad Bug: Enjoy reading the credits and quotes, but don't start the game after doing this. Some have experienced screens being stuck with a red colormap, others just a hang. If you can start the game successfully, you're probably going to be alright from then on.
Well, this is getting long-winded. The upshot is that you'll find plenty of neato objects, monsters, weapons and armor in this game on par with any exciting fantasy adventure, but as a bonus, you'll get just a REAL complex real-time world. The couple of bugs aren't bad considering the complexity of the game. Buy it. You won't be disappointed.
As usual, a reminder that software piracy sucks big @#$*. Please help make games higher quality and BUY your software. Piracy encourages game writers to change careers to higher-paying jobs. We've lost many a good game author from that.
Once again, you, the Avatar, find a moongate in your backyard. Again you enter, knowing it will take you to the lands of Brittania. Upon arrival, however, you find that much has changed. There is much to explore in order to unravel the mysteries awaiting you. Ultima VII is VGA only, requires a 386SX or higher machine, 2M RAM, and fills a whopping 21 MB of hard disk space. The interface is all new.
First off, we should discuss bugs. Ultima VII has several problems in this respect, which may have more or less effect depending on your hardware configuration. Ultima VII will not run in the presence of EMS. You must either change your configuration or boot from floppies to use it. If you have the minimum memory, you may have problems running Ultima in the presence of HIMEM.SYS; I had to disable HIMEM to run on my machine. Several users of disk caching software have reported lock-up problems, so be wary of this.
Another bug/feature is the implementation of keys. Most keys are found near where they are used, so Origin figures it can get rid of old keys while you sleep. The moral is, "Do not sleep while carrying an unused key." You can sometimes put the key in a bag which is not on your person to avoid this problem, but save before you try it.
That said, Ultima VII is a very interesting game. The window on Brittania takes up the whole screen, and the images on the screen are much larger than on previous Ultimas. The graphics look very nice. There is an occasional problem with save games and invisibility, in that they sometimes mess up the pallettes on the screen. You can usually restore the pallette by quitting and then saying, "No, I don't really want to quit."
The plot is fairly intriguing. There is a new group, called the Fellowship, which is doing good works in Brittania. A huge head of some sort of demonic creature keeps appearing to you and offering sometimes helpful advice. Several towns have crime sprees, which you can solve. Since it has been many years since the avatar's last visit, you will find that many things have changed. Britain is a huge, sprawling city. The gargoyles have moved into two cities on the surface. (Continuity bug: the world is again toroidal instead of flat.) Magic is failing and wizards are going insane. Lord British remains in his castle, uninformed about his realm.
You begin in the city of Trinsic, where a grisly murder has just been discovered. (Warning: the graphics here are, well, graphic.) You must get sufficient information about the murder before the mayor will give you the password to leave the city.
The interface is new. You can play entirely from the mouse. (I use the mouse and the escape key, personally.) As a result, many things are simplified. For instance, attacking, talking, and using are all accomplished by double- clicking a creature (while in combat mode), a creature (in peace mode), and an object, respectively. I was disappointed in the new talk interface. Since it is fully mouse-driven, you must select your responses from a set of canned replies. If you have figured out who the vandal is, but have not had a confession or accusation by an NPC, you cannot report your findings.
Furthermore, the new talk routine all but obviates the need for notes. When you meet someone you were sent to talk to, Ultima includes the topic you were supposed to mention, sometimes before you even know who you're talking to. In fact, one character tells you a secret to keep from her husband. When you meet him, the subject of the secret appears on the list. If you select it, the game asks you if you really want to reveal the secret. I find it annoying to get this much help in the game.
The new combat sequence is very hard to play manually. I recommend that you put all the characters (including the Avatar) under computer control. You can put your spellbook in the space directly above your weapon. This makes it easy for you to cast spells, but prevents the computer from using up spells in combat.
The moral aspect of earlier Ultimas is still present, although sometimes poorly implemented. Iolo, Shamino, and Dupre may leave the group if you steal within sight of an NPC, but won't say a word if you sneak into a house at night, close the doors, and start rifling through the drawers. Twice in the game, I have had NPC's attack when I revealed their role in foul deeds. Based on previous Ultimas, I am reluctant to kill them, but this game seems to leave little choice.
The 3D perspective is very similar to Ultima VI and the first two Worlds of Ultima games. As in Ultima VI, the perspective seems to make cities seem huge and wilderness seem small. There are some vertical scaling problems as well, for instance, Lord British's castle is taller than the highest mountains of Brittania. Ultima VII lacks the mesas of Worlds of Ultima. It merely has mountains.
All in all, although Ultima VII has several problems (which hopefully will be cleared up in later releases), I have found the game to be quite entertaining. Because of the new talk interface, it can be very frustrating to have to repeat sections of the game, so be sure to save often. Also, the game appears to support only one player, so if you have multiple game players in the household, you may need much more than the 23MB of disk space normally required by the game.
I recommend Ultima VII to all fans of the Ultima series, and fans of fantasy games in general (Although the game is playable without it, it would probably be immensely beneficial to play Ultima IV-VI before playing this game, as many characters and places have changed, and only a veteran of the previous games will notice these differences.) I suspect that this game will take even the most expert player a great many hours to complete--I've played for many hours and I don't think that I am even close to the end!
As the Avatar sits down to play a game on his computer, an evil entity, calling itself the Guardian appears on the computer screen and threatens to take over Britannia. You, as the Avatar, must step through the moon gate once again and stop Britannia from being conquered.
When you arrive you appear right in the middle of a murder mystery. Searching the town of Trinsic for clues, you are soon hot on the trail of the murder. This trail will lead you across the world. Each town you go to will have their own problems that must be solved. The murders continue, and only you can get to the bottom of it.
In your journeys you will meet a new religion called the Fellowship. At first they seem to be dedicated to good. Only later do you begin to realize what they really are.
The Fellowship worships an entity known as the Guardian. They have are building a black gate to bring the Guardian through into Britannia to assist him in conquering the world. The Guardian is nearly a demi-god in power, and the Avatar would not stand a chance against him. So your only hope is to find the black gate and destroy it before the Guardian can come through.
Rushing to the black gate, the Avatar and his allies arrive just before the Fellowship can bring the Guardian through. A battle ensues, and the good guy emerge victorious, but Battlin, the leader of the fellowship, vanishes before you can put the last nail in his coffin.
In a brilliant work of computer animation, the black gate is destroyed just as the Guardian begins to step through. The Guardian's plan is foiled, the Fellowship is dismantled, and everyone lives happily every after, or at least until the next game comes out. Unfortunately the Avatar is stuck in Britannia as he was forced to destroy the moon gates in order to defeat the Guardian.
This game is a brilliant work. It is one of my favorite games of all times and definitely my favorite Ultima. The game engine is a tiled based overhead view. It is very similar to Ultima 6, except that the graphics are full screen. The user interface is entirely mouse driven. It is very intuitive and does not distract from the game play.
The best part of this game is the story. The story was very well written and keeps you on the edge of your seat to the end. It starts with a hook, the murder of an innocent man. It pulls you along with your quest to find the murderer. At the same time, it is not a linear story. You can travel around the world in any order you please. After I completed the game, I went back and explored two entire towns that I had never entered before and completed the sub quests in those towns.
The world feels very real due to a high level of interaction. You can make money by working for the farmer collecting eggs or moving pumpkins. You can make bread dough and then bake it and sell it. When you talk to one character, another character close by may break in and add something. People have lives that they live. During the day you may need to find someone in the shop that they run, but in the evening they will be in the tavern or in bed. In general, if you can click on an object in this world, you can use it like a real object!
All of this adds up to a compelling game with an interesting plot, but still a free form play style that lets you do what you want. You do not feel manipulated through this game.
My favorite sub quest in the game was the isle of the dead. The atmosphere was chilling. Being sent on a quest to the grave yard at night actually gave my the chills. Having to sneak into the lich's castle at midnight to ambush him scared me to death. At midnight, when the spirits come to the lich's castle, I followed after them as they left their homes and walked to the congregation room to lay upon a altar so that the lich could drain them of their power.
Nice touches like these really made the game feel like a real world in which you get to live in for a while.
Bugs! There was a bug that caused keys to disappear while you slept. If a key you need disappeared, then the game could not be won. Other items disappeared at random too. Every so often I would check my inventory to make sure that nothing important was gone before saving the game. The deed to my ship disappeared that way. I could never sail my ship again for the rest of the game. While this was annoying, it did not keep my from completing the game. My brother had a critical item disappear so he had to start over.
RPG fans may not like the combat system. The combat in Ultima 7 is real time. You specify a strategy for your party and the computer makes the specific moves. This is a great idea, in theory, but all the strategies worked about the same. Attack, caused my party to attack. Surround the Avatar, caused my party to attack. Attack the weakest, caused my party to attack. Retreat, caused my party to attack. You get the idea. Ultima used to have turn based combat. The concentration of the game is on the story, so turn based combat (which is usually very time consuming) may have distracted from the game. However, the player needs more control over combat to feel satisfied.
This is one of the best Ultima games ever made. Its a great balance between compelling story and free form adventuring. At times you truly believe that there is a whole another world living in your computer.