ULTIMA VII: THE FORGE OF VIRTUE by Origin Systems
Reviewed by Richard Wyckoff
Overview: If you just can't get enough Ultima 7, The Forge of Virtue is probably exactly what you're looking for. Otherwise, its value is questionable.
486/33 clone with AMI Bios
8 meg RAM
Advertised as the first add-IN disk ever, Ultima 7: The Forge of Virtue is an additional adventure for Ultima 7. The mage Erethian has raised the Isle of Fire from the sea floor. The Isle houses the shrines to the three principles (Love, Courage, and Truth), which years ago Lord British constructed. The shrines are each guarded by a complicated test, designed to truly test the Avatar's mettle before granting him or her increased skill.
Forge is contained on one high density disk (double density is available, for a ludicrous $9.95 "shipping and handling" fee). When installed, Forge will add about 1 megabyte to the size of Ultima 7, although the documentation states that up to 4 megabytes are needed for temporary files during the process.
Besides the additional data files, the Forge disk also contains an updated version of the Ultima 7 executable, version 3.4. Unfortunately, this new version is not much of an improvement over the older version. I played completely through the old version on a 386/33 and had few problems, except for the vanishing bodies in Minoc and the non-retracting wall at the end of the game (see GameBytes 5). But on my 486, even with a completely stripped down version of DOS (nothing but mouse.sys), the new version would hang at random intervals.
Version 3.4 does, contrary to some rumors on the Internet, fix the disappearing keys 'feature'. The aforementioned bodies in Minoc also appeared for me this time. Other than that, I couldn't find any other improvements. The faulty lighting algorithm (where you could cast one Glimmer spell and light a dungeon indefinitely ) remains, as do the street lights in Britain that usually don't come on at night, and if they do, don't go out in the morning. And besides all these nitpicking details, there are still the major problems of U7: the poor inventory interface; the chug-chugging of the screen when you travel; and the Artificial Stupidity of your party members who don't know how to feed themselves, will walk into fires and other dangerous areas, and will shoot each other in the back during combat.
Luckily, you are able to decide whether or not to install version 3.4. If you are in the middle of a game when you add Forge, you will probably not want to update your executable, because (surprise!) version 3.4 is not compatible with your old save game files. What's more, Forge may not be able to handle some of your old save games (if your party is on a boat in the area where the new island appears, for example). The documentation does describe how to salvage these saves, however.
So now you've finally installed Forge, and are ready to play it. What's different? Very little, actually. If you start the game over from the beginning as I did, there will be a tremor right after you step out of the red moongate, and if you ask Iolo about it, he will tell you to go see Lord British. Lord British tells you that the Isle of Fire has risen from the sea. If you have read the documentation, you already know this. He gives you the deed to a boat which is docked to the south of Vesper (hey, free boat!), and tells you to check out the island.
Unlike many games, the documentation of Forge is almost too complete. The reference card tells you exactly what to do to get to the island, even telling you where the boat is located and which way to sail, in case you forgot Lord British's speech. The "Guide to the Isle of Fire" is written in the form of the mage Erethian's journal, and gives overviews of each of the shrine's quests. These overviews really take a lot of the fun of discovery out of the game (especially the Love Quest), while at the same time are not specific enough to let you avoid the major frustrations. Worse, the game text and hints are almost exactly the same as those found in the documentation.
The Isle of Fire is quite large. It appears just south of Vesper, and extends out under the "BRITTANIA" text on the game's map. It does not appear on your map, but if you have a sextant you can work out where you are. In a large castle in the middle of the island, you will find the mage Erethian, the three shrines, and the Dark Core of Exodus. After talking to Erethian, you will want to go on the quests, since that is pretty much all there is to do on the island.
If you take the quests in the order listed in the documentation, the Truth Quest will come first. This involves quite an extensive dungeon, but the hints scattered through the dungeon are not helpful at all, and the solution is the kind that you'll probably either stumble upon immediately, or else miss completely and wander for hours, as I did. When you finish it, the shrine will maximize some of your statistics.
The next quest is Love. As I said, the documentation practically walks you through this one, provided you can work out the mechanics. Just like the the Truth Quest, what may be obvious to some might be completely foreign to others. Finally, the Courage Quest involves a lot of fighting, and yet another either-you-get-it-or-you-don't puzzle. To complete it, though, you must perform another task, which is the only part of the game not completely spoiled in the documentation. I won't spoil it either, but it involves a sword that reminded me of Michael Moorcock's Elric books.
After you finish all the shrine quests, you are given a so-called fourth quest: another simple item manipulation puzzle, which various characters will explain to you. When you finish this, Iolo tells you to go back to Lord British, who gives your stats yet another boost, and that's it. There aren't any particularly fancy ending graphics, and all you get for congratulations are two sentences of dialogue. Then you are left as (to quote the box) "The most powerful character in the land, wielding its most formidable weapon." I'm sure this makes the rest of the game much easier, but the Avatar becomes quite powerful even without the Forge quests.
I expected a little bit more out of Forge. Granted, it's an under- twenty-dollar product, but the Wing Commander I and II add ons at least gave you more ships and graphics, and especially more plot. Forge doesn't advance the Ultima 7 story at all, and is basically just there to increase your stats. IMHO, Origin should have made an add-in that took place after the end of Ultima 7 but before the start of Ultima 7 Part II. Forge also shows a few signs of the typical Origin rush-production: some typos in the text, the nearly-as-buggy- as-the-original upgrade, and the poorly thought-out dungeons.
This is not to say that I hated Forge. It just didn't excite me nearly as much as Ultima 7 originally did. If you want a few more dungeons to explore, and the chance to become an uber-Avatar, you might enjoy Ultima VII: The Forge of Virtue.
This review copyright (c) 1992 by Richard Wyckoff. All rights reserved.