Well, I didn't post anything over my vacation, but I don't suppose anyone actually believed me when I said I would, so perhaps it's all good. Tonight I'll talk about Ultima VI! I'm lucky to have extremely vivid memories of this game, not the least because I played it many, many times before my blogged experience of it. Let's talk about the more technical stuff first--this is a beautiful game on many levels. This was the first Ultima game to focus on its PC incarnation, and consequently there's a massive change in the look of the game. All previous games were limited in their pallete and the proximity of colors due to the limitations of the Apple II; in VGA mode, Ultima VI looks more vibrant and alive than any of the previous games. I think this creates a different mood--in the old games, there was this almost constant black background no matter where you were, whereas in Ultima VI the grasslands seem lush; I especially loved the animated flowing rivers when I first played the game! The perspective is also somewhat more logical--walls have a slanted appearance (though this is misleading since you can't walk under walls that are in perspective as in Ultima VII) instead of a square appearance, and other people are not always facing you as if they are lying on the ground. In short, the more realistic graphics really helped bring the game to life for me when I was first introduced to it.
Of particular note is the conversation system, which is made much more enjoyable by the large and attractive character portraits given to every person in the game. This is the first Ultima where I find it easy to attach personalities to particular characters, just because I can remember the face of, say, the dishonest ruffian who accosts you outside Lord British's castle, or the dog with a dish in his mouth, or the horse-seller south of Trinsic that inexplicably says "Later!" if you mention sex to her...
I didn't say anything about the music of Ultima V, which was foolish since that was certainly one of my most favorite aspects; that game had some great tunes, especially the Grayson's Theme and the outdoors theme. Ultima VI has some good ones--I especially like the combination of Gargoyle Theme and "Rule, Britannia!"--but in general, the score is not memorable because much music is straight out of Ultima V, and also particular pieces are usually not tied to specific locales. Hence, few stick out.
I think the game is most famous for its level of interaction and the wide array of objects which can be collected and use, and the seamless world which presents the cities and outdoors at the same scale, albeit shrunk compared to the (apparent) long distances of previous games. Of course, Ultima VII took the interaction to almost absurd heights, so I guess I don't need to dwell on it here.
Where the game doesn't work so well is in the plot department. The idea is very attractive--The gargoyles thought the Codex was theres and you just destroyed the Underworld--but it's pretty hard to fit the gargoyle realm of Ultima VI as the other side of a flat planet with the Underworld, which was obviously an underground realm on a round (actually toroidal...sorry for preventing a nitpick, nerds) planet in Ultima V. That confusion aside, pretty much no one in Britannia seems to care much about the gargoyle threat except Lord British and some groaning dudes in Cove (Why can't someone just cast heal on these guys, anyway?) The music hall director in Minoc even demands you go build some panpipes and play a tune before he lets you have the rune required to save the world! In another odd game design decision, you are given instant access to almost everywhere on the planet with the Orb of the Moons in the very beginning of the game, obviating the need for a huge bulk of the plot (namely the map pieces quest to get the pointless silver tablet). As a result, Ultima VI can probably be finished without cheating in perhaps under and hour! It also had the amusing effect, the first time I played, of confusing me when I teleported to the Gargoyle world, killed everyone, and didn't understand why the game hadn't ended. In any event, the game may be a bit too easy and I sometimes wonder if it was intentional or an error.
Among the more interesting and memorable events in the game are your interactions with the ghost of Quenton, which remains unresolved in this game, your submission to Lord Draxinosom (accompanied by a question, "Why?" whose answer took me absolutely forever to figure out the first time), and, most curiously, your strange, ambiguous interaction with the disembodied spirits of Mondain, Minax and Exodus, who speak of their atrocities in a bizarre, detached manner. I would say that was my favorite, and the most surprising, aspect of the game.
Overall, Ultima VI has a special place in my heart as the first game in the series that I played. It was a big step forward in a lot of ways, and I can't help but like the abandonment of the tiresome combat from earlier in the series, though I know a lot of people who were upset by some of the changes. Still, it remains a favorite, though it's not in as high esteem as it might have been before I went and played through the series over again...I think it would come in slightly ahead of Ultima Underworld I were I to rank my favorites, but behind VII, Underworld II, and Serpent Isle. However, I'm not sure, and those are all extremely stiff competition anyway, so the A+ I give to Ultima VI might be slightly below the A+ I'd give to the others, lol.
Up next are the spin-offs, Savage Empire and Martian Dreams. The former is so short I may combine the two into one entry. Soon I will also need to come up with something to say about the Runes of Virtue series, but that's going to be tough...