Ultima VI: The False Prophet (Second Review)

Title		Ultima VI: The False Prophet (Second Review)
Game Type	RPG
Publisher       Mindscape/Origin, 1992
Players		1
Compatibility   1 MB required (AGA users must select OCS/ECS)
Submission	Adrian Simpson Profiled Reviewer

I recall reading an interview with the creator of the Ultima series,
Richard Garriott, where he said that a question was asked regarding one of
the games. The question was, "Can you bake bread in it?", to which someone
replied, "Ultima is not about baking bread". As Richard said, this is
missing the point of the Ultima series - the point of Ultima is freedom
and if you can bake bread from different ingredients that you find in the
world, then it shows the depth of that freedom. You don't have to do it,
but you can if you want to. This isn't gaming on rails. Richard Garriott
(and all other fantasy writers) were influenced by JRR Tolkien, who
created a world within a book. The Ultima games are an attempt to do the
same within a computer game.

I don't think that the first three Ultimas (and the Ultima prototype,
Akalabeth) are particularly interesting. The plots are first to kill a bad
guy, then his lover, then some sort of machine. By Ultima 4, the plotline
started to be more inventive. You have to discover eight virtues, which
will become the basis for your actions in all the other games in the
series. Your character is an avatar and is supposed to be the living
embodiment of virtue. Number 5 in the series saw you rescue the King, Lord
British, after his kidnapping and the stopping of a corrupt official who
took his place. After Ultima 6, which is the subject of this review,
Ultima 7 Part 1 and Part 2 dealt with corruption on a society wide level,
Ultima 8 saw the character transported to a new, smaller world (with more
arcade-style action) and 9 made the leap into full 3D, but required a
monster PC. Ultima 6 was the last Ultima on the Amiga, although it is
possible to play the two parts of Ultima 7 in an interpreter. There were
also some spin- offs, including the superb Ultima Underworld 1 and 2,
which featured early examples of texture mapped graphics and superlative
gameplay to match.

So, sandwiched between Ultima 5: Warriors Of Destiny and Ultima 7: The
Black Gate is, not surprisingly, Ultima 6: The False Prophet.

The world is viewed with 32 colour graphics, which are not up to the
standard of the 256 colour original PC version. However, this is no big
loss, as the world is not realised by pretty graphics, but by the sense of
being there which is created. The actual view is a small grid of squares -
the rest of the screen is made up of the inventory and icons. Although the
movement in Ultima 6 is from one square to the other, it does not feel
like a turn-based game, as you keep going without any delay between moves.
Battles are played more like a turn-based game, which gives you ample time
to plan moves. Crucially, the battles are on the same view and scale as
the rest of the game. Ultima 5 had two views, a far-away view to move
between cities and a close-up view inside the towns. Ultima 6 always has
the same view. This makes it feel like you are actually making an epic
journey from one place to another and gives a fine sense of scale. When
you are deep inside a dungeon, fighting monsters, you know that you still
need to make it out again and journey back to the castle, where you can
rest and sort out your possessions, ready for the next quest. You know
that it isn't going to take just a couple of clicks on the mouse.

At the start of the game you are heading back to the land of Britannia
from Earth through a moongate and find yourself almost sacrificed by
numerous demon-type creatures. Saved by your old friends, you withdraw to
Lord British's castle fighting three of the creatures that followed you.
Luckily, they are weak, so dispatching them is easy. A chat with the King
tells you that these creatures are called Gargoyles and that they started
invading the land and taking over the shrines that represent each of the
virtues that you discovered in Ultima 5. This is not good for the land, as
each of these is associated with a nearby town.

You are given a key to use for exiting the castle. From here, the world is
your oyster and the exploration and discovery element of the game comes
into play. You are given clues from different people on places to go, but
essentially you have a single quest to achieve to complete the game - this
is to stop the Gargoyles. This breaks down into sub-quests where you must
free each of the shrines. These quests divide into further sub-quests and
so on. Some quests are not all that important, but are interesting or
beneficial to complete.

In fact, the castle itself is a little world. There are rooms,
bookshelves, books, telescopes, chests, kitchens and numerous other things
to see. You even have your own room to come back to. Under the castle are
the sewers of the capital city Britain. Here you can start to build up
your character's skills fighting reasonably easy monsters. You collect
gold and other items from dead creatures, which can be used to buy goods
in the shops of Britain.

Soon you will want to leave the castle. You can do so by descending into
the sewers and finding an exit or using the key that Lord British gave you
on the front gate and drawbridge control rooms. Interestingly, many
players have got stuck at this early stage!

Britain, the major city, has shops, houses, fields and people going
about their daily business. There is a night and day cycle, so, in the
evening, darkness begins to fall over most of your screen. You'll need a
torch here or you can camp out and sleep until daybreak. Inns offer safe
beds to sleep in too. This cycle is part of what makes the world feel so
real, but it would have been even better to have seasons with different
weather such as snow and rain. The day-night gameplay means that the
people of the world will be asleep if you, for example, try and buy
something from a shop in the middle of the night. Some planning is needed
in this case!

From Britain, you can head off on a number of roads to other towns or head
off across the wilderness. There are forests, lakes, seas, mountains,
swamps and deserts across the land. In the mountains you can find
dungeons, which offer an opportunity to fight monsters and find treasure.

You head off with a party, which includes three other members, and can
recruit further adventurers to your cause. This allows you to carry more
and also means safety in numbers. It is also possible to send individual
members of the team off alone, which is sometimes useful.

You can walk over the world, but there are other forms of transportation,
which naturally cost some money. You can travel over the sea in a ship,
which is a good form of transportation. There is also a small boat, but
this is only recommended when a ship is too large for a channel. Horses
are available on land and you can travel via moongates too (if you can
work out how to use them properly).

Of course, the world of Ultima 6 can never be fully realised on the humble
Amiga of 1992 to which it was ported. It requires mighty processing power
as there is far more going on than just the smooth movement of sprites
around the screen. It is not recommended to run the game on an A500
without a hard disk drive. Hard disk installation is essential and much
benefit is gained from a fast processor. An 030 is good. A 1.3 GHz Athlon,
running the game under emulation, is quite fast!

The game also cheats to a certain extent. There would have been no way to
program Ultima 6 to keep track of every monster and person in the world.
Sometimes it is obvious that things and people are disappearing when you
move away from them the logic of the reality isn't maintained at times.
You can sometimes see cracks. Also, you can often search through someone's
house in the middle of the night, in their presence, and they will not
stop you. Sometimes they will shout "Thief!".

The interface does a reasonable job of controlling the game, but isn't as
easy as more recent games or later Ultimas. The idea is that there is a
separate button for each action. Click on 'Pick Up' and then on an object
to grab something into your inventory. Click on 'Talk' and then on a
person to speak to them. Simple and not too bad to use. A nice feature is
that you can assign an action to the right mouse button. So, for example,
you could assign 'Pick Up' to it and then after that every right click
will pick an item up. This is very handy.

The conversation interface is neat - someone says something and you have
to find the keyword to trigger their next bit of speech. You can turn off
the option to highlight these keywords, but I don't see the point.
Everyone responds to words such as 'name' and 'job' as a default. If you
want, you can type something like "What is your name?" - the result will
be the same as typing 'name'. So, it's another example of the wide range
of options in the game.

The whole game is one of exploration and adventuring. Only after playing
it for months and to the end will you discover everything it has to offer.
The end has a nice twist on the plot too. I really can't recommend this
game highly enough.

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