Ultima VI: The False Prophet


Title           Ultima VI: The False Prophet
Game Type       RPG
Publisher       Origin
Players         1
Compatibility   1 MB required (AGA users must select OCS/ECS)
HD Installable  Yes
Submission      daveyw@sinesurf.co.nz

Review
The Ultima series is the grand-daddy of computer role-playing games, they
started back in the early eighties on the 8-bit micros, and continue on to
the present day. Although each game can be played separately, together
they form a vast fantasy epic. Each instalment begins the same way - the
player is just an ordinary person in our world, who is unexpectedly
summoned to the world of Britannia (or Sosaria, as it was originally
called) to perform a quest. In episodes I, II, and III, you defeated, in
turn, an evil wizard, his female apprentice, and an army of invading
demons. Ultima III was the first in the series to appear on the Amiga.
Ultima IV took an unusual approach to fantasy adventure, as this time,
rather than being sent off to slaughter evil monsters, the quest is the
Quest of the Self - as your character journeys the land of Britannia
he/she masters the Eight Virtues and strives to become the Avatar, a
sort-of holy knight. If all this moralising is not to your taste, there's
still  plenty of fighting and adventuring to be had, but you'll be missing
out on a great deal.

Episode VI continues this refreshingly different theme in an RPG, and
elaborates on it in a finely written adventure. As before, you begin by
being summoned from the real world. However, this time, you arrive to find
yourself not being sent on a quest, but about to be sacrificed by
Gargoyles. After being thrown right into the game with a fight, you learn
the Gargoyles have invaded Britannia and seized the Eight Sacred Shrines.
Once again it's up to you to save the world, but this time you'll find
that your enemies are not what they appear to be.

If you've played the Ultima series before, you'll find that the entire
interface has been revamped, and updated, for VI. It's now more
icon-oriented, with graphics depicting everything in the game-world.
Rather than the simplistic little game icons that represented characters,
monsters, objects and terrain in previous episodes, here everything is
viewed from above, and the graphics are sharply detailed. Also, for the
first time, everything in Britannia is on one scale, and your party moves
seamlessly from country, to city, to dungeon. The result is Britannia
feels *huge*, and there's months of real-time exploration in this massive
world. Fortunately, you're outfitted with a device called the Orb of
Moons, which allows you to teleport around Britannia. All you have to do
is figure out how it works...

Ultima VI continues to utilise a number of unique RPG features. Rather
than generating your character by tweaking random stats, you are asked a
series of moral questions, and your character's class and attributes are
based on the outcome of the questions. You'll either love this or loathe
it - if you've ever played those yuppie board games, it'll probably
disagree with you. Also, you don't create a party, rather as you continue
your adventure, you will meet up with some old friends who will join your
quest: Iolo the Bard, Dupre the Paladin, Geoffrey the Fighter, and other
familiar characters from previous episodes.

Ultima VI is a marvellous game to play. The over-head graphics are
gorgeous, though the character and NPC portraits look disappointingly like
the older Sierra games. The object icons are neat, and make managing your
inventory fun and easy. No more typing commands, you ready weapons and
armour by dragging their icons around. The music is OK, though like all
adventures it rapidly becomes repetitive. There are four floppies, so disk
changes even on a 2-drive system are a hassle, but Ultima VI is hard drive
installable. Unfortunately, the game predates AGA, so 1200/4000 users will
have to boot in ECS mode.

What I love most about Ultima VI is its huge canvas, upon which your
adventure unfolds. There are dozens of mini-quests to solve, many of them
having nothing to do with the main story, but are imaginative and
intriguing in their own right. I spent weeks alone trying to solve a
ghostly little murder-mystery in Skara Brae (without success, if you know
whodunnit, please drop me a line!). Of all RPGs I've ever played, Ultima
VI is one of the best written. It's not just a game, it's a wonderful
story. I don't want to give too much away, but it's a lovely twist when
you learn more about the Gargoyles and their objectives, and have what
alcoholics and characters in Tarantino movies refer to "as a moment of
clarity". You'll find yourself questioning the whole concept of "good vs
evil", and realise that ours is not the only planet plagued by prejudice.
It's a rare and wonderful piece of software that makes you contemplate
your own humanity.

In case you're wondering "Ultima" comes from "Ultima Thule", which is what
the Greeks called the edge of the known world, which to them was the
British Isles.



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