Ultima VII: The Black Gate -- Classic Game of the Week

I realize that many hold in high regard games like Baldur's Gate and the D&D Gold Box games, and with good reason, but when I think about the pinnacle of my CRPG experience one game stands above and alone: Ultima VII - The Black Gate. The introduction to what, I suppose, was the third and final Ultima trilogy and its ultimately misguided arc that would fizzle out with the largely disappointing Ultima IX, The Black Gate was itself an absolute masterpiece from beginning to end. In my mind, the reveal of The Guardian through the static of my computer screen as the opening centerpiece of the game is one of the most iconic beginnings, if only because I associate it in my mind as the prologue of one of the best video game stories told.

The game is almost literary in its structure, set initially in the context of a murder mystery in the town of Trinsic, but eventually stretching into a grand epic across the face of Brittania. The world that you return to after a presumed 200 year absence is both exactly and nothing quite like the one left behind. Aside from the considerable technical improvement in the game's presentation, the presence of The Fellowship which has become the moral leaders of the realm adds a phenomenal layer to the already complex moral landscape of the series.

I'm not sure that a game world ever felt like more of an evolutionary leap from anything I've played before it that Ultima VII. It's certainly true that modern worlds are often more interactive and more complex that that of 1992's Brittania, but for the standards of the time this game's technical achievements are mind bending. For a series that had established itself with games like Exodus, Quest of the Avatar and the criminally underrated The False Prophet -- to say nothing of the Ultima Underworld games -- that it managed to top everything that had come before by an arbitrary factor of ten is proof positive that it is one of the all-time classics.

Comments

I recommend running U7 through Exult rather than DOSBox. It's basically U7 engine for new systems, you just need U7 datafiles (I have my Ultima Collection thankyouverymuch).

There's nothing to add for me, as Elysium got it all: the game did what I never before thought is possible in gaming - story, moral implications, open world. Unbelievable interactions still reside in my mind: when I couldn't open a shed, I brought a cannon from a town, loaded it and blasted the door open.

wanderingtaoist wrote:

I recommend running U7 through Exult rather than DOSBox. It's basically U7 engine for new systems, you just need U7 datafiles (I have my Ultima Collection thankyouverymuch).

There's nothing to add for me, as Elysium got it all: the game did what I never before thought is possible in gaming - story, moral implications, open world. Unbelievable interactions still reside in my mind: when I couldn't open a shed, I brought a cannon from a town, loaded it and blasted the door open.

One of U7's overlooked achievements: teaching players new and creative ways to steal things.

It was the first time I had to wait until nightfall before breaking into that stripmall SE of the castle.

I agree use exult if you want to play this game instead of dosbox.

wordsmythe wrote:
wanderingtaoist wrote:

I recommend running U7 through Exult rather than DOSBox. It's basically U7 engine for new systems, you just need U7 datafiles (I have my Ultima Collection thankyouverymuch).

There's nothing to add for me, as Elysium got it all: the game did what I never before thought is possible in gaming - story, moral implications, open world. Unbelievable interactions still reside in my mind: when I couldn't open a shed, I brought a cannon from a town, loaded it and blasted the door open.

One of U7's overlooked achievements: teaching players new and creative ways to steal things.

It was the first time I had to wait until nightfall before breaking into that stripmall SE of the castle. :)

I don't think I ever tried to play through the main story. I just stole stuff, in Trinsic, and in Britain. The whole time. I spent most of that time trying to figure out how to break into the bank and steal all the gold.

This reminds me: I recently had a chance to see Richard Garriott when he came to my work to conduct a presentation on the various things he was working on in the space lab. A lot of folks there were huge Ultima fans and we had a chance to talk with him about some of the games; though to be honest he seems to have really divorced himself from that part of his life.

You can still see he has some affection for Ultima, but he's clearly decided to move on.

I don't suppose the Ultimas are considered abandonware at this point? I bought them all once upon a time, but even if I still had the 5 1/4" floppies I doubt they'd work.

HedgeWizard wrote:

You can still see he has some affection for Ultima, but he's clearly decided to move on.

That doesn't mean we have to!

Yoyoson wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

One of U7's overlooked achievements: teaching players new and creative ways to steal things.

It was the first time I had to wait until nightfall before breaking into that stripmall SE of the castle. :)

I don't think I ever tried to play through the main story. I just stole stuff, in Trinsic, and in Britain. The whole time. I spent most of that time trying to figure out how to break into the bank and steal all the gold.

Really, it was only the Guardian giving me a hard time that would straighten me out for a while.

RPG + open world = aimless looting for hours.

I loved this game when it came out, but I don't think it aged all that well. I started playing it again a few years ago, and the inventory management was just too annoying for me. Funny, because I remember thinking that system was kind of neat when it came out.

Poppinfresh wrote:

I loved this game when it came out, but I don't think it aged all that well. I started playing it again a few years ago, and the inventory management was just too annoying for me. Funny, because I remember thinking that system was kind of neat when it came out.

Reminds me of the bag drought in UO.

Thank you Ely. This is easily on my Top 10 of all time list. I said this in a different thread (a long time ago), but the Guardian coming into your dreams and speaking was one of the most frightening gaming moments of my life. I was playing in a dimly lit room and it scared the bejeezus out of me.

What a great, great game.

If you play this game on exult you get a few graphic tweaks that not only make the game playable today but better than most rpg's currently out there. Sure it doesnt turn the graphics into anything amazing there definitly passable for how good the game is. Allthough yes U7 has an old school inventory system that is pretty crazy. At least with exult you get a keyring in U7 pt1!

You know, VIII was widely maligned, but unfairly so. I thought it was a terrific game, though nowhere near VII. I know a lot of people were really thrown off by playing in a world that wasn't Brittania and didn't have iconic characters like Lord British or Iolo, but overall I had a great time with Pagan.

I think a big part of the problem was that Ultima VIII looked exactly like you would expect a sequel to VII to look but the world was so much less interactive. You just couldn't do most of the things you were used to doing in the previous game.

That said, I too really enjoyed VIII. It was like pre-Diablo Diablo.

U7 and U7 part 2 are easily two of my most favorite games.. but not my most favorite Ultimas. I still believe Ultima IV and VI are the best in the series... even Ultima VII has some merit though the jumping scenes were annoying but not showstopping.

Ultima VI at the time it came out was revolutionary.. I basically purchased a $3750 PC (from Gateway 2000! who remembers the huge Computer Shopper "magazine") just to play that game.. with a VGA board and sound card!

Ultima VII is the game that made me a gamer. I still pull out the compilation CD I bought occasionally and give it a whirl with Exult. Ah, memories. My favorite thing was trying to figure out something interesting to do after casting the Armageddon spell.

The only problem with Ultima VIII was that it was such a departure from the rest of the series. It's not a bad game per se, I just don't think people were prepared for the Ultima series to kind of mix with what they were doing in Ultima Underworld.

Dysplastic wrote:

I think I had the misfortune of catching this one too young. I remember playing it and being intrigued, but ultimately overwhelmed by the openness and the degree of options. I was still coming off King's Quest and Quest for Glory, so it was like being thrown into the deep end. I gave up on it - only to go on to love relatively open-world RPGs like Betrayal at Krondor, Fallout, and Oblivion.

I experienced exactly the same thing with this game and others like it when it came to the openness of the world, ie I was overwhelmed. Unlike you however, I have never gotten used to it and such games continue to overwhelm me. Every game you listed is on a long list of games that I started but never got into because they were too overwhelming for my puny brain. I need my hand held throughout the entire process and am proud of it.

Being the hypocrite I am means I also happen to think World of Warcraft is the best thing since thinly sliced cabbage.

If you don't care about the collector angle and just want to play the games - there is the Ultima Collection CD that EA put out years back.

Do you have to make notes and maps in order to succeed at the game (or have a photographic memory)? How about the other Ultimas?

I used to put up with that sort of thing back in the 80's and early 90's because automapping wasn't common yet. I wouldn't tolerate it today. Having to read a manual? Okay. Having to treat it like a school or work assignment? Not so much.

Hans

I've always really liked the Ultima games; I got to them fairly late (well after 8, but before 9 came out) and started with Ultima 8 -- which whilst I now recognise many fans' disappointment, was clearly a good game. Later I got hold of the Ultima Collection, and played most of the earlier ones as well, and Ultima 7 does stand up for me as the pinnacle. I also later obtained the two Underworld games (as part of Interplay's Ultimate RPG Archive, which also included Wizardry Gold and World of Xeen for comparison), and they also were very good. Ah, they just don't make enough good RPGs these days.

hidannik wrote:

Do you have to make notes and maps in order to succeed at the game (or have a photographic memory)? How about the other Ultimas?

Not with Ultima 7. Nor really with 6. Earlier ones, yes -- or just use a walkthrough.

Now THAT'S a classic game!

ClydeFrog wrote:

I remember buying a copy of Ultima VII before purchasing my first PC (a glorious 486 DX33).

I know what you mean! I bought U7 even though my PC at the time couldn't run it. I didn't get to play it until three years later.

TheGameguru wrote:

Ultima VI at the time it came out was revolutionary.. I basically purchased a $3750 PC (from Gateway 2000! who remembers the huge Computer Shopper "magazine") just to play that game.. with a VGA board and sound card!

Origin spawned more upgrades than just about anyone else. I remember trying Ultima VI before it came out, at AggieCon, thanks to Keith Berdak, the artist who did the artwork for the Compendium that came in the box.

Ultima IV was the first game I bought for my C64. It took me almost a year to beat it - and I have the completion certificate to prove it! As much as I love the other classic CRPGs, the Ultima series will always stand at the top of that heap.

(Come to think of it, I bought Wing Commander I & II before I had a PC to play them on, too. I was always a whore for Origin.)

DarthKrzysztof wrote:

(Come to think of it, I bought Wing Commander I & II before I had a PC to play them on, too. I was always a whore for Origin.)

Proposed tag: Original Whore

I'd pay good money to see Richard Gariott do a remake of the original Ultima, spaceships and time machines included.

This is also good reading: http://www.it-he.org/ultima7.htm

harrisben wrote:
Dysplastic wrote:

I think I had the misfortune of catching this one too young. I remember playing it and being intrigued, but ultimately overwhelmed by the openness and the degree of options. I was still coming off King's Quest and Quest for Glory, so it was like being thrown into the deep end. I gave up on it - only to go on to love relatively open-world RPGs like Betrayal at Krondor, Fallout, and Oblivion.

I experienced exactly the same thing with this game and others like it when it came to the openness of the world, ie I was overwhelmed. Unlike you however, I have never gotten used to it and such games continue to overwhelm me. Every game you listed is on a long list of games that I started but never got into because they were too overwhelming for my puny brain. I need my hand held throughout the entire process and am proud of it.

Being the hypocrite I am means I also happen to think World of Warcraft is the best thing since thinly sliced cabbage.

I too was too young. Ultima 8 was my first introduction to the series. I vaguely remember a stack of 12+ floppy disks and 5 or so more for a voice pack. The intro video, starting characters and taking random stuff from places was about as far as I got.

Yoyoson wrote:

This is also good reading: http://www.it-he.org/ultima7.htm

Great link.. really shows how advanced U7 was in terms of open gameplay.