Ultima VIII: Pagan
|Ultima VIII: Pagan|
Andrew P. Morris|
March 15, 1994 (DOS)|
|Genre(s)||Role-playing video game|
Ultima VIII: Pagan is a video game, the eighth part of the role-playing video game series Ultima. It was not as well-received as its predecessors, Ultima VII and Ultima VII Part Two: Serpent Isle. Developed in 1994, it is a DOS-only title and is also the first game in the series to be rated M in North America.
Following the defeat of the charismatic religious leader Batlin on Serpent Isle, the Guardian banishes the Avatar to a world that he has already conquered: Pagan. Ultima VIII has a much darker tone and a very different premise, in comparison to most of the Ultima games. The world of Pagan is entirely different from that of Britannia: the Virtues were not part of Pagan's culture, and the magic systems and monsters were entirely different.
The world of Pagan is in eternal twilight as the result of an ancient battle between the Elemental Titans and the evil "Destroyer", which resulted in the victory of the Titans. However, the people of Pagan had to pay a high price: the Titans had to henceforth be worshiped as gods. The Titans bestow powers on their most ardent followers, but they are otherwise cruel and unloving rulers, and their followers terrorize the general population.
Ultima VIII sets off where Ultima VII Part Two: Serpent Isle ended: The Guardian has grasped the Avatar from the Void, and now drops him into the sea of the world Pagan through a pentagram-shaped portal. In the introduction, the Guardian reveals his plot: "You have been a thorn in my side for far too long, Avatar. Your two worlds will be crushed. Britannia first, then Earth. I shall parade you before their conquered peoples as the fallen idol of a pathetic ideal. I banish you to the world of Pagan. No one here knows of the Avatar!"
The Avatar regains consciousness on the shore after being rescued from the sea by a fisherman (who turns out to be an important character later on in the plot). He soon witnesses the execution by beheading of a townsman, ordered by the tyrannic ruler of the region, Lady Mordea.
Later, visiting the wizard Mythran, he learns that there are four Titans on Pagan, each one having one of the Elements as his/her domain: Water (Hydros), Air (Stratos), Fire (Pyros) and Earth (Lithos). The more privileged followers of Lithos are identified as necromancers, the wizards that trap Pyros and tap him for their power as sorcerers, the followers of Stratos as theurgists and the (albeit highly selective) followers of Hydros as tempests. Apart from those, a fifth type of magic known as Thaumaturgy exists and is pioneered by Mythran. In order to escape Pagan, the Avatar has to overcome many obstacles and master the ways of all titans, finally becoming the Titan of Ether: the magical field and fifth element.
During his quests, the Avatar collects the four artifacts of the Titans, unleashing violent thunderstorms, hurricanes, earthquakes and meteor showers by doing so. These artifacts allow him to enter the Ethereal Plane and defeat the Titans on their own turf. The Avatar then reconstructs the original blackrock gate that originally allowed the Guardian to enter Pagan. By entering the reconstructed gate, the Avatar is teleported back to Britannia, which is now ruled by the Guardian, who is revealed to also be the "Destroyer".
As with its predecessor, Ultima VII Part Two: Serpent Isle, and its successor, Ultima IX, many elements of the plot were cut to meet the deadline imposed by Electronic Arts. Some plot ideas based in Pagan were hinted at in Serpent Isle and in Ultima Underworld II, but were not followed up on in this game. Much like in Serpent Isle, several of these elements can be found in the game's usecode or in the game itself. In Ultima VIII, this results in many plot holes, unfinished story lines, and inaccessible areas. These include:
- In Ultima VII Part Two: Serpent Isle, the blind forest master Morghrim is from Pagan, and mentions Elerion, an enormous silver tree of life that once existed on Pagan but has since been destroyed. The Silver Seed in the game comes from this tree. In Ultima VIII, however, the tree is never mentioned, nor can its location be found.
- The usecode contains a conversation with Mythran that mentions a haunted grove of trees on the Plateau. This may be related to Elerion, but again, no haunted grove can be found in the game itself.
- In Ultima Underworld II, Mors Gotha mentions the Guardian has a Palace on the world of Pagan. However, there is no mention of this in Ultima VIII.
- Jenna, a barmaid and daughter of Darion, captain of the guard in Tenebrae, expresses an interest in adventuring, even carrying a sword. Darion wants her to marry, even suggesting the Avatar as a potential suitor. Despite this, it is not possible to adventure with Jenna, nor is it possible to begin a romantic subplot with her.
- The usecode contains a conversation with the blacksmith Korick about the Avatar's experience in constructing a Black Sword, as he had in the Forge of Virtue add-on to Ultima VII. However, this conversation is not possible in the game. 
- Books in the game mention strange glowing balls of light on the Plateau near Mythran's house, matching the description of the Xorinite Wisps from Ultimas IV through VII Part One. As in Serpent Isle, the wisps were cut from the final release of the game.
- Shaana the executioner is shown in the Thaumaturgist Mythran's house, although no in-game explanation is provided as to why. Director Mike McShaffry stated that she was supposed to be Mythran's granddaughter. 
- The Birthplace of Moriens is another cut plot element. In the game, Vividos tells the Avatar to make a pilgrimage there. The unpatched version of the game has no such place. In the patched version, a sign indicates the birthplace in a location completely different from the one Vividos describes in the unpatched release, and there is an inaccessible caved-in area in the location he describes.
- The program files contain an item called the Key of the Necromancer which does not appear in the final release, but can be created by cheating. It has the same use as the Key of the Caretaker.
- In the Avatar's conversation with Lithos, Lithos says not to return until the Avatar is himself the Necromancer. This may be related to the Key of the Necromancer, but there is no follow-up to this plot.
- Scrolls found in the game suggest the Skull of Quakes had a completely different use than it does in the final release of the game, where its only purpose is to activate one of the game's many Recall Pads.
- When freeing the Titan Hydros, she announces her intent to kill Devon, and challenges the Avatar to get to him first. However, Hydros makes no attempt on his life.
- The Avatar was originally supposed to learn Tempestry, and the documentation with the game describes several spells the Tempests can cast. Although Hydros promises to instruct the Avatar in Tempestry when freeing her, she relents, making Tempestry the only school of magic inaccessible to the player.
- An underwater city of Hydros is mentioned several times in the game, where the Tear of the Seas is kept. This may have been accessible upon learning Tempestry, however this area is never found, and Devon simply finds the Tear of the Seas while fishing later in the game, and locks it away in a treasure chest.
- Upon freeing Hydros, Devon asks the Avatar to get help from the Sorcerers to stop Hydros from drowning the residents of Pagan with rainstorms. However, there is no option to discuss this with any of the Sorcerers, nor does Devon ever follow up on his request.
- A daemon named Arcadion can be found during the test at the Sorcerer's Enclave, the same name as the daemon in the Black Sword in the Forge of Virtue add-on to Ultima VII. However, he claims not to remember the Avatar or his adventures on Britannia.
- After taking the Heart of the Earth from Lithos, he was originally supposed to get angry and start a series of earthquakes in addition to sending an army of the dead against the city of Tenebrae. Vividos would get angry with the Avatar, accusing him of betrayal, and the residents of Tenebrae, including Mythran, would react to these events. This can be found in the game only by cheating.
Mike McShaffry, programmer on Ultima VIII
Richard Garriott later said he delegated most of the work on Ultima VIII to others: "... I sacrificed everything to appease stockholders, which was a mistake. We probably shipped it three months unfinished". The interactivity and role-playing elements from previous Ultimas are greatly reduced in the game, partly leading to its mixed reception. Some of the removed elements from earlier Ultimas include:
- The Avatar is a male with blond hair and blue eyes, in contrast to previous Ultimas, where the Avatar's gender and appearance could be chosen by the player.
- There is no party system, causing this to be the first main Ultima where the player adventures alone since Ultima II.
- Several weapons, including halberds, spears, slings, two-handed swords, bows and crossbows, are not in the game.
- There is no leveling or experience system in the game, and the Avatar's Strength, Dexterity and Intelligence are all increased through repetition. For example, attacking in combat repeatedly will eventually cause Strength and Dexterity to increase, and reading books or casting spells repeatedly will do the same for Intelligence.
- Horses, carts, and ships are all unavailable. The only methods of transportation are by foot, or by using the Recall Pads. Small skiffs are in the game, but they aren't usable.
- Interacting with the world has been reduced. In Ultima VII, the player could do things like bake bread, forge swords, pick berries from bushes and sit in chairs. None of these can be done in Ultima VIII.
- Character portraits have been completely removed. They had been introduced in Ultima VI.
- The combat system does not involve any tactical planning or ability for automatic commands. Instead, combat is reduced to three moves - swing the Avatar's weapon (or fists), block, or kick.
- Searching through the inventory or casting spells does not pause the game, allowing enemies to attack while the player searches for items or casts spells.
- Spellbooks were removed, as Pagan's magic system is completely different. Casting spells requires keeping several different items in the Avatar's backpack, and the preparation and casting of spells is much more time-consuming than in the other games.
A Speech Pack add-on was released concurrently with the game. This pack adds spoken lines for certain key characters, such as the Guardian, the Titans and Khumash-Gor. The Speech Pack did not sell very well as a separate add-on, mostly because the CD-ROM Gold version of Ultima VIII, which was released shortly afterward, also includes the speech files. The speech files are also included in the later budget releases and the Ultima Collection release. The speech pack was available in English, German and French.
The Lost Vale
"The Lost Vale" expansion to Ultima VIII was planned from the outset, and was highly anticipated. The expansion would have begun upon entering a set of double doors that are present in the finished game but inaccessible. Despite being all but finished and ready for duplication, "The Lost Vale" was never released as it was canceled when the main game did not sell as well as had been expected.
Plot details released in 2005 indicate the Avatar would have had to free three additional Ancient Gods from a prison. A city in the clouds was going to be an accessible location, and the add-on would have featured an additional spell that would allow the Avatar to shrink to a very small size, allowing him to enter previously inaccessible areas. A magic bag of reagents was to be included as well, eliminating the need to find reagents to cast spells (similar to the Ring of Reagents from Serpent Isle's Silver Seed expansion pack).
A single Lost Vale game box surfaced in October 2005, and was confirmed to be genuine soon afterwards. It was auctioned in eBay for US$1923. Some low-resolution scans of the box are located on the web.
Support and legacy
A patch was later released to correct game bugs, fix some of the criticized plot holes and eliminate as well most of the problems with jumping. While the original release contained many moving platforms to be jumped across, only jumping over a fixed distance in eight directions was possible. The patch enabled jump distance to be targeted and stopped the motion of the platforms. In reference to the abundance of platform-jumping puzzles, long-time Ultima fans jokingly referred to Ultima VIII by the nickname Super Avatar Brothers.
In 1995 the Ultima VIII engine was reused for the Crusader game series.
Being a DOS title, Ultima VIII has problems running on modern systems such as Windows 98 and later; however, it works reliably under the DOSBox environment. Unlike Ultima VII which used Intel's undocumented "Big real mode" which became known as Voodoo Memory at Origin, Ultima VIII used a more conventional DOS extender. An open-source project called Pentagram aims to create an engine capable of running Ultima VIII on modern operating systems, most notably Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. In 2000 a developer, who claimed to have the source code, helped the Pentagram project with information about the internal structures of the game. In 2003 an anonymous developer offered the game's source code to the pentagram project to support their development, an offer which was rejected for legal reasons by the Pentagram project.
In April 2012 Pagan was re-released after years of unavailability into the Digital distribution by gog.com. In April 2015 Pagan was also released for free on Origin, EA's digital distribution platform.
Computer Gaming World said in June 1994 that "Though the imagery is gorgeous ... the Avatar's interaction with the world more resembles Prince of Persia" than previous Ultimas, the world was smaller, and the game lacked companions or traveling to other towns. The magazine predicted that action fans "will be pleasantly surprised ... but traditional RPGers and long-time Avatars" might not. Scorpia was much harsher in the next issue. Her review began by calling Pagan "the purported Ultima VIII", stating that "If you were expecting characterization, rich story, role playing—you're expecting it from the wrong game". She continued, "There are, in fact, so many things wrong with Pagan that it's much easier to start with" improvements, including not using the Voodoo DOS extender, the absence of bugs, better inventory management, faster saving and loading save states, and the lack of the "idiot parade" of NPC party members with poor AI. Describing the game as "'Mario: The Avatar", Scorpia suggested that Origin implemented the "ludicrous arcade action" for a console port, but added that because of poor movement and combat controls, "judging angles and distances is very tricky ... I have never, in any other CRPG, saved and restored as much as in this one". She complained that the Avatar trying to join a magic organization was "a good 75% of" the game, but "a nightmare of multiple" systems made magic "a chore". Scorpia reported that "For the first time ever in any CRPG I felt no identification whatsoever with the character", describing the Avatar's actions as selfishly ruining a world which had been destroyed but was stable before his arrival: "the very term 'Avatar' has degenerated into being only a trademark of Origin systems; it has lost all meaning insofar as the game and the spirit of Ultima is concerned". She concluded that "Pagan is a disaster, and an embarrassment to Origin, Lord British, and Ultima fans everywhere", and that she was not looking forward to a sequel. Scorpia used her hint column that month to "for the first time ever" give "not hints, but explicit directions on getting through some of the tougher parts of Pagan" so players could "move on to better things".
Reviewing the game for PC Gamer US, Trent C. Ward wrote, "With its rich plot, superb animation, and great sound, Ultima VIII is one of the better action titles out there." However, he concluded that its "really strange mix of game play ... doesn't quite pay off." David McCandless of PC Zone argued that "Pagan is a game you will either love or hate." He summarized, "If you get into it, it will last you weeks and you'll think it's brill and you'll love it and you'll play it and play it. But personally, I don't think it's much good." PC Format's Richard Longhurst praised its "incredible depth and detail", and called it an "immense and intense" game that was "beautifully animated". Dragon gave the game 3 out of 5 stars.
In 1996, Computer Gaming World ranked it as the 20th worst game of all time, stating "A once-great RPG series reduced to the level of Mario, but with hateful, virtue-less characters." Ultima VIII was named the 60th best computer game ever by PC Gamer UK in 1997, the highest position of any game in the mainline Ultima series. The editors wrote, "Even newcomers to RPGs will be able to cope with it, but it's not for the faint hearted."
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- "Looking Back on 20 years – The Lost Vale". Sherigranerray.com. 2010-05-14. Retrieved 2012-08-17.
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just read that 'Anonymous', who claims to be a developer of U8, still has the full source of it.
- Linken, Andre (2012-04-20). "Ultima 8: Pagan – Gold-Edition des Rollenspiels bei GOG.com für sechs Dollar". Gamestar (in German). Retrieved 2012-09-08.
Die Gold-Edition des Rollenspielklassikers Ultima 8: Pagan gibt es im Onlineshop von GOG.com ab sofort für sechs Dollar. Darin ist unter anderem auch das Speech-Pack enthalten.
- Ultima 8: Pagan is now free on Origin By Samit Sarkar on Apr 28, 2015
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- Underworld Ascendant uses the same settings, characters, and lore as the other Underworld games, but does not have the Ultima license.