For a game set in a pastoral medieval fantasy idyll Ultima VII sure doesn’t pull any punches. Cate the Avatar travels to Britannia from our world (long story, best not to think about how stupid it is) and immediately upon popping out of the dimensional portal is accosted by some guy called Iolo, who apparently knows her of old. Iolo is talking to a cringing, cap-wringing peasant about a gruesome murder that has taken place in the stables. Ha, “gruesome”. This is a 1992 game and everything is so clean and pleasant! What could possibly qualify as gruesome in a place like thi-
I have to say I wasn’t exactly expecting the game to start off with Cate being tasked by the town mayor of Trinsic to investigate a horrific ritual double murder – the guy staked out on the floor is Christopher, the town blacksmith, while a gargoyle called Inamo has been affixed to the back wall of the stables by way of a pitchfork inserted through his thorax. The only clue to be found at the crime scene is a key lying next to the body. Since he’s a massive cock the mayor won’t even give Cate the password to leave the town until she turns up some evidence as to who did it. This involves wandering around town talking to all and sundry about their names, occupations, Trinsic, dismembered corpses and the weather.
Sarcasm aside, this is actually a fairly neat way of letting the player learn the game in a safe environment — there is nothing which threatens them in Trinsic, and they cannot leave until they’ve completed the murder investigation, so they’re free to wander around getting to grips with the control system (and boy does it need some grip) and getting their first introduction to the game world. Cate visits shops and inns, does a little combat training, and then goes into the church-like structure in the centre of town.
Which is where she finds the first hint that Ultima VII might actually deviate from the usual RPG plot tropes we’ve become accustomed to after thirteen years of Bioware games. The church is the local headquarters of an organisation called the Fellowship. On the surface they’ve got this pleasant, saccharine façade, but also they have this definite creepy, Scientology-esque cult undertone. The Fellowship seems to be very, very entrenched in Brittania society with many of the ordinary townsfolk also being members — including Christopher, the murder victim. All of a sudden the ritual nature of the killing is starting to make a lot more sense, especially since the one useful piece of information Cate gets out of the Fellowship representatives is that Christopher had a falling out with the Fellowship shortly before his death.
Long story short, Cate solves the mystery of who did it by talking to the blacksmith’s son, who says he had a dream about a man with a hook for a hand and a gargoyle without wings fleeing the scene. Dreams apparently having the same provenence as CCTV evidence in Britannia, Cate makes her report to the mayor, who continues in his cockitude by asking Cate a bunch of copy protection questions that I’d normally have to sift through the manual for. Happily GoG have thoughtfully included a .pdf file with the game download that has all the answers, and the mayor rewards Cate with one! hundred! gold pieces. I’m not sure if it’s the currency inflation seen so often in modern games, but that doesn’t seem like a very large quantity of money. The mayor promises another one! hundred! gold pieces (yippee) once she’s tracked down the murderers (who have fled to Britain, the capital city) and gives her the password she needs to get past the guards and out of this rural hell-hole.
I suppose it wasn’t a complete waste of time. Cate’s meanderings around Trinsic allowed her to steal literally everything that wasn’t nailed down without any complaints from the townsfolk, with the sole exception being when she tried to pilfer a cake from one of the houses. A disembodied voice boomed out “THOU SHOULD NOT BE DOING THAT, AVATAR!” Cate ate the cake anyway. Now, as Cate attempts to leave Trinsic by the south gate the same disembodied voice speaks once again.
“THOU ART GOING THE WRONG WAY, AVATAR!”
I hate backseat drivers.