Through the Moongate

Ultima Logo

Greatest. Series. Ever.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a longtime fan of the Ultima series and its creator, Richard Garriott (a.k.a. Lord British). To me, the Ultima series represents an age of eternal innocence in my life, and every time I return to the series I manage to recapture moments of my youth.

There were nine games throughout the main series that were divided into three trilogies, and chronicled a time span within the world that comprised Ultima. These time spans, referred to as “Ages”, narrate the heroic deeds of the Avatar, a time traveler from Earth who is transported to the troubled kingdom of Britannia via the Moongate, a trans-dimensional doorway.

In the Age of Darkness, the first trilogy, the world of Sosaria was beset by the foul wizard Mondain (Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness, 1980) who sought to conquer the world using the Gem of Immortality. The Avatar triumphs over the the evil sorcerer by destroying the Gem, but is later called back in the second canticle to face off against Minax, who wants revenge for the death of her paramour, Mondain (Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress, 1982). In the third installment, the Avatar returns to Sosaria to battle Exodus, the demonic offspring of Minax and Mondain’s union (Ultima III: Exodus, 1983). The Age of Darkness ended, but not before a cataclysm ruptured the world, leaving only the realm of Britannia to be presided over by the enigmatic monarch, Lord British.

The Age of Enlightenment refocused the series away from the “good-guy vs. bad-guy” theme, and introduced an intricate system of principles known as the Eight Virtues to guide the Avatar on his quest to become Britannia’s superlative savior and vassal of virtue (Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, 1985). The Eight Virtues include Compassion, Justice, Honor, Valor, Sacrifice, Humility, Spirituality, and Honesty, and each Virtue is guided by the Three Principles of Truth, Love and Courage. The goal of this game was truly unique in the fact that you became the spiritual leader of an entire world, and not in a creepy-bites-heads-off-chickens-cult kind of way. In the fifth chronicle, the Avatar answers Britannia’s call once again to rescue Lord British from the Underworld and dispose of the throne’s usurper, Lord Blackthorn (Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny, 1988). Soon after, Britannia is invaded by Gargoyles, a race of intelligent creatures who harbor a hatred for the Avatar, who they believe will be responsible for the genocide of their race (Ultima VI: The False Prophet, 1990).

The final trilogy (and my personal favorite) was the Age of Armageddon, and it pitted the Avatar and his/her loyal companions against the Fellowship; an evil cult that twisted the Eight Virtues and was led by Britannia’s ultimate nemesis, the Guardian. The seventh installment was released in two parts and showcased the game’s new engine, which was a graphical revelation that pioneered trends such as AI and multi-layered objects that are prevalent in today’s games (Ultima VII: The Black Gate, 1992 | Ultima VII Part Two: Serpent Isle, 1993). There were also two expansion packs released with each game that added additional game play features and story arcs. In the end of the seventh game, the Avatar is thrown through a portal and lands within the Guardian’s home planet of Pagan, a wicked world that is bereft of the Eight Virtues and controlled by the Guardian’s servants, the Titans (Ultima VIII: Pagan, 1994). After defeating the Titans and escaping from exile, the Avatar returns to Britannia for his final battle against the Guardian in the conclusion of the series (Ultima IX: Ascension, 1999). In the apocalyptic ending, the truth behind the Guardian’s existence is exposed. When the Avatar became the embodiment of the Eight Virtues, all of the taint and corruption within his soul was expunged, eventually taking shape in a new entity…the Guardian. The Avatar sacrifices himself and coalesces his spirit with the Guardian’s, thus destroying him forever. The Avatar ascends to another realm of existence, never to return to Britannia again.

My Ultima Collection

My personal Ultima collection

The Ultima series will always hold a special place in my heart as a string of games that challenged the status quo, introduced innovation and progressive technology, and…perhaps most importantly, taught me what it meant to be an Avatar and uphold the principles that are illustrated within the Eight Virtues.

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Posted on July 17, 2011, in Legacy Games and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Why no mention of akalabeth or that the guardian supposedly represents the ea purchase of origin?

    I do agree u7 and serpents isle are the best. To bad they dont make them like this anymore. So thankful to exult team keeping those games alive and kicking on modern os. Not to mention the folks over at lazarus whonported u5 to dungeon seige. Honestly tho id love see new ultima game built just like u7. No 3d, use of paper dolls. Mmmmmmmm

    • I tried to keep the post mostly about the story behind the Ultima series, and Aklabeth, while essentially the game that started it all, still stands apart from the Ultima series itself. And if I started theorizing about EA’s purchase (and ultimate destruction) of Origin…then the post probably would be been a rage-rant. I’d like to do a follow up post that talks about the early days of game development…how most games were produced in garages and released in ziplock baggies. My…how the times have changed.

      The Exult team has done an incredible job keeping the U7 games alive. The other ports using the Dungeon Siege, Neverwinter Nights, and Elder Scrolls engines have also done some pretty amazing things. I love how creative the fans are!

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