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Video Game / Ultima VI

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"Think again, Avatar: For whom dost thou seek the Codex?"
— Altar of Singularity

Ultima VI: The False Prophet is a PC game released in 1990 by Origin Systems. It was the last title of the "Age of Enlightenment" Trilogy of the Ultima games. The Avatar is once again summoned to Britannia, but not by Lord British — this time it's by a race of demonic-looking beings called Gargoyles who immediately try to sacrifice him. He is rescued by his core party from the previous two games and discovers that the Gargoyles have invaded Britannia and have taken control of each Shrine, the focal points of the Way of the Avatar.

Why have the Gargoyles attacked? Where did they come from? How can their threat be stopped? And who is the False Prophet?

This game was first made for the IBM-PC, then ported to the Atari ST, C64, Amiga, and SNES. It was also ported to the FM Towns in Japan. A fan-made engine called Nuvie is available that makes the game playable on many modern PCs. It is currently available at Good Old Games, bundled with Ultima IV and Ultima V. There is also a full-blown 3D Fan Remake available, though you'll need a working copy of Dungeon Siege to run it, as it uses the DS engine.

The game was a significant departure from previous Ultima games. It abandoned its predecessors' Overworld Not to Scale in favour of a fully-scaled Wide-Open Sandbox world design, and it introduced a Point-and-Click Game interface. Both of these changes were adopted from Times Of Lore, an Action RPG influenced by The Legend of Zelda.

This game has examples of:

  • Always Chaotic Evil: invokedRichard Garriott himself has stated that the entire purpose of the game is to absolutely deconstruct the hell out of this concept.
  • An Interior Designer Is You: Due to the Wide-Open Sandbox, many players would set up a base in the room in the castle provided by Lord British, or find an empty home, or kill a character who wasn't important to completing the game and take their house. So long as it was near a moongate any old place would do, and you could appropriate furniture and items from nearby houses to furnish it.
  • Animated Armor: The Animate spell to make pieces of armor come alive. Many players can exploit this along with the Clone spell to duplicate rare armor. See invokedGame-Breaker for more details.
  • Ascended Glitch: Smith gives you an important hint... for Ultima V.
  • Automatic Crossbow: Iolo's triple crossbows debuts in this game. Here they're an extremely rare weapon that can simultaneously fire 3 bolts in different directions, up close all three can impale a single foe for large amounts of damage.
  • Bestiality Is Depraved: You can actually get the prostitutes to sleep with Sherry by making a party of only her and the Avatar, then making the Avatar go to sleep so that you control only her.
  • Big Damn Heroes: The Avatar's friends rescuing him/her in the intro.
  • The Call: Ever since Ultima IV, the series have explicitly stated that the Avatar was from "our world".
  • Came Back Wrong: Killing an NPC (by normal methods) and resurrecting them breaks their scripting, permanently rendering them a vegetable that can't move or speak. This can be circumvented by killing them with a cannon.
  • Cartoon Juggling: The jugglers in the game to a standard cascade - you can even have a juggler join your party! (Blaine, one of the traveling gypsies.)
  • Chained to a Rock: In the game's intro, and to the Avatar, of all people.
  • Cheat Code: Talk to Iolo and enter "spam" three times and then "humbug" to bring up the cheat menu.
  • Con Man: Finn, who likes to hang around outside Lord British's castle.
  • Control Room Puzzle: The Shrine of Control, especially, but a few other places in the dungeons.
  • Cooperation Gambit: The Avatar forces Lord British and Lord Draxinusom to share the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom by trapping it in the Ethereal Void and giving the Humans and Gargoyles one of the two lenses needed to see it each. This allows the two kingdoms to reconcile over time and provides a more immediate end to the war.
  • Copy Protection: The questions asked by Lord British in Britain, Mariah in Moonglow, and Selganor in Minoc can be answered with The Compendium included with the game.
  • Cover Drop: Played with. It is represented visually by scant few pixels, but you do also get a textual description that the gargoyles' Book of Prophecy has on its cover the same scene as the cover art... except it is a gargoyle standing triumphant over a slain human.
  • Dark Secret: Whitesaber, the mayor of Trinsic used to be one of Hawkins' crew.
  • Demoted to Extra: You can no longer recruit Mariah or Geoffrey into your party, though they still play a role in the story.
  • Dialogue Tree: In the SNES port, instead of the Rainbow Speak.
  • False Prophet: The Gargoyles believe that the Player Character is one; they think the Avatar is spreading corrupt values to make the Britannians loyal to them, and to start a war with the Gargoyles. The Gargoyles are wrong.
  • Famed In-Story: Almost everywhere you go, people are excited to meet the Avatar they've heard so much about.
  • Fan Remake: The Ultima 6 Project, a mod for Dungeon Siege. The whole game has been seriously expanded and pains were take to remove most, if not all, of the inconsistencies and plot holes.
  • Fantastic Racism: Both sides in the human-gargoyle war demonstrate this, though both sides also have more reasons for antagonism than simple racism - the humans have to defend themselves against hostile invaders that have captured human holy sites, and the gargoyles need to avert a prophecy that threatens their race with extinction and has been coming true so far.
  • Fog of War: Darkness limits the viewing area. Visibility becomes more limited as the hours grow late. It may be worthwhile to rest as the party makes a campfire. Caves and dungeons are already dark unless fire or lava is nearby. Better bring a stack of torches, or reagents for casting Light and Great Light. Casting Fire Field is another option. Navigating in darkness can be mitigated with Infravision, Peer, Wizard Eye, X-Ray, and Peer Gems to scout ahead without alerting foes.
  • Foreign Queasine: The Gargoyles love horse chops.
  • Gameplay and Story Segregation:
    • Boskin will not respond to being freed from his cell if the door is destroyed.
    • Not all of the Copy Protection questions reflect actual gameplay, such as the details on reagents being prepared before spell casting. In the game, the appropriate reagents must simply be in inventory to cast a spell.
  • Gay Option: Both the male and female Avatar can sleep with prostitutes of either gender.
  • Glitch Entity: The "Swift," a glitch character who is both a party member and a vehicle. You can create one by having a healer resurrect a skeleton (like the Bones of Zog).
  • Great Offscreen War: There's supposedly a huge war with the gargoyles going on. The soldiers talk about it. You see the wounded being cared for in Cove... However, due to the Wide-Open Sandbox gameplay, you travel all over the fairly pristine world and never find a single battleground.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: The Avatar himself/herself, though it never actually ends up happening.
  • Joke Weapon: There are many things that can be equipped as weapons, but aren't practical as such. These include kitchenware, farm tools, and decorative swords.
  • Karma Meter: Actually visible in the SNES port.
  • The Key Is Behind the Lock: Nicodemus keeps his house locked with a magical lock, which can only be opened with the Unlock Magic spell. Nicodemus is also one of very few people who sells Unlock Magic. As you may have gathered, Nicodemus isn't fond of the public.
  • Left Hanging: Quenton's murder. It's certainly set up to look like you should investigate it, and it's not hard to figure out the killer, but there's no way to bring him to justice (aside from killing the person yourself, but this brings no story development). Whether this was intentional to show the Avatar can't solve every problem in Britania or a design oversight is a source of debate among fans.
  • Loads and Loads of Loading: The Commodore 64 port bit off more than the poor system could chew, it required constant floppy-disk switching and loading (as in, every time you talked to an npc.) This feature is available in the PC version if the game is played from floppy disk.
  • Lord British Postulate: Like other Ultima games, Lord British is immune to conventional attacks, and one of the only ways to kill Lord British in this game would be to use a Glass Sword and attack him while he's sleeping in bed.
  • Lost Aesop:
    • The shock of The Reveal is greatly lessened by no one mistaking Gargoyles for Balrons or Winged Daemons (indeed, the "B" word was only ever uttered once, in Ultima VII). Everyone realizes they are "like" these beings. That there were Winged Daemons/Balrons who referred to themselves as Evil in previous games are never mentioned. Justifying Gargoyles working for Mondain, Minax, and Exodus because they admired their Discipline is a rather weak justification. That none of the Gargoyles who spoke the same language that Mondain or Minax spoke tried explaining things also dilutes things.
    • Making things even more confusing is that there are also actual Daemon enemies in the game; you encounter them in Hythloth (the dungeon that links the two worlds).
  • Low Fantasy: Relatively speaking, this is perhaps the most mundane of all the non-spin-off Ultima games. The variety of fantastical creatures you encounter go down significantly and outside of the rare few Glass Swords and some other stuff, there's little in the way of magic items. Things change significantly in the sequel.
  • The Madness Place: "They say there is a fine line between genius and madness. Well, Sutek hops up and down on that line, cursing the fools that surround him!" Sutek is paraphrasing a quote by Oscar Levant, "There's a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line."
  • Manual Leader, A.I. Party: By default. You can change it so you have control over your companions, however.
  • Minus World: The "land of the dead" where dead characters are sent. You can get there by using a hex editor, as explained here.
  • Money for Nothing: The wisps want the Book of the Mantras, and all you have to do it get it for them — a piece of cake on the second playthrough. The wisps pay you by filling up your entire party's extra inventory space with what they consider Worthless Yellow Rocks — gold nuggets. A common player tactic is to fill up their party with as many people as they can but dropping their entire inventory, thus giving them more gold nuggets than they could ever spend in the game.
  • Multiple Head Case: The Pushme Pullyou is a two-headed horse in Sutek's basement, and Sutek's castle is surrounded by two-headed cows and alligators. Specifically they are two-headed in a manner where the animal's anatomy is mirrored at the midsection, so instead of a front end and a rear end, they instead have two front ends.
  • Never Split the Party: Amusingly invoked since since was the first game in the series where party splitting was an option, and the manual even suggested sending a character ahead to scout. Unfortunately the game engine checked for enemy encounters each time a game tile was loaded, making scouting utterly pointless.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: When the Codex was raised by Lord British and the Great Council, it ripped apart the Gargoyle world and stole their greatest Shrine.
  • No Hero Discount: A notable aversion, you do get some special treatment including a freebie or two from a few merchants, and plenty of people tell you help yourself to their stuff.
  • Optional Sexual Encounter: The gypsies north of Trinsic. They don't come out and offer the service, but if you type "sex" you can pay for a text "you go off somewhere private for a while". They'll even do it with same-gender player characters, but admit that it's not usually their thing. You can also trigger it with Sherry the mouse, although this was not intended, and you have to jump through some hoops to do so.
  • Our Gargoyles Rock: They're a foreign race that follow Disciplines instead of Virtues; a different yet equal value system.
  • Our Hydras Are Different: Hydras are a type of Man-Eating Plant.
  • Outside-Context Problem: The gargoyles, having not played any prominent role in the series up until this point. The main goal of the game is to understand the gargoyles, their motivation, and how to make peace with them.
  • Pacifist Run: To some degree, you can probably gate in at each shrine, purify it, and gate out without having to fight the gargoyles occupying it. Since they aren't actually evil, this is actually a pretty virtuous choice.
  • Prophecy Twist: The gargoyle Book of Prophecies states that the only way to prevent the utter destruction of their people is by "sacrifice of the False Prophet." The gargoyles believe this means they must sacrifice the False Prophet. In fact, "sacrifice of the False Prophet" refers to the False Prophet performing a sacrifice — by casting the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom into the Void, where both Britannians and gargoyles can view it, but only by cooperating.
  • Portal Network: The Orb of the Moons, which you can have at the start of the game (Ask Lord British for "stone"), can teleport you to each town, to each shrine, and to the Gargoyle country.
  • Rainbow Speak: Links are highlighted in red in the dialogue.
  • Retcon: This one is a doozy. The Gargoyles are actually the Balrons from Ultima IV and prior games.
  • Start of Darkness: In this game, we find Horance living in isolation, talking in silly rhymes, and selling offensive magic. In the next game, we find that these were all symptoms of Hornace eventually going mad and playing a pivotal role in the destruction of Skara Brae.
  • Sequence Breaking:
    • There's a quest to gather materials for a lenscrafter to repair a broken lens. You can do the quest, but you can also simply pickpocket the finished lens off the required NPC.
    • The huge quest to translate the Book of Prophecies (that is guaranteed to take A LOT of your time if you decide to do it) is also entirely optional, despite being related to the main plot.
      • If you do decide to translate the book, you're required to find pirate treasure to do so. So you have to find the map, which is in pieces spread out all over the world... but you don't really need more than the one with the X and maybe a few others for reference in order to figure out the location. Or you could just check every dungeon you find until you get the right one.
      • If you follow the old strategy of asking every NPC you meet about all of the major keywords you can skip the Book of Prophecy quest accidentally just by mentioning it to Sin'Vraal, an important NPC from Ultima V who lives near the Shrine of Sacrifice.
    • Have a locked door in your path and don't want to find the key? Don't worry, just throw a Powder Keg at it! Alternatively, you can also cast Magic Lock on the door, then Unlock. The door will now be completely unlocked.
  • Series Continuity Error: The Shrine of Humility and Shrine of the Codex are in reversed locations.
  • Shout-Out:
    • In the Avatar's room, the poster of The '80s zebra-centuar woman is based on "Zebra, Too", from 1986, by Houston airbrush artist Keith Berdak.
    • The books found at the Lycaeum include Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and summaries of the Origin games The Caverns of Freitag, Knights of Legend, Tangled Tales, and the Moebius sequel Windwalker.
  • Strange-Syntax Speaker: To inform you that the Gargoyles' speech always starts with infinitives. To state as well that Gargoyle sentences drop more pronouns than usual.
  • Take Your Time: Don't worry, the Gargoyle world won't be destroyed that fast.
  • Take That!:
    • All of the pirates are named after employees of Electronic Arts, in response to a frivolous lawsuit EA filled against Origin. For example, Captain Hawkins is named after Trip Hawkins, founder and then-CEO of EA. In addition, some of his crew (Bonn, Ybarra, and Alastor Gordon) are named after then-senior employees of EA.
    • During the intro, one of the TV channels that the Avatar is flipping through shows a televangelist getting hit by a Bolt of Divine Retribution.
  • Talking Animal: Sherry and Smith.
  • Targeted Human Sacrifice: The Gargoyles believe that killing the Avatar will stop their world from being destroyed.
  • Thieving Pet: Averted. Sherry is getting the Rune of Valor back after a rat had stolen it already.
  • Title Drop: The gargoyles refer to the Avatar as the "False Prophet".
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • In any town where there are cannons, a player short on cash could just move a few to the designated guard patrol routes and kill a guard NPC using the cannons with no repercussions. They could then just loot the body, sell the equipment, and wait an hour for the NPC to respawn. They don't seem to notice who's killing them, and the shopkeepers happily accept equipment blasted full of cannonball-sized holes.
    • Especially silly is how common guards come equipped with say, Halberds, and just a few of them would rip through any of the Gargoyles camped at a shrine.
  • Touch of Death: Lord British's attack will One-Hit Kill you and anything else in the game, except (sometimes) daemons and dragons.
  • Twinking: It would behoove the party to be outfitted with plate mail and magic armor at the earliest convenience. How this is done is up to the player.
  • Unique Enemy: Though mimics have a compendium entry, a lone mimic can be found in Sutek's castle.
  • Unwinnable by Design:
    • Using the Orb of the Moons, you can go to the Gargoyle country at anytime from the beginning of the game. You can slaughter all of the Gargoyle NPCs, and the game will never be won. Several of the plot-important NPCs will flat-out attack you if you go there without completing the quest that's supposed to send you there.
    • While ships and skiffs can be controlled to go wherever the player wants, if you hop onto a raft (found here and there along creeks), you are at the mercy of the currents. Unfortunately you can't get out of a raft until are alongside land - and if you don't manage to get off the raft you will get washed out to sea and get stuck against the starry sky at the edge of the world. I hope you didn't save there hoping to find a way back...
    • Another way would be burying the Moonstones you acquire from each shrine of virtue in a dungeon. Being perpetually 'night', they would create a blue moongate. The problem is, you need them to finish the game, and they can only be retrieved in the daytime. Hope you didn't save...
  • Video Game Stealing: Mostly averted with the "Pickpocket" spell, except that you can use it to steal "meat" from animals.
  • Violence is the Only Option: A notable aversion. Like with Planescape: Torment, the emphasis is on talking to people and figuring things out. Very little fighting is actually required to complete the game, although you do have to traverse some hostile areas where it's difficult to avoid.
  • White-and-Grey Morality: As opposed to Black-and-White Morality seen in the last game, the conflict in this one really has no "evil" side. The gargoyles have a really good justification for attacking Brittania, but humans can't be blamed for defending themselfs either.
  • Wide-Open Sandbox: Here is one point where the game excels. Every NPC, even shopkeepers, have a bed and house they sleep in and a routine they follow. Conversations are incredibly in-depth, and there's plenty of exploration that can be done just exploring the actual world.
  • With This Herring: Averted, Lord British has a room for you with a bunch of gear, and tells you to grab anything in the castle you need.