The Black Gate: Clearing Out

From The CRPG Addict

The king without a throne! The land without a king!
Owing to circumstances, this will be a brief entry, but I wanted to at least talk about some of the things that occurred to me as I continued my explorations of the Dungeon Despise. Despise is the dungeon that, to its shame, the game accidentally calls Shame. It is wrong. Not the dungeon Wrong–that’s further north. Or maybe the confusion is part of the Guardian’s attempt at deceit. Not the dungeon Deceit–that’s north of Verity Isle. I wish I could go on like this but “destard” isn’t even a word. They must have been going for “dastard.”
Despise turned out to be a large, twisting labyrinth that made full use of the mountain ranges to the north and east of Castle Britannia. There’s no plot reason to be here, so I’m not sure if I ever even checked it out in previous sessions with the game. I enjoyed it a lot, and until I discovered the fatal bug, it was serving its purpose of loading me up with gold and other goodies.
Just what I was hoping to find.
There were numerous combats with trolls, skeletons, slimes, headless, gazers, gremlins, rats, and probably a few other creatures that I didn’t note. Because of the game’s approach to respawning, you can fight them essentially endlessly. You have to make peace with the fact that you’re never going to “clear” the dungeon.
As I noted last time, combat in Ultima VII is perhaps a little bit better than a lot of reviewers would have you think. It can be graphically confusing at times, but it’s never mechanically confusing. Characters generally perform their programmed action with their equipped weapon, and success comes down to attributes (strength and dexterity) and weapon and armor quality. Even with multiple enemies, combat is over relatively fast, so at least if everyone’s going to die, you don’t find out after 45 minutes of investment. When characters do something that seems contradictory, it’s usually for a good reason. When their hit points get down, they naturally flee. If you’ve equipped them with a weapon that requires strength or dexterity they don’t have, they drop it and find another one. 
The skeletons had something weird going on.
But there are admittedly a few things they could have done better. One would be getting rid of “friendly fire” damage unless you deliberately do something stupid, like cast “Explosion” in the midst of a melee that includes allies. There are entire weapons that you can’t possibly use unless you’re playing a single character because otherwise the whole party gets slaughtered. Chief among these are the Firedoom Staff, the Triple Crossbow, and “burst arrows” for a regular bow. I discovered some of the latter in Despise, gave them unthinkingly to Shamino, and watched as the next combat dissolved into a horror show. 
One of the best things about any multi-character game is the satisfaction of incrementally improving weapons and armor. Despise hooked me up with a lightning whip, a magic axe, some magic gauntlets, some leather helms (some of my party members had no headgear), and lots of spell reagents. One issue that I’d forgotten is that characters can wear gauntlets or rings but not both.
The dungeon was tough to navigate. There were lots of locked doors, at least half a dozen keys, and plenty of traps. I don’t like how traps work in this game, where you can’t detect them. They just go off when you walk on their pixels. One particularly nasty one teleported me to a small section of corridor where a wall continually spewed fireballs. 
Another corridor had a more benign teleport trap that just sent me back to the beginning of the corridor. I had to get around this by finding a secret wall. That’s something else I don’t really like in this game. There’s no way to detect them, visually or magically. You just have to bump in the wall and note that the characters sink into it.
This game’s method of “secret doors” looks a lot like a bug.
There was a bit of a mystery when my characters opened a door and all of them started to scream, “Oh, no!” Then they doubled over and vomited. I didn’t see or find anything on the other side of the door that would have accounted for this reaction. Later, they were put to sleep by some flora surrounding a pool, but that made more sense. 
Those plants look like trouble.
In one room, we found an insane mage named Garok who said he was hiding from the Britannian Tax Council and had gotten lost. He had gone mad from the same malaise afflicting other mages, and his crystal ball showed him the source of the problem was in a dungeon, so he randomly chose Despise to explore. Now lost, he needed help with directions out. When we gave him directions, he returned the favor with reagents and then teleported away. I wonder if he went somewhere else in the game. 
I can sympathize.
Elsewhere, we found a staircase going up, which was confusing. The staircase took us out of the dungeon, across a bridge, and back down into another part of the dungeon in a different mountain range. That was kind of cool. 
This is trippy. I just don’t remember seeing this structure from the “outside.”
The dungeon has a lot of magically-locked doors. We eventually found enough reagents to deal with all of them, but early in my explorations, I ran out. Thus, after finding a few gold bars in a barrel, I took my party out of the dungeon and had us sail south across the mountains to Lord British’s castle. We traded in the gold bars at the Mint, and here I saw the first evidence of what would be a fatal bug: the Mint had no doors and no furniture, and Claudia was standing in an empty room. It was like one of you sociopaths had somehow invaded my game and performed your customary Mint robbery.
Casting “Unlock Magic.”
I went north to Lord British’s castle and found that the drawbridge was gone. At first, I thought it was just “up,” but it turns out that it had disappeared completely–along with the winch that controls it. Exploring the castle (I had to take the magic carpet in), I found all furniture missing–beds, tables, endtables, even Lord British’s throne.
This is a bit ominous.
At first, I was just amused, and I bought some reagents from Nystul and kept exploring Despise. Then, I slowly started to realize that it might be more of a problem than I thought. A quick trip with the Orb of Moons confirmed that every city is affected.
I can just hear you. “This kind of thing has happened often enough that surely you’ve developed a comprehensive, foolproof backup system by now!” The answer is yes, I have–but I bought Ultima VII through GOG, which defaults to its own directory if you fail to change it, and I didn’t have my backup system set to include that directory. I alternated among multiple saves, but I don’t have one from before the problem except one that I made many hours ago upon my arrival in Paws.
There’s no way I’m not going to finish Ultima VII, but I hate doing things twice and I can’t see myself doing it immediately. I’ll probably take a week off, alternate a couple other games, and then try again. I just wish I knew what triggered it. Maybe using the Orb of Moons while I was in the dungeon?
Either way, this is a short entry so we’ll have the next one in a day or so.
Time so far: 22 hours

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