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Home > Ultima VII: The Black Gate > About > Review of Black Gate

Black Gate Review

We're going to try something new with this issue.  This review of Ultima 7
actually contains two perspectives on this landmark game.  Both are 
presented here in their entirety.  The screen shots apply, of course, to
both reviews. - Editor

A review of "Ultima VII: The Black Gate"
by David Taylor

Rating: **** (out of five)


Origin's latest fantasy-adventure PC-compatible game.  At 70-odd US
dollars, an expensive game, but worth it.  Expect to spend one to two
weeks of heavy playing to solve this one.  It's up to typical Origin
"blow-your-mind" standards.  The sub-plots are many and colorful.
Conversations are more animated than ever before.  The graphics are
gorgeous, and the animation is excellent.  The modelling of sounds (you
can perceive distance) is a nice touch.  Keeping it from being a 5-star
game: the inventory system is clumsy, the need to reboot before playing
is inconvenient, you can't control your party members individually
anymore, and a bug involving disappearing keys.  Don't bother playing
it on most 386SX's as it isn't too fast on a 486/33, but this depends
more on your video card interface and hard disk speed than anything

Overall, the game is definitely worth it.  I can't give it the 5 stars,
as the most important question is, are you going to play it alot?  The
probable answer for this one is "yes."  After you've won, if you're
still the sicko "maim-and-destroy" type encouraged way back in Ultimas
I-III, you can see what it's like to slaughter the general population
after winning.  Besides, the excellent plot and effects just make the
game incredibly addicting.

Requirements according to the box:

    IBM or 100% compatible 386SX, 386, 486 PC System
    REQUIRED: 2 megs RAM, 21+ MB hard disk;
      256-color VGA graphics; MS-DOS V3.3 or higher
    RECOMMENDED: Microsoft or 100% compatible mouse; 20+ MHz; sound board
    MUSIC/SOUND EFFECTS (optional): Roland MT-32, Sound Blaster, Ad Lib,
      Sound Blaster Pro or 100% compatible sound board.
    DIGITIZED SPEECH (optional): Sound Blaster or 100% compatible
      digitzed sound
    board (Hear THE Guardian Speak!)
    $9.95 exchange form for 5.25" HD disks.

Requirements according to Dave:

    100% IBM-compatible 386, 486 System
    REQUIRED: 4 megs RAM (use 2 for a disk cache), 30 Mb FAST hard disk;
      256-color local-bus or 32-bit EISA bus graphics card (don't bother
      with co-processors: aren't used); MS-DOS 3.3 or higher, RELIABLE
      mouse or track ball (you won't be using the keyboard), 25+ MHz or
      faster, sound board- if it doesn't talk, you're missing out.

In detail:

Origin's long-awaited release of "Ultima VII," the latest in their
famous fantasy adventure series, is very ambitious and very large.
As a friend of mine is fond of saying, "Size isn't everything," but
it sure can impress.  This game will chew up almost anything your
hardware can throw at it, whether it's CPU, memory, graphics or hard
disk performance.

Origin has a history for ambitious, leading-edge games, so when they're
released, our standards are artificially high.  They're the Cray
Research of the computer game industry.  Origin sells expensive games
for which you simply can't find substitutes.

This game has done exceptionally well.  They recouped their development
expenditures on day one with 60,000 orders (they needed 50,000 to break
even).  An impressive feat if you consider the amount of time and money
that went into this product.  Check out the "Credits" when you start up
the game to see why they're fond of calling their products "interactive

So is U7 worth the $70-odd they charge?  If you like role-playing, then
the answer is a definite "yes."

Installing the game was uneventful for me.  It was easy, and
considering the size of this monster, was fairly quick.  Time to play!
Not!  You have to reboot your computer with a different setup if you
use an expanded memory manager.  However, if you have 4 Mb of extended
memory free and use the EMM386 that comes with DOS 5.0, you can get a
utility called EMMHACK designed specifically to let you suspend EMM386,
run Ultima 7, then resume EMM386 upon exit.

Also, in your Ultima 7 boot configuration, give yourself a 2Mb disk cache
if possible.  You'll be hating life without it.

The game starts out with a happy, woodsy scene with a butterfly flitting
about the screen and happy, woodsy music to accompany.  Suddenly static,
and the screen is taken over by a pulsating background featuring the evil
red face of "The Guardian" who explains to you that he's moving in on
Brittania as the new ... well ... "Guardian" of the people.  He then goes
on to explain how you, of course, will help to serve his ends, in classic
ultimate evil-dude style.  This is definitely a cool part of the game.
The face is pre-rendered and animated at a fairly good clip.  His lips
match what he's saying pretty closely and Bill Johnson (voice of The
Guardian) has a most excellent evil red dude voice.

Onward.  No creating characters in this one.  You pick a name and a
portrait (male or female- big choice) and "Journey Onward."  You start
out watching a conversation between your old archer friend Iolo and a
townsperson.  They're talking about a murder just committed in the
horse stables.  That's when you magically pop in (you're normally an
earth-bound dude, but tend to get popped into the fantasy land of
Britania when things aren't kosher).  So the mayor of the town quickly
approaches you and charges you with finding the murderer, "but oh by
the way, check the stables first."  So you go to the stables.  (Wait a
second.  Forgot to mention.  Origin labelled this game "MP-13", mature
players only.)  In the stables, you find a man tied to the floor with
stakes.  All of his appendages have been severed, and 'bloody' is a dry
way of describing the scene.  His assistant, a gargoyle, is pinned up to
the back wall with a pitchfork through the abdomen.

Wow.  Neat start to a neat game.  I'm not too used to this kind of
gore, but Origin's getting brave.  (See "Wolfenstein 3D" from Apogee
for truly tasteless).  The plots are further complicated by two rather
insidious elements recently introduced to Brittania.  "The Fellowship"
is a new religious organization which promotes questionable values and
has grim cult-like overtones.  On top of this, you have the Brittania
Purity League (equivalent to the Klu Klux Klan) wanting to rid the land
of those "nasty gargoyles" trying to become integrated into Brittanian

The first thing you're struck by when entering the game is the complete
lack of a grid-like feel to the world.  Trees go up two stories and are
modelled that way.  You hear birds.  A lady walks up to a street lamp,
gets up on her tip-toes and turns it on.  She later opens the shutters
to the house and says, "It's too nice a day for these".  Every
character in the game has his/her own daily routine, and they're
incredibly detailed.

The whole game is mouse-driven.  I've never been a big fan of mouse-
driven anything, primarily because I hate the way mice tend to skip.
Doing this game with a keyboard, though, would've proven very difficult.
You click the right button and hold it down to walk towards the pointer.
You clik the left button once to identify something.  You click it twice
to use it.  You click and hold the left button to move something.  These
few commands more or less take care of you throughout the game, but
keeping a finger near the "c" key isn't a bad idea (it's a hot key
for getting into combat mode).

The screen is centered about your character which means that it scrolls
by to keep you in the middle.  Unlike most games, there are no "status
bars".  Every square inch of your screen is scrolling by.  This is
definitely one of the most obstinant bottlenecks of the game.  It uses
the 256-color 320x200 resolution so common in games today, but it's
changing every pixel on that screen with every step.  That means having
a local bus video card or EISA bus video card will improve the
performance of your game considerably.

The other thing you notice is these big red check marks you have to click
to make pop-up windows go away.  Eeww.  That's not too hip at all and makes
the inventory system in particular a little clumsy to use as it takes up
a lot of screen real-estate in the first place.  Another slightly irritating
feature is the need to click on the inventory of your character before you
can do so for any other character.  Readying and moving items to and from
your backpack is simple, but one wonders why it's left to the player to
juggle items around instead of being given a complete inventory for your
whole party in one pop-up window.

The conversations with the townsfolk are very easy.  Double click your
talking target and choose from a list of topics to talk about.  The
topics change as the conversation progresses, and sometimes, you'll be
given new topics to chat about after doing something, seeing something,
or more often than not, talking to someone else.  This is pretty fun at
first, when you're eager to learn new faces.  But when you get to big
towns like Britain, the novelty wears off.  Wow, you could spend a
while networking in this city. Fortunately, that's not really

You're discouraged from attacking town members unless they provoke you
(which does happen later on), but in the countryside and dungeons, don't
expect any niceties.  However, you should always keep watch to see if the
monster is approaching you menacingly.  A very few of those things are
actually characters, and you don't want to kill them.  Combat isn't quite
as exciting as it was in previous games because you aren't allowed to
control the individual actions of your party members anymore.  You give
them overall strategies from a list of about 10, and they try to interpret
those best they can.  Problem is, I've yet to find one which says, "stay
just barely within range of the bad guys, and rain arrows on their heads."
Sometimes your characters will go off fighting the wrong bunch of monsters,
so the "proximity" strategy is the one you'll probably use mostly.

A neat feature I found which I didn't really realize until I was well into
the game is that I no longer need to keep track of what's going on with
a pencil and paper.  Maybe my memory's starting to improve, but this was
really nice.  The conversations will prompt you with "hot" topics based
on conversations you've already had.  Your job is to lead the guy around be
the nose.  He can more or less take care of the conversation himself as long
as you can network him.

Bad Bug #1: if you have keys and go to sleep, in the morning they'll be gone.
Solution: stick all your keys in a bag, put it on the ground, then go to
sleep.  Pick it up in the morning.

Bad Bug #2: I personally experienced the total discombobulation of the game.
A dragon with a yellow outline appeared in a tavern kitchen.  Walls started
to occasionally disappear until all the buildings everywhere were wall-less
(yet plaques and tapestries were still hanging in midair).  Not sure why this
happened and haven't heard other cases of it, but if you experience the same,
let me know how it happened.
Solution: only affected one game thread.  any other saved game was fine.

Not-so-bad Bug: Enjoy reading the credits and quotes, but don't start the
game after doing this.  Some have experienced screens being stuck with a
red colormap, others just a hang.  If you can start the game successfully,
you're probably going to be alright from then on.

Well, this is getting long-winded.  The upshot is that you'll find plenty of
neato objects, monsters, weapons and armor in this game on par with any
exciting fantasy adventure, but as a bonus, you'll get just a REAL complex
real-time world.  The couple of bugs aren't bad considering the complexity of
the game.  Buy it.  You won't be disappointed.


As usual, a reminder that software piracy sucks big @#$*.  Please help
make games higher quality and BUY your software.  Piracy encourages
game writers to change careers to higher-paying jobs.  We've lost many a
good game author from that.


Ultima VII: The Black Gate by Origin Systems
Reviewed by Mark Bylander

Once again, you, the Avatar, find a moongate in your backyard.  Again
you enter, knowing it will take you to the lands of Brittania.  Upon arrival,
however, you find that much has changed.  There is much to explore in order to
unravel the mysteries awaiting you.  Ultima VII is VGA only, requires a 386SX
or higher machine, 2M RAM, and fills a whopping 21 MB of hard disk space.  The  
interface is all new.

First off, we should discuss bugs.  Ultima VII has several problems in 
this respect, which may have more or less effect depending on your hardware
configuration.  Ultima VII will not run in the presence of EMS.  You must 
either change your configuration or boot from floppies to use it.  If you
have the minimum memory, you may have problems running Ultima in the
presence of HIMEM.SYS; I had to disable HIMEM to run on my machine.
Several users of disk caching software have reported lock-up problems, so
be wary of this.

Another bug/feature is the implementation of keys.  Most keys are found
near where they are used, so Origin figures it can get rid of old keys while
you sleep.  The moral is, "Do not sleep while carrying an unused key."  
You can sometimes put the key in a bag which is not on your person to avoid
this problem, but save before you try it.

That said, Ultima VII is a very interesting game.  The window on Brittania
takes up the whole screen, and the images on the screen are much larger than
on previous Ultimas.  The graphics look very nice.  There is an occasional
problem with save games and invisibility, in that they sometimes mess up the
pallettes on the screen.  You can usually restore the pallette by quitting
and then saying, "No, I don't really want to quit."

The plot is fairly intriguing.  There is a new group, called the
Fellowship, which is doing good works in Brittania.  A huge head of some
sort of demonic creature keeps appearing to you and offering sometimes
helpful advice.  Several towns have crime sprees, which you can solve.
Since it has been many years since the avatar's last visit, you will find
that many things have changed.  Britain is a huge, sprawling city.  The
gargoyles have moved into two cities on the surface.  (Continuity bug: the
world is again toroidal instead of flat.)  Magic is failing and wizards are
going insane.  Lord British remains in his castle, uninformed about his realm.

You begin in the city of Trinsic, where a grisly murder has just been
discovered.  (Warning: the graphics here are, well, graphic.)  You must
get sufficient information about the murder before the mayor will give you
the password to leave the city.  

The interface is new.  You can play entirely from the mouse.  (I use the
mouse and the escape key, personally.)  As a result, many things are simplified.
For instance, attacking, talking, and using are all accomplished by double-
clicking a creature (while in combat mode), a creature (in peace mode), and
an object, respectively.  I was disappointed in the new talk interface.  
Since it is fully mouse-driven, you must select your responses from a set
of canned replies.  If you have figured out who the vandal is, but have not
had a confession or accusation by an NPC, you cannot report your findings.
Furthermore, the new talk routine all but obviates the need for notes.  When
you meet someone you were sent to talk to, Ultima includes the topic you
were supposed to mention, sometimes before you even know who you're talking
to.  In fact, one character tells you a secret to keep from her husband.  When
you meet him, the subject of the secret appears on the list.  If you select
it, the game asks you if you really want to reveal the secret.  I find it
annoying to get this much help in the game.

The new combat sequence is very hard to play manually.  I recommend that
you put all the characters (including the Avatar) under computer control.
You can put your spellbook in the space directly above your weapon.  This 
makes it easy for you to cast spells, but prevents the computer from using
up spells in combat.

The moral aspect of earlier Ultimas is still present, although sometimes
poorly implemented.  Iolo, Shamino, and Dupre may leave the group if you
steal within sight of an NPC, but won't say a word if you sneak into a
house at night, close the doors, and start rifling through the drawers.
Twice in the game, I have had NPC's attack when I revealed their role in
foul deeds.  Based on previous Ultimas, I am reluctant to kill them, but
this game seems to leave little choice.

The 3D perspective is very similar to Ultima VI and the first two
Worlds of Ultima games.  As in Ultima VI, the perspective seems to make
cities seem huge and wilderness seem small.  There are some vertical scaling
problems as well, for instance, Lord British's castle is taller than the
highest mountains of Brittania.  Ultima VII lacks the mesas of Worlds
of Ultima.  It merely has mountains.

All in all, although Ultima VII has several problems (which hopefully
will be cleared up in later releases), I have found the game to be quite 
entertaining.  Because of the new talk interface, it can be very frustrating
to have to repeat sections of the game, so be sure to save often.  Also,
the game appears to support only one player, so if you have multiple game
players in the household, you may need much more than the 23MB of disk space
normally required by the game.  I recommend Ultima VII to all fans of the 
Ultima series, and fans of fantasy games in general (Although the game is 
playable without it, it would probably be immensely beneficial to play
Ultima IV-VI before playing this game, as many characters and places have
changed, and only a veteran of the previous games will notice these   
differences.)  I suspect that this game will take even the most expert player
a great many hours to complete--I've played for many hours and I don't think
that I am even close to the end!

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