Ultima VII is a top down, Western style role playing game for the PC with a real-time combat system. Released in 1992, Ultima VII is set in the mythical realm of Britannia and features the hero character of the series known as The Avatar. The story takes the Avatar back to Britannia, where 200 years have passed since the events of the previous game, Ultima VI: The False Prophet.
The game was also ported to the Super Nintendo (in 1994) and Mac. The SNES version saw both US and Japan releases. Ultima VII: The Black Gate ends of a cliffhanger that is resolved in Ultima VII Part 2: Serpent Isle. It also received an expansion disk named Forge of Virtue. Ultima VII and its sequel and expansions were also included in numerous Ultima compilations.
After being contacted through his computer by a mysterious red entity, the Avatar enters the moongate in his backyard and travels through the gate from Earth to Britannia. He finds himself in the town of Trinsic, where a gruesome double murder has taken place. In the process of uncovering the clues towards solving the murders, the Avatar first comes in contact with The Fellowship, a new philosophical organization founded by a druid named Batlin. The Fellowship follow a new doctrine which conflicts with the Eight Virtues enshrined by Lord British, but make a great deal of how they have improved the lives of Britannia’s citizens. After leaving Trinsic, the Avatar discovers that the magic users of the world are going crazy, and that the strange material blackrock is somehow connected to it. By following the trail of two of The Fellowship’s leaders, the Avatar uncovers the true origins and purpose of the group. After foiling the attempt of the Guardian to invade through the Black Gate, the Avatar finds himself trapped in Britannia and unable to return to Earth.
The Black Gate is the first installment of “The Age of Apocalypse,” the final story arc of the main Ultima series. It strikes a darker tone than its predecessors, which becomes apparent when one of the first things the player encounters is a blood-soaked, grisly murder scene. Corruption — in both political and spiritual forms — is one of the game’s major themes.
Ultima VII features a sophisticated skill and inventory system that allows the player to develop the character in ways that match their playing style. Along the way, the Avatar will meet new NPCs, and old friends from past games who they can invite into their party. While Ultima VII was not the first game in the series to feature mouse support, it was the first to feature a “point and click” user interface as its preferred form of input.
An expansion pack Ultima VII: The Forge of Virtue was released in 1992. It is included in most later releases of the game.
At the time of its release, Ultima VII was known for being very demanding on PC system resources. Contributing to this fact was the game’s use of the problematic Voodoo Memory Manager, which was incompatible with other memory managers.
Ultima VII was the last Ultima game to be published before Origin Systems was bought by Electronic Arts. Like Ultima VI before it, the game included several veiled jabs at EA, as Origin had a tumultuous relationship with the publisher even before the takeover. In the game, the evil Guardian uses three Blackrock Generators to disrupt magic throughout Britannia and broadcast his insidious messages into the minds of its populace. The three generators were built in the shape of a cube, a sphere and a tetrahedron, matching the appearance of the original Electronic Arts logo.
The Super Nintendo port of Ultima VII was severely shortened and simplified, leaving out many of the game’s darker elements.
As Ultima VII is DOS game that is unable to play correctly on Windows XP and beyond, the fan community created a program that allows users to play it on those operating systems. Exult is an emulator designed to allow people who own legitimate copies of Ultima VII to play it on modern operating systems. Development was originally started by Jeff Freedman specifically for the X Window System, hence Ex-Ult. Since it’s original development it has been ported across a number of platforms from Windows PCs to Pocket PCs, Linux and OSX.
Exult allows players to play through both the original Ultima VII: The Black Gate (with The Forge of Virtue add on) and the sequel Ultima VII: Serpent Isle (with The Silver Seed add on) campaigns. The developers not only allowed players to relive the experience of Ultima VII but also allowed for changes and tweaks to be added to the game and its interfaces.
One minor interface change that was added to a version of Exult was to give players the option to use the “Paperdoll” inventory system from Serpent Isle in Black Gate. A more recent and larger change was added in the form of craftable items and extra quests. While this required the player download various hacked data files it provided an extension of the original gameplay.
While the Exult project has no official support from EA (the current owners of the Ultima franchise) developers of the original game have shown their support, most notably Richard Garriott, who in a letter to the Exult team wrote:
” Just so that you know. On a personal level I am very excited to see you doing this. Its tough to see games fade out, when the computers or operating systems that run them go away”
This game is currently available at gog.com and is included in the “Ultima 7 Complete Edition” package.