The Avatar loses his virtues as he goes the route of action hero.
Unlike most games in the Ultima series, Pagan has less going for it than against it. The graphics are crisp, clean, and pretty (although one can easily lose items behind walls due to the isometric perspective). They convey the world around your character in an adequate manner, if sometimes a little too bright and colorful. The rich sound and music tradition from Ultima VII continues on here and the little voice acting in the game is done well (most noteably the ever ominous Guardian). For those who like the recent game Nox, or would like an action-oriented role-playing game that has a little more depth than Diablo, this game may very well suit their needs.
Often called the worst addition to the Ultima series, this game's biggest faults lie in breaking the status quo. In terms of gameplay, Origin decided to take the game down a more action-oriented path, resulting in what was (although not appreciated as such at the time) a predecessor to Diablo and Nox. Countless jumping episodes and other arcade-related activities frustrated RPG fans, especially since the interface wasn't the most user-friendly.
Worse than the decision to go with action is the deviation in story/content. In the continuing trend of lessening the personalization of the Avatar, in this game you are forced to play a male, bucket-helmeted Avatar, making the character more and more distant in many people's mind. The Avatar himself no longer seems to be the Avatar. This 'paragon of virtue' who strove to be honest, humble, compassionate, etc in the previous four Ultimas suddenly has no qualms about lying, stealing, and murdering (to the apparent point of genocide). There are no ways around these plot points as there were in the past. The evil choice isn't just the easy way...it's the only way. The plot is fairly linear and although the hand-holding is fitting considering you're stuck in a land run by the Guardian, it, along with the action, tends to make people feel like their playing some scrolling jumper game (ala Super Mario Brothers) rather than a RPG.
The characters and world in this installment lack the interest, appeal, or fascination of the people and places in the earlier chapters. I never realized how much the character portraits from U6 & U7 added to the personality of the character. Here, the characters all look little wooden artist models with clothes on. Lacking in any feelings for them, I began to lose my digust over the Avatar's behavior. Much like he, I started to not care. I just wanted to get it all done with.
The Bottom Line
Ultima VIII: 'Super Avatar Brothers' is the low point for both the Avatar and the series. Origin took a shot on redefining 'role playing games' and, while in retrospect helped define a genre later perfected by Diablo and Nox, it was a disaster. It was too actiony for long term fans and too complex for simple action fans. The main character, once the epitome of a virtuous hero, throws it all aside in an attempt to escape from world totally under the control of his arch-nemesis. The clean and colorful graphics give life to the world, though the faceless clones may remind one of Ultima Online. The game appeals in its attempt to convey being a prisoner in a world without bars, but the Avatar's contempt for rules and 'good behavior' remove any real concern for him.