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Summaryfar worse than its precessors.
The GoodA fully interactive world, lots of new items, lots of conversation, cool full-screen graphics. The last Ultima game, in a certain way - I mean: yet in Serpent Isle, you cannot go and explore wherever you want, 'cause triggered events occur, and the whole game sounds more like an arcade-adventure, with some rpg features.
The BadI have to say - I played Ultima 6 before playing this, and now I'll make a comparison, trying to explain why U6 is far better than U7.
What's better in U7 is quite obvious (graphics, more items and dialogues, etc.); indeed, there are many things that in U6 worked well, and in U7 don't work at all. First of them all:
1) THE ROOF - MODE. Let's say you are in a town, and you see on the screen two buildings with locked entrance doors. You open one of them, and enter the building. In U6, the new area becomes visible (the roof wears off), while the other building remains, let's say, closed. What happens in U7? You open one door, and you can see inside the second building too!!! Is the avatar supposed to have x-ray sight?? This is a very annoying thing. In the whole game, there seems to be a "roof-mode", which can be on or off. This happens not only in towns, but even in dungeons. If you can see inside one room, you can see inside everything on the screen - and that's simply ridiculous; it brings you far away from a real situation.
2) HOW CAN I ALREADY KNOW?? Conversations are very different from U6 to U7. In U6 you were supposed to type the keywords (and I liked it a lot) while talking to people. In U7, you have to choose among the main topics of conversation on the screen. Not bad, however (it was so in Times of Lore, on C64.... does anybody remember?). But there is a terrible problem. Let's say I have to find a certain item in the game - the magic orb, for instance. I ask person A about the item; he tells me that the orb is in the dark cave, and to go talking with person B to know about the cave. So, I go talking with B, I ask about the cave, and everything is ok. What happens if I go straight to B, without talking to A before? I talk to B, and the option "Dark cave" is already among the topics. How can I know of the cave at this time? And this occur ALWAYS in the game. You always get to have keywords that you shouldn't know yet. Awful.
3) THE MAIN PLOT IS OBVIOUS AND SILLY. The beginning is cool - it starts with a strange murder, and clues to find. But, since the early game, you get to know everything - you figure out who the bad guys are, what the word "black" in the title means, and really nothing in the main plot is surprising. Find out the bad guys and stop the guardian: that's all, that's silly, and you know it from the beginning (even before playing - if you read the manual carefully, you begin to suspect about the fellowship!!) . In U6 the main plot seems to be silly at the beginning (kill the gargoyles and cleanse the shrines), but it becomes more and more exciting as you proceed in the game, and the final part is really cool and surprising. You get to know what the title means, and who the false prophet is, only at 3/4 of gameplaying.
4) THE MAIN PLOT IS TOO LINEAR. Ok, as in the previous Ultimas, you can go around and live the Britannian world without caring about the main plot. But if you start following it in order to complete the game... well, you have no choice: you have to do those things in that order. And all is too obvious and easy. In U6 there are many things that you must do in order to complete the game and that you can do in any order you choose. So, if you get stuck in one of them, you can say "ok, let's do something else, and come back later". In U7, the only thing you can say is "I'm stuck here".
5) HOW CAN I REACH THAT ITEM? The new inventory mode is quite functional, and makes things simpler. BUT, again it takes you far away from a real situation. You can take every object that is visible on the screen, and add it to your backpack, even if the object is 10 virtual meters away from you. What if between you and the object there is, let's say, a dragon? You still can drag and drop the item on yourself. Stupid. Very stupid. In previous Ultimas the interface was less user-friendly, but you could only take things you could reach. Obvious, isn't it?
6) WHERE HAVE ALL THE DUNGEONS GONE? In U6 there were 4 levels of underworld dungeons, plus the gargoyle world. What in U7? Only-one-ground-level. In fact, you don't even go down or climb a ladder or stairs. Everything is on the level of the main map. When I went to Britain for the first time in the game, I said "OK, let's have a tour in the sewers! ........ but...... What?? No sewers?? And where the 4 levels of U6 Britain sewers have gone?" Exploration of dungeons is a key feature in every ultima game: not here in U7. Ok, there's a little more in the main map to explore (more npcs, more strange places with pirates, unsigned buildings, and so on).
7) COMBAT IS FRUSTRATING. While in battle, you always have the impression of a random result. Let's say you face a dragon, just after having saved the game. You begin the combat, and the whole party dies. You reload, you begin the combat again, and you kill the dragon without heavy wounds. Funny, isn't it? In U6 there was a turn-based combat, which may seem too old and slow, but it's again more realistic. Ok, you could still miss a foe with your sword, but the overall result of the combat was more predictable.
8) LOOK - A SNAKE! LET'S BEGIN COMBAT! You are travelling around in the forest, and you face a snake which attacks you, and is going to poison you if you don't react. What do you do in U6? You simply press the A- Attack key, and slay it with the Avatar's sword in one move, without entering combat mode. What do you do in U7? You HAVE to begin combat. The result: everybody tries to slay the snake, Iolo throws 4 bolts (one of them hits the avatar), Shamino wastes 3 arrows (one of them hits Dupre). And that's all for a simple snake!!!!!! OK, I could go on and on, but I stop here. I think that the programming team has spent a lot of time in improving the graphics and the 2D engine, and so there was a few time left for all the rest - the game. If you're gonna play a true Ultima game, play Ultima 4 or Ultima 5 or Ultima 6.