Ultima VII: Part Two - Serpent Isle

aka: Ultima VII: Segunda Parte - Serpent Isle
Moby ID: 704
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Description official descriptions

The events of the game take place eighteen months after those described in Ultima VII: The Black Gate. Batlin, the leader of the Fellowship has disappeared, as well as Iolo's wife Gwenno. A map is found that points to the Serpent Isle where the Guardian is still planning to destroy Britannia. Lord British sends the Avatar and his companions to this new land. Once there, the Avatar discovers that a great imbalance is upon the isle and it is up to him to fix it. To do so, he must learn the philosophies of the original inhabitants of this land, who worshipped giant serpents symbolizing the principles of Order, Chaos and Balance.

Serpent Isle uses virtually the same game engine as the first Ultima VII, with some slight modifications in inventory management and NPC portraits (which are now digitized images of actors). The story, however, is more linear and also more extensive. Unlike earlier Ultima games, many tasks have to be accomplished before the player is able to advance to a different area. There are also many scripted events that advance the plot, though the free-roaming is still retained to a large degree, with a vast amount of locations to visit, items to collect, and NPCs to interact with. Combat is handled similarly to the previous game, with a simple real-time point-and-click management of the Avatar's actions, while his/her party members are being controlled by the AI.

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Average score: 84% (based on 10 ratings)


Average score: 4.0 out of 5 (based on 61 ratings with 7 reviews)

Paving the path to the great RPG revival

The Good
At first sight, what we have here is an add-on of sorts to Black Gate, the first part of the complete Ultima VII saga. Serpent Isle uses the same engine as the first part, looks almost identical to it, and has the same combat mechanics, stat-improvement system, and party management. But in its core, it is a very different game.

Black Gate still continued the tradition of open-ended Ultima games. Its gameplay formula was still about roaming the world and completing tasks in any order. Serpent Isle is decidedly inclined towards a tighter, more focused narrative.

The abundance of scripted events immediately catches the eye. Earlier Ultimas had very few of those. You had an intro and an ending, but the rest of the game was dedicated to your exploration (which was nearly unrestricted), and only very few things did really happen. It is true that the initial impact of those great stories and the fascinating gameplay were enough to sustain the interest of the player, but there has been always very little "inside" story in those games. Serpent Isle is the first one that was created with a different design philosophy in mind. You really play a story in this game, almost in the sense of Japanese RPGs (though naturally with much richer exploration and interaction possibilities) - things happen because they are supposed to happen, you just have to trigger the appropriate event. There are many cutscenes in the game, and more obligatory dialogues and events that advance the plot regardless of your actions: you are often being teleported, thrown into prison, your inventory is taken away from you, etc. As a result, the game has a much more distinct flavor of a good novel than all earlier Ultimas.

Another significant change is the importance of your party members. In all earlier Ultimas they were there just to decorate the game. In Ultima IV you had to find seven companions in order to finish the game, but none of them influenced (or even enhanced) the plot individually. In the fifth game they were little more than speechless fighters once they joined your party. In the two following games they became more talkative and started having distinct personality traits, but were still equally unimportant to the plot. However, in Serpent Isle they have become an integral part of the narrative - they perform various actions, participate in the story, and behave like people with their own wills rather than item-carrying, fighting machines.

The storyline itself is naturally more dramatic and involving thanks to the new technique. There are sudden twists, massive cataclysms, lyrical moments, and even moving scenes that depict courageous deeds and sacrifice. This added a whole new dimension to the somewhat dry, impersonal Western storytelling style. Serpent Isle is an early precursor to the (perhaps upcoming?) great "RPG merge", a game that takes the best from Japanese RPGs without losing the gameplay quality of the Western style.

Being so tightly scripted, Serpent Isle is naturally more linear than all the previous Ultimas. Often you can't access a new location until you have completed certain tasks in the old one. Particularly the first part of the game is of a very straightforward nature. The result is a "user-friendliness" that was practically absent from the earlier installments: Serpent Isle is easy to get into, easy to start playing; it is a perfect starting point for re-acquaintance with the classic series for those who have missed the previous installments.

Certain aspects of Ultima were brought to utmost perfection in Serpent Isle - most importantly characterization and writing. The personalities of the game's characters are more detailed than ever, the dialogues more complex and finely written. There are many more important characters here than in any Ultima game before - plenty of characters are involved in the story and are much more active than the somewhat indifferent inhabitants of Britannia in earlier Ultimas. The addition of large, realistically looking character portraits (the only graphical change in the game, along with the cool equipment screen - equipped items are visible on the character) was a great decision - it is nice to talk to people with such expressive faces, and it adds a lot to their personalities.

The game is long. Although it is much simpler to follow and to play than earlier Ultimas, it will still take quite some time to complete - not wandering around aimlessly, searching for clues, like in earlier Ultimas, but actually experiencing things and making the story progress. The quests are large, wonderfully detailed (take Monitor as an example, with its political conspiracy involving plenty of characters and their personal views of each other), there are huge dungeons and some very colorful and unique locations to explore, like the Lost City with its unbearable heat and gargoyles, or the ice-covered northern regions.

Like in the first part, there are many humorous dialogues and situations in Serpent Isle. One of my favorites was the dialogue choice you have after Filbercio catches you fooling around in his mistress's bedroom and asks you whether you did something with her or not: 1) I'm guilty 2) I'm innocent 3) I'm leaving... By the way, Serpent Isle decidedly the sexiest Ultima game out there, offering quite a lot of action. The aforementioned scene, for example, is quite convincing - if you decide to go along with the mistress, you see both her and the Avatar undress and go to bed...

Those are the "new" good things in Serpent Isle; but together with them, it also contains plenty of traditional Ultima goodness we know and love. Like the first part, it is set in a fully interactive, breathing, believable world - spin threads to make clothes, catch fish, hunt deers, and take and move around everything you like...

The Bad
There are even more plot items in Serpent Isle than in Black Gate - chances are you'll carry around lots of weird things without the slightest idea of how and where to use them. Since your inventory is limited, and you can drop things, there is always the risk of dropping a seemingly unimportant item and then being unable to retrace it back when you suddenly discovered it was needed to make the game progress at a much later stage. Many items are also very small and easy to overlook, like the serpent teeth you need to teleport around.

The amount of locked doors and various keys in the game is a bit too overwhelming. If you don't drop the keys you have used (a few of them have several functions, but as a general rule, a key is valid only for doors in the location where you found it, so it is relatively safe to discard them after usage), you can easily end up with a whole bag stuffed with keys of all colors. The "find a key to unlock the door" puzzle is somewhat overused - you'll spend a lot of time just hunting for keys in dungeons.

I should mention the party AI, which was dangerously close to zero. My companions used every opportunity they had to unequip the best weapons I was giving them and to equip some junk instead. I was careless enough to give a glass sword (basically an instant kill item of one charge) to Shamino, who equipped it without me noticing it, and used it to kill a rat. Boydon jumped right into fire with 3 hit points in the midst of a hard battle. Iolo killed me once by repeatedly hitting me with fireballs while I was fighting a slime.

The new scripted event-based mechanics don't always work perfectly. Often there is little logical connection between the "triggering" action of the player and the scripted event that follows. For example, a door in Shamino's castle is protected by an energy field, that disappears after you find the Hound of Doskar and summon him to trace Cantra. There is no true connection between the disappearance of the energy field and the summoning of the dog - you have to summon it only because you are supposed to.

The Bottom Line
The first part of Ultima VII was the richest and most perfectly crafted realization of the classic template of the series.

Serpent Isle, on the contrary, defines - particularly in storytelling - a new design philosophy, which will eventually become the new template for the great RPG revival of the West. Tightly scripted, story-driven games like Planescape: Torment have been hugely influenced by this seminal work. Large, rich, creative, wonderfully detailed, Serpent Isle, with its focused narrative and outstanding balance between scripted events and exploration, is a masterpiece way ahead of its time.

DOS · by Unicorn Lynx (181794) · 2011

Less bugs, more straitjacket

The Good
Serpent Isle is a large, well-plotted sequel that removes most of the infuriating bugs from Ultima VII: The Black Gate. The world of the isle is richly textured, with extensive dialogue and a series of quests to navigate. More so than The Black Gate, Serpent Isle is the natural culmination of the Ultima series style.

The Bad
For all the density and complex interaction, Serpent Isle is a far more linear game than its predecessor. Though the game world is larger, you are shown small chunks of it at a time, with specific quests to complete before any further progress is possible. In structuring the game this way, Origin have removed the most attractive element of The Black Gate - unlimited freedom. A large world seems a bit wasted if you're only going on a guided package tour of it: for most of Serpent Isle the player is kept firmly "on quest".

In terms of game mechanics, Serpent Isle trades annoying bugs for verbal diarrhoea. Yes, atmospheric dialogue is great, but some of the game characters appear to have three-act plays in their heads. And a fair amount of the game depends on trade of information, so there's no real way to skip it.

The Bottom Line
Those who like to be marched through a game may prefer Serpent Isle to its maligned predecessor, The Black Gate. The storyline is particularly strong, with classic elements of betrayal, murder, and redemption. For me, however, the game felt too much like a path with high walls; the opportunity to go sideways sometimes would have been appreciated.

DOS · by Colin Rowsell (43) · 2002

Very similar to The Black Gate, without all the bugs

The Good
First of all, I'd have to say that I liked this game far more than The Black Gate, part one of Ultima 7. The paper doll inventory was different and interesting, but I'd have to say that that was nothing new--Event Horizon/Dreamforge have been using that method for years. I liked the new setting of the game, with its different monsters and characters. Although this explains where the other towns went--except for Vesper, I don't think they've been in any Ultima game since Ultima 3. The graphics were the same for Ultima 7. The exception here is that you could sell more items for cash in this game, until you got the spell False Coin. Jewelry and certain leather and antique armor items could be sold, as well as reagents--I preferred this to only being able to get gems and gold bars and nuggets in Ultima 7. While some spells were the same, others were different. The add-on for this game was no cakewalk, though, but well worth it--not only did you get the highest stats, you also ended up with some really useful items, like the Ring of Reagents--you never had to buy reagents again! Music was exactly the same as Ultima 7, part one. The ending was really great--the animation at the end was spectacular. And NO BUGS--yippee!!

The Bad
The fact that almost everyone in the towns died at the end of the game--what the heck was up with that?! The fact that Dupre killed himself--ok, so it was to save the Avatar, but WHY?! even have this in there!!

The Bottom Line
Very, very similar to Ultima 7. I think most hardcore Ultima gamers didn't really like the change in setting, but I really liked it.

DOS · by OceansDaughter (106) · 2002

[ View all 7 player reviews ]


Despite the loss of the source code, some dedicated fans of Ultima VII and VII Part Two are in the process of reverse-engineering the games under the GPL license! See Links/Searches for more details.


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Related Sites +

  • Denis Loubet's site
    Denis Loubet's personal site, which features (among many Ultima-related things) the original version of the Serpent Isle intro.
  • Exult
    An open-source project to reverse-engineer Ultima VII and Ultima VII Part Two. Highly recommended for any fan of these games.
  • Ganesh's Website - Planescape Torment, Ultima 7/8/UW1/UW2 & Jokes!
    Walkthroughs, tips, hints, cheats, trainers, backgrounds, wallpapers, desktop themes, music, mp3s, midi, hand-picked *very* funny jokes and much MUCH more! ALSO: U7 in Win9x, humor, lots of downloads!
  • Ultima 7 in Windows
    An exerpt .. "Thanks to a new and quite brilliant utility, Black Gate and Serpent Isle can be run effortlessly in Windows 95 or 98, with virtually any kind of sound card. With the latest edition (U7.DPMI) it is also compatible with Windows 2000, and possibly even Linux."

Identifiers +

  • MobyGames ID: 704
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Contributors to this Entry

Game added by Terok Nor.

Additional contributors: JubalHarshaw, Zovni, G. Ganesh, Jeanne, formercontrib.

Game added January 9, 2000. Last modified February 13, 2024.