Pagan: Ultima VIII

aka: Super Avatar Bros., Ultima 8
Moby ID: 723
DOS Specs
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Description official descriptions

Ultima VIII: Pagan begins where Ultima VII: Part Two - Serpent Isle ended. The Guardian banishes the Avatar to the land of Pagan, a world under his control. Stranded in this unknown land, without his companions to help him, the Avatar's goal is to find a way back to Britannia. He has to confront four Titans in this world who are embodiments of the four elements, as well as master different styles of magic and fight many opponents on his way.

The gameplay is significantly more action-oriented in this installment than in the previous Ultima games. The Avatar is able to jump and climb, and some puzzles are based on these abilities, adding platform-style elements to the game. There are no companions to help him in battles; combat is action-based and relies on the player's dexterity. The game also abandons the leveling system of the previous entries, utilizing instead a training-based approach, similar to the one implemented in Quest for Glory games: the character's parameters are increased by continuously using correspondent actions (e.g. the Avatar's strength gradually increases as he swings his weapon).

Magic occupies an important place in the game, also departing from the style of the preceding games. The player still needs to gather reagents for spells; however, the exact preparation and casting of the spell differs depending on the elemental school it belongs to. There are four different magic schools in the game, and mastering their spells bears plot-related importance as well.

Like in the two previous Ultima installments, the game features physical interactivity with the environment: the player is able to take, drop, and move most objects from place to place. As opposed to the topic-based dialogue style of the earlier games in the series, Pagan uses conversations with selectable responses. It also reduces NPC interaction, focusing more on exploration of a hostile world and combat.

A speech pack was released separately, which added voices to some of the major game characters. It was included in the CD-ROM edition of the game.

Spellings

  • Ultima VIII: פגאן - Hebrew spelling

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Reviews

Critics

Average score: 81% (based on 19 ratings)

Players

Average score: 3.8 out of 5 (based on 79 ratings with 9 reviews)

Welcome to the dark and dangerous world of Pagan

The Good
Ultima VIII: Pagan followed on the footsteps of one of the finest single-player RPGs ever created, Ultima VII: The Black Gate. That game was bright, cheerful, and your character could travel with as many as seven companions. Ultima VIII, in contrast, is a comparatively miserable affair where the only friend you can trust is whatever weapon you happen to be wielding.

Ultima VIII improved moderately upon the graphics of Ultima VII, but the color palette looks drab under the perpetual cloud of Pagan. Character animation is greatly enhanced, but this demands serious CPU cycles, no doubt requiring that you traverse the world of Pagan without the usual stalwarts of Iolo, Dupre, and Shamino to lower your already tenuous framerate.

The overall feel of the gameworld is rather grim. The citizens of Pagan are living under the yoke of four elemental Gods and their human representatives. Monsters range from gargantuan ogres to ponderous zombies to demonic imps. The spell system has been complicated from previous Ultimas, and while the alterations are not really improvements per se, they are nonetheless interesting enough for one installment of Ultima.

The Bad
Although everything about the world of Pagan reflects the grim sensibilities of its conqueror, The Guardian, the pervading sense of hopelessness actually makes it quite a memorable game. Being the lone wolf merely to escape this dark world, instead of being the usual paragon of virtue is a refreshing development for the series. The experience of butchering hordes of zombies with a great axe is a visceral affair, with more weight and gravitas to your swings and strikes than in Diablo and its sequel. Production values are uniformly high, the plot is largely forgettable, but the overall experience of playing through the game was well worth the money back in 1994.

The Bottom Line
While Pagan may have been somewhat of a let-down from the near-perfection of The Black Gate and Serpent Isle, it does stand in its own right as a very satisfying three-week gaming experience.

DOS · by Chris Wright (85) · 2009

Not very Ultima, but still a great game

The Good
U8's music is very very good. A little bit too epic if you compare them to the elegantly small music of the earlier parts, but the music is rather evocative anyway. Graphics are pretty good too.

The Pagan game world is pretty good, and definitely interesting (even though I would have preferred Britannia or something...) and the game definitely stays interesting. There's all sorts of good and terrible things to keep me on toes.

The Bad
Extremely frustrating user interface. This is, above all, an action game. Action games require precise UIs. Yet, right now, I always encounter some silly problems, like when I open a door and try to walk through it, the Avatar tries to walk through the wall instead, or when I should run, Avatar starts to sneak, or the brain-dead simple combat in which the only action is to stab forward and even that misses half of the time... in other words, the UI is very very very clumsy. The patched version adds targeted jumps, which is good (though even then, the Avatar doesn't always jump, but instead stays on spot to do rude animations).

The action focus isn't good in my opinion. I much preferred Ultima VII where you can just hit 'c', sit back and watch baddies die.

The game performance isn't stellar (the game was pretty resource-heavy and these days just about the only reliable way to run the game is in DOSBox, since the Pentagram engine isn't release-quality yet...)

The Bottom Line
Hoo boy. Ultima VIII. Also known as "Ultima III: The Action Game". Also known as "Super Avatar Brothers". Fans thought this was the worst part of the series until Ultima IX was released and someone actually found the Escape from Mt. Drash game.

Yet Ultima VIII has its good sides - it has a pretty interesting game world, very good music, lots of interesting details, and good story. Pretty dark, but good anyway. The game as such was pretty well thought of - even when it didn't actually have a lot of actual Ultima flavor.

Some of its bad reputation is definitely undeserved. Yeah, it has far too action and a pretty awful UI - but the game itself is definitely interesting. If you aren't afraid of tons of quickloading, I definitely recommend it.

(For what it's worth, I've played through about a third of the game...)

DOS · by WWWWolf (444) · 2005

Umm... ah... well...

The Good
Well, it still had the same basic feel, STORYWISE, mind you, of the Ultima series. The implementation isn't as bad as most people claim, the debunkers probably mostly being those weird purists who resisted the new interface and graphics rehaul back in Ultima 6. The new spellcasting system is also slightly less cumbersome in the long run, something that definitely needed fixing after the switch to real-time. Oh, yeah, and the graphics were a lot cleaner than the previous outings, so that the Avatar didn't get lost whenever I passed a tree.

The Bad
Okay, I try being nice. REALLY I try, but I think that badness is inherent in most every game there is. It's just the varying degrees we have here. Ultima 8 is well balanced in these respects. First, even though the new interface is not bad, it's a radical departure from the RPG style of the old Ultimas. Richard "I wear costume jewelry" Garriot should have remembered that his audience consists of people whose idea of strenuous physical activity is placing a conference call, and all the additional clicky-clicky action here gave several people heart attacks. And to be serious, some of those platform jumping sections were pretty rediculous. Second, while the story is still pretty involved, it seems that the Avatar has to behave like a total hooligan to achieve his goals. This is fine for Ultima, or should I say Ultima One through Four, but hey, we're an Avatar now! I fully expected part 9 to depict a fall from grace, but apparantly the moral here is "Hey, it's not my planet. Let's litter!" If there is actual alien life in the universe they probably haven't contacted us yet because they have played Ultima 8, and they know we suck.

The Bottom Line
This is actually a nice game. If you don't mind something different, something a little more actiony, try it.

DOS · by Vance (94) · 2000

[ View all 9 player reviews ]

Discussion

Subject By Date
Any Western action RPGs before this one? Unicorn Lynx (181794) Sep 9, 2014

Trivia

Cancelled add-on

The planned add-on The Lost Vale was all but finished and ready for duplication before it was cancelled in September 1994 due to poor sales of the main game. In September 2005, a prototype of the game box appeared on eBay and was sold for almost 2000 dollars. Its authenticity was confirmed by Origin artist Denis Loubet. More information on The Lost Vale, including a scan of the box, is available at PC Games That Weren't.

Engine

The Pagan game engine was recycled in Origin's Crusader series.

Pentagram

Richard Garriot used pentagrams as gameplay element because he thought the superstitions - many people believe pentagrams summon the devil - are ridiculous. During development, a few people actually left Origin because of this. After that, Garriot used the pentagram on the cover which caused some US retailers like Walmart to refuse carrying the game.

Plot

In the previous games, Avatar is rated mainly on compassion and doing good deeds. In Ultima VIII, the Avatar must turn all four planes of existence upside down by destroying the Titans of each plane, in order to escape. Many fans believed that this storyline ran counter to the spirit of the Avatar and the entire Ultima series.

Reception

Pagan was not well-received by long-time Ultima fans. A large number of them ridiculed the action and platform elements of the game, dubbing it "Super Avatar Brothers". The alternate nickname this game was known by is "Super Mario Avatar". Only a different wording, but still making a point about the gameplay and jumping puzzles.

Richard Garriott, the producer of this game, admitted himself that it was released too early, incomplete and with too many bugs. The patch Origin released soon afterwards corrected most of the issues and made jumping easier. The CD ROM release is already patched.

References

  • Like Ultima VII, the game contains a reference hinting at the mighty corporate power of Electronic Arts. In Mythran's abode, a magical, morphing object appears, which continuously changes shape between cube, sphere and tetrahedron, and labeled differently during each change. These are the items the former EA logo was made out of.

When double-clicking the item, the avatar kneel and says: "I have not the strength, nor the wisdom to master such power... but one day I shall!". Obviously, Richard Garriott was behind this. * Check out the graves on the graveyard - on one of them there is the following epitaph: "Here lies Arnold. Hasta la vista baby!" An obvious reference to the movie Terminator 2.

Release history

At least in Europe, there were two different releases of the CD-ROM edition (not counting the budget releases). The first one came in the same box as the floppy disk release, with a "CD-ROM" sticker added to distinguish it from the floppy-based version. It included the speech pack, but was the same otherwise.

The second version had a redesigned box and was released in 1995. Unlike the first CD-ROM edition, this one was fully patched to fix all the bugs and plot holes that the game originally had.

Titans

The names of the four Titans are Greek words, that correspond to the elements the Titans represent: * Pyros (fire) * Lithos (earth) * Stratos (air) * Hydros (water)

Tumbling Avatar

In the original release of Ultima VIII there was the feature, that the Avatar, when hit hard in combat, fell on his back and had to get to his feet again before he could continue fighting. They later removed this in the patched version because players considered this very annoying. But you can still watch this feature when fighting a creature named Changeling. If the Changeling has taken the shape of the player and so you are fighting "yourself", the false Avatar will still fall on his back when he gets hit.

Awards

  • Computer Gaming World
    • November 1996 (15th anniversary issue) – #20 Worst Game of All Time

Information also contributed by Kasey Chang, Sciere, Terok Nor, Unicorn Lynx, WildKard, WindowsKIller and xcom1602

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Contributors to this Entry

Game added by Terok Nor.

Additional contributors: Trixter, Ye Olde Infocomme Shoppe, G. Ganesh, Jeanne, Apogee IV, Pseudo_Intellectual, Crawly, phorque, Patrick Bregger.

Game added January 11, 2000. Last modified February 11, 2024.