I used the Amulet of Balance near the Serpent Gate, and travelled back in time to the era of the War of Imbalance between Order and Chaos. At the time of my arrival, the tide has turned in Order’s favour, with the creation of the automatons. The Order fortress of Serpent’s Fang where you turn up is far away from the war front and is sparsely populated with only four characters to talk to. There’s Isstanar, Commander of the Keep and an Ultimate Warrior, having traded his human body for an immortal metal one. He gave me the magical key ring, which is one of my favourite goodies in the add-on, as whatever keys you pick up are automatically added to the key ring without a change in weight.
There’s also Elissa the mage, who offers magical training and high-level spells, Tsandar the SubCommander who can train you in combat, and Surok, the resident healer who’s basically a substitute for Xenka monks and brings you back to life if you die.
At the entrance to the maze, I was met by Drusilla, a Dark Monk who looks vaguely like a rodent just like the rest of her coven, and is a follower of the Guide (who is, duh, the Guardian). Once you step inside, the rest of the companions chicken out and stay behind, and you lose all of your possessions.
I didn’t want to spend too much time on this place, so I used my Silver Seed cluebook to pass the maze. Inside, I met Yurel, a rather cute cat/human hybrid with a fondness for cheese, who trades one of the magical Orbs for some cheddar (?) you find in the maze.
You also get Helm of Light, which is super useful – no more torches, light spells or annoying crackling fire swords!
Not much to say about this place really. The most notable thing about it is being able to climb up and down the well using the rope. Oh and there’s a secret passage hidden in an Iron Maiden torture device, of all things. Other than the magical Orb, your reward here is the self-explanatory Belt of Strength.
These caves are full of nagas, and contain the Ring of Shal, which grants you unlimited reagents, so I can toss my bag of painstakingly collected magical supplies out now. You also meet a lovely fellow Formerly Known As Shal, a wizard who had pledged himself to the Serpent of Chaos and become a pure batshit insane paragon of Chaos that even Chaos followers don’t want to associate with.
Solaria, the Dark Monk who greets you near the entrance, wears questionable skull earrings and is crushing hard on the Avatar. Umm… no thanks.
This area is home to my favourite character in the add-on, a dragon called Draxinar (friends call him Stumpy but you never get to find out why).
He’s mostly bemused by the visit, though he’s not a fan of humans in general or Ophidians in particular. His dialogue is full of typos, but he’s an entertaining host and gives you riddles to solve – I managed to get all but the last one. I wish you could ask Draxinar why a dragon would need a brass desk in his lair.
The Lair is by far the hardest dungeon to get through, with lots of stairs to navigate, and is infested with arachnids; maybe it’s my distaste for spiders but I honestly find them the foulest creatures in any Ultima. Just… ewww.
After you kill the liche in the final room, your reward is Gauntlets of Quickness, Erinon’s Axe which has the appearance of a regular magic axe but looks much cooler on the paper doll, and a full suite of magical armour.
Back at the keep, I purchased the Imbalance spell from Elissa for a whopping 800 gold pieces, hoping that it would be like the Armageddon spell in The Black Gate, but all it does is summon a few fire fields for a while. Which reminds me, I finished TBG without ever casting the Armageddon spell! Now my playthrough feels incomplete.
Anyway, I unlocked the secret passage in Elissa’s laboratory, and found the chamber with the Silver Seed, where I had the last stand-off with the Dark Monks. Who were much easier to kill than the ghosts they summon, those were a pain in the ass to finish off.
In the small valley outside, Karnax materialises just in time for you to plant the seed and watch the Tree of Balance grow tall and pretty.
Leaving aside the handy magical weapons and items, story-wise this subplot feels pointless to be honest. It doesn’t stop the Imbalance War in the past, and all you end up getting is a vague promise from Karnax that maybe Serpent Isle is not going to remain a shell of its former self, with most of its population wiped out. Which, for sure, would be a fine outcome, but it’s not like you get to see it do you?
Now, back to the main plot and the Isle of Crypts.