Making an expansion to an RPG that doesn’t simply continue the plot after the end is tricky business. Ultima VII’s Forge of Virtue did a clunky job solving this problem, by making you super-powerful as a reward. The Silver Seed does a much better job as an expansion to Serpent Isle, though. Not only have the rewards been toned down while still being worth it, there’s actually a story this time, and it’s not completely lame!
The Silver Seed takes place hundreds of years before the events of Serpent Isle, during the Ophidian conflict that eventually led to their disappearance from the land. While involving time travel is not inherently problematic, the fact that you’re stymied by minions of the Guardian and speak to a Monk from modern day Serpent Isle are both head-scratchers. Those strange events aside, the Silver Seed is interesting because you get a look at the Order side of the War of Imbalance through more than just books. It does a good job fleshing out how the war actually went on and why it ended as it did.
Of course, the actual plot of the expansion is pretty basic. You need to delve four dungeons searching for magic items so you can plant the Silver Seed, yadda yadda yadda. Not the most amazing stuff. But those four dungeons, and the treasures within them, are what make this expansion shine.
While Forge of Virtue rewarded you with a super-powered Avatar, the Silver Seed instead gives a series of items that improve your combat statistics. This is great because anyone can use them, which has the effect of making your training point expenditures more interesting instead of completely irrelevant. You also get a magic keyring at the start of the expansion, which is basically an apology from Origin for having way too many keys in Serpent Isle. The keyring effectively combines every key you ever find into one, and adds a hotkey for it to boot. It’s good stuff.
There is one ridiculously overpowered reward to be found here, though it’s also the toughest find in the expansion. The ring of reagents completely nullifies the need to use reagents to cast spells. In any previous Ultima game, this would be amazing but not game-breaking. However, Serpent Isle not only introduces new reagents, but several reagents are in very limited supply. One of them is even somewhat plot important. By adding the ring of reagents, they’ve turned every reagent cache from potentially exciting treasure to useless garbage. Not that I don’t mind not having to carry a bag full of reagents, but it does sort of feel like cheating. Of course, nothing’s stopping you from not using it.
On the upside, the dungeons you must clear in the Silver Seed are quite challenging, so you won’t be getting any of your rewards without a fight (at least, not any of the combat-related ones). You can visit this expansion quite early in Serpent Isle if you want to, and doing so many be worth it just for the keyring, but actually clearing the dungeons is no trivial matter. It pays to wait until you at least have a spellbook to take on these dangers.
The Silver Seed is fun, informs Serpent Isle’s plot without interfering with it, and has great rewards. And it doesn’t introduce any huge islands that interfere with sailing, unlike some other expansions. What more could you want? (You know, aside from 60 Strength.)