RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Mar 20th 2016 at 08:00:00 AM by (bombatomba)
Posted under Ultima V, Ultima, Richard Garriott, Origin Systems, GoG



You have finished your quest and gained the title of Avatar.  You have mastered the eight virtues and successfully retrieved the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom from the horrible depths of the Stygian Abyss, and have been ordered to return to your world and live your life as an example to others.  In a flash of darkness, you return to the exact spot of your initial departure, the circle of stones.  You return home, realizing that your life has changed forever.  But the moongate doesn't appear again, and you go back to the life you had before, not knowing if you will ever see the land of Britannia again.  Until one night, you receive a sign that literally drops into your lap.  You don your armor, sword, and ankh, and hurry to the old cycle of stones, to the moongate that appears out of thin air, and to a new destiny.



I have no idea how to start this review, except to say that the game is awesome!  It is everything from Ultima IV dressed up and turned to eleven.  Yes, one higher than ten.  Done, end of article for this month.  Finis.  Thanks for reading.

...

You know I actually thought about submitting the article this way, along with pictures of my copious amounts of notes, the ganglion cyst I got from taking said notes, and the incredulous look from my wife for taking physical notes instead of typing them out.  "But you're already on the computer!  Why not just use it?"  But no dear friends, I glanced over my painfully illegible scrawl and decided to sally forth with a real article.  Plus, who knows what would have happened to me if I hadn't.  Alas, I am wasting time.  On with the show.


Year Released: 1988
Hours Played: ~52(!)
Platform: PC (also available on Apple II, C64/128, Atari ST, Amiga, NES, various Japanese computers


First, the technical.  While I declined it in the last game, this time I decided to install the "upgrade" patch so that I could enjoy some nice MIDI music while I played.  It doesn't add anything to the graphics, but I really don't want that.  I find the graphics of this game pleasing.  I also decided to play on multiple devices, one of which was an old IBM 486 computer with an old CRT monitor.  Transferring the save between machines was pretty simple (a little less so on my Macbook), so no skin lost.  Later, I got a nice sound card so that I was really able to enjoy the music, though only on that system (DOSBox doesn't emulate that particular card).  There are no graphic upgrades in this patch, though personally, I don't really feel the need for them.  In my opinion, this is pretty much the pinnacle of tile-based RPG games, which I enjoy quite a bit.  There are other ways to play Ultima V, if you want graphical upgrades, I understand.

As the story goes, the Avatar wakes from a dream to find that the insignia of the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom has materialized above his bed and then lands with a thump.  With that, he grabs his stuff, stops to admire himself in the mirror (I love that part), and takes off for the moongate.  When he arrives in Britannia, he finds his friend Shamino being assaulted by three mysterious shadow figures, whom all run at the sight of the Avatar.  From there, you revive your friend and venture forth.  Amazingly enough, this all happens in the "View" sequence (though with no text).  If you want to read the text and see some lovely static art, you can do this by selecting "Ultima V Introduction" at the title screen.

Once the smoke clears and you talk to a bunch of people (the mainstay of learning anything in this series), you find that Lord British has taken to excising evil completely from the land by sealing all of the dungeons and venturing forth into the Abyss to...  explore?  Anyway, his entire expedition disappears and he is feared dead.  In his place, Lord Blackthorn rises up as figurehead until British reappears.  But Blackthorn believes the Virtues to be too vague, so he decides to not only explain them more, but to rigidly enforce them as if they were laws. My personal favorite is Honesty, which is proudly displayed at the entrance of the town of Moonglow:


This is meant to be taken literally

This ends up creating a very tense and negative atmosphere in the game, so that many of the townspeople are nervous sometimes when speaking to you, guards will often extort money from you, and disturbing scenes will greet you.  For example, in Yew you see a stockade, where a young child and older man are on display, both taken because the father did not pay enough to charity (which in this game, is half your income).  Incidentally, you can free them (which I did), but it is still disturbing. 

You eventually enter a town where you get to encounter the newest baddies in the series, the Shadowlords.  Remember those dark figures assaulting poor Shamino in the introduction sequence?  Yep, those guys.  They will randomly inhabit a town, causing one of three different - lovely, I might add - effects on the townsfolk.  I'll leave the effects for you to discover monthly reader, but suffice to say it is often to your benefit to camp outside until the next day.   So naturally, it is up to you, the Avatar, to gather up a group of adventurers and do what is apparently your job to do.

So from here, with all the knowledge from the previous games, you have an idea on how to progress.  You go from area to area, talking to literally ever NPC you can find in hopes of scrapping together enough clues to find out what is supposed to be happening.  That townsperson isn't going to tell you the mantra to the Shrine of Valour off the bat.  Nope, first you need to engage in conversation and this is my favorite part of the game.  It still really feels more like actual people, and since the game doesn't store or point out any keywords, it is more like conversation, which is rewarding.  This necessitates a ton of note taking, but assuming you do it the right way (type it out), your hands won't punish you in the end too much.


Iolo the Bard plucks away at his lute before his night watch begins


This time around, travel is also slightly upgraded.  Aside from walking on foot, you can also ride by horse and magic carpet to your destination.  Also taking into account travel by boat, you never have to mess around with moongates again.  Speaking of, they changed how those darned blue doorways work starting with this game, and for the life of me, I can't get consistency without a guide.  So if you plan on playing, look up a guide on how to get the magic carpet near the beginning of the game.  Totally worth it in the end.

Battle has also seen a couple of upgrades, and unlike moongate travel, it is a good upgrade.  First, you can now attack on the diagonal, which really adds a lot of strategy to the game.  There is also a ton more equipment than in prior games, with enough variety to allow for the kind of customization that has not been seen before.  There is also no class restriction on equipment!  That is right, my friends, load up whomever you want with whatever, assuming that the character is strong enough to wield it.  At the end, all of my characters had multiple weapons, plate armor, and spiked helmets - each netting an extra attack per turn!  And this includes the mages (though only at the top experience levels and with all the shrine quests done to increase strength).

Now a word on ports.  Most of them this time around are computer based.  If at all possible, avoid the C64 and Apple II ports, as they both lack music and are disk-switching nightmares.  Playing on the C128 (if you have one) will give you music, but is still disk-swappy.  The Atari ST and Amiga seem basically the same, with no better graphics than the PC port.  But a special word needs to be said about the NES port (called, Ultima: Warriors of Destiny).  Like new paragraph special.

Ahem.  In short, it stinks.  Now if we can, for one moment, forget the way the game was cut down to fit onto the cartridge (missing sound effects, most of the music, dialog, map size, etc.) and instead concentrate on one thing: The manner in which it was ported.  Now the past NES ports all traded the tiled-based minimalistic graphics for a more generic JRPG look.  Fair enough. Some liked the games, some didn't, but the games were still playable.  For some horrible, unintelligible reason, the game developers decided to base the look not on the past NES Ultima ports, but instead on Ultima VI.  Given the relative strengths and weaknesses of the NES, this probably wasn't a good idea.


Left is Ultima V on the NES, right is Ultima VI for the PC
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It is slow, muddy looking, and controls horribly.  I was unable to find a copy to borrow, so I fired up an emulator for an hour.  The contrast is just so great between the NES and PC.  While exploring Britannia on the PC port filled me with a sense of wonder as I slowly unraveled the plot, playing it on the NES made me want to just stop and quit.  Man, I just can't imagine that someone could have the patience to slog through this game on the NES.  Has anyone ever done it?

It is true that Ultima V still features the same keyboard commands and gameplay as the past games, but I'm convinced that this game is so good that most RPG gamers would benefit from playing it.  And this is coming from a traditionally JRPG gamer, where learning a new battle system is the height of complexity in any new game.  Still, there are a bunch of annoyances to deal with, many of them are the same as in some of the earlier Ultima games.  It's just this game is so good, I feel it makes the contributions of Ultima IV seem small in comparison.  True, it did revolutionize non-linear plot in RPG games, but Ultima V is just so epic, especially since I feel it takes to task the loftiness of Ultima IVs ideals when changed from a philosophy to a law.  And unlike most other RPG games of the time (and beyond), combat is merely a means to an end, that end being better equipment.  True, if you do not grind, your mage(s) won't have access to some of the better spells, but does one even need to hit level 8, as the Internet suggests?  Well, I watched a speed run the other day that was 36 minutes long that suggests otherwise.  Do you want to know how much time I spent on grinding for equipment?  Too bad, I won't tell, but if one were to speculate half the time played, one wouldn't be too far off the mark.  And the last dungeon.  Wow, did that take a lot of time. 

Well, monthly reader, I am feeling a bit burnt out and possibly in need of a break.  Still, Ultima games offer pretty unique experiences, and I do find myself with quite a powerful curiosity on the next game in the series.  If Ultima IV introduces us to morality in gaming, and Ultima V shows us how easy it is to corrupt that morality, what will Ultima VI offer us?  Well, to some extent I do know, though I've not played it.  I don't know.  Actually, I'll make a decision later.  But if I do, I'm dropping the whole "Brief Tour of Ultima" nonsense, as this series has become anything but brief, and I only expect it to get longer.  Look for the next Ultima article (when it ever surfaces), to be in several parts.

Thanks for reading!



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Comments
 
I must commend you for diving as deeply into this series as you have thus far.  I don't see myself getting into the Ultima games moreso than for the Game Boy titles I need to play, but you've really gone above and beyond the call of duty here, checking out each game sequentially, playing multiple ports, etc.  Kudos to you for your dedication to the writing.
 
Agreed; your dedication and fascination for the series is informative and fun to read.  Thanks for the write-ups;  I never went through any to completion, though I did putter around with them.  These articles give me a renewed perspective (and interest!)
 
Thanks for commenting guys!  It was a ton of fun (and work) for Ultima V, but it was more than worth it in the end.  So far this is the only game series that makes me feel like a criminal investigator, interviewing literally anyone in hopes of picking up a long-cold trail that will lead me to some sort of closure (hopefully).  It is also the only CRPG game I've played that gives only what you put into it without resorting to Bethesda-style sanfbox gameplay.

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