A word about spoilers, perhaps a little too late: This blog is one colossal spoiler. I'm not describing how to beat the games, but I mention the solutions and screenshots often show locations of items, etc.
Well, I have a handful of comments now, which is nice to see. One mentioned the proliferation of exclamation points in Ultima III. I might have mentioned this too--When I was taking notes on the townfolks' hints, I had to strip out the exclamation points: "SEARCH FOR EXOTICS ON ISLANDS!" Still, nothing in Ultima III compares to the experience of playing one of the early Might and Magic (I think) games, where I faced "99 beggars, 99 beggars, 99 beggars, and 99 beggars" after I refused to give a handout. I first played Ultima on the NES around 1987-88, or at least I watched my older brothers play Exodus.
Now I've begun Ultima IV, which brings back a lot of memories--I also played it on the NES, but never got into it (one brother hogged it for himself, until another brother sold it to a friend...). When I got the Ultima I - VI CD-ROM by Encore back in 1995, this and Ultima V were the games was looking forward to. I recall playing the "fun part" of Ultima IV all the way through--that is, the part that involves exploring the world, finding the runes, and interacting with people. The "boring part" consisted of delving into dungeons with very little to offer in terms of reward. I re-played the game about 18 months ago, but never completed it--that time I got near the end, but I got sick of trying to raise my sacrifice--I gave many gallons of blood but it never quite made a difference.
This time I have ditched the Apple II for good, because the graphics are crap compared to the DOS version of Ultima IV. I am using DOSBox to play it, with music provided by an old patch (minus the upgraded graphics that the newer upgrade patch includes). Beyond the graphics, there seems to be a distinct shift in style--Ultima IV is simply more demanding of the player: you are expected to slolve a whole lot of puzzles and quests, whereas Ultima III was primarily about gathering enough gold to cure that annoying poison that bridles and snatches and so on gave you, and then gathering enough gold to raise your stats, etc.
I should also mention one of the "leap forwards" of this game: Typed conversations. Townsfolk still have very little to say, but they must be prompted, which is far more immersive than just spouting out pat responses. I also think there's a bit of Ultima II in the character names (A "spicy woman" in Britain is named "Pepper"), but the conversations themselves are not jokey. In fact, Ultima IV with its focus on morality and the eight virtues might, were it more recent, come perilously close to preacy annoyingness. However, most of the "preachiness" occurs in very limited conversations, and the result is more compelling due to its brevity.
The other big improvement is the gameplay, which is clearner and easier now, with one allotment of food and gold for the whole party. I forgot to mention the line-of-sight of Ultima III, too, so you don't see things beyond obstacles. Ultima IV has this too, but I think the NES version lacked it. Anyway, I am going to be a lone adventurer for quite awhile. As usual, I ended up a bard after the novel gypsy-questioning that began the game--I always either get that or a tinker. Anything but a shepherd is good news, I say. I know you need all eight party members to get in the abyss, but I am tempted to just let Katrina the Shepherd die and forget about her, because she is not worth the effort of directing her worthless icon, lol.