Ophidian Dragon blogs his way through the entire Ultima series, from beginning to end.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

In Which I Say Nice Things About Ultima V

Well, reading my comments indicates i totally failed to address one aspect of Ultima V that made it vastly superior to all the previous games--namely, the storyline. Ultima 1-3 had stories, but the events and impact of them were contained almost entirely within the documentation. Ultima IV was strangely plotless--it was a quest of self-improvement, but there wasn't really any compelling need for the world to have you as Avatar. I would summarize the back story of that game as, "Everything's going OK I suppose. Let's find someone to be the Avatar!"

In Ultima V, by contrast, the first thing that happens (granted, in a cutscene) is that you get attacked by a Shadowlord. They also take over towns, and Blackthron harasses you on a regular basis; guards demand bribes, and so on. Unlike the previous games, there's the sense of impending disaster and the well-being of the world hanging in the balance. The illusion breaks at points (like any game), but it's there for the first time. Ultima VI's major failure is in this regard; I still can't get over the moron that makes you build and play some panpipes before letting you save the world; moreover, hardly anyone cares about the Gargoyle threat in general. At least in Ultima IX, Katrina apologizes for wasting your time!

I would also disagree with a commenter who said Ultima V's combat was insufficiently strategic and thy preferred Ultima IV. I thing the opposite; for most battles at the end of IV, I just repeatedly hit the A key and the up arrow because the massive barrage of magic arrows and wand bolts and whatever pretty much cleans the board of all enemies. As for the argument that a Shepherd or a Fighter is the best character class in IV because you can ge them to level 8 more easily, I say there's no particular reason to bother. Even in the abyss, everything was dead before my uber-Shepherd gets in melee range, and besides, touching those orbs is tedious.

I also got some other comments! Someone said that the item in Serpent Isle which trades for the ice wine was "obvious" but can't remember what it was; I say that such an item does not exist. Finally I was attacked for not showing Ultima Underworld sufficient love, but I maintain that I was fairly positive in my comments :-P If I'm overly critical, it's only because criticism is more fun to read than positive comments.

Hope everyone has good holidays, or at least those of us in the United States. I am on vacation so I may publish more this week.


Natreg said...

Now I really agree with this post.

The only thing I didn't like about Ultima V combat was the secondary weapons. It was cool to have attacks using the shield and even the helmet, but in long battles that can get annoying cos they don't do much damage. And fighting Gargoyles or Slimes can become a hell.

Anyway, besides that, I love everything about Ultima V combat.

Anonymous said...

Frankly I found combat the most annoying part of Ultima 5. Especially if you play it the first time, main char is level 5, you're down the abyss just to find out that you need to be lvl8 to finish the game. (Actually I even went there twice for nothing after I noticed that I needed the sandalwood box. Why the hell can't the game tell me this before I am in underworld's lowest level???)
This resulted in having to kill squids and pirates literarily for hours just to improve the main char to lvl8 and raise my level of boredom also to new heights.
I "eased" my pain by repeatedly robbing the treasure chest in LB's castle basement until I got enough magic axes to get these battles done as fast as possible. :)
From U6 onwards luckily there is an auto-combat option, but then again these games don't require you to battle to a certain level anyway.

Natreg said...

Well... probably won't help, but... Smith tells you about the Sandalwood box in Ultima VI heh.

Anyway, if you take the game at a normal pace, you will get to level 8 eventually.

Stealing and all that lowers your karma, so when LB ressurrects you, you loose experience. It's important to have a high Karma for this reason.