Released in 1988, Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny was very much… well a breakthrough in the genre. (Yes this a word that is often associated with Ultima games). While not quite the revolution that Ultima IV was three years earlier, it brought many novelties to the genre and the series.
Starting notably with an actual plot.
While Ultima IV was revolutionnary game in many aspects, it had on the whole little of a plot, as the focus was more on the personal experience of the Eight Virtues rather than telling an actual story. Ultima V still maintain a strong focus on the Virtues, but with a more developped plot and backstory this time.
Taking place some unaccounted amount of years after Ultima IV, it tells the story of how following Lord British’s myterious dissapearence in the newly discovered underworld, the reagent Blackthorn fell under the corruption of the evil and mysterious Shadowlords and declared martial law, turning the Virtues into peverted laws (with the Avatar obviously tasked to setting things right). The world feels more real this time, notably as most of the NPCs are treated more seriously, with less real-world reference and characters such as Buddha or Shakespere. The main quality of the plot was probably its lack of manicheism in spit of having obvious “foozles”, and crafting one of the most subtle episodes of the series.
It marks also a first in term of consistency, as for the first time in the series the sequel takes place in the exact same world as its predecessor. Indeed, due to the dual map nature of the game, the overland map of Britannia is virtualy identical to Ultima IV down to the number of tiles used, with everything still at the same place. There are some differences and variations, but it’s the same world and it feels like it.
The gameplay mechanics are similar to Ultima IV as well but with a refined combat system allowing for attack in every directions and different range depending on the weapons used, and most importantly the appareance of a day & night cycle. This aspect is even more important because it brings NPC schedules to the world, with the game making full use of it by having some NPCs only available at a certain time.
On a personal level, Ultima V holds a very special place in my heart (which is also why I worked on Lazarus so many years ago). While I did know Ultima before it, it was the first Ultima game I began playing my myself instead of just watching my older brother play, with a Robert&Collin’s by my side to help me understand all the dialogues. It just was incredibly immersive at the time, and was clearly my most memorable gaming experience back then… the Atari ST version having all the musics was also a plus and helped to contribute to the atmosphere from the epic main theme to the haunting Greyson thune used for towns, whose first notes always gave me chills in the fear that a Shadowlord might be about. It litterally took me years before I finially got to the end of it, but it was well worth it.
For this playthrough, I’ve eventually decided to just settle on the PC version because it is the easiest to do and will also allow me to transfer my character from Ultima IV. I’m actually not fully pleased in a way, because while Voyager Dragon’s patch add the music the PC version was sorely lacking… it only adds them in the Apple II fashion, which was not quite the same as the Atari ST version (for instance the Atari ST version had “Dream of Lady Nan” used whenever camping which was very fitting, while the Apple II/PC version uses “Stones” for sleeping and the “Dream of Lady Nan” at Lighthouses). Voyager Dragon had planned an Atari ST variation of his mod, but it never happened alas 😦
In any case stay tuned for Ultima V, I am already eager to begin it!