Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny
Origin, Systems (now Electronic Arts)

Available through GOG.com as part of a bundled set for 5.99.

 

Yes, I am reviewing a game that is over 25 years old. Hang with me here.

Ultima 5 is quite possibly the greatest computer game ever written. It was also the first computer RPG I ever played. Did that make me biased? Maybe. But I have played MANY games since and none comes close, except maybe Ultima VI.

I’m told Ultima VII is even better. I never got a chance to play it, but maybe now I will. You see, through an agreement with Electronic Arts, all the old Ultimas–plus many, many other good old games, are now available for purchase at gog.com (gog as in good old games). I paid 5.99 for Ultima IV, V and VI.

In Ultima V, you play the Avatar, who achieved Avatarhood in Ultima IV (another good old game, but which feels a bit too primitive even for me). Your task now is to find and free Lord British, the ruler of the lands. To do so, you must banish the Shadowlords, the success of which depends on you retaining your purity as an Avatar.

Unlike many games of today, it is an unabashed quest of good vs. evil. However, there are very intriguing shades of gray. One is the villain, Lord Blackthorn. But Lord Blackthorn is a victim himself, under the influence of the Shadowlords. By banishing the Shadowlords, you free Blackthorn. I don’t know what happens after that. I never played the game all the way to its conclusion.

Why is the game so fun? Let me count the ways:

  • Freedom of movement – you want to travel to the Eastern Deserts? Go right ahead. I hope you’re able to take on those daemons. Any places that are difficult to get to are only so because they are high in mountains, deep in swamps, or down in dungeons.
  • Quests – All quests are linked, and they all have a purpose toward the greater goal. The shrines at which you meditate on the virtues will send you on quests. You must go on quests to locate the objects with which you can banish the Shadowlords. And you must go on quests to prove yourself trustworthy enough to join the Resistance.
  • Awesome! A resistance? It is every bit as cool as it sounds. And getting in is half the fun. Yes, I remember the password for the resistance. But I don’t remember who finally trusted me enough to tell me. So I am going through all the Resistance quests as well.
  • You also have to fake your way into the Oppression. Opposing political factions are one reason this game is so fun.
  • Secret doors. They’re everywhere. Look at walls closely! And some secret passageways are behind fireplaces … which are lit, so you have to take damage to get through them.
  • You can freely raid chests, bookcases and trunks with little fear of punishment unless someone sees you do it. But you will pay a price in your Virtue score.
  • Ships! Horses! Magic carpets! No walking everywhere.
  • Speaking of ships, I am now prowling the coastlines, trying to tempt pirates into attacking me. If I can defeat them, I can take their ship.
  • You’d better take notes. There is no auto-journal of any sort. It’s up to you. If you forget who sent you to talk to someone, you’ll have to go back and get the clue all over again. I have a steno book dedicated to the game.

Here are some screenshots from my game:

Oh, good. I have reached Yew on my magic carpet. Yew is an excellent place to buy magical components, plus I need to ask someone here about the Resistance.

Dang! An “air of falsehood”. Dead giveaway about a Shadowlord being in town. I’d better prowl around the forests and kill orcs for a day, and maybe try again tomorrow.

The graphics are definitely 80s, and so is the interface. But the story is absolutely excellent, and I play these kinds of games for the stories, yanno.

Tips if you play:

  • When you use a moongate, keep track of the phase of the moon and where the moongate took you.
  • When someone gives you a clue about a particular city, go to that city’s page in your notebook and write the clue there, along with who sent you.
  • In each city, you’ll need to find the virtue, mantra for the associated shrine, and power word for the associated dungeon.
  • Buy vast quantities of food, ginseng, garlic and silk.
  • When entering a city with an “air of” something bad, immediately turn around and leave.

If you can get past the 80s graphics, you will find this game great fun, with hours of play. The balance is just right, without endless hack-and-shash, except maybe in the Underworld. Now if I can just figure out a way to get those daemons to stop teleporting in other daemons.

It is definitely worth the 5.99, because then you get to play Ultima VI, in which you are the hero from Ultima V!