SummaryAn air of greatness doth surround thee...
The GoodUltima V has a less original premise than its predecessor, but it has much deeper and more varied gameplay. Ultima IV was a one of a kind game that was impossible to imitate; Ultima V is a model everyone have been imitating ever since.
With all its greatness, the game world of the previous game can't be compared to what was achieved in Ultima V. The enhancements are so noticeable that it is hard to believe the game was made pretty much at the same time period and with the same technique as its predecessor. Gone are the small towns - in Ultima V every town is a large place with many houses, some of which have several floors, plenty of doors, stairs, and alike. Gone are also the inhabitants of Ultima IV, who were interesting only because they had some valuable information to share with you. Here, the inhabitants start resembling real characters.
The conversations in Ultima V are much more complex and varied than in the previous game.The text parser understands more words, and the replies are much more detailed and personal than the short exchange of greetings and information you had in the previous game (you can even swear in Ultima V; in response, you'll hear: "With a language like that, how did you become an Avatar?").
Ultima V also finally has real objects - not only important, plot-related items like Lord British' artifacts, but all kind of stuff we see every day - chairs, tables, fireplaces, barrels, beds. You think it's not such a big deal to draw a couple of objects; but the point is not the mere presence of those objects, but the possibility to interact with them. And here is where the real revolution comes: everything in Ultima V can be interacted with. You can sit on chairs, push cannons, move barrels, or try taking everything you see.
Another great innovation is the concept of real-time gameplay. In Ultima IV, the world was static, like in most games: nothing happened unless you made something happen. In Ultima V, the world lives its own life regardless of your actions. You can just walk around aimlessly, but the world around you will change. There is a precise time clock in the game, and a real day/night cycle. And it is not just a decoration: it affects the gameplay. You can't buy stuff in stores if they are closed. People have their own schedules, move around the town, go shopping, sit in taverns, and then go to sleep. Sometimes you have to talk to, or follow a certain person at a certain time in order to obtain the information you need.
Just like its predecessor, Ultima V is a completely open, non-linear experience. From the moment you start the game, you can do whatever you like and go wherever you like. There are two worlds to explore in the game - the standard Britannia with its towns, villages, forests, mountains, seas, lakes, rivers, islands, and caves, and the sinister Underworld you have to visit in order to retrieve some valuable items and to access the final dungeon. There are new means of transportation - in addition to moongates, horses, and ships you can also sail through shallow waters in a skiff and fly around on a magic carpet that moves twice as quickly as the monsters, flies over rivers, and can take you through a swamp without getting poisoned.
You have to defeat the Shadowlords and bring Lord British back in order to complete the game, but you can decide whether to side with the members of Oppression, who sympathize with Blackthorn, or with the Resistance, who remain true to the rightful ruler of Britannia. There are many more choices to make in this game than in Ultima IV, where there were no real antagonists and where your only worry was your own progress towards avatarhood.
There are just so many things to do in the game and it becomes nearly overwhelming. Ultima V is an extremely challenging game, but it is also absorbing and engrossing like few others. The meticulously detailed world, the vast gameplay possibilities, the incredibly rich interaction, the clever, demanding quests are positively astounding.
The game's story is remarkably mature. Blackthorn's system of "virtues" makes him a much more interesting person than most other RPG villains. He is a philosopher, albeit an evil one. He has his own doctrine, which he imposes on people without hesitations. It is also very interesting how different people react to it; you'll witness some very realistic situations and scenes characteristic for society that exists under a tyrannical regime.
The BadThis is truly the hardest RPG I have ever played. All the difficult and user-unfriendly stuff that its predecessor had, Ultima V has as well - multiplied by ten.
Once again, you have to visit every place in the huge game and talk to every one of its countless inhabitants in order to obtain vital information. But now the towns are much bigger, the inhabitants more numerous, and the conversations more complex. Finding hidden items is even more difficult here than in the previous game (although the items are visible now), especially because some of the most important and necessary items are located in the Underworld - a living hell on earth.
In addition to that, towns are randomly visited by the Shadowlords, who prevent you from having normal contact with people and can also engage you in a battle that is impossible to win. Very annoying are the guards who roam the towns - a meeting with them is a potential loss of money or imprisonment. The dungeons are even more tricky to navigate than in Ultima IV, and the final dungeon Doom is a veritable nightmare. As if all this weren't enough, some of the game's most important clues are written in runic alphabet, which you must decipher in order to make progress in the game.
Battles also became significantly harder. The battles in Ultima V are way more difficult than they were in the previous game. I don't quite understand the strange decision to reduce your party members' maximum hit points from 800 to measly 240 (you gain only 30 HP per level instead of 100) - it seems the monsters haven't undergone the same change: it takes a much longer time to kill them, and their attacks are much more efficient than they were in Ultima IV. The fight against two dragons, four daemons, and several sand traps in the dungeon Doom was one of the hardest ones in my gaming career. You have to rely a lot on your magic spells, the best of which you get only at high levels, and leveling up is extremely tiresome in Ultima V.
The PC version doesn't have any music! Luckily, there is a patch that adds the charming music from the Commodore version to it.
The Bottom LineIf you can accept the unbelievable difficulty level, you will be rewarded with an outstandingly rich and rewarding RPG experience that was way ahead of its time. Ultima V had a huge influence on RPG development; all later Ultimas were modeled after this one; all great Western fantasy RPGs of our time (like Baldur's Gate or Arcanum) are its descendants. Ultima V is an awe-inspiring timeless classic.