Ultima III Review and Tips
Review and Tips By Scorpia
Computer Gaming World Volume 3 Number 6 (December 1983)

Ultima III:
Review and Tips

Warrior, thief, cleric, mage. Together, they are exploring a heavily-wooded part of the continent of Sosaria when suddenly . . . ORCS! Quickly, the warrior unlimbers her bow and sends an arrow flashing through the air, while the thief slings a rock, and the cleric, mace at the ready, begins a cautious advance.

Then the mage casts the mighty spell REPOND, and 6 Orcs die on the spot. After that, the group makes short work of the remaining Orcs, and the thief turns his attention to the treasure chest. His clever fingers deftly avoid setting off the acid trap, and the group is richer by 56 gold pieces and a sword. Now, they will continue on their way, searching for the clues that will help them to defeat the dreaded Exodus.

Such is a typical episode from Ultima III. Lord British has done a superb job with this game, making it unquestionably the best in the series so far. The game has been streamlined AND expanded, graphics are better than ever, the gratuitous violence of Ultima II has been done away with, and, after having played the game through to its conclusion, I found no bugs in this version.

Those who are familiar with the previous Ultimas will have noticed that, unlike the earlier games, you can have more than one character in the game at the same time. In fact, you can form a party of up to four characters to bring into play, and they can be of any valid character type.

Not only can you have a regular group, you can have character classes hitherto unavailable, including multi-classed characters, such as Druids, who know both mage and cleric spells, Paladins, warriors who can cast cleric spells, Barbarians, who are fighters that also have some thief abilities, and Rangers, fighters who can cast both mage and cleric spells. However, there is a point beyond which the multi-classed character cannot advance, and only the "pure" mage or cleric will ever be able to cast the highest-level, and therefore most potent, spells.

This brings us to the combat sequences, which have been completely over-hauled, and make the game much more exciting. First, when combat begins, the scene changes to a close-up of your group and the monsters. Your party appears, all characters individually, at the bottom of the screen, and the monsters, also individually, at the top. So, in this example, we have the Fighter and Thief in front, with the Cleric and Mage behind them, and a group of 10 Orcs at the top of the screen. Perhaps fortunately, the good guys always get to go first!

There will always be some distance between the groups at the start, so it's wise to have distance weapons like bows and slings handy. You can aim in only the four directions North, South, East, and West, but the monsters can use the diagonals, which can make them deadly close-up, or if they happen to be dragons or other fire-breathing creatures who can toss fireballs at you from across the room.

On your turn, each member of the party gets a chance to act individually. So, a character can advance, retreat, cast a spell, attack, etc., on his turn. And this is all done in real-time; if you wait too long, the turn will pass to the next party member, or to the monsters. And the monsters will not be standing still; on their turn, they will advance towards the...and if you happen to be up against spell-casting types, they will throw spells at you. There is no running away here; combat will continue until one side or the other is wiped out. If the monsters are destroyed, you usually get a treasure chest to open, but not always. For instance, fighting sea monsters will never get you a chest (makes sense: jellyfish don't usually haul such things around with them!). If one or more members happen to die, they will not be automatically restored. Instead, you must get them resurrected. This can be done by a high-level cleric of your own, or you can buy a resurrection (if you have the money!) at one of the healing shops.

One of the more interesting aspects to combat is the fact that only the character striking the death blow will get experience for killing a monster. This means that the members will not all advance in level equally. Keep that in mind, as it may have an effect on your combat strategy.

Fighting in the dungeons is pretty much the same as out in the open, except that you don't know the monsters are there until they attack; there is no forewarning this time around. The only difference is that, while on the surface you are likely to run into any type of monster at any time, in dungeons the nastier ones tend to be found on the lowest levels only.

Speaking of dungeons, they're a lot smaller now; they only go down eight levels. They are smaller because, for the first time, you REALLY have to go into them, or you will not be able to finish the game. However, don't think that fewer levels mean easier dungeons! There are plenty of tricks and traps, as well as unfriendly creatures roaming around, to keep things interesting, not to mention difficult.

Of course, you won't be going down there empty-handed! Guild shops, although difficult to find, sell several useful tools, including keys, torches, gems and powders. Gems are magical items that show you a map of your surroundings. On the surface, they display the entire world; in dungeons, they show the entire level you're on. In either case, the party location is shown by a flashing dot. Naturally, you can only use the gems once. Powders negate time, freezing the actions of all creatures outside the party. This comes in handy when fighting a large group of nasty monsters, or when escaping from town guards after an unsuccessful theft attempt. Powders are, as you might expect, expensive, and can only be used once. Be warned, however: powders WILL NOT work in Exodus' domain! Transacting is extremely important in this game. There are people in every town who have clues for you; some you can get for free, others will cost you money. Visiting the Oracle, if you can find him, will be helpful in your quest. So is having a drink or three at the local pubs. Naturally, this means you'll be doing a lot of traveling around.

Transportation now comes in three forms: feet, horses and ships. There are only two places where you can buy horses, so you'll probably be walking most of the time when on land. Ships are initially manned by pirates; you will have to fight and defeat the crew to get the boat for yourself. However, sailing isn't quite the simple matter it used to be. Before, you could just go in any direction you wanted, now you have to keep an eye on the winds. You must sail in accordance with the way the wind blows, so if it's a North wind, you can't go North, or South if it's a South wind, etc. And, of course, in calm winds, you can't move at all.

Speaking of moving, one of the more interesting features of the game is its use of "line of sight" displays. For example, if you are walking around a building, you can't see inside it, and if you stand at the doorway and look in, you see only a little bit of the interior. To view the entire shop, you have to step inside the door. And even then, you may have to go as far as the center of the room to see everything. The same is true of the outdoors. When walking through certain areas of particularly dense trees, all you see is the little patch of land immediately surrounding the party; everything else is in darkness. And, of course, you can't see behind the mountains.

Your travels will take you to strange places, and you will find many mysteries to solve along the way. How does one get to Dawn, city of myths and magic? Where is lost Ambrosia? What secrets do the shrines hold? Is there a way past the silver snake, and, if so, what lies beyond? How do the Moon Gates work? And, perhaps most important, who or what is Exodus? Quite some intriguing questions to be answered! To help you along, the game comes with several useful items: a very well-done cloth map of the continent of Sosaria, two books of spells, one for mages and one for clerics, a handy quick reference card, and, of course, the basic instruction manual, which you should read before booting the game.

As with previous Ultimas, you will have to make a copy of the flip side of the disk. Once made, you will play from, and save to, the copy. All the characters you create (up to 20) will reside on that disk. Thus, any time before you actually begin play, you can disperse the current party and form a new one.

Now that we've looked at some of the good points, it's time to look at some of the more annoying features of this game. First, the beginning of game is rather noisy, and the little animated sequence, cute the first time, becomes tedious by the tenth time. There is no way around this; you have to sit through it every time you boot up the game. Second, while you can examine your entire roster of characters, you don't see any information beyond class, sex, race, character status (good, poisoned, dead, ashes), and whether or not he/she is in a party. So, you can't tell from the roster which characters have what equipment. You can only get the full list using the "Z" status command during play, and that only works for members of the current party.

Sailing by the wind was a good idea; unfortunately, it often becomes frustrating, as the winds tend to change quite rapidly. If the wind shifts were fewer and slower, it would make sailing more fun. As it is, the winds change about every five moves or so, causing frequent stops.

But the really disappointing thing, at least for me, is the very ending of the game itself. After all the fighting you go through to get to him, the actual dispatching of Exodus is remarkably calm and quiet. This was a very unexpected anti-climax; I had really been expecting something a little more spectacular.

Still, in spite of that, the game is excellent, and I am not in the least sorry that I bought it. The improvements over the previous Ultimas alone is worth the price of admission, and the game will certainly provide many hours of enjoyment (and frustration!).

Bottom line: Definitely not one to miss!


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