Posted by: Ben | March 22, 2010

Man vs Genre: Exodus: Ultima III

The Facts

The title, which is definitely that way around on the box and manual, says it all really. It’s the third game in the Ultima series (or fifth, if you count Akalabeth and Ultima: Escape From Mount Drash), originally dating from 1983. The first game to be published by Origin, founded by Garriott for that express purpose. According to the helpful Wikipedia page, the PC version lacks sound, and I have an irrational distrust of Apple emulators, so just for a change I wanted to give the Amiga version a go. However the game is unplayably fast even on an Amiga emulator running at accurate speed, so it’s back to the pink-and-cyan DOS version, via DOSbox. For the record, Wikipedia is wholly wrong and this version does indeed have sound, although not sound that anyone would want to hear.

The most obvious thing about Ultima 3 is that it throws into the mix multiple characters, spellbooks and more tactical combat, all hitherto features that players would be most likely to have encountered in the Wizardry series and not at all in previous Ultima titles.

The Cover

A great big, dirty-nostrilled, man-eating demon. Grrr! It has leathery wings, glowing eyes and fiery hands. And it’s looking right at you.

The Lore

With the fall of Mondain and Minax, peace had flowed like molten honey around all of Sosaria. Everywhere, Lord British’s subjects were happy and prosperous. A great cancer had been exorcised from the world body. The People were cleansed again, and there was much rejoicing in the towns. Even the Orcs had disappeared from sight after the fall of Minax’s castle, as chronicled in Ultima II. Twenty years the peace lasted. Twenty years is also the time needed for an infant to become a person.

With this unusual turn of phrase begins a page of prose so rotten you’d naturally assume Garriott had written it himself, but in point of fact the guilty man is one Roe R. Adams III. The plot is exactly the same as Ultima I and Akalabeth, with the fractious land of Sosaria once again in turmoil thanks to an unseen malefactor.

Character Building

Since this game comes more from the Wizardry “spend three hours reading the documentation before you start” school than the Ultima 1 “pick up and play” school, this is going to be complicated, and I’m taking advice. The first stage is to construct a team of adventuring specialists. And I’m not going in for any of that nonsense about creating characters and deleting them to get their gold, because that would be cheating. Here’s my team of four crack commandos:

Charity Korma II – female Elf thief

Strength 15
Dexterity 25
Intelligence 5
Wisdom 5

Cain Korma II – male Dwarf fighter

Strength 25
Dexterity 15
Intelligence 5
Wisdom 5

Shadrach Korma II – male Bobbit cleric.

Strength 10
Dexterity 10
Intelligence 5
Wisdom 25

Marlon Korma II – male Fuzzy wizard

(Judging from the manual artwork, a Fuzzy is a small furry humanoid not dissimilar to an Ewok, and not under any circumstances to be confused with a Fuzzy Wuzzy.)

Strength 10
Dexterity 10
Intelligence 25
Wisdom 5

The Game

Before I launch into what I fully expected to be another thorough and frank game diary of Ultima 3, let’s skip straight to the end and admit that it took me about fifty hours of grind to finish this game. I say about fifty because I lost count. Now there are bloggers out there who’ll tell you that they beat this game in between six and ten hours, but the difference between me and them boils down to the fact that they know what they’re doing. I should also say right now that I found the middle stages of the game much too tedious and repetitive to describe in any detail, but no less compulsive for that. Now that the endpoint of the journey has been defined, let’s stroll back to the beginning.

So I’m half naked in the wilderness with two spell-books in my real-life hands, and I’m finding myself actually quite intimidated by the whole process. I have no idea where I’m supposed to be going, so the possibilities are limitless, but I’d really prefer not to just die immediately. So here we are, near a castle and a town. Let’s have a look at my characters first. Everyone has a dagger and cloth armour, which in Marlon’s case is the best he’s going to be able to use. Charity should be using a sword and leather armour, Shadrach a mace and chain mail, and Cain ought to have the best and meanest weaponry available. I decide to head for the town and take a look around.

While wrestling with the inventory system (which lacks a degree of finesse compared to the later remake of Ultima 1, and indeed the Amiga version of Ultima 3) Shadrach inadvertently sells his clothes to the armour dealer. Still it was only “cloth armour” so I don’t imagine that its protective value was significant.

After about half an hour of inventory battling during which all of my characters eat about a tenth of their food supply, Charity has a sword and leather armour, Cain has an axe and leather armour, Marlon has a dagger and cloth armour and Shadrach is stark naked but has a mace, or possibly a can of mace. Time to look for a food shop, then some monsters to fight. Unfortunately we only have 15 gold left, so I decide to get 5 food for everyone except Marlon. This will give my characters an incentive to defeat some monsters.

So having equipped my characters, I send them out into the wilderness to look for beasts to kill. Now Ultima 2’s wilderness was wall-to-wall beasts, but here – nothing. Not even a confused orc is to be found. Is this a bug?

After some time spent wandering, my party is set upon by seven trolls. Time to test out the all-new combat system. More by luck than judgment we somehow managed to beat them without taking losses. Most of them were taken out by Marlon’s troll-killing spell, with the remaining three characters ganging up on the last one. It’s pleasing to have a visual representation of the combat as it plays out.

The deceased creatures leave a treasure chest behind. What’s to do? Cast a spell on it, that’s what. Which yields 15 gold, which frankly is not going to stave off starvation.

Around the corner, I discover, for the first time, a dungeon. Let’s give it a try.
Oh. It’s dark. I’ll come back when I find a light source. On the plus side, I think I’ve now worked out how to give Shadrach one of my other character’s clothes. Even if Cain’s cloth “armour” is unlikely to fit him.

Later I spend a little money on a torch and head down a dungeon, but I’m just too nervous of the torch going out and leaving me stranded before I meet any monsters. All I find out from my brief entrance is that the dungeons now have solid shaded walls (they might also have had them in Ultima 2 for all I know, I didn’t live long enough to find out) and generally look exactly like the ones in Wizardry.

Meanwhile out in the real world it’s snowing and I have to take the car to the garage in the morning. I go out and clear the drive, but forget to pause the game. On my return I discover that my team has less than 50 food each left. I hope some more monsters turn up soon. I understand that attacking the townsfolk may be a short cut, but I don’t want to antagonise the guards. We meet a stray Demon, but killing it leaves us only enough gold for 5 food each.

After a while opponents start getting thicker on the ground, but I’m still mainly concerned with killing them in order to get money for food. Demons, warriors, wizards. During a fight with eight warriors it was looking pretty bleak for Charity and Cain at one stage and my magical weaklings had to take them on in hand-to-hand combat while my more skilled fighters were forced to run off and hide as one more injury would have meant almost certain death.

To be continued…

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