The Game: Darkness has fallen upon the land of Britannia. Lord Blackthorn, with the help and manipulation of the evil Shadowlords, has taken over, banishing Lord British from his own kingdom and ruling over the world with an iron first. Having settled into a little house in the woods after your ascension to Avatar, you are called upon once more to set things right. An underground resistance movement is quietly biding its time, waiting for Lord British to return, and hailing you and your friends as its heroes. But there are also many who have fallen in line behind Blackthorn and his dark masters – and would be happy to dispose of the Avatar for him. (Origin Systems, 1988)
Memories: A true sequel to Ultima IV, Ultima V is deeper, more realistic, and more challenging by far. Possibly the biggest change between the two games is literally the difference between day and night. Whereas the moons were indicated only in a tiny window at the top of the playing field in past Ultima games, really only determining the presence of moon gates, Ultima V makes them more integral to the game. Britannia’s sun sets and night falls upon the land, drastically reducing your field of vision (and forcing you to keep torches in stock; fortunately, in this game, you can “borrow” torches found in townes and castles). And of course, evil walks the land at night frequently, and numerous dangerous animals such as rats and snakes also proliferate in the dark.
The Shadowlords, far from being backstory fodder, are a real presence in the game, and occasionally inhabit townes and influence the people who live there: guards will warn you away at best and attack you at worst, the townsfolk will be afraid to speak to you, and somewhere in the towne itself lurks a deadly Shadowlord eager for a confrontation. Taking on a Shadowlord early in the game is a one-way ticket to the undiscovered country. An apparition of Lord British can revive you after such a confrontation, or any other battle which leads to the death of your entire party, but each resurrection leaves the party in a diminished state, lowering the maximum number of hit points per character each time.
The landscape is even more refined in Ultima V, with many new items appearing within townes and castles (fireplaces, bookshelves, mirrors, kegs, barrels, lockers, etc.), and a new class of watercraft, the inexpensive skiff, can actually navigate the previously off-limits shallow waters of rivers and tributaries (though skiffs and their occupants take heavy damage if one attempts to venture into the deeper waters without a sturdier sailboat). And if you’re worried about taking to the water after dark, you can light a torch – or hope that one of the many islands with lighthouses (which can be entered and explored) will light the way.
Other signs of continuity with Ultima V are all over the map – the dungeons have been sealed (but they can be re-entered, at the player’s peril), and there are more townes and villages.
Overall, Ultima V is an excellent addition to the series, and was the last game in the series to use the 2-D overhead engine that had served so well thus far. Ultima VI took on a whole new engine for the games, a whole new look – and may have lost a few people in the process.