The original MS-DOS version of Ultima III: Exodus was first published by Origin Systems in 1985 and features four-colour CGA graphics. Thankfully – like there is for Ultima II – an enhancement patch exists, by The Exodus Project, that is well worth setting up if you want better graphics, music, new features and bug-fixes. That’s the version I’m showing here, plus I’ve also shown a few screenshots of the original CGA version at the end of this set, just for comparison.
In Ultima III you’re controlling a party of four characters and must set them up and equip them all individually, which can be a finicky and time-consuming process for first-timers. In the character creation menu you can create up to twenty different characters and store them in a roster, from which you choose your four party members. The game allows you to choose between eleven different character classes (Cleric, Druid, Wizard, Alchemist, Illusionist, Thief, Ranger, Lark, Paladin, Barbarian, and Fighter), each of which have their own strengths and weaknesses, and can only equip certain kinds of weapons and armour. These restrictions mean that the setup process can be problematic for new players, so it’s probably best done with a guide to explain how to create a balanced party. If you create an unbalanced party then it can cause you problems later on down the line. So it’s worth getting right, or you may end up re-starting after painting yourself into a corner.
Once you’re (finally) into the game the aim is survival, gaining experience and levels, and acquiring a sailing ship. It’ll take a while, and hundreds of battles, before you get a ship, though. Combat is turn-based, but with time limits, and takes place on a separate battle screen when you encounter enemies in the overworld. The number of enemies you have to fight in each battle is random and some enemies are tougher than others. You can’t run from combat either, so if you’re faced with an overwhelming attack then you have no choice but to deal with it. If a character’s Hit Points (HP) drop to zero then they’ll die, which you need to avoid wherever possible. You can resurrect dead party members, but it costs a whopping 500 gold pieces, so is mostly out of your reach during the early part of the game. Healing is possible with magic spells; by walking around (HP gradually recovers with every step), or by visiting a healer.
Exploring dungeons is similar to previous Ultima games, with the view switching to a first-person perspective, and you need torches or light spells to see where you’re going. ‘Strange winds’ can blow out your torches, though, so you have to be careful when exploring. Combat in dungeons is random, and is the same as in the overworld (but with a slightly different ‘brick’ background), with the view cutting to a battle screen when it initiates. Unlike in Ultima II you do have to go into certain dungeons to find important items that are essential for your quest, but thankfully the dungeons are not random and can at least be mapped to help navigate them.
Anyone who’s played Exodus before might notice a few problems with this version. In my opinion: food consumption seems too high, and the enemy encounter rate too low, making it difficult to acquire enough money to feed your party initially. The game also crashes quite often – or at least mine did – which could be down to the Exodus Project patch not working correctly, or it could be something else, but it did lead me to give up playing the game earlier than I would normally have done.
If you’re just going to play one version of Ultima III then I would say don’t choose this one. The constant crashing is a deal-breaker for me. I’d say play the Amiga or Atari ST versions – they’re better because they have combination mouse/keyboard controls, and also graphics comparable to the patched PC version. The gameplay in the Amiga/ST versions is better too because the character statistic screens appear immediately and you don’t have to rely on scrolling text in the tiny information window that most versions of this game feature.
Ultima III: Exodus Keyboard Commands:
a = Attack with “readied weapons” (followed by direction of attack)
b = Board (mount a horse or board a frigate)
c = Cast a magic spell (followed by player number, spell type, and spell letter)
d = Climb down a ladder in a dungeon
e = Enter a town, castle, dungeon or other landmark
f = Fire ship’s cannons in the direction indicated
g = Get/open chest (followed by the number of the player who will search for traps, open the chest, and acquire its contents)
h = Hand equipment (trades equipment between two players; followed by prompts to determine what is to be exchanged)
i = Ignite a torch
j = Join gold (gives all gold in party to player indicated)
k = Climb up a ladder in a dungeon
l = Look (identifies an object in a specified direction)
m = Modify order (exchanges positions of any two players within the party)
n = Negate time (stops time for all outside the party; requires a special item)
o = Other command (enter any command desired during gameplay; includes BRIBE, SEARCH and others)
p = Peer at a gem (shows a bird’s eye view of a town, castle, dungeon or the overworld; one viewing per gem)
q = Save game to disk (from the overworld only)
r = Ready weapon for use in combat
s = Steal (from behind store counters; success depends on skill)
t = Transact; use to talk to townspeople or trade with merchants
u = Unlock and open doors (if you have the key; followed by direction of door and the player whose key is to be used; one use per key)
v = Volume (toggles sound effects on or off)
w = Wear armour (outfits player with specified armour)
x = Exit (leave behind or dismount your current transport and travel on foot)
y = Yell any word that’s typed
z = Stats (displays your vital statistics, possessions and spells)
Spacebar = Pass one game turn without taking any action