Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny, Apple II

Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny was first released in 1988 for the Apple II through Origin Systems. It was the last Ultima game to be developed for the Apple II and it comes on eight floppy disks. It is the second game in the “Age of Enlightenment” trilogy and is similar in style to the previous game, with character creation done by answering a series of virtue-based questions. You can also import a character from Ultima IV if you have one, which is an interesting new feature in the series.

The result of character creation is different to Ultima IV in that you end up with one character, but with different attributes based on dexterity (DEX), strength (STR) and intelligence (INT), depending on how you answered the questions. And you always start in the same place: in Iolo‘s hut, deep in the forest near the town of Yew, with Shamino (who is injured) and Iolo as companions. There are 15 different companions in total who can join you, found at different locations throughout Britannia, and you can have up to six characters in your party at any one time, although there is a school of thought that recommends using only four (because it increases experience gain, and costs less for food, equipment and healing). You can leave characters at an inn and recruit others if you want, so you can effectively swap characters in and out of your party as you like*. Characters with the highest dexterity are seen as being the most useful, because dexterity governs how good a character is at landing successful hits in battle. You can also set the active character by pressing the 1-6 keys, which allows you to gain experience quicker for specific individuals.

*= Note about leaving party members at an inn: firstly, you must find an innkeeper who provides the Leave/Pick up service (Donya in Britain will do it, but there are others), and secondly: it costs money – per month – to leave characters there (29 gold pieces per month I was quoted), which is outrageous. The money is payable upon retrieval, so shouldn’t be an issue unless you plan to withdraw someone back into your party, but it’s probably best just to recruit the characters you want to keep. Read a guide if you need help deciding who’s best for your party.

Your main quest is to recover three crystal shards; defeat The Shadowlords who are trying to take over Britannia; find four of Lord British’s artefacts (Sceptre, Crown, Amulet, and Sandalwood Box), which are needed to rescue Lord British and complete the game. There are certain things you must do before others, but Ultima V remains very open-ended in how you play it.

The world map in Ultima V is similar to Britannia in Ultima IV, but with more detail and some small changes. Many of the places you visit will be familiar to those who’ve played the previous game, and these towns and villages contain shops, NPCs, quests and sub-quests, and various other items of interest. Shrine quests are still part of the game, where you meditate and chant a mantra, and these will boost your character’s STR, DEX and INT attributes so are worth doing ASAP.

Combat is similar to that seen in Ultima IV, cutting to a separate battle screen when an enemy in the overworld touches you, but it’s also a little different to before. This time you press the ‘a’ key to attack; then you have to aim (using a crosshair); then hit ‘a’ again to actually make the attack. The reason why this new crosshair aiming has been introduced is to allow characters to (finally) attack diagonally. While it does add more steps to the process, it allows more detailed management of combatants. Friendly fire (ie. accidentally damaging characters in your own party) is a thing in this, so you have to be careful. Also: after defeating an enemy in combat it will either drop a chest, or a pile of rubbish on the floor, or some gore, or nothing. If it’s a chest you must first open it to get anything inside (and remember: many chests are trapped). If it’s a pile of rubbish you can search it to see if it has anything of interest worth looting. Searching is also no longer done on the tile you’re standing on – it’s done to adjacent tiles. So you search the pile of rubbish, then get anything that is revealed after searching. Which does arguably over-complicate the process of battles, as you don’t leave the battle screen until you’ve searched everything that’s worth looting. Searching piles of gore is a mostly fruitless exercise, but I still did it anyway (until I caught the plague), but it can occasionally give up some loot.

Characters can use ranged and melee weapons (this time, though, bows require arrows and crossbows quarrels), and they can wear various types of protective items, such as body armour, helms, shields, amulets, and rings.

Levelling-up is different in this – since Lord British is missing – and is done when resting (or ‘Holing-up’) at a campsite. If you have the required number of Experience Points (EXP) an apparition will tell you when any of your characters have levelled-up.

Mixing reagents is still a thing and these are needed to cast magic spells. On the plus side: this time all reagents are available to buy from shops (and some can be found for free in the wilds).

There are day and night cycles, and at night the darkness draws in, reducing your field of view. Some places cannot be accessed at night, either. NPCs also move around according to a schedule. Most will go to bed at night, or even go for lunch, so if you can’t find a character where you think they should be, it’s probably for that reason. The Shadowlords will patrol some towns and villages (that are not ‘holy sites’) at night, so you have to be careful not to run into them as you explore. You really don’t want to be facing them too early. If you see them: run away. At least until you can figure out how to kill them.

Acquiring a sailing ship is again important, and can be done differently to previous games. As well as acquiring one the traditional Ultima way (ie. waiting near the coast and hijacking a pirate ship), you can also now buy frigates and skiffs from Shipwrights in Britannia. They don’t come cheap, though.

Moongates are again important, and using them can save a lot of walking or sailing. You can even move a Moongate by searching the ground where one rises and burying the ‘strange rock’ somewhere else.

Getting into dungeons is more difficult this time, because their entrances are blocked to begin with. You need to find and use ‘Words of Power‘ to open them. Once opened, they will torture you with traps and monsters unlike any other game in the series so far, and at the bottom of each is an entrance into ‘The Underworld‘, which is a whole ‘nother can of worms for you to open. One thing worth noting about dungeons this time: there’s no “exit” spell that will allow you to leave a dungeon automatically, if cast, like there was in the previous games. This can make dungeon exploring very tense as you venture further down into the maze of traps. You can still cast spells that take you up and down levels, which are the next best thing, but not having an ‘exit’ spell is pretty terrifying to be honest!

Doors requiring Magic Keys – that you’ve already ‘jimmied’ open – seem to require more keys to re-open afterwards. Which is a little illogical. Other annoying features in Ultima V: getting blocked from moving through a door by someone lying in bed (and there’s nothing you can do about it until they wake up and move); getting thrown out of bed while sleeping (fair enough, if it’s someone’s designated bed); getting arrested for searching the graveyard and accidentally uncovering a rotting corpse… In fact: Ultima V does have a number of features that can ruin your game if you’re not careful. Like saving the game in The Underworld if you’ve no means of escape (that’s a bad one).

Overall, while Ultima V definitely feels like an advancement over Ultima IV, it might not initially feel more enjoyable to play. I’d say that it is the better game, but only after you’ve become experienced with it.

Ultima V does have some really interesting features, like one of the companions being a spy who will turn on you during combat; being able to encounter The Shadowlords very early in the game; characters becoming ‘possessed’ during battle; lighthouses that rotate a beam of light through the darkness; streetlamps lighting up the streets; Magic Carpets; passwords to get information from people; and many other cool things. It’s this level of detail and complexity that made it truly innovative back in the day, and which still makes it interesting to play today. The original Apple II version is kinda slow, though – at least compared to other versions. But it’s not so slow that it’s frustrating to play. You just have to tune in to the rhythm of the game and the disk-swapping. Ultima V is arguably the most difficult Ultima game to complete – just in terms of the sheer scale of it and the complexity of the puzzles and dungeons – but overall it is an extremely well-designed and executed game. A true Apple II and Role-Playing classic.

More: Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny on Wikipedia
GOG: Ultima 4+5+6 on GOG.com

Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny Keyboard Commands for Apple II:

a = Attack
b = Board
c = Cast
e = Enter
f = Fire
g = Get
h = Hole up
i = Ignite
j = Jimmy lock
k = Climb up
l = Look
m = Mix
n = New order
o = Open
p = Push
q = Save
r = Ready
s = Search
t = Talk
u = Use
v = View
x = Exit
y = Yell
z = Stats
Space = Pass turn
Escape = Exit/leave battle
1 to 6 = Set active player
0 = No active player

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