With this release, it seems obvious Origin Systems realized that Ultima II: Revenge of the Enchantress strayed too far from the successful formula established in Akalabeth and Ultima I. Ultima III: Exodus returns to its medieval roots with nary a mention of planet Earth and contains a very limited amount of bizarre futuristic circumstances. There is no time or space travel and, until you really get into the game, no indication of any modern technological elements. The world of Sosaria is thoroughly entrenched in a dark age.
The main title screen contains a gameplay demo above the menu selections and gives you the obvious choices to either create new characters or play with pre-determined ones. The character creation system in Ultima III: Exodus is a greatly expanded version of the one found in its predecessor which was, in turn, an improved version from Ultima I. In this case, the list of races and classes include not only the standbys, like dwarves, elves, fighters and wizards, but also numerous other ideas borrowed from other sources.
Races like hobbits and "fuzzys" combine with classes of larks and alchemists. Each race and class contains bonuses to their respective statistics (strength, dexterity, intelligence and wisdom) as well as maximum point limits. All in all, a good deal more effort went into this system than in the previous games.
After character creation is complete (you make a party of up to four), the adventure kicks off with the group plopping down near Lord British's castle. If you choose to speak with the king, he offers surprisingly little aid aside from telling you to seek more experience. So, you do by wandering the countryside, slaughtering monsters, and exploring wireframe dungeons from a first-person perspective. Once you perform enough destruction, you return to Lord British and he rewards you with more hit points and, if applicable, the ability to cast better spells. As you play, the monsters that appear in the wilderness increase in difficulty, presumably to match your newly found powers.
The game's primary quest is to unravel the mystery of Exodus. Is it a force, a being, a person, a big bag of coins? Whatever it is, you know at the very least that it annihilated the entire crew of one ship and is probably behind the rampaging monster gangs crossing the kingdom of Sosaria. Toward this end, your adventurers must delve deep into the dungeons of the land and seek out a legendary entity called the Time Lord. Without his omniscient insight into the enigmatic Exodus, your quest will be futile.
While your party wages this symphony of destruction, the graphics do their best to keep up. As with the previous titles in the series, Ultima III: Exodus utilizes CGA graphics. This time, though, things are slightly better looking and there seem to be far more sprites of creatures, objects and terrain. Lord British's castle in particular looks very regal and interesting. The dungeons are still presented through first-person wireframe graphics but are a bit improved in appearance and use some limited color in certain, important areas.
On various platforms, this epic quest is generally accompanied by a delightfully composed musical score with different songs for just about every occasion -- from visiting town to exploring a dungeon or sailing the seas. Unfortunately, the PC version tragically omits this wonderful aspect. In its place, the few paltry PC speaker sound effects seem completely lacking.
The depth of gameplay is greater than that found in Ultima I or Ultima II: Revenge of the Enchantress for a variety of reasons. Character advancement takes considerably longer, as the days of one character killing one enemy at a time have given way to four characters, each with more options than in previous games, fighting up to 16 monsters at one time. As a result, the game has an epic feel to it unlike the beat-it-in-a-day-or-two atmosphere of the last two in the series.
Only a few elements really hamper the game's enjoyment factor. Because of the increased depth of play, the difficulty factor also goes up. If you play through the game for a while with one party and then start over with a new one, you quickly discover that the game does no level-related difficulty scaling and your new party rapidly encounters creatures it cannot possibly hope to defeat. In addition, the relative similarity of the dungeons can become tedious after a while, though there are a few quite interesting entities thrown in occasionally to break the tedium.
The eventual realization of Exodus's identity is, in and of itself, a quite interesting end to the game, to say nothing of having to actually deal with it once you do learn its identity. In the process, the game delivers a large amount of solid hack-and-slash action, a decent amount of intrigue as to just what is going on in Sosaria and a satisfying sequel to a long-running series of CRPGs.
Graphics: There are many more sprites in this game than in previous efforts and the animation is enjoyable.
Sound: The sound effects are barely any improvement over the previous games, though there are at least considerably more of them with sound effects provided for most aspects of combat.
Enjoyment: This is definitely a solid and enjoyable bit of hack-and-slash and even contains a fair amount of storyline for people who enjoy that aspect. It can be a bit tedious at times but overall is quite good.
Replay Value: The game should be just as much fun a second or third time through but because the game doesn't adjust to the level of your party, it can make trying to play with any group but your initial characters (if experienced) a nightmare. Thus, the creation of up to 20 characters can be non-productive.
People who downloaded Ultima III: Exodus have also downloaded:
Ultima II: Revenge of the Enchantress, Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness, Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, Ultima 5: Warriors of Destiny, Ultima 7: The Black Gate, Ultima 9: Ascension, Ultima 8: Pagan, Ultima 6: The False Prophet
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