Which Ultima game should I start with?

Well, I’ve been jonesing for a really difficult RPG lately and realized I’ve never given the Ultima series of games a good play-through. Now, I played Ultima Online for a few years when it was first released, so I’m moderately familiar with the game world, mythology, and the basics.

Tried to play Ultima 1 a long time ago. All I remember is I ran around in circles for about 20 seconds and died of starvation/thirst. Never restarted.

Tried Ultima 4 for awhile, that seemed like it had promise (I think it was 4, it had graphics really similar to Ultima Online), but didn’t get too far into it.

So where do I start? One of the more ‘forgiving’ games in the series would be appreciated until I get the hang of it, and at least some good solid GUI graphics would be nice.

I doubt 4 had graphics like UOL, but that was my fave.

Oops, google shows I meant Ultima 7, not 4. Thanks for the clarification.

For my money, Ultima 7 is the best game of the series, and possibly the best RPG ever made. There’s a frontend called Exult that makes it playable on latter-day systems and adds some functions missing from the original, though it is an easy game to get lost in if you don’t know where you’re going.

Ultima 4 is also a fun game, though it’s even easier to get lost in than Ultima 7, and it’s certainly one of the harder games i’ve ever played (especially in the final dungeon, where some of the encounters just come down to whether you can get a tremor spell off before the enemies start spamming sleep spells on you and then rape you to death while you sit there watching). There’s a free-to-play Flash version of it online if you’re so inclined.

The only ones I’ve played are Ultima: Exodus (which I think was 2 or 3), Ultima: Quest of the Avatar (which I think was 4), and Ultima 8: Pagan. Of those:

Exodus had the screwiest advancement system I’ve ever seen in a game (you absolutely did not want to level up until you were about to enter the final dungeon), and it was very difficult to figure out what in the world to do, and once you did figure out, it was pretty much only possible to do it by robbing townsfolk. I think when I did finally beat it, it was mostly through blind wandering and dumb luck.

Avatar was probably the best electronic RPG available back in the NES days, and the virtue/principle system was fairly elegant. But there were some things that you had no hope of figuring out without help, most of the spells weren’t worth the cost, there were some dialog mistranslations that meant the “right” answer was the opposite of what it should be, and it got too easy on replays.

Pagan had really impressive graphics for the time, and the gameplay was kind of fun, but there weren’t really enough choices to be made, and it really suffered from not having a party, just a single character (made especially annoying by the fact that several NPCs seem like they’re supposed to be potential party members-- I wasted a few hours going through the entire dialog tree with one of them, trying to figure out where the “Do you want to join my party?” option was). And most of the spells were too complicated to ever bother actually casting, except for the scripted places in the story where you’re required to cast them to progress.

Ultima 1 and 2 were archaic 20 years ago when I first tried to play them. I’d say don’t bother unless you want to say you played them all. Ultima 2 in particular is really oldish, since Ultima 1 at least got a makeover in the mid 80’s when they ported it to the PC.

Ultima 3’s a bit better, but still really old school, and doesn’t really offer much to make it worth putting up with the outdated graphics and clunky mechanics. Maybe if you really wanted to play it check out the NES version so at least it doesn’t look quite so bad.

Ultima 4, looks really old, but really took things in a new direction from “kill and/or loot anything that moves”. If you can deal with keyboard based controls and the graphics, definitely worth playing at least once.

Ultima 5 took everything Ultima 4 did and refined it and set it on top of a really dark story about zero tolerance and extremism. Again, well worth playing if you can deal with the interface.

Ultima 6 may not look great today, but for it’s time those were some awesome graphics. They added mouse support, but it’s not really well implemented yet, and may take some getting used to (keyboard support is still there, too). Worth playing, definitely, as are the two spinoffs using the same engine, Savage Empire and Martian Dreams. Martian Dreams in particular I would recommend for all the cool Victorian stuff and cameos from real people in that era.

Ultima 7, anyone who has even the slightest interest in Ultima needs to play this. Mouse is now actually intuitively implemented, graphics look top notch for 2D VGA, and it’s just all around awesome. MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Ultima 8, kind of a step back from 7, but if you’re still itching for more after 7 (and 7 part 2) this isn’t too bad, just don’t set your hopes too high.

Ultima 9, meh. Fairly generic 3D RPG with some Ultima stuff floating around in it. Very disappointing as an Ultima, but not a totally horrible game to avoid at all costs either.

There are also the two Ultima Underworld games, some of the first games to really do a 3D world, which is astonishing since it came out before Wolfenstein 3D (which gets a lot of the cred) but it pushes things a lot further than Wolf3D or even Doom. Not sure how they’d hold up today, but really groundbreaking stuff.

But which to start with. Well, if you can stand the graphics and keyboard, Ultima 4, since that really sets the stage for everything after it (and via some retcons even some of the stuff before it). Otherwise Ultima 7.

I’d TRY starting with Ultima 4; It’s still seriously oldschool, but A) It’s a lot more unusual than the usual “kill stuff, level up, challenge the big evil badguy” stuff that was the norm at the time and B) It really, really lays the foundation for the games that follow. Ultima 1-3 provide a sort of ‘ancient history’, but Ultima 4-7 really hang together fairly closely. C) Hey, it’s available as a flash based browser version. (See link above)

From there, I think it’s my place to SHAMELESSLY plug Ultima 5: Lazarus which is a FABULOUS fan built remake of Ultima 5 as a Dungeon Siege mod. (Note: Requires Dungeon Siege, but you can get the original DS for like $12 on Amazon.) Fabulous. Brilliant. Very. Very Good. Takes a few liberties with the original by fleshing it out a lot, but it’s really, really hard to complain. May spoil you for trying to go back to original versions of these games, except that there’s ALSO…

The Ultima 6 Project. Built on the same “Project Brittania” work that provides the underpinnings for Lazarus, but (I believe) actually put together by a somewhat different team. I have NOT played this one yet (Though I should).

And then you can go on to Ultima 7, for which you will require Exult, and, I believe, a copy of the original game for the actual data files. It’s still very good, but I would argue that U5 Lazarus actually unseated U7 as my favorite.

From there? Eh. In my opinion, Ultima lost its way after 7, and I wouldn’t really suggest you continue.

One suggestion is if you play Ultima 3 or 4, play the NES versions. They received a nice overhaul from the original (i.e. primitive) versions, and some of the most frustrating aspects were toned down or removed (cmon, you have to find the rune AND the mantra in order to enter each shrine? bullshit!). I can’t speak for Ultima 5 since I haven’t played either version, but the PC version of Ultima 6 DOES play better than the SNES port (both came out around the same time, so it wasn’t a remake in this case).

And while we’re on the subject of ports, might I interject;

Do NOT play either the SNES port of Ultima 7, or the PSP port of that port. The plot is extremely bowdlerized as the result of Nintendo of America’s censorship policies of the early '90s (this was when they released a port of Mortal Kombat without the blood or decapitations, after all), and the gameplay is replaced with a Zelda knockoff. It’s bad. Steer clear.

Exodus was indeed U3. Richard Garriott has said that the feedback he got from U3 about its “kill everybody, steal everything, no worries” gameplay prompted him to rework the basics of CRPG play for U4. For starters, in all CRPGs up to then (including Akallebeth and U1-3), the player ran around killing everybody and taking everything they could.

For U4, RG made the gameplay such that the player was rewarded for being good and held back for being nasty – the Virtues, and the internal virtue scores.

A major part of the issue with U2’s and U3’s graphics is that RG programmed them in Assembly. When he spoke to my professional group a while back, he said (in part) that graphics capabilities simply didn’t exist at that time to do it any other way. Now, with hardware acceleration of graphics, hoo boy do things look sweet.

On SourceForge is XU4, an attempt to reimplement U4.

Anyone else other than Airk tried the Dungeon Siege mod of Ultima 5? Comments on how it compares to the basic Ultima 5?

Since I already have Dungeon Siege installed this will probably be my first foray into the series. Great input by everyone though, sounds like I’ll eventually want at least 4, 5, 6, and 7 under my belt.

If you’re going to lunge into Lazarus, I might still have a bundle of useful “user” mods kicking around that did some nice stuff like clean up scroll labels and whatnot. If you want, I can try to scrounge them up for you.

Sure, I’ll PM you my email and such.

I did help write some of the dialogue for it. :wink:

We were careful to stay with the story and added a whole lot of local subplots and characters of our own, trying to give each city and area its own feel. I think it’s fantastic, but I’m also horribly biased.

Oh – and if you aren’t afraid of tile graphics I would start with 4. If you find yourself getting annoyed by the interface, go for Lazarus or Ultima 7. I think Ultima 5/Lazarus has the better storyline, and I think Lazarus has the opportunity to drive the point about virtue home in ways the original couldn’t.