Ultima V: Warriors of destiny (Origin, 1988)

My retro-games collection is very small, something like a dozen titles or so. There's a reason for that. I don't buy indiscriminately every old game I come across. I only seek the games that have a distinct personal value or which I consider milestones in videogames history (see my Elite post). Ultima V: Warriors of destiny belongs in the former category (but arguably also in the latter).

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The Ultima saga accompanied me through my entire adolescence. I played all of the games from Ultima IV: quest for the Avatar to Ultima IX: Ascension, including the two Ultima Underworld. And some of them I played more than once.

To put the matter in perspective, let it be known that I consider the Ultima saga to be the highest achievement in terms of worldbuilding in the entire videogames history, Ultima VII: the black gate probably being the peak. So, why am I talking about Ultima V? Entirely personal reasons. Let me explain.

Ultima V was the first game in the saga that I played. I was a 14 years old high school student at the time. That means having a lot of free time and a young mind waiting to be molded by various pop-colture milestones.
Well, I'm not exaggerating when I say that for the month and a half it took me to complete the game, I did not live on Earth, in my small southern Europe town. I lived in a Blackthorn-dominated Britannia, where Lord British had disappeared, leaving tyranny and despair behind. Even when I was at school, my mind was thinking about the travels awaiting me later in the day. "Let's see, today I've got to travel from Empath Abbey down to Trinsic to finally get the honor runestone. But I have to be careful because the Deep Forest is full of pesky reapers and I'm low on reagents". I'm not kidding (I was also quite good at school, so I didn't need to pay much attention during lessons).
I even kept a travel log where I kept note of everything I did and everything people told me: clues, quests, gossip. Everything. That's the only time I've ever done that. Unfortunately I lost that log years ago. I should have kept it safe like some kind of relic. Shame on me.
That sounds like a lot of trouble to go through to play a videogame. Probably true, but the game paid me back a thousandfold in sheer plot depth and gaming experience. I felt free like never before to do anything I wanted in that fictional world. Entire afternoons were spent just wandering around in Britannia, without a purpose. "Let's see what's behind that mountains". And there I went (often to some ill-fated encounter, I may add).
Unfortunately, I never got that kind of immersive experience again, not even with the astounding (and in every aspect superior) Ultima VII. I don't know why. Probably because Ultima V was simply the right game at the right time of my life. I really don't know.

Another important aspect: the Ultima saga introduced me to feelies. I believe they were first introduced by Infocom for their unforgettable text adventures (Zork and the likes). But they were taken to the next level by Richard Garriot (a.k.a. Lord British, the Ultima saga creator). He was inamovable with his publishers: he wanted cloth maps to be included with his games. Together with thick manuals and various trinkets, different for each game in the saga (for Ultima V it was a codex coin, a round metal talisman).
Cloth maps. That was quite insane at the time in terms of production costs, but somehow he managed it. Lucky me for that. Because having a physical map in my hands every time I needed to plot a path to a destination was simply exhilarating.

ultima v box content

So, to me Ultima V was the ultimate videogaming experience. It still is, however strange that may sound. That's why it needed to be part of my retrogaming collection.
Unfortunately I sold my original PC boxed version years ago, so I had to buy another one.
I chose the C64 floppy version. I've got a fetish for C64 floppies, I may have mentioned that already. And now that box happily sits on the most important shelf of my house.

These are the box contents. It's a delightfully long list:

  • A Britannia cloth map. It doesn't get any cooler than this.

  • The book of Lore, describing every aspect of Britannia. Cities, virtues, magic system. Everything you need to know. Some real worldbuilding here.

  • An extract of Lord British's journal, describing the quest that led to the Abyss and to his disappearance.

  • Command reference card. Very useful at first, since the game controls are keyboard-only and there's a lot of commands to remember.

  • Player reference card. Similar to the above, but more comprehensive.

  • Metal codex coin. Very folkloristic.

  • Four 5.25" floppy disks. Way to go.

  • Quest cluebook ad. Never leave home without one.

It's difficult to beat Ultima regarding feelies.

Finally, I you haven't already, take a look at the Ultima 5: Lazarus project. Some crazy people around the world completely rewrote the game using the Dungeon Siege engine. Yes, that means 3D graphics. The sheer amount of work this took makes my head spin. Incredible work guys! Knowing that there's people like you in the world is what keeps my faith in humanity strong.

This ends my third rant on collecting vintage videogames. More to come. Retrogaming ftw!