Title: Ultima III: Exodus
Developer: Origin Systems
Publisher: Origin Systems
Year: 1983

Description: The game that cemented Richard Garriott's position as an excellent game designer, Ultima III was a natural progression and refinement of his earlier Ultima games.

The plotline was succinct - in the mythical land of Sosaria, a magical island has arisen from the sea and on it stands a forbidding castle. From that castle, Exodus, a mysterious enemy of Lord British, has begun wreaking havoc by corrupting men and unleashing monsters. It's up to your party of up to four members to put a stop to Exodus.

Not terribly inventive stuff, even in 1983. But Ultima III pulled it off by cramming a lot of gameplay into a relatively small package - one reviewer called it "dense, almost rococo" and that pretty much sums it up. While the world itself was tiny by today's standards, it had lots of towns, dungeons, and castles to explore.

Notables: Ultima III was the first Ultima to allow the user to have a party of up to four members, and they could be of wildly varying races and classes. It was the first computer role-playing game to have a tactical combat model that actually felt more like a boardgame than a computer game, and went over quite well. Ultima III also pretty much defined the Ultima look and interface until it was completely revamped for Ultima VII. And it had a very unusual enemy in Exodus.

My Opinion: An excellent game at the time, Ultima III hasn't aged as well as it might have. No provision is made for ensuring that the player's party has a chance against monster parties; your group of four level two characters can easily find themselves pitted against eight fireball-hurling balrons. To add injury to injury, combat is automatically initiated when a monster party gets close enough, and you cannot run from combat once it started - all combats are to the death. This makes it very difficult to get a new party started in the game (but see the Notes section).

Notes: The original game was released for the Apple II (Richard's machine of choice back then) and then ported to a phenomenal number of other machines. Here's a complete list:

In 1983 (initial releases):
Apple II
Atari 800
Commodore 64
IBM-PC

In 1986 (remakes on next-generation computers):
Atari ST
Amiga
Macintosh

In 1986 (for the game's introduction in Japan):
PC-8801
PC9801
FM-7

In 1987:
Famicom
NES

In 1989:
MSX
MSX 2

(Thanks to the Ultima Collector's Guide, http://www.ucg.f2s.com/ for much of this information)

More recently, Leon McNeill, a dedicated Ultima III fan and Macintosh user, recreated Ultima III as a superb Macintosh application. His version updates the graphics and interface of the game and has options you can turn on to make it easier. If you're interested in playing the game and have a Mac, I'd strongly suggest getting this version. You can find more information (including screenshots) at http://www.lairware.com/ultima3/ .

Links:
Encyclopaedia of Computer and Video Games

Ultima III was the first of the Ultima games to get a port to a console game system; it was ported to the original 8-bit Nintendo, where it was simply titled Ultima: Exodus. The Nintendo version was a fairly loyal port to the original game. The only real changes that were made were compensation for the lack of a keyboard. Since this was the last of the Ultima games that did not include keyword-based conversation with NPCs, the changes that were made were minimal.

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