I decided to post my ranking on the Ultima Series games, all of these are my personal opinions. Hope you enjoy it!
All images courtesy of The Ultima Codex.
The main series
Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness (1980)
Exploration: A big fantasy world to explore (4 continents), mixed with some weird time/space traveling. Not very consistent but would later prove to be a good basis for future works. Towns/Dungeon/Overworld model established.
Visuals: Introduction of tile-based graphics. Also simple “vector” pseudo-3D representation of dungeons.*
Combat: 1 vs 1 overworld and dungeon fights.
Ranking: 8th, it was the foundation of the series, most of the other entries naturally enhanced upon it.
Ultima II: Revenge of the Enchantress (1982)
New elements introduced: Moongates
Exploration: World was a bit chaotic, now you were on Earth, and you traveled thru time using Time/Moon/Silver gates. Lots of weird 80’s USA pop culture references. Even more crazy space traveling than U1 and useless dungeons. It was also completely disconnected from the Fantasy World proposed on U1.
Visuals: Similar to Ultima 1
Combat: Similar to U1, no tactical screen so it was all 1 vs 1 on the overworld (or dungeons?)
Ranking: 9th, the worst game from the original series IMO.
Ultima III: Exodus (1983)
New elements introduced: Tactical combat screen, Adventurers Party, Music, Line of Sight
Exploration: The world was much more consistent and believable now, your party was standard DnD fare but it worked. The end boss was pretty disappointing tho 🙂
Visuals: Visuals improved greatly in general, compared to previous versions (while keeping the overview tile-based display and pseudo 3d for dungeons)*
Combat: First iteration of the tactical combat screen, random encounters on the overworld would take you to an independent screen where you could command each member of your party to move around, attack or cast spells. You had to do a lot of grinding but still worked.
Ranking: 5th, it opened the door to the greatest games by introducing lots of Ultima-defining elements
Ultima IV: Quest of The Avatar (1985)
New elements introduced: Britannia, Virtues, Interactive Conversations
Exploration: Hello Britannia, probably the biggest contribution made by the game. At long last a consistent and believable world which would be exploited in the rest of the games (Except U8). Towns/Dungeons/Overworld model continued.
Visuals: A bit better than U3*
Combat: Didn’t change much from Ultima 3 apart from changes in the magic system. Still good.
Ranking: 3rd, hailed by many as the best game of the series.
Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny (1988)
New elements introduced: Day/Night Cycle, NPC Schedules, Underworld
Exploration: Same as U4 but better with the Day/Night cycle, and a whole new overworld (actually, underworld). Also much greater interaction with the world.
Visuals: Better than U4*
Combat: Pretty similar to U4, although fewer classes so a bit less of a variety (not that classes were clearly unique on U4 but still)
Ranking: 1st, it’s like U4 but with better exploration and a more interesting world.
Ultima VI: The False Prophet (1990)
New elements introduced: Single world scale, weird top-down perspective
Exploration: This was the first game in the series introducing a single scale of the world instead of an overworld + detailed locations. However, for some reason the world still felt big, the main issue was exploring forest locations which was a bit annoying, augmented by the limited LOS range. Even more interaction with the world elements was allowed.
Visuals: A big jump from the previous iteration, graphics were now much more colorful and there were portraits of the people on the world.
Combat: Although it was a bit unbalanced, it kept tactics as an important part. It blended the new single scale of the world with turn-based combat pretty well.
Ranking: 2nd, world interaction was great as well as combat, if only it had not been single world scale 🙂
Ultima VII: The Black Gate + The Serpent Isle (1992-1993)
New elements introduced: Real-time
Exploration: Single world scale continued. Trinsic is HUGE and makes you wonder how big the rest of the world would be. Sadly once you manage to abandon it walls you notice the rest of the world is much smaller (Except maybe for Britain). For some reason I could never get past the jittering walking animation, it just didn’t match with the excellent graphics and sound ambiance.
Visuals: Excellent graphics, the world became alive in front of you.
Combat: was BAD, no tactics involved, everything happened far too quick to react.
Ranking: 4th, real-time killed it (especially in combat) but maybe there was no other way.
Ultima VIII: Pagan (1994)
New elements introduced: Back to single character party
Exploration: The game continued using a single scale for the world, but this time it was not Britannia, so I was never able to perceive the big scale of the world. Exploration was very confusing will all places looking very similar. The world felt very small.
Visuals: Nice! if a bit repetitive on the different locations. Better than U7 in the sense of having a perspective much easier to the eye.
Combat: Was even worse than U7, now it’s single player and you’ll have a hard time hitting your enemies.
Ultima IX: Ascension (1999)
New elements introduced: Complete first-person perspective (Polygon based 3D)
Exploration: Technical restrictions made the world feel much smaller. I think this is the point where the single world scale hit its worst point and the game would have felt much more epic with a dual scale.
Visuals: The overworld and dungeons were great and felt very alive. At long last, we could see the Britannian sky.
Combat: At this point, all degrees of tactics had been removed from combat, it now involved having a good weapon and maneuvering your character around while hitting the mouse.
Ranking: 6th, yes, I think it was actually pretty good.
* Games prior to Ultima 6 had a lot of ports for different computers. This is reflected in varying quality of visuals and music support.
Exploration: Basic dungeon exploration hoping not to step on a trap.
Visuals: Pretty limited, a command would give you a representation of the dungeon around you using characters.
Combat: Very unbalanced.
Music: Good (lots of types hitting the paper as you explore).
New elements introduced: Vector pseudo-3D graphics
Exploration: There was not much of a plot, it was mostly about exploring the dungeons which were pretty similar between themselves so not very exciting.
Visuals: Dungeons looked pretty much the same 😛
Combat: Not very balanced
Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss (1992)
New elements introduced: First person view using a primitive 3D Engine, Rune magic
Exploration: The game was confined to a single dungeon, but it was extremely believable and the setting was pretty good in my opinion. The Abyss is BIG, every level with lots of places to explore and to look for solving puzzles or finding better equipment.
Visuals: This game was a pioneer in 3D gaming, and although the viewport was pretty small, it was your great window to a world of fantasy.
Combat: While not a strong point of the game, it worked.
Ranking: 1st, best game ever.
Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds (1993)
Exploration: For some reason, perhaps due to trying to expand the world into a lot of locations, the world felt a bit less compact and believable.
Visuals: Better than UW1, viewport was bigger, sprites had better animation.
Combat: About the same as UW1
So, that’s it! Let me know what you think in the comments section if you want 🙂
There are some Ultima games missing from this list…
The 2 released Worlds of Ultima games used the same engine as Ultima 6, and I can say about the same about them that I said about U6. They were good games and actually Savage Empire was one of my first Ultima games 🙂
There were Runes of Virtue 1 and 2 for GameBoy (One of them got a SNES port), they differ significantly from the rest of the Ultima Series as being action adventure games instead of cRPGs. I could include them in the dungeon exploration series but I won’t. They were not very good.
Finally, there’s Escape From Mt. Drash. It’s a bad game, google about it if you are curious