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Ultima: Warriors of Destiny (NES) artwork

Ultima: Warriors of Destiny (NES) review

"Ultima: Warriors of Destiny (WoD) doesn't have the cartridge space to replicate the top-down Ultima V, its PC equivalent, but it never even gets close. It banks on a bigger overworld, which just makes it more annoying to travel between sparsely populated towns, and a bigger underworld, where you'll quickly realize the maps repeat. U5 made it enjoyable to slow down and look at the effects of moralistic rule, but WoD is about finding words and items and getting on with it. It's slowe..."

Ultima: Warriors of Destiny (WoD) doesn't have the cartridge space to replicate the top-down Ultima V, its PC equivalent, but it never even gets close. It banks on a bigger overworld, which just makes it more annoying to travel between sparsely populated towns, and a bigger underworld, where you'll quickly realize the maps repeat. U5 made it enjoyable to slow down and look at the effects of moralistic rule, but WoD is about finding words and items and getting on with it. It's slower, with useless features replacing NPCs that might help establish atmosphere.

The object is still, ostensibly, to depose Lord British's former advisor Blackthorn, who's been possessed by three Shadowlords to create a theocracy of sorts in Britannia. The eight virtues embodied in Ultima: Quest of the Avatar are now mandatory. Something called the Oppression enforces over-literal obedience, but the Resistance can help you re-open the dungeons to find the shards of cowardice, falsehood and hatred. Toss these into the flames of courage, truth and love (the three principles,) to destroy the Shadowlords. Quests from the eight shrines of virtue, each based on a combination of the principles, to visit the Codex to clarify what the virtue means. Then, with the help of royal artifacts, you must explore deep in the underworld to rescue Lord British.

This is the story for the PC version. It's unrecognizable in WoD, which keeps all the major quests and items but forgets to create a world worth saving. The seven virtue questions--honoring your lord or justly admitting his faults, for example--are impressive. So are the introductory cut-scenes, where the Shadowlords wound your companion Shamino and you go to Iolo's hut. The inside's got beds, a mirror, and, if you return, some burglar who gives you a sextant if you chat.

Sadly, you'll be spending most of your time outside, which is largely a green-brown mush of roads, forest and mountains. Well, there's the occasional poison square tinged with blue, and if you travel long enough you'll hit the sea. With bright colors conspicuously absent, WoD looks like a wasteland. It feels like one, too. Towns, tragically to-scale with the outside world, average five residents: two vendors, one person directing you somewhere else for a talk-quest, another hiding important information or items until someone across the continent tips you off, and maybe someone evil. The PC version had NPCs who discussed the suffering and why Blackthorn was wrong, or even one quest where helping the enemy kills a friend and loses virtue points. In WoD the bad guy says "We'll get them later" and hands you a valuable item.

This is just a bad moment, though. See, WoD allows diagonal movement, kindly waiting to make sure you didn't want to, say, move down then left. Zipping through mountains or force fields is necessary to reach some areas, since there's no teleport spell, but it's a horrendous trade-off, especially with such a big overworld. The game seems to cache moves, too, so combat usually starts off badly for you.

At least WoD is quick if you know what to do. Lord British's magic carpet can be found early. It reduces slowdown from displaying your party walking around and negates poisonous swamps. It's possible to avoid fights almost entirely, which is a good idea, as there's a bug that won't let you back on a carpet after a fight. Not that they're tough. The Mystic Arms and Armor are the easiest quest items to find. Companions with strength can bludgeon enemies, leaving the whole convoluted spell system useless. Visiting all the shrines and then the Codex is tricky but not necessary. Suiciding to avoid backtracking through repetitive, brown-drab dungeons only costs half your leader's experience, which is useless anyway. Only Doom, the final up-and-down four-level maze, is difficult. With the right game behind it, it'd have been a fitting conclusion.

Quest of the Avatar, the port of Ultima IV, worked much better. If improving a virtue there felt artificial, at least you got to talk to people in cheery little towns. U5 managed to scope out a dystopia and provide moments of genuine humor and pathos. WoD is an outline of U5's highlights slapped on an estimation of the original maps Challenges are more about mental fatigue than insight.. Fans will wonder what went wrong, and non-fans will wonder how anyone could like Ultima.


aschultz's avatar
Community review by aschultz (February 09, 2010)

Andrew Schultz used to write a lot of reviews and game guides but made the transition to writing games a while back. He still comes back, wiser and more forgiving of design errors, to write about games he loved, or appreciates more, now.

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overdrive posted February 09, 2010:

Yeah. I definitely agree with this one...especially the easy combat bit. I remember fairly early in the game, I thought it'd have some challenge, as I remember going out of my way to avoid wisps after a bad experience or two.

A bit later on, I was just killing everything with no problem whatsoever, which meant that all I was really doing was going from one place to another to find people to talk to to get clues to go other places. for everyone!
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aschultz posted February 09, 2010:

Thanks...I guess it's a small mercy that there's not much substance to the game given how disappointing it is. I remember my first reaction was, they have all the items from the PC version, but it's really nothing like it. Took me a while to realize I had a right to those expectations.

I generally avoided combat altogether, because I could, and because I didn't want the game thinking it was still combat even after I was off my carpet. Combat could kind of pile up in the dungeons, and there were some force field squares that drained you for more damage than actual fights, but I didn't know how to fit that in the review.
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nesessarypod posted December 18, 2019:

Hi - my name is Joshua Riley. I co-host a NES podcast called The Nesessary Podcast where we aim play all the NES games - 5 randomly selected NES games a week and have a live conversation about our experiences. This "week's" draw was Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny. This game is ruthlessly dull and impenetrable. I have read your review which seems outrageously accurate. It is a part of this podcast project that we thank the heroes that do the hard work of explaining these things to the people and I draw on these reviews and walkthroughs constantly. So, thank you for your work. I really struggled with this title and it was a solace to read your review here.
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aschultz posted December 21, 2019:

Hi Joshua, thanks and I'm glad I could be of help! Part of the reason I was so disappointed in U5 for the NES was that U5 for the Apple/PC was so good. I could rave on about U5 on other platforms.

I actually enjoyed making the maps for U5, but if I hadn't had any experience, it would have been tough.

However, on the bright side, some games that were prohibitively tough on the Apple or PC became much easier and fairer on the NES. Pool of Radiance and Might and Magic are examples. Bard's Tale was interesting because I had different maps and made for a somewhat different game, while Bard's Tale II got translated to Japanese and was very different but very fun for me. I think also the Wizardry games were easier, too.

At some point in the 80s game producers realized that they weren't the only game on the market, and they already had your money, so if they inflated the difficulty/grinding, the player/consumer would just but a more fun game the next time, as they no longer had the time.

Steal what you want of the above if you want/need. I do want to listen to your podcast. It's cool to know something I wrote years ago is still helping people.

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