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Ultima 5 Lazarus - A Review
Corwin, 2006-05-25

Without a doubt, our lives are delineated by key events which so impact us, that their effects are not only far ranging, but also bore deep within us to touch something at our very core; they almost transcend our normal expectations and are forevermore burned into our psyche as seminal points of our existence. To a gamer of my vintage, one of these life changing experiences was my first Ultima game on an old C64- Ultima 5 Warriors of Destiny. Not only was it so much greater than anything else I'd seen, but all I wanted to do each evening after work was 'get back to Britannia' and find Lord British. When I first heard about a modern remake using the Dungeon Siege engine several years ago, I immediately pre-ordered that game so I would be ready for the release of Lazarus as soon as it was finished. Now, with the release of version 1.2, the game which changed my view of what computer gaming was all about has been reborn to the delight of Ultima fans old and new throughout the world.

If there is anyone reading this, who has either never heard of, or never played one of the original classic Ultimas, then you're in for either a treat or a shock. This is NOT Oblivion. There is no journal to record everything, you'll have to make some notes with pen and paper!! There are no helpful markers telling you where important people, places and things are to be found; you have to discover them yourself. There are no windows popping up to tell you exactly what to do and where to go; you need to use your brain and think it out yourself. There's not even a helpful ruler to start you off on your quest. In fact, the rightful ruler has disappeared and your task, should you choose to accept it, is to find him. Doing so will take you several hours, the rest of the game and will plant your feet firmly on a road of discovery. You learn a lot about yourself, as well as Britannia when you play an Ultima.

For the fans: The best news, is that almost nothing has been changed from the original and a few additional characters and quests have been added. There are a couple of disappointments based on the limitations of the DS engine; no flying carpet no moving the moonstones and no turn based combat, but everything else follows the original as closely as possible. Spells still need reagents and everyone has to eat and sleep. The virtues are vital and your Karma rating seriously affects gameplay. As a bonus, the team behind the game has added some mini-dungeons and plenty of Easter eggs so even if you recently replayed the original, as I did, you'll still find plenty to delight and surprise you.

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Now, for those who have never adventured in the land of Britannia, prepare for something different. This is no Diablo clone. While there's plenty of fast, strategic combat which will certainly challenge you and your party, it is not the raison d'etre for the game. You are the Avatar, summoned from Earth to help the people of Britannia when their King, Lord British, disappears during a visit to the Underworld. You can choose to adventure alone, or gather up to five more companions along the way as you follow either the path of virtue or the path of evil. Your choices will affect the world, your companions and the ending of the game. Be warned, stealing a loaf of bread can have potentially dire consequences. Anyway, why steal a loaf when you can bake your own.

There is very little real character creation. You are asked several questions by a gypsy, which will determine your starting stats. After that, you may develop your Avatar as you wish; fighter, mage, ranger, thief, or any combination you care to try. Your companions do have 'classes' such as Bard, Paladin, Druid, Fighter, etc, but for the most part these only affect their stats, rather than their abilities. Levelling up occurs through a 'visitation' while sleeping once a character reaches the required number of experience points, but these visits are not automatic, so you may have to sleep several times before levelling.

The graphics and interface are determined primarily by the DS engine, so if you are familiar with that, then nothing more needs to be said. It's quite intuitive, easy to use and while not up to the latest standards of graphical excellence is still fairly pleasant on the eyes. My biggest complaint is probably the sometimes awkward navigation in the dungeons when narrow high walls make it difficult to click where you want to go. This, however, is more a problem with the engine than with anything the developers could have fixed. In fact, the development team under the leadership of Ian 'Tiberius' Frazier has bent over backwards to fix every little glitch they could after the initial version 1.0 release. Reported bugs for this version have been few and far between.

The music is a treat. It's so good, I downloaded the mp3 album which was made available and it sits on my HD. The haunting rendition of the Ultima classic Stones segues seamlessly into a more martial air as monsters approach and you ready for battle. Sound in general, is effective; it doesn't impose itself or distract in any way, which is how it should be.

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There's just so much to do in Lazarus. Mountains to scale, ships to sail, plots to unravel and an entire Underworld to travel. Don't venture into the dungeons too soon (assuming you can discover a word of power to open one). I was merrily exploring the one closest to the main city of Britain with my level 3/4 party, I had dispatched some spiders, a gazer and a drake without too much difficulty when I walked straight into a fire breathing dragon with several hundred HP. Toast anyone? You can die very quickly and very often in this game, so save regularly. You can have fallen companions resurrected for a price, but it is very messy and inconvenient carting the body and all their inventory to a healers if you don't happen to have a resurrection scroll or spell handy. If your Avatar dies, you're immediately transported to Lord British's castle and resurrected with a major loss of XP determined by your Karma. This is not the best way to advance.

Shops abound in Lazarus buying and selling everything a good adventurer needs. Weapons range from rusty daggers to silver and glass swords; there's bows, crossbows and even magic bows available for a price along with a magic throwing axe that always returns to its owner's hand. For protection it's again your choice from cloth to full plate armour. It's even been rumoured that magic armour can be found in some near inaccessible places. Don't forget to visit trainers and reagent sellers, though some can be found growing in the wild if you look carefully. You can't cast a spell without the proper reagents, though at least you no longer have to mix them in Lazarus.

I think by now that the discerning reader will have realised that I really like this game. Perhaps it's because of the memories it evokes, but I don't think so. Ultima 5-Lazarus stands on its own as a monumental work of love by a dedicated team of primarily amateurs. No-one got paid to produce this and no-one is getting paid now, either. It's a FREE download. All you need to play it, is the original patched version of Dungeon Siege. This game is so complex and absorbing that little else on the market can come close. If all you want to do is run around killing things, then this is probably not the game for you. However, if you enjoy a detailed and thoughtful story chock full of real choices and consequences, characters with their own definite personalities, plenty of side quests, puzzles to solve and dragons to slay, then this might be just what you've been looking for. They say that they don't make them like they used to, but with Lazarus, they still do.

  • U5 Lazarus Site

  • The Verdict

    RPG Dots:   (10/10)

    The ups and downs:
    It's an Ultima, a REAL UltimaGraphics are a little dated
    Almost totally bug freeYou need Dungeon Siege
    It's FUN to playNo flying carpet
    It's FREEReal-time combat
    Did I mention it's an Ultima? 
    Game Overview
    Version: 1.20
    Average Reader Ratings: 10 (5 votes)
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