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That'd be great if the tactics didn't largely boil down to "shoot them a lot" or if you want to make things more difficult for yourself, "charge into melee". You end up inputting the same commands round after round, so it may as well be on autopilot anyway. Some characters could use magic, but it wasn't impressive unless you were very high level already.

Another difference between early Ultima and games with more interesting tactical combat is movement. Being locked into a speed of one tile per turn makes battles drag on. Also, despite having "tactical" movement, there's no real reason to care about your or the enemies' position beyond "Can I hit them from here?".
Post edited June 16, 2015 by GeistSR
Your points are all valid, but I think that instead of improving the combat system, they made it worse in Ultima VI and VII. Combat is important, since your characters are fighting for their lives there, and taking control away from the player in that critical moment is a very bad design decision in my eyes.
Post edited June 16, 2015 by stryx
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stryx: Your points are all valid, but I think that instead of improving the combat system, they made it worse in Ultima VI and VII. Combat is important, since your characters are fighting for their lives there, and taking control away from the player in that critical moment is a very bad design decision in my eyes.
I think Ultima VI's combat system works well provided that you disable the AI. It is the first Ultima since 3 in which I felt using lower level attack spells made any sense. Spells are much more accurate than physical attacks in 6, giving them a real use. Combat usually starts at a closer range and range weapons don't dominate the way they do in 3 through 5. (I still like boomerangs, however.)

Ultima VII's combat, however, was indeed horrible. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Planescape: Torment (which I haven't actually played) had better combat.

If you want to talk about bad design decisions in the series, I would mention the need to use reagents to cast spells. It makes spell casting far more annoying and discourages the use of lower level spells. A better system (other than scraping this system entirely) would be to remove all reagents except for Mandrake, and make spells not requiring Mandrake cost no reagents at all.
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dtgreene: (I still like boomerangs, however.)
The best thing about boomerangs in Ultima VI is the fact, that you can have a boomerang wielding mouse in your party. Which is pretty cool.

Speaking about unnecessarily convoluted magic systems: They really jumped the shark in Ultima VIII, where they had three magic systems and only wind magic worked without much hassle.
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stryx: Your points are all valid, but I think that instead of improving the combat system, they made it worse in Ultima VI and VII. Combat is important, since your characters are fighting for their lives there, and taking control away from the player in that critical moment is a very bad design decision in my eyes.
It's true they did very little to make combat more interesting, but at least they cut out micromanagement of repetitive tasks. Not the direction we might have hoped for but still an improvement. I think the bigger issue is the lack of challenge and variety in enemy design. Both U4 and U7 let you recruit a small army, but while U4 put you up against legions of evil, in U7 you're often swarming the enemy. I can't think of a single instance of being outnumbered, and everything attacks you in pretty much the same fashion.

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dtgreene: Ultima VII's combat, however, was indeed horrible. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Planescape: Torment (which I haven't actually played) had better combat.
Well Planescape is D&D, so generally yes. It's not totally dissimilar from Ultima though. It has a turn-based realtime system like the older ones used, but with a pause feature which lets you issue commands. When you order an ally to attack an enemy, they path to them and continue attacking until told to do otherwise, rather like U7. Again, because it's D&D, there is much more enemy variety and battles don't all play out just the same, plus you can select your class which has meaningful impact on your playstyle.
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stryx: Your points are all valid, but I think that instead of improving the combat system, they made it worse in Ultima VI and VII. Combat is important, since your characters are fighting for their lives there, and taking control away from the player in that critical moment is a very bad design decision in my eyes.
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GeistSR: It's true they did very little to make combat more interesting, but at least they cut out micromanagement of repetitive tasks. Not the direction we might have hoped for but still an improvement. I think the bigger issue is the lack of challenge and variety in enemy design. Both U4 and U7 let you recruit a small army, but while U4 put you up against legions of evil, in U7 you're often swarming the enemy. I can't think of a single instance of being outnumbered, and everything attacks you in pretty much the same fashion.
One other issue, however, is that the Ultima 7 combat system overly favors the use of basic attacks. If you just want to attack, you don't need to do anything, while casting a spell requires opening the spell menu each time. If you want to use offensive spells as your main form of offense, that is a lot of menu opening. Furthermore, there is also the issue of reagent management, especially since no store sells all the reagents. Serpent Isle (with the expansion) eventually gives you a ring that gets rid of the reagent issue, but that game doesn't even give you the option of using magic at all for a long time.

There is another micromanagement issue: that of managing inventory and consumables. Ultima 3 wasn't so bad: there were only a few things that needed them. 4 combined everyone's inventory, but unfortunately it also introduced reagents, making spell casting much more annoying (and making the weak attack spells no longer worth it). 5 wasn't worse than 4, especially since you can at least mix multiples of spells (which still isn't as good as not having to worry about it in the first place). On the other hand, it did introduce the need for ammunition (hence why people tend to like Magic Axes; not only are they strong and one handed, you don't need to worry about running out of ammo). 6 got rid of the need to mix spells (though you still need reagents), but brought back 3's separate inventory and put a strength based limit on how much you can carry. (Also note that selling is more complicated in a not-fun way because each shop will only buy certain items.) 7 is even worse because it is much harder to find specific items in your inventory, plus feeding your characters gets annoying very quickly.

One thing I can say about the series: Every game in the series, starting from 4 (maybe earlier), has at least one siginificant flaw that its predecessor did not.
Actually in U7 you can bookmark a spell in the spellbook, then place the book in the Avatar's hand to use it as your default attack. I've never had a problem with reagents aside from the mixing busywork which they thankfully did away with.

The inventory management requires you to do the organization yourself, such as assigning each person one thing to carry - gold, food, potions, etc. Food isn't that troublesome as long as you stock up on quality food. Give them a grape and they'll compain again instantly, but feed them mutton and they'll shut up for a good while. SI adds a hotkey to automatically find a food item for you without opening any menus.
I must say that I do find the inventory system of Ultima VI or Ultima Underworld much more convenient and manageable than that of Ultima VII. Just give every item it's own space in a list, stack items of the same type and let me scroll down. That way small items don't get lost that easily and you don't have to move items around just to look, whether something else is lying underneath them.