I'd never played an Ultima game for very long before, but was looking forward to checking out this hack. After a few hours I felt like giving up, though. For reference I used the premade Paladin, Thief, Wizard, and Lark. On reflection, there were two main issues I had:
1) Lack of direction. Yeah I get this is a Western-style RPG, with a more-or-less open world, and you can 'skip ahead' and go to places you can't complete yet; yet I nonetheless felt like there was too little direction in where to go and what to do. I'm supposed to seal Exodus but am given no hint (at least at first) as to roughly how to do that.
I was given nebulous suggestions to 'find dawn' and to bring ashen characters 'to moon', which I assume are Engrish. Someone wants flowers but I'm unsure why I should give her some, or where to get them.
I wasn't sure where other towns and features were, even generally. The manual says Exodus is to the Southwest, does that mean I'm supposed to head in that direction right away?
My most experienced character has 55XP, which doesn't seem to be enough to reach level 2. How much do I need in order to level up? I have no idea. No screen or NPC tells me. I'm unsure if it's indicated when a character is able to level up, so I regularly run back to Lord British to try to level up, only to learn I can't.
I had to read the manual to realize the Select button lets me see another screen of commands in the command menu, there's no indication there's a whole other screen of commands, or that you press Select to see it.
Dungeons are pretty mazey and easy to get lost in (which I expected, but this is still a pet peeve of mine), the encounter rate didn't seem too bad, though.
Is a Sword or Iron Sword better? What about a Blowgun versus a Sword? No screen tells me their damage output, or a character's modified damage stat, so it's up to trial and error. However, there's a pretty large damage range so it's still tough to tell. If a character one-shots an enemy you get no damage report, making this process even more difficult. Item price is a hint, but you have to find a merchant that sells that item in order to even sell it to find out its price; e.g. I found an iron sword but can't sell it, so I've no idea.
Yes I could easily Google all of this, the point is I shouldn't have to, it should be in-game. Many of these stats have been modified, so the vanilla info wouldn't even be applicable.
2) Tedium and frustration. The release notes say that early levels were made less grindy, but I think it's still far too grindy. 3 or 4 XP per kill, with only the one getting the killing blow getting the XP, means it accumulates slowly, particularly for support classes like Clerics who aren't doing as much damage.
Battles take far too long to complete, as ones with 5+ enemies aren't uncommon. This is aggravated by the inability to escape battle by any means (even teleportation spells like Trans or Ascend), and (when exploring the overworld) by enemies touching your 'tail', since party members trail the leader. This is generally understood to be illustrative in other RPGs, since if each square is approx. a 15-minute walk, your 4th party member isn't 45 minutes away from the leader. On the other end of things, entering combat takes longer than it should when walking into an enemy on the overworld, as it appears that the enemy needs to take their turn and walk into you in order to initiate combat; this makes grinding take longer when I'm trying to do so.
According to the release notes, dungeons are now a good place to grind, but I found that's not that true. Going to the Gold Cave at least, enemies I could fight didn't seem to give much more XP. OTOH, I often ran into enemies I couldn't handle; I would just load a savestate and randomly get easier enemies. If I weren't abusing savestates, I would be trapped in a battle that I wouldn't realize at first I couldn't win; this makes dungeons overly dangerous, unless you can handle everything there, given there's no saving in dungeons, or fleeing.
That brings me to difficulty, which is pretty punishing here. It's very difficult to recover from a party wipe at low levels, since Resurrection is unaffordable, and you can't cast Raise. Grinding Orks for 1500GP is pretty ridiculous when they drop 27GP per group. How come Lord British will resurrect the party leader for free, but not the other heroes?
Chests are trapped far too often, particularly given that ones dropped by enemies are mostly illustrative for items looted from their corpses (which presumably aren't trapped.) Actual chests found in town, sure.
On that subject, the 'Open' spell is unintuitively named. I had to check the manual to find out why it wasn't unlocking doors; I need a universal single-use Magic Key, but a magic spell called 'Open' won't work?
Walking through brush has enough of a delay to be aggravating.
When at a shop, it takes quite a bit of trial and error to figure out what a given character can equip.
In my first battle, the first thing I did was throw my dagger, not realizing I could (and that it was gone forever.) Terrible first impression of the combat system. Also I had no idea what the spells did and wasted lots of turns on spells not usable in combat.
3) Most egregiously, the weapon is spelled 'Axe' in shops and 'Ax' in other menus. That's the last straw! /s
Change some NPC dialog in the first town/castle to give some general direction as to what the player is supposed to do in order to seal Exodus. Perhaps work that into the intro. Put in NPC dialog in each town that mentions nearby towns and roughly which direction they lie in; this can replace asinine dialog like "The dungeon is dark" and "The dungeon has monsters."
Iolo could be more explicit that returning to Lord British when you have enough XP lets your characters increase in power; he currently gives redundant info that British already gives. Even better if you can have British say how much XP one needs to level up.
If no indication already exists, add a feature to the Stats screen to indicate when a character is able to level up (e.g. colored XP number, or a LVL icon).
Fix the NPC Engrish, and give hints as to why the player should do a given thing they're being prodded to do.
More character stats could be put on the equip screen, like character or weapon damage, character or armor AC, XP needed to level up, level, spelled-out condition, or steal/trap evade percentage. Maybe an icon to the right of the number possessed of an item, showing if it can be equipped; right now there's no message if you try to equip something that you can't.
Put some indicator on the command menu that there are more commands, either an arrow or a small SEL icon so you know to press the Select button.
Rephrase the 'Climb' error to 'No Ladder Here!' to make it clear that you don't need to buy a ladder in order to climb.
Rename the 'Open' spell to 'Disarm', to make it clear how to use it and why it won't open doors. The NPC in front of the locked door in Castle Britania could mention Magic Keys, rather than "Only the brave go past here."
Pressing a button when the at-a-glance stats menu is showing should have that button's effect, and not just dismiss the menu.
Shops should show the AC/damage of equipment they sell.
Any combat action that leads to a 'Failed!' error shouldn't consume the turn. The same goes for melee attacking in a direction with no enemy ('No One Is Here!'.) Even better if you can remove spells from the list that aren't usable in combat.
Bug: After going into the 'Tools' menu in combat for someone who has no tools, the sidebar redraws unnecessarily, with the turn indicator not present until the next turn.
Bug: When changing direction, you move a few pixels before switching to the sprite that faces the proper direction.
If you could make all weapons sellable to all weapon merchants, and all armor sellable to all armor merchants, that might be nice, given those can be looted now. Perhaps exclude unsellable unique weapons, though.
I'd love to know how much damage I do even if it's a killing blow.
I often miss the name of what I'm fighting, which is relevant for use of the Undead/Repel spells (and also I just want to know what's killing me.) Perhaps center their name above the name of the first character, and move the turn indicator one tile lower.
Combat should only be initiated if the leader touches an enemy. The player should be able to initiate combat by trying to walk into a square inhabited by an enemy, if possible, rather than having to wait or use the Fight command.
The delay for walking through brush could be reduced so that it's noticeable but not aggravating.
For the Tools/Give/Get/Magic menus, it should say 'Who?' with a question mark to make it clearer that's a prompt, maybe move that one tile to the left (and 'Whom?' when giving something.)
Before the values for gold given, put a <= symbol, since that's how it functions.
Dead people should be able to pay for hospital services so you don't have to move money around for that. What'd be even better is if money could be pooled (or were in a pool by default, as in e.g. Final Fantasy.)
These recommendations affect game balance, and you may prefer to put them into a separate 'easy type' mod that can optionally be applied during patch install:
Give the Map spell a lower mana cost, so it can be cast by a level 1 (0MP ideally.)
Early levels could be even less grindy, and dungeons have even better XP given the lack of saving.
XP could be doled out by doing damage (a la 'Shining Force'), rather than getting killing blows. This would make XP gain more equitable among characters. Make healing damage in combat give out XP to help out the Clerics.
Get rid of the 'turned to ash' mechanic; who's not going to savescum that anyway? A failed Raise spell turning their tools to ash is illogical anyway, and avoidable if you can move the tools over before trying.
Make hospital prices scale with level, so that curing conditions is actually affordable at low levels. No more "my party is dead so I'm grinding Orks for hours."
Even better for the low-level party wipe scenario, make Lord British resurrect the whole party, at least at low levels.
The overworld is overly crowded with enemies, I'd scale that back a bit so they're easier to avoid.
Make daggers unthrowable. That's probably not what one intends at the beginning of the game, and they do low damage even if you can afford to do this.
If possible, allow some way to escape from battle. Either with Ascend/Trans type spells, or by moving off the border of the combat area (perhaps with a Dex check.)
Loot dropped from enemies should be untrapped. Thief-type enemies might bother keeping their belongings in trapped containers on their persons, but I'm guessing the loot creation code isn't that fine-grained. Barring that, traps could be far less common; poison could be less deadly at lower levels, not sure about the other conditions.
Just as Heal2 got a buff, Heal could get a buff. 2-11HP is a pathetic amount that makes me question using the premade Paladin (1 cast uses all her MP.) That Paladin also misses an inordinate amount, presumably due to low Dex.