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Ultima V continues logically the story of Ultima IV. Your provider, friend and noble ruler of Britannia (from Ultima I to every further Ultima) gets lost on trip to the underworld under the dungeons. Only one survivor came back with a report of his disappearance after which your old friends decided that the time has come to call you (now the Avatar) back to Britannia.
Many things have changed in that alternative world, for there is a new king ruling the land (Lord Blackthorn) with iron fist. Your friends are being looked for and have to hide. Soon you will recognize that this time it is a dark Britannia you have just entered.
In Ultima V, Britannia has grown. The dungeons are bigger, the underworld is a mirror place to the surface (my impression is: it is about of the same size). Some new places have been added, like the villages around the Castle of Lord British and the graphics were improved.
You begin as an avatar, but can lose the status by harming virtues. In the game this is shown to you by the fact that important clues won't be given out. For example, in Britain, you won't get the password for opening the dungeon Despise. The game now also has day and night time. In the night, the gates to most towns are closed and the people living there mostly lie in there beds with the exception of the guards.
One of the best improvements, in my opinion, is the magic and combat system. In a combat situation you have a cursor using which you can attack in any direction. That cursor will remain on the selected monster as long as you wish. That doesn't mean combat is easy since you only get 30 hit-points more when a new character level has been achieved while monsters magic capabilities and sheer numbers have increased. Magical spells are from now on (and in further Ultimas too) divided up into 8 cycles. The higher the level of the spell caster, the more magic he can use.
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Ultima 6: The False Prophet, Ultima IV: Quest of The Avatar VGA, Ultima 8: Pagan, Ultima 7: The Black Gate, Ultima 7: Part Two - Serpent Isle