Ultima Online is a MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game) produced by Origin systems, Inc (Which is a part of Electronic Arts inc.)

Ultima online (UO) is massive, in every aspect of the word. The online community consists of 23 official servers, so called shards. With thousands of players in every one of them.

The remarkable part is the fact that several years after the release of this game, Origin still makes good profit from it. Every player pays appr. $10 US, per month for playing the game. And there are multitudes of players playing.

UO is indeed one of the most addicting games ever. And as astounding as it might sound, some people pay loads of hard cash to get a good character. This is the same phenomenon, that has been happening around other MMORPG´s.. (EverQuest and Asheron's Call). Experienced players have sold rare items or good veteran characters at eBay for thousands of $ US.

Introduction

A Windows/DirectX game, it was the first real MMORPG, was released on September 30, 1997, and was both published and developed by Origin Systems. It is still around today, with Origin claiming over 225,000 active players, spending an average of 10-20 hours a week playing the game.

Although its 2D isometric viewpoint looks almost primitive compared to todays flashy 3D MMORPGs, it has been gradually improved by expansions, and the Third Dawn expansion (see below) changes the game's graphics to modern 3D rendering.

Rather than there being a single virtual world which all players participate in, there are 26, each of them being run on a seperate server (known as a 'shard'). As well as these official shards, many people now run unofficial shards based on player-created servers such as UOX.

Although a purchase of the game comes with a month's free trial, after that players must pay a $10/month subscription fee, in addition to the cost of buying the game and any expansions.

Storyline/Plot

UO is set in the world of Britannia. Shortly after the events in Ultima I, the mad mage Mondain has been defeated, and the Gem of Immortality (which contained the essence of Britannia itself) slipped from his hand and has been shattered into thousands of pieces - these pieces being, of course, shards, thereby giving a reason for the multiple-server/shard model described above.

The background story deviates from the post-Ultima I games somewhat, in that while some of the events of later Ultima games have occurred in the UO world, others have not.

Creating a Character

One of the most innovative parts of the game, UO has no set character classes - instead, characters have three primary statistics and three primary skills, all of which are user-customisable.

Players can either select a template, which sets up the statistics and skills as appropriate for a 'traditional' RPG class (ie, the Warrior template would setup fighting skills and a high strength), or they can select the three skills from a large range and customise each statistic individually.

The strength statistic influences hit points, the dexterity statistic influences stamina and the intelligence statistic influences mana level.

Gameplay

Gameplay, although sort-of centered around combat, is very much freestyle - for the first time, players were participating in what was more a proper virtual world than a game. You can become a baker, a carpenter, go out and battle monsters, be a healer on indeed be anyone you want to be (within the restrictive boundaries of the game, unfortunately).

Indeed, a lot of emphasis is placed on social interaction, especially with the addition of a party system in the Renaissance expansion.

One fascinating part of the gameplay is the ability for players to craft objects using their skills and then sell them, along with other items they've obtained, to vendors (which are player-run themselves), which then can sell them off to others, resulting in a thriving virtual economy. However, the shops etc aren't a part of this economy, they restock themselves and hence are not a part of this economy much at all.

Launch Issues

There were various issues at the launch of the game, in particular a lack of things to do (monsters were rare due to the respawning rates etc being far too low), many bugs in the game, many exploitable cheats and often major problems with lag and connections just simply being dropped.

This led to an initial extremely negative reaction from some of the press, and in fact a lot of magazines and websites went back a few months later and did another, more positive review of the game, as by then the serious issues had been resolved.

It also had a very steep learning curve before the introduction of Haven in Renaissance, often taking new players hours to just understand the basics of play. Haven has since improved dramatically, now providing an easier user introduction/tutorial than EverQuest or most of the other current MMORPGs.

Nowadays, almost all the issues have been resolved, and it is a well-balanced, fun and worthwhile game to buy and play.

Death and Playerkilling

When you die in UO, you can elect to either resurrect immediately, but with only one health point and without holding your possessions (and will usually just be killed again by whatever did it in the first place), or you can turn into a ghost, at which point you can go looking for a shrine or healer. The disadvantage of the second option is that, while your ghost is off looking, other players can loot the dead body.

Although many people find playerkilling enjoyable, others find it annoys them immensely. This was a big problem in UO until the release of Renaissance (with the non-PK lands), especially with the ability to loot bodies. Other players cannot loot players in the non-PK zones of UO.

Expansions

The Second Age

Released: October 1, 1998.

The first expansion pack, the main addition was a new area of land called the "Lost Lands", a savage and untamed area accessible via teleporters from the main world. This new area had many new creatures.

There were also major improvements/changes to the UI, and a global chat service was added to the game.

Renaissance

Released: April 3, 2000.

The initial retail boxes available on release day did not, in fact, contain this expansion at all, but included The Second Age, along with a promise of an extra months subscription. This is because they were behind schedule, and in fact all users of The Second Age were to be able to download a free copy of this expansion anyway.

The main change in this release was that the world was doubled in size, this was done by just mirroring the existing world. The existing world area was called "Felucca" and was changed to be more evil and creepy looking. The new area was called "Trammel", and was made to be a non-PK zone.

Other improvements included an enhanced enemy AI, new monsters and items, new skills, a party system, new housing areas and a new tutorial to ease new users into the game (involving the town of Haven).

Third Dawn

Released: March 7, 2001.

The biggest change in this expansion was the move to a 3D client, with 3D models (including motion-captured animation), terrain (according to some people, the terrain is still 2D, I am looking into this) and particles (the spell effects, all pretty and multicoloured).

Although for the most part users of this expansion participate in the same lands as users of the 2D client, a special Third Dawn only land was added, called "Ilshenar", which was 10% larger than the "Lost Lands". After the release of the Lord Blackthorn's Revenge expansion, this land became available to the users of the 2D client, too.

Of course, the GUI and the client were almost completely rewritten. Other changes basically just involved the addition of new weapons, armors and monsters.

Lord Blackthorn’s Revenge

Released: February 2002.

This expansion adds a "dark new world based on new characters from Todd McFarlane", improved AI, a new virtue system, several new items, improved in-game help and improved and easier character creation.

Information gleaned from many websites, my own limited experiences and talking to friends.

Ultima Online: Rennaisance


The best way to throw $120 a year down the drain?


Released september, 1997 by Origin, Ultima Online was the first MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Game). For those of you who are unfamiliar with RPGs, an RPG is a Role Playing Game, so in otherwords you play a role through your character. The standard RPG has you either choose a preset character class (such as Warrior, Mage etc.) or create your own character class, however the latter is far more uncommon.

In Ultima Online you have the choice of three presets, either a Mage, Warrior or Blacksmith. Alternatively, one can create their own character class by choosing up to three skills and balancing the three character attributes (Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence). At this stage the game is looking like your standard RPG, and nothing too exciting. However, once you have created your character and you enter the world your eyes open wide and you hold your breath in utter... dissappointment.

"Ugh..." was the only word that escaped my mouth at this point. The graphics were so outdated it was ludicrous. Despite the fact the game was created in 1997, Origin just hadn't bothered releasing a modernised version in over four years (note that Third Dawn's graphics are still old and outdated and not altogether better than the normal version). "Why?" I constantly asked myself as a dribbled through the dull "newbie" tutorial and constantly shook my head at the fuzzy 4 year old graphics and tinny 2D Music.

I continued into the game with slight sceptisim, but optimistic hope for overwhelming gameplay. I finished the tutorial, once again dissappointed at the dullness of it, and continued on. I met a few older players who helped me get to, basiacally, the capital city of Ultima Online, Brittain. Now being an RPG, I rigidly stuck to my persona, and even spoke in proper Ye Olde English. I entered the "town square" (an area outside the bank I dubbed town square because everyone hangs around it), and began speaking in Ye Olde English, and as I had taken a Warrior character I decided my persona would be that of a mercenary. I offered my services to anyone interested (not knowing at the time that I was horridly weak, but that is besides the point) and I was not met with a return of in character responses, but a storm of normal speech. What made this breaking of character even worse was that over 50% of it was slandering and ridicule - on Ultima Online, Newbies are not welcomed by the majority.

A few kind souls offerred their help and harried me away from the "town sqaure". They told me of how few people on Ultima Online stayed in character, and that even fewer hire "mercenaries". So they pointed me in the way of the graveyard, equipped me with a better sword and armor and departed. So now I head off down a path towards the graveyard bitterly dissapointed. So far I had been bored out of my brain, then my vision of the RPG (in character acting) shattered. Still, I pressed on, I could not judge the game without playing it completely.

Upon reaching the graveyard I began slaying zombies, skeletons and wraiths. This was increasingly dull, as the game is an overhead perspective, much like Diablo. Unlike Diablo, however, one does not even need to click. One click on a monster will initiate an attack, and after that the attack carries itself out, blow after blow exchanged by you and the monster. I continued on, thinking that perhaps this could still have the appeal of Diablo.

Next I learnt about skills. Skills replace the experience system in Ultima Online. Rather than having levels, there are simply skill percentages. You are always at one of two stages in your skills, non-grandmaster or grandmaster. You start off at non-grandmaster (obviously) with a low percantage (around 30-40%) in three skills. You can have a total of 700 skill points, so each character you have can Grandmaster in seven skills (which you traditionally choose to work on from the beggining). As for your attributes, Strength, Dexterity and Intelligence, they do not raise like your skills, but instead raise by carrying out actions that utilise one or all of these attributes (for example, attacking a monster constantly may eventually raise your Strength or Dexterity by one). Skills, on the other hand, I simply raised passively. For example, attacking a creature raises swordsmanship constantly, using magic raises magery constantly. This completely takes the fun out of levelling up, as all I required to do to get better at swordsmanship was click on a monster once, then I could walk away, do something else and come back.

Ultima Online is not an RPG, the RPG elements have been warped and twisted out of recognition or completely eliminated. Do not buy this game if you want to play an RPG. I do not reccommend this game to any RPG fans, and wouldn't even reccommend this to Diablo fans, for it lacks the queer appeals of Diablo. It is, however, an addictive game, wanting to become grandmaster of your skills nevertheless, and the accumulation of money is more or less the driving force of the game. The game can be marginally fun at times, however it is fairly costly and very time consuming, you can spend an entire day working towards something and not even reaching your goal. Overall, Ultima Online is a hard game to review, it is incredibly lacking in some aspects, all the while mildly entertaining in others. As a last note, hostility towards Newbies and the utter uselessness of Orgin's moderators really drags the game down.

My reccommendation: save your money and buy something modern (or wait for Final Fantasy XI).

Final Verdict:


Graphics: 1/5
Sound: 1/5
Gameplay: 3/5
Playability: 3/5
Overall: 2/5

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