I've been a big fan of the Ultima series for a long time now, watching it grow and prosper into what is perhaps the best role-playing series for the PC. Back in 1997, Origin Systems had a vision of something that could help change the face of PC RPGs and gaming all over. They began work on a new online-only version of their Ultima series and thus, Ultima Online was born.
For three years the fans flocked to them, loving how open the system was and how you really could pick any role you wanted and play it without hesitation. However, no matter how great a game is, its run can never be infinite, so Origin decided sometime in 2000 that it needed to come up with a new version of their successful online venture. After a long period of designing and beta testing (which I got to participate in), they finally released Ultima Online: Third Dawn.
So what exactly is Third Dawn? Third Dawn is in every sense of the word an update over the original game. Featuring new semi-3D graphics with more land to explore and creatures to master or eliminate, it appears to be the perfect thing to keep the gamers interest.
However, the new graphics really aren't that impressive and in my opinion really draw away the fun factor that the original (Ultima Online) game offered. If anything, all they do is cause more slow-down (commonly known as LAG) and mistakes/errors in what had become a flawless system from Origin. Don't get me wrong, the original game was full of bugs that everyone complained about, but Third Dawn is the problems magnified 10 times.
Besides the graphics, what else is new? To be perfectly honest, not much.
The gameplay is exactly the same, no changes were made to it at all. Well, that's not a true statement because some changes were made; updated graphics for the menus and a new, fully 3D character profile, but nothing that screams out amazing to the gamer.
Before I go any further in this review, I think its important to clarify exactly what Ulima Online is. You start an account and make various characters on different servers (called shards) and then work up various stats (believe me, you can become anything that you want) so that you can call other gamers newbies (no joke, its the big word for Ultima gamers).
You earn money by killing monsters or making items, and then with that money you buy armor/equipment, and for those rich enough, houses and so on. It's a very free environment where almost anything is possible and from that aspect, Third Dawn succeeds just as its predecessor did.
Musically, Third Dawn doesn't have much to offer; some background music and sound effects, but that's about it. The music can't begin to compare to that of a console RPG, and the sound effects (while good) just aren't what they could have been with more work put into them.
Thankfully, Origin implemented very tight controls with Third Dawn, so moving your character from place to place and just free exploring is never depressing. Most people right now are wondering why I gave the story such a low grade, and it's very easy to answer that. They story is nonexistent. Sure, they try and make it look like your either a good or bad guy fighting against each other, but compared to the massive games like Xenogears it just doesn't compare.
I'd like to write more about Third Dawn, but there really isn't much more to say. In every sense of the word it's just an update of Ultima Online. There isn't any reason to purchase this game over the original Ultima Online, besides the fact that it includes the original version with it. The depth of the systems inside of Ultima is scary at times, and the learning curve is definitely one of the highest I've ever seen. However, in the end you'll be glad that you gave Ultima Online (Third Dawn or not) a chance and you'll soon find that the $10 a month isn't a huge issue.