Ultima Online was the first venture into the massive multiplayer world that I had taken, and I took to it well. Though the game lacks good sound, it is without a doubt addictive, original, and loads of fun. However, Ultima fans looking for an experience like the other nine titles will be in for a surprise. Though Ultima Online retains the spirit and atmosphere of previous Ultima titles, the game is much different and completely non-linear. Those looking for a linear RPG can turn away. Those without ten dollars a month can also look somewhere else.
Ultima Online is set in the medieval world that the previous Ultima titles sucked the gamer into, but there is essentially no plot to speak of. The player does character building, and that is what makes for a “story”, although in the end it’s really just character development by itself.
The game begins with a cheesy intro of how the world of Ultima Online was in a wizard’s hands, but that is quickly forgotten and never capitalized on. Though Ultima Online incorporates such things as the new “factions” and such, that still fails to build on any sort of plot, which is nearly nonexistent to begin with.
However, it must be known that like other PC RPGs, such as Diablo II, the focus of the game is not the plot. It might not even be applicable in certain situations, but scoring it for atmosphere and setting alone will suffice. While it’s not the most original world and the nostalgia factor is the only thing that might put a smile on Ultima veterans, it does the job quite well. While I feel that Ultima Online focuses more on developing a single character, it’s up to you to decide. I still think that the character development influences the plot the gamer creates, thus making for anything to be possible.
This is the main focus of Ultima Online. Gamers choose a basic design for their characters (more choices for facial hair and the like would have been better) and then they are sucked into the world of Ultima Online. By allotting and building up certain skills, gamers can choose what profession they want their character to be and what they are skilled in doing.
During the beginning of the game players might find themselves hunting animals in the forests surrounding the energetic city of Britain. Characters can be mages, warriors, blacksmiths or archers- there are so many things to choose from. Want to be an animal tamer and one day harness enough power to command dragons? Ultima Online allows that. How about being a dark murderer, who hides in forests and kills unsuspecting wanderers? Interaction between characters is one of the best parts; since almost every person in UO is another gamer like you, interaction is real, reactions are human- and there are murderers, seekers of justice, etc. This kind of character development system leaves total control to the gamer and makes for the most fun. Creating your own life couldn’t be better!
The music and sound are unfortunately not very impressive. In fact, the music is ultimately forgettable and can be switched off, adding speed to the gameplay, and this detracts nothing from the game. The tunes are poor, simplistic MIDI pieces that sound horrible if you don’t own a SoundBlaster Live! or something of that ilk. Even if you have a great sound card, the music is boring and repetitive, sounding like the annoying tunes in every medieval cartoon, movie, and videogame. There is too much emphasis on the harp and lute, and rarely are strings used.
The sound is equally as mediocre; the few sounds animals make are annoying and low in quality, and the grunts of the various monsters aren’t anything you haven’t heard before. In fact, the only noise I felt was fitting was the cry your character makes when he/she dies and the neigh of the horses. The clashes and clangs of swords are boring and anything but spectacular. In the audio department, Ultima Online fails to deliver like it should. Better sound could have made for an even more enveloping experience. Thankfully it doesn’t hurt the game much, but the audio barely hovers over mediocre.
Gameplay in Ultima Online is very addictive. There are various forms since the gamer decides the path his/her character will follow, so each character might be doing different things. For instance, a warrior might be sparring fellow warriors to increase their swordsmanship skills or battling through various dark dungeons to defeat monsters and increase stats. A blacksmith might work on mining and forging weapons, while a bard would practice his instrument and other various scholarly skills. This variation brings out the best in UO, as character interaction and relationships can be had between characters of various skills and backgrounds.
Guilds and factions are aplenty and sometimes guild wars can bring hundreds of players together for Braveheart-like epic battles. Wandering the huge world of Britannia is also no small feat; after playing for nearly a year I still haven’t seen the entire world. Various towns and areas are host to different settings and enemies, and the sheer pleasure derived from visiting and walking through towns is amazing. Make a rich businessman and open up shop right outside the outskirts of the small fishing village of Minoc! The possibilities are endless and so is the replay value.
The graphics in Ultima Online are made up completely of sprites. Until the Third Dawn expansion, this was the case, and it’s not a bad thing by any means. There is no pixilation, and gamers can choose to run in 640×480 or 800×600. The character animations aren’t terribly great, but the overall beauty of the locales and the design for towns like Britain are awesome. The attention to detail is uncanny. Character graphics are all varied, due to the sheer amount of different clothing and armor. It’s something new everyday, and the graphics really make it feel like medieval Britannia is alive and bustling. Again, while the animations are not exactly choice, everything else is great, and this is a wonderful way to convey such a world.
Everything else in Ultima Online was fine. While the nonexistent plot bothered me, this isn’t as applicable as in console RPG’s or other linear RPG’s. The game can be endless; the replay value is near infinite. The control is relatively simple with the mouse and keyboard working as dual assets and not really hindering the gamer in any way. The menus are easy to understand and navigate through, and while lag might cause a death here and there, it’s nothing to cry over. The world is interesting and I suggest everyone give it a try. Hopefully one day a massive multiplayer RPG of even more epic proportions will be released!