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Ultima Online
- Origin (Electronic Arts)
thumb1.jpg (5913 bytes)   Fun Factor 6
  Addiction Factor 7
  Interface/Gameplay 9
  Graphics 9
  Sound 5
  Multi-Player 8
  Bonus/Penalty 8
  Overall Score 7.42
At a Glance:

Ultima Online (UO) is an online fantasy role playing game by Origin which uses a game engine very similar to its single player predecessors (Ultimas VII and VIII). It offers a familiar third-person perspective with an interface that is mostly point and click, and highly customizable. The biggest distinction between the older Ultima titles and newer Ultima Online is the multi-player aspect of the UO world. Multi-player gameplay in UO gives you the opportunity to interact with hundreds, if not thousands, of other people who play online in the UO universe. If you can manage to get through the lengthy installation and patching process of UO, you are sure to find something in this game that keeps you coming back for more.

Game Setting:

UO’s setting is comprised of a single world which has been shattered into a multi-verse of sorts. The game’s introduction sequence tells the story of how this came about. This intro has little bearing on the gameplay within UO, but it is an interesting way to introduce you, the subscriber, to UO’s concept of many individual Britannias, each unique unto themselves. Your characters may be created and played in many different worlds (residing on different servers distributed across the United States) which are more or less the same, geographically speaking, but have completely different player bases.

Character Creation and Development:

UO’s character creation system is fairly flexible, allowing you to choose from many varieties of skills or letting you choose a "class" template and developing your character based on that template. It will even let you change the initial values for your skills and your physical/mental attributes, which are made up of strength, dexterity and intelligence. Your first character might start out moderately proficient in his/her chosen abilities. More likely, however, as you first get aquatinted with the system, you will probably find yourself with a character that you feel is sub-standard or even completely worthless. Nevertheless, I would encourage you to play the character out, simply for the learning experience and role-play aspect of the game.

Developing your character in this completely skill-based system can get even trickier, as you try to leverage the worth of one skill vs. another and not waste your precious playing time (we all have real lives, right?) The ability to bring your PCs back from the dead, by various means, gives you some room for experimentation and a margin of forgiveness when it comes to playing and developing your character. You’ll even have the option to resurrect on the spot at the cost of valuable skill points.

Depending upon your gaming style, you may find it hard at first to fit into this on-line multi-verse of Britannia. You should be very aware of your actions and those of others as they can quickly bring an end to your character’s life – at least temporarily.

Game Engine:

Those who are familiar with Ultima VIII Pagan and other Ultima titles will feel right at home with the world presented to you by UO’s development team. While many things have changed, the top-down perspective of previous Ultima titles is still utilized in this release. From the buildings and streets in town, to the rest of the world at large (including the deadly dungeons of Britannia), the land has been beautifully crafted and rendered, optimized for 16-bit color displays. Almost every action can be a achieved with the mouse, as you would expect from any good title on the market these days. However, the hot-key options for Ultima are also superb and very helpful, shortening many tedious mouse-intensive tasks, into a simple keystroke combination. You can even have your PC do multiple things at one time with just one keystroke combo.

Game Environment:

While the combat engine is pretty complex, it pretty much runs like this visually:

See monster, enter war mode, click on monster, kick back and eat a donut while you watch the two of you battle it out on screen.

This aspect of UO is a bit of a toss-up, as some people don’t like the basic lack of options when it comes to actually doing combat on-screen. For others though, this style offers a degree of simplicity that allows them to spend more time worrying about other gaming aspects, instead of mastering the hand-eye coordination required to be successful in more complex combat interfaces. For myself, it neither adds or detracts from the overall feel of the game.

The Good – Summary:

Origin, always on the cutting edge, has outdone themselves in making a rich gaming environment with regards to game mechanics and the overall layout of the world. The easy to use player interface and high-quality graphics of the main screen are superb. The auto patch feature, while not unique to UO, also scores high marks in my book. The on-line help feature built into UO is another welcome addition. Though a bit lacking in some ways, you can find many answers using the automated help system. If this fails, you can usually contact a GM (though they often are not able to respond in a very timely manner) and you will eventually receive the answers to your UO questions.

The Bad – Summary:

If you are a hard-core role player who seeks to immerse yourself in a vibrant, on-line persona, be prepared for some disappointment. Though UO has an awesome potential to be a true fantasy universe for those who wish to play "in character" (i.e. behaving in a realistic manner completely within the boundaries of the game world), UO falls somewhat short of this lofty goal. (This can be attributed largely to the players themselves, who often don’t take the time to create a vivid persona and develop it to any great extent.) While it is possible to make a living in Britannia while staying "in character", it is not easy. Also, sometimes the lag and occasional crashes can really detract from the game play elements. While the graphics are excellent, the musical score can really get old after a while. Lastly, while I like the auto patch feature, if you are freshly installing the game you should be prepared for an extended patching session; bring along a burger and some fries and possibly a movie or good book to read while you wait.

Tips for Beginners:

You’ll want to make friends as soon as possible. Don’t go adventuring too far outside of town without a group of "trusted" PC’s and when in doubt, RUN! The world of Britannia is full of monsters, and even worse, players, just waiting to take your head off. At first, you’ll be lucky to take any one of them on, but don’t worry… with a little luck and training you should see your way through. Also, while I normally wouldn’t recommend hint books unless necessary, the official UO hint book by Prima was and still is worth the $25.00 I shelled out for it. It will give you a lot of insight into the complex and fantastic world Origin has created.

Last but not least, whether you seek out strict role-players as companions, or those who role-play a bit more loosely, or even a group who views random Player-Killing as the only way of life… the choice is yours. You’ll find a wide variety of players and won’t like them all - so take what you like and ignore the rest. The world of Britannia is only what you make of it, just as in real life.

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