When purchasing an online role-playing game, there are a number of different things to consider. Many online games
incur a monthly fee as well as the price of the software, so you want to know you’ll be happy playing it before you even take it off the shelf. There are myriads of different genres and styles available for the soon-to-be avid gamer, from sci-fi to fantasy, from ‘treadmill’ to freestyle. There is one game that, in my mind, outshines them all; the granddaddy of massively multiplayer online games, Ultima Online.
Released in 1997 by Origin Systems, and currently owned by Electronic Arts Inc., Ultima Online is the world’s longest running MMORPG, and while it has never had more than 250,000 subscribers worldwide it bears the distinction of being the game by which all others are measured. Ultima Online has, by far, the richest and deepest play environment of any game created since its inception, with new content added regularly.
An isometric third-person game designed loosely around the earlier Ultima series, UO will see an upgrade in it’s graphic engine in 2007 with the release of UO: Kingdom Reborn, ensuring the game’s longevity for many years to come. Crafting, resource gathering, player vs. player (PvP) combat, guilds and even city-by-city competition is possible, and with up to six character slots per account, a player can partake of almost every element of the game.
Ultima Online is set in the common fantasy milieu most fiction fans are familiar with; dragons and magical beasts roam the lands, while character ‘classes’ consist of fighters, mages, paladins, necromancers, animal tamers and crafters of many different types. Players may choose their starting characters to be humans or elves, with advantages unique to each.
Because players can design their own templates for their characters, choosing skills from a wide selection available, characters can either follow a standard template or be very unusual as to the skills each one learns. For example, my own namesake character is not simply a paladin but a grandmaster fisherman – I can take him into combat against many different foes, or just have him set sail for an evening of fishing and relaxation.
The world of Ultima Online is a ‘persistent world’, meaning that scheduled (and, sometimes, unscheduled) events occur in the game whether any particular player is logged in or not. It is very likely you will be sharing your experience in the world known as Sosaria with many dozens, if not hundreds of other players, and you can choose to go off and do things on your own, create temporary ‘parties’ to work together, or join a more permanent guild setting where lasting friendships can occur.
The game world, or ‘shard’, is a game server where you choose to play. There are shards all over the world, from Japan to America to Europe, so you can choose to play on a server where you’ll not only have the best connect, but if you so choose, you can share the world with those who also share your real-life culture – because players are people, player behavior can be very different on an American shard than on a Japanese one.
Shards are further broken up into ‘facets’, separate realms that players can travel to on each shard for adventure. Currently the facets consist of two mirror-opposite realms of Britannia called Trammel and Felucca (the only non-consensual PvP facet available), the Japanese-inspired Tokuno Islands, the magical realms of Ilshenar and the disintegrating lands of Malas. Each is rich in game history, unusual locations and unique challenges for players to enjoy.
One of the best things about Ultima Online is the crafting system, developed and improved upon throughout the game’s existence. Characters need not be combat oriented at all, but can be simple craftsmen (or craftswomen) such as tailors, blacksmiths, tinkers, fishermen, scribes, carpenters, alchemists – even cooks! Many characters, such as my aforementioned fisherman, enjoy a dual life, fighting monsters one day while creating goods or gathering resources the next.
Crafters have the ability to not only make the more mundane items, such as armor, potions and weapons, but with the right recipes and ingredients they can create powerful artifacts, and all can be used by the player’s other characters or sold to other players in exchange for gold or services.
Housing is also unique to Ultima Online, and the game boasts the most ambitious – and beautiful – house building system in existence. There are many styles of walls, floors, roofing and other segments that can be utilized, with new styles being added with each expansion. The house-creation system allows for complete customization, allowing players freedom to create their dream home though a simple to use interface.
Housing is also very desirable, as there are literally thousands of different items in the game that can be used for decoration, functionality, or both – as a player becomes more experienced with the game, having a place to store all the items they can collect becomes of increasing importance. Many of these items can be created by characters with the right crafting skills, while others consist of rare, one-of-a-kind items with great rarity and value. Together, a player can create a home that is truly unique to their own sense of aesthetics and style.
What good is all of this without a story, you ask? Not much good at all, and you’ll be pleased to discover that Sosaria not only has a rich storyline stretching back (with loose connections) to the original Ultima computer game series, but that each shard has a history that is unique to itself as well. There are many ongoing quests and events, ranging from mysterious who-dunits to battles for supremacy with races other than human and elf. There are always new challenges awaiting in Sosaria for the willing adventurer to tackle alone or with a party of friends.
The game has such depth and diversity, there are several web sites I’d recommend as ‘absolute must-reads’ for anyone who decides to pursue the game seriously. The official UO website ( http://uo.com/ ) has a new player’s guide, as well as a fount of information concerning in-game events and the most recent news related to the game.
Another strong recommendation would be UO Stratics ( http://uo.stratics.com/ ), where almost every element in the game can be examined, plus it boasts the game’s most active message boards where both players and Ultima Online’s development team gather to discuss the wants and needs of the game’s most loyal followers.
Even after many years of play, UO remains a rewarding and challenging experience for both old timers and new players alike. Content with depth, huge land masses to explore, unusual monsters, unique locations and challenges, consensual and non-consensual PvP combat, a housing system rivaled by none, a heavily developed crafting system and a dedicated and involved development team – these are the things that make Ultima Online the best value for the buck.