Ultima Forever Review

Ultima Forever Review

Reviews, Z1g

Posted on Thursday, August 22nd, 2013 at 8:00 AM by

More than any other game in my writing career so far, Ultima Forever posed a strange challenge: how do I approachdescribing my impressions of it?

The reason for this is, really, I approach it as two very different and, I must admit, disparate gamers. On one hand I come to the game as a general gamer in good standing; looking at the title on its own merits in a theoretical vacuum without pre-conceived notions as to its heritage. On the other hand, I come to the table as a long-time and loving fan of the Ultima series of games; judging it not just as a game, but as an Ultima game. While this might seem like a mere semantic difference, in fact it all the difference in the world to the verdict the game gets.

In the paragraphs that follow, I will endeavour to summarise why playing the game will be a very different experience for those unfamiliar with the Ultima series, compared to the long-time fans of the series.

So, as a game, plain and simple, Ultima Forever is a free-to-play, cross-platform, online, action role-playing game developed by Mythic Entertainment and published by Electronic Arts. Basically, the game is an isometric perspective mini-MMO, with the game boiling down to a series of small instances chained one after the other linked by a world map. Players visit the entrances to these areas and either gather a group together or enter solo and take on the challenge of the area: in essence, a simplified version of World of Warcraft dungeons made into a game.

Combat is a surprisingly involved experience

Combat is a surprisingly involved experience

As you would expect of a primarily iOS title, the gameplay is much, much more streamlined and simplified than a traditional MMO blueprint. Your character has a basic attack, activated by touching the enemy you wish to hit, continuing automatically until cancelled. In addition, you unlock special attacks at various levels, allowing for some moderate attack variety.

As with traditional MMORPGs, you collect quests from hub towns between areas, as well as inside the dungeons themselves. Level progression is attained through accumulation of virtue points, the main nod towards the game’s Ultima heritage. For those unfamiliar with the previous games, the core tenet of the modern Ultima games are the 8 virtues of the Avatar, the qualities the main character is meant to embody as an example to the people of Britannia, the game’s world. In Ultima Forever, the virtues are the experience trees, with the characters’ actions earning them points in the relevant virtue and prompting level ups as these bars fill up. As a concept it varies from the traditional experience points system a little, which is always a welcome thing.

The multiplayer works fairly well, with groups pretty quick to form (4 is the maximum) outside the dungeons and instance lengths of 5 to 15 minutes suiting the mobile platform ideally. The lack of convenient communication other than manually typing messages while stood still isn’t ideal but is a symptom of the platform as a whole, rather than unique to Ultima Forever, so gets a tentative pass.

Matchmaking and dungeon preparation is seamless and well executed

Matchmaking and dungeon preparation is seamless and well executed

All in all, as a MMORPG optimised for mobile devices (primarily tablets) Ultima Forever is an excellent game. It really is. finding a group is quick and simple, the visuals are distinctive and the action simple enough to be manageable on touch screens, while containing enough variety to remain interesting. Taken on its own, Ultima Forever is a great little mobile game.

However…

For the non-Ultima fans reading this who just wanted a review Ultima Forever as a game, in and of itself, you can take everything above as the review. For my review of Ultima Forever as an Ultima Game, read on…

As an Ultima game, I found the game experience an immensely frustrating one.

I was about to type that it’s hard to say exactly why it’s a  frustrating experience, but that would be wrong. I can identify exactly why: this isn’t an Ultima game. Sure, it might be wearing an Ultima mask and talking the talk, but when it comes down to it the game has little to nothing to do with the Ultima world at large. The game just feels like a completely independent game with Ultima branding slapped on it, which, to all intents and purposes, it is.

There are many ways the game just doesn’t capture the spirit of the series; with the sudden change from a single ‘Avatar’ to a cavalcade of player characters being the first to spring to mind. The Avatar of the old games was founded in being exceptional; the literal epitome of the virtues he embodied. The character was defined by their uniqueness. The MMO setting strips this concept bare and while you can point to Ultima Online and say this isn’t unique in the series’ mythology, the fact that the game was billed as a ‘remake’ of the first Avatar-based game, Ultima IV, means the comparison is set with the single-player games of old and not Ultima Online, leaving a bad taste in the mouth. The general world story, by nature of the system limitationsm is drastically dumbed-down and just feels more banal and pedestrian than the more sophisticated narratives of the series’ past titles.

Perhaps, however, the use of the virtues as a simplified experience point system, as mentioned before, is the biggest issue. While not inherently wrong, the feeling is one of cheapening the once sacrosanct and idealised values the virtues previously represented. This may sound melodramatic, but bear in mind that the purpose of the original Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar was to become the embodiment of the virtues. To now quantify the amount of humility your character has through slashing through dungeons doesn’t really seem appropriate somehow.

Boiling down the virtues to experience bars feels like cheapening it.

Boiling down the virtues to experience bars feels like cheapening it.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Ultima Forever; I enjoyed the hell out of it. The problem I had was that as a fan of the Ultima series there was always an uncomfortable feeling, that knowledge at the back of your mind that something just isn’t quite right.

Taken on its own as a game, Ultima Forever is excellent: a superb mobile-focussed MMORPG. However, if you’re an old Ultima fan, don’t expect a return to the heady days of old like the marketing seemed to promise. Rather than a remake of Ultima IV, Ultima Forever is more of an Ultima Online: Mobile Edition, which is fine, it’s just not what we were promised or expected.

So now that I’ve said my piece and run out of dialogue options, I will sign off in the age-old Ultima manner:

‘Bye’.

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About the author:

Paul Izod is a lifelong gamer. Since he was old enough to tap at his Dad's PC's keyboard he's been a gamer. Dedicated and often opinionated, you can be sure he'll always have something interesting to say about the subject at hand. Find him on Twitter at @PaulIzod

1 comment

1 comments
mathfool
mathfool

As a huge Ultima fan, I have to agree with your comments.  Good, fairly balanced review for both us old-timers and people who just want a fun mini-MMO on their iOS device.

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