Created in 1981, the Ultima series of computer games has a long and storied history. Richard Garriott (Lord British in-game) created Ultima while working at a ComputerLand, selling copies out of Ziploc bags and eventually getting picked up by a publishing company, creating his own publishing concern (Origin Systems), and finally selling Origin to Electronic Arts in 1992. In 1997, EA released Ultima Online, widely accepted as the first massively multiplayer online role-playing game.
Category: iOS Game
Works With: iPad, iPhone
Fast-forward to today, and Mythic Games, along with publisher EA, has created a loving tribute to the Ultima franchise with Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar. These days, most EA games are created with a free-to-play aesthetic, and Ultima Forever is no exception.
What’s surprising, however, is just how little that matters: Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar is a delightful top-down MMO that’s easy to play without spending a dime. Which, ironically, is the reason many of us will.
Players will begin the game in a story-based tutorial, learning how to navigate the world, choosing a character class (mage or fighter), and then working their way through a dungeon with plenty of monsters to kill, including a final boss. As in every dungeon, there are treasure chests to be unlocked at the end of each mini-area within. The choice here is to use a bronze, silver or gold key to unlock the treasure, which impacts the quality of loot it dispenses. Use a bronze key and players will get decent armor, weapons and the like. Use a silver key (which can be created from several bronze keys), and players will receive better loot, with a promise of at least one uncommon item. A gold key, which can only be found or purchased, will release the best loot, including at least one rare item. It’s a brilliant way of allowing gameplay to continue while offering payment opportunities for those who wish to gear up faster.
Once the tutorial level is finished, it’s off to Castle Britannia, where players will immerse themselves in helping Lady British, Lord British’s daughter, who is now Queen of the Realm. An evil curse has fallen upon the land: The Weep, as it’s called, infects everything in its path, including the creatures in the dungeons and the bandits in the fields.
As in most MMO games, player characters will gather ever more powerful weaponry and experience points to level up with. Higher-level characters can then enter higher-level dungeons, getting better loot and higher experience points. The combat is both simple and frantic; waves of enemies as well as tougher bosses and mini-bosses offer enough challenge without too much difficulty. Players target enemies with a tap, which can sometimes miss and send their avatar too close (if a ranged mage, for example) to an enemy, but rarely is this a battle-ending mistake. Special powers and moves are unleashed with a tap as well, making the entire experience casual enough for mobile play yet challenging enough to keep players interested.
The storyline is solid enough to pay attention to, if interested, but isn’t strictly necessary to progress. Getting around on the map is easier if fast travel—at the cost of a couple of bronze keys per trip—is used, and is nicely marked with quest symbols to help players know where to go next. The Virtue system is a delightful way to give characters personality in their interactions with non-player characters (NPCs) throughout the land, and each Virtue interaction with an NPC ends up granting even more experience points and reputation with the surrounding cities and peoples.
Groups are easily created and disbanded, and the connection to Facebook makes it simple to quest with friends. Stand around any dungeon entrance for a bit, and players will get invited to group up fairly quickly. It’s a simple tap of the grouping button to ask anyone nearby to join up in a dungeon run, which are themselves helpfully labeled with the level requirements and the typical time it takes to finish them—essential information in a mobile MMO. The path-finding can be a bit tricky at times, sending me back into villages with a load screen when I want to walk around it, but is fairly easily managed.
Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar is a delightful top-down MMO that’s easy to play without spending a dime.
While the constant gathering of bronze keys and converting them to silver adds a secondary grind to the typical MMO experience, Ultima Forever continues to offer fun gameplay. I forget I’m in a free-to-play game, quite honestly, and instead focus on the current quest I’m on. Playing with others is easy, and the dungeons—so far—are fairly well-balanced if a bit on the easy side, perhaps to encourage people to play.
Product Name: : Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar
The Good: A well-written, engaging MMO with easy groupings, interesting combat mechanics and a nostalgic storyline and world to explore.
The Bad: Some pathfinding wonkiness; the addition of free-to-play mechanics can get tiresome.
The Verdict Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar is worth the download, especially for fans of the original series. It focuses on gameplay and fun rather than overly obvious in-app purchases, providing a great way to spend some time in Britannia.
Buy from: App Store