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What Ultima Online Gave us 21 Years Ago

Garrett Fuller Posted:
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The template for all online games grew out of the 1990s. Many people recall Everquest as the game which changed everything and it did, trust me. However, before you had EQ, you had UO. Ultima Online created the core ideas and concepts that have driven the MMO genre for 21 straight years. Ultima gave us an early look at what PvP on a large scale might be like, it allowed players to explore a world together for the first time. Ultima Online was a revolution, and it changed everything.


Logging into the screen for the first time and creating a character was not easy back then. There were no preset templates. You had to hook in by phone modem which was, well, a risky attempt at best. Once you got started there was always the fear of crashing. As you entered the world you met NPCs and players. Sometimes unsure which was which. You found your niche whether it was crafting or combat. You learned spells and maybe even were lucky enough to ride a horse.

PvP was something that had barely been thought of aside from fighting games. Golden Eye had launched right around the same time. It was the dawn of PvP. Ultima created two types of games in its world. The good people of Britannia where blue named, while the player killers were red. Once you saw each other in the open world, it was time to fight. Many times, criminal factions formed outside the normal game cities and created their own economy.  These players would flood into dungeons or locations with a lot of players and take over the area. The citizens of Britannia would rally and push them back eventually. As a player I had both a PK and a regular character and would play them alternately with our guild. Ultima also gave us the idea of guilds and role play, and even castles to live in.

In its simplest form, Ultima had a clean PvE system that was not driven by quests but by locations. If you wanted to go out to the Orc Fort, you could and battle the Orc Mages, Ettins, and even Orc Chieftains who lived there. If you decided to go into one of the deadly dungeons, it was rough. Even at low level monsters like scorpions would swarm you. The deeper you went the more dangerous it got. Ultima followed the classic D&D idea that at the lowest levels of dungeons you could the most danger. Thankfully everyone had runes to get out when needed. You went in, got what loot you could, and then headed out to safety before the monsters became too much or the player killers showed up.

Keeping the world basic is something that Ultima did the best. It allowed players to wander, explore, and build their homes. Real estate became a huge part of the game with early castles and towers selling in the hundreds of dollars, it was the 1990s remember, virtual economies had barely been thought of. I had a house on the coast which I mainly used to train up my new characters. Back in those days you left the PC on overnight with a pen jammed into the keyboard to keep running macros and boost your skills.

Ultima Online still exists 21 years later. Players continue to keep the game alive and Broadsword Games hosts the original world. It has changed a lot over the years, but overall, it still has much of its original charm. Every single MMO that has launched since 1997 can thank Ultima for what it did to the video game market. At the dawn of the Internet, it was the first world we explored as players. It is fun to go back every now and then and check the game out. There are other great titles like Legends of Aria which have brought a lot of the Ultima ideas into the modern day. These games helped to build our online experiences no matter what game you play, from Fortnite as the loot falls out of you when you get killed, all the way to Destiny 2 and exploring the instances in the game. It all goes back to Ultima. 


Garrett Fuller

Garrett Fuller / Garrett Fuller has been playing MMOs since 1997 and writing about them since 2005. He joined MMORPG.com has a volunteer writer and now handles Industry Relations for the website. He has been gaming since 1979 when his cousin showed him a copy of Dungeons and Dragons. When not spending time with his family, Garrett also Larps and plays Airsoft in his spare time.