Ultima is Forever, and you’d be silly to think it was dead. Ultima IV is being reborn as Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar, from a small but dedicated team at BioWare Mythic, with Paul Barnett as the Creative Director. It’ll be cross-platform on your PC (not Facebook) and your iPad and it won’t cost you a penny to play. Oh, and it’s a complete re-imagining of the classic Ultima IV, only this time you can adventure through Britannia with your friends at your back. It’s not quite an MMO, and it’s not quite an offline RPG. But it’s all Ultima, and it’s sounding like something we should all get excited about.
I was able Paul Barnett late last night after he’d flown out to San Diego for Comic Con, such is the man’s commitment to making sure we nerdy press types get our info to feed our readers. That and I pretty much begged he and the PR folks to take a late call so we could hit the 9am embargo time when earlier appointments fell through due to scheduling conflicts. So before we write anymore: thank Paul, Alana, and Teresa for working so hard to make sure the call happened. I hope they all slept more than I did. Now… where were we? Oh yeah, Ultima Forever. It’s a thing!
NOT FOR THE BOOK OF FACE
One thing you all should know right off the bat… this isn’t going to be like Lord of Ultima, and it’s not going to be like The Sims Social. Paul told me rather matter-of-factly that Ultima Forever (U4E) is aiming to be quite literally a re-imagining of Ultima IV, hellbent on bringing the Ultima series to a new era, for a new audience, while retaining its roots and pleasing its legions of hardcore fans. It’ll have all the story, progression, emotional investment, and focus on adventure you’ve come to expect from a BioWare RPG. It’ll also be both a solo and a co-op adventure, with a strong focus on online persistent multiplayer for you and your friends (but not an MMO like UO). And one of the craziest parts? It’ll both be a PC client download, and an iPad App Store download (Android was not mentioned, and neither was the iPhone). You’ll be able to move freely between the two, and players on one can play with players on the other, just as you can start playing on your iPad at work and move to your PC when you get home.
There will be no upfront payment either. As with all of EA’s Play-4-Free titles, U4E will be free to download and play, and Paul says they’ve literally made sure that the entire game from start to finish is playable without ever having to spend a dime. What they’re hoping is that players enjoy the adventure so much, that as they play and as they rove through this massive open world they’ll see that BioWare is serious about reimagining Ultima for a new age, and then they’ll start spending little bits of money here or there on air ships, boats, new careers for their Avatars, and so forth.
STIMULATION, THEN SIMULATION
One thing Paul also wanted to make clear is that this really is a co-op, online reimagining of Ultima IV, and not a sequel to Ultima Online. It’s not a true MMORPG, and it doesn’t aim for the same sort of world simulation as Ultima VII did. Instead, with the choice they made to reboot the series in the footsteps of Ultima IV, they’re aiming for stimulation first. Then, if they succeed in bringing people back to Britannia, they’ll move on to other series staples like the simulation found in Ultima VII and UO. But at the forefront, U4E will be about the adventure, the story, and the world of Britannia.
The game will be, just like UIV, all about Virtues as well. They’ll dictate your choices throughout the game, in true BioWare RPG fashion. If you find a large sum of money on the floor of the pub and give it back to the owner? That’s Justice. If instead you give it to some starving beggar children? That’s compassion. The entire game is built around these open-ended choices you’ll have to make which will help determine the kind of Avatar you become. While Paul wasn’t able to talk much about the game’s career system, he did say that Virtues will play heavily into the thing. “We extend the Virtue system into multiplayer as well. When a powerful player groups up with a lower player, they might not get a lot of XP for working with them, but they’ll gain a lot of Sacrifice virtue.”
The story itself is quite literally a reboot on Ultima IV. It begins 21 years after that title ended, with Lady British now on the thrown in place of her father Lord British. This makes sense given that the lead designer is no longer Garriott, but Kate Flack who’s been handling UO now for some time. It’ll sport the same isometric view we’ve come to know and love, and have all the cool stuff we remember from Ultima IV like hot air balloons, sea travel, and more. Paul says many on the team liken it to Baldur’s Gate with Friends in a lot of ways, getting back to BioWare’s roots in that way.
There are two announced careers right now on the game’s sparse homepage: the Fighter and the Mage, which are as you expect. Paul told me more will come, and those will be the sorts of things you can pony up a little change for. As for the combat, it’s going to be a bit Action RPG-esque, as is befitting the isometric view. It’ll be position-based as well, with players being able to take advantage of collision detection, and will rely on player reaction as well. It won’t be typical hot-bar and tab-target type combat, but rather require active participation from the player on either platform. He promised me they’d explain more soon, and that they have to save something to reveal later.
I really wish I had more for you. But would it help if I said you can head over to UltimaForever.com right now and sign up for the beta? Paul said they’ve got a whole lot more to show, and they cannot wait to get players in and running around their new Britannia. He wants us all to see the love and care they’ve given the Ultima series, so that we all know it’s in good hands. You’ll meet famous characters from Ultima’s past, visit locations you know and love, and all while embarking on a truly epic journey that you’ve come to expect from a BioWare RPG. As a gamer who cut his teeth on Ultima VII: The Black Gate, I simply cannot wait to explore Britannia again on my iPad while dodging work. Bring it on, Paul. I’m waiting.