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E3 2013 - Hands On with a New Britannia

Michael Bitton Posted:
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If you’ve ever wanted to have the ‘Ultima’ experience in the palm of your hand, you may be interested in EA Mythic’s Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar. We had a chance to get some hands-on time and learn more about the game at this year’s E3.

Ultima Forever is a mobile free-to-play spiritual successor to Ultima 4. Imagine Ultima 4 as an MMO on mobile devices and you have an idea of what Mythic is going for here. Mythic’s Carrie Gouskos told us that the team’s goal was to create this MMO experience in a way that is digestible for the way gamers tend to play mobile games without diluting the MMO aspects.

The experience is fairly straightforward. In fact, I’d say it’s possibly closer to an action RPG than a straight MMO. You go to town, grab quests, and head off into dungeons. The MMO twist, I suppose, is that the game also features social features you’d typically find in an MMO, such as friends lists and chat.

If you’ve played Ultima 4, you’ll probably notice that the map is similar to the original game. EA Mythic wanted to maintain as much Ultima 4 as they could while building an MMO on top of it.

Originally, Ultima Forever was to be a PC MMO, but the team decided to switch to mobile at some point in the project. In the transition, EA Mythic discovered that mobile gamers tend to play games for five to seven minutes at a time and this revelation created an issue that needed to be solved due to the fact the game featured your typical hour long PC MMO style dungeons. To rectify this, EA Mythic populated it  with hundreds of smaller, five-minute dungeons, an experience that should be much more palatable for mobile gamers. That isn’t to say that they tossed out their original dungeons. If you have the time to set aside, you can also take part in dungeons that can take anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour to complete. Each dungeon will tell you how long it should take to complete and what level you’ll need to be.

Aside from your typical ARPG or MMO aspirations, such as gaining levels and items, you’ll also be looking to gain Virtue in Ultima Forever. Fans of Ultima 4 should recall the eight virtues present in the game and these virtues play an important role in Ultima Forever as well.  Characters throughout the game world will have virtues for you to help with and your choices here will have an impact on how these characters and the world react to you. Each town you enter will focus on a different Virtue and you’ll want to have developed enough along those lines to ensure you have full access to the town’s content and other amenities.

In one example, we spoke to one character whose brother had passed away and wanted help with the will. We were given three choices: Honesty – fulfill the will as it is written; Compassion – get rid of the will and give the money to the brother’s wife; or Humility – it’s not for you to judge, just do as the will says. There isn’t a right or wrong answer and your choice here won’t ‘break’ the game,  but if you want access to the aforementioned content, amenities, or even items associated with a type of Virtue, you’ll want to ensure that you level it up.

The end goal is to level up all the Virtues so you can access everything, which I honestly feel sort of undermines the potential for this system to create a meaningful roleplaying experience. If you’re a completionist, you’re going to want to eventually max out all of your Virtues so that you can access everything and this sort of runs counter to the notion of developing your character along a certain path, in my opinion.  I was initially excited when told about this system only to feel deflated just a minute or two later into the explanation.

There are some neat aspects of the Virtue system, however. For example, you’ll earn Compassion points simply for playing with your friends. If you’re higher level than the friend you’re playing with, you’ll earn Sacrifice points for sparing your time to help them, while they will earn Humility points for being humble enough to ask for your help.  The Honesty Box is probably the most amusing example of the system at work, though. Basically, you can find Honesty Boxes in the game that either have loot in them or they don’t. If there’s loot in the box, the person who opens it can take all of the loot for themselves, but they gain no Honesty for doing this. They can split the loot with their group, which means they get less loot, but they also earn some Honesty for doing this.  There’s a little twist that should help point out some more shady players, too. Taking the loot for yourself will often give you a black helm and so if you find other players walking around with black helmets on you may want to think twice about trusting them.

As we noted earlier, the main form of gameplay found in Ultima Forever is dungeoneering. You can play through these dungeons with up to four players and there will even be puzzles and traps for multiple players to solve. You can play the game solo if you like, but dungeons will scale depending on how many players you bring with you in order to maintain a certain level of challenge. Carrie, another journalist, and I jumped into a quick five-minute dungeon to check it all out for ourselves. We went in as two Fighters and a Mage. These are the two classes that will be available at launch and the Fighter can only be male at the moment, however Mythic is working on a female Fighter that will be a Paladin.

Combat is straightforward. You touch the ground to move and simply press once on an enemy to begin auto-attacking them. You’re rewarded with bonuses for attacking enemies from the rear or flank as well, so positioning can be important. You’ll also have a number of special abilities available to you on the left side of the screen. As a Fighter, I had a pretty satisfying leaping strike at my disposal that hit all targets in a massive AOE where I landed.  While I only had this one ability to access at the time, we were told that we would learn many more as we leveled and this would allow us to create versions of our class that fit our playstyle. I could go for a direct damage single target Fighter if I wanted or an AOE fighter if that’s more my speed, for example.

Mythic is mainly monetizing the game through gear and repair costs. You’ll find dungeons in chests that require keys to open. The quality of the loot is determined by the keys used to open the chest. There are bronze keys that are extremely common, silver keys that are less common, and gold keys that are much harder to acquire but grant the best loot. Gold keys can also be purchased from the store as a shortcut or you can convert the various keys at specific ratios in order to acquire the keys you’re looking for.

Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar will be available on iOS this July with both Android and PC versions still in the works.

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB

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Michael Bitton

Michael Bitton / Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site's Community Manager. Follow him on Twitter @eMikeB