Reviews: Ultima Online

Ultima Online, years one through nine

Ultima Online initially started as a groundbreaking game, with groundbreaking problems. No one had before run a game on such a scale, in fact the developers themselves expected a player base in the low thousands, not 250,000. The early days were marked by crippling lag, horrifyingly gamebreaking bugs, and a player base that could have been charitably called "lively". After about six months things had mostly leveled off. Lag became tolerable, player communities began forming.

The game however was continually plagued by several problems. Firstly the rampantly insanely prolific serial killers who hunted in packs decimating anyone they got in their target reticle on. Balance problems between melee, magic, and ranged meant that characters might have to rework their skills many times over just a couple months to stay viable. Still to talk to the players you'd find that while they had complaints, and lots of them, they loved the game. PVP was a constant problem for the developers who were adamant that it was a core part of the game and that they would never make a game mechanism to outright prevent it. They did resist it for about 5 years before Ever Quest and other games began to provide enough pressure to force the developers (who were continually changing) to stop the PK menace. They took many steps over the years to try and curb the problem, they just all failed. Instant death if they entered towns, stat/skill loss upon resurrection, massive bounties to encourage players to hunt them, all failures. Finally the devs said enough and instituted Trammel. A world where not only could you not be killed by another player, but they couldn't steal from you, and monsters were intangible, so you could run right through them. The alternate world Felucca was quickly abandoned, why risk death constantly if you don't have to?

There are those who believe PVP would have killed UO, and yet others (not just P Ks) who thought it an integral part of the world as a whole, providing consequences and danger. Enough years have passed that my glasses are taking on a distinct rose tint, but it was a worthy and incredible game, a true world. Any old school player can regale you for hours with tales of adventures. In the end it was a trailblazing game with incredible people.