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Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness (DOS)

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100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
3.6
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5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  vedder (20153)
Written on  :  Aug 30, 2008
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars3 Stars

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Summary

A Confusing Journey Through Space and Time

The Good

Ultima was the first Ultima game I played, even though that was admittedly in early 2007, some 25 years after its initial release. Since then I've also tried some of the newer incarnations, but this is the only one I actually bothered to finish from start till end. That doesn't mean its the best one of the series however. Perhaps merely that it's the shortest? Or perhaps it felt like an achievement.

The whole game took me only about one and a half day to finish.

The game actually features three types of environments, an over-world, cities and castles, and Dungeons. The dungeons are some kind of 3D mazes displayed in vector graphics which is actually rather interesting to got through. even if all the random encounters are exactly the same. The rest is top down 2D goodness.

Quests come in two types, visiting a signpost or killing a certain monster. Neither are particularly challenging. Visiting a signpost actually means exploring the land and looking at a signpost when you see one, which lacks any skill whatsoever. Killing a monster requires more thought from the player as you have to go in a dungeon and actually find such a monster and kill it. The dungeons can be quite the mazes, so you best keep a map on paper. (real paper, not ingame) And buy enough level up spells to get out of the dungeon quickly. Interestingly you get HP when you kill a monster, so usually I had more hit-points when I left the dungeon than when I went in. Weird. There is also no HP ceiling so you can acquire quasi-infinite HP (until the game crashes because it runs out of memory probably).

The Bad

The interface of Ultima is absolutely horrendous. The field of interface design apparently wasn't in existence back in the early eighties, so each action in the game has its own button on the keyboard. Meaning that there are few buttons on your keyboard that you will not use during the course of the game. Each action in the game is bound to the first letter of the action on the keyboard (such as A for attack, C for cast spell and O for open), which is supposed to make memorizing them easier. But in reality this just makes the controls harder, because they are scattered randomly over the keyboard. And it also means that some actions had to be given arbitrary names so not to use the same letter twice (boarding a horse? klimbing a rope?), which makes it still just as difficult to remember. Usually your action will have to be followed with a direction key, so that the game knows in what direction you want to perform this action. Needless to say it is all more complex than it should be.

Like any self-respecting fantasy hero you can also rescue princesses, there's one in every castle. And the jester has the key. So you kill the jester, but unfortunately there's only 50% chance that it is the right key. Boring? Yes Futile? Definitely!

The Bottom Line

My game started rather awkwardly and left me rather confused for the duration of the game. I thought that the game would be a fantasy game, but the first thing my Dwarven Fighter did was steal from Lord British treasury. Which made him the proud owner of a blaster rifle, a light sword and vacuum suit. I then started grinding loot until I could buy an Aircar and fulfilled my Luke Skywalker fantasies. Later came the space shuttle and fighting sequences with TIE-Fighters, which added to the confusion.

All in all Ultima is quite fun to play, but don't expect anything from it story-wise. Don't expect any challenge either, the game is ridiculously easy, even the final boss is dead before you know it. Just make sure you visited all the signposts and did your share of grinding for all the sci-fi gear. Only play it if you're really interested in seeing the roots of this series. Or wonder what it would be like if Dungeons & Dragons, Lord of the Rings and Star Wars somehow collided to form some kind of Geek Super World.