You know what really sucks? Being made of money. Yep, having an endless wad of cash. I really just can’t stand that. Because money is the root of ALL evil, and I don’t really want to be ALL evil. Not completely 100% evil. Just mostly evil. Good thing there’s a solution that allows me to rid myself of all that extra money, AND be evil at the same time: ULTIMA ONLINE!!
Most RPGers older than, oh, about 15 or so remember the good old Ultima series. I fondly recall my first foray into the worlds of Ultima… Ultima III: Exodus. Couldn’t seem to get very far, though, because my characters all starved to death. Because, you see, you had to carry enough food for your entire party to eat, and each move you made consumed one unit of food. So you’d be loaded to the max with food, meaning you couldn’t carry too many weapons or anything. So you had two options: Death by Starvation, or Death by Sucking in Battle. I chose the third option: taking out my frustrations by attempting to commit regicide. That is, planning the assassination of Lord British, ruler of the realms of Sosaria. Not a good idea. Turns out he couldn’t be killed, and he delivered quick, holy vengeance upon my would-be Brutuses and Cassiuses. “RUN AWAY, RUN AWAY!!” yelled my two remaining (non-dead) characters, “Queen Killer” (you see, the graphics weren’t too sophisticated then, so Lord British looked rather feminine) and “DiePigF*cker.” But, even after Queen Killer and DiePigF*cker escaped from his death-dealing sword of fury, they were beset by guards, and were dispatched without glory, like the dogs they were. Ah, the good old days…
Ultima progressed beyond the hungry days (HAR HAR DUBBEL MEENING) to become one of the best selling RPG series ever. I myself wiled away years of my adolescence in the realms of Britannia, achieving Avatarhood (IV), overcoming Lord Blackthorn’s treachery (V), restoring peace between the humans and gargoyles (VI), and facing off against the Guardian (VII), before losing interest (and sufficient time to play). Oh, by the way, DiePigF*cker made a return in Ultima VI, murdering Lord British with a glass sword while he slept. HAR HAR FLAAWWLSES VIKTOYR!!1
Then came Ultima Online, which seems to be set chronologically between Ultima II and III. UO advertises the ability to interact with thousands of other UO players in Britannia as a Warrior, Mage, Thief, Bard, etc… or you could instead choose the simple life of a merchant, such as a blacksmith or chef or something, and make money by selling to other characters! Imagine me, Shafty, as your friendly bartender, sharing a rousing tale ‘o adventure with some dragonslayers over a pint of mead! (Mmmm… mead…) So I rushed out and dropped down the requisite $49.99 plus my credit card for $10.95 per month.
You know what I found out? This place is ruled by losers. For the most part, there’s no real basic plot to UO (nor any helpful instructions), so you’re left wandering aimlessly, trying to figure out what the hell to do. More veteran players, however, didn’t have much patience with me. For at least the first month of $10.95, I thought that my character’s name was not “Shafty,” as I had dubbed him but, rather, “F*CKING NEWBIE!!!” (the affectionate nickname given to me by other players). Sure, there are some friendly people, too, who took the time to explain how to advance your characters, how to get the most enjoyment out of the game.
So the first year or so of $10.95 a month actually became pretty fun. Your characters advance to godlike powers, you meet friends, together you slay dragons and liches, get rich, become “The Glorious Lord Shafty, Grandmaster Warrior,” buy a house, decorate the house with rare commodities… Rinse, later, repeat.
In the meantime, you learn a whole new lingo, as phrases such as “lag death” begin to take on new meaning. Of course, with UO’s being an online game, the servers tend to slow down when a bunch of people are online. That can be problematic if you’re in the middle of fighting an ogre lord and, although the ogre lord chases after you at full speed, Shafty … can’t… run… away. Aaahhhhhhhh….. *screen goes black* You have died. Now you must search for some other player who actually wants to resurrect you (they won’t) or some other wandering healer, then run like hell to get back and grab your stuff before your corpse gets looted by other players. Now THAT is fun.
Then, after a while, it hits you: “This game is really pretty boring. What else is there to do?” That’s when I realized that EVERY VIDEO GAME MUST END, AT SOME POINT. This one doesn’t. It just keeps doing the same thing for $10.95 a month. Of course, newer versions and features (for which you could pay even more money) come out all the time, such as updated 3D art, newer lands to explore, etc. But it doesn’t make the game more fun… just boring in a different way. Then I realized: I’ve spent $181.39 on this game? ($49.99 purchase price plus $10.95 a month for 12 months.)
So everyone eventually reaches a fork in the road. You either quit… or you entertain yourself by ruining others’ days. I chose the latter. The only way to continue to glean any enjoyment out of the game, to spur the same sort of adrenaline that you used to get in killing a dragon, is to take advantage of other players’ stupidity. So I have become a deconstructionist. An “Ultima Unabomber.”
So I steal stuff from other players. You can do that, it turns out. HAR HAR TEH HORSE!! There’s nothing more enjoyable than stealing somebody’s “Durable, Surpassingly Accurate Katana of Vanquishing,” then running like hell and trying to get away with it. (Most of the time, I do.) You can kill other players’ characters, too, so I do that too. (“LEAVE ME ALONE!!!!! I’M GOING TO CALL A GM!!!!” has become beautiful music to me, HAR HAR.) That’s also fun. Oh, and the most fun of all? Setting tinker traps. You see, UO players are greedy as hell, and so they invariably open up almost any backpack or chest they see lying on the ground. Which leads to:
(1) “Uh oh, I just saw pieces of flesh fly through the air. Uh oh, did I forget and leave an explosion potion in that chest I dropped on the ground? Oops. Maybe I oughta apologize to Humpty Dumpty the curious, if all the king’s men can succeed in putting him back together again,” OR
(2) “Oh, I see you’re convulsing with deadly poison from that trapped backpack. My bad. Mind if I take your valuable weapons and gold while your ghost is running around, looking for a wandering healer? If you don’t want me to take your stuff, say something other than OoooOOoOoo” (which is how a dead character’s speech appears to a live character).
HAR HAR FLAAWWLSES VIKTOYR!!1 Wow, this game just got fun again!!!
Gameplay (4) – Unique, fun and challenging– for a while.
Graphics (4) – Decent graphics, above average considering that this is an online game.
Music/Sound (3.5) – Music gets awfully repetitive. As soon as you go into “War” mode, the same song just repeats itself over and over and over … Sound is authentic, though.
Replay Value (1) – Accept the fact that UO gets boring after awhile. Plan on becoming a deconstructionist, if you don’t mind ruining other people’s days.
Originality (4) – At the time UO came out, it was in a class of its own. Now, though? Yawn.