Ultima Online: Age of Shadows
My heart missed a beat when I was asked if I wanted to review this game. You see, the original Ultima Online was my first experience with MMORPG’s. And it was love on first sight. I could not play it for long, didn’t have the time for that, but thanks to a GM, a game master, I was able to visit the entire country of Brittania in one (very) long night. Later on more of this kind of games appeared on the scene, but UO kept a big amount of the players because they got a tremendous amount of absolute freedom to specialise in whatever ability they wanted to master.
Before we touch the expansion itself, first lets look at UO itself. This game is located in a big country, Brittania, like mentioned before. A lot of the local animals are dangerous to trespassers. Bears, rats, even dragons can be encountered. The cities are safe; there you can sell the loot you found on the creatures you’ve killed. You are also safe for PK’s, Player Killers. In the early years of UO (1997) everyone could attack everyone everywhere. That has been sorted out, now you can only fight in an area created for that. So there is one of my frustrations less then, because it is not funny to be killed by someone who is way stronger then you are. If you had real bad luck, the attacker could even take away all your stuff, today that is not possible anymore. When you die, and you will do that a lot, all your items remain in your backpack. The only thing you have to do is to find a healer and get dressed again. The background of UO is something like ‘in the Middle Ages’, with everything that fits in that kind of situation. Castles, steel armour, horses, swords. And witchcraft of course, where would we be without magic?
Age of Shadows is the fifth expansion set of Ultima Online. The first thing the program asks when you want to install AoS, is if you want to use the 2D or the 3D version. 3D of course, the time we looked at flat sprites is gone forever. In practice, this 3D is not really impressive. As you can see on the screenshots, the world is looked upon from an isometric point of view, you never get the real felling of dept. You still can’t walk around a house to see the backdoor. Then comes the moment to create a paper doll, this is the way you look like. In AoS you get the possibility to create the normal careers, plus two new ones. You can become a Paladin, on the other side of the spectrum a Necromancer. It is hard to imagine stronger opposites. While the Paladin is searching the Good, with spells to get rid of the Evil Forces, even when this means he (or she) has to pay for that with his (or her) health, the Necromancer will use dead bodies to create hideous creatures to fight for him (or her).
That is the most important that you will see the first weeks of playing. Of course there are new monsters to keep you busy. But for the rest it will be like in the original: solve quests to get gold, fight, fish, tame animals until you can ride that horse, create things, mine, team with others so you can fight bigger mobs and so on and so on. Slowly you get better and better at things, you’ll find or make or buy better weapons, better armour and better spells, so that you don’t dye anymore when there is lovely rabbit in the area that bites in your toe. The most important thing is that you get to know other people. Make a lot of new friends that way and a few enemies. That is the reason for this kind of games: interaction with others. What I noticed in the month that I played was that there is less talking in UO then in similar games. The reason is fairly simple: you can only talk with people who are standing in the same area as you are. And even then you have to pay attention, because the words you type become visible above your head, and they disappear rather quick. A little English is needed, although I met 2 Dutch players during the first days of playing. If you choose a good name, people will recognise where you come from, at least if they understand the word. If you roam Brittania ‘Evilslayer’ or something like that, no one will know your background, ‘Dutchmage’ gives an indication, but ‘Prutser’ makes it clear for someone who understands Dutch…
There is a new dungeon in AoS, a very big one. Don’t try to find this place the first weeks, you won’t be able to get past the first room anyhow. But inside you will find more new monsters and very nice loot. Doom, that is the name of the dungeon, is accessible via Malas, a new area also. This large piece of ground has something like 1500 building areas. This is the last important new feature in AoS, you can build your own hut – house – castle, depending on your finances. If you have to start playing now, June 2003, I’ve got bad news for you. The nicest places are taken already. But for would-be architects, this is an expansion they always dreamed about. Once your building is created, you can still add extras, or start all over again. Very handy is that you can make this place a permanent shop. Whatever you want to sell, the chance that someone wants to buy it is bigger on 24 hours then on that couple of hours you are online yourself.
Question: should you buy Age of Shadows? If you are already playing Ultima Online then the answer is easy. Yes you should, even if the building part does not interest you. Doom and the new monsters are more then worth it. And of course, the two new careers are nice. I had the impression that there where more Paladins and Necromancers then all the other professions together. If you are not the proud owner of UO, then things are not so easy. Although you can use the so-called 3D version, the graphics of UO are outdated. You can’t play full screen, around the actual playfield there are so many handy windows open that you can search a while before you find what you need. You can close these windows, but if you have to open and close your spell book or your inventory every time you need those, you’ll get a mouse finger and a tennis elbow in no time. The inventory is a mess, if you zoom in on the battlefield everything starts to become square, no, I’ve seen better graphics. On the other side it is possible to play this game on elder computers, for those that still use a Pentium II this is one of games they can play. And of course, the game play is always more important then the visual part of a game. Besides, it is not ugly, just a little outdated.
If we look at other MMORPG’s, Everquest, Anarchy Online and Star Wars Galaxies to name the most important, only Everquest has the same medieval background, the others are played in the future. So if you prefer a shotgun and you hate crossbows, play Anarchy Online. Lightsaber lover? Star Wars. These two are more resent, and nicer to look at. I think that Everquest is slower to learn, but the reason for that can be me… Another disadvantage: the monthly fee. Recently, actually from June, this has become 12.99 dollar. Don’t let that be the reason to decide what to play, because I’m afraid that if 1 game raises his price, others will follow soon.
It is a pity all those MMORPG’s require a fee because it prevents people to play more then one game at the time. But I’m pretty sure about one thing: once you’ve played one, you are lost. Bye-bye real life friends, here are your virtual ones !