The Ultima series is practically legendary among video games, introducing the world to the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game when World of Warcraft was but a faint glimmer in Blizzard’s eye, with the original game in the franchise dating all the way back to 1981. Now, for the first time ever, Electronic Arts and Mythic Entertainment have brought Richard “Lord British” Garriott’s world of fantasy to iOS– and for free, no less!
For those familiar with the series, Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar takes some cues from 1985’s Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, including the use of the series’ Virtues introduced in that installment, but features its own differences as well. The most obvious of these would be the graphics and sound, which have been updated to a more contemporary style that isn’t too realistic, but evokes the sense of high fantasy one might get from looking at the covers of some novels from that genre.
Oh, and you’ll be answering to Lady British this time. Garriott may have retained the trademark to his title of Lord upon departing EA, but he apparently made no such moves for the feminine equivalent. We can only wonder if his wife feels at all cheated by that arrangement.
Anyway, back to the game: You, a warrior from the realm known as Earth, are summoned to the realm of Britannia to aid them in their hour of need. Before you appear there, however, you get to answer questions to determine the cut of your jib, as well as choose your appearance from a nice selection of avatars.
The Q&A carries over into the game’s Virtue system, which basically allows you a list of choices when engaging various characters. Your choices can have different repercussions in the game, ideally making you think about the consequences of your actions. The game goes on to emphasize that “there are no right or wrong answers,” but ideally, you want to be the best that you can be. However, the way you get there is up to you.
Combat is handled in a manner not unlike an MMORPG, whereupon you tap your opponent and your on-screen self begins to wail away at your foes until one of you falls. You can break off the attack, flank the enemy, and engage in some small measure of strategy for some added depth. You can also potentially align yourself with other players online (either randomly, or with friends) to create a small party of four to deliver some serious beatdowns to whatever may cross your path.
The experience is overall quite enjoyable, but it’s not without its downsides. Some slight fumbling with the touchscreen can occur, at least on a smaller device’s screen, and the movements are rather stilted as your character moves to the point you touched, stops, then moves again. There is supposed to be a way to hold and have the character move continuously, though that’s iffy in practice; wiggling your finger helps mitigate the process.
Then there is the fact that the game is a fiery, energy-sucking beast. It wasn’t long before my fully-charged iPhone 5 was bereft of half its battery’s charge, with the device becoming noticeably hot to the touch. Suffice to say, you probably won’t be pulling many all-nighters fueled by Mountain Dew and Doritos here unless you stake out a wall socket while wearing an oven mitt.
As a free-to-play game, the monetary part of the equation feels fairly unintrusive. The primary wares you deal in are keys, which come in three types: Gold, Silver, and Bronze. The type of keys you spend to open chests determine how common the items inside are. While you can purchase or find keys, you can also trade a number of bronze keys for a silver, but not for gold. In short: You’ll need to spend money if you desire more rare items, but the game works well enough if you stick with the lower-hanging fruit.
Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar is a fine game, particularly if you’re into fantasy role playing games. The only real problem is that it seems a little too big for the hardware it’s supposed to run on, at least for any extended period of time. If that’s no deterrent, or you just prefer shorter spells with your RPGs, then pick this one up.