Boy did I oversell this title in a recent post…
While Ultima Forever does an admirable job of bringing players back to the long lost land of Britannia, the trip is fraught with the perils of laggy gameplay, repetitive dungeon grinding, and a pay-to-open-lottery boxes-and-hope-you-win scheme so offensive it could only exist on mobile.
Let’s deal with the 50-foot dragon in the room first. Ultima Forever’s (UF) economy runs on one thing: Keys. You got yer copper keys that you’ll find everywhere, silver keys that are created from crafting 18 copper keys into 6 silvers, and gold keys that represent you premium currency. Apparently in you absence from Britannia, the shopkeepers have decided that actually buying and selling items is bad for business. The only way to gain items is via treasure chests that dot every town and dungeon. What type of key you use to unlock the chest determines what loot table you’ll get goodies from. And we’re not just talking one key per chest opening. You’ll need six copper or silver keys just for a chance at mediocre gear or quest required items (yes, really), and a whopping eight gold keys for a pull on the high-roller slots for a shot at the good stuff. Get something you didn’t need or want? Your only option is to put it in the trash. No selling, no crafting, no refunds.
Additionally, both silver and gold keys are required for gameplay. Silver keys are used to repair your constantly deteriorating items (from two to ten, depending on item quality and damage level) while gold keys are necessary to unlock gameplay features, such as the ability to add an additional hotbar skill slot to your character.
So, provided I’m lucky, how much is UF going to nickel-and-dime me for? Well, UF doesn’t deal in nickels and dimes. The smallest batch of gold keys available for purchase weighs in at an absurd $10 charge for 70 keys! How much loot will that get you? Based on my experiences, you can unlock that second skill slot (25 keys), and probably be lucky enough to pull two good pieces of gear (probably both pauldrons from my experience (Why do I get SO many pauldrons!!!)). Maybe. Remember, you’re still at the whims of a slot machine. One chest cost me eight gold keys to open and spat out five gold keys in return. Classy…
Think you might be able to skate by on substandard gear? Not a chance. Much like Diablo III, your stats in UF are derived from your items. Like most iOS online RPGs and empire builders, UF is squarely in the pay-to-win camp.
And it’s a shame. Even with the janky hot-spots and laggy server infrastructure, Ultima Forever is quite a nice game. The 3D characters on 2D backgrounds look great. The music is terrific. Partying up with other players is simple. The interface is elegant. The Diablo-clone gameplay is satisfying. There’s a lot here to like.
Long time Ultima fans may have some mixed reactions to this latest revisioning of the mystical realm. While the towns and shrines you’re familiar with are all still present and appropriately located, there is a bizarre absence of the traditional fantasy tone. Somehow taking down “Greg the bandit leader” doesn’t sound right. The little morality issues you’ll find on your journey are a great touch, but also feature the same disconnect. Writing is short, direct, and more likely to indulge in one-liners and snarky comments rather than make any attempt at immersion. Additionally, the “+5 to honesty” numbers following each response sways players more toward min-maxing a game system as opposed to role playing. Still, even with the shoddy writing, there are very few games that present the player with a choice of how to comfort a dying man in his final minutes or how to explain to a mother that her son is dead.
Ultima Forever was never destined for greatness. While polished and professional in screenshots, the formulaic mechanics, shoddy network infrastructure, abusive lottery-styled ‘treasure’, and writing by folks raised reading YouTube comments more than Tolkien, UF seems determines to piss players off in, at least, one way. As a free-to-play title, it’s barely worth a glance. Evaluated on a $10 level, there are far better games for far less (and you won’t loose your investment when EA inevitably shuts down the server two years from now). UF has an attractive dungeon plunge and a genuinely enjoyable game buried inside of it, but you’d be hard pressed to find or afford it.
Ultima Forever: Quest of the Avatar is available for free from iTunes. Compatible with iPhone 4 or newer, iPod Touch 4th gen. or newer, or iPad. Reviewed on iPad 2 running iOS 5.1.1.
Reviewer Rating: 2/5 – False Prophet