Pages: 1 2
Review by: Emil Pagliarulo
Published: January 2, 1999
The world of Britannia has just become significantly larger — and for Ultima Online fans it’s been a long, sometimes impatient wait. Ultima Online: The Second Age is the online roleplaying game’s first major expansion, adding a new land mass to explore, several new creatures, an enhanced interface and new gameplay features. For the record, it should be known that Ultima Online has actually undergone several updates since its launch, and likely will until the city of Minoc closes its gates forever; indeed, as a massively multiplayer game, it is constantly in need of play-balancing, and as a result will never truly be considered finished. Throughout the game’s relatively short lifespan, players have been witness to a complete revamping of the combat system, new rules for owning houses, schizophrenic periods of monster spawning, and countless other changes. The Second Age is a different kind of update, however: it is Ultima Online’s first retail expansion, and marks the first time the actual gameworld has been expanded beyond the main continent and sub-islands. Of course, the most important question that begs answering is whether or not the add-on is good enough to maintain the game’s appeal, and attract potential subscribers, especially with the much-touted Everquest and Asheron’s Call on their way.
The Second Age marks just that — a new age in the realm of Britannia, thanks to the discovery of a new land known only as the “Lost World.” Geographically, much of the new continent is unassuming, even boring, marked by a maze of craggy hills and “broken earth”-type terrain. Swamps are also prevalent, but the land as a whole is marked by abrupt changes in terrain types; desert may change to forest, forest to swamp, and swamp to rocky highlands all within a relatively small geographic area. While this structure may seem odd, it’s supposed to, as the Lost World is an arid, exotic land filled with strange new creatures and unexpected challenges; unlike the semi-civilized Britannia, this new world is savage and untamed, and the look definitely proves appropriate.
The designers really did a great job of designing creatures that fit well into the new land area, and they add a sort of primitive feel to the game. For example, some travellers to the Lost World use the Velociraptor-like Ostards as mounts, instead of Britannia’s horses. Other creatures include the half-humanoid/half-spider Terathans and a reptilian race known as the Ophidians. Venture into the swamps and you’ll even come across giant poisonous toads and plenty of hungry alligators (which always seemed curiously absent from Britannia’s swamps). Overall, the monster balance in the Lost World seems much better than it did in Britannia, not only in spawning rate but in monster type as well. In Britannia, while playing the “original” Ultima Online, you never seemed to find animals in their proper habitats, or they intermingled much too easily, thanks in large part to the world’s overpopulation and the resulting breakdown of the game’s complex ecosystem. In the New World, though, the “feel” is just better. I’ve never encountered an alligator outside of the swamp, or two totally different types of monsters or animals sharing the same terrain type.
That’s not to say that the Lost World is completely untamed, as there are a few human settlements scattered throughout the large landmass. They’re really no different than their Britannian counterparts, though, even though they do appear a bit more primitive. Papua is home to a bakery, reagent shop, blacksmith, and other standard building types, and Delucia has a stable, tailor, and healer. Towns in the Lost World are few and far between, and just getting to one is an adventure in itself. For example, travelling to Delucia after I entered the Lost World via Britain’s sewers (secret entrances are scattered throughout the land) meant I had to pass through the swamps, navigate a maze of hills (where it’s very easy to get disoriented), cross a river, and venture through some woods before I finally came to the city. That’s quite a switch from easily running between Britain and Yew.
Of course, just because you have The Second Age installed doesn’t mean you have to limit your adventuring to the Lost World; Britannia and its environs are fully open, and you never even have to set foot on the new continent if you so choose. The addition of the expansion really has had an interesting effect on Ultima Online as a whole. As could be expected, many of the seasoned players have decided to forgo the familiar surroundings of Britannia and seek fame and fortune in the Lost World. The result of this migration has been largely positive: Britannia is no longer completely overpopulated, so there are more animals and monsters roaming around than ever before. Less seasoned players also means less player killers, and the established realm does seem much safer than it did before.
So, after all of Ultima Online’s ups and downs, including countless gameplay issues, frequent lag, and player griping, does The Second Age make it the game it was always intended to be? In many ways, I would argue yes. Before playing Ultima Online for this review, I hadn’t journeyed to Britannia in several months; I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pleasantly surprised by the changes that have gone into effect. But as good as the new additions are, one is also forced to wonder if The Second Age isn’t too little, too late. When it first arrived on the scene, Ultima Online was revolutionary…but a lot has changed since then, including a fervently popular beta test of Sony’s Everquest, an online RPG featuring a first-person perspective, multiple races, and awesome 3D-accelerated graphics. A new era in online roleplaying will soon be upon us, and as good as Ultima Online: The Second Age is, one has to wonder if it’s already past its prime.
Pages: 1 2