UO (Ultima Online) has allowed a free to play option that is out. Head on to the official website to play now. Keep reading for my personal review.
UO was one of my first MMOs and among my favourites. The big draw of the game was absolute freedom and relatively low power gap between a newbie and veteran player. Now many MMO players are used to the Everquest style of gameplay and content through popular games like Final Fantasy XIV or World of Warcraft so I’ll try to explain the differences with what I feel are analogous content or concepts.
When I first started, due to the lack of funds I played on private shards (servers). Most of the servers were tied to what many see as the golden era of UO during the expansions of either “The Second Age” (T2A) or “Renaissance”. The servers I chose were tied to what many see as the golden era of UO during the expansions of either “The Second Age” (T2A) or “Renaissance”. Renaissance is when they added a second copy of the world (known as a facet) with no PvP. These facets were Trammel (Safe Zone) and Felucca (Normal/PvP allowed). The most popular servers did not have the Trammel Facet. Thus I will also try and note differences for returning veterans.
Characters – whilst you’re probably used to leveling up, getting items and growing in power at exponential rates UO is very muted in comparison. Firstly there are no levels. There are stat points which go up depending on the skills you use, for example if you’re fighting or mining you will randomly get the strength stat go up or if you’re casting spells your intelligence may go up. Secondly there are no classes, you have a large pool of skills that anyone can use and raise. Skills all had percentage ratings, representing your characters mastery over such a skill and would raise randomly on use so for example you’re playing a swordsman, as you’re fighting monsters you’ll randomly gain more swordsmanship and melee related skills just by playing the game.
Now the stats were quite simple, strength for physical things, dexterity for hand skills and intelligence for magic type stuff. Skills on the other hand were wide and varied and even had nice synergies. For example, musicianship and provocation would allow a bard type player to make monsters fight each or peacemaking to stop combat in the vicinity. Someone with tracking could locate specific people or monsters in an area. Wrestling and Armslore would allow an unarmed fighter to disarm an opponent mid-fight, and if he had stealing could steal their weapon from them. The full list of skills can be found here.
My Tamer training my nightmare, a powerful magic wielding steed in the dungeon of shame. As you can see not only players but tamed monsters also skill up.
Items and Crafting – in UO were also quite tame. A sword was a sword, there were no rare/epic/legendary items which made your characters immensely powered. Skilled player crafters could make exceptional gear which was better then what you bought from NPCs but that was it. These days there are magic items that can drop from anything, with more difficult content more likely to drop better items but there is also a new player skill “Imbuing” which can add magical properties to items so crafted items are not completely left behind.
There was a lot of content in UO. Combat wise the world was littered with wild-life and monsters matching their locations; dense forrests with large animals, caves and dungeons with various monsters. Dungeons were not instanced in this game, you don’t go in with a party and get your own space, dungeons were areas with harder monsters, usually in a cave or castle of sorts.
Quests – NPC quests are not the main feature of the game. Besides some introductory quests to get you going. There are escort quests to gain some money and compassion (ties in with the virtue system). Quests to get decor for your house, quests to gain access to certain features and areas. These can be done at your own pace or outright ignored. You gain skill and stats by merely playing the game, items and money also come from just playing. What I love the most is the lack of daily quests. Most MMOs when you login, you’ll need to do a list of chores like daily quests and dungeons before you’re allowed to play the game. UO allows you to enjoy the game at your own pace.
For trade and economy, all the best stuff was player crafted and sold from npc hired vendors that players would place in their own home. The best items were made by players and gear was not hard to come by soul bound was not a thing. Every item in the game was trade-able.
A player on my server has turned their home into a store and runebook library, you can see all the NPCs hired to sell the wares and in the middle are bookshelves filled runebooks which are filled with locations for players to teleport to if they have the right skills or recall scrolls.
Exploration and Transport – Asides walking on foot there are a huge range of mounts due to the taming skill. Almost any beast you can see you can tame and by beast I mean some kinda of animal-ish thing including fantastical stuff like dragons, alien like ridge walkers or huge insect beetles. You cannot tame the undead, though when necromancers raise the corpse of a mountable creature they do get a skeletal horse but undead creatures raised by necromancers lose health over time. UO has a huge world though so there is also the option to teleport. Mages can mark locations on an item called a rune. Mages can also cast the recall spell to teleport to these marked locations or the gate spell to create a portal to these locations allowing transport of many people. Chivalry users can use the Sacred Journey spell. Other players can use the recall spell scrolls (consumable) which is crafted by people with the inscription skill. Ships are also a form of transport in the past it was merely that however with the high seas addon you’ll need to be wary of sea creatures, pirate and orc ships.
Exploration – Treasure Hunting. Monsters will occasionally drop treasure maps. If you go to these locations you can dig up a treasure chest! As apart of the high seas content you can also fish up treasure chests. These are primary activities for some players.
I haven’t done sailing in the high seas but here’s some players battling sea monsters. Those cannons aren’t for show and can fire too!
PvP content was not so much specific content but more so a game system. There were originally no battlegrounds or automated battle events. PvP in UO was based off a sort of legal system. Normal players names were blue, Criminals were grey and Murderers were red. Normal players with in lawful or guarded zones were protected against aggressive actions, if you touched a normal (blue) player you’d get hit with a bolt of lightning that would spawn a guard to fight you, it was instant death. Criminals (Grey) were people who committed any unlawful act whether it be stealing or fighting (don’t have to kill a guy, just merely attack and you’re a criminal). Criminals did not have the protection from guards so were a free kill to normal players. Lastly the Murderers colloquially known as reds due to the coloured name or PKers(Player Killers). Anyone with 5 or more murders had their name turned red and be classed as Murderers. Murderers could not interact with NPCs at all so you’d need to have a house somewhere in the wilderness stocked up with resources and made sure you could sustain yourself with smart raiding and/or great pvp skills as there were roaming (There were plenty of PKK, player killer, killers who’s sole purpose was to kill murderers) . Existing outside of this blue/grey/red system was guilds. Guilds could declare each other enemies and could freely fight each other anywhere with no repercussions. Nowadays you can only commit crimes in the Felucca facet mentioned earlier in the article or on a special shard (Siege Perilous or Mugen). These servers have a special ruleset which is essentially Felucca only. There is also a regularly occurring faction system called Vice vs Virtue. I haven’t tried it myself but there are more details here.
Crime – This was originally my main reason for playing. In modern UO crime has taken a fall however, with the introduction of the safe zone (Trammel) and now the blessed items and insurance system. However with the insurance system now, killers at least get the insurance money players spend to insure their items from dropping when they die, so a skilled killer can still earn some money. In ye old days players could directly steal anything out of another players inventory provided they had the right skills and were in the thieves guild, thinking about how the item system was you could see why thievery was not prominent. Most thief players did it just for fun, you’d make infinitely more money for the time and effort you invested through crafting or fighting monsters, even bad murderers would earn more money than you. Despite all this, it was my preferred character type back in the day. I found causing mischief much more fun then killing monsters or murdering people.
Community – The community is generally very friendly. I started playing on the official servers last month before the Endless Journey free to play option was available. Some strangers let me tag along to an adventure at a volcano zone in the newest area, some players just straight up gave me spare gear, and another a player gave me money and some powerscrolls.
End Game – There isn’t really a set “end game”. You’ll be doing what you were doing whilst skilling up and ungeared but with the ability to go in more dangerous and lucrative areas. Craft items to supply the server, treasure hunting, fishing, hunting pirates, home decor, exploration, participate in live events run by event managers and probably some other stuff I missed.
So how free is this free to play? You only have 2 character slots. You have full access to the game world, minus addons you can purchase which subscribers also have to pay for, Housing and the bank. There are also a few systems which are also inaccessible or reduced. Full Details including a full table with Subscription vs Endless Journey Accounts can be found here.
Pay to Win? – Not at all, the purchasable stuff in the game store is convenience, gear on the level that vets just give away, some decor and fashion.
Summary – Ultima Online is a unique open world experience with many activities to engage in. Adventuring, exploring, crafting, home decor and much more. The free to play offering is quite generous and should allow you to view most of the game before committing to purchases or subscriptions. Whether you’re completely new or a returning player, it’s never too late to join in, at most it takes a week to get your character up and running and even during the process you’ll be acquiring wealth and items.