The Ultima series has been around for three decades – it was literally one of the earliest role-playing videogame franchises. But outside of updates for the series’ colossally dated MMO entry, Ultima Online, we haven't seen a new release in over 10 years. Strangely, publisher EA has decided that the best way to revisit the franchise is by releasing the free-to-play browser game, Lord of Ultima. We were willing to give it the benefit of the doubt, but after actually spending time with it, we have to ask: Why exactly does it bear the Ultima name?
For one thing, it’s not even an RPG. Eschewing the series' role-playing roots, Lord of Ultima is a city building strategy game. You'll start out by simply creating new buildings in order to gather resources, but eventually you'll be able to build up an army as you attempt to take over rival cities in order to become the, ahem, lord of Ultima. It all seems fairly complicated at first - though you'll be helped along by Lady Lyanna, your guide through the experience and a dead-ringer for Star Wars’ Queen Amidala - but it doesn't take long before you realize there isn't a whole lot to do.
Like a lot of social games out there, Lord of Ultima takes place in real time. Growing your city and upgrading buildings takes time, as does recruiting new soldiers. Basically, every action in the game has a time limit attached to it. The higher level the action, the longer it takes to complete. But since things take place in real time, this means you can simply set things in motion and then leave, so everything will be ready for when you get back. It's a strategy that tries to ensure you'll be coming back to the game over and over.
There are, of course, a number of other features common to virtually every browser based game. You can invite friends to play using Facebook Connect, there's a persistent chat window so you can engage in conversation with fellow aspiring lords, and you can purchase additional currency using real world money in order to buy additional items.
It's not necessarily a bad game (you can try it for yourself here), as there's a good deal of content and plenty of quests to keep you busy. It's just painfully generic and repetitive. The game's wiki says Lord of Ultima "is completely unrelated in terms of gameplay, but it is a new part of the Ultima universe." But even this is being generous. Aside from a few place names and the game's title, there's really nothing connecting Lord of Ultima to the rest of the series. In fact, it feels more like the plague of browser based strategy games epitomized by the likes of the infamous Evony. Hell, the game doesn't even have any sound.
The Ultima name deserves better.
Apr 21, 2010