Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness (1986)

Release

Originally released in 1981. Version played is the 1986 remake with graphical enhancements, and optimizations.

Info

Genre Period Developer Publisher Theme
cRPG, Dungeon Crawling, Open World Vintage (Pre 1990) Richard Garriott California Pacific Computer Co.

Origin Systems

EA (presently)

Medieval fantasy, Magic, Space

Ultima I can be pretty much termed as the birth of RPG. This game pretty much defined the genre. It has a fantasy oriented storyline, basic skill-based RPG progression, and an open world full of monsters and enemies. You play the role of a nameless hero called upon to cure the land from the devilry of the evil wizard Mondain. Lord British, one of the 8 kings in the land has begged of you to achieving this feat. You travel around the open world across land and sea. You have various transports like horse, rafts, frigates. You obtain missions from the different kings, and go into procedurally generated dungeons to slay different types of monsters or visit various land-marks to complete them. Visiting land-marks also help you gain skill levels. There are cities with shops where you can either buy your weapons, armor, magic, food, or steal them. You need adequate food to survive in the lands. You also get to rescue princesses from king’s castles and last but not least, also engage in space combat! Ultima-I is thus a a true gem in all its simplistic glory.

Game Assessment

Complexity Matrix 

Complexity Parameters Values (0, 0.5, 1)
Control Scheme 0.5: Moderate
Complexity 1: Complex
Story 1: Story
Lore 1: Rich (World of Ultima)
Immersion 0.5: Although role-play but premature
Difficulty 0.5: Medium
Learning Curve 0: Easy
Total Score 4.5/7: Heavyweight game 

Satisfaction Matrix

Needs Satisfaction Score (0-3)
Analytical 2: Moderately met
Creative 0: Not met
Mastery 2: Moderately met
Destructive 0: Not met
Entertainment 2: Moderately met
Pace 0: Not met
Horror 1: Slightly met
Total Score 7/21: Good Game

Game Review

TL;DR A game that shines with its innovation and brilliance despite its age. If you are a faithful fan of RPGs, then you simply must experience this grand daddy of all RPGs.

Pros

  • Good story, inspite of being cliched, still gives you a strange feeling of greatness
  • Good realism implemented even with so old technological infrastructure
  • Good immersion, if you have a good imagination

Cons

  • Levelling up of skill does not depend upon usage or exp points, but only based on visiting certain landmarks.
  • Serious balancing issues for characters
  • The exp points are there for no purpose basically
  • No automap for dungeons

Game completed

Purpose – Study

Gameplay – Okay! First of all.. yeah we all know that in 1981 this was revolutionary, but nevertheless there are a few fundamental problems which I must criticize. Firstly again, the primary difficulty lies in being able to manually map the dungeons, which is quite stupid. The secondary difficulty lies in raising the stats. And here is where it gets really crappy! Apparently leveling up is useless as it does not  affect the stats. I mean really! Nor do they increase based on actions like combat, movement etc. So how do you increase them? By going back and forth between certain landmarks in the map. This is plain ridiculous. So in the end the only challenge boils down to going back and forth between points on the map. Yet, as you will see, in spite of such crappy gameplay, Ultima 1 happens to be one of the best gaming experience I have ever had and had gripped me like Malaria fever for the fortnight or so I played it for.

Graphics – Wire-frame graphics in the dungeons. Pixel graphics in the over-world. Vector graphics in the outer-space. All considered, pioneering standards.

Performance – Can run on a peanut (!)

Entertainment – There is of course a story, especially with a rich lore connected to it that followed in the rest of the games in the series. Also it has some humor of the suggestive type and some weird charm of its own… and also the hype surrounding it.. the cult status. So very entertaining, considering all.

Plot (if applicable) – Clear plot, lore, world of its own.

Replay value – None.

Immersion – There is some weird sense of immersion but only if you have a very powerful imagination.

Overall a love-hate relationship. You can’t just let it go easily but the crappy gameplay is really annoying. Will require patience and tenacity to finish. ~ ULTIMA THULE

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Author: Rex Aurelius

Cogito ergo sum.

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