Ultima Forever - Quest for the Avatar iPad and iPhone preview
Originally designed as a massive, sprawling PC game, Ultima Forever - Quest for the Avatar fits better with iPad and iPhone. Not only is the multiplayer game easy to dip in and out of when you're on the bus, but its controls suit a touchscreen so perfectly that you wonder why developer Mythic explored its PC potential in the first place.
Truth be told, it didn't. Not on its own anyway. Another EA division, BioWare, was also tied to the project, with the studio's famed nous with role-playing game story writing to be coupled with one of the industry's oldest and most-loved adventure franchises. But that didn't work out, and Mythic was given sole reign over Ultima Forever.
It comes as no surprise therefore that the final iOS version of Ultima Forever - Quest for the Avatar is strongly reminiscent of early BioWare RPGs - the likes of Baldur's Gate and Icewind Dale. Its top-down graphical style, while more cartoony that those much-loved classics, has a distinctly retro feel, and the combat is of the old school click (or in this case tap) on an enemy and the fight is automated.
Where the game differs is in the use of humour in dialogue - like in the old Ultima titles - and the fact that this is a multiplayer game. Although Mythic says it is not an MMORPG, you can and are often advised to employ a friend or stranger's help to beat a certain dungeon or quest. Up to four can be in a group at once, although the developer says the entire game can be completed in single-player mode if necessary. Hundreds of players can meet in City Hubs, so you can always form parties there.
The dungeon crawls are perhaps the mainstay of Ultima Forever and, thankfully, randomly generated. That means you will never have to tread the same path. Another interesting facet - and an excellent feature for a mobile game - is that each dungeon or quest lists an approximated time it will take to complete. If you only have five minutes to spare while sitting on a bus, there are missions that should only take that long. Others could run much longer, so you would need to have that amount of time available, as others might be counting on you and you can't just pick up from where you left off later.
Ultima Forever is a persistently online game, so that needs to be considered too. You will need to have an internet connection within reach, so some forms of transport may not be suitable.
From our brief play with one of the dungeon crawls, which we did in co-op with the producer of the game, Carrie Gouskos, we instantly fell in love with how easy it was to jump right in and play instantly without complicated controls to learn or pages of dos and don'ts. Automated combat is perfectly suited to the iPad and even more so on an iPhone where you don't want to have to worry about lining up tiny pixels to get in the correct hit.
The game is an EA All Play title so is freemium. But we have been assured that you could play through the entire game without spending a penny. The biggest montary outlay for those who like to speed up their experience would be to buy keys, which are used for most things in the game. Better keys can be used on chests to get better swag, and equipment needs to be repaired or discarded. Keys are used as the currency to repair items, so you can see how tempting it would be to part with real cash in order to ensure your new armour doesn't degrade to tat.
However, keys can also be picked up in quests, so it is possible to keep your favourite items anyway.
Love or loath the freemium model, we're excited that we will be able to pick this up on its official UK release (it's on beta release in Canada at present) soon and for nothing. From just a short while with Ultima Forever, it is so far holding up to be the best example of how to do role-playing games on mobile platforms.