Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness
Gameplay 8
Graphics 8
Sound 5

The Ultima series provided the world with some truly groundbreaking games over the years and it is great to see the humble roots of such an excellent series. This EGA version has been given a new visual coat of paint compared to the monochromatic original, but still looks archaic compared to modern titles. However, the gameplay, although simplistic, can still entertain if you are able to look past the limitations. Whether you want to play it for nostalgic reasons or simply see what all the fuss was about, Ultima 1 should definitely be owned by all retro fans and RPG aficionados.

Gameplay: Truly great for its time, but obviously it is very simplistic by modern standards.

Graphics: Once again good for its time, but time hasn’t been too kind.

Sound: Nothing more than noise

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Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness

Developer: Origin Systems | Publisher: Electronic Arts | Release Date: 1987 | Genre: RPG / Remake | Website: N/A | Purchase: GOG

All was well in the world of Sosaria until a evil wizard called Mondain showed up. Wasting no time he unleashed hordes of evil creatures upon the land to do his foul bidding and even went as far as making a pact with a race of evil space-faring aliens. The people of Sosaria now cower in their towns and castles, desperately awaiting the arrival of a hero to save the day.

It is into this troubled world that you must step as either a Human, Elf, Dwarf or Hobbit. You can play as a Fighter, Cleric, Wizard or Thief in your quest to travel through time and space in a desperate attempt to vanquish Mondain. The world of Sosaria is not your average medieval kingdom though. While fighting the usual Giant Bats, Carrion Creepers and Balrons you can also purchase vehicles to travel around with ranging from the humble horse and cart to more exotic fare like frigates and air-cars. Don’t expect to be fighting with swords and daggers for long either as you’ll soon find pistols and blasters.

Your quest in Ultima is simple. To kill Mondain you’ll have to travel back in time and stop him before he becomes so powerful. To find the time machine you’ll have to buy a shuttle, jet into space and kill twenty aliens to earn the ranking “space ace”. Then it’s back to Sosaria to rescue a princess and learn the time machines location. All that is left then is to kill four specific creatures for certain Kings to get the gems needed to power the time machine. Along the way you’ll fight for cash and experience, buy food, weapons and armor to survive and look for areas to increase your stats.

Although Ultima is a Role Playing Game with all the usual magic, stats and dungeons there is very little character interaction and apart from buying stuff in the towns you’ll spend most of your time in the dungeons raiding chests and hunting monsters. Although the map graphics consist of a overhead perspective the dungeons are all in First Person and consist of wire-framed graphics. Although everything (including monsters) consist of straight white lines, the effect works quite well and looks unique. This conversion by John Fachini improves on the original with more colorful EGA graphics. this means it’s better looking than most of it’s sequels and the best place to start if you are new to the series. The map is quite large with lots of towns, castles and dungeons, but there are little to distinguish them from each other once inside. You can save only on the overhead map making the dungeon tables more challenging as the creatures grow more powerful the deeper you venture.

Ultima also shows some originality with it’s space sequences as you travel from sector to sector keeping an eye on your fuel and shield levels while blasting aliens and perfecting your docking techniques. Most of this is also done in a top down view while you blast the aliens in first person mode by moving your cross-hair and targeting their H-shaped craft.

The game uses the PC Speaker to generate some sound effects ( or “noise” as the manual aptly calls it ) but these are so minimal you’ll barely notice it apart from a few beeps when you bump into something. Thankfully they haven’t even tried to create music. The entire game is keyboard driven and most of your commands are but simple key-press away. This means you’ll press the “A” key to attack, “B” to board, “C” to cast a spell and so forth. Combat and indeed movement are both turn based and time does not pass when you stand still. You consume food with every movement though, so it’s wise to stock up and always have a healthy supply when venturing into dungeons or exploring the map.

Ultima is a very easy game to get into and complete, but is also quite addictive. There are no real puzzles to solve and the fact that you can buy health points from the local castle also helps a lot. Money is also not hard to come by so you won’t find yourself having to spend hours fighting just to generate enough cash for the next weapon. The game does have it’s fair share of annoying moments though. Dungeon dwellers have a habit of materializing out of thin air behind you and some of the more powerful ones can hack away great chunks of your health while you waste time turning around. To make things worse, some are even invisible or disguised as treasure chests. The final battle with Mondain is also a bit of a letdown and anyone who bought enough health should have little trouble trashing him.

Although not particularly long or challenging Ultima is still very entertaining and worth playing even if only for completion sake. If this is your first Ultima though be warned that the other titles did not enjoy similar graphical overhauls and might appear a bit basic after this. Get it as long as you don’t mind playing a RPG which can be completed in under a day.

*Portions of this review originally published in 1997.

System Requirements

  • OS: Windows XP or Windows Vista
  • Processor: 1.8 GHz Processor
  • Memory: 512MB RAM (1 GB recommended)
  • Graphics: 3D graphics card compatible with DirectX 7 (compatible with DirectX 9 recommended)
  • Hard Drive: 2GB HDD
  • OS: OS X 10.6.8 or later.
  • Processor: Intel Core Duo 2GHz+
  • Memory: 1GB of RAM
  • Graphics: 64MB of video memory

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