Before World of Warcraft there was Ultima Online, a 2-D top-down MMO which was the first to draw 100,000 players. This game consumed my life as a teenager, in fact I wanted it for years before I’d had a chance to play it.
I first heard of Ultima Online in one of those old video game magazines that you used to have to spend money on. At first it didn’t look like much, decent enough, but then I started reading the article. I’d never heard of an MMO before. This being the 1990s, the idea of thousands of players all playing the same game together scared the hell out of me simply because the world was changing so fast, but I also wanted it badly. I can’t count how many times I read through that article and studied the screen captures. I was more obsessed over that magazine than most boys my age were with porn.
After getting the game, however, it brought me much more grief than it ever did joy, MMOs were new then and the games that came after learned from Ultima Online’s many, many mistakes. Player Killers stole all the fun out of exploring dungeons before Ultima finally added a duplicate non PVP world. Every one and their dog wanted a house (which you could and can get in Ultima Online) and buildings crowded every inch of flat space outside of the towns and dungeons. There were so many players at first it was an incredible hassle just to fight a monster by myself without someone stealing my kill, and in addition to all of this, I played the game on dialup.
In spite of all of that, I just couldn’t stay away from the game for very long. Origin Systems Incorporated, the creators of Ultima Online and the Ultima Series of RPGs which came before, steadily improved the game by adding non PVP zones, housing limits and new areas to hunt monsters. I became a top-level player at last with my animal taming skill, one of the hardest in the game to raise, and magic resist, another very difficult skill to raise.
I spent many long years playing Ultima Online, well into college. But then disaster struck: Origin Systems Incorporated sold its soul to EA Games. EA games removed all of the things that gave Ultima Online its depth. No longer could you have conversations with an NPC to find out where a magic item could be found, no longer could you place a bounty on the PK that killed you in the PVP zones or track that PK to collect a bounty. No longer did you have to use a skill or a magic wand to identify a “Silver war fork of vanquishing,” it became a “Plus 25 percent damage war fork” just like every other RPG ever made.
But worse than all of that, EA Games nerved the skills of veteran players who’d played for years in order to make the game more accessible to new players. Magic resist, possibly the hardest skill in the game to raise, became completely useless after one patch. One day I was melee fighting dragons, the next day I was running from imps, the weakest casters in the entire game. They moved the benefits of this skill to items which gave elemental protection. Before EA, magic items often provided a handy assist to players as they relied on their skills, but EA changed the focus so much it became impossible to do much of anything without a mismatched wardrobe of magic armor and weapons.
Also, just for the hell of it, EA started coloring the weapons and armor neon.
- So authentic I forget I’m playing a game
I and the overwhelming majority of veteran players left Ultima Online in 2003 after these changes, but I kept a burning hatred of EA Games in my heart. For 15 years I not only didn’t play Ultima Online, I refused to play any game owned by EA. I completely missed EA’s Star Wars games and I’m not sorry for that. The loot box controversy over Star Wars Battlefront II sounded exactly like what I would expect from EA Games.
Still, 15 years is a long time. Eventually I wanted to play Ultima Online again. I started out with downloading an offline emulator because I still refused to pay a dime to EA Games, but there were a few things I wanted to do in this game that I just couldn’t do without a guild. Seeing some of the new features, especially High Seas Adventure, I bit the bullet and re-opened my account. Although I hadn’t used the username and password for 15 years, I still remembered it.(I love being on the spectrum sometimes), so I woke up my old characters and started playing like I’d never left.
I found a guild of other returning veterans called House of Flying Daggers on the Pacific shard (server). With 104 in animal taming, a skill which mercifully escaped EA’s nerfing campaign, it did not take me long to raise the 200,000 in gold required to buy a two story log cabin, which I’d had before. And with so few people still playing, I was able to place it right outside of the City of Luna in a village with the rest of my guild.
Pretty much all of the veterans returning to Ultima Online have more money and magic items than they know what to do with, so they hooked me up with rune atlases (for teleporting) and a few other new items I’d find useful.
After readjusting to the game, I went back to what I did best back in the day: taming a powerful monster to kill my enemies for me. One of the new critters, the hiryu, is stronger than a dragon and you can ride it, so I went to the Tokuno Islands to get me one. That damn thing killed me at least 15 times before I finally managed to tame it, but it was well worth it because this sucker (who I named Bart Simpson) can take on high level monsters while I just stand back and heal him.
A casual gamer can’t get much more casual than that, especially with easier level monsters. In fact I’m watching him slaughter a cave full of orcs in another window as I write this paragraph.
With my new guild mates, I finally had a chance to participate in one of those champion spawns which I’d attempted before, but our groups never managed to summon the champion. The guild sent me a message and told me to high tail it to the Valley of Eodon If I wanted in, so I grabbed Bart Simpson and rode to the nearest moongate as fast as I could.
The Valley of Eodon is a very small expansion. In fact I heard a rumor that one person put the entire expansion together. Considering the size of the area, I can believe it, although it must have taken a lot of hours and effort to create those dinosaurs which were not previously in the game.
I found my guild mates already half way through the battle to summon the Dragon Turtle champion. Most of my guild mates I met were also tamers (the lack of a nerf may explain why I and so many other tamers eventually came back). Their Hiryus, cu sidhs and tamed dinosaurs tore through the myrmidons and enemy dinosaurs. With the forces slaughtered, the Dragon Turtle appeared.
The pets crowded in, surrounding the giant turtle. Occasionally the turtle hit us with a mass attack and succeeded in killing me once, but one of the guild members resurrected me before it could do the same to Bart Simpson. It took only a few minutes and the Dragon Turtle, mighty as it was, never stood a chance against six powerful pets. Animation flashed as the Dragon Turtle fell dead and gold appeared in piles all around us, meant to imply the gold rained from the sky.
Good times and I couldn’t wait to face another champion, but first I wanted to try this High Seas Adventure. I spent another $15 to buy this expansion and spent about 150,000 gold in the game to buy a Tokuno warship, the minimum needed to hunt for pirates. But when the time came to arm the ship with cannons and cannon balls, I discovered a problem. NPC vendors do not sell these things.
My guild mates provided me with contracts for cannons, but I still need cannon balls, black powder and fuses. I don’t want to keep bothering my guild mates for refills every time I run out so I attempted to find some player-owned venders which might sell them. No such luck. Every last one of them is owned by a top-level veteran, so they almost never sell the day-to-day “I need this” items. They sell million-gold rare items from a champion spawn.
I looked into the items I needed and to craft them myself requires an assortment of skills including mining, blacksmithy, tinkering and alchemy. Unlike most veterans, I never had my own “mule” (worker character), I always just bought what I needed, but that is no longer an option so I’ll have to make a new character. And unless I want to spend 50-plus hours raising all of these skills just so I’ll be able to make my own cannon fodder, I’m going to have to pay EA Games an additional $25 to raise these skills to 90 for me.
Well, played, EA, you greedy bastards.
For more nerdy nostalgia, follow The Southern Nerd on Facebook or Pinterest