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GamesFirst! Magazine


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by Electronic Arts

 

I don’t exactly know what I expected from Ultima Online: Third Dawn.  Maybe I wanted to get my hair blown back a little or maybe to feel some new excitement funneled into an old game.  Regardless, I didn’t get much.  Third Dawn isn’t much more than a 3-D facelift to the UO universe and the only people who will appreciate it are those already playing. 

I must say that UO in 3-D does look pretty impressive compared to its 2-D predecessors like Ultima Online: Renaissance.   The isometric perspective is preserved only now it’s all in polygons.  Spell effects are impressive and most of the monsters sport new designs.  Everyone will probably mention the spiffy looking dragons.  I’m not a critic who thinks that moving something into 3-D is automatically good, but the new aesthetic of Third Dawn, everything from weapons to landscape, looks nice.  The user interface has also seen some modification, essentially making it easier to use and providing a few stock character animations. 

The last addition in Third Dawn is the island Ilshenar.  This place, accessible only through moongates, is a high-level area with tougher monsters and the requisite new equipment.  Also, players can’t built homes on Ilshenar so for those of god-like power who have played UO since its inception and are now sick of over-built Britannia, this island will be a nice place to tiptoe through the tulips. 

All in all, Third Dawn is a nice visual update to UO that doesn’t substantially change the game in any interesting way.  And it’s the game itself that deserves criticism.  In many ways, UO feels like an instantiation of the mythology of the old west.  Characters of high level stroll the countryside with the ability to kill whomever they come across.  In order to avoid this fate, many decide to become merchants within the safety of various city walls.  Get enough cash and you can build yourself that first home.  Then buy a boat for a Grand Tour.  My point is that UO has a twisted sort of verisimilitude with the non-electric world, and that’s either to its credit or Achilles heel depending on your point of view. 

Researching for this review, I went back and played the text-based MUD Mozart for a comparison.  For many years, starting in the early 90’s, I’d been involved with Mozart and thought it was the cat’s pajamas.  During most of that time, most players talked with excitement about the possibilities of graphics, of actually walking down dungeon hallways, seeing the faces of your friends, and looking at the various monsters about to kill you.  Since those graphics have come, I’m frankly disappointed.  Working through text, and hence with the aid of client software, play is magnificently fast.  Traveling across virtual continents takes very little time.  As I can type much faster than I can use a mouse, most text-based MUDs have a dizzying array of character skills that are simply too difficult to implement or access in a GUI.  Finally, games like Mozart are first and foremost just that: games.  They eschew many of the sticky and uninteresting problems of real life.

And that, I think, is the problem with UO.  It’s like the real world in a box, and while that is a sort of accomplishment, why not make a game called “Your crappy job” in which you sit in a cubicle and watch the clock, or “Cross Country Travel” where you navigate interstate highways for several hours.  UO isn’t as bad as that – there are baddies to kill and toys to get – but it isn’t that far off either. 

Ultimately, the problem with Third Dawn is just that it’s just a software update.  With a price tag of $9.95 for those already playing UO, those are the only people I’d recommend buy it.  They’ve already invested in the game and so a little 3-D might be nice.  UO itself presents a larger problem.  Too many of the pesky problems of real life – travel, bullies, getting a job – take away from it being a game.  The life I’ve got gives me enough of that.  Third Dawn is no reason to get into UO, and unless you’ve got a burning desire for a virtual life that mirrors your physical one, UO itself offers nothing fun to play.

Matt Blackburn

Snapshot

Ups: Same old UO game at heart; too much like "reality".

Downs: Nice graphic update.

System Reqs::  PII 266 or equivalent, 32 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM, 3D Accelerator, 8MB VRAM, 715 MB disk space, mouse, sound card, DirectX v7.0a

 

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