Publisher: EA Games
Developer: EA Games
Release Date: 2007
Whether or not you have enjoyed or even have played Ultima Online in the past, fans of the MMORPG genre owe a lot to UO. UO was one of the first massively multiplayer games that put the "massive" into the equation through both its scope and number of players. To commemorate its 10th year of operations, Ultima Online is set to get a complete facelift in the form of a complete graphics overhaul with Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn. Additionally, this overhaul is going to be 100% free to all current subscribers of the game.
Ultima Online was an excellent title in graphics, interface, and sound when it was released, but compared to more modern MMORPG titles, it obviously looks quite dated. Graphics don't necessarily make a game, but needless to say, there have been plenty of advancements in the form of interface design and how information is presented to a player. In an effort to both breathe a bit more modernity into the title and to appease player requests over the years, Kingdom Reborn will be the most significant investment for UO since its launch. It will scrap the old engine and replace it with a very stripped-down version of the same engine used in EA Mythic's upcoming Warhammer Online.
What does this mean for the game? For starters, the graphics have all been redone; every single character, monster, texture, landscape, and aspect of the interface have seen anywhere between massive touch-ups to a complete redesign to include the use of higher-resolution textures and a great deal more color and detail. The Warhammer Online engine is obviously a 3D engine, and though Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn still retains the same isometric, fixed overhead viewpoint of the original game, the 3D aspect of the engine still shines through in the form of enhanced particle effects for smoke and fire as well as other subtle touches, such as shimmering water.
Other additions to the engine are those that simply weren't possible when the game was initially developed. One of the first design decisions made in Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn was to no longer follow a tile-by-tile format of design, instead going with a more freeform means of object placement and map design. Curved surfaces and much better collision detection between the player and environment are now possible because of this. Additionally, other graphical elements such as glass/transparency and other DirectX 9 effects are now available for use.
The new engine also sports colored lighting effects as well as softer shadowing on characters, monsters, and objects. The overall framerate has also been increased to help smooth out some of the animations in the game. Though all of these improvements obviously require a bit higher caliber of hardware than what you would have been able to find in 1997, EA is steadfast in their aim to still have the game run well on pretty much any range of hardware made since.
Sound is not being left out in the upgrade department. Many sounds are going to be re-sampled or re-recorded outright, and there will be 15 to 20 new music tracks in the game. Some songs, such as the fight song, are going to be thrown out entirely, while other mainstays, such as Stones, are sure to make the cut and stay in their original form.
The interface and the ways the player can interact with the game have all been improved as well. In comparison to what the interface was before, the new iteration is much more streamlined and minimalistic, which gives you more space to see the game world. Inventory control has been improved with the addition of a resize-able inventory window that supports drag and drop. A hot bar and minimap have also been added to allow players to have better use of their abilities and become more aware of their surroundings. Other improvements are less visual, such as in the case where many gameplay aspects now require fewer key presses or mouse-clicks to complete, such as healing a member of your party.
Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn will likely be released as a free download in the size of anywhere between 1 GB to 1.5 GB. The upgrade isn't required to continue playing, but future expansions to Ultima Online will require that the upgrade be installed, as EA has no plans to release any more expansions using the old format. When the upgrade is installed, it actually takes up its own folder on your hard drive rather than overwrite your existing installation directory. This way, users can switch between the two as they want until their likely deletion of the old client and installation in favor of the new upgrade. Players running the expansion still interact with the same servers and game world as the old client does, so there will be no splintering off of the player base.
Basically, Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn is the kind of thing that one likes to see done to aging-yet-still popular game titles. EA basically took suggestions from their community to heart and coupled them with a total upgrade to the title and made it free for all. The upgrade will also feature a free 14-day trial for new players to check out what they've been missing, while old players will almost undoubtedly enjoy the new look and feel of the game. While other MMO titles as of late can be released and completely abandoned in a matter of months, it's nice to see a decade-old "veteran" get a complete and free modernization upgrade for the enjoyment of its player base and the love of the game. Look for more information on Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn as it nears its release sometime this year.
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