Original Origin: EA Giving Away Ultima VIII For Free


Though rarely doing much with the rights to the old PC games which once made EA’s name, they do at least have this pleasant habit of occasionally making some retro delight free for a week or two. This time, it’s Ultima VIII Gold Edition, the Richard Garriot-designed roleplaying game from towards the twilight of the Origin years.

Perhaps my most embarrassing I Have Never revelation when it comes to PC games is that I’ve never played a main line Ultima game. I’ve played both Underworlds and I’ve played Ultima Online, but somehow managed to sidestep the core series. I’m well aware of their hallowed status, of course, and of how many of its concepts weren’t especially followed up on by latter-day RPGs. One day I shall look my ignorance in the eye and do something about it.

However, for the benefit of the curious reader, I had a chat with a Top Secret Correspondent* to establish where Ultima VIII falls in Garriot pantheon.

“Amazing thematically.

The most bloody-minded magic system in any game. Four types of magic, IIRC, each of which was difficult to do in a different way. Actually having to go round the world collecting really hard-to-get reagents and performing rituals in pentagrams for example.

Annoying; books that explode your body with no warning when you read them.

Fixed; the original release had the worst platforming in any game ever. In the days before patches, having a platforming system where you can’t reliably jump a given distance and where screw-ups resulted in insta-death was Not Good Design. It was patched for the CD version I think. They did release a patch, but how the fuck were you meant to get it back in the days pre-internet?

Also, had one of the first CGI openings ever, where the Guardian’s giant hand drops the Avatar into Pagan. It took THREE HOURS to load on my PC, but this was in the days when we were children and had patience.

The amount of platforming is a bit of a screw-up. Not sure why it was in there. Fans used to call it Super Avatar Brothers. But I loved it. Some horrible plot twists.

VII is the high point. Serpent Isle particularly. I’ve not played the ones before that, TBH – I’m told VI is also really good. Obviously IX was a dog’s breakfast. But VIII is really weird. Changing so much makes it feel like it was another game shifted to the Ultima franchise. Platforming, weird magic based on four trapped gods, different art style, horribly tough combat. Feels more like Diablo, which came out pretty soon after.”

And there you go. Man, I just totally got someone to do my work for me, didn’t I?

Most importantly, Ultima VIII Gold Edition – which we believe/hope is the version with fixed platforming – is currently no pennies over on Origin (the circle is complete, eh?). Yes, it requires an Origin account and client install. It’s way past time to get over that, to be honest.

*Sometime RPS contributor Dan Griliopoulos, who knows the Ultima series well and clearly wanted a distraction from work today.


  1. rexx.sabotage says:

    Wellp, here’s a hint of one thing to expect in the next Humble Origin Bundle :P

    • epeternally says:

      Painfully accurate. The first Humble Bundle felt like it was meant to get people liking EA / Origin, and I think it worked to an extent, but the second one just left me feeling more animosity toward them then ever because including a whole bunch of games that had already been free, and not even adding the DLC for Dragon Age: Origin, was a massive dick move and showed how little they really care. If Origin Bundle 1 showed an EA that was turning it’s ways around, Origin Bundle 2 showed an EA that was just as awful as ever.

      • Kempston Wiggler says:

        From now on anyone who thinks “EA has changed” or “EA is evolving” or “Hey, this isn’t so bad, EA” please form an orderly queue to receive a FREE (as in beer) kick in the nuts/ovaries – it’ll be better for you in the long run.

        It still pains me to think of how many people fell for their blatant PR shenanigans around the time of Mirror’s Edge etc.

        EA = Evil Avarice. We do not forgive. We do not forget.

  2. Premium User Badge

    gritz says:

    When he says it “feels like Diablo”, he means to say some aspects of it are Diablo-esque- not that it is in any way an established ARPG as we know them today. Don’t get the wrong idea.

    • Andy_Panthro says:

      I would certainly hesitate to describe anything about Ultima VIII as “Diablo-like”. Some of the early areas have a gothic theme to them, and the combat mainly revolves around clicking on enemies, but that’s about it.

  3. pullthewires says:

    They sometimes used to put patches on magazine coverdisks.

    Now I have to go cry for a few minutes because thinking about computer magazine coverdisks has filled me with something between nostalgia and regret for my lost youth.

  4. Premium User Badge

    distantlurker says:

    Alec wrote: “Though rarely doing much with the rights to the old PC games which once made EA’s name….”

    and then we call for more originality; ach, in all honesty I’m with ya big man. If a single wee ‘yin tries Ultima for the first time, free of charge; <3 it, and starts to dig thru the catalogue? Then by definition, the World is a better place.

    We can't but +1 this.


  5. Steve Catens says:

    Yes, it requires an Origin account and client install. It’s way past time to get over that, to be honest.

    For a game that costs a few bucks on GOG’s DRM-free storefront, and is frequently on sale for next to nothing? I don’t agree.

    We just saw this past week the considerable damage that Steam can do to PC gaming with its unacceptable degree of power, even when its intentions are apparently benign. I don’t trust Valve with that kind of power, and I trust EA even less. I will not empower another walled garden monstrosity.

    • Nasarius says:

      Yeah, I’m not going to complain about free crap (and I really do mean crap in the case of Ultima 8), but I’m definitely not going to “get over” the platformification of videogames, especially not when GOG and Humble and others have been demonstrating that there is a better way.

    • Urthman says:

      I’ve had a few games I was sorta interested in (Titanfall, Need for Speed, Garden Warfare) that I decided not to bother with because I didn’t want to deal with Origin. I supposed someday EA might put something out that I can’t resist (Inquisition, maybe? But so many hours of RPG’s on my list ahead of it…), but so far that’s been a deal breaker.

    • slerbal says:

      Yeah, sorry Alec, I don’t agree with you at all. I have no need or interest in using Origin and freebies won’t change my mind, nor will telling me to “get over it”. There is nothing to get over. I don’t want to use Origin and that is my choice. What everyone else chooses to do is up to them.

    • silentdan says:

      Yeah, I’m not sure what “that” he’s referring to. I’m pretty sure he’s unfamiliar with my reasons for eschewing Origin, so it’s unclear how he can be so glibly certain that those reasons have at some point become invalid or irrelevant. Some people don’t like EA/Origin, and maybe they should change their minds (probably not, though) but it shouldn’t provoke condescending jabs. Alec likes, or is at least okay with, Origin. That’s cool. I’m not. That’s also cool. No one needs to “get over” anything, here.

      Personally, while I’m deeply troubled by the amount of power Valve wields through Steam, I’ve always found Valve to operate in good faith, and remain cognizant of the best interests of the community, and understand how a healthy community serves their long-term interests. I can’t say how long that will continue, but for now, I’m happy with how Valve treats me, and the community in general. I’ve been on Steam for nearly a decade, now.

      Some of my friends are less pleased, and refuse to make a Steam account. I’ve never told any of them to “get over that.” I wouldn’t dream of framing their objections in terms of childish petulance. I don’t ask them if their Steam tantrum is finally over. I don’t tell them that Steam is How Things Are Now. I don’t tell them to grow up. I don’t roll my eyes at them. They have their concerns, I respect them, we discuss it sometimes, but never really agree. In spite of that, no one tries to belittle anyone else for their choice of patronage.

      We are all on GoG, though. People who aren’t on GoG are the worst and should die in a fire. (kidding!)

      • Steve Catens says:

        “I’ve always found Valve to operate in good faith, and remain cognizant of the best interests of the community, and understand how a healthy community serves their long-term interests.”

        Intentions are really beside the point. I’m inclined to believe Valve had reasonably good intentions in the past week’s Skyrim modding debacle, but it doesn’t change the fact that they flexed their muscle and damaged a storied community in the PC gaming realm, perhaps permanently. A couple paragraphs of, “Oops…sorry about that” doesn’t undo that damage. Valve is in the position to make too many decisions about the direction of PC gaming simply because they can. They’ve now demonstrated that they’re perfectly willing to to make these decisions arbitrarily with minimal forethought. And I generally like Valve a lot more than I like EA, who have a long adversarial history with gaming consumers. There are better options than walled gardens.

        • Steve Catens says:

          Ugh. Missed a tag. Sorry about the italics. Wish i could edit…

        • silentdan says:

          100% agree. Valve’s got way, way too much power, and the paid mods debacle is only the best, most recent example of that. They’re a Panzer tank on the freeway, and they’re driving it as carefully as they can. Maybe one day they’ll snap and start firing the main gun into suburban homes, but EA’s zipping along beside them on a motorcycle, firing a 9mm into the air and chugging vodka. It’s not safe for that tank to be on the freeway in the first place, but man, I’m really glad that EA isn’t driving it.

      • Unclepauly says:

        Holy mother of squid. First world problems as an art form right here… Vidya games is serious bidness. I would love to hear your sermons on other matters but I just started my mass effect trilogy playthrough so I’m gonna be busy for a while.

        • Distec says:

          Then maybe just keep quiet and play your games.

          Let other people decide whether they want to install Original for whatever reasons. I’ll +1 for not installing it, a decision that I’m more than comfortable with and has produced not even a bit of angst.

        • silentdan says:

          This is a site for discussing video games. It doesn’t get much more first-world than that, so expect any problems mentioned to be of that variety. If I want to share a nuanced view of the situation in Crimea, or if you want to read one, there are appropriate forums for that.

          That said, this particular thread isn’t about fictional characters or gameplay mechanics, it’s about courtesy and economic autonomy. As RPS discussion topics go, it’s unusually universal.

    • baozi says:

      Having games on Steam, GOG, and the Humble Store, Origin is just another store to me – that happens to give out freebies once in a while, so I personally don’t see the issue. If this were a perfect world, sure, I’d only buy games from a vendor that sells past and present digital, DRM-free games, because I have no desire to clutter my place with physical boxes and discs. Alas, there’s none, and I figure limiting yourself to a store when lots of vendors have libraries that don’t overlap is a bit like limiting yourself to Spotify when there’s a lot of music you can only get on CDs (though as someone pointed out, that’s not the case with Ultima 8, but, well, I won’t complain about a freebie.)

    • bill says:

      Personally, I’m not sure it is worth it.

      I don’t trust EA (or ubisoft, etc..) not to do something daft in future, and I don’t like the idea of them having too much control over production and distribution.
      Plus, despite a few small steps in the right direction, their regional pricing is still insane here. And since they’ve now got origin they have removed a few games from other services that had more reasonable pricing.

      Still, they aren’t as horrendous as they used to be. They recently reduced mirror’s edge from 45quid to only 9 quid.

    • BooleanBob says:

      What Alec probably wanted to do was suggest in a pithy, tired-of-it all way that a principled stance against Origin has proven to be one of dubious merit. (Which I agree with.) What he instead appeared to be arguing is that there should be a shelf-life on principles. Which is pretty ridic – perhaps socialists should just get over that whole austerity thing, it’s been around a similar amount of time after all and no amount of moaning has made that go away either.

    • kud13 says:

      I’ve had Origin (which insisted on morphing into itself from the EA download Manager) for a number of years. Mostly because I once purchased the Ultimate edition of Dragon Age Origins directly from EA.

      I haven’t had to use it with any “always online” games, but so far, Origin behaved itself. All I had to do was remove it from the list of services launching @ startup (same as GaFWL). As DA:O doesn’t require Origin to run, I’ve had basically no further dealings with it. I may in the future, once I get to the sequels.

      And back when it first came out, it was even better than Steam, in the sense that it had a perfectly functional offline mode.

  6. Andy_Panthro says:

    Slightly surprised you didn’t ask Richard Cobbett to write a few words, since he knows rather a lot about the series (including the older titles, iirc).

  7. Anthile says:

    Yeah, well, but you’d still have to play Ultima VIII and I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemies.

  8. Det. Bullock says:

    Well, I might as well dust up that old Origin account made for Mass Effect 3.

  9. Retrofrank says:

    It definitely has some flaws, but the story was quite good and it was nowhere nearly as disappointing, as Ultima 9 was.

    • aepervius says:

      Yes you have to give that to U8 : It was nowhere near as cringe inducing as “What’s a paladin” famed U9. Most of the sins of U8 were : too many insta death, plateforming, and difficult positioning on pentagrams of stuff.

      But if you went past that , the story was not bad.


      You come in an universe which more or less does not know the avatar – old sosaria if I remember, and so you are a unknown guy instead of the Avatar with a big A. The 4 titans of elements hold sway about the island. You learn the new magic systems, then steal the power of the titan, and then come back to Britania but fucking royally over the land you left.

      The main flow of the story is that there is no alternative. So you either play the game and break the island or you simply stop the game and decide the avatar stays forever there not destroying the island.

      • BooleanBob says:

        Holy shit. Now I think about it like that, Link from Link’s Awakening is a genocidal monster.

    • ansionnach says:

      Still a big fan of U8, even after completing most of the others. CD version fixed the platforming so it worked really well (I rarely died). Exploding books and chests were a real flaw. Wish people would get over the platforming gripe. It’s pretty much irrelevant now unless the point is that it should simply not be in an Ultima game (Underworld excepted…).

      Really liked the world, story and characters. Felt completely absorbed in the world of Pagan, which was a sad, lonely, haunting and isolated place. The music was bloody amazing with a good general midi board. I really enjoyed learning the various magic systems and found them fun and varied.

    • Kempston Wiggler says:

      LOL. The only Ultima game I’ve ever played was 9. And yes it was terrible but in a compelling way that made me keep playing it for WEEKS. I think I nearly finished it, too. I actually miss it, although I doubt I’ll pollute my hard drive with it ever again.

  10. vorador says:

    They have been doing things like this for a while, giving bits and bobs for free if you sign up on Origin and click on a banner. I guess they really want people to use their store.

    The most interesting thing they’ve done is giving away Sims 2 with a couple of expansions.

    In any case i bought the entire Ultima series from GoG a long time ago.

    • Michael Anson says:

      A couple? They gave away the complete Sims 2 content library. Unfortunately, it was a limited time offer, so a lot of people missed out.

  11. AngoraFish says:

    Tragically, seems to be subbed in Australia for Amazing Adventures The Caribbean Secret. Ugh.

  12. Frank says:

    I didn’t even know that series went to 8

    • Sin Vega says:

      Until today, you lived in a better world.

    • aepervius says:

      If somebody tells you the serie goes up to 9, put your finger in your ear , scream LALALALA CAN’T HEAR YOU loudly and run away.

      You are better off trust me.

    • Kempston Wiggler says:

      There are only three Indiana Jones movies!

  13. bill says:

    I had the CD version of this back when I was young. I think it was part of some huge bundle of CDs that came with my PC or DVD drive or something.

    I tried it a few times and never had any idea what to do and never got any further than running around the starting town clicking on people and things. Never felt like I was making any progress or had even any idea what I was supposed to be doing.
    But that might have been me being a dumb kid.

    From what I remember, it wasn’t that well received at the time.

  14. tomimt says:

    I’ve always liked Ultima 8, despite the flack it receives. It’s quite a departure from the previous titles, but at the same time I can’t help but to love the world of Pagan and its melancholic and somewhat bleak setting. The game itself has a lot of room for improvement, like clunky combat system and what not, but the atmosphere of it is quite extraordinary.

  15. lyralamperouge says:

    “Yes, it requires an Origin account and client install. It’s way past time to get over that, to be honest.”

    I disagree, and could you have phrased it in a more smug, pretentious way? Just because you’ve caved doesn’t mean it’s time for everyone else to. This is one of those self-absorbed “I don’t care so no one else should anymore either” statements like “racism is over”. Stop.

    EA are still withholding games from players who prefer to have their whole library in one place last I checked, so no, it’s not past time to get over that. What do you think has changed for those of us with a bit of backbone, Alec? A free game now and then does not make anything different for those of us who don’t appreciate being extorted in order to play certain games.

  16. Shaun Green says:

    Perhaps my favourite thing about Ultima VIII is its skill development system, which is a little like modern Elder Scrolls games in that skills improve through usage. In Ultima VIII, however, they don’t need to be used in any particular context, so if you struggled with the game it was quite effective to stand around a safe area for ages and repeatedly mash the attack and jump buttons.

    All it needed was an Avatar training montage.

  17. syllopsium says:

    Ultima VI is indeed excellent, although it performs the sin of dropping you straight into combat at the start of the game. It’s charming, varied, has a stunningly atmospheric quest to retrieve dragon eggs and as to the scavenger hunt..

    It’s worth trying IV and V, although the interface is a tad primitive and they’re a little tough in parts. There’s little hand holding. Everyone should try VII and VII part two, though.

    I’ve still not finished the Underworlds. Really must do so.