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.
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.