A legacy gone flawed.
Electronic Arts is planning to win over adventure fans with its new title Ultima Forever, a free-to-play game that takes all of the battle tactics you've come to know and love from the long-running series, and then simplifies them for the touchscreen generation. It's an effective move for the most part, although a lot of technical issues get in the way.
The first thing you'll have to realize is that Ultima Forever has a very similar set-up to Ultima Online. There is no offline mode, so you'll need to have Wi-Fi or 4G on your iOS device of choice to play it. Once you do log in, you'll find a wealth of options for grouping up with allies, whether that's through random match-ups, or logging into Facebook and hooking up with friends who are also playing the game.
Online play works very well, through both self-created sessions and the invites we tried out. It takes a while to get started though, as the game requires that you load up the latest patch - something that can take several minutes, even with high-speed connectivity.
Once you're in the game proper, Quest for the Avatar sticks to the traditional Ultima formula. You have various classes and skills to choose from, before your warrior of choice embarks on a series of missions. Within these quests you collect currency in the form of bronze, silver and gold keys, which you can then use to unlock treasure chests and get new items. If you don't have enough keys to get the item you really want, you can make an in-game purchase with real money.
Gameplay overall works very well in this mobile Ultima, and touchscreen movement, targeting, and quick-strike or special attacks work well for the most part. Sometimes you'll have to work your finger quickly to avoid incoming attacks, or effectively "back-stab" a targeted enemy to inflict greater damage, but it's a solid enough system with few faults.
In-game menus are also easy to navigate, and from these you can check on your current mission, repair and improve your equipment after each fight, add to your skill levels, and check on your reputation levels. The decisions you make after each run-in help to define your character, so you must choose your advances carefully.
For a mobile game, Ultima Forever looks great and has strong, clean visuals that are reminiscent of other games in the series. The music and voice-acting is also solid throughout. There are performance issues, however, such as slowdown and occasional app crashes. We're pretty sure that EA will fix these problems in the long-term, but it's unfortunate that they get in the way during a party mission. Disappear suddenly and your colleagues may think you're rage-quitting when you aren't.
For a free-to-play game, Ultima Forever isn't bad at all, and adventurers with a good online connection won't want to miss out on the chance to play alongside friends. Between technical bugs, the complete lack of an off-line mode, and the need to pay for premium items though, it might just take you forever to really get into the game's many charms.
What's Hot:Splendid touchscreen gameplay makes functionality easy, you can customize and level up your warrior however you please, there are tons of missions, it's fun to play online when it works, and it's free-to-play.
What's Not:No offline mode, you have to pay real money for premium items unless you're patient, there are performance issues and crashes, and it takes a while to get started due to a download patch.