Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar is an epic action RPG that features an enormous open world and promises hundreds of hours of gameplay. On top of that, the game is free-to-play and supports co-op dungeon diving with up to three other players online.
The game has only two playable classes — Fighter and Mage. More classes are promised for the future, but for now, the choice boils down to melee combat as a Fighter or ranged combat as a Mage. You can also choose your character’s appearance from a collection of presets. The Fighter offers 10 male appearances while the Mage class offers 10 male and 10 female appearances.
Your hero enters the world of Britannia after being summoned from Earth by a couple of mages. Almost immediately, the evil being Horrath will appear and attack the mages with a plague called The Black Weep. You will learn that The Weep is slowly spreading across Britannia, corrupting and consuming its land and people. You have been summoned here with the express purpose of fighting the plague, finding its source, and ending the misery it wreaks upon the world.
You will notice right away that Ultima Forever is gorgeous. The characters and monsters are rendered in 3D and look great, but it is the beautifully hand-painted 2D backgrounds that really shine. An amazing amount of detail has gone into every corner of the world and the backgrounds look simply spectacular, especially on a retina display. The character portraits that are used during dialogue are also hand-painted and equally impressive.
All of the gorgeous hand-painted backgrounds are spread out across an enormous world that is packed with large cities and dungeons that provide tons of people to talk to monsters to kill. There are people everywhere in the cities of Britannia. Some will give you traditional RPG quests that ask you to fetch or deliver certain items. Some will have stories to tell, adding flavor and depth to the world they inhabit. Some will have moral quandaries and ask for your assistance. When you provide your advice, you will earn some Virtue that fits the advice you gave.
The game uses Virtue as experience points. Virtue is divided into eight different types: Spirituality, Valour, Humility, Honour, Compassion, Honesty, Sacrifice, and Justice. Each town in the game values a different set of Virtues. As your Virtue of a certain type increases, so too does your reputation in towns that value that particular Virtue. A higher reputation with a town will cause its people to trust you more and provide you with more quests. Any kind of Virtue you gain contributes to a shared Virtue bar that will cause you to level up each time you fill it. The Virtue system is a really clever take on experience points that makes the impact of moral decisions more meaningful.
Combat is quite similar to Diablo’s. You move around, attack enemies, and trigger special attacks all in real-time. Moving and attacking are done by tapping where you want to move or what you want to attack. Once you have a target, you will continue to attack it when you are in range of it even if you move between attacks. Special attacks are limited only by their cooldown, not a mana cost. As you level up you will learn more skills and be able to equip more of them simultaneously. The skills are triggered by tapping their icon on the left side of the screen. The combat is very smooth and there are many different enemies to encounter, each with unique movement and combat animations.
The game has tons of loot that comes in different rarities: Common, Uncommon, Rare, and Epic. Whenever you come across treasure chests in dungeons, you can choose if you will unlock them with bronze, silver, or gold keys. Better keys guarantee rarer loot. Here’s where the game’s in-app purchases come in. You will find bronze keys all over the place as you battle with monsters. 15 bronze keys can be converted to 5 silver keys for free, or you can buy bags of silver keys with real money. Gold keys can only be obtained with real money or for free by completing Burstly offers like watching video ads, completing surveys, or trying various services. Fortunately, the game has been designed so that you will never hit a paywall. There are no timers anywhere in the game. Of course, gold keys will help you find better equipment, but silver keys are plenty good enough to get you through the game.
Something that I really like about the loot and equipment system is that you have two sets of equipment. Your Loadout is the equipment that actually affects your stats while your Clothing is the equipment that affects your appearance. It’s great that I can wear my favorite gear while still equipping the most powerful gear.
When you’re in a city, you will see other players who are also in that city. You can tap on any of them to invite them to your group. Up to four players can join together in a group to complete dungeons as a team. Playing with other players makes dungeons both easier and more fun. There are several ways you can earn bonus Virtue by playing with other players (e.g., playing with a lower-leveled player will earn you Sacrifice). Groups are created and disbanded on-the-fly, so there’s no pressure to stay with any group. The game also provides global chat, group chat, and private chat. Unfortunately, all three are contained in the same chat window, so when you get an in-game notification of a new message, you can’t know which channel it is from until you open the chat window. This gets a little frustrating when you get notifications while you are in a group but the new messages are in global chat instead of group chat. The co-op combat works really well, but I’d like to see Mythic improve the social features of the game. Separating the chat notifications would be a good start. The addition of a long-term grouping option (like guilds) and letting players trade weapons and keys with each other would be cool too.
Mythic has said that the purpose of the soft-launch is to optimize and fine-tune the game’s performance so they can deliver the best mobile Ultima experience possible. It’s safe to say that this is a good move because the game requires a lot of power to run and it is prone to freezes and crashes. The game is currently optimized for and supported on 4S, fifth-gen iPod Touch, iPad 2, and newer devices. You can download it on an iPhone 4 or fourth-gen iPod Touch, but do so fully aware that it will not run smoothly. I have been playing on an iPhone 4S and across several hours of gameplay, I experienced severe lag twice, a bug that prevented me from moving to the next room, and five or six crashes. The dungeons have checkpoints that save your health, Virtue, and inventory, but not your progress through the dungeon. Whenever the game completely crashes, you will have to start your most recent dungeon over from the beginning, though the loot you found before will be saved. This is not exploitable for extra loot and Virtue, as dungeons can be replayed anyway. However, it is really frustrating to have to start a 15-minute-long dungeon several times in a row.
Ultima Forever is a lot of fun to play and it has an enormous amount of content. The entire game can be reasonably completed solo and without buying a single IAP, if that's how you choose to play. The world of Britannia is rich and full of great stories. Mythic has to iron out some kinks with the game's performance, but I'm hopeful it will get much better before they release the game worldwide. If you have a Canadian App Store account, this is a great epic-length RPG to try for free. If you don't, Ultima Forever will be released worldwide this summer, with a more specific date being announced in June at E3. Finally, if you don't have an iOS device that's powerful enough to run Ultima Forever, it will also be coming to Android, PC, and possibly other platforms by the end of the year.