Last week, at the Fairfax, Virginia, headquarters of EA Mythic, publisher Electronic Arts outlined the future plans for its three primary massively multiplayer games--Ultima Online, Dark Age of Camelot, and Warhammer Online--in a lengthy presentation that revealed a new look for Ultima, a new direction for Camelot, and two new combatant nations for Warhammer.
The presentation began with EA's plans for an updated Ultima Online with Kingdom Reborn--an upgrade for the existing 2D game that will offer a brand-new 3D graphics engine for the entire game, as well as an updated interface with keyboard "hotkey" shortcuts. Interestingly, the Kingdom Reborn upgrade will be free for all subscribers and will, for the time being, also be optional. Players with low-end computer systems should have time to upgrade their systems since the "legacy" game should be supported for "some time."
In addition, Ultima Online will grow even further with the release of a new expansion pack, Ultima Online: Stygian Abyss. The new expansion, which will require the 3D upgrade from Kingdom Reborn, will introduce a new continent to explore, as well as a brand-new playable race, the gargoyles, which are a breed of mysterious and powerful creatures of a stoic demeanor who possess the power to easily shape stone. The expansion will also offer new quests, content, and the largest dungeon to appear in Ultima Online yet.
According to producer Aaron Cohen, these updates will represent "the largest investment EA has made in UO since the game launched." Cohen also noted that Kingdom Reborn will launch "this spring," while the Stygian Abyss expansion will launch "this summer."
The floor was then given to EA Mythic staff to discuss the studio's plans for Dark Age of Camelot, including the upcoming release of the 2006 expansion pack, Labyrinth of the Minotaur, in Europe in February. For 2007, the studio will apparently focus on delivering the best experience for the game's loyal following of regular players, who enjoy the game for its competitive player-versus-player content.
The coming year should bring upgrades to the live game, including tweaks to the game's outer "frontier" zones where PVP takes place to improve performance and ease of use; additional account services to let players manage, split, and share their accounts and their characters' inventory space; and a shift in focus from expansion packs to in-game "campaigns." Previously, the studio had maintained the game with regular updates but saved its largest content additions for retail expansion packs; it will now be abandoning the expansion packs in favor of adding free "campaign" updates every six months, which will include new areas to explore, new quests to undertake, and new story arcs that add new content to the game every two weeks.
The first campaign will be "A Dragon's Revenge," a six-month story arc that will see the ancient dragons of each of the game's three realms rise up and lay siege to the world. EA Mythic producer Walt Yarbrough assured European representatives on hand that the new content, which is usually made available to European players sometime after it launches in the US, will be designed to not allow "spoilers" from US players to ruin any surprises for players overseas.
EA Mythic's final presentation of the day focused on Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, the competition-focused massively multiplayer game based on Games Workshop's Warhammer fantasy universe. During the presentation, senior producer Jeff Hickman and EA Mythic's ebullient Englishman, creative director Paul Barnett, took the wraps off the human Empire and Chaos factions, which will be two of the six playable factions in the upcoming game.
Look for more details on Warhammer Online, plus a video interview and exclusive high-definition game footage of PVP battles, in GameSpot's preview coverage today.