Age of Shadows' many enhancements help make Ultima Online quite possibly the most interesting game it's ever been.
After an unprecedented five years of commercial longevity, Ultima Online continues to battle for the attention of fans of massively multiplayer online role-playing games in an increasingly competitive market. Last year's expansion pack, Blackthorn's Revenge, was an unambitious release that highlighted the game's maturity, both because it seemed to have outgrown the problems that plagued its initial release and because the developers appeared to be running out of new ideas. However, Age of Shadows, the fifth expansion pack, introduces significant gameplay changes and breathes new life into Ultima Online. Unfortunately, these changes have also reintroduced problems that had previously been addressed.
In most online RPGs, players spend almost all of their time hacking and slashing away at monsters in order to make their characters stronger and better equipped by gaining experience levels and acquiring loot so that they can then spend their time hacking and slashing at even more challenging monsters. It's a simple, addictive formula, but it's so common to online RPGs that many players simply refer to these games as "level treadmills." Other than repetitively dispatching monsters or, less frequently, battling other players, there's generally little else to do in online RPGs. Although these games typically include at least a rudimentary system for crafting items, Ultima Online remains the only game of its type that comprehensively attempts to create a virtual world in which you can develop characters who are adept at activities other than devastating the resident fauna. It's a trait that meaningfully distinguishes Ultima Online from its competition and likely explains the durability of its appeal, in spite of its increasingly outdated interface and combat system.
Age of Shadows is largely successful at both making Ultima Online's virtual world even more compelling as well as enhancing core gameplay by significantly modifying the combat system. The most far-reaching and controversial change is the adoption of an entirely new magic-resistance system. In previous versions of the game, all damage inflicted upon your characters was treated in the same fashion; there was only one type of damage, and armor and magic resistance offered correspondingly universal protection. Age of Shadows diversifies the generic treatment of character damage by introducing five different damage types: physical, cold, fire, poison, and electricity. Every type of spell and attack inflicts one or more of these damage types, and armor no longer provides universal protection against all types of damage. This addition fundamentally changes the combat system and provides additional tactical depth to player-vs.-player combat.
Another significant change to the combat system is the introduction of special attacks for each type of weapon. Once your character earns at least 70 skill points using a particular type of weapon, you acquire the ability to launch a more devastating type of attack. Upon earning 90 skill points, a second special attack becomes available. In addition, Age of Shadows introduces 10 new weapon types, so overall, combat is more interesting, especially for melee combat characters. Monsters have less health overall, but to offset this change, you no longer get damage bonuses while fighting them, while pets and other controllable creatures have been weakened so that you must be more actively involved in fighting battles. Though some veteran players (who had previously mastered the earlier versions of combat) may find the new changes annoying, Age of Shadows' changes do, in fact, result in faster, more involving battles.
Age of Shadows also adds another landmass to explore, Malas, which is considerably larger and features a score of new creature types of various sizes and fantastical shapes. Unlike the misplaced batch of robotic characters that were introduced in Blackthorn's Revenge, the new creatures in Age of Shadows fit well within the game's medieval fantasy setting. The expansion's large new dungeon gives players who cooperate in teams access to the best new magic items, providing an additional social activity to a game that is otherwise extremely accommodating to solo adventurers. Ultima Online has always lacked a decent quest system, since quests have been limited to a few introductory tasks, as well as escort or rescue missions. While that's generally still the case, Age of Shadows introduces several significant new quests and puzzles to solve.
Two new character templates--the paladin and the necromancer--and their associated skills have also been added. Using a book of chivalry, paladins can use a variety of spell-like abilities, including one that lets you teleport without needing a mage's recall spell. Necromancers have their own magic spells, like animate dead, and also can assume various physical forms. Any established characters can be modified to become paladins or necromancers by developing the associated skills, and new characters can conveniently choose from templates designed to emphasize these skills. Like each of the territories in the past four expansion packs, Malas doesn't allow nonconsensual player combat or theft, but the expansion's general changes to combat as well as the new paladin and necromancer templates do change the rules of player-vs.-player combat. Fans of player-vs.-player battles will also appreciate that they no longer lose statistics when slain and that they can now use recall spells to travel to and from Felucca, the only area in the game where player-vs.-player combat is still permitted.
- Player Reviews: 3
- Game Universe:
- Ultima Online 7th Anniversary Edition (PC),
- Ultima Online: Age of Shadows (PC),
- Ultima Online: Lord Blackthorn's Revenge (PC),
- Ultima Online: Third Dawn (PC),
- Ultima Online: Renaissance (PC),
- Ultima Online: The Second Age (PC),
- Ultima Online (PC),
- Ultima X: Odyssey (PC),
- Ultima Online: Kingdom Reborn (PC),
- Ultima Online: Mondain's Legacy (PC)
- Number of Players: