So… this is an interesting situation for me. I’ve had a number of games that I’ve played for Choose My Adventure that I haven’t particularly liked; some of them because they’ve been fine games that just don’t agree with my sensibilities, some of them games that are actually just flat-out not very good. (You know where the archive link is.) But Ultima Online at this point is the one game that seems to genuinely not want me to play it.
I’m not talking about system impenetrability or anything like that; I’m talking about the game itself falling into all sorts of paroxysms of not working for no readily apparent reason. More to the point, falling into paroxysms of not working in ways that do not even appear to have technical solutions, or ones that I can suss out. It’s like the code is rebelling against letting me log in or something.
This started on the same night that I was planning on picking up a whole mess of stuff from Bree to make the game somewhat more pleasant; in short, it was a gaggle of gear that should at least make me able to handle things with less to-do and with much higher resistances. Unfortunately, the Enhanced Client decided at this point that it would not open.
I don’t mean “it crashed on loading.” It never loaded. Click the icon, and I get an immediate notification that it shut down. No crash, no error report, nothing. Delete files, still nothing. Uninstall and reinstall, still nothing.
The next day, I try again… and it still does the same thing. Sighing, I go and download the classic client, which installs and launches fine, and wow that is bad. That interface is not something pretty or likable. But it at least let me get in the game to pick up items, and now I can figure out why the Enhanced Client won’t work… for some reason.
Of course, the classic client doesn’t let you just equip stuff by clicking on it; you have to manually drag bits off of your paper doll, then drag the new ones on there, usually with icons that I can best describe as “little bean-looking thing.” It actually makes the Enhanced Client (which is not a great interface) look downright modern, which is damning with the faintest praise.
Also worth noting here is that the stuff traded to me puts me over the weight limit, which means hobbling… very… slowly… to the bank, with my stamina bottoming out after about every three steps. That was fun. Carrying a whole lot of weight in flower petals apparently does that. (It was a kind thought. Also, it did mean my focus skill was screaming up.)
Once I finally got halfway to the bank, I tried reinstalling the Enhanced client again in a different directory. Now it would work and let me patch up. That was something. So now I could hobble to the bank with slightly easier interface options. It’s a bit of a lateral move, but one I would take.
Unloading some stuff into my bank (and thank heavens I now had some bank storage) meant that I could move again, and that in turn meant that I could tithe some more gold and then go out and smack stuff with some new gear. Forward motion! That’s wonderful. So let’s go smack a thingy with a sword for a bit.
And… yeah, that was a thing getting smacked with a sword for a bit. There’s not much else to say about it.
Don’t get me wrong, of course; there’s a lot to UO that’s not about smacking things with swords. Or maces, or axes, or whatever other weapons you can think of. Things that are unrelated to any sort of smacking, like gathering and such. But there’s also a relative paucity of options for a new player aside from “smack things with a sword,” and let’s face it, there’s a certain normalcy to it. “Welcome to the high fantasy land of Polysyllabia, the kingdom of Vague LeFrenchname, here’s your rusty sword, go hit some rabbits until you stop being useless.” It’s so well-ingrained in our habits that it may as well be an evolutionary survival trick.
And considering that a free-to-play player isn’t getting a house and probably isn’t about to start a trading empire, smacking things with a sword is sort of the go-to. It’s the foot you put forward, in other words.
This isn’t awful smacking things with a sword… for, you know, 1997. But I feel at least reasonably confident in saying that the people who remember UO fondly probably don’t do so by remembering how epic combat felt. (Please note that if your story involves killing someone and taking their stuff, it’s not the combat you’re recalling fondly.) Again, looking at it compared to the rest of the world, it’s not terribly compelling.
I trundled my way back to town after a bit of smacking, resolving to get back to it in a couple of days. Then the client wouldn’t start again.
At that point I couldn’t do much but just laugh about it. Of all the problems I had expected to face with UO, “logging in” was not one of them. It’s a level of issue that just confuses me more than anything, like there must be some option I checked somewhere and if I’d just untick the “client doesn’t start” button everything would be fine.
The bigger problem, of course, is that looking at it from the point of view of a new player (which I am), these are not problems I am motivated to overcome. Yes, there are doubtlessly ways to fix it, possibly involving an endless cycle of uninstalling and reinstalling in new directories, but if I were not doing this as part of my job I wouldn’t be worrying about how to fix that. I’d just be moving on to something else altogether.
Which I suppose answers the question that I said this CMA was meant to ask in the first place when it comes to “what is the free-to-play experience like for UO,” because that feels like the only thing that’s really open for evaluation at this point. My experience thus far has been plagued by technical issues (due in no small part to the fact that the game has been around long enough to be designed for totally different versions of Windows) and interface errors, along with removals and omissions that baffle even longtime veterans (see also: my boss).
In other words, it hasn’t been great. But come around back again next week for me to keep talking about it, since hopefully that’s at least amusing for you folks. Until then, you can leave feedback in the comments below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.