After their success with Battlefield Heroes, Electronic Arts, through their studio Phenomic, gives it one more shot on the rapidly growing free browser games market. Their new product, called Lord of Ultima (yes, it is part of the Ultima universe) is a RTS game set on the continent of Caledonia, after the supposed destruction of the original world of Sosaria. Of course, your quest is to unite this whole world under one rule – yours, of course. While the genre and premise of the game may seem typical for a browser based RTS, everything else… is not.
Obviously, in the beginning of the game you are given your own village and a nice lady explains the basics of the game in an easy to understand tutorial. After the first five minutes you are left alone to manage everything. But have no worries, if there’s something you don’t understand, just hover your mouse over the thing you want explained and in a few seconds a comprehensive text dissolves the mystery. Everything is easy to understand and although the interface seems a bit complicated at first, you’ll handle it like a pro in no time.
Like any RTS, you have buildings to build, resources to administer and armies to train. But while in other games of its kind you only have a list of buildings to construct or upgrade, and maybe a suggestive image for each, in Lord of Ultima you can actually place your buildings wherever you want within your city and, except for the town hall, how many of them you want. Of course there are space and cost limitations, so you must be careful where you place your buildings. For example, placing a farm near a lake increases its productivity. Building a mill near it increases efficiency even more. And such associations are possible for almost any type of construction.
Although the micro-management may be a burden sometimes, this side of the game makes it a good economic simulator. The developers must have thought the same, so they implemented the possibility of playing the game solely as a town builder without the military aspect. All this is possible through the castle. If you chose not to build one, you are safe from any attacks and can continue developing your economy. On the other hand, when and if the castle is completed, you can raid any other player with a castle, but can also become a target yourself.
Another interesting feature of the game is quests. Although they don’t develop into a story like the ones in RPGs, quests are pretty generic and offer you a guide in developing your city, as most of them require the player to reach a certain number of trained troops or it’s city to reach a set number of points. In exchange you get resources and items (may also be acquired from the item mall) which can give you either more resources, accelerate building time or aid your troops. Besides quests you can also raid dungeons on the map or attack dragons which appear randomly.
Game graphics, looking like a medieval painting, are a perfect match for the fantasy setting of the game, while the animations make the world look more alive. The Item Shop, unlike other games, doesn’t seem to offer players any particular off-balancing advantages. Apart from the items which can also be acquired through quests or dungeon raiding, you can hire ministers who mostly make management a bit easier. Of course, the game is not flawless. It sometimes lags, especially when the server is crowded, and there are some minor bugs regarding the interface (future patches should fix it), but these can easily be overcome by its overall quality.
This review should be twice as long in order to analyze all the aspects and features of Lord of Ultima. I strongly recommend you try it and see for yourself that this game is different from your typical free MMO browser based strategy game. It offers a much deeper experience with more strategic options that any other browser RTS, being close to a retail strategy game in the aspect of economic and military simulation.
by Sicaru Adrian