Back in the days where casual gaming was just a dot on the horizon and browser games were limited to just crude flash games, a company startup called PopCap emerged. They created entertaining and addictive games such as Plants vs. Zombies, Peggle, Bejeweled and Insaniquarium. Game giant EA saw the potential and bought the company for a huge sum. Then the trend caught on and now we have full-fledged browser games and "easy" games littering the landscape.
Chief among them is the free MMO/RTS hybrid browser game called Lord of Ultima. Sadly, you won't be able to find this title anymore as it was permanently shut down by the company on May 12 2014. But as a toast to what was, here's a Lord of Ultima RPG game review.
I grew to rank 2,400 of 12,000 "Lords" in my realm after playing for about 2 weeks' time, which isn't too shabby for a 4-8 hour a day game binge. This was when I was still doing desk jobs and being addicted to other games. How I squeezed in all those time to be productive and still play games is a small miracle in itself.
Nowadays, you have the same type of gameplay pasted and shown in your face every time you browse the web. You've got Evony ads littering the sidebars of less scrupulous game sites who show half-naked girls who aren't really part of the game, taunting the viewer to "Come and Play, My Lord!" These games rip out the heart and soul of the respected Age of Empires series and turn it into a mini-game filled with gaping gameplay holes. You've got a pay-to-win structure that rewards those who spend money in-game, turning it into an unfair platform where non-payers are forced to weep as their kingdom gets destroyed.
EA and game developer Phenomic had noble hopes for Lord of Ultima. It had none of the pay-to-win nonsense and all that feature which turns most serious gamers off. The concept and gameplay is much fairer, and in a sense it was better than anything else at the time. It's more or less of Civ fare- build basic buildings, mine resources, build more basic and advanced buildings, create an army, attack. Continue and repeat. You can use your army to attack other Lords or raid NPC dungeons. There are events that come as a quest from time to time- I managed to send half my best men to slay a great dragon and get rewarded for it. Oh yeah, and don't forget you get immunity from other attacking players for a week. Use the time wisely to build good defense and a standing army before the higher level players mow you down. In the 2 weeks I played, I remember being the highest Lord in the local map, which gave me the pleasure of going anywhere I wanted and pillaging other Lords for glory and riches.
If you're thinking grand, majestic graphics like the Lord of the Rings, you better think again. Browser games generally have good graphics, but they are limited in scope and animation. The army that you're building up, for example, will never appear on-screen. Dungeon raids and battles are downplayed by timer and boring text. Unit training is an exercise in patience. Think Clash of Clans without the shine, the graphics and the animation and you'll get what I mean.
If I sound like giving Lord of Ultima a bad review, I'm not. The game was quite advanced for its time, and it had none of the nonsense Evony had. If I were to travel back in time and play Lord of Ultima, I'd probably be all aglow with the review. But as of today, the fact is that the game hasn't aged very well, considering how far browser games have come.
You'll be dealing with numbers every time you open your realm. The resources you acquire will be used for upgrading your building to the next level, which in turn helps you acquire more resources, or create units that collect resources from other kingdoms or the environment. And so on and so forth. I spent a week doing this cycle and gained an insight on how this could be extremely addictive for people who love steady progression and numbers. It's like the time I played FarmVille just for the heck of it and found it unappealing. Why am I more keen to playing Lords of Ultima when FarmVille is basically the same game but with a different coating? The short answer is that there are a few elements of FarmVille I found annoying. In FarmVille, you'll have to keep your browser open 24/7 so you could harvest your crops and not have them whither and die. The time and coins spent are lost, and you're back to square one. Lords of Ultima's game engine works a bit better. The resources you gain are collected until you reach the maximum storage limit. You can exit the browser as soon as you're done. You won't lose anything unless you get attacked, but the losses can still be recouped. You can still play at your own pace and not shoehorned into a mind-numbing routine.
Oh, and FarmVille will force you to annoy your Facebook friends into accepting your gifts and your invites for exclusive items and bonuses. The concept of having a friendly neighbor is a major part of the game. In Lord of Ultima, it's not a game-changing aspect. Sure you can form alliances and recruit people into your clan, but it's not game-breaking and a must-have.
If the sight of unseen war, blood and glory excites you then Lord of Ultima should be the first MMO/RTS game you should play. There's something that appealed to me when I get to be in charge of building a huge castle and having my own knights and archers do my bidding. Gamers love attacking with huge armies, and I am no exception. Off to war we go!
My main gripe about this game comes in the flaws. Construction time is terribly slow and forces the game to a crawl. Same goes for the time travel aspect. I loved the pace in the beginning, where construction only took a minute or two, but the time length goes up when you're building at higher levels. This is understandable, but why drag it on for great lengths? I reached a point when upgrading my lowest level building took several days to be completed, which means I had to wait for that to make the next action. Lord of Ultima does provide speed-ups but at the cost of more resources. Then you'll have to spend a huge amount for the next level, which defeats the purpose.
The random placing of the cities is another downer. I wanted to play Lords of Ultima with a friend at the same map, but he spawned so far off that it was impossible for me or him to send armies across. I was forced to either subjugate or conquer neighbors for the added clan bonuses and benefits.
Lord of Ultima is free to play for a reason. There's an in-game currency, diamond, that is impossible to attain unless you pay real money for it. There's quite a number of things you can buy with diamonds, but they allow you to buy Ministers, who are powerful NPCs that power you up when it comes to recruitment and construction.
I think that Lord of Ultima got its roots from the earliest Civ games, which explains why it's so addictive. Browser games such as Evony, Camelot and countless others have replicated the formula so much that it looks tired and worn out. There's a good thing about Lord of Ultima that other Civ clones don't have- the variety of building constructs and the vast type of army selection you can train is a massive plus for me. The layout is bigger than any similar game I've ever played, and the micromanagement is much more complex.
Did I mention that Lord of Ultima is a casual game that has plenty of surviving clones online? All of them have the same engine. Build, collect resources, build bigger things, collect more resources. Grow an army and send them to collect resources from hapless kingdoms. EA has thought about adding some things to make it more interesting. For example, the buildings have some attributes that present an element of strategy. Put a sawmill next to the warehouse to get a bonus on the sawmill. There are 3 aspects you should consider- building speed, recruitment speed and resource bonuses. For this reason it's important that you put in the right buildings next to each other. Doing it right will allow you to build more, gain faster recruitment speed and thus, allow you to recover from devastating attacks. It's not a do-or-die aspect though; the game forgives you even when you make building layout mistakes. This should be enough for casual players to go on playing until they find a better game.
Lord of Ultima was pretty advanced for its time in the graphics department. You get smoking chimneys, fountains that spray water and flags that move with the virtual wind. The 2D graphics appeal to certain demographics. I like how simple and uncluttered it was. As with Age of Empire, you start off with an empty patch of green land and a menu of the left. You'll notice how the graphics have aged because the edges are greyed out and the pixels clearly show. Your army won't be showing their shiny helmets and weapons because they'll be attacking in numbers form, literally! The countdown timers and the loading bars are prominently displayed on each building you hover your mouse on. It really feels like a throwback to the old RTS games in Red Alert and Warcraft 2.
I don't normally notice browser games have music or sounds, but Lord of Ultima does have some good tunes if you listen carefully. If you're like me you'll turn them off in the game settings. I especially like how Lord of Ultima was able to incorporate this to their game, which has become the norm even in casual games. A big thumbs up to thinking about the players, EA. It might be a small feature but it has definitely come a long way.
Everything is done old-school here. You use your mouse as the main navigator and the arrow keys when you get into a building. Remember old RTS games like Starcraft and Warcraft? You'll become familiar with the controls in no time at all. The game menu layout is a familiar thing. It's located on the left and the game screen covers up the rest of your screen. You also get a mini panel up at the top. RTS and RPG fans will feel right at home.
Lord of Ultima had a good 4-year run with the partnership of EA and Phenomic. If you're hankering for the same type of game, then there's plenty of clones online and on the mobile devices. The announcement came from community manager Ophidian in the Lord of Ultima Forum. As part of the last hurrah, the game devs have thought about presenting players with free Ministers, who before could only be bought with diamonds. They have also introduced a greater speed in gameplay for those who have relatively just started out. This is a great gesture for those who have stuck with the game. In-game diamonds and purchases were no longer available and refunds were sadly met with apologies. Other online MMO's such as Battlefield Heroes and Need for Speed World weren't affected.
Lord of Ultima is one of the best browser-based RPG you could play when it was still online. There are a lot of alternatives now on both PC and mobile devices, but the engine is somewhat the same. Extended and prolonged waiting times could be a boon for those who like to check in once, twice a day and not put in too much a time commitment, but hardcore players may have to look somewhere else.