49 - Ultima Underworld

Sorry about the long wait. I had a busy Easter holiday that I spent at the hospital. Nothing is seriously wrong or even wrong at all, but we needed to get something checked out to make sure it isn’t or won’t become a problem. Luckily, everything is fine, but my wife and I have lost yet another holiday and I am really tired from constant trips home and back. I am sure we will have more fun on our trip back to the United States next month.

Ultima Underworld

“What can I say about the game that I haven’t said already?” This is what I kept thinking to myself over the last few days and I am having a hard time figuring out if there really is anything. The engine and immersiveness were astounding at the time of its release, it introduced many concepts that have become standard in modern games, and it remains a beacon of unbridled creativity and inspiration by a small studio. Discussing these may be beating a dead horse, but they require at least an honorable mention.

What remains after the completion of the game is the feeling that the plot, objectives, and game world itself are all intertwined and one cannot be removed from the others without unraveling the whole thing. I rarely get this feeling and can list only a few titles that have conveyed it… maybe Mean Streets and Might & Magic III. But what I mean is that the plot develops so organically that the player begins piecing everything together without being told anything explicitly in any serious information dump. Maybe it comes from the smaller production team or the more renegade production process, but everything comes together naturally and symmetrically. This is what I miss the most about older games, especially those made for the PC.

The importance of Ultima Underworld cannot be disputed, but I also think it has become somewhat of an artifact. I know this will be a controversial opinion, but compared to the dozens of games following its productions that have taken its notes and improved upon them, it does not hold up as well. It is true that many modern games such as The Elder Scrolls would not even be around without its legacy, but I think that being aware of its existence and influence is much more important than playing it. I wholeheartedly recommend any player who is interested in the genre complete the game, but many gamers may find it frustrating since the developers themselves were trying to suss out what they were actually doing. Even though an early car is a marvel that should be preserved and analyzed, you wouldn’t want to drive it down the road every day. Ultima Underworld most certainly has a limited appeal today compared to universal praise in the past.

I don’t mean to sound disparaging at all. In fact, I would recommend anyone remotely interested in 3D dungeon crawlers or the history of gaming to at least try playing it. But I do recognize that the game is rough around the edges. Combat is not very fun, some of the puzzles are nebulous at best, and the movement is difficult to adjust to. What is great is that the immersiveness of the game and wonder of exploring the dungeon transcend all these downfalls to provide a deep well to be drawn from over and over again by products coming out as recently as this year.

Ultima Underworld is the most important game I have played for the blog, so far.

What’s next?

Next I will be playing Bastion, but I have not decided if I should take a break from the blog until after my trip or try to squeeze it in. With the recent events, I am thinking about just waiting and taking my time. I am still very tired and having trouble producing content with all the other stuff going on, but I hope you enjoy it.

In addition, here are my final stats for the game. Enjoy!

--Backlog Killer