Other games that scratch that UU or Ultima itch (well, at least come close)


#1

Over the years I have played many, many (MANY) CRPGs and very few of them evoked anything close to the reaction I had playing Ultima Underworld 1: The Stygian Abyss. I was already enamored of videogames when I saw it being demoed at a Waldensoftware in 92 but UU was so far beyond anything I’d ever seen or experienced that I (like many others) have some very specific feelings and emotions tied up with playing the game, feelings of discovery, and fear, and joy that are much more than simple nostalgia. The same thing goes for other Ultima titles, especially 7.

There have, however, been some games that at least came close to giving me those same feelings. I hope others may find the suggestions helpful as we fill this inexorable stretch of time before UA is completed. I sincerely hope this list may help others find games they may enjoy, and also that fellow UU fans can add to this list with games I may have forgot or never played.

Arx Fatalis : The obvious one (other than System Shock 1 and 2, which are too obvious to list). Developed by Arkane Studios (who have gone on to be reasonably successful with the excellent Dishonored and the slightly less excellent Dark Messiah of Might and Magic), Arx Fatalis was the reputedly the result of EA declining Arkane’s request to make a third Ultima Underworld (at the time EA was squeezing Ultima Online for all it had left and had recently killed Ultima Online 2 because… profit?). Instead Arkane developed this obvious love letter to UU, a first person fantasy dungeon crawler with a similar setting, full inventory, NPCs to talk to, a complicated magic system, and a dynamic plot. Getting it to work properly in higher resolutions can be difficult but the game is still very playable on PC and also released on the original XBOX (if anyone but me still has one of those). Probably the closest thing to UU in the last 15 years and a decent game, if imperfect…

Driftmoon : a top down RPG clearly inspired and styled after Ultima 7, Driftmoon is a charming, enjoyable (if short) game. It takes place in an enchanted world of talking animals and ancient magic and is a breath of fresh air in a genre dominated by ‘grimdark’ settings like Dragon Age, Diablo, or just semi-realistic ones like The Elder Scrolls. Driftmoon has hermit crab sea captains and panther queens; it’s a throwback to the days fantasy didn’t necessarily mean orcs and elves and gritty apocalyptic wars. In tone I would compare maybe to Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles (The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, etc): the situation is dire but the characters are not jaded and grim. Also, the game has a number of obvious shout-outs and references to the Ultima games which made me smile and even tear up once or twice.

King’s Field series : A FirstPerson ARPG from Japan, King’s Field was one of the old ‘big box’ Playstaion 1 games, though it has had iterations up through PS2 and PS3. King’s Field offers firstperson dungeon crawling (and overland exploration) in a depressing dark fantasy world. The games are hard as hell, not just because of the less than optimal interface (or how goddamn slow you move), but by design. As such the game manages to be genuinely frightening and exploration can be terrifying. The graphics are incredibly crude for the first two games (early PS1 3D, grainy and muddy with awful draw distance… worse than sprites, imo), but later iterations have much better graphics. I should note that this game was developed by From Software, who has recently achieved some fame and notoriety for a little game some of you may have heard of called Dark Souls… For fans of that game, you can see the roots of that depressing, desolate environment in King’s Field. The game is too dated (and hard and slow) for me to honestly recommend but the feel is similar to the most harrowing moments of Ultima Underworld.

Albion : Albion is a somewhat rare and unique science fiction RPG from the late 90’s. It’s interface is similar to a more modern Ultima 7 and it plays similarly. A couple things set it apart from other similar games: the graphics are simply gorgeous, the dialog and game text is actually very good, the characters are clearly defined, and the story is (much like the Ultima games) very much about the importance of compassion and kindness. I don’t want to ruin anything on the off chance anyone plays it but the game is amazing and deserves to be remembered; unfortunately it is not available anywhere other than Ebay or, ahem, certain websites that trade in games of dubious copyright. The CD version also has awesome music and speech.

Outcast : another old PC game from the late 90s, Outcast was the unfortunate victim (in my opinion) of technological progress: it was a software rendered voxel-based 3D game that came out riiiight before 3D accelerator cards became available. On the common hardware of the time the game was ugly and slow and even at its best it was no match for the 3D graphics of the new ‘accelerated’ crowd (Tomb Raider, Turok, etc). Regardless, Outcast is an amazing semi-openworld adventure RPG where you play a human explorer that has come to an alien planet. The gameworld is huge, the interface is surprisingly intuitive, the writing is fun and interesting, and the game gives you two (TWO!) personal teleporters pretty much right off the bat that you can use when and wherever you want (and pickup and put somewhere else). The freedom, exploration, and messianic aspects of the game always reminded me of Ultima, that ‘stranger in a strange land’ vibe, which this game also shares with Albion. Also the game suffered from terrible cover art, that late 90s European CG that looks all lumpy and horrifying… Anyway, this one is readily available on GOG.

Divine Divinity : this game is like a weird hybrid of Ultima 7 and, say, Diablo. It’s easy to dismiss as just another generic ARPG (and in some ways it is), but it has a full inventory system, magic items that do cool things, and you can manipulate the environment, ie move boxes to find secrets, move pillows to find keys, etc. Environmental interactivity has always been one of my favorite aspects of later Ultima games, something most traditional RPGs (such as the Infinity Engine games or Bioware games in general) don’t offer; bless the Elder Scrolls and new Fallout games for having at least some interactivity. There’s nothing quite like moving a barrel and finding that key to the big gleaming chest… anyway, Divine Divinity may be slightly derivative but it does enough stuff well to stand out, and again, inventory management and environmental interaction put this one above other contenders. There is a sequel, Beyond Divinity (which I barely played but seemed very similar), a… other sequel, Divinity 2 which seems to have many subtitles and is totally different, and the excellent turnbased strategy game prequel that came out this year Divinity: Original Sin (which actually makes a number of references to the first game which I thought was cool).

Delver : a firstperson roguelike RPG that is both reminiscent of UU (especially the wall sprites and such) and completely, absolutely nothing like UU (random dungeons are pretty much the opposite of UU’s carefully crafted maps). Also the art style for the enemies is a weird, cutesy, almost JRPG sprite design that I do not care for at all. The game is early access and worth a look but I am not endorsing it like the games above.

Barony : pretty much the same thing as Delver but sans JRPG sprites. There’s a free demo on indiedb.com.

Again, please post any other similar games, or games that gave you that particular type of enjoyment you associate with UU or the Ultima games! I left off things like Grimrock or Elminage Gothic because those are more like Eye of the Beholder/Dungeon Master to me at least; UU set itself apart by having realistic environmental navigation as opposed to the tile-based movement of those games.


#2

I’m really glad someone else has played and enjoyed Albion. A really interesting game with surprisingly good art style and direction for the time


#3

Thanks for pointing out Outcast! That’s something I will be getting soon.

I also must give a nod to Arx Fatalis. Loved that game…


#4

Hmm, let’s see – I’d add the Might & Magic series, a whole bunch of Dungeon Master clones (I’ll just single out Lands of Lore, Eye of the Beholder and Legend of Grimrock), Gothic, Betrayal at Krondor, Exile II: Crystal Souls, and Morrowind.

They are so well known that everyone has played them at this point, though. :confused:


#5

I just bought a copy on eBay - sick of hearing about this game and not being able to purchase it online!

Agreed on many of the above suggestions - especially Arx and Divine Divinity. I still need to play Driftmoon and Outcast.

I would also echo some of Starker’s suggestions, particularly:

Gothic series - I found Gothic I to be very Ultima Underworld-esque in some ways. It is a contained yet diverse environment with several factions. It also grants a lot of freedom to go where you want, when you want (although you may not survive!)

The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind - This chapter of TES in particular achieves a level of immersive lore and context that is similar to the Ultima series. Being a stranger in a strange land is also a plot theme.


#6

Yeah I deliberately left off all the Might and Magic games, Wizardry series, and Dungeon Master clones because those always felt, well, different to me. There was such a profound difference in the feel of a game that only lets you step in distinct 10 foot squares, and only turn on 90 degree angles. The floor is always level, there’s no jumping or action or subtlety, you usually have a party… it’s funny, I actually played Eye of the Beholder AFTER UU and just couldn’t get over the tile walking thing, it just confused me to no end (at 11, ha).

Others may feel differently though, of course, so the ones you listed are pretty much the best: Lands of Lore is gorgeous (though incredibly frustratingly difficult at parts), Eye of the Beholder is a lot of fun and easy to pick up, and Legend of Grimrock is a wonderful modern homage to the entire genre (though I did not care for the more ‘actiony’ interface or combat, especially the way the game handled casting magic).

As you and several other people pointed out, Gothic (and I would say Risen as well, as it’s successor series) shares similarities as well and kind of plays the way Ultima 9 should have. All the Elder Scrolls share a bit of the feel of UU (in being first person, free movement RPGs) but as you indicate, Morrowind is the best in terms of story and immersion and general awesome weirdness, no argument there. (I do still remember my disappointment playing the original Arena, anticipating something like UU, and getting, well… Arena instead.)

Betrayal at Krondor? I dunno, I never got very far. I’ll be giving it another shot (or watching an LP) sometime soon, thanks!

Interesting that you suggest Exile 2 over the others in the series; I never played the original Exile games (or even the Avernum remakes) but I’m playing the SECOND series of remakes, of which Crystal Souls was released a couple months ago. It was excellent but reminded me more of the old DnD games than Ultima, but that might just be me. Same with all the Spiderweb games, which I have enjoyed: Geneforge and Avadon.

WHICH REMINDS ME, lol, Eschalon 1-3 is a decent series, clearly inspired by the later Ultima games. Universal turnbased (ie, as you move everything else moves, when you’re still everything is still) and really hard at the beginning, but pretty cool regardless.

Also, I totally forgot to give honorable mention to Lords of Xulima , which I am currently playing through. In many ways it is more similar to Might and Magic but it is a perfect old school style CRPG, really, it is very very good and did give me some Ultima-like feelings.

I’m glad to see some other people have played Albion and that at least one person is hunting it down! It’s funny, any time Albion comes up (which is basically never) someone points out how glad they are that SOMEBODY else has played it, lol. It really is that cool, I have no idea why it’s not on GOG (licensing issues I’m sure, or maybe no one owns it anymore?).


#7

I would also give a nod to the STALKER series of single-player games. They were more about straight-up shooting than using the environment to solve challenges, but there was some tactical diversity even there. They also encouraged somewhat thoughtful play… and man, they had “atmosphere” in spades.

Also worth noting that the team will be streaming themselves playing STALKER: Clear Sky on April 22. :wink:


#8

Ah, an excellent suggestion! Whereas the game was, as you say, primarily a shooter, it did have a proper inventory, NPC interactions and factions, AWESOME atmosphere and was an early attempt at the type of emergent activity that more recent games (and UA) are working on. When it came out I think it was the first game to even attempt an unscripted ecology (except maybe Jurassic Park: Trespasser and that, uh… didn’t work out so great).


#9

The gameplay differences aside, Eye of Beholder and Grimrock in particular start out with you being trapped underground and descending deeper. I thought about Wizardry too, but for me it was always a bit too hardcore to the point that it felt like it was more about combat than anything else.

Yeah, it’s probably the least similar to any Ultima game from all the games mentioned, but it’s a good RPG with a fleshed out world (well, borrowed from Feist) and one of the games from that era that really paid attention to writing. Neal Hallford did such a good job on that that many people thought Feist himself wrote the game.

Exile 2, because it takes place entirely underground. I would have chosen the third game otherwise. And the first game hasn’t aged well, although thematically it fits even better.

I have a big soft spot for all Spiderweb games, but I’ve always preferred the original 2D Exile over the Avernum remakes. The Exile series is now available for free, btw, on the Spiderweb website (Spiderwebsite?): http://www.spiderwebsoftware.com/productsOld.html

I think Ubisoft owns Blue Byte now, no? But yes, it’s pretty sad that people currently have basically no other option than to go to an abandonware site. It’s popular on the GOG wishlist, though: http://www.gog.com/wishlist/games/albion

Oh, and the game is really much better with the Pandora port (now available for Windows too). Enhanced 3D and higher resolutions, runs like a dream (download links in video description): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNJ5G1uO-xw


#10

@Starker

So I started watching Betrayal at Krondor and though it doesn’t seem much like UU it DOES seem pretty awesome, except for the cave mazes. As you indicated, the writing is top notch, and really sells the game world (which I am unfamiliar with). It’s interesting that it appears that the developers decided, instead of allowing 360 degree turning, to allow 30 degree turning, an excellent compromise given the hardware of the time. The writing is excellent and I am compelled to stop watching it and start playing it; it’s clear that my earlier (failed) attempts at the game were mostly the result of not understanding the basic mechanics. Having had those explained I feel like I could have a lot of fun with it, though if I remember correctly there is only one sequel game that didn’t do well?

Anyway, as far as the Spiderweb games go, the first Avernum especially makes you feel like you’re part of a living breathing underground world. Little things, too, that you don’t get in big budget crap like Dragon Age, like encountering a pregnant woman as a shop keeper. I don’t remember the last time I encountered a pregnant woman in a videogame.

Also, that Albion port, wow.

Also also, have you (or anyone else) ever played TSR’s Thunderscape? I remember it coming out and I believe it was a free-motion First Person RPG but there is very little info on it and no LPs. It’s one of the few mysteries left from my 90s gaming career. I own it on GOG but haven’t had a chance to try it.


#11

I’m digging the music, I Think I’ve been convinced to try it out.

I never heard of it until now. But the sound effects from the one video I saw i found particularly grating.


#12

The underground parts like sewers and mines are generally pretty short and there’s far more outdoorsy stuff in the game. Once you get used to the mechanics and slightly blocky graphics, it’s pretty smooth sailing. The game has aged pretty well, actually, all things considered.

I never played any of the sequels, but there’s Betrayal in Antara and Return to Krondor, which, from what I’ve heard, are not quite as good, but not bad either.

I tried to play it once, and I think I might have ragequit. Maybe it gets good further in. I remember it being kind of frustrating and crappy, though. I did like the sort of sequel Entomorph though, but it’s a very different game.


#13

Yeah the music is pretty sweet, there’s a youtube video of just the soundtrack apparently.

Ah yes, there were three games. They were never as popular as BaK, which I used to encounter all the time in peoples collections, online, or in stores (long ago), and my friends that were fans always said they sucked but I may check them out, especially if the same guy writes the text because damn, he’s really good.

Yeah I should really give it a shot to find out, especially as there is no decent LP of it (and barely any mention of it on the net). For some reason I always thought Entomorph was the sequel to Thunderscape but that hardly matters; Entomorph was pretty cool though, at least at the time. I tried it recently and it was incredibly repetitive.

Also, for those that are interested, Barony AND Ziggurat are currently on sale. These are firstperson roguelike games that are, I dunno, pretty cool. Barony is in a PWYW bundle on Groupees (https://groupees.com/bagb23?np2), Ziggurat is $7.50 at the Humble Store. I picked up both, personally; Ziggurat is a lot like the old Doom clone, Heretic, but with randomly generated levels and items. Still haven’t played Barony but it has a similar graphical style to original UU and is more of a dungeon crawl; it also is definitely in Alpha still so, yeah.

Thinking about Doom reminded me of Strife ! Strife was a First Person ARPG that was build on the Doom engine. When it came out the graphics (essentially a full generation behind) were laughable, at least to me and my jaded friends, and I simply couldn’t get into it. A couple years later I gave it another shot and was BLOWN AWAY by how awesome the game is. The combats are frequently unfair and the beginning is a bit rocky but give it a few hours and the experience is pretty great. Now the graphics seem quaint and ‘retro’ as opposed to ‘bad,’ anyway. Strife is available on Steam in an ‘updated’ edition, http://store.steampowered.com/app/317040/ . It is NOT the crappy MOBA by the same name.

And thinking about forgotten FPARPGs (that can’t be a term…) has reminded me of another, this time an old Origin game, called CyberMage . Cybermage was pretty sweet though I never got very far and maybe I’m remember how cool the manual was instead of the game. There is very little info on the game and no one seems to remember it but I DO because I got the strategy guide for like 1$ at Electronics Boutique in 1997 or something and read the whole damn thing. I eventually got the game and found it extremely difficult and pretty confusing and never got past the second area. STILL, it was a unique experience and I thought I should share. Cybermage is not available frickin anywhere.


#14

I mentioned Cybermage in another post months ago. Interesting scifi comic book FPS with exploration and role playing elements. I think Origin was at one time planning on a sequel.

Betrayal in Krondor is excellent. Betrayal in Antara isn’t bad, Never played the third one.

If you are willing to run an emulator you could have some fun with Alternate Reality which was very ambitious for it’s time (1980s) and until UU was my favorite first person simulation RPG.
http://www.eobet.com/alternate-reality/

I’ve been having a hard time finding something recent to scratch the UU itch though. I’m thinking of getting Pillars of Eternity even though it is a different type of RPG.


#15

I haven’t played much of the games, but the Magic Candle series (1989-1992) seems and feels like a very simulationistic Ultima type experience in the vein of U5.


#16

In related news, Albion is available on GOG now.


#17

It is on my wishlist and I recommend it for everyone


#18

Lands of Lore II comes close.