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A world in turmoil.
Certainly the first thing that must be mentioned in this preview of Ultima Online 2 is that the game is no longer called Ultima Online 2. Whether this has anything to do with Richard Garriot's (the creator of Ultima, known to fans as Lord British) recent parting of ways with EA and Origin is not really known. Origin claims it has nothing to do with his leaving, but frankly, I'm not so sure.
Either way, the game is now called Ultima Worlds Online: Origin. Although all the press material still referred to UO2, Origin Inc. execs showed me a quickly made mockup of a potential box design with the title "Origin" prominently displayed. But let's have a look at the game and leave all the politics behind, shall we?
To say that there are a lot of changes would be putting it mildly, but the most obvious change is in the graphics. Gone is the isometric display of Ultima Online in favor of a 3D world. The graphics are more advanced than those in Everquest, but you see your avatar from behind, like in Asheron's Call or Ultima IX.
You still have tremendous control over the appearance of your avatar, just like in Ultima Online, and the new 3D graphics are quite impressive. One of the most talked about developments in Origin is that Todd McFarlane, the well-known comic book artist turned toy company executive, was hired as a consultant to design some of the monsters and characters in the game. His contributions are readily apparent in the creatures, which feature all sorts of interesting horns and uncountable numbers of teeth.
The changes only get more startling from there. Some parts of the Origin world have acquired a distinctly technological flair, like a floating cloud city made of steel mesh and stamped metal plates. Britain's ancient enemy, Lord Blackthorn (a McFarlane redesign), sports a new 'millennial' look, complete with cybernetic enhancements.
Even the sacred Ultima map has changed quite drastically. The new world is flooded and divided into a number of islands, like a post global-warming version of Britannia. Truly, this is a departure from old-school Ultima.
And this is part of what the name change signifies. Origin Systems Inc. wants to emphasize that Origin is no replacement for the world of Ultima. In fact, they plan to continue full support of Ultima Online even after Origin is released. They are once again trying something new, something that may have rankled the venerable Lord British.
As for me? Being a die hard Ultima junkie, I can't wait. Unfortunately, I have to. Origin is due out in the spring of 2001.
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