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The Ten Best Gameworlds


Ultima series

Britannia, born on the Apple II at the dawn of personal-computer gaming, is the oldest and one of the most historically rich gameworlds. Richard Garriott, often known by his Lord British persona, has spent nearly all his professional life building the series of over a dozen Ultima role-playing games and spin-offs, from his first pet project Akalabeth (which he distributed in plastic bags) to last year's teetering step into a three-dimensional Britannia, Ultima IX: Ascension.

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Britannia bears the distinction of being a unique fantasy world. But Ultima didn't always take place in Britannia: The original game and its two sequels took place in a land called Sosaria, which was filled with Dungeons & Dragons-inspired swords and sorcery. But by Ultima IV, you couldn't find a dwarf or elf anywhere. Unlike a typical fantasy world, Britannia isn't divided by racial boundaries; instead, it is most distinguishable for its eight major cities, each of which specializes in a particular trade and a corresponding moral virtue. Britannia's landmarks - such as the mines of the tinkers' town of Minoc and the ancient forest surrounding the druids' haven Yew - give these towns such a strong sense of place that you can often recognize them in a later Ultima, even if the game's graphics have changed completely. And any Ultima player will be quick to recognize the castle of Britannia's ruler, the wise Lord British.

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The world of Britannia has changed and evolved since it was first created around 20 years ago. Though the basic contour of the world map was established in 1985 with Ultima IV, previously uncharted islands, changing climates, and the discovery of new dungeons and catacombs have made the world seem bigger and more detailed with each respective game. One of Ultima's consistent charms is that you can adventure freely throughout the world without any linear plot constraints, and by using a wide variety of types of transportation - including horses, magical moongates, ships, and even hot-air balloons and magic carpets - all to speed up traveling in remarkably expansive wildernesses.

New technologies and new ideas have periodically sprung up and flourished in Britannia over the course of the series. The world's conflicts are as often driven by political motivations as they are by the appearance of increasingly menacing sources of evil. For instance, Lord British's eight virtues were soon perverted under the oppressive Code of Virtue of the evil imposter King Blackthorne in Ultima V. And when the Fellowship sect spread throughout Britannia in the seventh game, the religion's initially ambiguous intentions made the game more involving. The influence of Britannia's innovative inventors is also evident, from the invention of steam power to the fateful discovery of blackrock, a mined substance that could dissipate the ether that powers Britannia's magic.

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Ultima also had a constant cast of characters that grew and developed over time. Apart from the distant, yet benevolent Lord British himself, you'd always receive a friendly welcome and plenty of aid from recurring characters such as the bard Iolo and the ranger Shamino. But these characters were resigned after Ultima IX, which was announced as the last game in the series proper. Moving forward, the online Ultima games can continue to draw from Britannia's deep reservoir of history and characters, but even without the friendly banter of Iolo and company, you can still count on the companionship of fellow Ultima players.


This brave new world mystifies


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