In light of Ultima VII and Serpent Isle, it's little wonder why most everyone hated Ultima VIII when it was published not so long ago in 1994. The frightfully simplistic game mechanics combined with action-oriented puzzles and a loathsome combat engine frustrated most long-time fans of the series. Nonetheless, the game is not without merit; a complex spell-casting system and an uncompromising, morally ambiguous plot make Ultima VIII a worthy quest for those willing to get acquainted with its elusive gameplay. But sadly, even the once-impressive 3D-rendered graphics look practically amateurish by current standards, making Ultima VIII an infinitely cumbersome game.
The Ultima Collection is missing the two spin-off series: the outstanding 3D first-person Ultima Underworlds and the artful Worlds of Ultima games. Ultima Underworld is sold separately in stores either on the discount bin or as part of Interplay's Ultimate RPG Archives. But the Worlds of Ultima games are casualties of the times, nowhere to be found and utterly forgotten by all but the most die-hard fans. Based on the Ultima VI game engine, the Worlds of Ultima games cast the Avatar in wondrous, new lands. Savage Empire, the first Worlds of Ultima game, pits the Avatar in a prehistoric setting filled with dinosaurs and Stone Age tribesmen. Among other things, the Avatar constructs rifles and gunpowder from natural items, sets a trap to kill an enormous Tyrannosaurus Rex, and befriends an ancient reptilian race. Savage Empire, let alone any reference to its existence, is not included in the Ultima Collection. The second Worlds of Ultima game, Martian Dreams, is in several ways the most ambitious Ultima ever created. The Avatar is trapped on the planet Mars along with Earth's most important modern historical figures from Vladimir Lenin to Andrew Carnegie, and with their help he must find a way home. In doing so, he steps into his own dreams to uncover the fate of a Martian race on the brink of extinction. Martian Dreams is also entirely absent from the Ultima Collection.
Omissions notwithstanding, the Ultima Collection does a good job presenting the ten games it does contain. Akalabeth and the first six Ultimas are readily playable under Windows 95 (even in a window) and run fine even on fast machines with the help of the included speed reduction utility. Getting Ultima VII and VIII to work is more challenging because of their unorthodox DOS-based memory management, and unless you have DOS drivers installed on your computer you won't be able to play them at all. Also contained in the package is a complete atlas featuring reprints of the maps included in the Ultima games over the years. At the same time, each game's original manual may be found on the CD-ROM in Adobe Acrobat format, while copy protection and all important general information are also accessible in the Collection's printed documentation. And to sweeten the deal all the more, the Ultima Collection includes video interviews with the series' creator in which he discusses the origins of the series and where he wants it to go.
While the Ultima Collection does not necessarily promise to give you every Ultima ever made, its failure to include the Underworld and Worlds of Ultima games makes it feel painfully incomplete for the fan hoping to get his hands on a complete archive of Garriott's work. But it does contain several of the best role-playing games of all time. It's a package worth owning for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that half of these games are still perfectly worth playing for the first time, or playing all over again.