At last, by popular demand, Origin's venerable role-playing series is available all on one CD-ROM. Most of it, anyway. The Ultima Collection is a praiseworthy historical document, an excellent value, and paradoxically, an unfortunate disappointment. For while this collection presents ten of the most important role-playing games ever designed on a single disc, its self-conscious omissions render the Ultima Collection hopelessly incomplete.
The Ultima Collection contains every game in the Ultima series as well as creator Richard Garriott's first published release, Akalabeth. Many of these remain timeless and incredible role-playing games, while some haven't aged as well. Don't expect much from Akalabeth - it's practically 20 years old. Ultima II and III also feel pretty ancient. With somber-looking CGA graphics chock-full of drab black, gray, cyan, and magenta, these two games are much more cumbersome to play than their descendants. The Ultima Collection includes the late '80s full-color remake of Ultima I (as opposed to the original release) whose visual improvements help make it a rather pleasant dungeon hack even today, though it lacks the depth and detail embodied in the later games in the series.
Ultima IV is the most tightly woven game in the series. With clearly defined goals, an epic plot, and a powerful game engine, Ultima IV is a classic. Even so, Ultima V is its hands-down superior, with a more streamlined engine, superb graphics that retain their charm to this day, and an awesome story worthy of the Ultima tradition. Ultima VI marks perhaps the greatest graphical leap the Ultima series has ever accomplished, with the introduction of 256-color MCGA graphics. The scale of the world is many times greater than even the vast Ultima V, and the story, centered around the seemingly malicious race of Gargoyles, is thought-provoking and exciting.
Ultima VII consists of two stand-alone parts. The original Ultima VII is the most gorgeous game of the series, with its vivid and full-scale world that truly feels alive with secrets and detail. Its plot, dealing with an enigmatic new religious society and the evil being called the Guardian, is unforgettable. A real-time combat engine and fully mouse-driven interface made Ultima VII feel somewhat simpler than its ancestors, but in retrospect the game remains a marvelous achievement. Serpent Isle, the continuation of Ultima VII, is often considered the best Ultima ever made. Though its look is mostly borrowed from Ultima VII, Serpent Isle offers a huge quest and some of the most fascinating characters and situations ever to be found in a role-playing game.