So you want to play a massively multiplayer online game set in a familiar world that evokes the magic of old-school RPGs but takes advantage of one of the most robust 3D game engines? If the 2005 release date for Dungeons and Dragons Online seems interminable, EA is hoping that you'll use that time reacquainting yourself with the world of Ultima when it releases Ultima X: Odyssey sometime in early 2004. Described as a "sister game" of Ultima Online, Odyssey continues the story line of the original series, offering your character the opportunity to ascend to the level of the Avatar and join him in his struggle against evil.
Already explored every nook and cranny of Brittania? Odyssey will be set in Alucinor, a much more stylized world that will benefit from the Unreal Warfare engine. This decision was perhaps precipitated by the departure of series creator Richard "Lord British" Garriot, who left EA for NCsoft and is working on a new MMOG of his own. The result will be a game that draws on the already rich story line of the Ultima series, with its familiar bestiary (with over 100 monster models) and virtue system, but has clearly been steered more toward questing and combat than skill building and social interaction.
The core of Odyssey's gameplay will lie in the Odyssey Adventure System, which is supposed to ensure that you won't have to wander around wondering what to do next. When you create your character, you'll need to decide which of the eight Virtues you want to pursue and which of the four combat paths you want to take. Based on this decision, the Odyssey Adventure System works like a dating service to match up your party with an NPC who not only has the perfect quest, but is also willing to come and tell you about it. There will also be non-Virtue quest missions that you can undertake for the sake of pure level-building and these are more traditional in that you will have to seek out an NPC to get one.
Providing this kind of balance and flexibility in all aspects of gameplay seems to be the main goal of Odyssey's developers. You don't like looking for quests? We'll bring them to you. You want to go looking for quests? No problem, you can do that, too. This desire to be all things to all gamers may be a bit overambitious, but the design sounds pretty good on paper. If you don't always want to be your party's healer when you go out, you won't have to. How does this work? By making healing a Virtue-based skill, one that any player can use without sacrificing his path-based fighting skills.
The Virtue quests themselves will be flexible, in that you get different outcomes based on your decisions. The example from the official UXO web site goes something like this: say you're asked to help a hungry family whose food has been stolen by a monster. If you punish the monster, you get points in Justice. If you find out why the monster stole the food in the first place and help him alleviate the problem, you get points in Compassion. This should mean that players will make decisions based on the way they want to shape their characters, rather than based on how many general experience points a particular option will give them.