Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar is set to launch on iPad and PC later this year. The game, which Barnett said will be playable "start to finish" for free, is the second major free-to-play project from BioWare, the first being Facebook tie-in Dragon Age Legends. He said the team took several lessons from the EA2D project which was recently discontinued online.
"It had a lot of good ideas in it, it struggled to find a long-term audience, and perhaps was too aggressive with its monetization policy," Barnett said. So instead of "glass walls" preventing advancement through the game, Ultima Forever players will be able to buy additional means of transport or the ability to fast travel through the world.
Ultima Forever will feature the same set of virtues from its 1985 counterpart, but players will find new choices and consequences reflected in the game's fully integrated multiplayer. "Virtue is how you treat other people, in lots of games that's how you treat NPCs," said lead designer Kate Flack. "We want to take that same idea of how you treat other people and then apply it to the players."
What we've done is we've picked Ultima IV, because we think Ultima IV is really cool, and it's neat, and it's ace, and then we've made it so it's small groups of people, three or four people down [in] the dungeon, going through the world of Ultima, going in to see all the famous towns and all the NPCs and the entire world's available…
Going into hot air balloons and flying over mountain ranges, getting into galleons [and] sailing across the oceans, surviving the great big storms, getting back to sea monsters, going to Stygian Abyss, and then competing to collect the actual Virtues, the eight Virtues that make you a good person, which is why Ultima IV is neat.
[We'll be] doing that by giving you quandaries, actual conversations that you have to solve. Which are things like… you find some money. You've got the merchant who lost the money, and you can give it back to him which is the Just thing to do, or do you give it to this poor person who's starving, which is the Compassionate thing to do.
They're both good answers. But they're both challenging answers. You've got to think about both of them. And that's basically the driving force behind this game.
In this case, that means a top-down isometric view, with hand-painted backgrounds and 3D characters. According to Barnett, "It plays fast, it's clicky, but the combat's fluid and fun rather than tactical and mind-numbing. The character progression is soft with a smooth up ramp… You're going to get in conversation trees which are much more like you would get in Dragon Age."
While Barnett was unable to provide a release date, he did tell IGN that "it's mostly finished. We're in the polished phase." Hopefully we'll get to play it soon to find out if it lives up to the legacy of the Ultima franchise, but for now you can learn a bit more and sign up for the upcoming closed beta on the official website.