The main Ultima series consists of nine installments (the seventh title is further divided into two parts) grouped into three trilogies, or "Ages": The Age of Darkness (Ultima I-III), The Age of Enlightenment (Ultima IV-VI), and The Age of Armageddon (Ultima VII-IX). The last is also sometimes referred to as "The Guardian Saga" after its chief antagonist. The first trilogy is set in a fantasy world named Sosaria, but during the cataclysmic events of The Age of Darkness, it is sundered and three quarters of it vanish. What is left becomes known as Britannia, a realm ruled by the benevolent Lord British, and is where the later games mostly take place. The protagonist in all the games is a canonically male resident of Earth who is called upon by Lord British to protect Sosaria and, later, Britannia from a number of dangers. Originally, the player character was referred to as "the Stranger", but by the end of Ultima IV he becomes universally known as the Avatar.
The Age of Darkness: Ultima I–III
In Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness (1981), the Stranger is first summoned to Sosaria to defeat the evil wizard Mondain who aims to enslave it. Since Mondain possesses the Gem of Immortality, which makes him invulnerable, the Stranger locates a time machine, travels back in time to kill Mondain before he creates the Gem, and shatters the incomplete artifact.
Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress (1982) details Mondain's secret student and lover Minax's attempt to avenge him. When Minax launches an attack on the Stranger's homeworld of Earth, her actions cause doorways to open to various times and locations throughout Earth's history, and brings forth legions of monsters to all of them. The Stranger, after obtaining the Quicksword that alone can harm her, locates the evil sorceress at Castle Shadowguard at the origin of time and defeats her.
Ultima III: Exodus (1983) reveals that Mondain and Minax had an offspring, the eponymous Exodus, "neither human, nor machine", according to the later games (it is depicted as a computer at the conclusion of the game, and it appears to be a demonic, self-aware artificial intelligence). Some time after Minax's death, Exodus starts its own attack on Sosaria and the Stranger is summoned once again to destroy it. Exodus was the first installment of the series featuring a player party system, which was used in many later games.
The Age of Enlightenment: Ultima IV–VI
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar (1985) marked a turning point in the series from the traditional "hero vs. villain" plots, instead introducing a complex alignment system based upon the Eight Virtues derived from the combinations of the Three Principles of Love, Truth and Courage. Although Britannia now prospers under Lord British's rule, he fears for his subjects' spiritual well-being and summons the Stranger again to become a spiritual leader of Britannian people by example. Throughout the game, the Stranger's actions determine how close he comes to this ideal. Upon achieving enlightenment in every Virtue, he can reach the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom and becomes the "Avatar", the embodiment of Britannia's virtues.
In Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny (1988), the Avatar returns to Britannia to find that after Lord British had been lost in the Underworld, Lord Blackthorn, who rules in his stead, was corrupted by the Shadowlords and enforces a radically twisted vision of the Virtues, deviating considerably from their original meaning. The Avatar and his companions proceed to rescue the true king, overthrow the tyrant, and restore the Virtues in their true form.
Ultima VI: The False Prophet (1990) details the invasion of Britannia by Gargoyles, which the Avatar and his companions have to repel. Over the course of the game, it is revealed that the Gargoyles have valid reasons to loathe the Avatar. Exploring the themes of racism and xenophobia, the game tasks the Avatar with understanding and reconciling two seemingly opposing cultures.
The Age of Armageddon: Ultima VII–IX
Ultima VII: The Black Gate (1992) sees the Avatar entangled in the plan of an ostensibly virtuous and benevolent organization named the Fellowship (inspired by Scientology) to create a gateway for the evil entity known as the Guardian to enter Britannia. Though all of the main line of Ultima games are arranged into trilogies, Richard Garriott later revealed that Ultima VII was the first game where he did any sort of planning ahead for future games in the series. He elaborated that "the first three didn't have much to do with each other, they were 'Richard Garriott learns to program'; IV through VI were a backwards-designed trilogy, in the sense that I tied them together as I wrote them; but VII-IX, the story of the Guardian, were a preplanned trilogy, and we had a definite idea of where we wanted to go." An expansion pack was released named Forge of Virtue that added a newly arisen volcanic island to the map that the Avatar was invited to investigate. The tie-in storyline was limited to this island, where a piece of Exodus (his data storage unit) had resurfaced. To leave the island again, the Avatar had to destroy this remnant of Exodus. In the process of doing so, he also created The Black Sword, an immensely powerful weapon possessed by a demon.
Ultima VII Part Two: Serpent Isle (1993) was released as the second part of Ultima VII because it used the same game engine as Ultima VII. According to interviews, Richard Garriott felt it therefore did not warrant a new number. Production was rushed due to deadlines set to the developers, and the storyline was cut short; remains of the original, longer storyline can be found in the database. Following the Fellowship's defeat, its founder Batlin flees to the Serpent Isle, pursued by the Avatar and companions. Serpent Isle is revealed as another fragment of former Sosaria, and its history which is revealed throughout the game provides many explanations and ties up many loose ends left over from the Age of Darkness era. Magical storms herald the unraveling of the dying world's very fabric, and the game's mood is notably melancholic, including the voluntary sacrificial death of a long-standing companion of the Avatar, Dupre. By the end of the game, the Avatar is abducted by the Guardian and thrown into another world, which becomes the setting for the next game in the series. The Silver Seed was an expansion pack for Ultima VII Part 2 where the Avatar travels back in time to plant a silver seed, thus balancing the forces that hold the Serpent Isle together. Like Forge of Virtue, the expansion contained an isolated sub-quest that was irrelevant to the main game's storyline, but provided the Avatar with a plethora of useful and powerful artifacts.
In Ultima VIII: Pagan (1994), the Avatar finds himself exiled by the Guardian to a world called "Pagan". The Britannic Principles and Virtues are unknown here. Pagan is ruled by the Elemental Titans, god-like servants of the Guardian. The Avatar defeats them with their own magic, ascending to demi-godhood himself, and finally returns to Britannia. A planned expansion pack, The Lost Vale, was canceled after Ultima VIII failed to meet sales expectations.
Ultima IX: Ascension (1999), the final installment of the series, sees Britannia conquered and its Virtues corrupted by the Guardian. The Avatar has to cleanse and restore them. The Guardian is revealed to be the evil part of the Avatar himself, expelled from him when he became the Avatar. To stop it, he has to merge with it, destroying himself as a separate entity. The unreleased version of the plot featured a more apocalyptic ending, with the Guardian and Lord British killed, Britannia destroyed, and the Avatar ascending to a higher plane of existence.
- Ultima Trilogy (1989) – an early compilation of the first three Ultima games released for the Apple II, Commodore 64 and DOS by Origin Systems.
- Ultima: The Second Trilogy (1992) – a later trilogy of the second three Ultima games released by Origin Systems for Commodore 64 and DOS.
- Ultima I–VI Series (1992) – a compilation of the first six Ultima games and published for DOS by Software Toolworks. Includes reprints of the instruction manuals and original maps.
- Ultima Collection (1998) – a CD-ROM collection of the first eight Ultima computer games published for DOS and Microsoft Windows 95/98, including their expansion packs. Includes a complete atlas of each game's map, a PC port of Akalabeth, and a sneak preview of Ultima IX.
Spin-offs and other games
Akalabeth: World of Doom was released in 1980, and is sometimes considered a prequel to the Ultima series.
Sierra On-Line also produced Ultima: Escape from Mt. Drash in 1983. The maze game has little in common with the others, but is highly sought after by collectors due to extreme rarity.
The Worlds of Ultima series is a spin-off of Ultima VI using the same game engine, following the Avatar's adventures after the game's conclusion. In Worlds of Ultima: The Savage Empire (1990), a failed experiment transports the Avatar to the Valley of Eodon, a jungle world populated by thirteen primitive tribes whom he must unite against a common enemy, the insectoid Myrmidex. Ultima: Worlds of Adventure 2: Martian Dreams (1991) takes place after The Savage Empire and sees the Avatar travel back in time to the Victorian era and eventually land on Mars to rescue humans stranded on it by accident and to restore the native Martian civilization. The third game, Ultima: Worlds of Adventure 3: Arthurian Legends, was planned to be set in the times of King Arthur but was canceled in 1993.
The second spin-off series, Ultima Underworld, consisted of two games. Set after Ultima VI, Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss (1992) sees the Avatar descending into the Great Stygian Abyss to rescue a Britannian baron's kidnapped daughter and prevent the summoning of a powerful demon. Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds (1993) is set between the two parts of Ultima VII and starts with the Guardian trapping Lord British, the Avatar and his companions within an impenetrable barrier in their castle. To free them, the Avatar has to travel through several parallel universes looking for a way to undo the spell.
A group of volunteer programmers created Ultima V: Lazarus in 2006, a remake of Ultima V using the Dungeon Siege engine. And another group of volunteer programmers created
Ultima VI Project in 2010, a remake of Ultima VI using also the Dungeon Siege engine.
Console versions of Ultima have allowed further exposure to the series, especially in Japan where the games have been bestsellers and were accompanied by several tie-in products including Ultima cartoons and manga. In most cases, gameplay and graphics have been changed significantly.
Console ports of computer games
- Ultima III: Exodus (NES)
- Ultima: Quest of the Avatar (NES) - Remake: incudes plot and gameplay changes.
- Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar (Sega Master System) — A faithful port of the original. Only released in Europe and South America.
- Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny (NES)
- Ultima VI: The False Prophet (SNES) — Gameplay adapted for the game pad.
- Ultima: The Black Gate (SNES) — Action-adventure remake.
- Ultima: The Savage Empire (SNES) — A graphical update using the Black Gate engine for the SNES. Japan only, canceled in the US.
- Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss (PlayStation) — Uses 3D models rather than the 2D sprites of the original. Released only in Japan.
Original console games
- Ultima: Runes of Virtue (1991) (Game Boy) — Non-canonical, action based gameplay and puzzle solving. The game's antagonist is called the "Black Knight". This is Garriott's favorite console-based Ultima.
- Ultima: Runes of Virtue 2 (1993) (Game Boy, Super NES)
Ultima Online MMORPG
Ultima Online (1997), a MMORPG spin-off of the main series, has become an unexpected hit, making it one of the earliest and longest-running successful MMORPGs of all time. Its lore retconned the ending of Ultima I, stating that when the Stranger shattered the Gem of Immortality, he discovered that it was tied to the world itself, therefore its shards each contained a miniature version of Britannia. The player characters in Ultima Online exist on these "shards". Eight expansion packs for UO have been released (The Second Age, Renaissance, Third Dawn, Lord Blackthorn's Revenge, Age of Shadows, Samurai Empire, Mondain's Legacy and Stygian Abyss) . The aging UO graphic engine was renewed in 2007 with the official Kingdom Reborn client. Ultima Online 2, later renamed to Ultima Worlds Online: Origin and canceled in 2001, would have introduced steampunk elements to the game world, following Lord British's unsuccessful attempt to merge past, present, and future shards together.
UO spawned two sequel efforts that were canceled before release: Ultima Worlds Online: Origin (canceled in 2001, though the game's storyline was published in the Technocrat War trilogy) and Ultima X: Odyssey (canceled in 2004). Ultima X: Odyssey (2004) would have continued the story of Ultima IX. Now merged with the Guardian, the Avatar creates a world of Alucinor inside his mind, where the players were supposed to pursue the Eight Virtues in order to strengthen him and weaken the Guardian. Ultima X was developed without participation of the original creator Richard Garriott and he no longer owns the rights to the series. However, he still owns the rights to several of the game characters so it is impossible for either him or Electronic Arts to produce a new Ultima title without getting permission from each other.
Lord of Ultima
Lord of Ultima is a free-to-play browser-based MMORTS released in 2010 by EA Phenomic. It is the first release in the Ultima series since Ultima Online, and also the first title to have no involvement from series creator Garriott or founding company Origin. It has been criticized for having slow-paced gameplay and very weak connections to the Ultima franchise lore.
EA has announced that Lord of Ultima will be shut down and taken offline as of May 12, 2014.
Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar
Announced in summer 2012, Ultima Forever is a free-to-play online action role-playing game. In contrast to Lord of Ultima, Ultima Forever returns to the lore of the original game series.
As of August 29, 2014. Ultima Forever's servers were shut down.
Several novels were released under the Ultima name, including:
- The Ultima Saga by Lynn Abbey (Warner Books)
- The Forge of Virtue (1991)
- The Temper of Wisdom (1992)
- Ultima: The Technocrat War by Austen Andrews (Pocket Books)
- Machinations (2001)
- Masquerade (2002)
- Maelstrom (2002)
In Japan, an Ultima soundtrack CD, two kinds of wrist watches, a tape dispenser, a pencil holder, a board game, a jacket, and a beach towel were released. There was also an Ultima anime cartoon.
Three manga comics were released in Japan:
- Ultima: EXODUS No Kyoufu (The Terror of EXODUS)
- Ultima: Quest of the Avatar
- Ultima: Magincia no Metsubou (The Fall of Magincia)
- Ultima: The Maze of Schwarzschild