Why I'm not playing Ultima Forever

To an Ultima player of old, the new iOS game was hotly anticipated — only for the love affair to grind to a screeching halt.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
3 min read

(Credit: Electronic Arts)

To an Ultima player of old, the new iOS game was hotly anticipated — only for the love affair to grind to a screeching halt.

I have such fond memories of Ultima Online. Killing dudes, collecting loots. Meeting other players, getting twinked and ganked. Being unceremoniously booted offline every time the phone rang, and returning to find my character dead, the corpse picked clean of valuables. I never progressed very far (thanks, '90s Australian dial-up), but many a happy hour was sunk into my very first experience of the MMORPG.

I was looking forward to the game's most recent "reboot", a remake of Ultima IV with cooperative gameplay for iOS — so when it arrived yesterday, I downloaded it straight away and booted it up to create my first character.

After the classic Ultima quiz that determines your character class (there are two available), I was told I was a Fighter. Sweet! I love melee combat. And there are 10 different avatars to choose from, in a variety of races. That's pretty cool.

No women, though.

Usually, I'd just be a little disappointed and move on. I can play a male character. I prefer to play a badass lady, but I'm perfectly able to cope if the game doesn't have them.

Except then I checked out the other class: the Mage. Of the 12 racially diverse avatars, half are women. Wait, what? This means that someone sat down, thought about both race and gender inclusivity, and made a conscious decision that women in the Ultima universe are incapable of swinging a sword.

What makes it worse is that the female mage was only included on sufferance after fans begged for playable female characters.

This is something that the earlier Ultima games never did. In fact, Ultima was way ahead of its time as one of the very first games that allowed the player to freely customise their character's race and gender, with Ultima III even including an "other" option when choosing gender.

In an environment that all too frequently includes a female avatar option as an unlockable extra or available through microtransaction, for Ultima — of all games — to deliberately make a choice to exclude women from a physical combat class is like a slap in the face.

I don't consider myself unreasonable when it comes to the representation of women in games. Gratuitous, hypersexualised female characters are getting a little old, but I don't mind sexy outfits. What I — and many other female gamers — want is not fewer options, but more. If a game has the option for the player to choose what their character looks like, make some of those options female.

Ultima, I feel, has let its legacy down. It's let its female players down. So this is the point at which I am drawing a line in the sand and choosing not to play.

I'd rather give my time and money to a game that doesn't treat me as an afterthought.