Master Ultima

This was published by SAMS in 1992 and written by Ralph Roberts. They may have done hundreds of them for all I know, but SAMS isn’t a publisher that makes me think of game guides. The name makes me think of all the textbooks that I was forced to buy when I was doing my university degree if anything. Half of my lecturers had written books and if you wanted to pass their courses, you had to go out and buy the things at about £50 a time meaning that I needed to spend a couple of hundred on textbooks at the start of most terms. Not what you need as an impoverished student, already short on beer money.

Thankfully, I’ve got more money to spare these days although this didn’t cost anything like as much. I was going to stick to nothing but official guides but I saw this for about $5 and thought I’d add it into the collection. This book is probably best described as the unofficial book of Ultima, since it covers all the same games and the history of the series up to Ultima 6. It weighs in at a far more hefty 400 pages potentially making it better value, but I can’t imagine that many people would have bought this over Origin’s.

The extra pages give far more room to talk around the topics in hand. The book starts with a history of the series with all the usual stories that I’ve read a hundred times before, then gives some very general tips for beating the games which could apply to most RPG’s.

The game guide sections are going to be the reason why people would have bought this book and these fill the last 300 pages. They are each split into two chapters with the first chapter giving hints and the second being a short novella in the style of Avatar Adventures.

I’ll start with the hints chapters. What is interesting with these is the amount of specifics it goes into, without actually giving a walkthrough, at least for the older games. It covers most aspects of the gameplay but you are left to put them together yourself to a large extent. I quite like this style but some of the omissions are glaring. For instance there is no mention on Ultima 2 of getting stats raised at the Hotel California, the quicksword or even getting the ring after being blessed by Father Antos. In other words, there isn’t enough information to get you through the game which is fairly pitiful when the necessary steps could be summed up in a short paragraph. Ultima 1 on the other hand is covered in full detail, with nothing missed out and offers a superb guide to the game.

The later in the book you go, the nearer the guides go to becoming walkthrough’s with Ultima 6 going through every aspect of the main quest. None of the games have maps included though, which seems like another major omission and certainly leaves you doing a lot of the work yourself. There should be enough here to get you through the games, providing you don’t mind that but Prima’s Ultima Collection Guide was a lot more thorough and covered several more titles.

The second chapters are a literary walkthrough in the mould of Avatar Adventures. If you want a novel of the first 3 Ultima games, this is the nearest thing I’m aware of. They are presented in a slightly irreverent manner with dialog straight from the games, and a different character taking the lead for every adventure. They are quite brief with even Ultima 6 only getting 11 pages and skim over the plot in the later games. I certainly prefer Avatar Adventures but these are fun as long as you aren’t expecting too much.

I usually prefer official guides and I’d certainly go for the Official Book Of Ultima over this. Master Ultima is something of a hit and miss affair and doesn’t make good use of all those extra pages if you ask me, although it does have the odd tidbit that I’ve not seen elsewhere. If you ever wanted novels of Ultima 1-3 this is the only place I know where you will get them, which has to be the main appeal to a collector. As ever, I’ve scanned this in and linked it from the downloads page.

Talking of scans, I managed to download the new Ultima 4 free release from ultimaforever.com, during one of the brief spells where the site was actually working, and notice that they have included scans of all the documentation from the game directly from replacementdocs.com, including my cluebook scans. It’s interesting (although not entirely surprising) to see EA getting copies of their own manuals from what is effectively an abandonware site and this is more or less a stamp of approval for replacementdocs. I can’t say I feel a lot of guilt about scanning all these things in, but it removes any lingering doubts.

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