I play far too much UO, just ask my friends :) But this is the norm for most people who get sucked into this huge and complex online world.

Well MMORPG might be the buzz word at the moment with a lot of games in the pipeline, even a Star Wars clone, but UO has been out for about three years now and is the daddy of them all. It's server's (shards) span the globe, and thousands upon thousands of people hand over their fiver every month for the privilege to be a part of this online community.

For those not in the know, UO is a massive online only multiplayer role-playing game. Think Balder's Gate with real people controlling the other in game characters. It is set in a fantasy world, called Britannia filled with magic, monsters, rogues, warriors, merchants and just about anything else you could ever want! You can be what ever you want to be and do whatever you want to be. The only overall objective, a game wide objective, is to create a thriving and exciting online community. You form a part of this: your own smaller objectives like taking a group of friends to a dungeon and slaying a dragon, or setting up a shop with the best magic weapons for sale. Everyone's small goals are greater than the sum of its parts. The result is a very deep and complex gaming experience.

A lot of people out there must be asking why, and I too was one of these once. Wondering what my housemate was doing hour after hour, sitting in front of this ugly game. But, and sorry to steal this slogan, but 'To try it is to love it'. Hmmm, maybe try is the wrong word. You need to read a damn lot of material and put in a lot of hours to actual figure out how the game works. This can be frustrating at first but this is all part of the evolution of your first character and the whole experience and you will start to 'love' it.

But this is not a review of UO, that was done to death about 2 year ago, its a review of the newly released Renaissance update.

The major area of UO:R is that is doubles the land area of Britannia. However to prevent existing players having to buy a new CD or download a massive land patch the world has been mirrored (players already have the original map file as part of the old install). So there is now two Britannias, named after the world's two moons: Trammel and Felucca. Trammel has been made into a good and honest land where trees and flowers grow in plenty, Player vs Player combat is only consensual (i.e. as part of a war), rogues cannot steal loot off the monsters you slay and everyone generally gets on. In this pleasant land new player are greeted with open arms and a whole town has been set-up for them. They are free to learn the games mechanics and hone their skills. There is also a new player tutorial teaching the games basics and even more volunteer support to answer any of your questions. Felucca on the other hand is a land of uncertainty ... trees and flowers no longer grow (well you can actually make both worlds look the same) and anyone you meet could wish you harm. You are still safe in the towns but venture out and anything can happen!

Other updates include a party system, which is great for adventuring in groups. You can talk to each other across the land and can automatically heal and cure each other (although this is biased for mages as bandages cannot be used). Additionally there have been a lot of Player vs Player changes to make the combat system more strageic, including new special attacks for two handed weapons and fist fighters, a much needed update to archery, as well as a few armour and parrying tweaks. Also the monster AI has been overhauled, improving their path finding and allowing them to heal themselve and call each other. There is no more blocking a dragon behind a dungeon wall and then slaying it!!

But the main vein of this update is to encourage new players to venture into this world, a necessary update from OSI as there is now a lot competition about. This in the form of Everquest and Asheron's Call which are graphically superior but by no way as deep and complex. And I think that largely this update has succeeded. New player's no longer have the threat of being player killed and have a lot more help when first starting the game.

However the land split and a lot of the PvP changes have angered veteran players. Admittedly all these changes is one go have completely changed the orders of power between different combat characters (mace fighters especially), but true to the dynamic game this is some of the worst aspects have already been ironed out, with various smaller patches. Now that everything has calmed down and most of the glitches have been squashed I think that Renaissance patch was, on the whole a positive move from OSI. This kind of overhaul was definitely needed, especially to help out new players and increase the games popularity. And there is more to come. Soon to be implemented is the anticipated 'Faction System' which should provide some meaning behind the almost constant warring between veteran players. This will come complete with the ability to capture towns (in a CTF style) and then control the towns economy etc.

But with a game this complex I think the team of developers, which has currently grown in size, should be congratulated for providing us gamers with an ever changing and growing system to get our teeth into. I think the saying is 'No-one likes change', but I think they should.