The game is primitive when compared to today's standards. The gameplay consists of slaying monsters and buying equipment. The game doesn't contain any save game feature.
From the manual:
"'Tis said that long ago peace and tranquility covered the lands, food and drink flowed freely, man and beast lived in peace, gold and silver abounded -- it was the Golden Age of Akalabeth.
Mondain, second born of Wolfgang, a great king of old, wished to gain his brother's inheritance, and so he used his great powers for evil. Many years had Mondain traversed the lands of Akalabeth spreading evil and death as he passed. He created deep dungeons, so deep and extensive that their lower depths had never been explored. In these dungeons he unleashed more evil. He sent thieves, skeletons and snakes to dwell near the surface, and daemons and balrogs to guard the depths. Now blood flowed freely in Akalabeth, and foul creatures soon came to roam near the surface. Mondain cast such sickness and pestilence upon Akalabeth, that both man and beast lived in constant fear. Thus was the Dark Age of Akalabeth.
There arose from the land a man, pure and just, to battle the Dark Lord. British, Champion of the White Light, did battle with Mondain deep within the labyrinth of dungeons, eventually driving him from Akalabeth forever. British of the White Light was proclaimed Lord British, Protector of Akalabeth. Alas, much damage had been suffered unto the lands. The Revival of Akalabeth has begun.
'Tis thy duty to rid Akalabeth of the foul creatures which infest it whilst trying to stay alive!"
In the game, the player character visits Lord British and is instructed by him to kill certain monsters. The final mission is to kill a balrog, and after this has been accomplished, Lord British proclaims that "thou hast proven thyself worthy of knighthood".
The series was later retconned so that Mondain attacks Sosaria for the first time in this game, but the player's efforts deflect his attack, making him frustrated and finally leading to the events of Ultima I.
Akalabeth was a free-time project of Richard Garriott, originally known as "D&D28b" (since it was his 28th game inspired by Dungeons & Dragons). Garriott only got the idea to sell it after it was finished. Even though Akalabeth was Garriott's 28th game, it was the first one sold commercially. The California Pacific Computer Company bought the rights from him, and published it.
The original game has only black and white graphics and no sound.
Differences between platforms
As the game was only released on Apple II back in 1979, it remained mostly unknown from PC players as no version of the game existed for that platform.
In 1996, a fan called Finire Dragon did a port of the original game for the PC, dubbing it for the first time Ultima 0, which was distributed over the Internet.
It would only be in 1998 that the first and only PC version of Akalabeth was released as an enhanced remake, included in the Ultima Collection. It featured MIDI music from Ultima III, a new menu screen and a limited amount of color added to the graphics. This version adds a save and restore game feature, which was completely missing from the original. It also contains an updated digital manual. Just like the unofficial port, it was also officially dubbed Ultima 0: Akalabeth.
The initial release of Akalabeth was just through the Computerland store that young Richard Garriott was currently employed at. He made copies of the game disk at home, numbered them, then packaged each along with a manual and cover sheet in a Ziploc bag. Fewer than a dozen sold; he kept the remainder.
One of the copies was brought to publisher California Pacific, which worked out a deal to publish Akalabeth, giving Richard Garriott $5 for each copy that sold. Over 30,000 copies were bought, and it was voted one of the top 30 games by Softalk Magazine from 1979 to 1981.
Included with the game
- For bugs in this game, see Akalabeth Bugs.
- For easter eggs and real-life references in this game, see Akalabeth Real-life references and easter eggs.
- Because it is set in Sosaria prior to Ultima I, Akalabeth has often been referred to as "Ultima 0" by fans. The PC remake included this name on the title screen, making it an official alternate name for the game.
- Akallabêth is the title of the third part of J.R.R. Tolkien's pocket history of Middle-Earth, The Silmarillion. It tells of the downfall of Númenor, the mightiest kingdom of Men, some 3000 years before the events of The Lord of the Rings. The word means "the downfallen" in Adûnaic, the language of the Númenoreans.