The magic system is once again based on the 8 circles. As each shrine is cleansed, the Avatar can then use a new circle of spells that is opened up. Before a spell is cast however, it must first be ďboundĒ to the spell book using a scroll for that spell and the proper reagents for that spell (unless itís cast directly from that scroll). Often a spell will only have one scroll in the entire game world, thus itís important that the player save any scrolls they find for binding to the spell book.
Ultima IX includes an on-screen tool belt that provides 12 quick access slots for items/spells/weapons the player will use most often. This actually works quite well, as each slot is activated by a different function key and makes it quick and easy to use the most-accessed things. The Avatar uses his backpack to store other extra items, and since it too uses a slot system the backpack can only hold a certain number of items. Thus itís imperative that the player finds as many bags as possible, since each bag can hold 9 items inside of it and only occupies 1 slot in the playerís backpack. Regardless the player will have to toggle and maximize inventory quite a bit, as well as find a common place to ďdumpĒ items they might need later in the game (such as glyphs and sigils).
Dungeons are once again placed throughout the land, and are a mixture of puzzles to solve and baddies to kill. The puzzle selection throughout the game is actually quite good, including switch puzzles, block puzzles, general logic puzzles, etc. Dungeons also have the added advantage of running much smoother than the outside game world, since they load up separately and are enclosed spaces that naturally limit how much needs to be on-screen at a time.
Speaking of which, graphically Ultima IX is a mixed bag. On the positive side, the game still looks awesome in comparison to todayís games. While some parts of the game will clearly give it away as being several years old (most noticeably the blocky character models), it more than makes up for it with some outstanding and detailed environments, excellent monster models, nice texture-mapping, and in general excellent artistic design. Unfortunately, the game is just so darned buggy that itíll never run as well as it should. Even on my new PC, the framerate is jumpy at times in large open areas.
The music is extremely nice, with all of the classic Ultima themes present (including ďStonesĒ and ďRule BritanniaĒ) and in rich MP3 format. Each city has itís own pre and post-shrine cleansing tune, with both being variations on a central theme and yet being totally unique at the same time.
The voice acting, however, is almost universally terrible. Not only is it hampered by lame dialogue, but also the delivery of most lines sounds amateurish and canned. The Avatar himself has been turned into an idiot, and will often have some of the most idiotic responses to questions imaginable. In fact, on the whole the voice acting is so bad that itís probably a good idea to just turn it off entirely. Make sure to get the fan-made dialogue patch first though, which GREATLY improves the on-screen dialogue and actually allows it to make sense.
-- Jared Black hated EA for quite a while after it butchered Ultima IX: Ascension & cancelled the promising Ultima Online 2 in favor of UOís ancient technology, and still harbors a bit of that resentment to this very day.
- Graphically the best game of 1999, and it still holds up well in 2003.
- While the gameplay may be more Tomb Raider than Ultima, itís still fun and involving.
- The soundtrack is awesome.
- The storyline, while weak for an Ultima game, is still strong enough to keep the game moving along.
- Itís obvious the game was rushed out the door to meet a deadline.
- Frequent crashes and bugs, even in the most patched-up version available.
- A huge departure in gameplay style from previous Ultimas may leave fans disenchanted.
- Once you know the full story of what Ultima IX couldíve been, itís enough to make an Ultima fan cry.
I donít blame Origin for how Ultima IX: Ascension turned out, as it was EAís consistent meddling, team shuffling (including bringing in people that knew nothing about Ultima) and unrealistic release date that ultimately prevented the game from being what it shouldíve been. The fact that Garriott left Origin, AKA the company he formed, out of disgust should tell you all you need to know about that situation. Ultima IX: Ascension is the ultimate example of what happens when a big, greedy corporation looks only at the bottom line, and ignores nearly a legacy in the process. The Ultima series deserved to end on a better note than this, and its fans deserved to be treated better after pouring nearly 20 years of their life into it.
Despite all of its problems though, Ultima IX: Ascension is still a fun and engrossing RPG. The characters are interesting and unique, the environments are interesting and involving, and graphically it still compares favorably to many games released today. Players will revisit most of the cities they traveled in many times before in glorious 3D, and meet up with old friends from previous Ultima adventures in the process. Just make sure to save early and often, because the game will crash throughout this adventure.
If youíre an Ultima fan that never got around to playing Ultima IX when it released due to the steep system requirements, or if youíre looking for a good RPG and donít mind dealing with the bugs and sudden game crashes, then Ultima IX isnít a bad purchase to make. In fact, Iíd go so far as to say that long-time Ultima fans owe it to themselves to play this game at some point in their lives. While it may not live up to the legacy of the series, itís still undeniably Ultima and experiencing the Avatarís final adventure makes it worth it for hardcore fans.
Overall Score: 6.7