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Ultima IX: Ascension

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Ultima IX: Ascension
Ultima9 NAcover.jpg
A sad way to end the most influential series of all time with this rushed mess.
Genre(s): Role-playing
Platform(s): Microsoft Windows
Release: November 23, 1999
Developer(s): Origin Systems
Publisher(s): Electronic Arts
Country: United States
Series: Ultima
Predecessor: Ultima VIII: Pagan


Ultima IX: Ascension is a role-playing game developed in 1999 for Windows by Origin Systems and published by Electronic Arts. It is the last game of the classic Ultima series and the closing chapter of the Armageddon Trilogy. A 10th installment in the Ultima series was planned, but was cancelled in 2005 after the development focus was shifted towards Ultima Online, and thus, it was Origin System's official final game before closing its doors shortly after the planned 10th installment was cancelled.

Story

After the Avatar escaped from Pagan in the previous game, he returns to the real world only to be summoned again to Britannia, which is again under attack by the Guardian, who has summoned black pillars which are corrupting the essence of the land and perverting the Virtues.

Why It Didn't Ascend

  1. This game does not work at all by default. Various unofficial patches are needed just to make the game run.
  2. Even after making the game run, it is riddled with glitches, such as music triggers not working in the way they should and the "Levitate" spell not working at all if you don't have a certain graphics card. The game also constantly crashes, especially while saving, which will corrupt your save.
  3. The game is totally linear, unlike its open-ended predecessors like Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, where you had total freedom in how you wanted to play the game. You just have one set path the whole game and it doesn't change, making the game feel like a downgrade from the other games.
  4. The world of Britannia is much, much smaller than the previous games (Although this could also be related to the fact that the game is linear).
  5. Lots of plotholes and the main characters are all dumb. Lord British doesn't even know what is threatening his land when it can be seen from right outside his castle.
  6. Terrible and inconsistent voice-acting. Almost every NPC you talk to is likely to have a completely different accent even if they all live in the same area. There are many different accents that wouldn't make sense for the people of Britannia to have. Even the Guardian, who is voiced by the same actor as in the previous three games, sounds bored with his role.
  7. Most of the game's story outright contradicts the canon set by the previous games, completely disregarding the continuity of the series. For example, the world of Britannia looks nothing like the ruined mess it was at the end of Pagan.
  8. The characterization of the Avatar has him forget things that he should know, such as not knowing what a gargoyle is when they where the main villain of Ultima VI: The False Prophet and asking what a paladin is when his friend Dupre, who sacrificed himself in Ultima VII: Part 2 - Serpent Isle to save the world, was one.
  9. At the time of original release it had what were considered obnoxious system requirements. You pretty much had no luck for starting the game if you didn't meet the high requirements.

Redeeming Qualities

  1. The graphics look nice for the time and they are well detailed.
  2. The cutscenes are nice to watch and are well animated for the time.
  3. The voice acting and dialogue is so terrible, it falls into the "so bad it's good" category.
  4. To be fair, the game is quite accessable for newcomers since the player is allowed to ask for information that they don't already know about.

Why It Bombed

As with so many other games, including its own prequel, interference from Electronic Arts helped send the end product down in flames. The original version of the game was scheduled for release around 1997, but Origin were instead forced to work on Ultima Online, and by the time that game was released, the original Ultima IX engine was completely outdated. At around the same time, a high-profile gaming start-up named Ion Storm managed to lure nearly half of Origin's staff to come and work for them (though the staff who did so ended up working on Deus Ex instead of Daikatana, so there was that small mercy, at least).

EA then forced series creator Richard Garriott to hire one of the creators of the Command & Conquer series to head up development, which worked out about as well as you'd expect, and resulted in the new lead designer being fired after just six months, with nothing accomplished. Finally, Garriott had to jump in and take control of development himself, using whatever assets they had from previous versions just to finish the game. In particular, they had to use certain pre-rendered FMVs that were intended as flash-backs to Ultima VIII to depict events from this game's story, as they couldn't afford to create new FMVs, creating some gigantic plot holes in the story. Adding insult to injury, the engine was built around the 3dfx cards that were ubiquitous when development started, but by the time development was actually finished 3dfx had dropped away to being a fringe player, with Nvidia and ATI now dominating the market, resulting in the game being virtually unplayable on any non-3dfx card.

Reception

Ultima XI released to mixed reviews at release but poor reception from fans, who noticed the lack of polish the game had compared to other games in the series and felt it was unfinished. It currently has a score of 63% on GameRankings. The game was re-released on GOG.com and has a user score of 2.5/5.

Legacy

It led to an informative video retrospective of the Ultima series by popular reviewer The Spoony One (Noah Antwiler), culminating in a hilarious three-part review of the IX installment. Spoony says that he created this whole retrospective in order to prepare for how Ascension was a disappointment for the fans. Thanks to this, it introduced the games and the relevance of their legacy to many people.

Trivia

  • The lack of knowledge the Avatar has may be due to EA wanting the game to be more accessible to newcomers of the series. This also may be to why many things in the continuity are disregarded.

The Spoony One's Review

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