Title: Ultima IX: Ascension
Produced by: Origin Systems, Inc., Electronic Arts, and Lord British
Release Date: December 1999
Platforms: PC only
Description: Ultima IX Ascension was the last of the groundbreaking Ultima saga. It was originally slated for release in 1996, but schedules kept slipping until the game was finally out the door in late 1999, with a lot of showstopper bugs that hinted that the game was forced to a premature release by management at Electronic Arts. The story begins with the Avatar's return to Britannia, finding it a world controlled by the Guardian, with Lord British enfeebled and the Eight Virtues twisted into mockeries of their true meaning by the Guardian's evil power.
Notables: This is the first, and as it turns out, only Ultima that ever used 3-D graphics. The system requirements are very high, even for today, and admittedly, this was the game that forced me to upgrade my system to something somewhat respectable. The music is enchantingly beautiful, the world itself is graphically very stunning and marvellously rendered, however its world modelling was nothing like that of Ultima VII or even Ultima V for that matter. People do not even have schedules as was the case in a game as early as Ultima V, and all shops remain open 24x7, and much of the interesting stuff that could be done in Ultima VII is impossible here.
Many preview screenshots and cinematic cutscenes were released in between Ultima VIII's release in 1994 till the game was finally released in 1999, which point to the fact that Ultima IX should have had a totally different plotline from what was actually produced (which is widely considered to be so thin as to be unsatisfying), as some insiders attested. From the details that have leaked out, a far more satisfying vision for the end of the Ultima saga was originally in Lord British's mind.
My Opinion: It's most definitely an unworthy end to the two-decades long Ultima saga. Too many compromises were made along the way from the time the game was first conceived till it was finally released, and all in all, for someone who has played all of the previous games, Ultima IX, even for the graphical tour de force that it is, falls far short of the mark. The plotline is terribly thin, the world modelling far less than even its eleven year old predecessors. The game resembles FPS games more than it resembles its predecessors, and on the whole does scant justice to its heritage.
Encyclopaedia of Computer and Video Games
You can also read the Original Plot to Ultima IX here on E2 now.