Ultima IX: Ascension is the final game in the Ultima series, following The Avatar, a champion and embodiment of the 8 virtues. It sees The Avatar return to Britannia one final time to counteract the Guardian, a mysterious figure who has appeared at the same time as columns sprout up across the land and begin to corrupt the 8 virtues. The Avatar must travel to each column in order to find the sigil that is responsible for the corruption and restore Britannia to the virtuous place it once was.
Ultima IX: Ascension is a third person action RPG that takes the player across a varied, open fantasy world to 8 towns and dungeons. Gameplay is combat-heavy, but environmental puzzles can be found in the dungeons as well. There are also magic and alchemy systems.
The Avatar has three attributes: strength, dexterity, and intelligence that affect max health, training levels, and mana capacity respectively. After cleansing a shrine, the player is able to raise one stat up to a level of three each. Cleansing a shrine of virtue requires knowledge of that shrine's mantra, as well as the sigil and glyph of that particular virtue. Typically, mantras are learned from a friendly NPC, sigils are quest rewards, and glyphs are found in dungeons.
Combat skills are divided by weapon types: fists, one-handed, two-handed, staffs, and bows. Each weapon school has four possible skills. The first skill is known by default, but the rest must be learned from weapon trainers scattered across the world. Magic is based on scrolls and memorized spells. Using a scroll destroys it, but incurs no other cost, while memorized spells can be cast as long as mana is available. Spells can be memorized by performing a ritual that consumes a scroll of the spell to be memorized and a collection reagents. Magic is further divided into schools of the four classic elements, earth, air, fire, and water and nine "circles" with spells of each circle stronger and more costly than the last.
Armor pieces come in boots, leggings, chest pieces, arms, gauntlets, helmets, and shields. Multiple armor types exist, and can be mixed and matched as they are found.
Britannia is composed of one large land mass and numerous islands. Exploration is limited to on-foot until late in the game when the player gains access to a boat. Despite this, the game is relatively open, with a large number of optional sights to see. There are very few side quests however.
While the plot of the game is predetermined, small-impact moral choices will appear occasionally. These usually involve the Avatar's former companions, who have become corrupted along with the rest of the land. Strangely, there is no reward for "being bad" and thanks to the game's "karma" system, bad choices cause a decrease in maximum mana. All of this is in sharp contrast to the open morality systems in the previous Ultima games.
Ultima IX: Ascension also hosts a rudimentary physics system. Objects are pulled down if nothing is under them but do not experience lateral forces. This allows objects to be stacked impractically high. Thanks to the game's climbing system, this is also an easy way to sequence break the game.
Development and problems
Ultima IX went through at least four different iterations during its troubled development process. Following the unexpected success of Ultima Online's beta test in 1996, Origin's owner Electronic Arts shifted all the studio's resources to online games, cancelling all single player games except U9. All Origin team members were shifted over to UO, and many never returned to U9 when its development resumed. Reportedly, one of the primary reasons U9 was allowed to continue was because EA believed it might bring players to UO.
While the first iteration of U9 used an isometric engine shared with Crusader: No Remorse, development later shifted to a hardware accelerated 3D graphics. During this time, two of the game's designers Dan Rubenfield and Marshall Andrews left Origin, voicing dissatisfaction with the direction of the gameplay. Command & Conquer producer Edward del Castillo was brought in to head the project, but he also subsequently left, citing "philosophical differences" after feuding with Richard Garriott.
The game shipped in 1999 with numerous bugs, some small but many game-breaking. A patch was later released, but many problems persisted. Members of the development team had objected to releasing the game before it was ready, but Electronic Arts had placed a "ship or kill" deadline for Thanksgiving 1999. In order to meet this deadline, large portions of the game were removed or dramatically shortened.
Fans of the Ultima franchise also criticized the game's plot and mechanics, which were accused of being simpler than or inconsistent with past games. In particular, the game's plot was re-written in 1998 after Lead Designer Bob White left Origin. White later released a full summary of the original plot on the internet.
The version of the story released by Bob White had been planned from 1995 to approximately 1997. This version still involved the Avatar returning to Britannia and finding the Guardian's columns destroying the land. However, this version had a more complex plot than the released game; it involved the Avatar helping Buccaneer's Den leader Samhayne investigate a conspiracy that would start a civil war between Britannia's cities. The ending of the story had Lord British and the Avatar defeating Lord Blackthorne and the Guardian in combat, only to discover that the columns would use Britannia's life energy to resurrect the Guardian. The only way to prevent this is to destroy the world. All the citizens of Britannia are evacuated to the island of Skara Brae, which is protected by the Runes of Virtue. Lord British decides to remain behind and die with his world. The Avatar casts the Armageddon spell and ascends to a higher plane as the planet explodes. Skara Brae floats off into space, protected by a magical dome.
(name) - (element) - (incantation)
Stone - Earth - In Bet Ylem
Gust - Wind - In Hur
Ignite - Fire - In Flam
Douse - Water - An Flam
Create Reagents - Earth - In Ort Ylem
Lighting Bolt - Wind - Ort Grav
Light - Fire - In Lor
Light Heal - Water - Mani
Crystal Barrier - Earth - In Vas Ylem
Ethereal Sight - Wind - In Quas Wis
Fire Armor - Fire - Uus Flam Sanct
Cure - Water - An Nox
Charm - Earth - An Xen Ex
Telekinesis - Wind - Ort Por Ylem
Fireball - Fire - Vas Flam Hur
Fog - Water - An Wis Hur
Time Stop - Earth - An Tym
Wizard's Eye - Wind - Ort Pos Wis
Day - Fire - Vas Lor
Freeze - Water - Vas An Flam Grav
Summon Undead - Earth - Kal Corp Xen
Levitate - Wind - Por Uus Ylem
Spout of Flame - Fire - Vas Flam Por
Full Heal - Water - Vas Mani
Meteorite - Earth - Kal Jux Ylem
Invisibility - Wind - Sanct Lor
Ring of Fire - Fire - Kal Por Flam Grav
Mana Breath - Water - Ort Mani Hur
Death - Earth - Kal An Lor Corp
Teleport - Wind - Ort Por
Summon Demon - Fire - Kal Vas Corp Xen
Frost Storm - Water - Vas An Flam Hur
Earthquake - Earth - Vas Por Ylem
Lightning Storm - Wind - Vas Grav Hur
Inferno - Fire - Vas Kal Flam Grav
Searing Rain - Water - Vas Kal An Flam Jux
- CPU: 266 MHz
- RAM: 128 MB
- Harddrive Space: 600 MB
- Graphics: 8 MB Memory
- CPU: 400 MHz
- RAM: 512 MB
- Harddrive Space: 1.6 GB
- Graphics: 16MB and Glide Support