Welcome friends to a new section on the Forgotten World website,
In this section, I will be giving a commentary about Ultima IX both as a game and an Ultima. My discussion will examine Ultima IX along its many facets from gameplay and plot to inconsistencies and development. My goal is to present a clearer picture about what is wrong with Ultima IX and why. Also, I will explore where U9 can be improved and even what the creators did right in making the final chapter in the two decades long saga of the Avatar. So join me as we dive into the ins, outs, and whys of Ultima IX Ascension.
My first peak into Ultima was observing my older brother play a rather dark and Diablo-esque game called Ultima VIII. It didn't catch my interest at all. I will admit that later on (after I had played Ultima IX actually) attempting to get VDMsound to play it, but I was met with multiple problems and eventually gave up. This was in the days when I thought Dosbox would be too complicated to setup. While I have since tried U8 out, I found it too dull to get very deep into it.
As some of you may be guessing, my first Ultima was Ultima IX, which I played late in 2002. I have played other Ultimas since that time. I tried out Ultimas One and Two and the NES port of Ultima IV in the years. I made so me small progress in Ultima One but kept dying so easily I gave up. The NES Port of UIV I actually couldn't get into either, but it's problems were related to the fact I was playing it on an NES system. I did play and complete the Free Ultima Dragon's PC version with the fan-made enhancements a couple years ago. I completed both of the Dungeon Siege remakes and enjoyed them immensely. They allowed me to enjoy the story and have a fun gameplay experience with an easy to use interface. So I've played the storylines of the Age of Enlightenment main series. In addition, I brought the Ultimas from GOG and have played and enjoyed Ultima VII immensely. You can even find some pictures on here where I made the Isle of Fire my personnel fortress.
When I first played U9, I found it to be quite enjoyable with my primary complaint being the bug crashes and occasional performance lags when starting up the game. It certainly got me interested in Ultima and the Virtues and the World of Britannia. I wanted to learn more about it and I soon found the many amazing fan projects, which only increased my enthusiasm for the series. I know there must have been many new members to the Ultima community as a result of Ultima IX, so that alone is a contribution.
Hacki's site of nitpicks definitely caught my attention during those early years and they eventually lead me to want to change Ultima IX for the better. To take what was already there and not only make it more in-line with Ultima's canon but also improve the plot's execution. First Knight and Nimdraug were each doing their own projects on Ultima IX, so it only seemed logical that we combine our efforts and thus was born Forgotten World.
So now you know my background with Ultima IX, we can begin.
Ultima IX in General
As thou knowest, Ultima IX was released after years of hype and multiple drastic rewrites, which resulted in a world building time measured not in years but months. The lack of polish to many towns, triggers and quests at release is the worst in Ultima and rarely seen in games of that era. Fortunately, most of the serious issues were diligently corrected by the Ultima IX developers, which is a practice less commonly found in subsequent years. The significant degree of crashes, overall performance issues, and heavy bugginess upon release no doubt soured the opinions of so many Ultima fans and gamers that it was difficult to look past them.
Assuming a successful installation and start up, players were greeted at the outset by what many view as one of the largest inconsistencies in the game. The Avatar starting on Earth, which was a decision made purely to avoid turning off new players. While not a terrible decision, it certainly gave worried fans major concerns about the game before they could even take control of the Avatar, which gave players another disturbing revelation. Their character was essentially an unrelatable, blue-eyed, blond-haired white male who comes off more as a dumb jock in dialogue. First impressions were ruined very quickly, and I'm left wondering how many Ultima fans quit the game before even leaving Earth.
What this shows is that it is very understandable why so many would be rapidly turned off by Ultima IX.
For Ultima fans who stuck with the game, they encountered numerous fallacies just within the first city, which the Museum contributed to significantly. After cleansing the first shrine, I'm sure almost everybody realized that they would be repeating the same basic quest another seven times. The next straw came when they saw how so many in Britain became good and virtuous again seemingly at the flip of a switch. At this point, it is easy to conclude that most of the people of Britannia in Ultima IX were basically tied to the Shrines, but this was not the intention of the developers. As later quests will demonstrate, the citizens of the towns actually come to their senses through your example, your persuasion and conversations in general. For instance, the people of Trinsic had realized their error (through your actions and words) before you ever cleansed the shrine. The cleansing itself was meant to turn the Glyphs back into Runes, restore the Shrines, and basically break all power the columns had over Britannians.
As I mentioned, however, it was these later quests that clearly demonstrated this. Overall, as you progress through the game, the implementation of the plot improves. This trend makes me wonder if the later portions of the game were completed later where the developers themselves had a much clearer idea of how best to implement the main quests or if different writers had different ideas about the sigils, runes, and shrines or perhaps one or two of the writers were absent on the wrong day. Really, the best implementations of the plot are Honor, Valor, and (yes) Sacrifice. Terrible World Building and inconsistencies with prior Ultimas aside, Minoc's plot was well constructed and demonstrated true Sacrifice.
In addition to the inconsistent implementation, the link to the Shadowlords was far too subtle to be easily recognized by those already poisoned by Ultima IX's other issues. Part of why the citizen's were corrupted is the result of an effect seen long ago in Ultima V. The effect of the Column/Glyph is not just similar to that of the Shadowlords but is based on essentially the same source. It is this reason why cleansing the Glyph proves to be so effective to converting seemingly bad people into good. In actuality, it was removing an evil force that caused people to act in ways they normally wouldn't. So people were merely reverting to their old selves. In a rather subtle fashion, this is demonstrated in Britain. Margery the street sweeper is still crabby even though the shrines have been cleansed, and the farmer Jarlath was not acting himself when the shrine was corrupted, which upon cleansing allowed him to reverts to his true self. Jarlath's wife also illustrated another point: like the Companions before in Ultima V, it is possible for some to fight off this negative magic. And as the companions show, smaller distances to the Columns cause increased effects. Julia even allows us to see that time and proximity are important contributions to the effect. So a traveling warrior like Duncan in Moonglow would not become a liar instantaneously upon being near the Column. In addition, Warriors and Paladins are shown to be less corrupted, but eventually many of them fell prey to the Columns or died attempting to rid the land of the Guardian's Evil.
As I have already demonstrated, there is much more to Ultima IX's plots and quests than what many have seen on their playthroughs. Now, we will dive into the game from the very beginning.