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Ultima IX - Ascension
LogoAlthough the English version of Origin's Ultima IX has recently shipped, the German one won't be published before February, because of cleaining up numerous bugs flawing the game. The latest patch version can be downloaded from the address given at the end of this review. Ascension is the last installment of the Guardian trilogy and will be the last game starring the embodiment of virtue, the Avatar. It is also highly likely that it will be the last Ultima game for single players, since Origin intends to focus its efforts on massively multiplayer online games (well, Ultima Online 2 that is) in the future. As a solace for Ultima fans will be the fact that Ascension has become more epic and gorgeous than ever before.
Graphics & gaming world:
BritainTo say it right from the beginning: the graphics exceed nearly everything you might have seen before. With an incredible love for detail, the team around Richard Garriott created the whole of Britannia as a complex 3D world. It's not only the fact that every object in the gaming world can now be manipulated again (as in the earlier Ultimas). There are also no real levels any longer: without visual interruptions you enter dungeons, towns, the wilderness or the mountainside; everything looming on the horizon can be reached. Birds and butterflies flutter through the air, waves roll silently against the coast, and the sun follows its invisible path along the sky - that is why day and night and the weather are subject to regular change. At night, lamps and torches illuminate the surroundings with soft light. During conversations, which are held directly in the game graphics and are accompanied by speech, the characters do even know basic forms of gestures and facial expressions. Both characters and objects have been coated with beautiful textures. And the rendered cutscenes' quality will make your jaw drop.
Hunger for hardware:
GuardsBut, alas, all this magnificence takes its inevitable toll. Below a Pentium with 300 MHz you actually don't have to start your journey to Britannia; not to mention a fast accelerator card, 128 MB RAM, and at least 600 MB of disk space. But even then you can only play at a resolution of 640 x 480 and with the lowest level of detail, if you don't want to see the frame rate reduced to a slide show. It's possible, of course, to choose 1600 x 1200 pixels, but even PCs with 600 or 700 MHz will start sweating under such a strain. However, the monstrous hardware hunger and the long periods of loading (on slower CPUs) are the greatest flaws of the game.
Story & gameplay:
Buccaneer's DenFor the third (and last) time, the evil Guardian and his henchmen, among them Lord Blackthorne, are causing havoc in Britannia. When all of a sudden eight huge pillars rise up into the sky and the Shrines of Virtue are desecrated, the people of Britannia start losing their ability to behave virtuously. In the capital Britain, for example, the City of Compassion, the poor and sick are sent to Yew into exile - not very caring, if you ask me.
In this time of darkness, the defender of all virtues, the Avatar, embarks anew on his quest to save Britannia from destruction. You start the game as some sort of tutorial in the Avatar's house, in order to get used to the controls and the Tomb Raider like camera angle. The Avatar's new movements are set to rival those of Lara Croft: he can run, jump, climb, swim, and fight - everything in 3D. In the vicinity of his property, he encounters a gypsy who confronts him with moral questions decisive for the character generation. Depending on the answers he gives, he starts as a different character, e.g. fighter or mage. Once he arrives in Britain, his first tasks takes him to Lord British's castle, where he (accompanied by the "Rule Britannia" score) receives his initial instructions. It's up to him now to cleanse all eight Shrines and to restore the virtues. But before accomplishing his quest, a whole continent waits to be explored...

Ultima 9


very good


very good

very good

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Pros & cons:
AvatarIt's simply fun to roam magnificent Britannia and to behave virtuously while pursuing the numerous subquests. On your journey, you'll also encounter some of your old friends, e.g. Iolo or Shamino. Story, graphics and atmosphere are of unparalleled quality; and just think of starting a romantic love affair with the dark-haired beauty Raven. Besides all this, the inventory and spellcasting have been modified. Your backpack is less chaotic now and with the inventory bar at the bottom of the screen you have quick access to vital objects like healing potions or weapons. Casting a spell doesn't require your carrying around the respective ingredients all the time. Once you have bound a spell to your spellbook, every magic conjured only consumes mana points.
The game's greatest point of criticism are the extremely high hardware requirements that even fans of the Ultima games cannot shrug off without tears in their eyes. The unusual camera perspective, the Tomb Raider like jump'n'run parts, the lack of a party and the incredible number of bugs will also cause some dismay among gamers. But in spite of all these minor problems, Ascension is one of the best role-playing games in years. If you're lucky enough to call the necessary hardware your own, you should by no means miss this Ultima-te game experience.
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