Ultima IX: Ascension

This review was originally published on 15 November 1999 at the now-defunct 3DGaming.net

Once upon a time in a beta test across the country, a man named Rainz got the smack down on a certain Lord British, proving once and for all that knowledge is power.

Have you ever awoken from a restless night of sleep sweating, feeling lost and filled with a desire to go beyond the boundaries of life? Have you ever wanted to be a hero? Has the desire to pass through the halls of Lord British’s castle ever crossed your mind? If it has, then the Ultima series is the game series to try. Unlike other role playing games such as Baldur’s Gate, Fallout, Final Fantasy, and the myriad online rpgs, Lord British’s Ultima games have always held firm to the idea that in order for a game to succeed, the player must care about the character he or she is investing such a great deal of time in.

So could Ultima IX change the way role-playing games are crafted in today’s market? That’s a tough call to make. Lord British is renown for having a love of depth and history in his games, as well as involving the player and making them care. If British were ever to have a career high, IX looks to be it. If there’s something role-playing games today lack, it’s a system of morals. Of course, that’s just one of many things rpgs tend to lack, no thanks to games such as Diablo that have dropped rpgs to an inferior level. But nonetheless, they shall survive.

As someone who’s wasted one too many hours in Baldur’s Gate, perhaps only three times did I truly care about the repercussions my actions would have. I’m one of those nice folk who have a thing called “integrity”, so when someone asks me if I found any important remains on a corpse that a family would like, regardless of whether or not it’s worth money to me, I return it. This, in a pinch, is the type of drive I’ve felt has driven Richard Garriott, aka Lord British’s games in the past. That and annoying jump features.

It’s been years since Ultima 8: Pagan (hey, my irc nick!) and without a doubt, anxiety has been developing on Garriott’s newest game. Understandably so in the wake of Tiberian Sun. Fortunately, Garriott aims to please, and if Ultima IX: Ascension is everything that he promises it shall be, then I’d begin telling your loved ones that you’ll be gone for a few weeks.

So what’s Ultima about? If you haven’t been living under a rock since 1915 then you’ll know it’s the granddaddy of role playing games. Ultima IX is the 9th, the final trilogy of trilogies, or something like that. It’s also the one that in Garriott’s own words, is a culmination of 20 years of work on the Ultima series.


Ultima IX is one a smack dab new engine built from the ground up to bring the avatar (that guy decked out in armor that you control) to full three-dimensional glory. How does it compare to the likes of UT and Q3 for competition of ‘prettiest game ever’? Well it certainly is a ram hog. British himself said that 128 mb of ram is ideal on this bad boy.

I think its very efficient to sit on the toilet while eating.. it goes in and comes right back out

From what I’ve heard on the newsgroups and in updates about the game, the fans of the Ultima series are in an uproar over the fact that for the first time ever in a Ultima game, it’s not top down as all the rest were. The most prominent fear is ‘Tomb Raider Disease.’ Well unless the avatar suddenly develops some boobies and uh, you know what else (which btw would be really cool) then I don’t think we have anything to fear.

After all, what’s wrong with a fully 3D Britannia? Personally I think The Avatar is about to give Lara a big swift kick to the groin with the imminent release of Ultima IX. She deserves it to. Have you played the TR 4 demo? That demo sucks so much!

Regardless, 3D is the future folks, Neverwinter Nights is evidence of that. The game will also be sporting full 16-bit color. Aha. No 32 bit for you! Mind you, this is not EverQuest. This slaps EQ like a good monkey. While I don’t know what the polygon count is, in this case, the world looks too friggin pretty to matter to me.

If you’ve ever played EverQuest then you’re most likely familiar with the ever annoying zones that pop up at the most inopportune of times. To say the least, EverQuest is to Tomb Raider what Asheron’s Call is to Ultima IX. How’s that for a comparison ? The college boards would be impressed I bet! College, here I come! Hah. I made a funny. Lord British must have heard that load times pissed me off, so he decided to make the world a continuous world.

Storyline and the power of the verb

Without revealing too much about the game, let’s just say that it involves Santa, a double-barreled shotgun and a bottle of scotch whiskey. Actually it involves the avatar’s return to Britannia one last time. This isn’t the Britannia that we all saw in Ultima VIII though, as things have changed, and not for the better.

Welcome to Britannia. All sheep are welcome. Hit next to enjoy them in private.

Twenty years have passed since the Avatar passed through the land of Britannia. Upon being called back for one last adventure, the player (you!) discovers that eight large pillars have risen from the ground all across Britannia. Somehow these pillars are negatively affecting the populace of Britannia, warping everyone and bringing out the bad side of Britannia. Welcome to the dark side of the force baby.

Of course, the guardian is back for one last dance. But this time he doesn’t want to take over Britannia, this time his intent is much more unpleasant. Is the complete and utter destruction of Britannia epic enough for you? That’s what awaits the Avatar. Save the world, restore the virtues to all of Britannia, and ensure that Britannia can survive without your presence, since this is the avatar’s final quest, the adventure to top all adventures.

Drunks elves and gun toting deer! Talk about a wild Yule Tide Season!

The world of Britannia has been rendered in a fully 3d Victorian era design, just the way British likes it (I heard he likes to be on top, but hey). Along the way you’ll run into old chums like Iolo the Fletcher, Shamino the Ranger (am I the only one that thinks they sound like soap products?) Katrina the Shepherdess (good for more than sheep), Geoffrey the Knight and many more.

Control System and the Perils of the Space key

Afraid Garrett fell into Diablo Central? Fear not my rpg loving freaks, Ultima IX is not going to be a hack and slash clone. That title is left for Darkstone. The combat consists of simple attacks that progress to round house attacks and a golf ball type swing that is gained as experience and wisdom are gained. Jumping has also been fixed (Ultima VIII fans know a great deal about this issue).

You want a piece of me fat boy? I’ll spork your ass!

Easy access is also provided to the spell book and map. Just like Baldur’s Gate, when you wear something, you’ll see it too. The mouse icon thingy also changes to indicate what the item the player is looking at. The jump system works now too. Merely point the icon to where you want to jump, and then press the jump key (I’m a whore and use the space bar for such an important task)

Also be on the lookout for the new 12-slot tool kit belt, not unlike the kind Tim Allen wore in Home Improvement. Just like Asheron’s Call, the first slot is ‘1’, the second is’2’ and so on. All the options are easily adjustable, like a good paid of pants. The one factor that has me drooling over Ultima IX like my new cashmere sweater ($100 for a sweater. What is the world coming to?) is the system of virtues, which basically determines whether you’re a wuss, or a real man.

Well not quite, it’s actually a system that balances the players’ values with consequences of actions and through that determines how the character advances in skill. If anything it’s one of the smartest additions to role playing games I’ve yet seen, as it encourages the player to care about the world more and to become more involved with the character and the npcs.


The cinematics are also damn amazing. If you’ve downloaded any of the myriad 4 million Mb files you’ll know that the videos in Ultima IX are dialed pieces of work that would make 3d modelers proud.


Do we even need to touch this issue? Five years was spent on the single player alone, and nearly half way through the entire design was scrapped. Adding multiplayer would turn this into a Daikatana scenario, which is the last thing the gaming world needs. At least British has cool hair.

Welcome to Britannia Young Adventurer! Don’t mind the smell!


There are three types of interfaces in my experience. Interface 1 is well designed, clearly shows what can be placed and stored where, presents the user with a myriad amount of options, and is basically placed on a pedestal by players. I place Baldur’s Gate on the pedestal, as well as Asheron’s Call.

Interface 2 is the unused one. If you’ve ever played Tomb Raider or MDK then you’ll know what I mean. They’re the nonexistent arcade interfaces that matter about as much as how many sheep Sweet Dick gets the funk with each night.

Interface 3 is the one I’ve oh so tastefully named ‘Pure Crap.’ Examples of ‘Pure Crap’ include the Nerf Arena blaster demo and Blackstone Chronicles. They’re the type of interface that causes my body to systematically reject the game. The feeling is quite close to having a stomach pumped.

What category does Ultima IX fall under? Well the interface from what I currently understand is fairly simple. Right click to move. Left click to interact. The cursor floating mysteriously in front of the avatar changes shades to determine where the avatar may jump. If the icon is green, the location can be jumped to, red means you’ve got about as much chance as Tonya Harding does of ever seeing Olympic glory


All I have are a whopping load of midis I found from Ultima 1-8 and two mod files that are just above the crap we know as midi. I don’t recall hearing any music in the E3 press junket that Garriott displayed in a crowded sweaty room. (Note to readers: wearing a leather cap in Los Angeles is hazardous to your health.) Hopefully the demo will present me with new music to add to my video game music collection, which I’ll have you know I’m very proud of.

Oh look, it’s daylight savings time.

Conclusions from sedation

This is the section where I get to talk about what I think about Ultima IX based upon what I’ve seen up until this point. Well first I want Lord British nudered for releasing so many large videos but not a single mp3 of music. Ultima IX: Ascension. It can bake a cake. It gives amazing hair cuts, and it’s fat free. It’s Lord British in a brand new way! And it’s dishwasher safe!

In all honesty folks, I don’t see how this game could not succeed. It just looks too damn impressive not to be successful. If the storyline is consistent, the music well written, characters fleshed out and three dimensional, then I don’t see this game not succeeding. It’s just not within my realm of understanding to imagine how this game could fail.

But then again, I’m an eternal optimist who can’t wait to get his hands on Daikatana. Trust in John Romero and Richard Garriott and they shall deliver. Hey, if Ray Liotta can play Shoeless Joe Jackson, then Richard Garriott can take five years to release the follow-up to Ultima VIII. The question remaining in my mind is how well this will stack up against the likes of Baldur’s Gate II and Final Fantasy VIII. Only time, the demo and final shipping version will tell. And remember, when it Rainz, it pours…

The Goods

Quick Peek: You are the mighty (aren’t they all?) Avatar, called to return to the land of Britannia to save the land from the Guardian (I thought guardians were supposed to protect people, not hurt em) and restore the eight virtues to the land of Britannia (open a portal to Woodstock circa : 1963).

Release Date: Imminent. The week of November 23, 1999 is my guess.

Ultima Online: Renaissance

Originally published on 13 June 2000 on 3DGaming.net. Man, those were some fun times.


Recently, Origin released a second expansion pack for Ultima Online, known as Ultima Online: Renaissance. This new expansion offers a variety of improvements to the original product, as well as the full game to those who don’t own either UO or the first expansion, known as The Second Age.

Ultima Online: Renaissance felt like an old friend upon the initial boot. I’d played Ultima Online shortly after its initial release, which, as has been told many a times, was a less than perfect release candidate. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it for a short while until I found myself enchanted with other products. Ultima Online stands as an achievement in the online RPG category. Not only is it a unique game for not replying upon an AD&D level based system (as the competition does), but it also earns high marks for not forcing its players to resort to combat to make a living.

For those who are ready and waiting for some flaw in my review, I’ll make this clear right from the start: I am not comparing the gameplay aspects of UO: Renaissance to the original Ultima Online, nor to The Second Age. Instead, I’m stating what the upgrades to the original product have been and how it compares and contrasts with the current competition on the market: Asheron’s Call and EverQuest.

Although I have played UO before, it has been quite some time since I have ventured into Britannia, thus any mistakes made in the review are based solely on my own limited amount of time in which to review the product, as well as lingering memories of the original product. There are no biases present, only observations made during my time playing UO: Renaissance.

If at first you don’t succeed, destroy all evidence you tried.

The concept of Ultima Online is succinctly explained in an opening video detailing the Avatar’s defeat of the evil mage Mondain, who used a crystal in an attempt to enslave the world of Sosaria. Apparently the Avatar wasn’t very nimble, as he destroyed the magical crystal the wizard was having an affair with.

You’d think Mondain could get a room so we wouldn’t have to watch the love making process with the crystal. Anyway, the Avatar killed him and shattered the crystal, thus creating a concept I’ve seen before in DC comics, a thousand different worlds that are all more or less the same. Or something.

Does Ultima Online really need more exposition than this? I think not. On with the review!

“See, you just shouldn’t have a social life! It works!”


Welcome to the world of online RPGs. Time to make a character! Choose your gender, your hairstyle, your traits, your skills, and your name! We hope you don’t mind, but…you’re a sprite in a 2D world. No 3D for you! You know, I bet you could make a song out of that: ‘Sprite in a 2D [Kind of] World.’

Anyway, the gameplay is pretty much still the same old thing you all know; you have your character and he can do whatever you built him or her to do: blacksmith, chief, dominatrix, anything you like. My cool guy Tauger Aman is a mild mannered adventurer with swagger and style. In my first adventure in Britannia, I wandered around and had random NPC’s telling me to talk to various people that a magical floating arrow would point to. Eventually, if you talk to enough people you begin receiving free stuff.

After having harassed the local blacksmith about what hours his daughters were free during (note: plural. I was going to have some fun tonight!), the blacksmith sent me to a woman dressed in a purple cloak. Apparently fashion sense is a phrase lost to the people of Sosaria. After I talked to her for what must have been the fourth time, she gave me a free sword. In the real world, sexual harassment cases are taken to court. In Sosaria, you get a free sword. This game is starting to look better and better all the time.

“Man, I gotta stop eatin’ the whole box of pop tarts. I was okay when there were six in the box, but eight definitely plays tricks on my mind.”

I decided to go hunting and see what neat stuff I could do. I found a goat stomping around in the forest, so I decided to kick its ass. After about five minutes of combat, the little bastard finally fell to the might of my powerful newbie sword and I was victorious. After taking a few minutes to heal though some means unknown to me (I’m guessing it’s magic), I saw a llama. I decided to attack the llama. It kicked my ass. I ran back to the city and vowed revenge upon the llama.

Eventually I met up with a dialed dude by the name of ‘The Respectable Druuz.’ He taught me to swing like the coolest of cats and gave me some bone armor, after which we decided to go hunting in the forests surrounding the city. He helped me pick up a box, lift some rocks, and stand on my head. Then he attacked a wraith. I joined in the battle and we kicked its smarmy little ass.

Then I saw that damn llama. With my shiny new sword, shield, and armor that I was too weak to wear, I attacked the furry bastard. A few minutes later I stood over the corpse of a sautéed llama, covered with its blood, but by Tempus, victory was mine! Wait, Tempus was a god in The Forgotten Realms. Dammit! Wrong universe! I knew I should have taken my Ritalin this morning!

I mentioned earlier (somewhere) that Ultima Online: Renaissance sports a variety of new features, and among them is one called Modified Player Killing. Asheron’s Call had it right from the get go. Origin didn’t. Any ‘1337’ newbie with a “DIE YOU STUPID HEAD!” T-shirt and a face resembling the surface of Mars could take your ass out once outside the city limits.

The interface (or the lack thereof) has been improved for group/party playing. Imagine the game twister but with swords and you’ll get the idea. Members of your group can also take loot from your body if specified in the group options. The landmass has apparently also been increased in size, which should make all you real-estate agents happy. Let the auctions begin!

The object of war is not to die for your country but try to make the other bastard die for his!


Six years ago, Ultima VIII: Pagan was released, powered by the… Ultima VIII engine. The same engine that powers Ultima VIII powers Ultima Online.

I’m at odds with this part of the review. On one hand, the graphics are fine and decent for their time, but compared to modern games such as Baldur’s Gate, the as yet unreleased Neverwinter Nights, and even Diablo, the graphics of Ultima Online feel a bit underwhelming and dated.

All the characters are sprite based. ‘3D’ is not an applicable term with this game. Even your old S3 Virge you’ve condemned to the darkest crevices of your basement would have no trouble running this game. At least it’s not as graphically intense as other games in this day and age, but that’s to be expected with an engine this old. Having 3D graphics would be nice, but then, that’s what Ultima Online 2 is all about, right?

“Iku iku!! Translation: I’m coming I’m coming!”


As I mentioned in the gameplay section, the opening video details the Avatar’s overcoming the evil mage Mondain, which sounds dangerously close to “mundane.” This brings me to my biggest gripe. Why are all mages evil? Why can’t they simply be… misunderstood? Perhaps venting at the world due to the death of their favorite servant? I think future fantasy games really have to work on fleshing out their ‘evil mages’ into something a bit more three-dimensional.

Nonetheless, the opening video conveys the plot of the game and at least attempts to explain the existence of the various servers (known as shards). It’s more than other games have been willing to do. Then again, perhaps the other games simply don’t care.

(blakeRz) Anyone who confesses to being a Starbucks fan will be banned for one hour.


In the day and age of red book audio, compressed wav files, mp3s, and mod files, why am I still hearing midis for music? The day and age of midi is over ladies and gentlemen! I want to hear crisp digital audio at 448000 Hz! No more of this midi nonsense! As midi goes though, the music isn’t quite as catchy as EverQuest, but it’s better than Asheron’s Call. That’s an inside joke, since Asheron’s Call has no music.

Don’t expect superb quality midi when you purchase the game. It’s passable as background noise, but that’s about it. The ambient sounds are decently done; sounds such as footsteps and birds are common to the ear when playing UO.

I expect to hear high quality music in all the games I play. This is the year 2000, not 1996. Technology has advanced to the point where having music via an mp3, mod file, wav file, or even red book audio is the only way to go. Please catch up with the rest of the world, Origin.


Ho boy! This one is a crapper. Ultima Online, meet the year 2000. Your interface sucks. Due to UO: Renaissance being nothing more than a glorified patch, the chances of getting an overhaul to escape macro hell seems highly unlikely. Hopefully someone at Origin will realize just how much of an aberration the interface is (not likely) and won’t allow such a travesty to occur with Ultima Online 2. The problem is this: the game is run completely by macros. Everything is a shlep and a bitch to access. I wonder if anyone working on the UO Live staff has ever played Asheron’s Call or Baldur’s Gate, which stand as the best examples of how to make an interface work properly.

(Rob) I love Starbucks. -o+b Rob

Due to the already overly strenuous learning curve to the game, a cumbersome interface only further pushes my already strained tolerance. Having items scattered about a backpack in no specific order is not what I would consider organization, and the item recognition system isn’t the finest I’ve seen either. Hopefully UO2 will sport a refined and smarter interface than the one currently in use.

Another gripe is the chat system. It’s simply disgusting. 1994 is no longer in style. Having dialogue appear above characters is simply an ugly system that not only clutters the screen but also causes an immense amount of lag, which is felt quite painfully by those on dial-up connections. Having a chat box at the bottom of the screen is the way to go. It also allows for a larger amount of chatting to occur without slowing down the game.

The only reason some people get lost in thought is because it’s unfamiliar territory.


I really don’t think this needs much detail. Is there lag? Yes, but only when you’re in a heavily populated area. Other than that, the lag is minimal and I have no complaint with it. I’ve rarely ever felt any, which may be largely due to my cable modem, but I have felt it, and when Britannia is crowded… no one is safe.

Compared to the likes of EverQuest and Asheron’s Call, the lag has been fairly tolerable. The servers do die on occasion, and during peak hours I do suggest staying the hell away from crowded areas, but otherwise, it’s not all that bad. I didn’t see any window that monitored lag to give me an idea of just how bad it was. Personally I think it’d be a welcome addition to UO.


Whether or not you like MMORPGS, or specifically Ultima Online, one clear fact can be ascertained: Ultima Online is a hit. There is something inherently fun and exciting about Ultima Online. Perhaps it is the ability to not have to fight to survive and make a living. Perhaps it is the wholly unique role playing system; perhaps it is the lack of a ‘MarketQuest’ style atmosphere. Perhaps it is something else entirely.

While it may not be a brand new game, the expansion does add more depth UO by offering more options for group playing, culling player killer power, expanding land, improving the interface, offering new looting options, and improving the chat options. Then again, being able to kill a llama in any game means it will offer hours of joy.

The Goods

Quick Peek: A new update of Ultima Online, a “massively multiplayer” game with the ability to hold hundreds of players in one world on different servers known as shards.
Pros: Atmospheric world, addictive gameplay, Pking improved, tweaked interface.
Cons: Extremely steep learning curve, dated graphics, midi music used, hellish interface, macros rule the game.
Value: It’s $10 a month for terrifyingly addictive gameplay. You know the deal, you log on, and you don’t stop playing. Origin takes your money, your loved ones leave you and you’re left all alone.

End of the Line

System Reqs: Pentium II 233, 32MB RAM, 590MB HD, 8X CD-ROM, 56K Internet Connection
API’s Supported: N/A
Hype Level: 7/10
Overall Grade: B-
Recommendation: MMORPG, drug, it’s the same thing as far as I’m concerned. Although it’s not a 3D game like Asheron’s Call and EverQuest, it’s still damn fun and has its own pros and cons. There’s a great deal to be enjoyed. If you want a game with depth, you can’t go wrong with UO. I highly recommend you try it, despite the steep learning curve.


Concept: A
Gameplay: A-
Graphics: B
Cinematics: A
Sound: C-
Interface: D-
Multiplayer: A-
Overall: B-