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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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by Origin

Ups: Really pretty, snappy interface.

Downs: Only really pretty if you're running 3DFX card; buggy, weak combat system.

System Reqs:
PII 266, 64 MB RAM, 8X CD-ROM, 3D Accelerator w/ 8MB


Ultima: Ascension.  The first RPG in the Ultima line in the last several years.  The last game in the series.  A new 3D engine.  The stage is set for what should have been one of the best games of the decade.  Origin has never let us down before, sending out consistently challenging, well-conceived and interesting games in a long series.  And while Ascension has some excellent qualities, too many problems, too many glitches and far too many gameplay inconsistencies mar this final offering.

Your story, as in Ultima’s past, begins with a call from Britannia: a bright light, blah, blah, blah, trouble, blah, blah, blah, Avatar needed, blah.  The Guardian from Ultima VII and VIII is back along with a number of columns (big, black, sinister) that have erupted form the earth, coincidently close to each of Britannia’s shrines.  These icky monuments to bad taste are perverting the virtues that govern the land and its inhabitants, and it’s up to you, the paragon of fashion and weapons of mass destruction that you are, to save this little patch of the cosmos. 

For fans of the series, this should sound familiar.  Your basic job, beyond the requisite side quests, is to free up each of the shrines from the influence of the columns, delving into the dungeon associated with each shrine, and moving in a linear manner from point to point of the adventure.  Curiously, unlike  Ultima’s past games, your range is often limited.  The whole map of Britannia is not at your disposal to explore at your leisure.  (Additionally, due to the 3D nature of the place, Britannia has become very small.)  You often find yourself trapped on islands or underground, and the game moves you in a direct line to the finale.  This is out of keeping with the wide-open play that was an Ultima hallmark, and I felt uncomfortable in the relentless movement. 

However, the land you walk through is fantastic and sets a new level in three-dimensional graphics.  Everything is lush and superbly rendered.  Trees, mountains, the seamless transition between above ground and below are all done with artistry.  When I first loaded Ascension, I was astounded by the quality of both the scenery and the cut-scenes.  The landscape is always moving with butterflies, ambient weather, and beautiful details.  Unfortunately, those graphics exact a high price.  Ascension only plays well with a 3dfx accelerator and, while a patch exists for those running a D3D chipset, game play is still paralyzed.  I ended up having to remove all of the graphic goodies and still got an unacceptably slow experience. 

Also, the graphics are not uniformly great.  Non-player characters and monsters look, well, bad.  They look out of place in their environments, as if they belong to an earlier, less sophisticated game.  Couple this with uniformly horrible voice acting, as well as the fact that all dialogue is spoken without the option to read subtitles, and talking to townspeople becomes a tedious affair.  It’s like listening to a bunch of accountants on Quaaludes reading into tape recorders.  (No offence to accountants.)   Since spoke interaction makes up a major portion of the game, the problem becomes obvious.  The Avatar himself speaks in a curious monotone that undercut emersion in the storyline (although at times it was funny).

The mechanics of Ultima are easy to learn with everything from fighting to picking up objects taken care of by the left mouse button (or the SuperMouse style of play).  The combat system is, however, one of the worst I’ve ever seen.  Bad guys essentially walk up and stand in front of you while you stab at the mouse, slicing and dicing until your finger is sore.  Dodging is worthless, as are any attempts at tactics or strategy.  Additionally, monsters can be avoided by running around them and--since you don’t accrue experience from kills--there is no point to most fights in the first place.   

Which brings me to the role-playing element.  There isn’t much of one.  You can gain levels and improve your statistics, to no visible result, and learn a variety of new weapons techniques, but, due to the lame combat setup, they aren’t really necessary.  Ultima’s role-playing categories (magician, tinker, fighter, etc) don’t seem to impact play much and are definitely not as important as in previous games.  With the third person perspective, Ascension feels more like an adventure game than an RPG.

I hate to be so hard on an anticipated game from a good studio, but Ascension just isn’t any fun.  The game’s speed makes marathon sessions unavoidable and with little payoff.  The story itself seems uninspired compared to previous Ultimas, and such comparisons are unavoidable.  Bad acting, bad game play, bad combat, but gee the scenery sure is pretty.  Unfortunately that is not enough.  It goes without saying that the fans of the series will slog through hours of shabby play, slugging back gallons of Mountain Dew, just to see how the damn thing ends, but for the less-than-fanatic, Ascension isn’t worth the effort. 

--Matt Blackburn