I feel like replying to some comments before I talk about Ultima VII. I played for a bit today--I explored Trinsic and then solved a robbery in Paws, but I only played for a bit more than an hour and I am looking forward to doing a little bit more before calling it a "day 1."
It's been said my fondness for Ultima Underworld did not come through in the writing, which as I glance over it, is pretty true. I blame this a lot less on the game, and a lot more on the nature of extemporaneous writing--it's so, SO much easier to write sarcastic comments and crticisisms than to write clear and meaningful praise--and usually criticism is more entertaining, too (observe a site like X-Enterainment).
However, part of the reason is the game itself. Without much dialogue, and the game being mostly about exploring, it's hard to come up with very much to say. With one of the main numbered games, I might have written about how it tied in or references other games, but this one does so little of that. I did briefly look for similarities between this Abyss and the Abyss in Ultima IV, but found zero, so that idea went out the window.
Calibrator mentions the experience of "living in the Abyss," which is an experience I agree with. A lot of it is lost in later replays--I remember when someone shoved me down a hole on the first level, and it was quite an experience trying to figure out how to get back to where I was. But knowing all of these details in advance means there are fewer unexpected adventures. Level eight was mostly a surprise, though, because I had never bothered to really explore it before. Also, there were many things I'd forgotten about on levels one and two.
However, I do contend that I explored nearly every nook and cranny--my missing runestone apparently is something I just failed to notice on the ground, for example, in the bandit den on level three. I like to look at the walkthrough when I finish a particular blog in order to see how well I did, how much I missed. In Underworld, it was less than Savage Empire, I think--but of course, exploring is rewarded in Underoworld (and vastly more so in Underworld II)!
Finally, I think there is a certain lack of drama in Underworld. I remember a pretty powerful sense of sadness in Underworld II, when you explore the tomb of Praecor Loth and meet his deluded liche companions, or when you find the frozen, dead city in the ice caves. In Underworld there was less of this--I did like the conciliatory but still-arrogant tone of Tyball when he died, but for the most part the inhabitants of the abyss seemed pretty content with their lot in life. There are, however, a few similarly gripping moments in the game--meeting the old, ruined Corby for example, or talking to the remarkably intelligent troll leader, or hearing the green goblin king speak highly of Cabirus.
One change I might have made in the game would have been to not actually show the Slasher of Veils, because he looks...well, not that threatening. Sort of goofy, even. I think that could have heightened the endgame drama. Also, maybe a better sense of what the Abyss once was before it collapsed might have been useful--only a few locations seemed to once have a recognizable purpose, like the Acadamy or the great hall on level five, for example.
I call it my third favorite game because the experience of playing it when it was new was simply such a revelation, on the same level as my first few minutes of Ultima VII, where I got the sense that, wow, this game is a different sort of thing from what I've seen before.