Well, my gaming of Ultima IX has begun; in fact, it's continued for several days. It seems that in general I either am in the mood to play the game, or to blog, but rarely do I do both in the same day! In any case, the past several days I have made much headway, and I have to say I'm pretty eager to wrap this up. I'm hoping I can do so before Feb 14th, marking the end of a year since I started this effort!
This blog concerns day 1. With a few exceptions, it seems that I can cleanse a shrine in about 2-3 hours worth of gameplay, from my first arrival in the town to the cleanse. This first day is probably about 2.5 hours; Despise is short, but there's a lot of pre-emptive stuff you have to get out of the way. The beginning of the game is terribly incoherent, in my view--for some reason, you're back on Earth. At the end of Ultima VIII, you had just appeared on a bleak landscape with fire everywhere, right? I guess starting on Earth makes some sense (you have to learn how to play). but it's still pretty disconcerting. The game really begins when you are tossed into Stonegate (after a brief appearance on a mountaintop--again--you are whisked away).
Someone apparently decided to rebuild Stonegate into a freakishly gigantic tower, and also to create some Shadowlord statues from outside. So Stonegate hints at one of the things I find generally annoying about Ultima IX--it tries to pay homage to previous games, but it does so in ways that are just kinda disconcerting, like this spontaneously rebuilt Stonegate.
But before I rip on the game too much, I should probably mention some of the good points. I think the dungeons are, by far, the highlight of the game, the early ones, at least, are well designed and challenging without being frustrating. The puzzles are interesting and inventive, and make good use of the 3-D engine. The outdoor world is also interesting, with lots of nooks and crannies to explore with unexpected items laying around. However, the outer world is pretty darn cramped, and feels tiny. There's a brigand living right behind Lord British's castle!? The fact that monsters re-spawn forever, at least outside, can also be tiresome--I must have killed that thief near the east gate of Britain at least 30 times; you'd think the thieves would quit lurking there. I know the older games had this problem too. One of the interesting things about the cramped world, also, is that it's accentuated by the 3D view--because you can look in the distance, you can see the island that you won't get to any time soon, or the goblin on the mountaintop, or whatever' Ultima VII was also a pretty crowded game, but since you were stuck in the overhead isometric view, it didn't feel as much that way.
But that's a long digression from the plot points! Britain has been corrupted by the column and its inhabitants are not quite so compassionate as they might be, shipping the poor off to the swamp town of Paws. Things reach a head after you finish up Despise and the mayor's daughter is carted off. He eventually learns his lesson, as you would expect. What's interesting is that his compassionate-ness seems to improve even before cleansing the shrine. Each shrine requires the glyph from the column and a virtue-themed artifact from the town (in this case a big blue crystal heart--which seems to be as big as my head; how do I fit this in my backpack!?) to be cleansed, after which the music (sometimes) changes to a happier (and IMO a worse) tune. Despise is a simple dungeon to work through, but it has some interesting features, such as a non-essential magic shield quest (which I never completed--you need four crystals; I found three and learned all the shield did is improve your magic and gave up), and a lot of log books and other such things that indicate that Lord British has sent expeditions into the dungeon and has almost created a little town there, albeit a totally self-insufficient one (all the guard posts have been abandoned...)
In the bottom, you meet Iolo, who has been corrupted but who is a weakling. Fetching the glyph apparently cures him and he goes back to stay with Gwenno nearby.
So one of the more interesting places in the game is the big museum in Britain, which collects a wide array of miscellany from previous games, from the obvious like the cards that killed off Exodus (they are playing cards, but I envision them as more akin to old computer punchcards) and the vortex cube (which does not seem to be cubical) to the obscure, like Khorgin's fang from Ultima VIII and the blue tassel from Ultima II.
Once upon a time there was a website which had 3D representations of a bunch of the magic weapons from various games in the series; a similar effort at making representations of some of the interesting quest items could be worthwhile too.
A word on screenshots...I'm not posting any for now because they come out so terrible. I'm going to have to ponder what I will do about this.