An interesting aspect of many Ultima related discussions is this question:
“Should Ultima IX be considered canon?”
I am not going to talk about the meaning of the word “canonical”. This a very personal attitude. Instead, I will try to explain why Ascension fails to please most Ultima vets.
As this website should actually clearly proof, there are hundreds of inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and flaws in the plot in Ultima Ascension. Underworld 2 isn’t even mentioned anywhere in the game. Major plot points of Serpent Isle and Pagan are completely disregarded. Ultima 7 Part 1 is ignored too, except of the sheer existance of the Guardian.
I know that there are dozens of elements from previous Ultimas included (like the Codex, Blackthorn, Ambrosia, the Silver Serpent, etc.), but they were all implented in a wrong way.
So, how canonical can a game be that obviously doesn’t care about the rest of the series?
Philosophy of the series
Ultima actually began with Ultima 4. Most fans will agree to this, and it was also said by Richard Garriott himself on several occasions. Among other things, Ultima 4 introduced the 8 Virtues and the Way of the Avatar. You were still allowed to do evil things like stealing, killing, or lying, but the game would recognize it. You weren’t an infallibale hero, you were a human being, yourself, striving to understand your inner being and surpress evil inside.
“The Quest of the Avatar is forever.”
You were not perfect, you were still striving to become an Avatar at the end of the game.
Virtue wasn’t magically forced upon people like in Ascension, and you weren’t the “Son of Sons”. You and all other people were free, free to follow the path of Virtue or not. It was your very own decision to adapt the Way of the Avatar.
I believe this made the entire philosophy something special. It was a philosophy of responsibility, if I might say so.
In Ascension, virtue within people is merely caused by some magic runes, so where has responsibility gone? What happened to the humble philosophy that taught you to supress evil inside? It was replaced with a story about a superhuman being called "Avatar". Even worse, the game claims that you forced out all evil inside in Ultima 4, and that this evil manifested itself into a single creature.
to shed some light on. I often hear people saying that Ascension was made by Richard Garriott
“;It was Lord British’s work, so it is canonical.”
Ultima wasn’t made by Garriott alone. Do names like “Warren Spector” or “Dr.Cat” sound familiar?
Many people had left Origin over the years, and it seems they took Ultima spirit with them. Only two old schoolers were left when Ultima Ascension was released: Richard Garriott and Herman Miller. The rest was a team of develepors who didn’t know much about Ultima and its history.
I know that Richard Garriott himself often claimed that Ascension was a true Ultima in interviews. Why he did so I honestly don’t know. Maybe it was just pride upon his game, or legal reasons. Anyway, he lost lots of credits within the Ultima community by his constant glossing over the facts.
Origin had a great concept for a great game. Why had so much of it been cut out? It was all about money. Money. The game had to be released before Christimas in 1999. As everyone knows, games sell best at Christmas time. More sales = more money. An easy formula.
Of course, this wasn’t the fault of the developers or Origin, it was the fault of their publisher: EA. They set Origin a deadly deadline, by which they just weren’t able to finish the game. It was rushed out, as not evidenced by the bugs only, but also by the thin plot.
The older Ultimas were certainly also created to make money, but at the same time, they were a work of love, made by people showing true passion for the series. Ascension was not only targeted for mass-market, but also destroyed by publishers who were after nothing but the money.
Nobody needs to get offensive about this topic. Ultima is just a game. But it was a great roleplaying game series many of us vets grew to love, and Ascension butchered its lore. That’s why we easily get upset when Ultima newbees defend the game. Please try to understand our point of view.