What more can I say about Ultima 7? It really was so good. After playing it I can really understand why so many hardcore Ultima fans hated Ultima 8 and 9 for ruining the franchise.
I can understand them, but I still have to disagree.
The fact is that U7 released at the last possible moment a game like that could come out and still be considered a good game. Just try putting out an RPG these days where the combat is completely hands off (and you are, to an extent, forced to partake in it to boost your stats before the final encounter), and full of abstract puzzles and gameplay. Lets look at each of these charges one by one.
First you have the hands off combat. What more is there to say about it? The extent of the depth of the combat gameplay is deciding to take Jaana off of the Firedoom Staff because she keeps killing you on accident. You can't get away with that now, and you couldn't get away with it for much longer after U7.
Another problem is that the game is chalk full of abstract puzzles. Honestly, how the heck would I know to use Rudyum's Wand on the Black Gate without a walkthrough? Because of the open nature of the game you might have bumped into Rudyum and nicked his wand 10 minutes into the game. Now you find yourself, 20 hours later, looking at the Black Gate and saying "I do what now?" Aside from that, trial and error teleportation puzzles are rarely fun.
When playing U8 and U9 you can almost literally feel the developers trying to address these issues. The combat of U8 might be a bit clumsy, but at least you can actually swing my sword! And you can kick and parry, to boot! Sadly, they never bother to actually give you a reason to do so, but you can still tell that they were really trying to add on to this end of the gameplay department to bring the Ultima series into the world of modern game design. The much maligned jumping and climbing as well is, in my opinion, in the game to add a needed dosage of interaction.
I guess what I mean to say about this whole topic is that while I agree that Ultimas 8 and 9 aren't the classic games that U4-7 are, they are still fairly decent. More importantly, if a lot of the die hards had their way and U9 was just Ultima 7 in 3D it wouldn't have helped. That game would have been slaughtered in reviews, perhaps even more so than U9 did as it was.