OK, I got some time to play around and found out what was wrong. In short, because I had no speakers/headphones plugged into the audio jack, the PCs audio is disabled; the game really doesn't like this.
To test this, I re-installed and re-patched the game with no special admin considerations; basically, I let the install process follow its default course. Afterwards, I launched the game. With something plugged into the audio jack, the game ran fine; otherwise not. It did not matter whether I disabled sounds/music in the game's options or not.
I am curious as to whether the PC and thus the game can live with anything, regardless of functionality, plugged into the jack. I'll try this later. Personally, as a programmer, I think this situation is pretty lame and I'm not quite sure how it could come to be. I understand that a tester wouldn't catch it because my configuration (no sound) is (apparently) quite unusual. It seems odd to me that the Window's library of audio access functions wouldn't have a test for the state of the PC's audio (enabled or not) and that a programmer wouldn't use it before trying to access it, and upon detecting disabled audio would simply disable the game's audio functions. But no. On the other hand, Window's can be, um, difficult to work with and perhaps these audio shenanigans are typical.
Anyway, thanks to both ERISS and Durk for their time and suggestions, I really appreciate it.