Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar was the point at which I jumped on the Ultima train. For those of you who are compulsive like I am and have to start something at the beginning but don’t want to suffer through a tedious gameplay experience, take heart. Ultima IV is a good introduction to the world of Ultima. It isn’t that the first three games in the Ultima series are not worth their while; it’s just that it’s a little difficult, in this day and age, to suffer through the technical limitations that surrounded the development of those games.
The geography has changed, but Ultima IV takes place in the same game world as the first three Ultimas, and shares some of the same characters. Ultima IV begins a new story, however. The first three games in the series take place in the Age of Darkness. Ultima IV begins the Age of Enlightenment. In the games up to this point, Britannia has been threatened by evil entities that presented a visible, tangible, and killable enemy. In Ultima IV, Britannia is threatened by something that is going to require a much different approach than the magic, weapons, and armor necessary in the first three games. The enemy now is apathy, injustice, pride, and the other such vices that can afflict a society that has taken its prosperity for granted. Leave it to Lord British to have recognized the problem and come up with the solution. But of course, the people need a spiritual leader to show them the way. Not the ways of battle and defense, but the ways of virtue. Justice, sacrifice, honesty, honor, valor, humility, compassion, and spirituality are the weapons to be used to wage the war against that which plagues the people of Britannia in these days. These are the virtues that must be practiced and taught in order to save Britannia.
As you have probably guessed, Ultima IV is not your typical RPG. Don’t misunderstand; there will be fighting. The challenge is in knowing when to fight. There will be wealth. The challenge is in deciding what to do with it. There will be character interaction. The trick is to identify those in need as much as those who pose a threat. You get the idea. In short, you must be the guiding force of goodness to lead the people in developing the kind of utopian society that Lord British has in mind for his people. Your goal is to become the Avatar, the master of goodness and all-around nice guy. In order to achieve “Avatarhood,” you must practice the virtues and meditate at the shrines of each of the virtues. It is the shrine that will decide when your karma in each virtue has reached a sufficient level for Avatarhood. Your actions in the game will decide your fate. When you display the appropriate personal qualities, your karma will increase. When you slip up, your karma decreases.
The mechanics of Ultima IV are a little crude by today’s standards. If you are expecting eye candy, you will be disappointed. When you have to do battle, the terrain that you are currently in will have a lot to do with the strategy and weapons that you use. Plains, hills, mountains, and seas, will all present unique challenges. The arsenal of weapons is fairly ordinary, but it is the magic system in the game that is the most fun and interesting. Ultima IV sets the foundation for the entire series with the way that magic is acquired and used. You will talk to many other characters and even adventure with some of them. Each character in the party will be of a certain guild or trade, each with its own characteristics as to their abilities in battle, magic, stealth, etc. There are eight experience levels that are awarded by Lord British when a party member has acquired sufficient experience points. Each level requires twice as much experience to achieve as the one that precedes it. Make sure you visit Lord British often in the beginning of the game so that you are rewarded promptly.
The biggest drawback to the game is that it can become tedious due to all the slow traveling that must take place and the repetitive nature of the battles. This problem is addressed in the next two Ultima games, but in this one you will have to be patient. Although it can drag on at times, overall Ultima IV is a fun and thought-provoking game that should be experienced by everyone at least once.
As you will notice when you play, everything in the Ultima series happens in eights. Don’t ask me why. There are eight virtues. Your party can have up to eight people. There are eight circles of magic. There are eight experience levels that a character can attain.
It runs fine in DOS or DOSBox. You may have to reduce your cycles in DOSBox somewhat.
Part of the Ultima Series