Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar

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Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar

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"Seriously, read the Book of History."
Protagonist: The Avatar
Genre: RPG
Turn-Based
Open-World
Platforms: Apple II
Commodore 64
Atari 8-bit
FM-7
PC-88
PC-98
MS-DOS
Atari ST
Amiga
MSX2
X1
X68000
NES
Master System
FM Towns
Microsoft Windows
GOG.com
Release Date: November 1985
Developer: Origin Systems
Publisher: Origin Systems
Franchise: Ultima
Previous Game: Ultima III: Exodus
Next Game: Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny

Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar is a turn-based open world role-playing game developed and published by Origin Systems. The game first released on the Apple II computer in November of 1985 and has since been re-released on multiple platforms. It is the first in the "Age of Enlightenment" trilogy of Ultima games. Along with Ultima VII: The Black Gate, it is series creator Richard Garriott's favorite Ultima game.

Plot

After the defeat of each of the members of the Triad of Evil in the previous three Ultima games, the world of Sosaria underwent drastic changes. Eventually the world, now unified under Lord British's rule, was renamed Britannia. Lord British felt the people lacked purpose after their great struggles against the Triad were over, and he was concerned with their spiritual well-being in the new age of peace. He soon proclaims the Quest of the Avatar: He needed someone to become the shining example for others to follow. The players must exercise the Eight Virtues and lead a virtuous life to become an Avatar and a spiritual example for the people of Britannia.

Gameplay

In the beginning of the game, the player's stats and class are determined by answering eight questions that represent moral dilemmas. Each of the classes represent one of the eight virtues. The goal of the game is to become an embodiment of all of the eight virtues. They are Honesty, Compassion, Valor, Justice, Sacrifice, Honor, Spirituality, and Humility. To affect your embodiment in the virtues, interactions between NPCs, monsters, and the world will affect your virtue either positively or negatively. Some of your actions may be minor, but some can drastically affect your progress.

Outside of the main mechanics, gameplay is similar to Ultima III. However, the world is much larger (the back of the box claims it's 16 times larger than that game). Players talk to NPCs by typing in a key word or words and they will answer, although they don't know everything. Combat is also similar, as players battle monsters on a grid and type in commands to do actions in the battles. Unlike Ultima III is that the game is open-world, so they players can do many things right from the beginning.

Why It Rocks

  1. Along with Wasteland and Starflight, it was credited as one of the first open world games ever created. You have complete freedom on how you would beat the game and could go to many places at the beginning.
  2. Unlike other role-playing games of the time, where the plot was about heroes facing off against an evil, Ultima IV's story was more of a personal one. It focused on the main character's self-improvement rather than that character trying to save the world.
  3. Eight different character classes, each representing one of the eight virtues. Each character type has their own different skills and items they can use, such as being able to sing songs as a bard or having access to most weapons as a fighter.
  4. What character you would be given was based on questions that are asked to the player to see which virtue matched them the most. Each virtue will determine what character class you will get. It will also decide where you start the game.
    • Mages show Honesty
    • Bards show Compassion
    • Fighters show Valor
    • Druids show Justice
    • Tinkers show Sacrifice
    • Paladins show Honor
    • Rangers show Spirituality
    • Shepards show Humility
  5. Large variety of weapons and armor for characters to use. While all characters are restricted from some weapons and armor in some way, there is enough variety for everyone to use.
  6. While the stat systems are simplified to just Strength, Intelligence, and Dexterity, it is still a somewhat deep stat system that affects all assets of your character, such as Dexterity affecting how well you evade enemy attacks.
  7. It was the first game that has ethical features in it. In past games, such as other Ultima games, you had no consequences from stealing from people or murdering innocents. Sometimes, it was needed to progress the story. In Ultima IV, you had a morality system where your actions would have a significant impact on the world. It would also affect the stats of your virtues. For example, in the case of Valor, you will gain it by fighting evil characters and lose it by fleeing cowardly.
  8. Deep dialogue system. In the game, the players will type in a key word or words when talking to NPCs to ask them about that subject. Each character will say something different and all have their own names. Some might not know about a subject, but all of them have something to say about themselves or a location. You can even ask some to join you on your quest.
  9. A time aspect that affects what goes on in the world. Some actions can only be performed at certain times of the day.
  10. Due to being an open world game, you can complete your quests in any order you like.

Bad Qualities

  1. The simplified graphics haven't aged very well.
  2. There are no unique races to choose from for your character, like elves, dwarves, and fuzzies. You are forced to play as a human character.
  3. Sometimes, you may not know what to do next due to how much freedom you have.

Reception

Upon release, Ultima IV was critically acclaimed. Scorpia of Computer Gaming World magazine, known for being very harsh when reviewing games, called it an "incredible game" and told readers to buy the game, stating it "Will be a classic". It was one of the first games to be featured in the Computer Gaming World hall of fame, the games that where highly rated by readers. The game was also a commercial success, selling over 400,000 copies by mid-1989. Retrospectively, the game is considered one of the best RPGs ever made and one of the greatest games of all time in general. For the GOG.com re-release, the game has a user score of 4.3/5.

The Game

You can get the game completely free (and legally) here, with some included bonuses: https://www.gog.com/game/ultima_4

Trivia

  1. Along with Ultima VII: The Black Gate, the game is creator Richard Garriott's favorite Ultima game.
  2. The ankh, the symbol of the virtuous path of the main character was chosen by Garriott after he saw it in the film Logan's Run.
  3. After the game's release, Garriott was working on a part 2 of Ultima IV during the development of Ultima V, but the game was cancelled.

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