Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar is the fourth entry in Richard Garriott's long-running and influential Ultima series of role playing games. Released in 1985 for the Apple II and then for the Commodore 64 and the IBM PC, Ultima IV departed from the "kill the evil wizard" plot of the earlier games of the series and encouraged the player to complete the Quest of the Avatar by mastering eight virtues and finding the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom.
The basic gameplay in Ultima IV is not substantially different from Ultima III. However, Ultima IV introduces the concept of virtue as a foundation that governs the player's identity and progress. The player creates their protagonist at the start of the game by answering a series of questions about what he or she would do in a morally ambiguous situation. The player's answers determine which of the eight virtues he or she is most closely aligned to, and then the player begins the game with a character of the class which represents that virtue. The player's representative class and virtue also determine the city in which the player starts the game.
There are eight virtues in the game, each represented by a class, a city, and a dungeon. The virtues themselves are built on the three principles of Truth, Love, and Courage. In each city, the player encounters a character of the class representative of the city's virtue, that under the right circumstances can join the player's party for a maximum total of eight party members.
Inspiration for the eight virtues and three principles is found in a number of sources, including Buddhism and Hinduism, and as Richard Garriott himself said, the Wizard of Oz.
|Justice||Truth and Love||Yew||Wrong||Druid|
|Sacrifice||Love and Courage||Minoc||Covetous||Tinker|
|Honor||Truth and Courage||Trinsic||Shame||Paladin|
|Spirituality||Truth, Love, and Courage||Skara Brae||Hythloth||Ranger|
|Humility||None||New Magincia||Stygian Abyss||Shepherd|
The conversation system is built on the foundation found in Ultima III, allowing the player to engage with NPCs with the key words "name", "job", and "health" and then by repeating phrases from the NPC's speech. In console versions of the game, text entry is replaced with a list of conversation topics that the player can choose from.
Combat is similar to Ultima III, but now spells require reageants which must be purchased (or found) and mixed in advance of combat. When the player enters a battle encounter, the player can choose to move party members individually one square per turn, cast magic, or attack from melee or long range (if the party members are appropriately equipped). There is also an "Auto" option that allows the computer to pick the action that the party member will take.
While exploring the overworld, the player has access to the moongates; magical gates that were introduced in Ultima III. The availability of these gates are dependent on the phases of the two moons, which determine which gates are currently open and their destinations. However, unlike Ultima III, the game does not feature an "underworld" like Ambrosia.
Dungeon exploration in Ultima IV continues to use first-person, 3D hallways, but now also features rooms depicted from an overhead view as well.
The player is tasked by Britannia's Lord British to become an Avatar by reaching enlightenment in each of the eight virtues. The player's standing in each of the virtues is determined by actions taken during gameplay. Positive influences include refraining from stealing (i.e.: Not opening treasure chests found in towns or castles), giving gold to beggars and blood (Hit Points) to healers, meditating, answering NPCs' questions properly, not fleeing from combat, and letting non-evil creatures encountered during combat flee.
Once a player has reached the required level in a given virtue (the seer Hawkwind in Castle Britannia keeps the player appraised of his or her virtue) he or she must meditate at the shrine corresponding to the virtue. When the player has completed this task for all eight virtues, he or she is ready to take on the Abyss to find the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom.
To accomplish this final task, the player must use eight colored stones (one found in each of the eight dungeons) to find the three parts of a key. Once the key is acquired, the player must then descend into the eight levels of the Abyss. Once the player has reached the bottom of the Abyss, he or she must answer a series of questions. If the player answers any of these questions incorrectly, the player character is warped back to the surface world and forced to navigate the Abyss again from the start. Should the player succeed and answer all of the questions correctly, he or she obtains the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom and becomes the Avatar.
Ultima IV created the foundation of the rest of the Ultima series. All of the subsequent games would take place in or in relation to the world of Britannia and would reinterpret the virtues and the basic structure of the world. In later games, Richard Garriott would relativize the "goody two-shoes" story of Ultima IV by showing the unintended consequences of this single-minded quest for goodness. The antagonist of Ultima V would impose a totalitarian regime based on the virtues. It would be revealed that by taking the Codex from the bottom of the Abyss, the Avatar set into motion the destruction of the Gargoyles' world, and that by becoming the Avatar he or she spawned an evil alter-ego, the Guardian.
The story of Ultima IV is extremely open-ended. The moongates allow the player to access any area of the game from the beginning, and the virtues and dungeons can be tackled in any order, except for the game-ending Abyss. The open-ended nature of the game would give way to a more tightly scripted story in later games.
A version of Ultima IV entitled Ultima: Quest of the Avatar was made for the NES. The game's graphics were completely redrawn in a style similar to that of Japanese RPGs of the era such as the Dragon Quest series, and certain gameplay systems were streamlined for better playability on a console, rather than a PC with a keyboard. Otherwise, the game's structure and content are largely identical to the PC version. This version of the game was published by Pony Canyon.
As of September 2011, Ultima IV is available at Good Old Games. It has also been released as part of the "Ultima 4+5+6" package.