Ultima IV, the Quest of the Avatar, is still considered by many to be the best of Richard Garriott's long-running and influential 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 gameplay in Ultima IV is not substanially different than Ultima III, although the game is larger and more complex. Rather than creating a number of characters at the beginning of the game, the player creates one character 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 game-world of Ultima IV is very schematic - there are eight virtues along with eight cities, eight dungeons, and eight classes, all of which represent a virtue or its opposite. The virtues in turn are built out of the three principles of Truth, Love and Courage.
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|
After beginning the game, the player can be joined by one representative of each of the other seven classes, for a total of eight characters in the party. The conversation system is more complex in Ultima IV than in III, allowing the player to hold mini-conversations based on the keywords "name", "job", and "health" and then by repeating phrases from the NPC's speech.
Combat is similar to Ultima III, but now spells require reageants which must be purchased (or found) and mixed in advance of combat. The moongates are kept from Ultima III, but there is no "underworld" like Ambrosia. Dungeons now contain 2-D rooms in addition to 3-D hallways.
The player must become an Avatar by reaching enlightment in each of the eight virtues. Not stealing, giving gold to beggars and blood (hp) to healers, meditating, answering NPC's questions properly, and not fleeing from combat and letting non-evil creatures flee increases the player's standing in the virtues. Once a player has reached the required level in a given virtues (the seer Hawkwind in Castle Brittannia keeps the play appraised of his or her virtue) he or she must meditate at the shrine corresponding to the virtue. When the player has completed all eight virtues he or she is ready to take on the Abyss to find the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom. A colored stone can be found in each dungeon. The stones are used to find the three parts of a key and to descend down 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, including a rather difficult one. An incorrect answer brings the player back to the surface world and forces him or her to navigate the Abyss a second time!
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. This open-endedness would give way to a more tightly scripted story in later games, culminating with the very controlled stories of Ultima VII part 2, Ultima VIII and Ultima IX, which were seen as a step back by many players.
Ultima IV was adapted to the NES and the graphics redone to look more like a Japanese RPG of that time.
As of september 2011, this game is available for free at Good Old Games.
The game is also part of the "Ultima 4+5+6" package.