Part 1: Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar
What Is This?
Ultima IV (later subtitled Quest of the Avatar, which is the title it carries most of the time now) is the first of the "modern" Ultima series and the game which started up most of the thematic elements that would follow the series to its ignominous end, like the Avatar, the Virtues, the specific companions, etc.
Like most Ultima games, this one is the result of Richard "Lord British" Garriott's fevered and somewhat insane but admirably powerful imagination and relatively competent coding skills, plus the contribution of various members of what would eventually become Origin Systems. Garriott had been responsible for four RPGs before this point, the proto-Ultima Akalabeth and Ultimas I through III. According to him, part of the inspiration for the game was objections raised over previous games, which largely encouraged or at least failed to punish immoral actions like theft and murder, as was pretty common in hack-and-slash RPGs of the 80s.
So Garriott set out to create a game with a different kind of objective. There is no evil force at work in the Britannia of Ultima IV. There is no final boss and no ultimate evil. The heart of the game is a quest to become the Avatar, a moral and spiritual leader to the people of the land and a hero who embodies each of the eight Virtues - Honesty, Compassion, Spirituality, Sacrifice, Honor, Valor, Justice, and Humility - and the associated principles of Truth, Love, and Courage. The only way to win this game is to become a morally upstanding person.
Of course, that's the only way you'll eventually win. You can be a complete dick until you're ready to start making nice with the people and finding your inner Avatar. This is practically the fun of it, and is of course what we'll be doing before taking the most direct, underhanded, and gamist approach to becoming the Avatar.
Why Start With #4?
Because the Ultima games are kind of meant to be played in blocks. I-III are interesting games, but highly dated and lacking in the storyline and moral elements of the later games, which are part of the appeal of the Ultima series (well, that and doing whatever the hell you feel like doing in the world, but that doesn't really pick up until VI). The story of Mondain, Minax, and Exodus is interesting in a way but I think IV and V are vastly superior games and are the ones which are most interesting and least played. V in particular is pretty underrated, if only because most people have never actually gotten to play it. VI kind of stands on its own, VII is a two-parter by design. These two games really seem to fit together, especially because they are both heavily focused on morality and virtue and how to encourage it (or, in the case of V, how not to encourage it).
And more to the point, I really, really like Ultima V. But it makes the most sense in context with this game, so it makes sense to do it first. Plus I can import my character over between the two games. This is also a (relatively) short game, especially compared to V, VI, and VII. And it's historical, as video games go. So you can pretend this is educational.
I don't have any plans to do more than these two games. Other people have called VII and there have been some pretty legendary threads for VIII and IX already. Since you know where the series went, I thought it would be cool to see where it "started."
Where Can I Get This?
Funny enough, Ultima IV is freeware. Well, it's not exactly freeware; Origin Systems claimed to retain the rights to the game itself when it was released to celebrate Ultima's anniversary, which means that EA technically still holds the game. But it's been freely available for download for years, with Garriott's blessing. A Google search will turn up ten links in an instant. Knock yourself out. There's also a VGA graphical update patch you can get, and an open-source emulator project for it similar to Exult for Ultima VII. I won't be dealing with any of those though.
I will be doing Ultima V (Warriors of Destiny) as well once IV is done, and unfortunately, that is not freely released. The only place I know of that you can still find it is in The Ultima Collection, which coincidentally also features every Ultima game except Ascension (IX). Hilariously, they all fit on a single CD. I don't know where you can buy that, but fortunately I've got my copy so we can live vicariously through me. I don't think V has a graphical patch (although I may have seen one once), but it has much improved graphics over IV's default so I don't think it will be necessary to do any modification to that.
No. There's nothing even remotely worth covering in video in this game that screenshots can't handle. Animated images, sure, but no video.
Do We Have To Answer A Bunch of Questions?
You sure do! This is the first game in the series to require this, and the questions really haven't changed much since. But first, a bit of introductory backstory, courtesy of the game's intro!
We'll need a name and a gender. These choices make no difference whatsoever. Canonically, the Avatar is technically a male; he has no canonical name. Not that we have to care about either of these. Any suggestions?
Alright then. Let's get on with the actual intro:
Like most Ultima games from this point on, the game begins on Earth, where the Avatar (or Avatar-to-be, in any case, you) is relaxing only to have a Moongate pop up on him with a mysterious result.
In this case, an ankh and a couple of books. These books are actually contained within the manuals for the game, which unfortunately aren't here.
Since we don't have the Book of History handy, I'll give a brief overview of what's gone down in Ultima up to this point:
Back in Ultima I, the world was a huge one called Sosaria. Sosaria was threatened by a powerful and evil wizard named Mondain. A mysterious traveler from Earth, with the help of Lord British (who is from Earth himself), was able to kill Mondain and destroy the powerful gem he was using to control Sosaria. Unfortunately, doing this shattered the world into a bunch of little pieces. The portion of Sosaria ruled over by Lord British became known as Britannia, and is the setting of this game.
Anyway, Mondain's apprentice and lover, the sorceress Minax, was understandably pissed off and traveled to the mysterious hero's home dimension (you know, Earth and such) in order to take revenge. The hero fought back (with rocket ships and laser swords; seriously), slew Minax, and that's Ultima II.
However, it turns out that the demonic spawn of Mondain and Minax, a mysterious being named Exodus, was still at work in Britannia. Lord British sent out the call to the strange hero and he showed up to face the threat. In a shocking revelation, Exodus turned out to be a demonic computer (honestly, a computer that runs on evil?) and was defeated with a particularly deadly punchcard. That was Ultima III.
Peace has since come to Britannia. There is no immediate threat to the land. At least not physically. Lord British has become worried that the people lack moral guidance, and has proposed a great quest for someone to become the Avatar of a system of Virtues he's invented. And of course, the mysterious hero (you) is the one who will become that Avatar.
But first, we gotta finish the intro.
My bad, it seems we wandered into Mixed-Up Mother Goose by mistake. Wait, sorry, we are in the right place after all, as here's Ultima's ubiquitous tarot-reading gypsy lady:
Now, technically you're supposed to answer the question the gypsy presents, and this eliminates the virtue you didn't choose, until it comes down to just two. But asking you guys to narrow that down step by step would take too long and wouldn't be very fun, so I've just presented you with all the questions. Answer accordingly. Don't cheat (not that a lot of people won't know what all these answers mean anyway). This is a game about virtue, remember.
In thy youth thou pledged to marry thy sweetheart. Now thou art on a sacred quest in distant lands. Thy sweetheart asks thee to keep thy vow. Dost thou:
A. Follow thy spiritual crusade
B. Honor thy pledge to wed
Thou art sworn to uphold a Lord who participates in the forbidden torture of prisoners. Each night their cries of pain reach thee. Dost thou:
A. Report the deeds
B. Keep thine oath and ignore the deeds
Thee and thy friend are valiant but penniless warriors. Thou both go out to slay a mighty dragon. Thy friend thinks he slew it, thee did. When asked, dost thou:
A. Claim the gold
B. Allow thy friend the large reward
As one of the King's Guard, thy Captain has asked that one amongst you visit a hospital to cheer the children with tales of thy valiant deeds. Dost thou:
A. Agree and play the braggart
B. Let another go
Thee and thy friends have been routed and ordered to retreat. In defiance of thy orders, dost thou:
A. Give thyself to slow the pursuing enemy, so others can escape
B. Stop to aid a wounded companion
Thy friend seeks admittance to thy Spiritual order. Thou art asked to vouch for his purity of Spirit, of which thou art unsure. Dost thou:
A. Vouch for him, hoping for his improvement
B. Express thy doubt
Thou hast been taught to preserve all life as sacred. A man lies fatally stung by a venomous serpent. He pleads for a merciful death. Dost thou:
A. Heed thy beliefs and refuse
B. End his pain
A merchant owes thy friend money, now long past due. Thou dost see the same merchant drop a purse of gold. Dost thou:
A. Return the purse intact
B. Give thy friend a portion of the gold first
Unwitnessed, thou hast slain a great dragon in self defense. A poor warrior claims the offered reward. Dost thou:
A. Step forward to claim the reward
B. Go about life, secure in thy self-esteem
Thou dost manage to disarm thy mortal enemy in a duel. He is at thy mercy. Dost thou:
A. Slay him as expected of a duelist
B. Permit him to yield
Thou art an elderly, wealthy eccentric. Thy end is near. Dost thou:
A. Quitely live out thy life, willing thy fortune to thy heirs
B. Donate all thy wealth to feed hundreds of starving children, and receive public adulation
Thou art at a crossroads in thy life. Dost thou:
A. Choose the life of a Shepherd, and a world of simplicity and peace
B. Choose the life of a Paladin, striving for Truth and Courage
Thou hast been prohibited by thy absent Lord from joining thy friends in a close pitched battle. Dost thou:
A. Aid thy comrades, knowing thou may deny it later
B. Refrain, so thou may claim obedience
During battle thou art ordered to guard thy commmander's empty tent. The battle goes poorly and thou dost yearn to aid thy fellows. Dost thou:
A. Keep thy post as guard
B. Enter the battle to aid thy companions
Thou art sworn to protect thy Lord at any cost, yet thou knowest he hast committed a crime. Authorities ask the of the affair, dost thou:
A. Break thine oath by speaking
B. Silently keep thine oath
During a pitched battle, thou dost see a fellow desert his post, endangering many. As he flees, he is set upon by several enemies. Dost thou:
A. Let him fight alone
B. Risk thine own life to aid him
Thou art a bounty hunter sworn to return an alleged murderer. After his capture, thou believest him to be innocent. Dost thou:
A. Keep thy oath to return him
B. Surrender thy sizeable bounty for thy belief
Thou hast spent thy life in charitable and righteous work. Thine uncle the innkeeper lies ill and asks you to take over his tavern. Dost thou:
A. Give thy life of purity to aid thy kin
B. Decline and follow thy spirit's call
Although a teacher of music, thou art a skillful wrestler. Thou hast been asked to fight in a local championship. Dost thou:
A. Decline knowing thou art sure to win
B. Accept the invitation and fight to win
A local bully pushes for a fight. Dost thou:
A. Decline, knowing that no lasting good will come of it
B. Trounce the rogue
A mighty knight accosts thee and demands thy food. Dost thou:
A. Give thy food unto the hungry knight
B. Refuse and engage the knight
Thou hast been sent to secure a needed treaty with a distant Lord. Thy host is agreeable to the proposal but insults thy country at dinner. Dost thou:
A. Rise and demand an apology
B. Bear the slurs
Thy Lord mistakenly believes he slew a dragon. Thou hast proof that thy lance felled the beast. When asked, dost thou:
A. Permit thy Lord his belief
B. Claim the kill and the prize
Thy parents wish thee to become an apprentice. Two positions are available. Dost thou:
A. Become an acolyte in the spiritual order
B. Become an assistant to a humble village cobbler
Thou dost believe that virtue resides in all people. Thou dost see a rogue steal from thy Lord. Dost thou:
A. Call him to justice
B. Personally try to sway him back to the path of good
Thou hast sworn to do thy Lord's bidding in all. He covets a piece of land and orders the owner removed. Dost thou:
A. Refuse to act, thus being disgraced
B. Keep thine oath and unfairly evict the landowner
After 20 years thou hast found the slayer of thy best friends. The villain proves to be a man who provides the sole support for a young girl. Dost thou:
A. Spare him for the girl
B. Slay him
Entrusted to deliver an uncounted purse of gold, thou dost meet a poor beggar. Dost thou:
A. Give the beggar a coin, knowing it won't be missed.
B. Deliver the gold knowing the trust in thee was well-placed.
If all of that is too hard for you, just pick one of the eight Virtues and we'll consider that your contribution. And while I know a lot of people who are familiar with the game may want to pick Humility, I just want to point out that the class tied to that Virtue doesn't get any spell points (neither does the one tied to Valor), which makes the game a lot less interesting. Just letting that out there. Note that the classes in this game are not equal; the one tied to Honor is pretty clearly the best, and some of the others (Justice, Honesty, Sacrifice) are quite good. Humility is (unsurprisingly) really bad by design. I'd rather see what happens if people answer honestly, but if you're trying to steer me towards a particular class I guess I can't do much about it. The Avatar's gotta be humble and sacrificing, after all!
Next time around I'll discuss the world of Britannia, the Virtues and Principles, and the classes and whatnot. After that we'll totally ignore the Virtues for a while and mess around in Britannia, because this is how the Avatar rolls.