Long hailed as one of the best RPGs ever created, Richard Garriott’s revolutionary classic Ultima IV: Quest of The Avatar gets a great facelift with this excellent VGA graphics and MIDI patch by Joshua Steele, a die-hard fan of the series. From the official site, the patch "...[upgrades] Ultima IV to 256-color graphics with MIDI support. The patch replaces the tileset, font, in-game, and cutscene graphics, as well as correcting several conversation bugs within the original .TLK files. Adds command keys to Reload the last saved game and Exit to the OS." Die-hard fans can stop reading this review now and get on the download (be sure to read the Technical Notes first, though). If you are a newbie who has never played the game before, then read on for my review. |
My favorite in the Ultima series, the fourth part of the saga features a greatly improved version of the Ultima III engine, with color graphics and better character interaction (for the first time, you can now have actual conversations with NPCs). But what really makes Ultima IV revolutionary is the radical departure in premise from any other RPG made before – or since. Instead of building up your character by accumulating combat experience in order to face the big evil foozle, your goal in Ultima IV is to become the Avatar, a spiritual leader for the people of Britannia. This means upholding the "eight virtues" and basically trying to become a better person. You will do good deeds simply because it is the right thing to do rather than to get some physical reward in return. The game world is deep enough that various activities, such as tipping beggars or allowing wounded monsters to run away, can increase your virtue scores (compassion in this example). On the other hand, ignoble behavior such as backstabbing fleeing monsters or picking up things that don’t belong to you, will decrease the corresponding virtues. More or less all your actions are evaluated in terms of virtue, and it is this morality system that makes the game so intriguing.
In addition to this very original and intriguing approach to gameplay, Ultima IV still has plenty of traditional RPG elements. There are many dungeons to explore, monsters to kill, and even a "Holy Grail" final objective that requires you to find the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom to complete your transformation into Avatarhood. Of course, you need to have done enough good deeds in all eight virtues to finish the game. Ultima IV was also the first game in the series that allowed NPCs to join your party: it introduced the mythical Iolo the Bard, Dupre the Paladin, and Shamino the Ranger – characters that would feature prominently in later games.
With numerous innovations, intriguing gameplay, and a great story, Ultima IV remains one of few RPGs that truly deserves to be called timeless. With ideas that are still fresh even today, it is arguably the best representation of the true Ultima spirit... one that has sadly been lost after Ultima VII. A classic in every sense of the word – and three cheers to Joshua Steele who makes gamers’ return to Britannia all the more worthwhile. If you are interested in knowing how Lord British came up with the idea of the eight virtues, be sure to read CD Mag’s interview in the Related Links section below.
Note: The game was released as freeware by Origin to promote the release of Ultima IX: Ascension, the final entry in the saga that sadly does not live up to its predecessors.
Reviewed by: Underdogs