Following the defeat of the evil triad in the previous three Ultima
games, the world of Sosaria changed beyond recognition: continents rose and sank, and new cities were built, heralding the advent of a different civilization. Unified by the reign of the benevolent monarch Lord British, the new world was renamed Britannia. Lord British wished to base people's well-being on the ethical principles of Truth, Love, and Courage, proclaiming the Eight Virtues (Honesty, Compassion, Valor, Justice, Sacrifice, Honor, Spirituality, and Humility) as the ideal everyone should strive for. The person who could accomplish full understanding and realization of these virtues would serve as a spiritual leader and a moral example for the inhabitants of Britannia; he alone would be able to obtain holy artifacts, descend into the Stygian Abyss, and access the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom. This person is the Avatar.
The fourth game in the Ultima
series features an improved game engine, with color graphics and enhanced character interaction: the player can have conversations with non-playable characters by typing names of various topics. However, the main difference between Ultima IV
and its predecessors in the series (as well as other role-playing games) lies in the game's objectives and the ways to fulfill them.
Instead of building up a character by any means possible in order to face a villain in the end of the game, in Ultima IV
the player is trying to become the Avatar, a role model for people. This means upholding the Eight Virtues, basically trying to become a better person. Making morally conscious decisions and helping other people is not done expecting a material reward, but because it is the actual goal of the game and the main focus of its gameplay. The game frowns on behavior typical of most other RPGs, such as backstabbing fleeing enemies or picking up everything that isn't nailed down even if it does not belong to the protagonist. This different approach established the game's reputation as the first "true" Ultima
, influencing the design philosophy of later installments and the overall spirit of the series.
Character creation is done by choosing responses to morally ambiguous questions. Each of the Eight Virtues corresponds to a character class; by determining the player's personal priorities in the virtues, the game assigns a class and a starting location for the Avatar. After emerging in Britannia, the player is free to explore it in various ways (on foot, moongate teleportation, on horseback, by ship, etc.). Certain items must be collected in any order to enter the Stygian Abyss and complete the game. The Avatar also has to reach the highest level in all virtues. This is achieved by various means: donating blood increases Sacrifice, not fleeing from combat increases Valor, etc. The process, however, is not irreversible: should the Avatar overpay a blind seller, he gains Compassion points; should he, on the other hand, cheat the seller by underpaying, his level in several virtues would decrease.
These unorthodox features of the game co-exist with plenty of traditional RPG elements, such as dungeons to explore and hostile monsters to kill. Enemies are encountered on the world map as well as in dungeons; combat takes place on separate top-down screens, allowing player-controlled and enemy parties freely move on them. Characters accumulate experience points and level up, gaining higher amount of hit points and access to stronger magic spells. Like in the previous installments of the series, world map, town exploration and combat are presented from a top-down view, while the dungeons are pseudo-3D and are explored from first-person perspective.Ultima IV
also introduces several new gameplay features to the series and role-playing games in general. A number of initially non-playable characters living in various areas of the game world are able to to join the party and fight alongside the hero, replacing traditional player-generated characters or mercenaries and adventurers available only in special locations. Additional new elements include buying and combining reagents in order to cast spells, unique items such as grapple to pass through mountains, puzzle rooms in dungeons, and others.
- "Ultima: Seisha e no Michi" -- Famicom title
- "Ultima: Quest of the Avatar" -- NES title
- "Ultima IV: Avatar no Tankyu" -- Japanese title
- "Última IV" -- Brazilian Sega Master System title
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In 2001, Jaakko Peltonen organized an effort to completely remake Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar
with an updated game engine, isometric graphics and symphonic music tracks. The project was abandoned three years later.
In an interview with Computer Gaming World (Issue #26, March 1986) Richard Garriot states that the original version of the game was rushed for Christmas and therefore playtesting was cut short. In fact, Garriot himself was the only one to complete the game before release.
Original boxes of Ultima IV
included a metal ankh symbol.
Aradindae Dragon & Wiltshire Dragon, members of the Ultima Dragons Internet Chapter, have created an upgrade for Ultima IV
, adding upgraded 256 color graphics, MIDI sound, and other fixes. See the Links/Searches section for the URL.
There is no music in PC version, but there exist a freeware patch that adds all the music from C-64/Apple versions to play properly with the PC version as MIDI.
In order to promote the release of Ultima IX: Ascension
, Origin made Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar
Some of the town inhabitants in Ultima IV
have the same names as famous historical figures. Or are they really those figures, magically transported to Britannia? For example, in one of the towns you meet a man named Shakespeare. In another one you see a person who looks like a philosopher, and when you ask him his name, he says: "I am Buddha".
At the time of Ultima IV
's development, RPGs were undergoing a bashing by right-wing extremists who claimed such fantasy gaming was amoral or downright evil. The concept of the virtues in Ultima IV
were partially inspired by Richard Garriott
's desire to prove otherwise.
The moral concept of the game was undoubtedly influenced by Buddhism. The number eight that appears in the game constantly (eight virtues, eight character classes, eight party members, etc.) is a sacred number in Buddhism (one of the most important concepts of which are the eight steps on the path to enlightenment). Shrines, meditation, mantras, the total independence of Britannia's moral codex from any supernatural power are all typical attributes of Buddhism. Lastly, the concept of the Avatar is nearly identical to the concept of bodhisattva, the Buddhist ideal person (although the word avatar itself derives from Hinduism and means reincarnation of God).
In an interview with Computer Games Online (www.cdmag.com), Richard Garriott offered some interesting insights about the creation of the virtues for Ultima IV
. Here's the excerpt:
I started with a whiteboard and wrote down all of the virtues and vices I could think of, the seven deadly sins, many, many others. Obviously I wanted to talk about a few of these, but I couldn't address them all.
As I did more research, I began to notice things like greed and envy would have some overlap, so I needed to create a core set. You can easily split them up into virtues and vices, and eventually arrived at three primary aspects, which became the principle virtues of Truth, Love and Courage. Truth became Honesty, Love became Compassion, Courage became Valor, and I created the eight possible combinations of these three. Truth tempered by Love became Justice, Love and Courage became Personal Self-sacrifice, Courage and Truth became Chivalric Honor. Truth Love and Courage was kind of arbitrary, so I thought, "What is the all-encompassing virtue?" I said, "Spirituality," whether or not you're doing good or bad deeds in the world.
And what if you do none of the above? If not being virtuous is part of your psyche, I call it pride. Pride is not a virtue, so I decided to use the opposite, Humility. Since the eighth combination created a non-virtue, I began to create bits of pseudo-science I was pretty pleased with.
Ultimas are big in mathematical pseudo-science and alchemy, so I invented the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom to graphically illustrate their relationship. Then I associated the cities with the virtues, with the eighth one - which I called Magincia, the city of Pride - destroyed. Having these seven positive things with one eighth one that had to be flipped made for a nice variety of quests you could create.
Once the eight virtues were created, I needed to come up with quotes that expressed why each was important. And had to think of tests for people to see if they were supporting that virtue. Honesty was easy - I let you cheat shopkeepers and steal things, but the game kept a record where it could, later in the game, come back to haunt you. Just like the real world. Why is it you don't steal from people? Because if you do they'll throw you in jail or disown you. So that's how I designed the game - people will reject you if you're not honest.
So I went virtue by virtue and tried to craft these types of experiences.
Information also contributed by
Unicorn Lynx and
Ye Olde Inforcomme Shoppe
- Computer Gaming World
- March 1988 (Issue #45) – Introduced into the Hall of Fame
- November 1996 (15th anniversary issue) - #2 in the “150 Best Games of All Time” list
- November 1996 (15th anniversary issue) – #2 Most Innovative Computer Game
- November 1996 (15th anniversary issue) – #11 Most Rewarding Ending of All Time
- March 2001 (Issue #200) - #10 Best Game of All Time
- 2001 – #7 Top Game of All Time
- GameStar (Germany)
- Issue 03/2013 – One of the "Ten Best C64 Games“
- Happy Computer
- Issue 04/1987 - #16 Best Game in 1986 (Readers' Vote)
- PC Gamer
- April 2005 - #32 in the "50 Best Games of All Time" list
- Power Play
- Issue 01/1991 - Best Master System Game in 1990