Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar
Description official descriptions
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, puzzle rooms in dungeons, and others.
The FM Towns version, while identical to the others in gameplay, introduces upgraded graphics similar to those used in next installment of the series.
- ウルティマIV - Japanese spelling
Credits (Commodore 64 version)
|Plot Collaboration and <i>History of Britannia</i> Writer|
|Commodore 64 Conversion||
Average score: 80% (based on 30 ratings)
Average score: 4.0 out of 5 (based on 341 ratings with 12 reviews)
You didn't think it was possible, did you? An RPG with an original plot? You mean there is not one bad dude at the end I'm supposed to kill/unplug/blow up and/or decapitate? What's the whole point then?! Whose the enemy here?! Figuring that part out was half the fun.
The other half is the icon based combat system (which is my fav) and the non-player generated players that join you (which was still a revolutionary concept back in the 80s).
Nothing, but I wouldn't go back to play it again today.
The Bottom Line
You owe it to yourself to play this classic.
DOS · by Yeah Right (50) · 2000
The first three (four, if you count Akalabeth) Ultima games were highly advanced and imaginative contributions to the nascent role-playing genre. That said, they were generally simpler in terms of RPG variables and less challenging that their main competitor, Wizardry. Ultima needed to find its own tone, to make a strong personal statement. And when it did, it overshadowed everything that was achieved in the genre before it, shattering all norms and preconceptions with its uniqueness.
At first sight, Ultima IV is just a traditional RPG - albeit an excellent one. It contains plenty of familiar elements, most of which are brilliantly executed, even if they remain relatively simple. The battle system looks basic, yet it is one of the most efficient and entertaining ones I saw in RPGs. Combat takes place on a separate screen on which you can move freely. The battles are turn-based, but very quick-paced, particularly during skirmishes with easier foes, where you can win by moving and typing the letter A plus the direction you want to attack. Mostly you'll be fighting against large groups of enemies, with several types of them attacking together. The terrain of the battlefields is one of the things that make those battles so fun. Each terrain is unique: if you are fighting in mountains, you'll have navigate narrow paths often blocked by impassable rocks; near a swamp you'll have to deal with poison fields that are scattered around.
Particularly inventive are the battlefields in the dungeons. All of them are different, and each has a particular design: some have lava fields that inflict damage on you, others introduce lightning fields you have to dispel in order to attack the enemy hiding behind them; there are hidden switches you have to pull in order to reveal a secret exit, adding a delightful puzzle-solving flavor to dungeon exploration, and so on. The dungeons of Ultima IV are complex and tricky to navigate: you have false walls, seemingly impassable rooms, dead ends, traps, various energy fields, fountains that either heal or poison you, secret doors, pits, winds that extinguish the light of your torch, sudden monster attacks, magic orbs that increase your stats at the cost of your HP, and other interesting things. And the overworld itself, with its coherent structure, forests and mountains, swamps and bridges, towns and well-hidden dungeon entrances, mysterious teleporting moongates, seas and islands, is a pleasure to explore - and you can do it at any time.
There are a lot of interesting magic spells to learn and to use in Ultima IV. By reading the Book of Mystic Wisdom that comes with the game you can learn about the effect of the spells and the reagents needed to cast them. You can't just cast spells in the game: you have to buy (or find) the necessary reagents and mix them together to create a spell unit. This unique magic system was implemented in all later Ultimas and is one of the series' trademarks. There are some very interesting touches of interactivity and realism in the game. You should have a supply of rations, otherwise you and your party members will starve. You have to light torches in dark dungeons. There are some really cool elements, like ship-to-ship battles against sea monsters and pirate ships, balloon flight, and others.
Ultima IV was a big step forward in RPG design also because it was probably the first game of the kind imbued with genuine personality. No longer set in a disjointed, indifferent world hastily stitched together, this game introduces the Britannia we've come to love and cherish. You can now communicate with townspeople by typing keywords: no matter how rudimentary, this feature was the seed out of which gigantic, exotic dialogue trees would eventually grow. You'll also need to learn and memorize keywords because the information given to you by NPCs is crucial to the completion of your quest. Another element that Ultima IV brought to us had a particular influence on modern-day RPG design: companions that exist in the game world and join the hero for their own reasons. Instead of generating an entire party of adventurers, you start as a lonely traveler from Earth, and have to explore the unknown world in order to find friends and recruit them for the common cause. The joy of locating yet another companion, the gradual composition of your party makes up for the lack of distinct class differentiation and the impossibility to create a custom group.
You'll fight monsters, gather treasure, talk to people, explore dangerous areas, and become stronger. That is where the borders of role-playing are usually drawn. Ultima IV, however, goes beyond that. This is the only role-playing game known to me that doesn't revolve around finding and destroying the big bad guy. Your quest is not about defeating an antagonist, but rather about a spiritual exercise of becoming the Avatar, a perfect incarnation of eight virtues. The main idea here is not to tell a story of a highly virtuous person: any book, movie, or adventure game are theoretically able to do that. What makes the phenomenon of Ultima IV truly outstanding is the fact that its concept can be expressed exclusively through the medium of a game. It doesn't create a highly ethical person: it lets you be that person - not automatically, following the game's plot, but through hard work, continuous exploration, searching, thinking, and effort. If it were a book or a movie, Ultima IV would not be as special. But being a game, it allows a kind of a "moral simulation": it creates a virtual world where you are not yet good, but where you can become good. The whole point of the game and its endless appeal is in its gameplay, which is dedicated to your spiritual path, but can only be viewed in its continuity, gradually developing as the player makes progress in the game, without being "given" to you.
The unique take on role-playing introduced by Ultima IV is the possibility to do whatever you like in the game, and choose your course according to your own will - though bringing it in accordance with the will of the designers is the game's actual goal. You must be good if you want to complete the game - but at any given point you have the much easier possibility to stop being good. The game gives you freedom but is not afraid to tell you that there is only one truth, and you must adhere to it if you wish to see how the whole thing ends. Maybe I'm imagining things, but this looks like a wonderful metaphor and illustration of the Christian concept of synergy - cooperation between our free will and God's grace.
Ultima IV is the only RPG where gameplay and story are truly inseparable. In other games of this genre, the story is told by the game, while you are trying to trigger its events by completing the game's objectives. No matter the amount of non-linearity and optional ways in a game, it always follows the principle of the gameplay being unrelated to the story and serving as a vehicle to transport you through it. In this game, the gameplay is the story. There is no other story but the one you make while playing the game. Nothing happens in the world of Ultima IV; you should not trigger any events. Its world is static, and the only thing that changes is you. Your progress through the game is the only story it has - and what a fascinating story it is: a tale of a nameless, ordinary person who has the possibility to become a moral example to others.
Besides the usual tasks of finding many items and visiting places where they can be used, your main objective in the game is to prove you are worthy of the title of Avatar. Before you start the game, you have to create your character, answering a series of morally ambiguous questions presenting conflicting aspects of the eight virtues. The questions themselves are masterfully posed, and make every player reflect upon his own moral values. For example: your lord believes he was the one who vanquished a powerful dragon, yet you know it was your strike that brought the victory. Do you tell the truth or do you prefer not to hurt the feelings of your liege? This is a conflict between honesty and sacrifice. In the end, the virtue you choose most determines the character class you start with, since each class is associated with a certain virtue: Bard with compassion, Druid with justice, Fighter with valor, etc.
You start the game with a perfectly mediocre score. You are an average person, neither a villain nor a moral example. But as you play the game, you discover everything you do affects you as a potential Avatar - or a potential scoundrel. At first sight, you are in a typical RPG world where you can hack monsters, loot chests, etc. But if you really want to become an Avatar, you have to follow the spiritual way of the virtues. Sure, you can just open any chest in any city and take the treasure inside, but your honesty will suffer. You can run away from fights, but then you lose your valor. You can backstab fleeing animals like snakes or spiders, but that won't do well to your compassion. The game allows you to behave the way you like, and it is through understanding of the virtues that you will eventually come to Avatarhood, not because the game dictates it to you. You have to play the game a lot in order to understand that it reflects everything you do. You can kill children on the streets, but don't expect the game to ignore it. The game is a barometer of your morality, and it doesn't punish you in a primitive way, sending guards to capture you - no, it makes you understand that you are doing something opposite to its very essence. It treats you with justice, yet it also forgives you and gives you an opportunity to correct the wrong you have done.
As there is no actual plot to follow, there is nothing in the game that will reward you other than the satisfaction of slowly becoming an Avatar. The world of the game is static. Nothing changes after you have become an Avatar; even Lord British doesn't say anything except his usual standard greeting. You are alone in the game. Your party members don't talk from the moment they join you, and are far from being the graceful companions of later Ultimas. The people in towns have only a couple of simple phrases to tell you, and most of the time will react with "I can't help thee with this" to your attempts at communication.
You won't get many clues in this game. You have to find many important items, but if you don't ask around, there is no way to know you will ever need them. Once you learn that you will need them indeed, you'll have to spend more time talking to people and trying to meet someone who might know where they are. Since the world is very large, the only guarantee for a successful completion of the game is a rather tedious asking every person in every town about everything, as well as meticulous searching. Important items don't even appear as items - you have to search empty spots for them, hoping to find something. For example, if a person tells you that the Silver Horn can be find on a certain group of islands, you have to search every spot on every one of those islands - you won't get a more exact clue. If you are not willing to use a walkthrough, prepare to spend a huge amount of time with this game.
There are other problems related to the actual gameplay, especially concerning your progress on the path of an Avatar. Some of it might seem a bit unnatural and forced. Once you get familiar with the "virtue-raising" mechanics, the process gets too elementary and you start having a feeling you are cheating. I also think that the requirement of having met all eight of your companions, attained perfect scores in each of the eight virtues, and collected eight other magical trinkets or incantations was a bit too much. Imagine the frustration of reaching the end of the Abyss and being rejected only for lacking 1/8 of sacrifice because you forgot to donate enough blood.
The Bottom Line
Later and better-known installments of the fabulous series may shine brighter and have aged more gracefully than Ultima IV; but none surpasses it in noble originality and brilliant uniqueness. The genius of this game is the total familiarity and natural flow of its mechanics coupled with a fantastic, thought-provoking concept merged into the gameplay like never before or after. No RPG library is complete without this gem, and no serious lover of the genre can allow himself to ignore the path of Truth, Love, and Courage.
DOS · by Unicorn Lynx (180491) · 2014
Great story, great gameplay. This game was one of the first games to really get me to fall in love with the Ultima series, although later releases in my opinion (other than Ultima V) do not come even close to being as good as this game was. Richard Garriott created a masterpiece and you should give this game a try even though it has outdated graphics and controls.
Not much but the only thing that I can think of is that this game was very hard to complete.
The Bottom Line
An old-school role-playing game that is truly unique. It will suck you into Britannia for a while and you will beleive you are the hero on a quest to become the avatar.
DOS · by cimerians (49) · 2001
|Apple II game supported the Mockingboard sound card.||Andrew Fisher (695)||May 23rd, 2023|
|The Best Game Ever or The Biggest Waste Of Time?||mobiusclimber (235)||Nov 8th, 2007|
|Test, test!||Unicorn Lynx (180491)||May 17th, 2007|
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.
A completion certificate could originally be obtained after winning the game.
Several remakes were successfully achieved, the two most famous being two Neverwinter Nights mods called Avatarship and Ultima IV Reborn
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 freeware.
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.
- 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
Related Sites +
Game Map (Sega Master System) on SMS Power!
Maps of locations and very detailed world map of the Master System version.
Download the evaluation version of a popular DOS/Windows utility that can slow down modern super-fast computers to make older games like <EM>Ultima IV: The Quest of Avatar</EM> playable.
The Exodus Project
Download an excellent patch to upgrade the original 16-color EGA graphics in <EM>Ultima IV: The Quest of Avatar</EM> to 256-color VGA and add MIDI music scores and prerendered still cutscenes in various points of the game.
The Moongates Ultima IV Annex
The Moongates Ultima IV Annex - A comprehensive source for information on Ultima IV, and the home of the 256 color/MIDI upgrade patch! GET IT!
xu4 - Ultima IV Recreated
xu4 is an engine reimplementation that allows to play DOS Ultima IV on Windows, Linux and MacOSX, with support for the graphics and sound patches and some optional enhancements.
Are you familiar with this game? Help document and preserve this entry in video game history!
Contributors to this Entry
Game added by Alan Chan.
Windows added by LAO0. iPad, Macintosh, iPhone added by Sciere. FM Towns, Atari 8-bit, Sharp X1, FM-7, Sharp X68000, PC-98, PC-88 added by Terok Nor. MSX added by Unicorn Lynx. Atari ST added by Belboz. Apple II, Commodore 64, Amiga, NES, SEGA Master System added by Jeanne.
Game added February 21st, 2000. Last modified August 19th, 2023.