Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar

aka: Ultima IV: Avatar no Tankyu, Ultima: Quest of the Avatar, Ultima: Seisha e no Michi, Última IV
Moby ID: 884
Apple II Specs
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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.

Spellings

  • ウルティマIV - Japanese spelling

Groups +

Screenshots

Promos

Credits (Commodore 64 version)

15 People

Project Leader
Plot Collaboration and <i>History of Britannia</i> Writer
Illustrations
Graphics
Additional Programming
Music
Playtesting
Commodore 64 Conversion

Reviews

Critics

Average score: 80% (based on 30 ratings)

Players

Average score: 4.0 out of 5 (based on 344 ratings with 13 reviews)

A revolutionary game that has aged well

The Good
Ultima IV is the game that has a lot of innovative stuff in it. There's a real dialogue instead of fixed responses, and there's a plot that suddenly doesn't involve killing a big bad boss.

Also, it is one of the first games to have Deep Philosophical Stuff in it. If anyone asks if there are games that make you think about things - that is, things that matter - outside of the game, this game is a good example. It is a game with a message, a good message.

Not only it has a great story (without actually having a big, epic story of any kind - it is more of a simple, subtle story, whose consequences will only fully unraveled in the following parts), it also has tons of monsters to kill, and a huge game world (actually the world is far bigger world than in U6-U9, though this doesn't necessarily make it any better).

Oh, and the PC version (and the xu4 rewrite) is pretty sweet-looking and good-sounding with the graphics and music patches.

The Bad
The Ultima game engines started to look credible in U4 times, but there were still things that aren't exactly polished.

To me, the worst thing about the game appears to be its unforgiveness: If I do a wrong thing, the game immediately penalizes for it. Grab a wrong thing? "Thou hast lost an eighth!" Try to cast spell when there's no magic points left? Goodbye, reagents! Hit wrong direction in combat? "Blocked!"

The combat system is pretty primitive - the tactical combat in U5 and U6 was far more interesting, and U7's "hit C and we do the rest" system was a gift from the heaven. U4, then, still stumbles with combat.

Monsters can hit people diagonally, people can't hit monsters diagonally (at least I think it was this way in the original - xu4, the program I'm right now playing U4 with, doesn't do that). Things get pretty crowded on the combat grid, which gets frustrating. The experience system is irritating as well - weak party members with bad attack skills can barely scratch enemies, who then flee, leaving the character without any experience points.

Another problem with combat is that it's both slow and frequent. (The only consolation I have is that JRPGs still do this and everyone thinks it's the neatest thing ever, because it keeps those games from running out of FMVs too early.) As such, it's both boring and irritating at the same time. Six gigantic orc hordes in one mountain pass is just about enough for one game session, thank you very much... Then again, it's good that the wandering monsters do actually appear on the world map and you can even blast them to bits with cannons.

While reagent-based magic is a pretty good concept, magic is still Really Expensive (at least if you value Honesty).

Finally, Poisoning is the single most annoying thing to ever be in Ultima, especially before the invention of Swamp Boots.

The dialogue on the game is very very brief - which is understandable from a game that was made before the Megalomaniac Seven Floppy Game era. A shame, really. I can only hope the people who do fan remakes understand this and expand the dialogue as necessary.

Oh, and don't try playing the original U4 on modern PCs without patching it - or using slow-down utilities with the most extreme settings imaginable. That said, the PC version is technically far more competently made than U1-U3 ports, and if patched, the best version of them all.

The Bottom Line
The Worried Parents said Ultimas were satanic. Richard Garriott got worried. The result?

A role-playing game where you travel freely around a fantasy world, kill bad bad monsters, find items, walk around dungeons, and have deep and philosophical conversations with fellow medieval peasants. Sounds familiar? Sounds boring?

A role-playing game about setting an example, about living a good life, about understanding and adopting the virtues. A role-playing game about your own spiritual growth. Now that's unusual.

It is a game that was way ahead of its time, a game that many CRPGs these days owe a lot to. Even if I had a longish "what's bad" section above, it doesn't mean any of the things were really bad - they're just like a few wrong notes in middle of a symphony performance. Those are mostly technical worries. Oh, this is one of the greatest CRPGs ever - the combat is just boring, that's all.

These days, the game is rather antiquated, but it's still very much playable and isn't even too difficult to make pretty and to make it work on modern machines. It's also freeware. Be sure to get it.

A fact: Very few "Christian" games are actually any good. U4's good point: Games that try to deliver an ethical message to the players can actually work, whether they actually succeed delivering any message to anybody. Ultima IV marks the start of Ultima series as a deep and thoughtful game series where ethical and sociological things are pondered and pondered and pondered, without that getting in way of the game.

It's a game that succeeds in passing its message to those who are listening, and not annoy those people who don't care about such things. Many "games with a message", by contrast, tend to be rather in-your-face about it (Metal Gear Solid comes into mind).

DOS · by WWWWolf (444) · 2004

A bit religious, but some good ideas

The Good
When playing Ultima IV, I saw that its ideas of truth and enlightenment probably influenced later RPG game themes, especially that of Japanese RPGs and there were some other things like questioning townsfolk like a detective, finding secret rooms and being joined new characters along the way that I think were good ideas, recognized as such by other game developers. So while I think the game's main idea was a bit too religious, there were some good smaller ideas, some related to the main idea, others coincidental.

The Bad
So based on the first 4 Ultima games, I think they're for "D&D people". I've heard Richard Garriott say he was kind of responding to complaints about his games and about D&D in general from "religious extremists", when he decided to make the next Ultima game a quest for enlightenment, a demonstration of virtue and mortality etc. So it seems even back in the mid '80s people appreciated this new idea and today I think many view it as the best Ultima.

Popular or not, I'm not sure that overall the game is such a great idea. Not to say that I think Ultima IV should have been just another "Beat the bad guy, save the world" theme, but Richard himself said on that cassette that he was concerned people might think he was getting on his soapbox(i.e preaching) or going off the deep end with his new idea. So in the first three Ultimas you could steal, cheat and kill innocents, BUT doing so can result in capital punishment from the guards. They were games you could win without being a saint and winning the game without committing evil would be an interesting challenge, but in Ultima IV it's as though the object of the game is to achieve sainthood. So I have to wonder whether Richard really had gone a bit too far with this game.

It's interesting if you compare complaints about Ultima and other games of the early 1980s with complaints about much later games like the Grand Theft Auto series. Has a company made "Grand Theft Auto: The Quest for Sainthood" yet?

The Bottom Line
Well if this game was meant in part to appease the moralists who complained about the previous games, it might have worked. I've known of a few "Christian video games" and Ultima IV could almost pass as one. A game for teaching kids morality.

I seems though that the idea caught on with a lot of people and many regard Ultima IV the best Ultima. I'd recommend playing it to see how it fits into the history of RPG gaming.

DOS · by Andrew Fisher (697) · 2017

An all time classic favorite

The Good
Ultima IV stands as a beacon of innovation in the RPG realm. Its groundbreaking departure from conventional fantasy narratives into a world centered on ethical exploration is commendable. The eight virtues, driving gameplay, add a layer of depth rarely seen in the mid-'80s. The open-world design encourages genuine player agency, promoting immersive experiences. The game's ahead-of-its-time concepts and progressive storytelling lay the foundation for modern RPGs. Richard Garriott's visionary approach and the game's lasting influence on the genre make Ultima IV an enduring masterpiece.

The Bad
While Ultima IV excels in many aspects, its dated graphics and interface may deter contemporary gamers. Navigating the game world can be clunky, and the text-heavy presentation might be overwhelming for those accustomed to more visually polished experiences. Additionally, the game's moral system, while groundbreaking, lacks the nuanced consequences seen in modern RPGs. The steep learning curve and lack of in-game guidance may frustrate newcomers, making it less accessible compared to newer titles.

The Bottom Line
Ultima IV is a seminal work that undeniably shaped the RPG landscape. Its ethical framework, open-world design, and innovative storytelling make it a must-play for those appreciating gaming history. While hindered by dated visuals and accessibility challenges, its profound impact on the genre transcends these limitations. For players seeking a deep, thought-provoking adventure and willing to overlook some retro quirks, Ultima IV remains a classic worth exploring, showcasing the roots of RPG excellence.

Apple II · by Darkkev02 · 2023

[ View all 13 player reviews ]

Discussion

Subject By Date
Apple II game supported the Mockingboard sound card. Andrew Fisher (697) May 23, 2023
The Best Game Ever or The Biggest Waste Of Time? mobiusclimber (235) Nov 8, 2007
Test, test! Unicorn Lynx (181771) May 17, 2007

Trivia

Cancelled remake

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.

Certificate

A completion certificate could originally be obtained after winning the game.

Completed remakes

Several remakes were successfully achieved, the two most famous being two Neverwinter Nights mods called Avatarship and Ultima IV Reborn

Development

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.

Extras

Original boxes of Ultima IV included a metal ankh symbol.

Fan patches

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.

Freeware release

In order to promote the release of Ultima IX: Ascension, Origin made Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar freeware.

References

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".

Virtues

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.

Awards

  • 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
  • GameSpy
    • 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

Information also contributed by -Chris, Adam Baratz, Eisentel, JubalHarshaw, ktchong, PCGamer77, rstevenson, Unicorn Lynx and Ye Olde Inforcomme Shoppe

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Related Sites +

  • Game Map (Sega Master System) on SMS Power!
    Maps of locations and very detailed world map of the Master System version.
  • Mo'Slo
    Download the evaluation version of a popular DOS/Windows utility that can slow down modern super-fast computers to make older games like Ultima IV: The Quest of Avatar playable.
  • The Exodus Project
    Download an excellent patch to upgrade the original 16-color EGA graphics in Ultima IV: The Quest of Avatar 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.

Identifiers +

  • MobyGames ID: 884
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Contribute

Are you familiar with this game? Help document and preserve this entry in video game history! If your contribution is approved, you will earn points and be credited as a contributor.

Contributors to this Entry

Game added by Alan Chan.

Windows added by LAO0. Macintosh, iPhone, iPad added by Sciere. Atari 8-bit, PC-88, Sharp X68000, Sharp X1, FM Towns, FM-7, PC-98 added by Terok Nor. MSX added by Unicorn Lynx. Atari ST added by Belboz. NES, Amiga, Commodore 64, Apple II, SEGA Master System added by Jeanne.

Additional contributors: JubalHarshaw, Unicorn Lynx, Indra was here, Corn Popper, ktchong, chirinea, WWWWolf, Игги Друге, Patrick Bregger, Jo ST, RetroArchives.fr, Kayburt.

Game added February 21, 2000. Last modified March 27, 2024.