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

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Critic Reviews add missing review

Average score: 80% (based on 30 ratings)

Player Reviews

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

This game should be taught in schools

The Good
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.

The Bad
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 (181771) · 2014

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

Ultima IV from the perspective of a kid back in 1985

The Good
Ultima IV gets a lot of renown for its unconventional plot but I think to truly appreciate what the game meant to the genre it's important to take it within the context of the release year.

In 1985 the first three Ultimas had been out awhile and some clones were starting to hit the market. None of them offered the same depth of package as a true Ultima however. Having devoured Ultima III the previous year, my brothers and I were waiting with bated breath for the sequel. Being only thirteen years old and of meager budget I joined with my brothers in begging our parents to receive it as a Christmas gift.

So fierce was my desire to hold this game in my hands that I broke my own morale code (I'm sure I lost an eighth) by rummaging in my parent's bed room to confirm that it had been purchased. Never before had I broken the rule of sneaking a look at Christmas presents before. I still remember holding the box in my hand and reading the back, visions of future adventures dancing in my head. It was almost physically painful to return the gift to its hiding spot.

Much has been said to great depth about the plot of Ultima IV, the quest for perfection of moral virtues. Yes, this was very revolutionary at the time and still echoes today with modern RPGs offering moral choices as a check box in their feature set. When it was released the RPG formula was not as solidified as it was today, so although the plot was novel, the game also came with sophistications that hadn't been seen in RPG mechanics before.

Of particular note was the sophisticated magic system that required mixing of reagents to make spells. What now seems as a simple keyword conversation system was revolutionary in terms of interaction with the hundreds of NPCs in the game. The moon cycles and moon gates were again advanced over Ultima III. The class system was expanded from the usual Dungeons and Dragons stereotypes to include such oddities as the tinker and shepherd.

The multi-party system also changed. Instead of forming your own party you had to seek out and find the NPCs that would be willing to join you on your quest.

Surrounding all this was a quest that challenged some assumptions you had as a player of RPGs in 1985. While you probably considered moral implications while playing a pen and paper RPG, for the most part there weren't any repercussions in computer RPGs. Every chest was to be looted and NPCs might be killed for personal gain without impacting your progress. In Ultima IV, denying a beggar some gold had risk.

As with previous Ultimas, the game began when you opened the box. The wonderful documentation played into the fantasy world of the game. The enclosed cloth map outline the world and was labelled in runes that required translation. Indeed both me and my brothers became fluent in that alphabet, reading and writing the runes at will. The presentation immersed you in the game world and fueled your imagination to look past the basic graphics and create Brittania in your mind. There was even a small metal ankh included in the package, just the same as your avatar would find at the beginning of the game.

By today's standards Ultima IV required a huge investment of time. My brothers and I kept journals of our progress, noting every possible hint given by NPCs and using copious amounts of graph paper to map every town and dungeon level. Even though the game offered gems to provide you a map, nothing beat having a hard copy. One of my friends created a one to one scale map of the land on graph paper, each square colored to represent a single square in game. The map covered one wall of his room.

The music also helped to immerse you in the world. On the Commodore 64 many excellent songs played forth depending on what you were doing. The music as you traveled overland, the town music, combat music and more still rings in my memory today.

A new Ultima wasn't something you just burned through, another one wasn't going to be out for awhile so what might seem like inconveniences nowadays were just part of the long and wonderful journey back in 1985.

I devoted countless hours to the game and it was by any definition the single best RPG of that year. Technically advanced with a unique story and a fascinating world, it was everything you could ask for at the time.

The Bad
Ultima IV wasn't without it's flaws. From a modern perspective you can say that the game didn't lead you towards your goal unless you were willing to sacrifice the time to explore every nook and cranny and interrogate each NPC. The clues to your quest were littered all around and there was no straight path to uncovering them. For the most part though this exploration was expected and enjoyed.

The biggest flaw in my opinion came with the sheer size of your party. While Ultima III had allowed you four members, Ultima IV required you have eight members in order to complete the game. During the tactical combat each of your characters took a turn, one step at a time. This could lead to even relatively simple encounters taking time just cycling through all of your party members.

In dungeons this problem became worse. While the main dungeons are presented in pseudo-3D graphics, when you entered combat the game would switch to the tactical screen showing a rough layout of where you were in the dungeon. This was initially very cool as combat entered around a bend in a dungeon corridor was so reflected in the tactical map. It was however slow to load off disk and the combat and even slower to manage eight players.

Dungeons also had special rooms of combat that had to be negotiated. These led to even longer combat sequences. Your enemy could flee if injured and you often spent many turns just trying to chase after them.

There is no way to save the game inside a dungeon in Ultima IV which meant you had to finish it or else return later and do it over again.

The final dungeon (the Great Stygian Abyss) was a grueling slog to get through. If you made it to the bottom and failed the final questions at the codex, you would have to start all over again.

To get around this technical limitation we used a cartridge that could save the game state to disk in case we needed to reload. Cheating? Maybe, but given the time investment I think it was worthwhile.

The Bottom Line
Ultima IV is a classic RPG from the golden age. It has a very unique plot and a highly realized world. If you aren't a patient gamer with an interest in the history of the RPG genre, this is going to be a very difficult game to get into. None of the modern conveniences are present. You may find yourself bewildered and lost as to what to do next or surrounded by monsters well above your ability to defeat.

If you can commit yourself beyond its dated nature you will see one of the formative RPGs and be able to recognize its influence in many games that came along after.

Ultima IV is one of my top ten favorite RPGs of all time and I think it is clearly the most influential of its era. A true classic that requires investment on the player to appreciate fully. We've come a long way since 1985 but in some ways Ultima IV still hasn't been exceeded. Influential and inspirational anyone who wants to understand the history of RPGs has to take this journey.

Commodore 64 · by snuf (14104) · 2011

An all time classic. Still as playable as it ever was

The Good
This game was where the Ultima series developed a theme of its own. Ultima 3 was an excellent RPG but still boiled down to killing the bad guy. In this game, the quest is to prove yourself as a person of virtue. Commercially this must have been taking a serious risk but its one of the things that make the Ultima series stand out from the crowd. The system of virtues is very well thought out and is woven into the gameplay throughout the entire game.

This was the first in the series to feature a conversation system. This works by typing keywords. To finish the game you need to hunt down a lot of information from all the towns inhabitants, who may give you words to say to people in other towns. This adds to the adventuring/exploration element to the game, and I spent a lot of time walking around the towns getting information.

The game world is much larger than Ultima 3, making the cloth map a true necessity this time around.

The dungeons now have pre-designed rooms in them. These are basically combat screens that occur when you walk on a particular tile in a dungeon. Many of these rooms have secret passages that can be opened by treading on particular squares. A reasonable amount of effort has obviously been put into designing the rooms and by the time you get the the games final dungeon, they often link together forming mazes. It gives a more epic feel to dungeon delving, than simply navigating through badly rendered 3D mazes and requires some basic puzzle solving to navigate through some of the more complicated rooms.

The towns, dungeons and world maps all play very differently and this adds variety to the game. Provided you talk to everyone in the towns, there is no reason to become stuck or bored in this game as you always know the next task to accomplish.

The Bad
In truth not that much has changed from Ultima 3. This isn't a bad thing as such but apart from the dungeon rooms and conversation system, it appears to use pretty much the same engine.

There is no music in this DOS version. There is a patch to add it back in, and I do like the music there is. However, a grand total of around 10 minutes of 4 channel music to cover a game that took me 15-20 hours to finish is not enough. No matter how good it is, this would be the aural equivalent of Chinese water torture.

The mechanics of the virtues are fairly basic and its easy to exploit this to build up a virtue quickly if you know what you are doing. I'm sure the intention was that you were rewarded for behaviour throughout the game but most players will just repeat a particular action to build up a virtue within minutes.

There are double the number of party members (8) this time around but I'm not sure this added to the gameplay. It makes battles more complex, but typically you can't get the whole party involved in a given fight as the scenery gets in the way. Navigating the party through the dungeon rooms 1 by 1 is a little tedious also.

I chose to play the game as a fighter, which bizarrely turned out to be one of the weakest combat classes in the game due to the limited range weapons they can use. Conversely, a wizard with a magic wand is one of the best combat classes.

I preferred not having to use reagents to cast a spell as in Ultima 3. It makes the use of magic expensive, not to mention cumbersome having to mix the reagents for each spell individually. Combined with the magical characters actually being stronger in combat this meant that I never used an aggressive spell at any point playing the game. My magic use was limited to healing, warping between dungeon levels and dispelling magic fields.

The Bottom Line
Its easy to forget quite how old this game is when playing it. I was hooked from the moment I started and it holds up well today provided you can see past the graphics.

Its not the best of the Ultima games to play now but the unique nature of the storyline and gameplay still stand out and Ultima 4 really was amazing for its time.

DOS · by Pix (1172) · 2008

The best console adaptation of an Ultima game.

The Good
Compared to Pony Canyon's adaptation of Ultima III Exodus, this game looks breath-taking. Seriously, though, the graphics are on par with the likes of the NES/Famicom Final Fantasy entries.

The essential elements of the game play are well preserved compared to the PC version of the game. You lose the ability to query NPCs to death, but you retain a similar combat system, spell casting with reagents, and the various morale trials that made Ultima 4 what it is. The same exploits/puzzles exist for leveling up. You won't find yourself wanting much in the way of mechanics.

The quest has been simplified somewhat, in that you simply collect the artifacts and take them to their respective shrines, rather than having to learn the mantras and all of that, but cutting through some of the busy work actually makes the game stronger.

The Bad
This port doesn't quite capture the epic feel of the home computer versions of Ultima 4. Like most console RPGs of the era, the game world is fairly flat. There just isn't enough space in the game for it to come alive as much as the original. Your companions lack their distinct personalities and are reduced to just classes.

The Bottom Line
Overall, if you enjoy classic 8-bit console RPGs and you missed this one the first time around, give it a go. It's different enough to be fresh, but not so different as to be alien, and not so clunky as its forebear.

NES · by Nancy "Infested" Kerrigan (36) · 2011

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

One of the top CRPGs

The Good
The goal of the game, achieving avatarhood in the virtues, is excellent and unique even to this day. It´s quite realistic in the sense that just like daily life, you have to be careful what you do or say, you have to be fair and whilst achieving your goals, reach out and cooperate with the right people. The graphics were basic but playable. The speed of play and fluidity is fantastic. The game is deep and with notions that make you want to keep coming back.

The Bad
The main world is a little poorly drawn, but then it was limited by machine capabilities at the time. You need good vision or a large screen. In some ways the game is very long to complete and it´s very easy to lose hit points. It takes dedication, and if you don´t use outside help, there´s a lot to write down and even put down on paper to make maps--so you don´t become lost.

The Bottom Line
It´s been said this could be the best computer rpg of all time. It is very good but I decline that judgment. Similar great crpg´s include Phantasy Star (sega) and Magic Candle (dos). These similarly had large worlds with the requirement for a party, and if not completely the same, they still had elements of morality, albeit indirectly compared to Ultima IV. This game is a challenge for you, it is well worth it. Besides it, another of the Ultimas to look for is Ultima 6, which in a way had similar moralistic goals. For anyone who wants to try a game of quest with problem solving and just generally requiring thought and planning, go for this one, and don´t put it down until you´ve seen it all!

DOS · by dave taylor (5) · 2015

THE role-playing game. If you haven't played this, you aren't an RPG-er.

The Good
Everything. (Well, the graphics leave a little bit to be desired, but they weren't bad for the time.)

The storyline to this day remains unmatched. Character development is great -- it's not about just being the biggest and strongest. NPC interaction is very well done. AND, the music is fabulous (unless you have the IBM PC version).

The Bad
The lack of any respectable music on the PC version.

The Bottom Line
This game was revolutionary in its day, and has not been matched since. A stunning job overall!

DOS · by Mirrorshades2k (274) · 2000

Best RPG plot there was, there is, and there ever will be (maybe).

The Good
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).

The Bad
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

One of the greatest CRPG's of all time.

The Good
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.

The Bad
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

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

Morality in a video game? Are gamers ready for something like that?

The Good
Wow, I wish I could list all of them, but I might mess up and forget a thing or two, so I'll try.

First off, you had a game that tried to resolve you into a better person. I'd be lying if I didn't say that this was a game that didn't change me when I finished it. The concept of eight virtues, from Honesty to Honor, made the issue of beating the game not on your magic wands or Kill spells, but on how well you can follow these virtues. For those of you that were brought up on Doom or RotT, this might be a bit hard on you, so you should sit down and rest...

And because of this, you had a high degree of freedom! Want to kill that guard? Sure, you can do it. Steal a chest when someone isn't looking? Yeah, go ahead and take it. -just remember that it bites you back in the end and you'll be stuck in the game until you clean up your act.

Aside from this, there was the text interaction of characters, the eight cities for either virtues and the eight dungeons to epitomize the antivirtues. Eight character parties were fun, even considering the shepherd (who was there to epitomize humility anyway, so I guess it all made sense in the end; ah well, I enjoyed her sling time anyway).

The Bad
Hmmm... halberds.

The book says paladins are ideal with halberds and I hated the wretched things because they only hit one square away and never against the monster that was striking next to me! :(

-okay, that, and the concept of getting a poison trap every time you open a chest and not being able to evade it (reagents are a valuable commodity!)

The Bottom Line
A game with a lesson; oooo, edutainment. That's right Sid Meier, Richard Garriot beat you to the punch!

DOS · by Don Lee (8) · 2000

Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar

The Good
Ultima IV is one of the most original games in history and this is the game that made Ultima so famous and led a large cult following. Why? because back then (and even today) RPGs are all about killing the main bad guy and find treasure. But with Ultima IV everything changed. There is no end boss an the point of the game is to master the eight virtues and become an Avatar the champion of virtues. There is no religion in Ultima IV but the 8 virtues can be described as a philosophy that the people follow, a way of life. Another thing worth mentioning is that the music is very good and the game offers a lot of exploration in the fantastic world of Brittania. This game can be tough and long if you don't use any guides but if you have a ton of other games to finish just use guides to find the mantra's and rune locations etc.

The Bad
The battle system and magic system is kinda poor. I found myself getting bored and was it was annoying at times. You can't even keep your spells and you have to worry about reagents. But Ultima's where always different from other rpg's.

The Bottom Line
This is a must for any RPG fan and see how much Ultima IV did to the game industry.

DOS · by TheNightWalker (12) · 2004

Contributors to this Entry

Critic reviews added by S Olafsson, Kayburt, Jo ST, Riemann80, RetroArchives.fr, SlyDante, Alsy, Terok Nor, Patrick Bregger, Scaryfun, RhYnoECfnW, Wizo, Alaka, Big John WV, Martin Lindell, WONDERなパン.