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SummaryA bit religious, but some good ideas
The GoodWhen 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 BadSo 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 LineWell 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.