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SummaryAn all time classic. Still as playable as it ever was
The GoodThis 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 BadIn 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 LineIts 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.