Ultima IV [C64]

ultima_iv_coverFirst of all, I feel stupid. Why? Because I can’t believe I never gave that game a chance back in the day. Sure, I did play it for a bit, but never really got into it, due to me not being into RPG’s at that time. Yeah, c’mon then, call me ignorant, that’s fine. But fact is, now, 29 years after its original release on the Apple II, I finally gave it another shot and gee, what a game it is. It truly must be one of the most innovative titles I’ve ever played, and I’ve played a lot. So, with no further ado, please welcome Ultima IV.

Britannia needs you!

Crisis struck the land of Britannia. No, there aint any evil forces threatening the continent, those times are gone since the ‘Age of Darkness’ ended, an era covered in the first three Ultima games. What Lord British, ruler of Britannia, urgently needs is someone who can lead them into a new era, someone who possesses all the required virtues to guide them into a bright future. In short, they’re looking for the Avatar, they’re looking for you.

Of virtues and shrines

So the goal is not to defeat some evil wizard or rescue a princess, it’s about becoming the Avatar, a master of the eight virtues (compassion, honesty, valour, honour, justice, sacrifice, humility and spirituality, and yes, I had to look that up, always forget half of them). There are several ways to achieve that, such as giving money to the poor to boost compassion or letting injured foes escape to raise honour, for instance. In short, one has to carefully consider his or her actions, because everything you do will affect those stats in one way or another.

Every virtue got its own shrine, which must be visited in order to gain avatarhood of a virtue. To be able to enter them one has to possess the appropriate rune, which can be found in one of the major cities. Furthermore, the player has to know the proper mantra. Without it, meditating in front of a shrine won’t do a thing, apart from wasting time. But fear not, someone in those cities always knows the mantra, and it’s just a matter of asking the right person. The same goes for the location of the runes, so beware, you will do a lot of talking.

Screenshots (click to enlarge)

 

Character creation

Creating a character in Ultima IV is quite unique. Instead of assigning points to the various stats / skills, one has to decide how to deal with certain situations, and on the basis of your answers the game will determine your character class.

And I don’t have a clue how I do it, but clearly remember the few times I did create a character in the past, he always ended up being a bard. Like my current character. See, after answering the last question, the game spawned me next to a town and a large castle. A quick look at my stats revealed that my character is indeed a bard. Now, the thing is, I named him ‘Dude‘ and was planning to use him for a test run, to get used again to the interface and controls before starting a proper game. Well, that was several days ago and I must’ve invested well over 15 hours into that ‘test run’ already. Too late to start over again, so my character is stuck with the innovative name of ‘Dude‘.

The land of Britannia

u4_map2To the right a map of Britannia (don’t be shy, click on it to see it in a higher resolution). The continent is fairly large, with several islands located off the coast (Spoiler alert: There’s an evil island located in the south-east corner, not shown on the map. Hey, the cold war was still ongoing when this game got released, so everything evil had to be somewhere in the east). At certain intervals, moongates will appear and can teleport the player and his party to a different part of the map, which can be quite handy at times. But you have to be quick, otherwise they simply disappear and you have to wait for the moons getting aligned again.

Gameplay

Most of the time will be spent travelling to different locations, trying to get hold of the runes required to enter those shrines. Should the player get attacked, the game changes to the combat screen. Combat itself is, like the whole game, turn-based. Well, sort of. The thing is, if you don’t enter a command within a certain amount of time, you automatically pass a turn. Speaking of commands, there’s no menus or icons to click at, so everything has to be entered via keyboard shortcuts, like [A] for ‘Attack‘ or [C] for ‘Cast‘, to name a couple.

Towns will offer the player to rest, heal, buy new items and reagents (required for creating spells), or stock up on food. Characters don’t level up automatically. This is done by visiting Lord British, who can also heal the party free of charge.

And what would an RPG be without dungeons? Yeah, don’t know either.  And while the majority of the game is presented in a top-down view, upon entering  a dungeon the game switches to a 3D view.

Let’s talk type a bit

NPC interaction is quite interesting. Instead of  multiple choice answers, you have to type in your queries and scan their answers for keywords, in case you need more information on a certain topic. But don’t fear, there’s no need to type in whole sentences, just a single word is all you need. Simple, but elegant.

Eight’s everywhere

The game itself seems to be centred around the number eight. There’s the aforementioned eight virtues for instance, or the eight major cities across the continent. And your party can consist of up to eight members. Speaking of your party, I don’t know if it’s just coincidence or bad luck, but Geoffrey the Warrior must be one of the most useless fighters in the history of computer RPG’s. Around 75 % of his attacks simply miss, which can be a bit annoying, to be honest.

 

 

Presentation

Not much to say here. The graphics are simple, but do have a certain charm to them, while the music is quite catchy… no, not just quite, the music is catchy. And although the tune you hear while travelling is on an endless loop, it never get’s annoying.

 

Closing words

Would a game like Ultima IV stand a chance in today’s gaming culture? Of course… not. Or do you really think gamers today want to play a game where you have to become a better person instead of just, you know, killing stuff and blowing everything to pieces? And to type in your queries during conversations would be too much to ask for. Plus, the fact that the game does not hold your hand and completely lacks a tutorial would most likely put off the majority of today’s casual gamers. And before anyone thinks I’m talking some elitist retro gamer crap right now, nope, the secret lies in the word ‘casual‘.

But if you do enjoy old-school RPG’s and don’t mind the simplistic graphics, I have to warn you: Ultima IV is highly addictive. In fact, it’s so addictive  I achieved avatarhood in half of the virtues already. Not because I’m so good (trust me, I’m not), but because it’s the only game I play at the moment.

In short, a heaven for people who love old-school RPG’s and definitely a true classic.

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9 thoughts on “Ultima IV [C64]

  1. Good to see you back on the writer’s horse… er… something like that. Never played an Ultima game in my life, though I do have a deep respect for the series / creator. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but the old school RPGs just don’t do anything for me. I need some flash to go with my games these days. Guess that makes me one those filthy ‘casuals’, opting for shooting bad guys and random players over self-improvement. 🙂

    • Cheers, Tim. I could’ve published it on Saturday, but decided to wait until Monday morning. Well, didn’t plan to record a video this time around, but changed my mind the moment I was about to hit that Publish button. o_O

      And 1,263 words? I know that some people I follow, like Byron or retroreactiv8 do that on a regular basis, but for me it was new territory. But hey, it’s Ultima IV, and there’s just so much to tell about. And iirc, Richard Garriott must’ve been in his mid 20’s when he released that game.

      Next up will be a short article about some Doom-like game on the C64 (no joke).

    • Oh, a Doom-like, you say? Color me intrigued.

      Yeah, word counts are a funny thing. Generally, the more you write, the more you like / have to say about a game. I’ve gone over the limit plenty of times, but I’m glad I set a cap of 500 words. For me, that’s the ideal number. Same for the games too, as most are simplistic enough they don’t need the heavy explanation.

      Long live the ‘Dude’!

      • Always cool when I visit Lord British to see if I can level up, or to heal my party. His words: “Welcome Dude and thy worthy adventurers!” We’re like homies, man. 😎

        And this Doom-like game is more of a Doom-like light. It’s called Boom (really!).

  2. Ultima IV is probably the best experience that I’ve ever had with a game. I’ll bet I spent 100 hours in Brittania, and I had a dog-eared notebook (yes, kids, we needed an actual pen and notebook to keep track of things) filled with clues and character locations.

    It was easily the most innovative RPG ever released up to that point. It didn’t have the graphical flair of a game like King’s Quest, but what it lacked in graphics it more than made up for in depth. I believe it was the first game to give NPC’s schedules based on day-night cycles, and the reagents system foreshadowed many of the crafting systems that we see in games today.

    But mostly, it was the story that sucked me in. The quest just felt epic and important, and the characters were very engaging. Characters weren’t fleshed out via long, dramatic cut-scenes. Rather, they were engaging based on how they acted during the game itself, which was largely based on the virtue that they were modeled after.

    Also, just a sidenote that I often use ridiculous names for my characters in games. My bad-ass, level 40 crusader in Diablo 3 is named Mr. Giggles.

    • Ah yes, that’s the word I forgot to use: Epic. The cool thing about today’s technology is that I didn’t have to take notes, I took screenshots instead. 😀 Must’ve taken over 60 of them already. And gee, this games gets tougher every time you unlock one of those partial avatarhoods. I’m at a point now where I constantly get attacked by demons and sorts.

      And I was curious and had a go at the first Ultima. Now I’m planning to play the fifth instalment soon. Just a shame I wasn’t into RPG’s back in the 80’s. Ultima IV could’ve easily been my second favourite game on that system, right after Pirates!.

      PS I can never come up with decent names for my character(s). Always end up using a fantasy name generator. 🙄

    • I really got into RPG’s quite late, when I bought Icewind Dale for the PC. By the way, you can download Ultima IV legally, and for free, on various sites. Plus, someone updated the engine, so the whole thing can be played on modern hardware, without the need to run DosBox. It’s a cross-platform application, so you should be able to run it on any system.

      Here’s the link in case you’re interested, including links to sites that host the game:
      http://xu4.sourceforge.net

  3. Pingback: Revisiting Britannia Part I: Playing Ultima IV for the First Time in nearly 30 Years | Stir Fried Pixels

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