ultimate review of a story in its own right? Why has John Sweeney
been moved to write at such length over just another program?
While out for a gentle stroll, you fall asleep
beneath a tree. You are awakened by a strange noise - a magic portal
opening and closing, and a small bundle falling through it. On
examination the bundle turns out to be two books - The History of
Britannia and The Book of Mystic Wisdom (although you only discover
the latter by translating the runes on the cover!) - wrapped in a
cloth. The bundle also contains a small Ankh and the cloth turns out
to be a beautifully coloured map of The Lands of Britannia (about 43
cms square). All of these items plus a quick reference card, are
actually in your games pack, each of the books being very well
presented, and giving you approximately 100 pages of interesting
Following the sound of distant music you
eventually arrive at a gypsy's caravan. She appears to have known of
your coming, and asks you a number of questions such as 'Thou art
sworn to protect thy Lord at any cost, yet thou knowest he has
committed a crime. Authorities ask thee of the affair, dost thou A)
break thine oath by Honestly speaking; or B) uphold Honor by
silently keeping thine oath?' Each of the questions places you in a
moral dilemma and forces you to choose between two virtues. After
seven questions the gypsy says, `So be it. Thy path is chosen', and
you are transported to a strange land while a voice whispers in your
ear, `seek the counsel of thy sovereign'. The game now starts.
The screen changes to four windows. The whole of
the left of the screen is occupied by a large square showing a
bird's eye view of you in the centre, surrounded by a variety of
terrain. The map actually covers an area of 256 by 256 squares, of
which you can see 11 by 11 - plenty of scope for exploration! The
right of the screen has a window at the top showing the status of
your party, a window at the bottom describing what is going on and
allowing you to enter commands, and a single line window between
these showing how much food and gold you have.
Examining your statistics (both those which are
always visible, and those you can scroll through by requesting
Ztatistics - by pressing Z), you ascertain that you are a fighter
with Chain Mail Armour and an Axe, 200 Food, 200 Gold, limited
Strength, Intelligence and Dexterity, and 300 Hit Points. You also
appear to have a small supply of Ginseng and Garlic! You use the
four arrow keys to explore your surroundings. As you do so the
terrain scrolls smoothly around you so that you remain in the centre
of the screen. You appear to be on a small island with mountains to
the north and something interesting on another island to the south.
Unfortunately you don't appear to have any means of crossing the
intervening water at the moment. There is however something of
interest on your own island - a small town. You move your character
onto this and press E for Enter. The scene changes. You are now in
the middle of an 11 by 11 view of a small town (which actually
measures 32 by 32). The town is called Jhelom. Walking up to a
nearby guard, you Talk to him (T). The bottom right window records
your conversation: YOU MEET A STERN GUARD - NAME (you say) `I am a
guard' JOB `I guard the gates and these passages' GATES `The gates
of Jhelom' PASSAGES `These passages are restricted'.
Well that sounds interesting - there do indeed
appear to be some passages behind the guard and his colleagues.
Unfortunately, unlike various other characters you can see moving
around the town, the guards appear to be fixed in place. Remembering
your experiences in Ultima III you decide it would probably be
unwise to attack the guards - they tend to be a pretty tough lot!
Besides aren't you supposed to be one of the good guys - an Avatar
or something? Maybe you will find some other
way into the passages later. You wander on into town and explore a
small patch of darkness between two buildings, it turns out to be a
small wood, but there is nobody there. As you move around, the
screen adjusts so that you can only see what is in line of sight -
walls, buildings and woods obscure your view. You have a chat with a
fighter: YOU MEET A THIN FIGHTER - NAME `My name is Tinrod' JOB
fight with valor' VALOR `There is no holier spot of ground than
where defeated valor lies - art thou brave?' Ahhh... should you
answer Yes or No? Does it matter? You experiment a bit. NO `Coward'!
You ask him about Valor again and say YES `Fortune helps the brave'
BRAVE `Be brave for there is much to dare' HEALTH `Couldn't be
appear to be on a small island ...
You leave him and wander around the town. There is
an Inn, but the innkeeper isn't very talkative - only seems
interested in selling you a bed for the night. Exploring the Inn you
find three bedrooms, but two of them are locked and occupied. You
chat with Max the Housekeeper, but he doesn't seem to know much. You
buy some ale at the Pub and when you tip the barkeeper he asks
`What'd ya like to know friend?', but you don't really know yet!
There is also an Armourer, a Weapons Shop, and a House of Healing.
By talking to the various people wandering around the town you learn
of various artifacts which might be useful to obtain, and you gain a
number of potentially useful items of information! You eventually
decide to leave for the moment.
Once outside the town you wonder what to do next. As you are
studying your History of Brittannia, a small Gate opens beside you
on the island! You quickly enter it. The screen flashes to indicate
magical activity and you find yourself on another island! Exploring
the town here (Skara Brae; you learn of more artifacts, and gain
more little snippets of information. Leaving the town you see the
Gate opening again and quickly enter. This time you find yourself
transported to a small clearing in the middle of a vast forest.
Visibility is limited to a 3 by 3 square in the middle of the
You set off south and east. Sometimes your
attempts to move result in SLOW PROGRESS. You pass through some
brushland, more forests, and finally reach a plain. Crossing this
you enter some hilly ground, more SLOW PROGRESS. You finally reach
impassable(?) mountains and start the long trek around them.
Suddenly a small figure appears at the edge of the screen - looks a
bit like a teddy bear? Every time you move it moves. It seems to be
coming your way. Oh dear, now a small figure waving a sword has
appeared - he is coming your way too!
you find yourself transported to a small clearing ...
As the teddy bear reaches you the screen changes
to show your current position in close up. Your party, just you at
the moment, appears at the bottom of the screen. The enemy, two of
them, appear at the top. You move towards them. Once you are beside
them you press A for attack and use an arrow key to indicate the
direction of attack. The bottom right window describes the action:
MISSED. They attack. Your character's status line flashes and his
Hit Points go down to 286, then to 273. Attack again: ORC BARELY
WOUNDED (Oh that's what they are!). They attack again. You attack
again. Eventually one, critically wounded, flees and the other
finally succumbs to your axe blows: ORC KILLED. EXPERIENCE + 6.
VICTORY. The scene returns to normal but there is now a chest beside
you. You step on to it and press G for Get. The screen flashes
again: ACID TRAP - your Hit Points fall again, but you have gained
24 Gold! The figure with the sword attacks you while you attempt to
escape through the hills. Again the scene changes to close up for
the fight, but, because you were on different terrain, the battle
ground is different. Rocky outcrops near the centre of the screen
provide good cover so that only one of the two Rogues can attack you
at a time. Unfortunately, you don't manage to kill him very quickly,
and your Gold starts reducing! The dexterous little thief appears
capable of robbing you even while fighting you! You finally finish
these two off, Get another chest and head off East again.
Finally rounding the last of the mountains you
come to a river. You spy a bridge across it and head towards it. The
ground around the river has a slightly different appearance to
normal grassland - the dots are bigger and more coloured. As you
cross this new terrain there is a sudden flash, and the G on your
status line which indicated your character's Good health has changed
to a P. P for Poisoned! This must be the marsh with the poisonous
gasses of which the History of Brittannia warned you! With each step
now your Hit Points decrease. You quickly search the Book of Mystic
Wisdom and find a Cure spell. Reading the description carefully you
determine that a Cure can be cast by mixing Ginseng and Garlic. Hey,
that's what you have. M for Mix. C for Cast. CURE FAILED. M.P. TOO
LOW. M.P.? Ah, yes, Magic Points - determined by your character type
and his or her intelligence. Check the book again. How many should a
Fighter have? None! - Fighters can't use magic! Hit Points getting
dangerously low, best try and find a town with a healer.
Unfortunately, since you haven't the slightest idea where you are,
you fail. Your Hit Points reach Zero. ALL IS DARK, BUT WAIT, WHERE
AM I? AM I DEAD? AFTERLIFE? I FEEL MOTION. The scene changes. You
are in Lord British's throne room. Lord British rises and says, `At
long last thou hast come. We have waited such a long time'. He sits
and says, `A new age is upon Britannia. The great evil lords are
gone (see Ultima I, II, and III) but our people lack direction and
purpose in their lives. A champion of virtue is called for. Thou may
be this champion, but only time shall tell. I will aid thee in any
way that I can. How may I help thee?'
looks like your opportunity ...
This looks like your opportunity to learn a bit.
What should you ask? Try HELP. `Travel not the open lands alone.
There are many worthy people in the diverse townes whom it would be
wise to ask to join thee. Build thy party unto eight travellers for
only a true leader can win the Quest.' Quest? Ah, yes, the game is
called Quest of the Avatar, wonder if Lord British knows what the
Quest is, or what an Avatar is? QUEST `The Quest of the Avatar is to
know and become the embodiment of the eight virtues of
It is known that all who take on this quest must prove themselves by
conquering the Abyss and viewing the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom.'
ABYSS `The Great Stygian Abyss is the darkest pocket of Evil
remaining in Britannia. It is said that in the deepest recesses of
the Abyss is the Chamber of the Codex. It is also said that only one
of highest virtue may enter the chamber, one such as an Avatar'
AVATAR `To be an Avatar is to be the embodiment of the eight
virtues. It is to live a life constantly and forever in the quest to
better thyself and the world in which we live' VIRTUE `The eight
virtues of the Avatar are Honesty, Compassion, Valor, justice,
Sacrifice, Honor, Spirituality, and Humility'.
What a knowledgeable fellow this Lord British is!
So, that is how your first half hour of Ultima IV
might go. The next couple of hundred hours will be spent exploring
the many towns, castles, and unmapped villages that are scattered
throughout the lands, talking to the well over 200 different people
in them, mapping the uncharted seas that fill vast areas of
next couple of hundred hours will be spent exploring ...
the map (assuming you can get hold of a ship!),
discovering the existence of and tracking down numerous artifacts
without which you cannot win, searching the mountains for secret
entrances to dungeons, mapping the depths of the numerous dungeons
(this involves a certain amount of magic, and an awful lot of
fighting!), persuading seven other characters to join you, finding
out how to achieve partial avatarhood in a particular virtue, and
then achieving it in all eight, and last, but definitely not least,
braving the Abyss.
This has to be one of the best computer games of
all time. Ultima (I) was a nice little game. Ultima II was
excellent. When I played Ultima III I thought it was superb. The
autthors have used all their experience from those earlier games to
produce a game which is beyond all my expectations. Those of you who
have played the earlier games and are looking forward to Ultima IV
will not be disappointed. They have pushed back the boundaries in
countless ways to make this one of the all time greas.
A friend of mine stayed with me recently. He is a
fanatical games player. He owns a BBC with many games. I showed him
Ultima IV. He stayed an extra night. He went out to buy an Atari the
next day. He says it's the best computer game he has ever played. I
think I agree with him.
Anyone who has experienced Dungeons and Dragons in
any of its many forms will have recognised from the description of
the start of a sample game that this is indeed a computerised
version of D&D. It is ari extremely well thought out
implementation. Lots of thought has gone into making it very
playable and enjoyable. It is driven by single key
a game which is beyond all my expectations.
commands from the keyboard, the joystick is not
used. Some commands require further input, for example, when talking
to people you use single words picked from their conversation to
probe for more information, also if you, say, `Ready a weapon' you
will be asked which member of your party wishes to Ready (reply 1
through 8) and the top right window will immediately fill with a
list of all your spare weapons, each identified by a single letter
for you to type in (a great improvement on Ultima III where you had
to remember what weapons you had and look up the appropriate letter
on a reference card). There are eight different character classes:
Mage, Druid, Paladin, Shepherd, Fighter, Tinker, Bard and Ranger,
all with different abilities and characteristics. Once you
understand what is going on you can actually answer the gypsy's
questions in such a way as to become whichever one you want, but
don't waste time with that initially, just take what you get.
Beware, a party can only have one of each class, so don't waste time
trying to persuade anyone of your own class to join you!
Terrain is varied, and affects both movement and
combat. It is also varied out at sea. Once you have acquired a ship
you will find open seas, deeps, rivers, shoals, bridges, whirlpools
and whirlwinds to negotiate, not to mention the fact that the wind
always seems to be blowing the wrong way and that the seas are
teeming with monsters.
The combat is excellent. You can arm your party
with numerous weapons: axes, maces and swords for close up, slings,
bows and crossbows for shooting the length of the screen, halberd
for hitting the enemy over the heads of your comrades or over
obstructions such as the side of a ship, plus numerous magical
weapons which are rather harder to come by but well worth acquiring!
Within combat the terrain is varied, especially in dungeons, where
there are countless rooms each with its own layout including such
things as streams, lava, energy fields, walls and bridges, as well
as secret doors, treasure chests and traps of all sorts. In the
countryside and in dungeon corridors you are attacked by whatever
chances your way, the more experienced you are the nastier it is
likely to be, from orcs and skeletons up to balrons, dragons and
reapers. The size of the attacking party will depend on the size of
your party - there will be usually be more of them than there are of
you! Dungeon rooms on the other hand are predefined. Each one is a
carefully designed set piece, with particular monsters in particular
positions - the deeper the nastier - don't venture too deep too
Once you have engaged in combat, or entered a
room, the members of your party appear separately across the bottom
of the screen. Each of them gets a chance to do one thing, then the
enemy pieces get one turn each, then each of yours and so on. The
range of actions is quite wide: a character any move one square,
change weapons, attack with a weapon, cast a spell (provided you
have mixed it before entering into combat), or pass. So each fight,
once you have a party of more than a few characters, is like a
miniature board game, where you and the computer are moving your
pieces round a board and fighting for the best position. The enemy
can have powerful
friend of mine ... went out to buy an Atari the next day.
magic on their side. One of their favourite
combinations is a group of reapers or balrons, protected by walls,
energy fields or their allies, throwing multiple sleep spells at
your party. If any of your party get SLEPT then they are liable to
be beaten to death by hordes of daemons and phantoms before they can
be wakened. In order to survive you will need to learn how to use
Magic is well implemented. You are provided with
the Book of Mystic Wisdom. This contains details of 26 spells
ranging from simple Light and Cure Spells to the much more difficult
Tremor (devastating against most enemies) and Resurrect. Most of the
characters can start using some of the simple spells right from the.
beginning of the game. Not so the more difficult ones, for a number
of reasons. First, the Book is incomplete and inaccurate in its
description of the mixtures of reagents needed to prepare for the
casting of some of the spells. Second, only six of the eight
reagents are sold in Herb Shops, the other two, Nightshade and
Mandrake Root are extremely difficult to come by (even if I told you
exactly where they are you probably still couldn't find them!) and
are of course required for the best spells. And even if you should
eventually track down the formulae and the ingredients, you might
still fail if you did not have a sufficiently powerful magician in
your party. There are ways to improve your characters, so eventually
you should be able to cast any spell you wish.
The Lands of Britannia are large. You will need to
travel them many times, and make careful notes. There are many
reasons you will need to revisit towns, villages, and castles. Apart
from the obvious one, that you haven't discovered all of a place's
secrets (and they have many), you will also find that certain
weapons, for example, are only available in certain towns, that not
all towns have Herb Shops or Food Stores, and that prices for goods
vary from place to place. You will also find that a person you talk
to will refer you to a character in a different town. Armed with
this knowledge you can revisit someone you have talked to before,
prompt him with new keywords you have discovered and gain new
information. These little subsidiary quests are not always easy, as
some locations are almost completely inaccessible, and also the
object of your search may well be very cleverly hidden or disguised.
There are numerous ways to travel: on foot,
horseback or ship, by Moon Gate and by Magic. And there are rumours
of a lighter-than-air device, according to the History! There are
also rumours of Thieves. Guilds, somewhere out on the uncharted
seas, well worth a visit, as those of you who have played previous
Ultimas will be aware. They are a source of items such as keys and
magic gems which enable you to get an overview of the surrounding
land or dungeon area (32 by 32 (22 by 22 in a dungeon) instead of
the usual 11 by 11). A visit to the Lycaeum is also thoroughly
recommended as early in the game as possible. Dungeon corridors are
similar to those in Ultima III, you get a view of what you can see
down the corridor, instead of the usual view from above, but they
are much more sophisticated than those of Ultima III. Each Ultima
III dungeon is made of eight square layers directly above each
other. In Ultima IV there is no such uniformity. Dungeons ramble in
all directions, Up and Down spells rarely work (and even more rarely
work usefully!), there are countless dead ends, illusions, and one
way ladders. The solving of a single dungeon in Ultima IV has more
in it than a lot of games on the market.
one of your many objectives is to become a partial avatar in all
One interesting facet of this amazing game is the
fact that one of your many objectives is to become a partial avatar
in all eight virtues. This means that you are a Good Character. You
must think twice before stealing treasure chests from castles, or
shooting fleeing enemies in the back. You will have to learn lots of
little ways of proving to the game that you are a good guy.
Initially you will find some of the philosophy thrown at you by
various of the inhabitants to be a trifle confusing. Hopefully it
will all become clear as the game slowly unfolds. If it doesn't you
are in trouble as you need to unravel quite a lot of clues hidden
therein in order to win the game!
Finally, once you have gathered all your friends,
armed them all well, proved what a good guy you are, and acquired
not only numerous artifacts but also vast knowledge, you MAY be
ready for the Abyss. Unlike the other dungeons, this one's entrance
is well guarded and unmarked; should you actually succeed in
reaching it and locating it you will find that the usual E for Enter
is completely inadequate. If you ever manage to get inside it, you
will find that it makes all the other dungeons look like child's
play. And if you should actually happen to have with you all the
knowledge and artifacts necessary to reach the entrance to the
Chamber of the Codex, not to mention being able to survive long enough to
map and progress through all eight levels of the Abyss - and that
means passing through over forty rooms full of monsters and traps -
even should you get there, there are some very nasty twists left to
prevent you achieving full Avatarhood. But I'm not going to give you
any clues on that yet!
The documentation is superb, except for a couple
of details. It never mentions the fact that the space bar can be
used to PASS (note that this affects things like movement of enemies
and restoration of Magic Points, but NOT the moons or the winds) or
to make the game move on during certain parts of conversations,
during the initial preamble with the gypsy, and to get rid of the
Title Page after you have booted the game. Nor does it tell you what
to do if the phone rings during a crucial battle. Z is actually a
valid PAUSE command at any time that you can use it. If you don't
pause the game with Z then it will assume you wish to PASS after
waiting 18 seconds (12 seconds if you are in combat). The only place
where you must concentrate, since too long a pause can be
disastrous, is during meditation (just hope the phone doesn't ring
then!). Also it is not clear whether or not you can have two
long-lasting spells in effect at once. The P for Protection, J for
Jinx, and Q for Quickness all use the same space in the middle of
the centre right window. Each of these can last for many turns. By
casting a new one you erase the letter indicating the continued
effect of the previous one, but have you actually cancelled it?
There is a minor bug caused by riding a horse into
Castle Britannia. If you dismount to Klimb the stairs, on your
return to the ground floor you will find your horse has disappeared!
... you MAY be ready for the Abyss.
One improvement on previous Ultimas, which is
undocumented, is the fact that the save facility (Q for Quit and
Save) is a proper Save in the usual adventure style. In Ultima III
if you entered a town or dungeon an automatic save was performed by
the game whether you liked it or not, and should one of your
characters die he was immediately marked as dead so that you
couldn't restore to get him back. In Ultima IV you can suffer major
catastrophes without concern, since by
rebooting you can restore to the last point at which YOU issued a
Quit and Save.
The reference card says that you can switch the
Colour option from standard 800 to XL series during boot-up.
Unfortunately when it asks you which you want it doesn't tell you
which is which. I can't get very good colour either way with my
version, indeed I have to turn the colour control up on my TV to get
any colour at all. The only problem this causes is that Marsh is a
bit difficult to detect, but that may be intentional anyway! It may
be that my colour problems are caused by the fact that my copy is an
American import. Maybe the UK version will have fixed this. But it
doesn't really matter, the game is so good that once you get hooked
you are unlikely to worry about the colour.
The documentation also assumes that you understand
some of the basic concepts of D&D, such as Hit Points,
Experience, and Levels. If you have never come across any of this
before then find a friend to explain it to you, or just play along
and pick it up as you go.
you have been wondering why you should add a disk drive to you
Atari, here is the answer!
Ultima IV has a lot to offer, regardless of your
interest. Whether you enjoy best the logical challenges involved in
conversing with the townspeople, the exploration of the wilderness,
or the fighting in the dungeons you are bound to find something in
Ultima IV to get you hooked. You can even, as one of my sons did,
set up your own objectives within this superb fantasy world. He
decided to see how evil he could be - he now has the Seer coming out
with responses such as 'Thou art a cad and a bounder, Thy presence
is an affront. Thou art low as a slug!' - he went too far when he
attacked Lord British though: he turned out to be invulnerable!
If you have been wondering why you should add a
disk drive to you Atari, here is the answer! If you have a drive
already then you shouldn't miss this experience. I don't know how
much the UK version will be, but if you compare it to the number of
hours you are engrossed in Ultima IV I'm sure you will find it a
bargain! I wonder when Ultima V will be out?