Mention the Ultima series to any hardened adventurer and you will nearly always get the same answer. A wry smile, a knowing look and the feeling that something special has been shared between you, something that only experienced adventure role players have been a party to. There's no doubt that since the first Ultima appeared the series has attained almost cult-like status and even though others have tried to copy the Lord British style, and some taken even further steps with better graphics and sound, somehow whenever a new Ultima game appears, that is the one that they all want to solve. What is the secret? Why is it that everyone goes crazy over it? The graphics are sure nothing to write home about, little stick creatures that slide from one Pixel space to the next, the sound consists of a few white noise crashes and with no smooth scrolling technique, Just a good old fashioned jerky roll, you would be forgiven for thinking the author had only recently been taught programming. What I am saying is, if these were any other games they would get slated on the graphical element alone. But because they are Ultima, and the format is accepted as such, they are classics.
What makes them such fabulous pieces of work is simply the sheer depth of the games. The plots are complex intricate puzzles that need careful working out and patience that almost goes beyond human endurance. It proves the point doesn't it? That you do not need flashy graphics to get a hit on your hands.
So now we have Ultima IV on our Amiga, and does that mean a new look state-of-the-art Ultima? An Ultima with lifelike characters beautifully depicted in 3D multicolour, using a subtle hint of pastel shading which balanced against the fine tuned sonics would provide a never-before-seen backdrop of computer-digitized graphics? No, siree, Bob. You get just the same as before, only this time round, it's bigger and brighter, with a few more spells and a much enhanced character Interaction routine.
In fact, talking with the people in the game is one of the most important features of Ultima IV. It is virtually impossible to solve the quests without talking to all the people in each town. The sort of conversation you would want to embark on typically would be to ask their name, and then about their Job or health. Picking up on the wording of their answers will give you the basis for your next question and so on. Conversely, the people you speak to may choose to ask you a question, in which case you need to answer honestly. Depending on how these conversations go will result in you getting important information, or an additional member to your party, this second option is particularly useful in strengthening your party and should be done as soon as possible.
The storyline for Ultima IV begins with something a bit different as well. You get a brief text story, about your afternoon walk in the country where you find a comfortable tree to rest against. On closing your eyes you suddenly hear a pitched sound and see before you, a shimmering blueness rising from the ground. This soon disappears to leave a ring of stones and an amulet shaped like a cross. It is an Ankh, the sacred symbol of life and rebirth, and with it is a book wrapped in a cloth. The cloth turns out to be a map of Britannia and the book Is in fact two works: the history of Britannia and a cluster of magic spells (these three items are contained in the game box and very well produced they are too).
After a few screens of pretty pictures depicting a carnival you are drawn to an old gypsy wagon, where upon answering a few questions your hit status and general well being is decided. After this you are transported to Britannia to try to become an Avatar, the highest honour known to the kingdom, and goes to the one who becomes enlightened in all Eight Virtues of the Avatar.
Before playing you need to copy a character disk, and this is the one you play with throughout. It is advisable to save your status many times in order to not die a violent and tragic death that you cannot return from, and remember that although monster bashing is part and parcel of Ultima's enjoyment, it is not the be-all and end- all of it. The trick is to discover as many of the Virtues as you can, and they are hidden deep in the temples all over the Britannia. There are eight principal towns to visit, each unique in look and feel, and many sub-quests to be completed before intelligence is gained about which prayer to chant in which temple in order to find those hidden virtues and be on your way to becoming an Avatar.
For those of you turned on by the Amiga's fabulous graphic capabilities and stereo sound Ultima is not for you. If you really want the greatest challenge in your role-playing life then get Ultima for the ultimate experience and catch up on a little bit of history in the making.
My only wish is that Ultima V hurries along sooner rather than later, the role-playing audience out there are waiting with bated breath.
People who downloaded Ultima 4 have also downloaded:
Ultima 6, Ultima 3: Exodus, Ultima 5: Warriors of Destiny, Ultima 8: Pagan, Ultima II: Revenge of the Enchantress, Ultima 7: The Black Gate, Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness, Ultima 9: Ascension
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