Games about self-improvement through adhering to a strict set of moral standards do not generally appeal to the masses. With Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, however, Origin Systems manages to do exactly that -- they've created a game by and large about redemption that is completely accessible to the average player. Certainly, this is no easy accomplishment.
Creation of this modern-day passion play requires a more in-depth back story than those seen in previous Ultima games, as the "get the evil wizard who is going to kill you before he gets you first" motif is not a sufficient exposition for a life-altering gaming experience. Instead, you see a full EGA introductory animation that briefly explains not only the character's motivation in life but also how he or she came to be transported to the world of Britannia.
Once the wannabe Avatar pops up in Britannia, the quest begins in earnest. Your character is already the embodiment of one virtue -- the primary attribute you selected during character creation. However, to become the Avatar, mastery of all eight virtues is required and to achieve this exalted position, you must wander the world of Britannia, committing virtuous deeds and braving dangerous dungeons to obtain various implements of the virtues such as stones and mantras.
Other than a short period of time at the beginning, you are not alone in this quest. Throughout Britannia exist seven people embodying other virtues and each of them joins you in your quest if you can prove that you, too, have a mastery of their virtue.
The combat and spell systems of Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar are much more elaborate than those found in previous Ultima titles, an oddity considering the focus here is less on combat and more on character development. Besides a large array of mundane and magical weapons and armor, the spell system now includes reagents and words of power that must be mixed in exactly the right sequence to form one of dozens of spells. This is certainly a more interesting magic system than the old: "Cast which spell? 'A!' Thou hast cast prayer! NO EFFECT!"
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar's unique plot is accompanied by an overhaul of the engine and takes full advantage of the EGA capabilities of the IBM. The graphics seem quantitatively better than the crude CGA art of the previous games and the new graphics breathe much needed new life into the world of Britannia. While the world graphics are not nearly as impressive as the graphics in the intro, they still add significantly to the atmosphere.
Also of note is the game's elimination of the first-person wire frame graphics of dungeons that, heretofore, have been constants. Now the dungeons are portrayed in the same top-down perspective as the rest of the world and help with the game's feeling of continuity. The transition from third- to first-person perspectives in the previous games was always jarring. The sound, however, is not much better, primarily due to the IBM's sound limitations. A few PC speaker clicks and beeps constitute the extent of the sound.
Once you unlock the secrets of each of the shrines of the eight virtues and become a potential Avatar, the arduous journey to the deadly Stygian Abyss and the task of finally reading from the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom still lies before you. Using all the knowledge you have gleaned from your mastery of the virtues and the aid of your seven companions, you will overcome this final obstacle and finally be known the universe over as the Avatar.
Graphics: EGA adds a great new dimension to the epic Ultima series, creating a far more lifelike world than in previous games. The introductory animation in particular is extremely well drawn, though the rest of the game is a bit of a let-down after seeing it.
Sound: The PC speaker sound effects are fairly run-of-the mill and there is really no other sounds in the game.
Enjoyment: There is definitely a truckload of fun to be had in Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar. The sheer uniqueness of the quest in and of itself warrants playing the game and the additional traditional CRPG hack-and-slash aspects flesh the game out nicely.
Replay Value: Playing through as a different character class can alter the course of the game quite a bit, as you can easily find yourself starting on a tiny island with no obvious monsters to use as cash-cows and procure your escape. It is also easy to miss important elements here and there the first time through.
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Ultima III: Exodus, Ultima II: Revenge of the Enchantress, Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness, Ultima 7: The Black Gate, Ultima 5: Warriors of Destiny, Ultima 8: Pagan, Ultima 6: The False Prophet, Ultima 9: Ascension
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