Mortals, gods and legends

Ultima 4: Quest Of The Avatar logo

Dave Ericsson seeks immortality as a god in Ultima IV and as a legend in Lancelot.

YOU are walking the country. The world has been treating you badly, but the peace and quiet under a clear blue sky clears your mind and gives you a real sense of wellbeing. A pillar of blue light appears before you. Lasting for seconds only, it disappears, leaving behind an amulet and two books wrapped in thick cloth.

The amulet is an ankh, a cross with a loop at the top. The cloth is an ancient map and one of the books is The History of Britannia by Kyle the Younger. Fascinated, you settle down to read about the realm of Britannia.

Finished reading, you become aware of music, and following its haunted melody find what appears to be a Renaissance Fair. The music leads you to a gypsy caravan set apart from the rest. An old gypsy, also wearing an ankh, welcomes you and asks you a number of questions. Each has two answers and you reach deep into your heart to give a honest response. After the final question the fabric of your universe seems to wrench, split and meld back together...

You open your eyes and find yourself somewhere in Britannia. Life now has a new meaning. Ultima IV - Quest of the Avatar has begun.
This role playing adventure is vast in its scope. There are plenty of monsters to fight but there are also the underlying quests to solve. In each of the castles, towns and villages of Britannia you must talk to the people and thread together the information they give you. There are more than 200 people or creatures to interrogate. Many will have something useful to tell you and seven are willing to join you.

YOUR ability to reach a solution and destroy the evil force found in the Abyss depends on a number of things, some material, others spiritual. You must first become an Avatar - from the Sanskrit, it literally means a god come down to earth in bodily form.

You must show by your actions and deeds that you are worthy in eight attributes - compassion, honesty, honour, humility, justice, sacrifice, spirituality and valour. You then visit the eight shrines, carrying the correct rune and meditate, intoning the correct mantra, to attain Avatarhood.

You will need some help to stay alive long enough to reach this first goal. Each of the main towns of Britannia is the home of a specific class - paladin, fighter, ranger, druid, tinker, bard, mage and shepherd. The questions you answered for the old gypsy will have determined your class, and you will arrive in Britannia near the appropriate town. One person will join you in each of the other towns. However, some may not join straight away if they think you are not yet worthy of their friendship.

Most evil creatures carry gold. If you fight them and win, they will leave behind a chest which you must open to get the gold. Many carry traps - beware of acid, bombs and poison. Gold is necessary to buy food, weapons, armour, the ingredients to prepare magical spells and a few special items from the Guild. In your spell book you will find how to prepare many of the simpler spells. The more powerful will need research, and the gathering of two ingredients not on sale in any shop.

TALKING to people is simple, there are three main questions that may be posed to all you meet - their name, job and health. The replies may encourage you to pursue an additional subject. For example, a young mage met in an out of the way village may say "I seek the wisdom of magic". If you throw "magic" back at him he will tell you who and where his master is, and he knows the "gate" spell. When you meet his master you can ask him about this spell.

Some lines of enquiry will lead you to many different places scattered around Britannia. Persevere and make careful notes of who you meet where, and what they have to tell you. As you gain information you will learn that becoming an Avatar is not all that is required of you.

There are a number of objects to find and some lie in the dungeons deep below the surface. Needless to say the creatures found on these trips are powerful. Make sure you have prepared plenty of spells before you enter the deepest levels.

ULTIMA IV is great to play and will take you a long time to solve. The graphics are similar to those of Ultima III - simple and explicit. Normal travel out in the open or in a town is shown as a plan view with your party represented by a single figure.

Enter battle and a larger scale plan view is displayed showing the position of each of your party members. You may then manoeuvre them in turn to place them in the most effective position.

There is a reasonable choice of weapons, but in the early stages I found the missile weapons, sling, bow or crossbow to be most effective. Let the monsters get too close and they will damage you. This may mean either the use of a heal spell or a visit to the healers.

Visit the castle of Lord British often. If your experience has increased enough, he will raise your level, giving you greater hit points and increasing your basic attributes, such as strength and dexterity.
He will also heal your wounds, but beware of not going to the healers. They will ask you for a gift of blood to help others, and agreeing to this will help your elevation to Avatarhood. Also in this castle is Hawkwind the Seer, who will instruct you on obtaining perfection in the eight virtues of the Avatar.

Being attacked by a pirate ship can be a blessing. Having beaten them, you end up a ship to the good. You may now sail the high seas and explore further still. The cannon on board is quite powerful, but beware of other pirate ships' armament. Boarding and engaging in hand-tohand combat is a safer option.

Dungeons are 3D corridors divided into relatively small sections where it is not too easy to get lost. The dungeons are separated by battle sections that contain creatures and puzzles which must be overcome before passing through.

It is possible to walk your party out of an available exit without giving battle, but presumably the program will record your lack of valour. Likewise, ignoring a needy beggar in one of the towns decreases your compassion and I'm sure Hawkwind the Seer will have something to say if you follow his path. Be warned, there are hints that your companions may leave you if you do not measure up to their high ideals.

Ultima IV is a feast for the role playing adventurer. The only minor criticisms I can make are of the lack of noticeably increasing difficulty in the battles as you progress and the sometimes laborious sequential movement of eight characters in connected battle sections.
It is a must for all followers of the active role playing adventure.

Ultima 4: Quest Of The Avatar logo Zzap! Sizzler

Origin/Microprose, Amiga £29.99

Imust say that I, Chuck Vomit, lord of the crocodiles and baron of bridges, find it hard to believe - but apparently you're supposed to be capable of enlightenment. And I don't just mean all that stuff about the birds and the bees, or a pint of Hemmeling, I mean the real thing - the Ultima biggy. What do you mean, you don't know what I'm on about - I'm on about the Avatar, birdbrain.

So what's this Avatar lark about then? Well, apparently it's a quest for a new standard and a new peaceful vision of light. Billygoats haven't got it but trolls have, so why shouldn't humans find it too? The land of Britannia has passed through three turbulent episodes of warfare and destruction - now is the time for peace.

If you're expecting spectacular Amiga graphics, don't. Apart from some pretty neat introductory illustrations they're almost exactly like the 64 version (first released back in 1986). You move around on a full-screen map which shows enemies, cities, castles and towns. You can talk to people, make use of objects, mix the correct ingredients to cast magic spells, fight enemies, buy, haggle and sell.

Forests, mountains and plains are inhabited by some fairly nasty monsters: bats, dragons, gremlins, orcs, skeletons, zorns and orcs - oh yeah, and trolls. Some joke that! Real trolls would tear any puny adventurer, enlightened up to his armpits or not, covered in armour or billy-goat jelly (either will do) with their bare hands - with their bare thumbnails, even. These pathetic little ponces are definitely not the real object and I advise you to beat into a pulp any that you see. Grrr...

The more monsters you belt, the greater your experience rating, but the more people you speak to the greater your chance of achieving the Avatar. The potential for conversation is definitely what makes this game so good. You can speak to almost anyone on an incredible list of subjects - it really feels like you're having a chat because what Nigel the wizard, or a child playing in the street, mentions actually determines what you can talk about next. Not only that, you can learn about other people by speaking to their friends and use the information you've gained from earlier encounters when speaking to others. A few conversations and you fell you're really getting somewhere. Unlike other role-playing games where you have to spend ages hacking and slaying to get your experience points you feel in the thick of things right from the start.

If you thought role-playing games were nothing but an excuse for a good fight and a load of plunder, think again. Ultima IV isn't just brawny - it's got a brain as well (a lot like me, really). And if that isn't enough to tempt you, just think about the excellent presentation (two booklets, an ankh and a top-quality towel... er... I mean cloth map). Thought about it? Right - go out and buy it NOW!

Zzap's Rockford inspecting Chuck Vomit's head: Here's that Avatar, iy!