My Ultima IV quest continued on Sunday when I decided to delve into the abyss. Most of the levels were not as challenging as I had expected, but by the same token some were much harder than I expected. The pirates and swamps I had to cross to get to the abyss were annoying, but not so bad. Level 1 began rough, with an excessive amount of lava and huge numbers of balrons. Balrons and gazers are among the hardest enemies in the game due to their sleep spells, so clearing out rooms full of them is a tedious chore. However, I found that m magc wands and bows all worked in the Abyss, which means everyone but Geoffrey and Katrina had a ranged weapon to use.
The next several levels were not so bad, with Level 4 including tricky sequences of rooms that interconnected and for which viewing a gem was not useful. The screenshot shows an odd little room with a pathway over nothingness that is full of ghosts. This was taken to an extreme on level 6, where a big block of rooms had zig-zagging connections, and were full of very annoying monsters. In some cases, it was not so much hard as tedious--balrons behind energy fields had to be killed to keep them from causing everyone to fall asleep, even though they could not actually attack me. Towards the end was a long series of poison fields with reapers at the end, and the room preceding it featured a balrons and wizards, and a platform in the center which I almost guarantee would close up the moment I stepped on it, so as yousee I went the long way around, through a balron cell!
The eighth level was most interesting, since one of the rooms therein featured a party of adventurers just like my own! Well, they looked just like my own. it would be moreaccurate to say they were a bunch of wimpy schmucks who died in one hit from the magic wand. Hilariously, the ranger even flees before the battle begins! Obviosuly he knows what he is in for. After that room is another with multiple hiden triggers that must be pressed before the exit to the codex chamber opens. This required more wandering around lava fields, which isn't very fun. Finally, I was asked a series of questions, made easier in that all the answers about the virtues were in the exact same order as they allways are: Honesty, compassion, valor, justice, etc. I was confused by the compassion question, which asked what virtue "compels you to share in the journeys of others?" Wha? Journeys?
I will summarize Ultima IV by saying it was a fun game, but not as much of a leap, technologically, over Ultima III as Ultima III was over II. Thematically and plot-design-wise, it is a superior game, with a much more compelling world model where your actions in multiple contexts have an impact on the progression of the game. In Ultima III, the means by which you acquired enough power to beat Exodus was irrelevent to whether you could beat him, whereas in this game, the means are everything and the ends are simply a final action to finish.
The only problem I have with Ultima IV is that there are no dilemmas to the game's cut-and-dried morality, and that most of the specific actions you take within the game are the same as you would take in any other game of the time--fighting monsters, collecting objects, etc. This is no doubt a result of the limited technology of the game, and a situation that is rectified in Ultima V. The limited tileset, while providing nice animation, does not help immersion since the objects in the gam--tables, beds, bookshelves--are all just purple squares. Also, the lack of any items of interest in dungeons made treasure-hunting boring, as did the fact that there is no relationship between enemy toughness and the treasure that they leave behind.
I have played a little Ultima V now, and it seems basically like a proto-Ultima VI. I look forward to blogging about it since my memory of the game is so dim that it will seem like a new experience!