I spent maybe three and a half hours playing Quest of the Avatar this weekend, without too much progress. Well, I travelled to all the towns which are reachable via moongates and land, because no ships have shown up yet I recently made it to level 6, so perhaps they will arrive soon. I've collected all the runes save for valor, which is hidden behind some force fields that I may not have sufficient magic points to eliminate (as a bard).
I've also become a candidate for "elevation" in the virtues of valor and humility, which seem to be the two easiest to raise. Valor is raised simply by fighting, and humility seems primarily based on whether or not you answer random "are you the best..." questions posed by townsfolk. Unfortunately, valor and humility are the hardest partial Avatar bits to acquire, since Jhelom's rune of valor is a pain to get, and getting to the shrine of humility requires a boat, as well as a silver horn to ward off an infinite mass of daemons.
My notetaking strategy for the game has been pretty straightforward--I have each town with some hints, which I review periodically. I also created a moongate guide and a list of "objects" that I need to get. I remember most of this game, but I am playing it as if I don't recall, for example, the mantras and the rune locations. The result is that I know I have to go find a ship's wheel somewhere, but I have not been told about it yet, so it is not even on my list thus far. Tomorrow I may start building up my party, adding probably the paladin and the druid, all of whom can used ranged weapons. Or so I recall. I also need to hit the magic book, which I haven't read yet, and make a convenient spell/reagent list, unless of course it's already in the reference card. Obviously, I did not do as thorough a survey of the documentation before I began playing this game ;-)
The world in Ultima IV is much larger than the world of Ultima III. Perhaps a power of two larger? I'm uncertain. This gives the game a certain epic feel that its predecessor lacked.
However, I think this epic feel is very shallow, once you wander over the bunches of penninsulas and forests that serve no purpose. There's just nothing there but some tiles and the same enemies you face elsewhere. I remember an argument on the Ultima Dragons newsgroup, where someone complained that the dual-scale form of Ultimas 4 and 5 made the world huge, whereas I believed it was an illusion. i guess it's the clasic breadth versus depth argument. In my opinion, for immersive gaming, depth wins every time. I recall playing Daggerfall when it first came out. THAT game had some atmosphere, with hundreds of towns and dungeons and so on. It was incredible!....Well, briefly. Eventually I got sick of randomly-generated tavern names and pointless, incoherent dungeons that were obviously just hodgepodges of several basic designs stapled together without rhyme or reason. The vastness of Ultima IV is worse,in a way, because it's just empty space. There is nothing to see or do, anywhere, besides the towns (like Vesper on the left), dungeons, and a few searchable locations. I don't understand why some harken back to this strategy as incredibly immersive.
Of course, I'm not arguing that Ultima IV is a bad game--its limitations are technological, yet it has an epic scope and looks and sounds good even on a system which is so silly that pixls can't be placed beside each other without changing color (hence the reason why characters are pretty much pure white in this and even, as I recall, in Ultima V for the Apple II). There are still a fair number of silly things about the game, though. For example, the skull of Mondain. Actually, its location. Who among us ever played Ultima IV and found that *extremely suspicious* little horsehoe of shoals in the middle of the ocean, and did not sail immediately therein and search? Actually, maybe the wheel is there, or the bell. I don't remember if it was the skull or not (maybe that was between some volcanos?). But geez, something was there, and it did not require a genius to find it. The same goes for that single little dot of swamp out near Minoc. Gee, you suppose something might be there? No way.
One thing to praise about Ultima IV is its ridiculous level of nonlinearity. You don't have to do anything in *any* order, except insofar as it all has to be done before you hit the abyss. this is a goal to strive for in all RPGs, and the quality of a game can often be judged by the absurd constraints placed on the player. Ultima IX is the prime example of this, as are certain points of Serpent isle (doors randomly unlock and chests appear out of nowhere with important items, when the plot dictates that they should).
This entry is too long, consider how little I have accomplished in the game, lol. I'm not sure where to put the screenshot of Magincia, so I'll stick it here.