Ophidian Dragon blogs his way through the entire Ultima series, from beginning to end.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Ultima IV, Day 1

A word about spoilers, perhaps a little too late: This blog is one colossal spoiler. I'm not describing how to beat the games, but I mention the solutions and screenshots often show locations of items, etc.

Well, I have a handful of comments now, which is nice to see. One mentioned the proliferation of exclamation points in Ultima III. I might have mentioned this too--When I was taking notes on the townfolks' hints, I had to strip out the exclamation points: "SEARCH FOR EXOTICS ON ISLANDS!" Still, nothing in Ultima III compares to the experience of playing one of the early Might and Magic (I think) games, where I faced "99 beggars, 99 beggars, 99 beggars, and 99 beggars" after I refused to give a handout. I first played Ultima on the NES around 1987-88, or at least I watched my older brothers play Exodus.

Now I've begun Ultima IV, which brings back a lot of memories--I also played it on the NES, but never got into it (one brother hogged it for himself, until another brother sold it to a friend...). When I got the Ultima I - VI CD-ROM by Encore back in 1995, this and Ultima V were the games was looking forward to. I recall playing the "fun part" of Ultima IV all the way through--that is, the part that involves exploring the world, finding the runes, and interacting with people. The "boring part" consisted of delving into dungeons with very little to offer in terms of reward. I re-played the game about 18 months ago, but never completed it--that time I got near the end, but I got sick of trying to raise my sacrifice--I gave many gallons of blood but it never quite made a difference.

This time I have ditched the Apple II for good, because the graphics are crap compared to the DOS version of Ultima IV. I am using DOSBox to play it, with music provided by an old patch (minus the upgraded graphics that the newer upgrade patch includes). Beyond the graphics, there seems to be a distinct shift in style--Ultima IV is simply more demanding of the player: you are expected to slolve a whole lot of puzzles and quests, whereas Ultima III was primarily about gathering enough gold to cure that annoying poison that bridles and snatches and so on gave you, and then gathering enough gold to raise your stats, etc.

I should also mention one of the "leap forwards" of this game: Typed conversations. Townsfolk still have very little to say, but they must be prompted, which is far more immersive than just spouting out pat responses. I also think there's a bit of Ultima II in the character names (A "spicy woman" in Britain is named "Pepper"), but the conversations themselves are not jokey. In fact, Ultima IV with its focus on morality and the eight virtues might, were it more recent, come perilously close to preacy annoyingness. However, most of the "preachiness" occurs in very limited conversations, and the result is more compelling due to its brevity.

The other big improvement is the gameplay, which is clearner and easier now, with one allotment of food and gold for the whole party. I forgot to mention the line-of-sight of Ultima III, too, so you don't see things beyond obstacles. Ultima IV has this too, but I think the NES version lacked it. Anyway, I am going to be a lone adventurer for quite awhile. As usual, I ended up a bard after the novel gypsy-questioning that began the game--I always either get that or a tinker. Anything but a shepherd is good news, I say. I know you need all eight party members to get in the abyss, but I am tempted to just let Katrina the Shepherd die and forget about her, because she is not worth the effort of directing her worthless icon, lol.


The Meal said...

This is one of my all-time favorites (and I didn't even get the cool graphics you're showing in your screenies!) -- right up to the dungeon delving. We (my posse of fellow Apple II users) worked our way backwards from here and also found III to be fun (and aspects of II), but that was the extent of it.

Really looking forward to your recaps.

Anonymous said...

I always picked the shepard or the mage to play.

Ultimate Carl said...

Aw, but sheperds are humble!

The questions always give me weird things that I don't think apply to me, like Paladin or Druid for some reason. So, I usually intentionally fix it so I'm a mage because I like blowing stuff up.

Anonymous said...

I'm playing it right now to gether high res samples for xu4 project (crossplatform ultima 4 engine).

Apple version all the way, baybe! Love how the walking sounds are slightly different with every step, and also the mockingboard music has a totally different feel than the sb16/mt32 midis.

IIRC there used to be a trick to see current status in the virtues, but i can't find it in all the crap google results.

Anyway, buy a Nokia 770 linux PDA (NOT a phone) and play my ports at http://pupnik.de.

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing (and trying to play) this game first when I was perhaps 5 - my sister would play it on our Apple ][e (with Mockingboard!) instead of studying for her SAT's.

I've started playing it on my phone (a Q) during my hellish 2-hours-each-way commute. It's fun, but a little hard to switch so often from the game to the notepad file I keep open for notes.

I should give up and go to dead trees for my notetaking, I think.

Anyway, great game, and a hysterical/awesome idea to play all the way through the series! Wow.

Anonymous said...

I played this game on the NES as a child, and loved it. Having recently discovered this site and the newly public domain DOS Ultima IV, I'm in love again.

On that note, the point of view thing wasn't in the NES version, but the obscured, "Oh crap, where am I?," forest view is intact, and the buildings occasionally had a "roof" over them until you walked in.

The biggest differences for me: the DOS secret passages are a lot more obvious, and I'm sad that many of the totally pointless secret passages added to the NES version just to give you more to explore are gone.

I always ended up choosing between Paladin and Ranger, which made me sad. I liked Ranger more(NES Paladin is purple), but Paladin was the result if I answered honestly.

Anonymous said...

The Sega Master System version is by far the best; the dungeons are much nicer in 2d overhead than in the original 3d format, and the graphics are probably the best. You should be able to get hold of a ROM and emulator I imagine...

Anonymous said...

Fighters, like shepherds, are also poor main characters. In both cases you're a lone character stuck on an island with no magic to Cure yourself but lots of swamps to get Poisoned in.

Paladins are the strongest class, especially for the main character (who's in front). Mages and Druids are also strong; all other classes seem to be second rate or worse.

MNA99 said...

Bollocks on Paladins being the strongest. About the only advantage to them is that they can use magic plate and get a good magic ranged weapon. Tinkers can do the same but are stuck at 1/4 MP rather than 1/2.

The strongest classes are Mage, Druid, and Bard, in that order. All three can use the devastating magic wand, and the Mage gets the most MP of the bunch. Bard gets the least but hey, at least it's still 50 MP at best.

Any class can reach 50 STR/DEX/INT by using the magic ball in Dungeon Hythloth and lots of Resurrection spells (unless they're level 8, then they'll be at 0 HP and in need of healing/rest, but whether they're level 8 or not, you can have them touch the ball at less than 800 HP and they'll just die . . . resurrect them and they can touch the ball again without any healing. Repeat this until all their stats are maxed).

The best STARTING class is Shepard. Why? Simply put, it's damn near impossible to get either Katrina or Geoffrey to level 8 due to the fact that they can not cast Tremor (a great source of XP; run up to some weak monsters with 8 character members so you get a lot of enemies, and cast Tremor to kill them all in one shot). Therefore, you want your main character to be either a Shepard or a Fighter so you can quickly get them to level 8 from quest item XP. The fastest way to do this is to find the Black Stone beneath the moongate near Moonglow since it gives you enough XP to hit level 7 straight off (regardless of how much XP you have when you find it). If you find the Black Stone before finding any of the other stones, runes, or other quest items, you can collect enough items to get the next 3200 XP you'll need to hit 8. Then you can max out your stats in Hythloth and you're set. The rest of your party can level up utilizing Tremor (though doing this with Julia is tricky, but I think you can do this with her INT maxed, and even then, she can still use a magic axe which is a pretty good way to gain levels).

The main reason why Fighters and Shepards suck, of course, is a). they can't level up off Tremor and b). they do not have a ranged weapon that will work in the Abyss. At least if your lead is a level 8 Shepard with 50 STR, a mystic mword, and mystic robes, you'll be doing okay. Having a level 6 Katrina with a sling or level 7 Geoffrey with a crossbow in the back ranks will not cut it. Your magic wand, magic axe, and magic bow wielders will do the lion's share of the damage down there, at least until your uber Shepard leader gets into melee range. As an added bonus, starting out as a Shepard gives you a major boost to Humility which is arguably the toughest virtue in which to achieve Avatarhood (not counting the grueling journey to the shrine).

Anonymous said...

I think I remember using a disk editor on my version and editing the maps to make roads between the villages, as the maps were laid out on the disk in the same fashion as drawn on the screen, and the road icon was represented by a space. Was a long time ago, barely remember, but reading your blog makes me want to load up Ultima II and whoop some ass in a boat! Blue tassles!!

Mike Monaco said...

U3 was my favorite because it was my first but this one really blew away every other computer game in its time, from character generation to combat to the moral challenge.

I believe my brother & I played a pirated version back in the day when piracy was killing the C64. The shepherd was missing from the game -- just not there. So we played through to the very end (no doubt over a hundred hours, since we played slow & explored every nook & cranny, and also had to figure out the spells reagents with no rule book!) but couldn't "win" because the party was incomplete. Karma is a bitch.

Jason said...

I used to love this game back in the 80's on my C-64. Never could finish it (mainly due to there being a disc error when trying to move to the location of the bell of coursge), but never became a complete avatar. but I've recently discovered the flash remake online and have been playing that. Finally became an avatar, and got my hands on the fabled mystic weapons and armor, just to find that the weapons suck, and I don't see any significant increase in protection from the armor either. Very disappointing, I might not bother dungeon crawling to complete the game knowign it's not going to be any easier thatn I remeber it, evn with mystics.
Still a great game for it's time, and great nostalgia trip.

Quadko said...

This was my first Ultima and (barring Rogue) I think my first RPG. A few years ago I played again, missed the shepherd girl, and just couldn't get my humility up. I maxxed everything else, was way over stats and gold and everything, but nothing worked to budge humility. Then I found her, and as she leveled (very quickly!) my humility soared. In other words, I slaughtered everything in sight an became humbler and more virtuous by the second! Ha! Love this game. Loving the blogging.

Anonymous said...

MNA99 has some good info. Shepherds do indeed make good Avatars for maximizing team usefulness because both the Fighter and Shepherd will want to be on the frontline with Mystic Swords (due to poor ranged options) and Shepherd can then gain exp easily with quest items, whereas other classes have better ranged killing options.

One argument against using a Shepherd in the frontline is if you want to use more magical field spells up front, in which case you'll need more proper casters in the front, but you can always put the Druid or Mage in the frontlines for that. Generally the first 3 members are in the actual frontlines.

Druids are better than Mages I think, except late game. They can use the various bows in the game whereas Mage is stuck with a Sling or tossing Oil. Once the Wands become officially available, and when armor selection no longer matters due to Mystic Robes, then Mages are the defacto strongest.

Paladins are a popular starting class due to having expensive initial equipment and a high starting exp level, but there's more long term benefit to making some of the others your initial Avatar. They're a popular pick to make the early game easier though. Druid is a good starting class too due to having a bigger initial magic pool, and can also pick up effective ranged weapons.