Playing Ultima IV for the first time

[edit] I might be turning this thread into a personal log, so be wary of spoilers.[/edit]

Or the third time, technically.

At first I tried like every other game, by starting it without even looking at any documentation. Oh, the big mistake that was. I was able to create a character, wander around a bit on the overworld, walk over some swamp, got poisoned and died.

After finding online the player reference sheet I decided to try again. I was able to better understand the intricacies of the interface: man, every key on the keyboard is used! It also told me about the keyword system to interact with NPCs; most importantly, that you should ask for “job” to get the conversation going (along with “name” and “health”, even though almost all the NPCs say their names when you first talk to them, and the health question went nowhere every time I asked. They’re all good, thanks.) Still, I was wandering aimlessly around.

It took me a while to get back to the game. I knew it was the sort in which you needed to read the accompanying material, immerse yourself in the universe to be able to do anything and extract meaning and purpose in your quest. But I can’t read pages and pages of a pdf on the screen. So I bought the damn box. I found the Second Trilogy for a fair price on eBay, complete with all the cloth maps, the books and the trinket. Most importantly, it came in the rarer 3.5 disk format that I could use on my ancient DOS computer! And now, after having read the booklet and studied the map, I think I’m finally ready.

1 Like

Fond memories of playing the Master System version back in the day and mapping out Britannia on some graph paper. Don’t be afraid to use a walk through as there are a few obtuse items to find. It’s crazy how a CRPG, Ultima, became the progenitor for many early JRPG games.

I realized every time I started a game, I made a Fighter. I didn’t know then, because I didn’t know where to look for that information, but I always spawed on the same tiny island, which I have now identified as the Valarian Isles, home of the Fighting class. I knew I had to go see the King,and in order to escape the island I had to use the moon doors. And I finally understood how those worked!

Still, it seems they don’t all go to every other destination as the manual implies: I made several back and forth between the Valarian Isles and the other tiny island of Skara Brae while trying to jump to the Capital city. I ended up jumping to the south of the continent, where I easily worked my way north to the city thanks to the cloth map and the lack of challenging encounters.

There, I met with our monarch, Lord British, who informed me of my quest. Taking notes and asking more information about the values I’m expected to uphold, I now know where to find all of them. I’m starting with Compassion, which should be in the town of Britain, next to the royal castle. There, I found a druid in the healing building, looking for a guy named Julio who “knows the true nature of compassion”, and informed me I could find the shrine of compassion two bridges east. While there is only one bridge east in this city, next to it I found Iolo, a bard who was eager to join me. Finally! I tried to recruit every NPC I talked to, and he’s the first one to be willing to follow me. But I’m not closer to finding compassion.

Talking to a beggar and agreeing to help them (which is simply to answer “yes” when asked. Such compassion.), they point me to another NPC who might know of the rune. Pepper the NPC then tells me I could find a rune at the end of a hallway. There’s only one hallway with a dead end in this city, and after a quick search, I found a Rune of Compassion! I have no idea what to do with it though, and I’m struggling with the “two bridges east” hint.

I wandered a bit outside the city, where I found another bridge on the map. Does it count as one or two? I don’t know but I got assaulted by a pirate ship and slaughtered the pirates in retaliation. I don’t know if my Valor and Compassion points are going up, but now I’ve got a ship!

I’ll try very hard to only use the material at my disposal, which is the documentation that came in the box and whatever clue the game throws at me. I’ll pretend the Internet doesn’t exists for the duration of my game and experience it as if it were 1987. I found that taking note is mandatory as there is so much information given by talking to people you can’t remember everything. I haven’t explored any dungeon but I expect graph-paper mapping there as well.

It looks like you’re playing in a pure DOS environment (which is super impressive!) but you may want to check out the upgrade patch which adds a number of nice enhancements:

You’d have to use DOSBox for the full effect, though.

Thrilled to see someone playing Ultima! It’s been 10+ years since my last play-through of U4. What an amazing, landmark game.

Examining the map more closely, I noticed a second bridge east, so I went there with my new boat. The overworld is still small enough that the only passage brings you directly to the shrine, which then asked me for a mantra? Uh? No one told me about a mantra before.

I had to go back to the town, as everything is pointing towards it having the solution. Sailing back, I was assaulted by four sea serpents! That was a scary confrontation, though ultimately not a difficult one. I feared for my boat as I read that if it sank it would be game over, but the battle happened on the small battle screen. Those serpents were scary though, spitting fireballs when I could only retaliate with a slingshot.

You really need to talk to everybody. A random kid dancing in the streets told me that the one bard who couldn’t be bothered to talk to me, busy as he was playing, knew about the mantra! And after asking nicely, I now know the word as well! Time to pray!

I also finaly found Julio, hidden behind a fake wall. He told me that the true nature of compassion was love. Thank you, Julio, I appreciate this bit of information.

While I have no interest in upgrading the graphics (The 256 colours tileset brings nothing to the game in my opinion), I would love to get some music. Though all the patches seem focused on MIDI music, disregarding contemporary hardware. I wish the patches didn’t systematically get rid of Tandy graphics, as I’m playing on a Tandy, and would allow music for more limited systems. The original Apple II games had music for three voices sound chips, as well as two three voices chips, etc. Patching music playable with most relevant hardware of the time would be ideal imo: pc speaker, Tandy speaker, Adlib, would play the original music just as well.

It’s such an intimidating game but it’s so rewarding. I used a walkthrough at times when I was stuck.

Ultima is a series I’ve always been interested in. A lot of the people I played Diablo with talked about Ultima all the time. I get overwhelmed every time I look into it though. Maybe one day.

It is very overwhelming at first. You are given a lot of freedom with only subtle guidance that is easy to overlook. I had to get serious about finding what I’m supposed to do, reading the stuff that was given to me and extract meaning of it, to really get started. The first quest for virtue was difficult in the sense that I was still learning the ropes, of what the game expected me to do. Going further I now find the game easier, if only because I got used to it.

I think it’s a very interesting game, one I think people interested in videogames and RPGs should give a serious try. But it has a difficult first step, as you have to adjust yourself to very different expectations.

1 Like

Based on a tip from a wounded NPC in Lord British’ castle, I decided to travel up north to Minoc to find a smith named Zircon. Again, finding where Minoc was and how to get there was only possible with the documentation. Tangentially, there is a mention of mantras in the world description, though only relation to the Empath Abbey and meditating there.

In Minoc, the city of Sacrifice, Zircon tells me he gave the mystic items to Sir Simon and Lady Tessa. I don’t remember those name, but then I didn’t try to take notes of everybody’s names in every town I’m going. Hopefully I won’t have to revisit every one of them and talk to everybody to find out where these people are!

Since I’m in Minoc, I should do the shrine quest. Talking to singing bard I’m greeted with a curious poem, in which the last word is a three letter word in capitals. Very curious. A single person told me both of the location of the shrine and who might be knowing of the mantra! could this quest be an easy one? I’m told a hidden shepherd knows the mantra, so I’m scouring every wall to find a hidden path. Alas I had no luck there, but then I found a suspicious alley between two buildings blocked by a rock! Can I smash rocks? Or find a hidden way around it? After about 20 minutes I’m ready to give up. Could the hidden shepherd be in another town? I remember people hidden in trees in the previous towns I visited. Well, it turns out the hidden shepherd wasn’t hidden at all, and standing right in a corner in plain view. With the correct keyword said, I’m being told that a local bard is singing the mantra in their poem.

All wasn’t in vain though, as exploring every corner of the town made me talk to several people, some hidden, and after being asked to do a couple of very hot steps, allowed me to find the rune to enter the shrine of Sacrifice. With the location, the rune and the mantra, I made a visit to the local shrine and got my second vision.

I think I’ll get back to my starting town to properly solve its shrine too, now that I understand how things work.

Besides the main Ultima series, the Ultima Underworld games are also really good (although also intimidating for newcomers). They’re basically the predecessors to games like System Shock and Deus Ex.

1 Like

When I was a kid a mate went on about this on Master System, so I’ve always meant to check it out. It’s expensive now though!

No idea how compromised a version it is.

It’s pretty faithful to the original, and generally well liked by fans of the computer versions. It has a few notable differences. The biggest difference is that it gets rid of the first-person dungeon parts but those were never that impressive to look at anyway. The dialogue system is also simplified so you can’t just type in anything. The battle system added diagonal attacking (like later Ultima games).

I usually prefer computer versions over ports to console but in this case, I might like the SMS version the most. The streamlined controls and combat improvements work well. It supports FM sound as well (not that there’s much music variety in the game but it sounds much better with it on).

The manual told me only the bigger town were on the map, and the Geography chapter said smaller villages were uncharted. With that knowledge, I explored further east to the tip of the main continent, to find an unaccounted village! And I’m doubly glad for it, as an NPC in it taught me that I had to meditate three times at each shrine to get all the clues!

I gather bits of information about Humility here, where it resides (in a town that fell because of its pride) on a small island that I don’t see on the map. I gathered coordinates in another town but I suppose I need a tool to use them. Not much else here, I’m assuming I’ll find the mantra and the rune over there. The island is called the Isle of Abyss, and it may be where final dungeon is or where a big bad boss resides? I’ve been told there were Daemons there and one of the vision I got while meditating was about the Stygian Abyss. I think i’ll leave that virtue for last. It’s Humility, I don’t need any!

Now I have to backtrack to the known shrines and meditate some more. Tomorrow.

I got really lucky and picked up a boxed copy (no manual) for the SMS last year for $10. I haven’t gotten around to playing it yet, but you guys are really don’t a good job of convincing me I beef to get into it soon.

I played a bit more in short bursts during the evenings. The ability to save anywhere on the map and in dungeons is really useful for people with a busy life. But it’s also very tempting to save scum, which I sometimes do before I pick up loot. Loot is random but I only do that to avoid being poisoned, which is a real pain to deal with in the game. Reloading a game is cumbersome enough (as you have to reboot the computer, wait for DOS and the game to load) that I don’t see myself doing that often in the future, once I gather enough reagents to have plenty of Cure spells.

While I was looking for that mysterious island, at least to know where to go in the future, I noticed a path between mountains on a small island. I found my first dungeon! Exploration is in 3D and, while basic, is competent enough to make me want to explore further. You can see wandering enemies in the 3D view, but the actual battle is still in 2D like on the overworld.

White doors sometimes brings you to a 2D battle plane, but one that is slightly different in rules. It can have more than one exit, and some chests laying around: Once all the enemies are defeated you can still move around and collect treasure, and in order to continue in the labyrinth you have to reach an exit with all your party. Which means you can’t quickly go through some portions of the labyrinth, as if you want to flee a battle you first have to reach the exit at the other side of the screen.

Overall I quite enjoy going through the dungeon. While the 3D view is very basic graphically, alternating between 2D and 3D is a nice touch. the 2D view also gives a lot more texture to the environment, showing you if you are in a building with bricks or in a cave with natural stone walls.

Poison is really annoying. I’m saying again because in the cave I’m in, some enemies can poison, and I’m not reloading before every battle in the off chance that none of the dozen of poisoning spells being thrown at me are successful. Though I did find out that camping recharges your HP even when poisoned, and that you can camp inside the cave! That will make the progression slightly less painful.

Then I touched a mysterious glowing blue sphere and died as it gave me +5 INT.

Don’t be discouraged, even though it’s oldschool it’s a really good game, and the quests for virtues are a nice change from the usual saving the world and the damsel (even though I suspect it will come to that in the end).

The interface for the SMS is probably much more streamlined that you may have an easier time to get into the game. I’d still suggest trying to find the manual or just read it online to get impregnated with the lore. And at the very least get a map readily available as you play.

Oh and take notes of everything, it’s an old RPG after all.

Sounds like I’ll play the Master System game if I ever get to this

Playing again this weekend, and finally found out how to level up! I knew there were levels (I was lvl 3) even though I played for quite a bit and fought a bunch of monsters, my level stayed the same. I assumed the leveling system was linked to your progression to avatarhood and good deeds, so I wasn’t too worried about it. Until I went back to Lord British, who granted me two more levels as soon as I talked to him! Considering I was level 3, not 1, he must have done it when I first met him, before he told me about my quest.

The system, as far as I can tell, is not described in the manual. It is shown, very well, in the game itself, but I was likely overwhelmed with information and forgot about it. I’m now level 5 and my only companion is level 4, which means we have 500 and 400 hit points respectively. It will make wandering the dungeons and overworld more bearable, especially when poisoned. On that note I really need to go to that mystic city to buy ingredients. Everything is poisonous in this world.