Dungeons, I have to say, are pretty cool starting in Ultima IV. The game continues the tradition, going back to Akalabeth, of contrasting top-down surface exploration with first-person dungeon exploration. You see doors, chests, and monsters from your characters' eyes.
In Ultima I and Ultima II, you engaged in combat from this perspective, too, but starting in Ultima III, when you encounter a monster in a dungeon, you transition to a top-down tactical combat screen. Ultima IV expands upon this by including dungeon "rooms" that switch you to third person. The rooms include a lot of varieties of textures, monsters, and items, and many have secret doors. If you want to escape the room to the east, you may have to wander around until you trip the floor plate that opens the eastern wall. (Ultima V will notch up the complexity by having secret doors triggered by attacking walls or objects in the room.) Here are some examples of the various dungeon rooms you find:
|Reapers, which put most of your party to sleep almost every round, are easily the most annoying creatures in the game.|
In Ultima IV, you must brave the dungeons in order to find six stones associated with each virtue. Eight stones must be used at the end of the game. Six are in the dungeons, but I had to get the white stone of spirituality from a little nook atop a mountain range by flying there on a balloon while judiciously using the "wind change" spell, and the black stone of humility was found at the location of a moongate when both moons were dark.
Once I had the stones, I had to use them in correct sequence in the altar rooms of truth, love, and courage to get a "three part key" I need to enter the Abyss and win the game. This was fairly easy, as each altar room is accessible from the bottom level of the dungeon associated with its virtues. Since spirituality is associated with all three principles of virtue, you can access all three altar rooms from the bottom of the dungeon Hythloth, the antithesis of spirituality.
Dungeons are also a good place to find treasure. Most of the dungeons have at least one level in which multiple treasure chests are found in the corridors. Dungeons re-set when you exit and return, so a good (if lame) way to quickly build up your finances is to find an easily accessible "treasure level," take all the chests, cast the "x-it" spell to leave the dungeon, re-enter (perhaps using the "z-down" spell to get back to the level), and repeat. Another strategy is to find a room with lots of chests, and repeatedly exit and re-enter the room. I also found that Xu4 has a bit of a big: if you take all the chests on a level, save the game, quit the game, and re-load, the chests reappear. This strikes me as cheating, though, so I left that alone.
Ultima IV dungeons:
- Gremlins are back. These are little food-stealing bastards who can leave you starving. But at least you can face and kill them here, unlike in Ultima III, where you just got a message saying they'd stolen your food and you had no recourse.
- Traps, including pit traps and falling rocks, are rife on some levels. If there's one thing I can't stand in CRPGs, it's unavoidable traps. Ultima IV doesn't give you any way to get past them. you just have to take the damage.
- Ladders can be tricky. Certain parts of a level may not be accessible from other parts, and you may have to go up and down several ladders before you reach where you're trying to go. Fortunately, peering at gems gives you a map of the level. I don't think it's cheating to take a screen shot of this map and keep it open as I explore, is it?
- Some of the things that look like chests are actually mimics that start attacking you when you get close.
- Each dungeon has at least one glowing ball that, when you touch it, ups your statistics. This is based on the usual symmetry we've come to expect in Ultima IV. Truth is associated with intelligence, courage with strength, and love (for reasons that make little sense to me) with dexterity. So the balls in the dungeon Deceit (the opposite of honesty, or pure truth) will up your intelligence by 5, while the balls in the dungeon Shame (the opposite of honor, truth combined with courage) will up both your intelligence and strength by 5. Like treasure chests, they reappear if you exit the dungeon and return. But they take a heavy toll: 200 hit points for every stat they increase. If you're not careful, you can kill your characters.
My note on strength, dexterity, and intelligence reminds me of something. I hardly ever think about my characters' attributes because combat is frankly quite easy. In my entire time playing Ultima IV, only one of my characters has died, and that was from a succession of traps. Even high-level monsters are dispatched quite quickly, and there are any number of ways (holing up and camping, spells, Lord British, fountains) to restore hit points. I could spend a lot of time exiting and re-entering dungeons to use the balls and build up my stats, but it hardly seems worth it where combat means so little. Combat in general, especially from my ship, is getting rather annoying and repetitive. It is not one of Ultima IV's strong suits.
I spent most of today exploring dungeons, finding stones, using them, and getting the three-part key. In other news, I picked up my last companion, Katrina the Shepherd, in Magincia. She's about as useless a character as I can imagine: she starts at Level 1, she can't use most weapons or armor, and can't cast spells. But she's here to remind me of humility. When I played the game as a youth, I pretended that my main character was in love with Katrina, mostly (I think) because I liked the name.
I also managed to get partial avatarhood in justice, so I just need honesty. I bought some good weapons and armor for several of my characters--magic wands, magic chain, and such--although it took almost all my gold. I'm pretty sure I just need to get that last bit of avatarhood, to stock up on reagents and guild items, and to fight a bunch of combats to jack up my characters' levels, and then I'm ready for the journey to the Abyss. Look for my next entry to be the "won!" posting.