Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ultima IV: Final Ranking

Ultima IV's unusual and fascinating quest is introduced. (This is the original DOS version screen shot. Most of my others have been from the Xu4 upgrade.)

Again, I'm basing my final ranking on the 100-point GIMLET scale that I introduced in this posting.

1. Game world. This is one of Ultima IV's strongest points. Gameplay takes place in a fairly large world scattered with cities, towns, keeps, castles, and dungeons. The world has a rich and compelling back story, interesting characters, history, and lore. You understand immediately how the Quest of the Avatar fits into the overall context of the world. The only place it fails is in the "your decisions and actions measurably affect the game world" point. As in almost all CRPGs of the era, the world does not really respond to what you do. For instance, when you achieve Avatarhood, nobody acknowledges it. Characters continue to tell you about items that you demonstrably have. This one drawback is outweighed by the rich, interesting world. Final score: 8.

Part of the rich and fascinating History of Britannia.

2. Character creation and development. Ultima IV features a unique method of character creation, in which you determine your class by answering a series of questions about virtues. Unfortunately, nothing else about character creation and development in Ultima IV really shines. You progress through eight levels by killing monsters and solving quests, but the only thing that really happens when you increase levels is that you get more hit points. (With the Avatar, you also get the option to add one new companion for each level.) Leveling up is somewhat anticlimactic, and there's almost nothing customizable about your character except for the class. Final score: 4.

3. NPC interaction. Again, Ultima IV is utterly unique in its method of NPC interaction, in which you type in keywords. The game is full of NPCs, and you absolutely have to talk to them--practically all of them--to advance in the game and uncover the mysteries of the land. NPC interaction is also necessary to the role-playing aspects of the game, as only by answering truthfully can you advance in honesty, and only by answering humbly can you advance in humility. Sometimes the NPCs have very little to say, and there are only a few dialog "choices," and you can't really establish relationships with any of them, but NPC interaction is still one of the game's strongest points. Final score: 7.

4. Encounters and foes. There are quite a few monsters in the game, each with different strengths and powers, each fully described in the game manual's wonderful prose. Your encounters with them offer opportunities for role-playing--for instance, you have to let fleeing enemies escape to uphold honor, and you have to avoid attacking non-evil creatures to advance in justice. There are both scripted encounters in dungeon rooms and random encounters everywhere else. Respawning is constant. Nonetheless, battles do quickly become repetitive and tiresome. Final score: 6.

5. Magic and combat. The game has an unusual magic system involving the need to purchase and mix reagents before casting spells. Like monsters, reagents and spells are thickly and entertainingly described in the game manuals. But, in general, Ultima IV is very weak in this area. Much is made about the need to discover nightshade and mandrake in the game world, but you barely need them. I don't think I cast more than half a dozen spells that required either. Combat gets boring quickly, especially once your characters have ranged weapons. Most of the time, it's far too easy. I didn't cast a single offensive spell during my gameplay, and the 99 healing spells I mixed before entering the Abyss went entirely unused. There are some tactics involved in successfully navigating dungeon rooms, but the overall lack of danger (only one of my characters died in the game, and only once) means that you have little incentive to carefully plan battles. On the plus side, it's neat how you have to discover the reagents for certain spells by talking to NPCs. Final score: 3.

I mixed 10 fireball spells, and the only time I cast one was for this screen shot.

6. Equipment. Minimal. You have eight types of armor and eight types of weapons, and you figure out which is best by their cost. The items are not described at all. You cannot find weapons, armor, or any other items in the game world itself; you just buy them from shops. The sextant, magic gems, and keys are interesting but not enough to make up for the weaknesses. Final score: 2.

7. Economy. On the plus side, you never reach a point where you don't need money. Weapons, armor, reagents, food, gems, torches, and keys are expensive. On the negative side, the economy is a little unbalanced: you get too little gold for killing creatures and too much sitting around in dungeons. It's neat how the game works gold into the virtue development system, though: you have to avoid cheating the blind herb seller and looting treasuries in town. Final score: 6.

8. Quests. The main quest of Ultima IV is something really never seen before or since in any CRPG, and no one that plays the game ever forgets it. It is, to my mind, the only CRPG quest that's directly applicable to the real world, and it's possible that completing the main quest of Ultima IV makes you a better person. There is, unfortunately, only one way to complete it, and there are no side-quests in the game. Final score: 8.

9. Graphics, sound, inputs. I played a more recent upgrade, but even in the original the graphics aren't horrible, except perhaps in the dungeons where the multi-colored walls look a bit silly. Monsters are well-distinguished by their animated icons. I played most of the game with the sound off because there are no separate controls for regular sound and music. The music is memorable but gets on your nerves. Sound effects consist mostly of boops and (like all games of this era) have no realism. The controls, though, are easy to learn, intuitive, and responsive. Final score: 4.

10. Gameplay. Gameplay in Ultima IV is completely alinear until the end. You can wander in any direction and explore the towns and dungeons in any order. Since the game map constitutes a complete world, there is very little sense of constraint at any point. There is, however, essentially no replayability to Ultima IV; even playing different classes offers up the exact same experience. The overall pacing is good--the only reason it took me two months to finish is because I was traveling (in real life) almost nonstop during the period. Ultimately, however, it's a little too easy. Final score: 5.

Total score: 53. This correctly gives the game the highest ranking of games I've played so far, although I'm surprised how close it is to Ultima III which I liked but didn't love. Frankly, I think I ranked Ultima III a little too high (rather than ranking Ultima IV too low). Ultima IV's story and quest are unparalleled even today, but judging strictly in gameplay terms, it isn't a "great" CRPG, so this score feels about right.

On to Wizard's Crown!


  1. Not sure I'd agree with the non-necessity of casting offensive magic being a downside to the magic system. I do remember collecting a ton of nightshade and mandrake - spending hours doing so - to mix tons of Tremor spells, etc. The spells made combat, especially in the Stygian Abyss, a lot easier, but this was compensated by the difficulty in preparing the spells. For me, a game that lets magic serve as a useful aid, but not a necessity, is a plus. More variation in the way you approach the game.

    In the Economy column, the only minor note I feel you left out is that each store/inn/etc. has different prices for different items. I thought this was a great touch. I made a written list of every pricepoint, and tried to be thrifty in my spending.

  2. That's a good point. I don't really like games that REQUIRE magic, but I don't want them to be utterly superfluous either. It just struck me how comparatively useless offensive spells in Ultima IV. Were. Tremor is perhaps one exception.

  3. I have to say I'm disappointed that this game got that low a score. There's a few categories I would have definitely rated it higher:

    With regards to the equipment section- there may not be many weapons and armor but there are some really cool, original features about some of the weapons- the magic ax that boomerangs back to you; the flaming oil you can throw that leaves a burning patch on the ground and the halberd that can attack enemies two squares away over obstacles.
    Plus the fact that you can use hot-air balloons, ships and horses to help get around should have been enough to give equipment a higher score IMO.

    As for magic, while there weren't many useful offensive spells there were some quite cool other ones like 'blink' for getting into secret areas and the one that changed the wind direction when using the balloon.

    I also think 'character creation and development' could have got a higher score if you included the development entailed in getting all the virtues as you become the avatar.

    As for graphics I think it's a little unfair to even rate CPRGs in this category as of course modern games are going to have a huge advantage. Personally I really liked how easy it was to navigate around the game world in ultima IV compared to some later games with better graphics such as the SSI series and Ultima Underworld.

    Anyway, it's your blog, just wanted to throw out another opinion. :P

    I'm really enjoying reading it and I hope you can keep it up!

  4. Hey, Anon. I actually didn't think the score was all that low. I was the highest so far.

    I think some readers might be confused by my ratings, though. The final score isn't meant to represent how good the CRPG was "for the time"; it represents how good it is objectively, now, even compared to the latest games. For that reason, you can understand why I need to save the upper end of the register for obvious masterpieces like "Baldur's Gate II" and "Morrowind."

    Nonetheless, you make some good comments about the equipment. I'll think about making an update when I have more energy.

  5. Replaying the game again after 20+ years I am now ready to enter The Abyss, but now Lord British tells me I need a full party of 8 characters. I'm only level seven and need another 800 XP to get to level 8, so I will abort or put on hold the game now, since the combat is rather boring in this game and it is the only way to gain XP.
    Which reminds said under "Equipment" that you can't find any weapons and armour in the game world itself. That is not quite correct as you can find the Mystic Arms. The Mystic Arms kind of break the fine balance of the game. Firstly I assume the Mystic Armour is superior to anything else, so no need to buy the expensive Magic Plate and Magic Chain. Secondly you get lots of Gold from selling the Mystic Weapons, allowing you to buy the most expensive weapons.
    The result is that the "Economy" part of the game suffers. There is no longer an incentive to fight every monster you see, because you no longer need the Gold.
    So the end result is that I can't force myself to go on a killing spree to get the required XP to level up to lvl 8.
    Overall though, I think the game is still quite fun to play and has aged better than Bard's Tale. The game mechanics and balance is much better IMO, but OTOH I think it will be very different for kids today to enjoy Ultima IV, as it really requires a lot from the player. You really need to keep track of lots of information and can't just walz though it.

    It would have been fantastic to have seen a remake of Ultima IV with a modern engine, either a real time Oblivion style game where you only control The Avatar, or an Infinity Engine style with full control of your party, added banters and injections from Dupre, Shamino and the rest, and much better tactical combat than Ultima IV offers.

    Next game on your list that I'm going to play is Phantasie I, but first I have some ZX Spectrum classics to play (assuming I can get my newly purchased Game Pad to work properly with the games).

  6. Petrus, thanks for the continual updates. FYI, I got those last XPs by camping out on a low dungeon level near a healing fountain, holding down "pass," and letting demons come to me one by one.

    My experience was that the mystics suck. The weapons are only melee, and magic wands and bows work fine in the Abyss, so there's hardly any reason to get them. I didn't even bother, which is why I didn't notice the economy-breaking aspect.

    I would love to see Ultima IV in an Infinity-style engine. I don't think you could do it first-person because you couldn't effectively manage all the party members. But with more banters, perhaps an occasional side-quest, that would be heaven.

  7. Don't know anything about this except it's supposed to be a parody:

    "Ultima IV, part 2"

  8. Ok, I just played a few minutes of it, and it is amusing. The title screen has the Avatar being chased around the map by monsters; the music playing is "Yakity Sax". Not sure I want to spoil the opening any more than that.

  9. I'm reading someone's playthrough at:

    ("I shall restore thy levels and thy spells to something like what thou had before. But thou art on thy own for the mystic arms...I sold those to buy new drapes.")

    This is very amusing. This was a lot of trouble to make a parody.

  10. Oh, this is rich. The virtues have been corrupted. Instead of love, we have sex, and instead of compassion, the virtue is promiscuity. The mantra is "HO." The skeletons have been relabeled "evil supermodels." And when the player gets to Buccaneer's Den, all of the graphics change to match "Pirates!"

    I don't know who this Chris Hopkins guy is, but I like him.

    1. Long time follower, first time commenter (made an account just so I wouldn't be one of those Anonymous folks). Along the lines of humor, I'd like to share this Let's Play of Ultima...I have a feeling I might have come across it during one of my readings through your blog, but after a long lapse I've started from the beginning, including the commentary, which I think is half the fun.

      If it does end up being new to you, it's a bit of a smirksome "What if..." take on the Avatar business, if they took a less wholesome route to Avatarhood.

      The author starts with 4 through 6, but later on also goes through Martian Dreams and Ultima 7, and manages to weave an interconnected meta-story of this farce of an Avatar throughout the games (any time Death Cannon comes up in his entries, it's going to be a hoot) while still detailing a Let's Play walkthrough of the game.

      Again, hope it's new to you and your followers, and brings some chuckles to everyone. :)

    2. Welcome to the blog, DC. I did reference that LP a few times in relation to U6 and MD. I don't think I realized that he started with U4. I agree that it's hilarious.

  11. Having first played this game for the PC back in the mid 80’s (although not getting very far AT ALL), then later playing it for the NES in the early 90’s (and beating it); it was time to go back to my roots and play this again. I played it on my 386 in real time (none of that emulator crap). I thought it would take me MONTHS to finish as it did when I played it for the NES (looking back, this was because I stole anything that wasn’t bolted down, killed anything that moved and lied to anybody that talked to me). It’s hard to achieve “Avatarhood” after such a rocky start. This time it took me 12 days, which equated to about 45 hours.

    I would like to do my own GIMLET if I may:

    1. Game World: Huge in the 1985 scope of gaming. The next game this size (as far as overworld, top down perspective) is Demon’s Winter… a little gem I discovered last winter ironically enough. Travel is easy enough, except constantly fighting the wind gets old. Guess I’m not cut out to be sailor. I never bought horses so I can’t speak to those.

    The balloon was great, but was VERY DIFFICULT to control as there was no way to pause it while mixing reagents or casting the Wind Spell. I did get the White Stone though, so it was sufficient to say the least. I never found “The Wheel” for my boat. I only remember one NPC talking about how he was on that ship that sunk. My hull stood up just fine, and whenever it did get damaged Julia the Tinker did a great job of fixing it. My score: 9

    2. Character Creation and Development: Still as fresh as ever. You answer the questions the way you honestly feel and you start as the character that fits that virtue. In my game I was a fighter. It would be very difficult starting as Katrina the Shepherd. She joined my party last and was only level 2 when I beat the game. A totally worthless character if you ask me (but a good way to increase the difficulty level behind the scenes). I didn’t really have a problem getting my Avatar up to level 8, it just happened as I played. I think I was around level 5 after playing 2 days, which kind of surprised me.

    Although people do not change what they say to you, personal development is certainly apparent. Your actions change YOUR Karma, if nothing else. As far as people joining, I didn’t even think about how you only get one person to join you per level. On the NES version, people would not join you unless you were far enough along in their trait. (example: I can not join someone who lacks Valor! - Geoffrey)

    My biggest gripe with the game is probably FOOD. I dislike games that make food a priority. It was always a waste of gold and time in my opinion. If I want my CRPG to be THAT real, I would just live my boring life and not play at all. The only other problem I had is that I’m used to characters having 6 or 7 statistics, not just 3 (strength, dexterity, intelligence). I liked how you could “touch” magic balls in the dungeons and increase your stats. Fountains were also a nice touch. My score: 7.

  12. 3. NPC Interaction: This is one of the few games where I actually had to write down pages of notes. Most games I may write down one or two things, but I made a spreadsheet for this one. It got a bit old when you had to ask 5 different people for the same information (i.e. Go ask of the stone at the Tap in Trinisic… then you go there and they tell you to go check with someone else, etc etc etc). It certainly extended the game though and kept it interesting. Overall, very well done. I look at the context of 1985 and am blown away at the scope of the game. If you literally don’t talk to every single person or ask people to join you, you will NEVER win. My score: 9.

    4. Encounters and Foes: I think Ultima did really well here. Not only do the monsters have rich back stories, described in the “in box content,” there is a wide variety of monsters out there to fight. I like how the game kind of opens up in difficulty, being that there are only the same 4 monsters your first 2,500 moves, then 8 different monsters until 5,000 moves, then all bets are off!

    The only problem I really had was on level 5 of the Abyss when you walk into a room with 9 Reapers, 3 Gazers and 4 Phantoms. Hard to fight this one when Reapers attempt on every turn to put you to sleep. All in all, well done in the amount of types and variety of monsters. My Score: 8

    SIDENOTE: I hate rouges that steal gold and I hate gremlins that steal food!!!!

    5. Magic and Combat: I have seen a lot of bashing as far as combat goes in the Ultima series. I think some of it is well founded, but I also think the combat system stands up pretty well. It does get repetitive after a while (so does FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT PARRY PARRY PARRY), but doesn’t it get repetitive in ALL CRPGs? I was never completely bored with it. While it certainly does not take the mental stamina or brain power of an SSI GOLD BOX GAME, there are certainly places (mostly dungeon rooms) where if you do not have a strategy or solid tactics things may not turn out well.

    My biggest gripe is I felt the game was a bit too easy when it came to combat. I suffered full party death once (thanks to no food; you don’t make that mistake twice) and single guys died at the most 5 times. 300 gold pieces to revive someone isn’t too harsh of a penalty in my opinion. Near the end there was a room where you fought your own party. “This is going to get dicey!” I thought to myself. Alas, each guy took maybe 3 hits and died. Pretty lame.

    As far as magic goes, I never cast a single offensive spell. In fact, the only spells I used were Cure, Heal, Dispel, X-it, Light and Wind. I found both Mandrake and Nightshade but did not mix ONE SPELL with them. I didn’t see the need.

    I find this to be pretty indicative of most of the games of the time. Game designers come up with 50+ spells to use, but in reality you need about 5, if that. On the other hand, wouldn’t you feel cheated if you were only given 5 spells to choose from? Ironically enough, it’s a “two sided sword” (+2). My score: 7

    6. Equipment: Equipment selection was weak overall, but further along than most top down tiled based CRPGs of the time. I ended the game having never purchased any armor upgrades. Not one. I didn’t even have the fanciest weapons. I had a Magic Sword for my Fighter, a Magic Axe for Dupre, Magic Crossbows for Julia, Iolo, and Janna, and Mariah and Katrina had slings. It would have been nice to know how much things cost, instead of the Arms dealing saying “You don’t even have enough gold for 1 of those!” My score: 6

  13. 7. Economy: I thought this was really well done. As stated above, by the end of the game I didn’t even have enough gold to get the best weapons. I was almost ALWAYS strapped for cash. Whenever I completed a dungeon I’d have about 2,000 gold pieces to my name, which got split between getting more food and more gems. I only “cheated the dungeons” 1 time, although looking back now it would have been pretty easy to just cast a few “DOWN” spells to get to the particular level with all the gold. It just seemed liked cheating to me and completely unnecessary.

    I ended the game with only a few hundred gold. I found that a good place to get gold and experience was over near the Shrine of Spirituality where you fight 10 groups of Daemons at a time. In fact, I didn’t even realize you could just blow the silver horn and make them disappear. Maybe that’s why I didn’t have a problem getting to level 8 so quickly. Nearly every CRPG I play I have more money than I’ll ever need when I’m about ¼ of the way through the game. This didn’t happen for me, which I find to be extremely rare and very welcoming. My Score:9

    8. Quests: I found the quests to be sufficient. It was interesting finding the 8 runes, learning the 8 mantras and even meditating at the shrines. It felt great turning hints about locations of items into actually finding them. Quite rewarding in my opinion.

    Other quests also included finding the Skull of Mondain, finding the lost ship wheel (which I didn’t), finding the bell of courage, the candle of love, the book of truth, the silver horn and getting information to the location of the sextant and finding the reagents that couldn’t be bought in shops (that I never even used).

    While I was meditating for the 3 cycles at the shrines I honestly thought about the virtue I was to be meditating on. Lord British would be proud! I am still confused by a few things in the main quest and how it all tied together, but all in all I had a blast playing Ultima IV. My score: 8

    (huge bonus for originality and not just being “GET THE BAD GUY AND SAVE THE WORLD!”)

    9. Graphics, sound, input: As stated earlier, I played the actual original version that I installed off of my original 5 ¼” discs onto the hard drive of my 386. The game ran at a perfect speed. I have no idea how anybody could deal with playing games like this on a Commodore 64. I no longer have the patience for disc swapping or load times. I found the graphics to be superb. They have the perfect “tile based” look and feel. Items were easily distinguishable and cute little touches like the flags waving on your ship were excellently executed.

    As far as sound goes, I thought it was great. The music plays at the beginning of the game and during the game it’s left to just the sounds. Sounds included being poisoned, casting spells, creatures breathing or shooting at you, and monsters putting you to sleep. There are different sounds for when you make contact vs. when you miss in combat. All in all, I feel like the sounds did the job quite well.

    The controls were very easy to learn, easy to use, and they all made perfect sense. I never did “YELL” anything though. My score: 9

  14. 10. Gameplay: This may be the most open ended game I’ve played. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want. Personally I spent the first few days going to all the towns and gathering information. By doing so I fought a lot of encounters and got quite a bit of experience.

    By about the 6th day my goal was to do 2 dungeons a day, which I did. Things got dicey in the dungeon “SHAME” when they put the stone on the 2nd level, as opposed to the 8th level like all other dungeons. I also found Hythloth to be a dicey dungeon. I had to download a patch at one point because the one room on level 6 did not have a way out. In the long run, this wasn’t a huge deal and I could have still beat the game without doing so.

    The fact that the game lets you play at your own speed is refreshing. I constantly had a list of things to do and spent most of my time traveling by boat to all the different cities to do them. To this date I still don’t travel by the moon gates. I find them hard to understand and generally don’t feel like waiting around for them to appear. I thought going to the last shrine through the moon gate by Minoc at complete darkness was kind of a cheap shot, but it completely threw a wrench in the works and made it something different. My Score: 9

    Total: 81/100 (B-). Not sure if this point system works because I give this game an “A” all the way. Perhaps I’m on to Ultima V now. Either that or The Magic Candle.

    Btw: I beat it in 116,422 moves. CRPG Addict did an AMAZING job beating it in 80,000 some.

  15. Delmoko, I really like what you did here, and I encourage other readers to interpret the GIMLET (or their own scales) in their own ways. Thanks for taking the time to make such a thorough review, and feel free to do it for any of my games.

    I think the variances between our final scores can be explained by one particular thing: you were rating the game IN THE CONTEXT OF THE ERA, while I've been rating them from a purely objective, modern standpoint. I want to be able to compare Ultima IV with Oblivion on the same scale, and I feel like my GIMLET allows me to do that, especially since I don't really give a lot of weight to graphics and sound.

  16. I am going through my own CRPGA-inspired list of old CRPGs, and enjoyed Ultima III quite a bit. However, I did cheat a bit in the last 10% because I'd had enough of dungeon-crawling, was bored by the combat, and wanted to hit Exodus's castle.

    I then played Might & Magic I next, which I loved.

    But then playing Ultima IV, I got bored after maybe 10-15 hours. I already knew where the quest was headed, what items I needed, and I basically just had a whole lot of dungeons and battles to slog through. I didn't like the combat system and having to move each character one square at a time in sequence over and over (I especially hated how monsters fled and I had to wait while they threw axes and breathed fire at me on their way out!). Since that was all I had to look forward to, I really didn't want to go through it just to see the ending.

    I read a walkthrough and saw that basically everything I expected was going to happen in the quest was confirmed. I really liked Might & Magic I and how you didn't really know how everything was going to come together until the end, and then you had the final twist.

    I don't know, I just posted to say I was a little disappointed because Ultima IV was something I played a lot of as a kid and I was really looking forward to liking it this time around. Oh well - at least I think I'll enjoy Ultima V because I don't really know what happens, and I like the big problems the game opens up with...

  17. Looks like CRPGA is not the only person who found the magic system close to unnecessary in U4. It's true that most of the offensive spells are pretty weak and expensive to use compared to weapons. I did test more or less all the spells. The most useful for me was of course Cure, which I suppose more or less everybody used. You can't complete the quest without Dispell, so that's another one. Heal and Resurrect where useful a few times.

    Some that actually help in battle are Negate (makes those rooms with Reapers or Balrons easier) and Tremor.

    Gems are very useful in the dungeons. Sometimes I ran out, so it was nice to be able to use View. I also used Light, because it was cheaper than torches if you bought cheap Ash (the reagents' prices vary a lot between cities!)

    I got the balloon but found it too tricky to control, even with the Wind spell. But I discovered an optional way to get to the white stone. A hint in the spell book actually helped me with this. See the spell View and what it says about Blink. It's easy with this combo.

    So after all, there are different styles of playing. I used a fair amount of magic, and found it nice.

  18. You make this series sound amazing. My experience with Ultima has never been good, which has always saddened me since I hurt how amazing it was. My first exposure was IX, which I bought at release - after spending almost a week getting it to run properly (and spending what little cash I was able to earn improving my computer for it), I ended up being dissapointed by constant bugs, clipping through the floors and other issues. I got fairly far into it, mostly just because I put so much effort to get it to running. I remember trying to convince myself I enjoyed it despite all the technical problems, but I never really did.

    I was so intrigued by the story of the setting, however, I had to try more. I got the guide with it, which I normally don't do, since several hundred pages of it were all lore of the setting and development. I still have that book, actually - I had never seen anything like it before at the time. I decided to go back a bit to Ultima 7 or 8, but then I was constantly killed by jump puzzles and gave up in frustration again. My most recent attempt was a few years ago, intending to start from the beginning - I never made it through Ultima 2.

    Your blog makes me think Ultima IV is where I should have started. Maybe I'll still give it a try at some point.

    1. It sounds like you got extremely unlucky. You started your Ultima experience with the worst one and then moved on to the weakest of the remainder. III-VII are the best of the series, in my opinion. If you go back to the series, definitely start in here.

  19. Currently the NES port of is one of my highest rated games for console RPGs (tied with Dragon Warrior II). I think we use similar criteria, except you expand on a few more points while I lump everything in six categories. According to other reviews and comments though, the port of U5 doesn't live up to the PC version. I'll comment on what went wrong once I've reached that point.

    Thank you for this review.

    1. NES Ultima V is one of the worst games I have ever played.

      I'm serious. It got shoehorned into an adaptation of the U6 engine, and the SNES U6 is pushing it to handle said engine as it is.

      For maximum enjoyment, shoot the cartridge before playing, to ensure that it does not boot. You will have improved the game by making it show a blinking white screen the entire time you play it, as well as destroying the false illusion that it responds to your inputs.

    2. Nothing can beat U7 in the arena of Ultima Console Port Suckage.

      It sucks in the way that an RPG can be passed off as an action game like how an action game can be passed off as an RPG (yeah, I'm looking at you, U8).

    3. NES U5 is worse. Just... worse. SNES U7 at least kind of works as an action game (although if you really want an Ultima action game, you should be playing one of the Runes of Virtue games on the Game Boy- they're both reasonably good action-adventures, and even Garriott really liked them.

  20. Whew! Just beat Ultima 4. Thank you for inspiring me to play these games over again, especially this one. I never won as a kid (the NES version) and the PC version is a much better game, even if I do miss the improved visuals and music from the NES version. (In combat, I still hum the combat music from Ultima 3 NES. Strange what sticks with you.)

    I agree with your review on almost all points. As far as I could find, the only one spell you NEED in the game is Dispel, and that is to clear obstacles in the dungeons (especially the final one). Heal and Cure are essential, but I suspect a better player than I could play through without using them. Maybe my game was glitched, but I could only get one Mandrake from the Bloody Plains and it never respawned and I ended up wasting my precious Mandrake on a few View spells when I thought I could easily get more.

    I also found the game overall much more difficult than you did, though perhaps that is because I started as a Mage (Honesty is my virtue of choice) and spent much of the mid-game feeling under-powered verses the Demons and Balrons that the game kept throwing at me. But by the end, most combat is relatively easy... though I was running out of Heal spells by the end of the Abyss.

    The only "cheating" I did on my playthrough was to lookup where the Black and White stones were as the tavern clues that are supposed to give you the next step where to look did not happen for me. Not sure why. Everything else was blood, sweat, and copious notes.

    Now to spend some time with my own blog before playing Ultima 5! That game I have never so much as powered on.

    1. Congratulations, Joe. It's great to hear that modern players are still having fun with these classics. I think you're in for a real treat with U5.

      "Heal and Cure are essential, but I suspect a better player than I could play through without using them." You absolutely need "Cure," as there's a patch of poison just before entering the Abyss that you can't avoid.

  21. This has been an interesting read, but I have to disagree with a lot of what you wrote in your review. Having played the game when it was new and finishing it and finishing it a few more times over the years, I feel I have a pretty good sense of how everything works.

    For starters, you aren't supposed to sell the Mystics. this is a design oversight and is essentially cheating the game. If you do it, you aren't really playing the game.

    You were supposed to use the Mystics in the abyss. The other weapons work, but I suspect this is another design oversight. Not as big of one.

    As for magic, you NEED to use magic to win the game. How else can you get the white stone? You can blink to it, which is cheesing the game. Or you can use the Hot Air Balloon to get to it be casting the wind spell. I suppose you could just wait and hope you get blown there, but the intent is to cast.

    The Tremor spell and the Gate spell both require mandrake and are probably the two most useful spells in the game. If you are playing without a walkthrough and actually have to travel around and play the game, they are priceless. Can you do it without them, yes, should you? No.

    The Negate spell, which uses both Nightshade and Mandrake is extremely useful in making it through the Balron and Reaper rooms. You can get through them without, but you can also easitly get killed. You also have to cast dispel to get rid of the fields in some of the Abyss rooms. Otherwise you can not touch the squares that open other parts of the room.

    I find the review highly suspect. How can you finish the game without doing these things? If you did, then you played a broken version of the game. Please explain how you completed the Abyss without using Dispell?

    I could go on and on.

    The most laughable thing I read was your implication that BG2 was the better game. It's hard to take anything you say seriously when you say that. BG2 is fine. But it's not groundbreaking or anything truly special.

    1. Anonymous, it is my general policy not to bother with detailed replies to posts from readers who 1) clearly haven't read my blog's sidebar and introductory posts, explaining what I do and how I do it; 2) clearly haven't read ALL of the entries associated with a game rather than just the final rating; and 3) hallucinate things in my posts that I didn't actually say.

      But thank you for bothering to stop by and tell me that I'm wrong about things.

  22. You inspired me to finally go back and revisit Ultima IV. I first played it in high school around 1989, but while it probably had a bigger impact on me than any other game of the era, I never quite managed to finish it at the time (I think it was that damned word of passagea). Finally completed it tonight after 25 years. I was happily surprised to find it was still a lot of fun spending time in this minimalist-but-vivid world, and it was interesting both how much and how little my reaction to the game's moral quest has changed. It was great following along with your posts while I played. Thanks!

  23. Hey, just wanted to say that you encouraged me to try this game and I really like it. I used to have a disc set for IV, V and VI but the set was missing on of the discs for IV. I finally got to play it and I enjoy the world traveling, sandbox nature of the game. Getting control of a pirate ship for my party was a joy. I do agree that combat is not as intensive as say the Gold Box series, but I suppose Ultima is about something more than that. I actually found the dungeons to be creepy, especially as I kept losing torches. I can say that this is my personal favorite of any pre-Goldbox game.

    1. I'm glad you liked it that much. I do think U5 is a bit better, but only in game mechanics. The plot of U4 has been rarely challenged and almost never beaten.

  24. I enjoyed playing Ultima4 as a kid and in the last year I spent some time porting it to opengl in a java based desktop game using the original map contents and tlk files. if any would like to try it you can get it on github here: I added a Journal feature to the game to make it easier to keep track of conversations.

    1. I forgot to also mention that I added some side quests and a new dungeon to the game, that adds 2 new items which can be used like the tremor spell but have a cool down period and are quite powerful. The side quest was the virtue of humility where the rune of humility was stolen and replaced by the rune of greed, and you have to retrieve some items and use the tinker to eventually get the rune of humility.

    2. Thanks, Paul. I probably won't have time to check it out myself, but I hope one of my readers does and reports back. Thanks for your efforts in keeping this great game alive.

  25. This was my very first RPG. I bought it c.1986 when I got stationed at Ft. Carson, Co. What fun. Not sure if anyone saw this site, but the map feature is good.

  26. If anyone's interested I just finished Ultima IV and wrote a short series on it, it's available here:

    (And thanks to CRPG Addict for letting me post the Link)

  27. Today I finally finished Ulitma IV! And rushed here to compare playthrough times. Sadly you didn't record it this early in your blogging :( For me it took nearly 55h of gameplay and 97366 turns :D

    Fun fact: one of the characters in U4 is called Zajac. Add a little "comma" at the second "a" and you got a hare translated from polish :)

    Ps. According to this link:

    you can still try to get certificates for finishing Ultima games from Richard Garriot! Doesn't hurt to try :D

  28. Here is my tale of woe for Ultima IV!

    I played this on my C64 many, many years ago. I had a lot of written notes for the various key words that NPCs responded to, the locations of the Runes, the Mantras, the special reagents (Nightshade and Mandrake), the locations of special items, etc.

    It took me a while to get myself to Avatarhood, as I don't think I would let any enemies escape. Pretty dumb on my part, but I realized in the end I had to let them go lest I suffer the fate of roaming Britannia forever!

    So, after many, MANY hours, I had 99 of each reagent, 99 of each spell, best weapons and armour available, the Mystics, I had leveled to completion, and had everything I needed to conquer the Abyss!

    Well, everything except the final word apparently. Which was Infinity. I was playing a cracked copy back then, and I did not have any of the proper documentation (I ended up getting the Ultima Collection on CD many years later), but I don't think that would have necessarily solved that particular issue of mine. I just didn't know to use that word (I had all the letters, but didn't think to see what words the letters would spell).

    Anyhow, that wasn't the part that drove the (poison) dagger into my heart! The fact that I lent a "friend" my Ultima IV disks, and told him specifically to copy the disks and play the copies, NOT to play on mine!!! And what does he do?

    I get my disks back from him and eagerly load the game, having learned that Infinity is the word I needed to win the game! The game loads...slowly...and gets to the title screen. I select "Continue Journey" and I hear the familiar music that plays on the outside map....while looking at a Level 1 character that was at the start of the game.

    I really wanted to punch his lights out, but thankfully I was wise enough (although NOT wise enough to not lend him the disks in the first place!) to not do it!

    About a year or so ago, I decided to play the game again, this time using a C64 emulator (I know that music is something that you aren't fond of, but I LOVE the music for Ultima IV ((the C64 version))! ).

    I ended up with about 30 lined pages of written notes (both sides used)! I copied down every single NPC's dialogue tree, with every single word they responded to! I also wrote down all the Runes, their locations, the Mantras, who gave you the Mantras, the locations of every special item, etc. I admit to feeling a little pride (Oh no! Thou hast lost an eighth!) for doing all that work! :)

    And guess what? I still haven't finished the game! I saved just before the entrance to the Abyss. I figure I'll finish it someday, but at least this time I can take solace in the fact that a dumb friend won't copy over my character! ;)

  29. I'm an Ultima fan of yore, and played Ultima IV on a C64 when it was brand new (along with my 3 brothers... in those days Ultimas were a collective endeavor for us). I never beat it personally, and later found myself gravitating more to Ultima V when I wanted to do some retro-gaming in the series.

    A week or so ago I decided to take another crack at U4, and this time I made it all the way. I already knew a lot of the mantras, rune locations, and other details, just from memory, but I also noticed some things for the first time, like the full intricacy of the altar rooms and their correspondence to the virtues and principles. (E.g., each altar room is connected to four rooms, each going to a dungeon which is the opposite of one of that principle’s constituent virtues, and the stones required for the key also correspond to this.)

    Despite certain nontrivial flaws - the combat does grow dull, and there is to much of it on the overworld, and the party movement in rooms is a huge interface problem - I was totally pulled in and enjoyed myself thoroughly. I think the nonlinear design, combined with the large overworld, the wealth of travel options, and the various logistical needs, all combine into something pretty special. I’d find myself constructing plans in my head like: “well, I need to go to the Shrine of Sacrifice to get my avatarhood. While there, I may as well pop into Vesper to stock up on gems, and do another loop around the town to make sure I didn’t miss any hidden NPCs. And, oh yeah — on the way I can grab some mandrake at that spot on the plains.” Little details - like the variable prices per town of reagents and rations - help to enrich these kinds of micro-decisions. Because the game’s quest features so many discrete, geographically dispersed goals, you are always moving around with a purpose, yet also in a self-directed and nonlinear way.

    Ultimas III-V are, in my opinion, really exemplary in how they handle travel. At first, as the world is new, you don’t mind walking around so much. Gradually you might get tired of it, but by then you’ll have acquired horses and a ship, and perhaps begun to plumb the details of moongates, noting how the map tells you which phases correspond to which locations. On top of that you’ve got the Blink spell to occasionally pop you off an island or over some rough hills, and if you really want to go to the trouble you could mix up a bunch of Gate Travel spells after you’ve tracked down its elusive formula and its elusive Mandrake reagent. And then there’s the balloon, which is a stroke of genius - both in the way the wind drives it and in the way it removes the line-of-sight darkness. It’s not super useful, but it’s damn fun, and it would have been boring to just have a floating vehicle you can move around in the normal way by pressing movement keys. (Granted, the magic carpet in U5 is a bit like this, although its inability to cross mountains and deep water is key.) In short, your convenience and power in exploring the gameworld increases almost directly with your likelihood to be bored schlepping around — but in a way that is more interesting, more thematic, and generating of more interesting cost/benefit micro-decisions, than just having a fast travel option built into the interface. I loved Ultima VI but I did feel that the inclusion of a teleport stone from the very beginning harmed this delicate balance.

  30. (Part 2) The combat is definitely too easy. I’m also playing Pool of Radiance at the moment (my first real crack at a Gold Box game) and the contrast is telling. Combat in PoR is often a life-or-death proposition, and party wipes are frequent. Area of effect spells require consideration of placement; attacks of opportunity impose a penalty on moving your characters around; with low hitpoint totals your weaker characters are sometimes in danger of being one-shotted. Gear can make a huge difference, particularly on the armor side - getting a Cloak of Displacement for my fighter was a big deal. In U4, the hitpoint totals are so high, and healing so plentiful, that armor is barely a consideration. I upgraded it for a few of my guys, but didn’t really notice much different. Particularly frustrating is that the RNG variance for many weapons seems to overlap too much. You don’t get a visceral sense of an improved weapon when you upgrade from a 10g sling to a 1500g magic bow. Only the wand and the mystic weapons seem to break out of this - they feel genuinely powerful. (Incidentally, I found it helpful to equip Geoffrey and Katrina with Mystic weapons in the Abyss, because as far as I could tell neither of them can equip any magic weapons otherwise.) Also, the one-move-per-turn interface is not only maddening in the puzzle rooms, but it slices up the action so much that you can’t impart intentionality to any individual party member. In PoR you can have a thief with 12 moves try to move around for a backstab opportunity. In U4 the combat mechanics don’t incentivize these sorts of tactics (there are no backstab multipliers, facing considerations, etc.), but beyond that, even if they did, it wouldn’t be worth the trouble to do them because combat is too easy anyway and the interface is too time-consuming to maneuver individual characters like that.

    Yet you have to acknowledge and admire the numerous developments over Ultima III in the combat mode. The greater variety in terrain backdrops, the feedback on enemy states, the somewhat-thematically-consistent mixed parties, the cool flaming oils (that was my weapon of choice for Katrina; I’d buy up to 99 every time I could, although she wouldn’t get XP if an enemy died from the persistent fire after the initial hit). Garriott clearly worked hard on this part of the game. It’s a bit sad that for all that, it still tended to devolve to ‘beeline for ranged weapons, then Attack-North, Attack-North, Attack-North all the time.’ Occasionally I did find Tremor useful - more for convenience than necessity - and I found Negate to be an absolutely must-have against Reapers and Balrons.

    I’m saddened by the fact that you only ever find gold in chests. Even Ultima III had that ‘casino’ element making every open a bit more exciting - you might just find a suit of chain armor in there! Ultima V was light years beyond U4 in this respect, and I loved how really high level monsters like reapers and dragons had loot worthy of them.

  31. (Part 3) The graphics and interface (original DOS version, but I also like the C64 port which I originally played) are terrific. The interface is super clean and efficient in the way it presents information; not a wasted pixel. The keystroke command interface is also hard to improve on. I’m making a retro CRPG at the moment and finding it incredibly difficult to escape the influence of Garriott, often because he simply hit upon the best possible solution within the constraints of a tile-based turn-based CRPG. All the monster icons are well animated, easy to identify, and possessing a certain charm. The middle Ultimas look so much more elegant than their contemporaries in SSI, even the early Gold Box entries. I’ve always loved Kenneth Arnold’s music, too, though it’s not present in the vanilla DOS version I played this time.

    Ultima III was the first Ultima I played and still, on an emotional level, my favorite, because it exposed me for the first time to the potential of the personal computer and the CRPG. Ultima V is the game in the series that I think is the best to play from a modern standpoint (big caveat: I still haven’t gotten to U7). Because U4 has always been so acclaimed, I have tended to disparage it a bit, if only to draw attention to its less illustrious sequel. I’m glad I finally took the time to go back and replay U4 soup-to-nuts, both so I can cross it off the bucket list, and so I can get a better appreciation of what it accomplished. That Garriott was able to develop the engine so far while also incorporating this unheard-of ethical dimension, and creating an internal mythology that bears scrutiny and has a pleasing symmetry reflected throughout the very geography of the game world - it really is an astonishing achievement for someone who was all of 25 years old. His streak from Ultimas III-VII reminds me of nothing quite so much as the Beatles — each new item leaping beyond its predecessor in unexpected ways, like the path from Help! to Rubber Soul to Revolver to Sgt. Pepper, yet all of them still being classics.

    1. Gordon, thanks so much for your insightful analysis upon replaying the game. I particularly appreciate (and agree) with what you said about the combat mechanics and how satisfying it is to plan the various stops along the next leg of your journey. I also agree on the graphics: the crisp iconography of the game is much better than the indecipherable 256-color VGA images we'd have to endure until the mid-1990s, when "realistic" graphics finally got authentically good.

      I always appreciate hearing from someone who appreciates The Quest of the Avatar.

    2. Glad you enjoyed it. Though CRPG retrogaming was almost the first thing I did when I got a 'modern' Windows PC back in '99, your blog has definitely inspired me to up the tempo and to explore games I never played at the time. The fact that GoG has released so many titles in those easy DOSBox wrappers has certainly helped, too. As much as I enjoy modern CRPGs like The Witcher 3 and Elder Scrolls, I also feel that games from the '80s and '90s offer a particular sort of experience that is hard to find elsewhere. And, of course, it's fascinating to watch genre mechanics develop, solidify, or become discarded as time goes on.

    3. Gordon, do you have any links for your crpg project? Are you seeking for help?

      (Retro game dev hobbyist here and a C++ addict)

    4. Hi Ron,

      Sorry for the extremely late response! I guess I never checked back in this thread.

      The only real link is this Quartertothree Forum thread where I posted some screenshots.

      The game is really very rudimentary and I'm just doing the engine. I have limited free time so sadly can only work on it a couple hours a week at this phase of my life, though I'm hoping that will change. I'm a novice coder so have been building it in GameMaker, though I might port it somewhere else as my technical skill develops.

      The game right now is too nascent for me to ask for any help, but I would be happy to keep in touch!

  32. How do you navigate in this game ? i really want to play Ultima IV,V and VI but the world is huge and there's no map !

    1. The game came with a cloth map. Go to the Museum of Computer Adventure Gaming History ( and search for each title. Make sure you download all the documentation and images that came with the games, and review them carefully. You can print the map or import it into an editor to make notes on it.


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