I had hoped to brave the Stygian Abyss by now, especially since I completed my avatarhood in honesty last night. It took forever. No matter how many times I was honest with the blind herb seller, I couldn't get Hawkwind to give me the thumbs-up. Finally, made a premature trip to the Island of the Abyss so I could cast Mondain's skull into the lava. I remembered from previous games that this ups all of your virtues, and sure enough, when I got back to Lord British's castle, Hawkwind green-lighted my ascension. I am now a full avatar.
I have all the other things I need to enter the Abyss: the three-part key, a magic wheel that strengthens my ship's hull, all eight companions, all the stones of virtue, the candle of love, the book of truth, the bell of courage, and the "word of power" (forgot to mention this earlier, but at some place you need a password and each of the lords of the three keeps dedicated to truth, love, and courage had part of this password. It's VERAMOCOR).
What I lack are:
- Adequate levels. Katrina is still Level 4. Some of my other characters are 5 and 6. I need to boost their experience before I take on the Abyss.
- Good weapons and armor. The magic wand, which three of my characters can wield, costs 5000 GP. Magic plate costs 7000. I want the best equipment before I face daemons and dragons.
- Enough spells and reagents. You can pre-mix up to 99 of each spell and store up to 99 of each reagent. Before I hit the Abyss, I want 99 cure poison spells, 99 heal spells, and 99 dispel field spells, among others, and I want a full complement of reagents. This means not only buying them but hanging out a few months in the middle of a poison swamp and a dark forest so I can pick enough mandrake and nightshade.
- Enough food. I remember getting stuck on certain levels of the Abyss for hours. My goal is to have at least 2000 meals before I head in.
- Adequate stats. I want to use the glowing balls to boost my character's stats to as close to the maximum (50) as possible. This means getting them to higher levels first; otherwise, the glowing balls will kill them.
To get all of these things, I've been engaging in a prolonged amount of dungeon-crawling, looking for treasure levels and rooms and welcoming combat with everything that moves. During combat, I try to let my less experienced characters make the kill. I forgot to mention this before, I think: in Ultima IV, experience is awarded to individual party members based on who actually strikes the killing blow. This means that Katrina, who only has a paltry sling, hardly ever gets any experience unless I make a special effort by having my other characters withhold attacks.
During all of this, I've been taking a look at some things written about Ultima IV on other parts of the web. A few items of note:
- Ophidian Dragon, the author of Blogging Ultima played through Ultima IV in 2007. For some reason, he waited ages to get party members and seems to have played most of the game with a single character. He shares my frustration with Katrina: "I know you need all eight party members to get into the Abyss, but I am tempted to just let Katrina the Shepherd die and forget about her, because she's not wirth the effort of directing her worthless icon." Ouch. He also noted the same thing I did about the location of the Skull of Mondain: "Who among us ever played Ultima IV and found that extremely suspicious little horseshoe of shoals in the middle of the ocean, and did not sail immediately therein and search?" As I do, though, he praises Ultima IV for its nonlinearity, and like me he couldn't get anything useful out of Smith the Horse. His blog is full of screen shots from the original DOS version of the game (not XU4, like I'm playing), including one of the after-meditation visions. Check it out here.
- There's a large community of fans writing mods, updates, and remakes to all of the Ultima games at Ultima: the Reconstruction. Except the last update was more than three years ago, so maybe it's not that active any more.
- The Literal Ultima has transcripts of what every character says in every Ultima game. Jesus. I went through and scanned them for Ultimas I-III to see what I missed. Apparently I should have bribed the tavern keepers more in Ultima I, because one tells you the entire main quest of the game! I missed Dupre's appearance in Ultima II (he's a "swashbuckler" here, not yet a paladin, apparently) on Jupiter. Anyway, I couldn't resist and looked at Joshua's transcript from Ultima IV to see if there was an answer to my question posed here; there wasn't. It also appears that Smith has absolutely nothing useful to say. Why put a talking horse in the game and give it nothing useful to say?
- There's a nice retrospective on Ultima IV at a blog called the Black Gate, which is nominally about fantasy literature. The author, Ryan Harvey, notes the influence of BADD ("Bothered about Dungeons & Dragons"; this is an article worth reading) on the creation of Ultima IV, and what made the game so different. "Back in 1985, it was a revelation, a game that asked players to live up to a chivalric code--and considering the other games we had played, that was the most intriguing challenge of all."
I'm predicting a "won!" post by tomorrow.