|"I don't know, guys...do you think something might be hidden in that dark square amidst three volcanoes?"|
The key to the main quest of Ultima IV is becoming an Avatar of Virtue: a living embodiment of the eight virtues in the game's philosophical system. These, again, are honesty, compassion, valor, justice, honor, sacrifice, spirituality, and humility. Under the hood somewhere, the game keeps tally of how well you're doing in each of these virtues. You can't see the actual score, but you can visit the Seer Hawkwind in Lord British's castle and ask. His responses seem to run the gamut of saying that you're horrible to saying you're ready for advancement.
Your virtue points depend on how you interact with the world. The game provides a few options to excel, or not, in each virtue. For instance, to prove your honesty, the game has its various characters ask you questions ("are you the Avatar?") and provides you with the ability, should you desire, to cheat the blind herb sellers. There are real temptations to be unvirtuous. You have to force yourself to let fleeing orcs leave the battlefield, for instance, instead of trying to squeeze every last experience point out of them. You have to ignore piles and piles of treasure chests. You have to pay full price for expensive reagents. You have to avoid using a powerful magic item that instantly slaughters your enemies. You have to resist killing Chuckles.
Show enough dedication to a specific virtue, and Hawkwind eventually tells you to go meditate at the shrine of that virtue for three cycles, at which point you obtain an "eighth"; that is, you become an Avatar of that virtue, and a little piece of the ankh cross shows up in the game window. When you have attained all of the eighths, you are a full Avatar. However, you can "lose an eighth" by acting unvirtuously, forcing you to start over. Using the skull of Mondain to slaughter your enemies, incidentally, causes you to lose all of your eighths. Frankly, I was hard-pressed to see how using the skull is a sin against honesty, but then I remembered that in order to get the coordinates for the skull, you had to promise never to use it except to cast it into the fires of the Abyss.
|And it didn't even kill Lord British. Lord British is invulnerable in this game, it seems. (I quit without saving and re-loading after trying. You have to try at least once.)|
Let's get back to the shrines. There are eight of them, of course, usually located near the towns that exemplify their virtues. The "odd one out" is the shrine of humility, which is surrounded by daemons and requires you to use a special silver horn if you don't want to fight waves and waves of them. The shrine of spirituality isn't located on Britannia but is accessed by entering a moongate when both moons are full. These are clues I picked up from NPCs in towns, of course.
There are good reasons to visit the shrines and meditate even if you're not ready for avatarhood. I'm pretty sure doing so increases your spirituality, and you get clues as to what types of things to do and not do to achieve that virtue. In order to meditate a shrine, though, you need to have picked up the rune for that shrine as well as the virtue's mantra.
When you meditate, a progress bar slowly slides across the screen. This theoretically gives you time, although not much, to meditate for real on the associated virtue. I was thinking about honesty the other day, for instance. What does it mean to truly be "honest?" I think most people define it as simply the avoidance of literal lies. For instance, a few weeks ago I engaged in an all-night poker game. The next morning, my wife asked how I did. I told her, "After about three hours of playing, I was up about $250, so I quit the game to just socialize with other people" (there were other people at this party not playing poker). While this is literally true, what is also true is that after about an hour of socializing, I rejoined the game, now significantly more intoxicated, and proceeded to lose everything I'd won plus about $150 more. I was congratulating myself for not having told a "lie" because, after all, it isn't lying to simply exclude part of the story. But of course it is. It's as dishonest to let someone believe something untrue through evasion as it is to tell a bald-faced lie. I don't know that this would have occurred to me in such stark terms if I hadn't been thinking about honesty in general. To be fair, this didn't all occur during the time it took the progress bar to reach the other end of the screen, but still.
Assuming you're ready for advancement, meditating three times will gain you partial avatarhood in that virtue and grants you a vision. This is one of the areas in which the makers of XU4 really shine. I'm pretty sure the original version just has you seeing a single letter of Britannia's runic alphabet (something I'll try to remember to cover in a future posting), and you have to piece these together in the right order to get a word that wins the game. But the XU4 team replaced this simple screen with a more artistic image of the avatar doing something that exemplifies the virtue. Here, for instance, are compassion, spirituality, and humility:
In today's playing, I finished gathering some special items, including a magic ship's wheel that strengthens the hull of my frigate and makes it more resistant to other ships' cannonades. I was assured by someone in...Buccaneer's Den, I think...that I would need this to get to the Abyss. I also picked up the silver horn to get to the shrine of humility.
My main character has achieved Level 8, which means I can go pick up my last companion: Katrina the Shepherd.
I've achieved avatarhood in six of the eight virtues, but I'm having trouble with justice and honesty. Justice is a tough one, because it involves letting non-evil creatures escape without killing them, which means carefully monitoring their health. Honesty I can't figure out: I've talked to pretty much everyone in the game and always answered straight. Maybe I need to spend more time with the blind reagent seller...
One final note: In a stop at Paws to find food, I realized there was a person in the middle of a horse stall I hadn't spoken to before. I jimmied my way through some doors to get to her and had to fight a bull. Anyway, she suggested that one of the horses could talk, and sure enough there is a talking horse named Smith in the middle of the field. I think he appears in later Ultimas as well. Problem is, I can't get him to tell me anything. I assume if you put a talking horse in a game like this, he has something to offer, but no terms seem to prompt anything. Give me a clue if you have one.