Sunday, June 6, 2010

Ultima IV: Shrines, Meditation, and Avatarhood

"I don't know, 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.

Not quite ready for advancement in honesty.

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.

Thanks for the tip.

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.

Why is he here?

My next posting will be about dungeons. After I've finished them, assuming I can get partial avatarhood in the last two virtues, it's off to the Abyss and the end of the game!


  1. Hey there, it's been a long time but if I remember correctly, Justice was easy as hell to get. If you see a non-evil creature start to move in a direction that isn't straight at your party...ignore it. It's running away.

  2. Actually, I think it turns out that if non-evil creatures attack you, you're supposed to flee from them. I tried it, I didn't get dinged for valor (like I do if I flee battles with evil creatures), and after a couple of times Hawkwind told me to go level up.

  3. Smith was improperly programmed, and they in fact forgot to make him respond to any of the keywords. This turns into a joke in all future Ultimas in which he appears. I won't spoil it, you'll know it when you see him in U5.

  4. Thanks, Ziad. I still have to wonder what he was SUPPOSED to say. I vaguely remember him from later Ultimas, and I'll look forward to seeing what they did with him.

  5. Man, I wish I'd played the XU4 enhanced version. In truth, when meditating at shrines, I don't remember seeing any "letter" appear. It must have done so, I suppose, if that's the means of piecing together the final clue in the game, but it must have done so subtly, because I never saw it. As it was, when I came to the final part of the game and it asked me the final question, I had no clue as to the answer. Had to look it up in a cheat book, because I didn't even have a guess as to where to go to find the answer, and here I was at the bottom of a dungeon on the threshold of victory. In fact, until reading your blog, I'd never figured out where that final answer comes from. Huh. Mystery solved.

  6. Heh, when I played when I was 13 or 14, I was also at a complete loss to the answer to the final question. My friend I was playing with was equally clueless.

    Finally, I asked my Mom for help -- to this day, I think she's the Avatar, not me....

    I'm working my way through your blog and just wanted to echo many of the comments that this is a fantastic project, and your writing is excellent as well -- which makes reading about games I won't ever play enjoyable too. I particularly love your screenshot captions ("This is for Gandalf!").

    You've also inspired me (like many of your commenters) to go back and pick up some oldies -- I'm going to start with Ultima V, as IV was the last one I (sorta...) completed.

  7. Thanks for commenting, Justin. If your mother figured out "Infinity" just from the clue alone, she's a CRPG savant.

    I remember really enjoying the gameplay for Ultima V. It's coming up for me again fairly soon.

  8. CRPG Addict said...

    "Actually, I think it turns out that if non-evil creatures attack you, you're supposed to flee from them. I tried it, I didn't get dinged for valor (like I do if I flee battles with evil creatures), and after a couple of times Hawkwind told me to go level up."

    The manual also suggests that sometimes retreat may be the better part of Valour:
    "FLEEING. There will come times in thy quests when thou wilt be confronted with superior forces. Whenever one of thy team is near death, guide him or her off the combat field to save them. If the tactical situation deteriorates completely, removing all members of the party from the field will disengage thee from thy enemy. There are those who will call thy actions
    cowardly, but a wise leader will know the value of preserving the life of one's fellows."

    Does this mean that you may run from superior forces without losing Valour, even if the enemies are evil?

  9. My recollection is that if you flee from battle once you've already gotten your "eighth" in valor, you'll lose it no matter how poorly your characters are faring. Thus, I suspect that fleeing lowers your score in Hawkwind's eyes, too. I think the manual is saying that those consequences are preferable to death.

  10. According to this, you could kill Lord British with the skull in IV. Perhaps the remake was patched?

    1. Platform differences, it seems.

      Indicates that the skull works in the Atari and NES versions.

      It's particularly notable that in Ultima V you can take too long to do the quest. Now I almost want to fire it up again and hold down the SPACE bar for a few days just to see what kind of message it gives me.

  11. Mantras: Strangely absent from the NES version. Instead you select one, two, or three cycles of meditation. I'm not sure how the number matters, or changes anything. I might explore the game a bit more to learn what the difference is. Mantras are included for the SMS.

    There's no magic ship's wheel either. I wonder what else is missing.

    1. The more I hear about the NES version, the more it inflates the PC elitism I've been accused of suffering from.

    2. Really, the NES version is dumbed down for this and I'm sure other games. When you take a game from one medium to another with dissimilar controls, you're going to have to compensate. The Sega Master System (SMS) version kept truer to the PC, and is as far as I can tell, a very faithful port. If ever you were to try a console game, you should try that one. The SMS is an 8-bit system, so I can't think of a reason they couldn't have done the same on the NES.

  12. Bold-faced lie. Not bald-faced. What, you shaved and then you lied? What? :^)

    I'm halfway through Ultima IV so I only read about halfway, having a great time.

    1. Bald-faced. As in, completely open, without a beard hiding anything.

      (See also terms such as "bald allegations" in court decisions dismissing lawsuits as frivolous, vexatious, and an abuse of process, for when the plaintiff just says "This guy did a bad thing!" without saying where, when, what, or sometimes even who.)

    2. I'm glad you're enjoying the entries, Jeremy, but yeah, the proper term IS "bald-faced."


I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. If you don't want to log in to Google to comment, either a) choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank, or b) sign your anonymous comment with a preferred user name in the text of the comment itself.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.