Ultima IV - Quest of the Avatar (Euro, Prototype)

Sega Master System 1990 Sega
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, first released in 1985 for the Apple II, is the fourth in the series of Ultima role-playing video games. It is the first in the "Age of Enlightenment" trilogy, shifting the series from the hack and slash, dungeon crawl gameplay of its "Age of Darkness" predecessors towards an ethically-nuanced, story-driven approach. In 1996 Computer Gaming World named Ultima IV as #2 on its Best Games of All Time list on the PC. Designer Richard Garriott considers this game to be among his favorites from the Ultima series.

Instead of simply choosing stats to assign points to as in the first three Ultima games, you are instead asked various ethical dilemmas by a Gypsy using remotely tarot-like cards of the eight virtues. These situations do not have one correct resolution; rather, players must rank the eight virtues and whichever stands as their highest priority determines the type of character they will play. For example, choosing Compassion makes you a Bard, Honor a Paladin, Sacrifice a Tinker, and so on. This was also the first Ultima game where you had to play as a human, eliminating other races such as the elves, dwarves, and "bobbits" found in previous games altogether (however, even in the first three Ultimas where they could be chosen as player characters, there were never any non-player characters of those non-human races).

Although each profession embodies a particular virtue, to become an Avatar the player must achieve enlightenment in all eight virtues. Enlightenment in the virtues is achieved through the player's actions as well as through meditation at shrines. Shrines to each of the virtues are scattered about Britannia, each requiring the player to possess the corresponding virtue's Rune before allowing entry. Through meditation and correctly repeating the virtue's Mantra one to three times at the shrine, the player gains insight and ultimately enlightenment in the virtue. A seer in Lord British's castle provides the player with feedback on their progress in the virtues.

Technically, the game was very similar to Ultima III: Exodus, although much larger. This was the first Ultima game to feature a real conversation system—whereas NPCs in the earlier parts would only give one canned answer when talked to, now players could interact with them by specifying a subject of conversation, the subject determined either by a standard set of questions (name, job, health) or by information gleaned from the previous answers, or from other characters. Many sub-quests were arranged around this.

Another addition were dungeon rooms, uniquely designed combat areas in the dungeons which supplemented the standard combat against randomly appearing enemies.

The world of Britannia was first introduced here in full, and the world map in the series did not greatly change any more from this point onward. The player may travel about Britannia by foot, on horseback, across the sea in a ship or by air in a "lighter than air device". Speed and ease of travel is affected by the mode of travel as well as terrain and wind.


The eight virtues of the Avatar, their relationship to the three principles of Truth, Love and Courage and how the gameplay has been designed around them are as follows:

  • Honesty: Truth
    When purchasing goods from blind merchants the player is required to enter the amount they actually wish to pay. Although the player has the option of paying less than the merchant has asked for, this will mark the player as dishonest. Stealing gold from chests owned by others (i.e. all chests found in towns, villages and castles) will also penalize the player. This Virtue is embodied by Mariah the Mage.
  • Compassion: Love
    By using the Give conversation subject, a player can give beggars alms and in doing so demonstrate compassion. This Virtue is embodied by Iolo the Bard.
  • Valor: Courage
    Valor is displayed by the player defeating enemies in combat and not fleeing in a cowardly fashion. This means that when retreat is necessary, the player should be the last party member to leave the field of battle. This Virtue is embodied by Geoffrey the Fighter.
  • Justice: Truth and Love
    Not all of the hostile creatures in Britannia are evil and the player must avoid unprovoked attacks on those that are not. If attacked, he should resort to driving them away rather than killing them. Out of the eight virtues, this one requires the most finesse to embody and is a particularly good example of balancing ethical dilemmas. The player's party must stand their ground for Valor, yet drive their foes away without killing them. This Virtue is embodied by Jaana the Druid.
  • Honor: Truth and Courage
    By completing quests (finding sacred items) and exploring dungeons the player demonstrates their honor. This Virtue is embodied by Dupre the Paladin.
  • Sacrifice: Love and Courage
    If the player goes to a place of healing while in good health, the player can make a blood donation and sacrifice some health in doing so. This Virtue is embodied by Julia the Tinker. In the NES port she was replaced with a male character named Julius.
  • Spirituality: Truth, Love and Courage
    Meditating at shrines, consulting the seer, and achieving enlightenment in the other virtues enhances the player's spirituality. This Virtue is embodied by Shamino the Ranger.
  • Humility: None, though it is considered the root of all virtue.
    The player demonstrates their humility during conversations. A boastful response to a question results in a penalty, a humble response results in a bonus. This Virtue is embodied by Katrina the Shepherd.
Ultima IV - Quest of the Avatar (Euro, Prototype)

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  • maincpu Z80 (@ 3 Mhz)
  • SEGA VDP PSG (@ 3 Mhz)
  • Orientation Yoko
  • Résolution 255 x 224
  • Fréquence 59.922738 Hz
  • Nombre de joueurs 2
  • Nombre de boutons 2
  • Type de contrôle
    1. joy (8 ways)
    2. joy (8 ways)
    3. joy (8 ways)
    4. joy (8 ways)
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Screenshots de Ultima IV - Quest of the Avatar (Euro, Prototype)

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Ultima IV differs from most RPGs in that the game's story does not center on asking a player to overcome a tangible ultimate evil.

After the defeat of each of the members of the triad of evil in the previous three Ultima games, the world of Sosaria underwent some radical changes in geography: three quarters of the world disappeared, continents rose and sank, and new cities were built to replace the ones that were lost. Eventually the world, now unified in Lord British's rule, was renamed Britannia. Lord British felt the people lacked purpose after their great struggles against the triad were over, and he was concerned with their spiritual well-being in this unfamiliar new age of relative peace, so he proclaimed the Quest of the Avatar: He needed someone to step forth and become the shining example for others to follow.

The object of the game is to focus on the main character's development in virtuous life, and become a spiritual leader and an example to the people of the world of Britannia. The game follows the protagonist's struggle to understand and exercise the Eight Virtues. After proving his or her understanding in each of the virtues, locating several artifacts and finally descending into the dungeon called the Stygian Abyss to gain access to the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom, the protagonist becomes an Avatar.

Conversely, actions in the game could remove a character's gained virtues, distancing them from the construction of truth, love, courage and the greater axiom of infinity—all required to complete the game. Though Avatarhood is not exclusive to one chosen person, the hero remains the only known Avatar throughout the later games, and as time passes he is increasingly regarded as a myth.


Richard Garriott has stated that he began writing this game when he realized (partly from letters of enraged parents) that in the earlier games immoral actions like stealing and murder of peaceful citizens had been necessary or at least very useful actions in order to win the game, and that such features might be objectionable. Furthermore, organizations like BADD (Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons) were drawing attention to the supposedly satanic content in role-playing games in general, and the demonic nature of the antagonist of Ultima III, as depicted on that game's box cover, was a good target.

The official biographer of Richard Garriott, Shay Addams, wrote:

"He decided that if people were going to look for hidden meaning in his work when they didn't even exist, he would introduce ideas and symbols with meaning and significance he deemed worthwhile, to give them something they could really think about."
In retrospect, 1UP.com described Ultima IV as "a direct barb at the self-appointed moral crusaders who sought to demonize RPGs" and complained that "the irony in seeing an 'evil' RPG better present the Christian admonition to back faith with works in quiet modesty than the Bible-waving watchdog decrying the medium seems to have been lost".

The concept of virtues was inspired by a TV show about the Avatars of Hindu mythology, which described the avatars as having to master sixteen different virtues. The eight virtues used in the game were derived from combinations of truth, love, and courage, a set of motivators Garriott found worked best, and also found in one of his favorite films, The Wizard of Oz. The game took two years to develop, twice that of both Ultima II and Ultima III. Garriott described the playtesting as "slightly rushed" to make the Christmas season; he was the only one to finish playing through the game by the time it went out for publishing.

Richard Garriott stated he wanted to become a good storyteller and make certain the story had content. He states that 90% of the games out there, including his first three Ultima games, were what he called "go kill the evil bad guy" stories. He says that "Ultima IV was the first one that had ethical overtones in it, and it also was just a better told story."


NES version

Like Ultima III, Ultima IV was released to NES by FCI and Pony Canyon. This version, titled Ultima: Quest of the Avatar, was released in 1990.

The NES port of Ultima 4 is very different from the other versions, the graphics had been completely redone, as was the music. The dialogue options were quite limited once again. Another change is that you cannot have all seven recruitable characters in your party at the same time, as you could in other versions. Any character over the four you could have would stay at a hostel at Castle Britannia, requiring you to return there to change characters. However, the combat system was fairly close to the personal computer games, with the additional option to use automated combat. Additionally the spellcasting was simplified, removing the need to mix spells. Both the intro and big puzzle at the end of the game was removed as well.

This is the only port where Julia the Tinker was replaced with a male character named Julius.

Sega Master System version

Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar for the Master System is the only Ultima to be ported to a Sega console. It was released in 1990 and was both ported and published by Sega. The port features completely re-drawn graphics (although unlike the NES port, the style was retained from Origin's version), a simpler conversation system and, unlike the NES version, uses the regular Ultima IV background music. Although the Master System is easily capable of displaying more complex first-person scenes than those found in Ultima IV (see Phantasy Star), this version's dungeons are viewed from a top-down perspective, much like those of Ultima VI, which was released the same year. It seems that most of these cartridges were produced for the European market, as they contain a multi-lingual (English, French and German) manual, both books from the original version as well as a folded paper map. The books were of different colour for each of the three editions (blue for the UK version), fully translated and did not fit inside the game's box.

Ultima IV on modern operating systems

xu4 is a cross-platform game engine recreation of Ultima IV under development for Dreamcast, Linux, Mac OS X, RISC OS and Windows.

Two other remakes were using the Neverwinter Nights engine. An online version was written in Adobe Flash. In March 2011 Electronic Arts sent a DMCA "cease and desist" notice to this fan project.

As of August 30, 2011, Ultima IV is available for free through Good Old Games.


Dragon called it "The most impressive and complex adventure to date; a total adventuring environment that takes place across an entire continent" and the closest anyone has yet come to approximating a full-fledged fantasy role-playing experience in a computer game".

In 1996, Computer Gaming World ranked it as the second best video game of all time, as well as the second most innovative computer game.

See also

  • Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar
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