Ultima IV - Part 2

I'm now 27 hours into Ultima IV and my views have shifted slightly.  I still think it's a good game, but the cracks started to show around 12 hours in.

My marked-up map.  I feel sorry for people with the original cloth version

First up I realised that the list of fetch-quest items is a quite a bit longer than I had first thought.  There's the eight virtues (each of which require you to gather a rune, learn a mantra, find the shrine and have sufficient XP in that virtue) PLUS eight stones PLUS a bell/book/candle PLUS three syllables of a word PLUS the "axiom" PLUS three items required to explore certain parts of the map (silver horn, "flying device" and the word of passage) PLUS a sextant, so you can follow certain directions PLUS Mondain's skull, which presumably does something.

All of these bar 6 of the 8 stones are found on the overworld map.  So there's much less emphasis on dungeon delving than in Ultima III.

But that brings us to the next two tweaks UIV has made - the map is about double the size, and the random encounter rate is jacked up a LOT.  One of the problems with UIII is that it was pretty savage about food consumption, but in the early-mid part of the game there just weren't enough random encounters to ensure that you'd get sufficient gold to buy food.  After exploring the UIV map for a bit I realised why UIII had fewer random encounters - party combat (introduced in UIII) very quickly becomes tedious.  UIII had the added bonus of more powerful and easier to use spells - the gathering of reagents quickly discourages you from casting spells too much.

To find all of various bits and bobs you have to do quite a bit of exploring, and if you retreat from combat you'll lose virtue points.  So we've got this massive map that I hate exploring because I hate the random encounters.  For some parts I just saved my game, then ran away from each encounter until I found the item I was looking for, then reloaded and went straight for it the second time.  That doesn't work at sea though, because you can't escape (and at sea, you don't even get any gold for your victories).  I confess I looked online to find the town hidden at sea, I failed to see what grinding through a manual search would prove.

Ultima IV has horror elements.  Or at least, by the 1000th overworld combat encounter I was ready to scream

I've also found that the hints and conversations, while a great improvement on the predecessors, can still get pretty obtuse.  Also there's so many bits of disparate information (the significance of many aren't immediately apparent) that it's easy to miss what you've been told, even if you've been writing it down.

I snapped and looked at an online FAQ on three occasions - first, I was supposed to ask someone about a stone, and didn't realise I specifically had to say "White Stone".  Second, when I knew that Sniflet in Buccaneer's Den would say something important (thanks to the cluebook) but couldn't get him to speak about anything.  When asked about his "job", he'd say he's "hiding".  But he wouldn't respond to "hiding", you had to ask him about "hide".  And finally when I was searching for Mandrake Root - I knew the rough locations to search (which was itself tedious because the locations are a swamp, and each steps poisons you) but could not find the damn things.  Consult online - you can only find it during a double-new moon.  Checked my notes - no, I was never told that.

The problem with giving the player only one clue for progression is that if they misunderstand you, or you mangle the clue, they get stuck.

There were also a few times when I found items I didn't even know I was looking for.  I went into the Lycaeum and searched the library, because why wouldn't you, then found the "Book of Truth".  Didn't know I was looking for that.  Went through my notes and found it was mentioned by one person right at the start - wouldn't have remembered that in a hurry.

So Garriot got a lot better at giving the player guidance with this game, but still had a ways to go.

Current status is that I'm an avatar in 7 of the 8 virtues (Compassion is not levelling up through normal play, I'm going to have to do some grinding) and got all bar two of the items.  So the plan is:
  • Go through the three dungeons that I've found to get three of the stones;
  • Find and explore the remaining dungeons to get the last of the stones;
  • Figure out what on earth said stones actually do; and
  • Find the last two items - a "flying device" (presumably a balloon) and something to magically strengthen the ship's hull.
I've got a lead on the balloon, but nothing on how to strengthen the ship's hull.  Cross that bridge when I come to it.

Time spent so far:      27 hours
Current impression:   Skyrim circa 1985.  With more annoying combat


  1. Love the blog! The attention to detail is great. Where are you finding the time to play?

    1. Thank you! I am still figuring out the line between a "let's play" description, a game design analysis and a review. Whatever I do, detail will be one of the hallmarks of this blog. I hate meaningless commentary like "this game was fun" without specifics of why it was fun.

      Playtime is varied. Currently, it's mostly while my darling wife is working on her post-grad stuff while I'm looking after bub. So finding time to play non-kid-friendly games is hard.


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