Playing Ultima 4 has become much more of a ‘face yourself’ situation than I had imagined it would. Even though I am encountering many of the same frustrations I did the first time, it is going much more smoothly. The game is starting to show its age now that I am beginning to poke around underground, but it is definitely not a deal breaker. It is more like suddenly changing the water tap from hot to cold. Let me explain…
The (Partial) Avatar
After the last update, I went on a quest to begin moongate hopping all over the world. In Britania there are two moons; each one waxing and waning at different rates. In addition to this, gates open and close depending on the phases of the moon. The moon on the left represents the departure gate while the one on the right is the destination. E.g. Moonglow is associated with a new moon and Minoc is a full moon. If you are at the location of the Moonglow moongate at a new moon, it will appear and, if the other moon is full, you will end up in Minoc. This is difficult because the moon phases do not always match up with where you want to go directly, forcing you to jump around until it is possible. Although this is useful in the early game, I need a faster way to get around. I need a ship.
[The moon configuration at the top would send me from Yew to Britain.]
Pirate ships are randomly generated. They appear in the ocean and along coastlines where you can board them, defeat the crew, and take them over. I waited for ten real time minutes on an island while passing turns and found nothing. Of course, once I gave up and went to Britain to make some money a boat showed up immediately. They are completely necessary as even though all the cities can be reached via moongates, some of their corresponding shrines cannot and require other means to travel to the remote islands. That may be a blink spell or a boat, but a ship is easier in most situations.
After becoming a sea captain (AHROY!), I was finally able to round out all of the virtues becoming the partial avatar. I have now made it further than ever before in Ultima 4. Now that I am the partial avatar, there are a few other things to take care of. I mentioned that it was necessary to retrieve the stones of virtue before entering the Abyss, but this is for later as most of them are in dungeons underground. I was able to snag two of them (Black for Humility and White for spirituality) since they were lost and scattered around the world. Black was easy. I was given a clue to search at the new moon moongates when two new moons appear. Simply go to Moonglow, stand on the moongate square, and hit search as soon as both moons are new. Easy experience points and stone. The white stone, on the other hand, was quite a lot of work.
Another clue tipped me off that the white stone of Spirituality had been lost in the Serpent Spine Mountains. After walking around the mountains twice it was obvious there was no way to get in there on foot, so I needed a way to get over them. There are no grappling hooks in Ultima 4, so I had to fall back on a little spoiled knowledge that there is a hot air balloon hidden somewhere in the world. It is actually located at the exit of one of the most remote dungeons in Britannia… so how do we get there?
Turns out Lord British has a secret escape route to this dungeon, named Hythloth, right behind his castle! Of course! I have no idea why this is here, but quickly ducking into it and then casting an X-it spell (Exits whatever town/dungeon you are in) leaves me at the main entrance on the other side of the planet from Castle Britain. After walking through the hills I find the balloon anchored next to the mountains.
[Huh, I guess nobody needs this balloon...]
This thing is a nightmare. It is by far the fastest form of travel in the game, but, ironically, the least controllable. It is impossible to change the direction of the balloon manually putting you at the mercy of the wind. There is a spell that lets you change the direction of the wind, but more often than not the wind will change again within the next few seconds. After several minutes of aimless drifting, I was able to find the mountain range again and see a small patch of grass in the middle. I landed outside of the mountains to change the wind to make another pass to line up the balloon with the landing area. I was worried about having to readjust east or west over and over until I could catch a quick Northward wind into the area. Fortunately, I casted wind change and ended up passing right over the grass. The game was kind enough to not change at the last second allowing me to land on my first attempt which I am EXTREMELY thankful for. With two stones in hand, it is time to go into the dungeons.
[So far, this is the most annoying thing in the game.]
Before heading into the dungeons, I hopped into the ship for a quick errand I had forgotten about. Mondain was the enemy in Ultima 1. After he was killed, destructive artifacts of his legacy were spread throughout the world. There was talk about his skull being lost and used for evil, so I decided to destroy it. After sailing around in the ship, I spotted a suspicious formation of three volcanoes. In the middle is a small but obvious area that you can sail into. Searching at two new moons gets…
The skull can be used to the detriment of all virtues to kill everyone in a single city or dungeon, but we aren’t interested in that. We need to destroy it. Rumor says the only place to truly destroy the skull is to throw it into the abyss, much like the one ring in The Lord of the Rings. I took an early trip to the island where the abyss is located, defeated the unexplained pirate blockade there, and tossed that sucker into the abyss to never worry anyone again. I’m sure nothing else from his legacy could cause any trouble in the near future. (Ultima 5, look out folks) To strengthen the hull of my ship for the pirate battle, I found the magical wheel of the HMS Cape that I had learned about from a sailor in the Serpent’s Hold. Despite this strength, it was tough to use the cannons without getting obliterated so I simply boarded all the ships and killed the crew.
[That's the end of that... or is it?]
I also took the time to collect the three items required to enter the Abyss that were hinted at in each of the castles dedicated to Love, Courage, and Truth. The book of truth was easily found in the library at the Lycaeum. I found the Bell of Courage accidentally by sailing around and finding a strange formation in the water where the Bell is located. The Candle of Love was the most difficult part. I was informed it was hidden in a town off Lock Lake that is inaccessible by boat. I searched the whole coast finding no entrance and resorted to blink spells to teleport to visible areas otherwise inaccessible. I ended up blinking next to the town of Cove where I found the Candle in a hidden passage in the Shrine of Love. Although difficult, I felt pretty good about finding the hidden town. With these three items, I can enter the Abyss when it is time for the final decent to the Codex.
Spelunking with Buddies
Since dungeons are end game territory, I decided to pick up a few companions as a Mage will most likely experience trouble on his lonesome. The player is required to have eight companions to enter the final room with the Codex along with mastering the eight virtues and the eight virtue stones. Unfortunately, half of these companions are garbage. There is one in each town, aside from the one the player begins in, giving the party one character from each class. Companions that are shepherds and tinkers are notoriously weak and will be left until the final dungeon dive. I used my Ultima 6 knowledge to pick up some canon characters (Iolo, the bard from Britain and Dupre, the paladin from Trinsic). I also got the fighter Geoffry from Jhelom for extra help. This combat heavy group is made up of the few characters carried into future games as companions and gives me much needed firepower at the front in terms of fighting skills since a mage is limited to certain weapons. Speaking of equipment, let’s see what we can do about that. (And yes, I know I missed Shamino in Skara Brae, the third canon character. So sue me!)
Spoiler territory here, I know about mystic weapons. I did not hear anything about it in conversation, but mystic armor and weapons will appear in Empath Abbey and the Serpent’s Hold respectively after ascending all eight virtues. Aside from being the best armor and melee weapons in the game, the swords can also be found and sold repeatedly for infinite cash. I used this trick to purchase a magic wand for Hal (the most powerful mage weapon) and kit out Iolo with a magic bow while giving Dupre and Geoffry magic swords. Even though these guys have the most powerful weapons and armor, they begin at level three and there is no motivation to build that up. It is especially annoying because more characters means more turns in combat increasing the time required for each battle. It should also be noted that the character landing the killing blow gets the experience, so any grinding will be weakening each enemy then allowing the companion needing experience to plink away at it until it dies. I’m afraid they’ll have to languish at level three forever.
I used the rest of the money to whip up useful spells for dungeon diving. The most useful ones for navigation are Y (Moves the party up one dungeon level), Z (moves the party down one dungeon level), Light for the darkness, and more X-its for quick escapes. Tons of Cures, Heal, and Resurrection are also in the cards in case emergencies occur. Even though the party can hole up and camp in the hallways, some of the battles can get a little hairy and require some magical intervention. This is especially true when fighting Reavers, one of the most annoying enemies in the game. They are unable to move, but constantly cast global sleep spells that can put your party to slumber while they pound them with electricity or fire. Awaken can help, but usually ends up with being wasted when they fall asleep the next turn. If there are eight Reavers, they can cast sleep eight times in one turn. Terrible.
When beginning writing, I had only gone into one dungeon, Shame, to retrieve the purple stone of Honor. At the time of this re-read, I have retrieved seven out of eight stones and am almost ready to complete the game! I was worried about needing to use maps for the dungeons, but that turns out to be unnecessary. Gems bought from the adventuring guild not only display the layout of the level, but also the location of traps, rooms, and the location of the stones themselves. Each dungeon also contains orbs allowing any character who touches them to increase certain stats in trade for extensive damage. This can be exploited by constantly healing/resting/drinking from healing fountains and touching them over and over, but I will not be doing this. I like to min-max as much as the next guy, but with combat being as easy as it is I simply do not see the need to waste the time.
[The dungeon view. A ladder is going up in this square.]
After finding the purple stone, I continued down to the bottom floor which opens into alter rooms where the stones can be combined to produce the three keys to the final room in the game. Unfortunately, I only had three of the eight stones and could not perform this action yet. What IS convenient about this is that these three altar rooms connect ALL eight dungeons in the game making travel between them much more convenient than sailing around the world. This passage is easily utilized to visit each one and move up while searching instead of the other way around. I only need to retrieve one more stone, the yellow stone of Compassion, and I will be ready to get the keys and move into the Abyss.
Despite this, the change from the 2D land exploration and dungeon crawling strikes me as strange. 3D dungeons were included in the previous Ultimas, but are quite different in Ultima 4 since the dungeons feature rooms that are represented as 2D battlefields. Ultima 1-3 simply had creatures in the 3D hallways that were attacked. This change is jarring when trying to figure out the next direction you want to head. For example, entering a room where you know you want to go north involves actually entering, switching to a 2D layout, fighting any monsters there, and then exiting the top of the battlefield. This kicks you back out to the simulated 3D hallway. It is not necessarily bad, but interrupts the flow of game play that the previous format had set up nicely. It is a little like hopping out of a Jacuzzi and doing a cannonball into a swimming pool. It takes some readjustment and ends up comfortable, but is fundamentally different.
I can see myself completing the game in the next one or two serious play sessions. All that remains is collecting the last stone, using them on the alters to get the keys, collecting the rest of my companions, and diving down to the Codex. I hope that my next update will include the word “Won” in the title.
While playing the game, I have had some really weird feelings. I encounter similar situations that bring back uncomfortable feelings I experienced the first time around. Near the beginning of the game, while trying to parse all the required tasks, I felt familiar frustration about things seeming to spin out of my control. The great part about this is I can take a break, assess the feelings, think about the goal I want to complete, and ignore things that don't matter. I am in control of my thoughts. I associate hyper-sensitivity and hyper-awareness about everything occurring with my depressed times. An inability to gate and sort information leading to much of the frustration I encountered in the game. That is no good.
I feel successful almost completing the game. Not only because it is an undisputed classic I have wanted to finish it for several years, but also because I can face a tangible piece of my past and conquer it. One of my biggest fears is that I have left scars, shadows, or the image of a monster in the past that can never be defeated. I know this case is true in some uncontrollable aspects, but being able to take down something I associate so heavily with the past is a true victory. I can put it behind me and honestly say to myself "Buddy, you've changed, made progress, and moved on."
It is important to revisit items and media to see how we have changed. Books, movies, games, and other things are permanent and do not change; only how we feel about them does. Revisiting them can unlock new meanings that were previously unseen, bring new feelings about that we didn't know about, and help us see how we have changed as a person. Ultima 4 has certainly helped me do that and, even though I feel kind of silly saying it, has served as an important measuring stick for my personal evolution. Progress in this game has actually given me more confidence in myself. I think Lord British would appreciate that sentiment.
Next time I fully expect a winning post. I'm enjoying the game and having a lot of fun. No responses on my question so I'll give a hint. Hal is the main character of one of the most notorious "big ol' books" that hipsters love to talk about... mostly about addiction, entertainment, and tennis. If you have a guess, leave a comment with the book title and you win a free game of your choice under $10 from Good Old Games courtesy of me. See you next time!