August 02, 2012

Ultima IV - Ranking

Story & World

The absence of the standard foozle-killing plot is a much welcomed breath of fresh air.  "The only enemy that can stop me is myself!", and all that jazz.  The moongate network linking all the towns is a masterstroke.  Having access to the majority of the towns right from the get-go is crucial in a game where so many places are revisited.  A NPC in a town found later on would often give a clue sending the party backtracking to previous locations.  The quests can be done in any order desired which added to the sense of being in charge of one's own destiny.  My only real gripe is at those stone-guarding guardians of virtue fucking up on their questions.  18/20

Character Development

Similar to the system used in Ultima: Exodus, except this time stats are raised by magic orbs found in dungeons (which respawn along with everything else).  They also do a hefty amount of damage which keeps low level characters from farming them.  Hit points, as before, are always level x 100, regardless of class.  Even in the ambush situations where Jaana the druid was forced into melee didn't matter too much with her tank-like HP.  Sometimes the other members of the group would just watch Jaana slap some giant Cyclops around with her staff once they finished off their respective skirmishes (they're only thinking of her XP total, really!).

So, while the stats side of the character development still kinda sucked, it's the development of the virtues that's going to dump mucho points here.  For the first time, I felt as if I was actually building the character of the character instead of just increasing numerical stats.  The fact that the game doesn't give the virtues a stat or a message when its value has changed really gives it a sense of being immeasurable.  You just got to feel those virtues, man; feel 'em up.  14/20

Combat & Monsters

Gah, why bother with terrain on the battlefield when it completely doesn't matter?  All that needed to be done was have some stuff block missile weapons and then actually moving during a fight might be necessary.  Oh well, at least the battles were over faster this way.  The spells in combat added a little flavour but only when I was in the mood to waste some herbs; it was generally quicker to just stick to the normal modes of combat.  Would need some boss battles to remedy that, but that would be anti-thematic to the game so it gets a pass.

The spell system itself is quite innovative with its herbal requirements to fuel magic.  Making some of the herbs more rare always had me scrambling for my spell components list to make sure I wouldn't be wasting any precious fungus or manroot.  I was always low on garlic since it was part of the Wind and Heal spells (and garlic is one of the more expensive herbal staples).  At the start of the game there is already a nice selection of spells but more powerful ones can also be discovered by getting herbal recipes from NPCs.  Nice change from the regular way of gaining spells upon levelling.

Monsters are very similar to the ones found in Exodus but there are more missile types here, ensuring a little damage taken in most fights.  6/20

Graphics & Sound

The graphics have improved since Exodus with the characters taking on a meatier sprite and being even more distinctive.  Colour is used to a greater effect here as well.  The music is much better in QotA than in its predecessor but sound effects still leave much to be desired.  17/20

Gameplay

Thank goodness for respawning chests of gold because getting between 1 and 99 golds per battle would make it too difficult to purchase all the items and equipment needed.  That's for random overworld encounters only; random dungeon encounters never leave a chest behind.  The encounter frequency was too high for a game which has one running to the ends of the earth and back again.  All the characters maxed out in experience by the end, making all battles lacking a chest drop a waste of time.  A second attempt at Avatarhood would be quite a bit easier after knowing where everything is hidden (and discovering was half the fun) but a solo run could bump the difficulty back up (especially if playing as the wimpy shepherd).  I could see QotA being quite difficult if one did not take notes or have the manual handy (e.g. teenaged Shen).  Done properly, the whole experience is quite a satisfying one.  15/20

Final Ranking:  70/100