Our friend Rich Stanton from our sister site Eurogamer was not kind in his assessment of brand-new free-to-play mobile Ultima game Ultima forever -- and with good reason.
Perhaps the most insulting thing about Ultima Forever for longstanding fans is the fact it makes a mockery of the things that made past Ultimas great. This is pretty much encapsulated by the utterance "Virtues level me up. Got it." uttered by the main character in the introduction sequence, stomping on one of the series core narrative and philosophical concepts in the process.
Fortunately, though, you don't have to play Ultima Forever. Even more fortunately, you can now play a proper Ultima game on your phone. Even more fortunately, it's free, and with no in-app purchases to boot. Yes!
The new release is a port of the Commodore 64 version of Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar. Ultima IV is the point in the series where it went from being a relatively conventional Western-style role-playing game to focusing more on the concept of the Eight Virtues that would become a recurring theme throughout the majority of the rest of the series.
The Eight Virtues themselves are Honesty, Compassion, Valor, Justice, Sacrifice, Honor, Spirituality and Humility, and in order to succeed in Ultima IV you'll need to practice all of them to become a moral exemplar. Series creator Richard Garriott incorporated the Virtues and their corresponding effects on gameplay into Ultima IV in an attempt to make players think about the consequences of their actions, and the system has since been described as "an industry standard" that went on to influence morality systems in titles such as BioWare's RPGs and the Fable games.
The main difference between Ultima IV and games that succeeded it is that in Ultima IV you have to be "good" in order to win -- though your progress is not tracked explicitly through point values or meters. Instead, you must role-play your character according to the Eight Virtues in order to become a spiritual leader and the very embodiment of their philosophy. The game is still relatively distinctive in this regard in that it's not, unlike many other RPGs, a quest to defeat a tangible evil, but rather a quest to achieve enlightenment; the "Avatar" that the player becomes at the conclusion of the game goes on to become a mythological figure in the fictional lands of Britannia -- as well as a recurring protagonist.
The iOS port makes use of Elite Systems' Commodore 64 emulation software, which allows the game to be played as it was on its original 1985 release. Controls are handled through virtual keyboard and joystick inputs, and the game can be played in either portrait or landscape orientation on your device. The game also comes with virtual recreations of all the physical materials that came with the original version, including a player reference card, a history of the series setting Britannia, and a "Book of Mystic Wisdom." There is also a selection of maps and images included, as well as in-depth gameplay guides provided by GameFAQs.
Ultima IV may look extremely dated today -- largely because it is nearly thirty years old -- but it still remains one of the defining moments in Western role-playing games. And for free, you can certainly afford to give it a try for yourself, hmm?
You can find Ultima IV on the App Store here.