Play a Proper Ultima on Your Phone

After the travesty that was Ultima Forever, remind yourself of when the series was great.

News by Pete Davison, .

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!

Yeah, all right, it's no looker, but it's great to play.

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.

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Comments 10

  • Avatar for GustinHardy #1 GustinHardy 4 years ago
    After listening to the recent Retronauts episode on Ultima I may nab this release. Never played Ultima growing up but can still appreciate wanting to live in a world free of "well-intentioned" reboots
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  • Avatar for Daedalus207 #2 Daedalus207 4 years ago
    Even though I was an Amiga guy back in the day, I somehow missed the Ultima games the first time around. Here's hoping for an Android port as well.
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  • Avatar for Zero-Crescent #3 Zero-Crescent 4 years ago
    For Android users, you can use DOSBox and a copy of the game from Good Old Games (Ultima IV is available for free, and also in the Ultima 4+5+6 pack).

    Personally, for Ultima 4 and 5, I use DOSBox Turbo (Paid app; $3.49 normally), DOSBox Manager (Companion app to DT), and GamePad (Switch between transparent keyboard & Dpad/Buttons).
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  • Avatar for Stevegasm #4 Stevegasm 4 years ago
    The NES version of Ultima IV was my very first RPG. I was 11 years old. I never did finish my first playthrough, because I just wasn't good enough. And by that, I mean I ripped off the blind herb seller, and looted everybody's stuff, never tossed a coin to the begger. Overall, just a dastardly fellow.

    To this day, there is still nothing like it. I still remember passing through a moongate for the first time and wondering where the hell I ended up. I loved searching for all the runes, found only through the clues people gave you. Maneuvering the balloon was interesting. You had to cast a Wind spell to blow the wind in the proper direction to get to where you needed to go. If you wanted a ship, you had to attract pirates to the shore, and kill them. The dungeons were a bit of a trick, utilizing the old Wizardry style of first person, and using the exact same walls for everything (have graph paper handy).

    I'm so glad this game started me on RPGs. From my recollection, the NES version was the easiest of them all, but for a console RPG, it was pretty tough in comparison to other games like Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy.
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  • Avatar for metalangel #5 metalangel 4 years ago
    I've enjoyed Akalabeth which also has a pretty good iPhone port if anyone's interested.
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  • Avatar for Robarzh #6 Robarzh 4 years ago
    Ultima IV was one of the first games I bought, and played, after buying my C64 in 1985. I still fondly remember it as my favorite game of all time. I especially appreciated the virtues, and their importance in the game. I played most of the the Ultimas, and look forward to Shroud of the Avatar late next year.
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