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In this, the fourth installment of the Ultima series, Origin Systems alters their game formula from the last three titles. One element remains the same (you are still transported from Earth to Britannia through mystical means) but most everything else is different.
Unlike its predecessors where the objective is to seek out and destroy Mondain or one of his followers, the ultimate goal in Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar is not so concrete. Rather than learning of a horrific evil sweeping the land that you alone must defeat, the quest in this edition is self-improvement. You must strive through diversity and embody all eight of the primary virtues to become the Avatar.
Your quest begins at a Renaissance Fair on Earth. You quickly discern that not all is as it seems, especially since most fairs don't look nearly as good as the one in the intro. Wandering through the tents and vendors, you eventually come to a gypsy, sit down and have your fortune read and future foretold. Once this character creation process ends, the Avatar-in-training pops up in Britannia in a location determined by character class.
Whichever of the eight virtues was selected as your defining characteristic is the virtue you embody and, throughout the game, you meet people who are the embodiments of the other virtues. As you recruit these individuals to travel with you, your own knowledge of these foreign virtues is increased and your quest to become the Avatar grows ever closer to completion.
Aside from wandering the countryside and ridding the land of any leftover evil, the primary focus of the game's quests is finding ways to improve your virtues in order to one day be pure enough to discover the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom and be worthy of the title Avatar. There are many varieties of weapons and armor to assist you in your quest as well as a revamped magic system that utilizes the mixing of reagents and power words to form various spell effects.
The main play screen is similar to previous Ultima games and is divided into three sections. The largest takes up much of the left and top sides of the screen and is devoted to the world map. The smaller two sections, on the bottom and right of the screen, are devoted to commands and character information, respectively.
Atmospherically, Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar also differs substantially from its predecessors. EGA graphics are supported (which presumably led to the introduction animation), something none of the previous games possess. The dungeons are represented the same way as the rest of the game via a top-down EGA setting, permanently switching from the first-person, wire frame, subterranean dungeon romps of the previous Ultima releases. PC speaker sound effects are also supported.
Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar's spiritual quest requires a great deal of effort as staying on the straight and narrow is never an easy task. Should you succeed, however, and eventually read from the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom thus becoming the Avatar, the reward of spiritual perfection should be more than enough justification for the long road you have traveled to get there. ~ Drew Hunt, All Game Guide