Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ultima IV: Justice Prevails

The blank slate of a new character
Considering my last post, the statement that it's taken me a while to actually get started on Ultima IV might sound somewhat paradoxical. Part of it's been due to general 'life getting a tad hectic again', but part of it's been due to my intended approach to these playthroughs - a focus on the narrative of the games and the series as a whole.

Consequently, character creation for Ultima IV took me far longer than it probably should have - but hey, at least I enjoyed myself!

One can't get far into a discussion of Ultima without at least some mention of its character creation system - it is the first thing you do in the game - and I'm no exception. This is the first appearance of the Virtue Questions, and I love the way the whole process sets the tone for the game. Games that approach character creation by a series of questions, a personality test of sorts, I find rather intriguing - a way of determining how your own personal approach might translate into game terms. It sets up your character in the game as truly a representation of you, or at least moreso than simply choosing appearance and starting stats and abilities upfront. I think that may be part of why I liked Morrowind more than Obilvion and Skyrim - the possibility of approaching character creation in such a manner was still possible in the former, but not in the latter.

In Ultima IV's case, I like the fact that it makes use of one of the game's crucial mechanics right there in the process - the Virtues. By pitting them against each other and determining exactly which ones the player favors over the others, it helps establish which ones the character in-game might already have a decent handle on, and which ones they'll need to work a little harder in order to prove their understanding.What could be a better set-up for a game that centers around a personal, philosophical sort of journey? (It's kind of interesting to see how the results I get from taking the virtue test 'honestly' has changed over the years, too. I played a fair few bards when I first got into Ultima IV by doing so, but these days I'm more prone to getting a ranger. Compassion has given way to Spirituality as I've grown older, apparently.) Couple that with the fact that the classes aren't that widely different from each other, and you can cover what you're lacking with other party members anyway, and it makes for a very nice system.

Of course, you could just simply game it, too, and choose the virtue centered around the class you want whenever it comes up. But for a story-focused playthrough, where's the fun in that?

Ain't no way I'm givin' up that money. I need it!!
So therein lay my difficulty in getting the game going - I wanted to choose my class according to my character's past actions in the last three games, which meant I had to consider the virtue questions I was given carefully in some instances - and that was harder than I expected it to be! Valor actually survived the first round of the casting (against Spirituality), which it almost never does for myself, simply because of how willing Aric has been to go hammer-and-tongs with whoever he meets. Compassion was ditched first round in favor of Honor, again something that hardly ever happens for me, due to how many prisoners in Minax and Exodus' castles that Aric simply walked by - apparently he's got little compassion for their plight? Sacrifice beat out Humility mostly based on how much money got spent in the past several games, Justice won out over Honesty partly because Aric couldn't leave a chest unopened, and the eight potential classes were narrowed to four.

Sacrifice lost to Honor, again for the sake of money (it was hard to come by in the past few games, no way he was giving up a bounty he'd get paid for), and the nod went to Justice over Valor, because I couldn't picture Aric staying silent over slurs (I mean, he'd wallop guards who said nothing but UGH, ME TOUGH in Ultima II).

Aric's perceived guilt leads him to Justice.
So it came to the final decision between Justice and Honor, a druid or a paladin, which I admit I was a touch disappointed by, as I've played both classes a good deal (I like the good blend both classes have between magical prowess and combat ability) and was semi-hoping for something a little different - I don't think I've ever done a tinker or fighter run. But the question posed, whether to enact an eviction at the command of your liege lord to honor an oath, or to refuse and risk ruin in the name of justice, seemed a fitting one for Aric. I see the 'refrain from taking action to honor an oath' type questions ridiculed as no-brainers from time to time, but personally, I rather like the dilemmas they produce. Characters who take their word extremely seriously pop up a lot in my writing, and an oath such as the ones the Honor questions imply would not be made lightly by them. I've actually pulled an Honesty/Honor clash with one of them before, and that was a fun struggle to write, pitting his desire to speak the truth against his word to hold his tongue. And with the Ultima series set in a land reminiscent of a period of history where a broken oath could lead to a serious shift in status, I think these questions, approached from the right angle, might not be quite so easy to answer as a modern perspective would make them out to be.

It certainly wasn't in Aric's case. He'd done some pretty heinous deeds in order to achieve his goals - goals that were, ostensibly, laid on him, if only to an extent, by kings themselves. (I can't help but think back to Ultima I, no less than eight kings exhorting him to find a way to defeat Mondain, and killing a jester being necessary to see that done.) In the end, though, the allure of the... poetic nature of going for the Justice response, a feeling of remorse for the heinous deeds done, the ends-justifying-the-means attitude, was too tempting. And so Aric began his Quest of the Avatar as a druid, outside the walls of the city he... ran murderous rampages through... erm...

Maybe it's best he make his way to Castle Britannia. For now. To figure out what the heck he needs to do to make amends, atone for his actions, and achieve avatarhood. Yes, that sounds like a good and wise plan. He and I will get right on that.

Methinks I'll avoid the city folk for now...

1 comment:

  1. This has been a fantastic series to read. Thanks for writing these. :)