Friday, February 27, 2015

Ultima IV: Into the Depths

It strikes me that the terminology for an avatar to be can be a little confusing at times. An eight-part avatar is not automatically the Avatar, despite the fact that that's kind of what it suggests, seeing as there's eight parts to the code of virtues that Avatar must abide by... I'm not sure what a better term would be for one who's attained enlightenment in all eight virtues but not yet completed the Quest of the Avatar proper yet. Almost-Avatar? Junior Avatar?

Well, this has 'long nap' written all over it.
Well, whatever the term, that's where I found myself at the end of my last session, and so this session meant it was time to gather the rest of the items that I needed for my eventual venture into the Stygian Abyss. As I saw it, I had two options of going about that. On the one hand, I could seek out the hidden city near Lock Lake. The citizens of the realm had pointed me there for information on all kinds of things - the white stone, the black stone, the Candle of Love, the Word of Passage... I'd need to follow up on all of these leads eventually. When it came to information and clues, it seemed like all roads led to Cove. On the other hand, there were six other stones that needed to be gathered, and I knew that these could be found in the various dungeons scattered over the land. I knew there was a secret entrance to Hythloth in Lord British's castle somewhere, and I'd stumbled upon the entrance to another in my travels. I also knew that there were altar rooms deep in the bottoms of the dungeons that connected them to each other (and I can only imagine the convoluted geography necessary that would make such a thing possible). The only question was which route I should pursue first.

I opted for a plunge into the dungeons. I'd have to make my foray into their depths sooner or later, and I'd have to get used to the nature of the gloomy passages that wound their way under the surface of Britannia - they were sure to be worse in the Abyss itself! Besides, it would be a good way to gather more gold for supplies, build up the strength of my companions, and get used to guiding this group. Of course, since Lord British had recognized my growth at the end of my last session, I could add another to my band. We were lacking both a fighter and a mage, so after a moment's consideration, it was off to Moonglow to pick up Mariah (along with a bit extra food, now that the party was larger we were going through rations quicker), whose magical prowess would surely be a boon to the group.

SO glad I have ranged weaponry for this one.
Having expanded the party to seven, and with an excursion into the dangerous world of the Britannian underground looming, I opted to take some time to gather what supplies I was able, and outfit my fellows with the best equipment I could get. That meant a trip to Buccaneer's Den, where I sold a few of the Mystic Weapons I'd obtained in Serpent's Hold - not that I doubted their strength, but I had learned long ago that range tended to trump power in this age of Britannia. In a sense, that almost seemed fitting, based on the lessons I'd learned - that there are things more important than brute strength and raw power. (I'd be rather surprised if reflecting that idea was a conscious part of the design of Ultima IV's combat system, but I must admit I do find it fairly fitting for the theme of the game, if only in a small way.) After some negotiations with some questionable merchants (this was Buccaneer's Den, after all), I along with Iolo and Mariah were brandishing magic wands, while Dupre, Shamino and Julia had magic bows at the ready. Poor Katrina was still stuck with her sling, but she assured the rest of us she was quite content. We were all clad in the mystic robes we'd found in Empath Abbey's grove, and while we were in the Den we saw fit to spend the rest of our funds on magic gems for mapping purposes within the dungeons, and reagents for whatever magical assistance we could make use of in the depths. We even made a foray into the forest west of Britain in order to gather a little nightshade - not much, but enough to provide that little boost, just in case. Katrina and Mariah earned enough experience during these preparations to gain a level each.

With our coffers emptied, spent on amenities for subterranean exploration, we trekked through the mountains to the entrance to the dungeon Despise, situated just a little ways north of Britain's moongate. (I never remember where any of the other dungeons are. I really should fix that one of these days, my mental map of Britannia is missing that crucial detail.) We took a moment to gather ourselves and steel our nerves, then with a breath of trepidation we set foot into the darkened cavern and lit a torch.

Those poison fields were not kind to my little band.
Going into this playthrough, I was determined to refrain from making use of the dungeon teleportation spells, the Up, Down, and X-it spells. They're useful things, to be sure, and I made copious and repeated use of them during my first time through the game (and many of them after), but I've never really taken the time to explore the dungeons proper, or at least try and push my way through them without zapping myself past all (well, most) of the obstacles. It does present an interesting trade-off, though - expediency for experience. Actually pressing through all the obstacles, while time-consuming and taking a toll on resources, provides a fair amount of experience, because these aren't just the orcs and rogues and skeletons that wander through the overworld - these are the zorns, the balrons, the dragons, the liches, the reapers - the harder monsters that deliver experience at a more rapid rate. Either you can zip through the dungeons and claim their prizes, or you can take your time and get rewarded for the experience. I like the fact both options are possible, as I've had uses for both approaches in my past playthroughs.

Despise was a fairly straightfoward dungeon, I found. There was only one real 'fork' in it that I came across, one leading to the yellow stone and the other down to the bottom floor where the altar room of Love could be found. I panicked upon seeing a room full of gremlins on the way down, and Tremored my way through it, only to realize I went the wrong way and had to fight my way through it again. Fortunately, my party was strong enough to pound the gremlins into the ground before they had a chance to steal any food from me - in fact, through all my dungeon crawling, I only had a gremlin swipe a couple units worth of food twice. Dupre touched a magical orb in the dungeon, taking a hard hit in exchange for extra dexterity, and Shamino would do the same further down in the depths. This was also where I and my entourage encountered our first reaper fight, which meant a lot of us got a mid-battle nap. It wasn't long before I found the yellow stone on the fifth floor past a windy corridor, though, and with plenty of supplies left we pushed onward into the depths.

After working our way through a room absolutely covered in fire, sleep and poison fields (many cure spells were needed during the plunge, as I'll make mention of later), we made our way into Covetous through the altar room of Love. It turned out the orange stone lay just one level above the altar room we'd come in from, through a fair few secret walls, but it was otherwise pretty much just a straight shot. Having come what I came in for, it was back to the altar room for me, and I ducked into Wrong. That turned out to be slightly less straightforward, but still rather simple - all we had to do was zip up a level via a ladder that was right outside the door, and then back down again via a different ladder. From there it was a pretty simple, direct route to the green stone - though I had a bit of trepidation when we passed through a room with a few lava lizards, which we hadn't come across yet. Fortunately the lava in the room stayed pretty contained, otherwise it could have become a little tense.

Oh, so THAT'S where I am.
The altar room of Truth was in a corridor just past the stone, so I slipped in there and headed for Deceit. Which was more full of traps rather than tricks, though I did take a somewhat roundabout way of getting to the blue stone, past several magical fields. Fitting, I suppose, for the dungeon that was supposed to be the antithesis of the virtue the mages hold to. I was running fairly low on reagents by this point, and I figured that it might be wisest to climb my way back to the surface and restock. Again, it was more traps than tricks that did me in, although there was one trick on the second floor that tripped me up for a bit - the room's exit kept disappearing on me! I eventually figured out I had to stick to the room's edges to get it to reappear and let me out. I also found an orb that I let Mariah touch which boosted her intelligence - as my party's mage, I figured she'd get more use out of it than any of the rest of us. And indeed she did - despite being three levels below Aric, she's already got more magic power than he does.

Of course, when I crawled out of Deceit, I discovered I was on a small secluded island with no way off except by ship. Normally this is the type of situation where I Gate Travel spell myself elsewhere, but since I'm sticking to information that I've been able to pull out in-game, and nobody's yet told me the ingredients necessary for that spell, that wasn't an option for me this time. So after peering through a gem, I took stock of my location and found myself not too far from the island housing the Shrine of Honesty, so a couple blink spells (and many poisonings in the swamplands) later, I was back at Moonglow and restocking on some badly needed garlic. I'd started my dungeon ventures with about fifty or sixty, and I was down to about five by this point. (I told you I got poisoned a lot! And this was not helped by the fact that I was attacked by snakes during a rest just after I cured everybody.)

Blinking around reminded me of the usefulness of the spell for travel's sake, though. So after moongating back to Britain and wandering around the northern edge of Lock Lake, I decided to see if I could blink my way to Cove. Expending a gem or two to line myself up properly, I cast the spell... and there I was at the town's outskirts! Success!

So there ended my session for the day, with half of the stones I needed in my pocket and on the doorstep of the hidden city of wisdom. Guess what my plan for next time is!

Snakes... why did it have to be snakes...

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Ultima IV: Enlightened

With five partials obtained and three more ready to advance, I had a pretty solid gameplan for this particular session - namely, become an eight-part avatar proper. Having left off at the Shrine of Compassion, I toddled my way back to Castle British, where Iolo and Julia gained a level after all the fights we'd struggled through in our travels. A little stronger now, I herded our merry little band of adventurers onto our ship, and sailed for Buccaneer's Den, having obtained enough gold to purchase a much-needed sextant. I was starting to get coordinates that I'd have to visit, and I needed a way to figure out where I was!

The Quest of the Avatar is forever, after all.
With that taken care of, I sailed around the south end of the continent to make my way to Skara Brae, or more accurately, the other islands nearby, where I poked around for a bit before I unearthed the Silver Horn that I would need to get past the demons that guarded the Shrine of Humility. But before I headed there - the Valarian Isles were a lot closer, and I had business at the Shrine of Valor. But first I had to find the rune! The last time I was in Jhelom, I found out nothing about it, but there were people behind locked doors that I couldn't question. This time, I had magic keys with me, and soon I was rummaging around the passages on the inside of the town walls, looking for a man named Nostro. The poor guy had been trapped within the passages himself, and in reward for helping him out he informed me the rune lay within the southeast tower. With that in hand, it was a quick hop over to the next island, and a few cycles of meditation later, I became a partial avatar in Valor.

My next destination was the Shrine of Humility. I'd been told it was on the northern side of a large isle in the southeast of Britannia, and that it lay on the same island as the Abyss. It was therefore with some trepidation that my band of five set a course for the Shrine, as we wondered if we might get a glimpse of what we might have to expect. Viewing gems showed a rough landscape indeed, and I blew the horn as we trekked over the mountains to the shrine to keep the demons away. The horn worked exactly as I was told it should, and I reached the shrine with no trouble, nor was I attacked on my way back to my ship after becoming enlightened in Humility.

Since I was sailing around anyway, and I wasn't too terribly far from the coordinates I'd been given by Jude, I went to go fish up the skull of Mondain from the depths of the sea. Surrounded by little eddies of volcanic activity, I was a little unsettled to have the thing in my inventory, the very skull of the evil wizard that caused so much trouble, directly or through his apprentice and/or progeny, in the past three games. I'll be glad to destroy this thing in the Abyss.

I intended to make my way to Moonglow afterward, but I forgot exactly where Verity Isle was, got turned around, and ended up closer to Britain than anywhere else. So I sailed back to the castle - catching sight of the settlement near Lock Lake through a gem on the way - and to my delight, I was ready for another level, as were Dupre and Shamino. I also spent some time exploring passages in the castle that I hadn't previously, with magic keys to unlock doors finally in my inventory, and I learned of the bell, book, and candle, and that I'd need to seek out those named Antos in the other keeps to find out where they were.

I don't know how comfortable I am carrying this thing.
With another level of experience under my belt, I could add another member to my party, so I swung by the ruins of Magincia again to pick up Katrina - again, I know she gets a bad rap and not undeservedly in some respects, but I still like her regardless, and wanted to give her opportunity to pick up a couple levels before we went dungeon crawling. Which didn't quite work out, but more on that later. For now, we made our way to Moonglow, which ranks pretty high on my list of favorite Britannian locales. A city of scholars and magic on an island, a stone's throw away from the best library in the land? Sign me up!

Anyway, after plying the townsfolk for information, I picked up the rune, learned the mantra, and set out for the Lycaeum to ask after the bell, book and candle as I was instructed. I was directed to search the library under T for the Book of Truth, and lo and behold, there it was! From there I blinked onto the island just north of me - since I'd taken the moongate rather than my ship - and after a bit more meditation, I was finally an eight-part avatar.

Still, that was only just the first step of my journey. With a lot of threads to follow up on still, I blinked back to Verity Isle - or tried to, at least, I had trouble aligning a bit, and ended up getting my entire party poisoned in the swamps in the process, and not enough reagents to heal it! Katrina ended up dying as a result of this - ONE STEP away from me mixing up the spell that would save her! It would be a while before I could revive her, although I did learn the mix for a resurrection spell in this session.

I still hadn't figured out where to find mandrake root and nightshade, though, so I asked around about that, along with a few other leads. Sir Simon and Lady Tessa told me where to find the mystic weapons and armor, and I learned where to find the Candle of Love and the Bell of Courage while poking about Empath Abbey and Serpent's Hold while gathering them. I learned where to find the two reagents not sold in stores, and spent some time collecting mandrake. All of my leads are starting to point toward the hidden city of wisdom off of Lock Lake now, though, so I think it's time to start plunging into the dungeons while I look for a way there. There's a veritable plethora of information waiting for me to discover, information that I need.

Armor in a very peaceful place.
I ended the day with yet another level for me and one for Katrina. I think I'm going to go pick up Geoffrey in Jhelom before I start chasing down my other leads. I do enjoy the fact that there's multiple ways to find out about certain important things in this game, as opposed to its predecessors - the three part key, the altar rooms, the skull... I've come across more than one character who's been willing to point me in the right direction on those topics, and it makes it a bit less frustrating than other games where vital information is gated behind one single character in an obscure, hard to locate position. Makes for a bit more enjoyable experience.

I may be an eight-part avatar now, but there's still a lot to do before I can venture into the Abyss. Time to track down some more clues!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Ultima IV: Always More to Learn

The road to enlightenment may be a rocky one, but once tangible progress begins to evidence itself, new epiphanies tend to cascade. Or at least that's how it tends to go in Ultima IV, I've noticed. It's a slow start to increasing your virtue scores, but once you start getting partials, the rest start falling into place pretty quickly.

Clearly not the friendly, patient sort.
I started this session with partials in Honor and Justice, and with Sacrifice, Humility, and Valor all ready to advance. So, naturally, I blew them off for the moment to head over to Buccaneer's Den, that dreadful hive of scum and villainy that a hopeful Avatar candidate really has no business being. Except that I did, as I remembered that I was told to ask after the skull of Mondain here. Plying the townsfolk for information proved a bit of a troublesome task, a lot of them were unsavory characters with a tendency to turn away if I was too inquisitive, but I did eventually find out that an extremely poor, destitute beggar named Jude might be able to tell me something. I did some restocking while I was in the Den, finding a rare source of magic keys and magic gems in town. So too did I find a reagents shop, which I made use of - only to get attacked by a balron sitting in the corner! Fine way to treat honest customers, by siccing one of those on them!

I hightailed it out of there, done with the town for now, though I expected I'd have to return eventually. The shops there did, after all, stock some very nice-looking weaponry, and I hadn't had enough money to purchase the sextant the guild shop owner kept behind the counter, either. For now, though, it was smooth sailing back to Britain, and I managed to commandeer yet another ship near Paws. I think that's four total now - I've been exceedingly lucky in that respect this time around, sometimes I have to make judicious use of blink spells to get around to the shrines I need! Doesn't seem to be the case this time around!

From the mouths of babes... sage advice.
With Sacrifice ready to advance, I hopped the moongate to Minoc, learning what I could there. I still can't quite figure out why they thought to keep the rune to the shrine waaaaaay in the back of the blazing hot forge, but I came out little worse for the wear because of it, so I suppose all was well. At least the smith was rather helpful, this turned out to be Zircon that I'd been told I should ask about the mystics. Apparently he gave them to Sir Simon and Lady Tessa, whom I remembered meeting in Paws. They'd told me they were the keepers of what they could not say - maybe now that I knew, they would be a bit more forthcoming. Having heard the mantra of Sacrifice sung in a bard's song, I next dropped by the poorhouse, and it was here that I found Jude. The poor man, he was clearly consumed by guilt for having made use of the skull himself once. A promise to never use it except to destroy it at the entrance to the Abyss seemed to be enough to gain his trust, however, as he gave me coordinates to where it could be found, on the darkest night. Saving up for a sextant became very important indeed.

Wait, haven't I met you before... did Minax hire you?
With a new companion in tow (I'd asked Julia at the poorhouse if she'd be willing), I made my way to the shrine, and after some time deep in thought, I had my third partial. Vesper was only a short jaunt away, so I paid a visit there. A group of shepherds told me a bit about the situation concerning the shrine of Humility - where it was, the fact it was guarded by demons, that its mantra was the mantra of pride reversed, all in all very helpful. Taking note of this, I made my way back to the moongate, and remembering that the Shrine of Spirituality was found through the gate of double full moons, I paid a visit to it, where I was rewarded with the knowledge that the white stone could be found in Serpent's Spine. But how do I search a mountain? Maybe the lighter-than-air device I heard about in Buccaneer's Den might be able to help there.

Maybe I should have stayed at the shrine a little longer, though, because when I made my way back to Hawkwind, he told me I was ready for advancement in Spirituality as well. So it was back the shrine for more meditation, and then I set my sights for the locale where I could learn more about what the shepherds in Vesper had hinted at. I headed for Magincia.

One of my favorite lines in-game, I must admit.
Magincia is one of my favorite parts of the game. Exploring the ruins, meeting ghosts and skeletons in varying stages of grief and regret, the missing walls, the encroaching swampland - it's all very poignant, and a very stark lesson in humility in and of itself. It's a reminder that there's a flipside to virtue, and that it can have very dire, lasting effects. The town and its denizens serve as a lesson by way of example of what not to do in contrast to the light, jovial feel from the rest of the settlements. I even love the fact that not everyone in Magincia seems to recognize these lessons - the nobleman who seems very convinced that of course I should have heard of him and his family coming swiftly to mind. Understanding humility in Ultima IV is inextricably tied in to understanding its antithesis is well, and I love that effect, because, as C. S. Lewis puts it in The Screwtape Letters, it's a particularly delicate virtue, easily shattered by the very fact that once one realizes one is acting humbly, then "almost immediately pride - pride at his own humility - will appear." It's even brought up by one of the resident ghosts to beware becoming too proud of your own virtue, lest you lose it in the process. It's a nice reminder that stands in stark contrast to the rest of virtues and seeking enlightenment in them as the game goes about it, and it's somehow fitting that attaining anything related to humility, whether it be the rune, the mantra, the stone, or its shrine - is somehow more complex than most of the others.

Anyway. While exploring the ruins of the town, I learned again of the demons that guarded the shrine, and that there existed a silver horn to ward them away. The lady in waiting of the Queen of Love was supposed to know something, so I made a note to myself to stop by Empath Abbey as soon as I was able. I discovered the mantra of pride - MUL - which meant that its reverse was the mantra I wanted. The locals informed me that Nate the snake would tell me of the rune and stone if I asked before it strike, and in return I was told to ask Barren in Paws of the rune, and at the pub in Britain of the black stone. I said hello to Katrina on my way out - I wasn't experienced enough to bring her into the party, which somewhat disappointed me. I know Katrina gets something a not-entirely-undeserved bad rap as a companion, with all the limitations shepherds generally have, but I've always liked her as a character, at least. The only survivor of a ruined city, presumably spared because she actually understood the virtue her home was supposed to honor and represent, sitting there starting out over the ruins. Once again, a poignant image of humility.

No... no, can't say that I have.
I moongated back to Trinsic and walked back to Britain, stopping in Paws along the way to ask after the rune of Humility (which turned up in the hills on the edge of town) and to ask Sir Simon and Lady Tessa about the mystics - which they told me could be found by one who was an eight-part avatar. They won't tell me anything more until I reach that point, so I bought some more reagents and headed for the Britain pub, where I learned Merlin the wizard could tell me of the black stone. Hawkwind told me I could elevate Honesty at this point, but I wanted to follow up on the horn, so some running about Empath Abbey informed me that I could find it off the tip of Spiritwood.

My session ended when I made my way once again to Castle British, where Hawkwind told me I could achieve a partial in Compassion (for some reason that's always the last one I seem to be ready to advance), so I ran over to the shrine, meditated, and called it a day. That gives me five partials under my belt now, and the other three ready for the gaining. I think it's time to hit the seas, visit Moonglow, drop by Jhelom and Spiritwood, then make for the Shrine of Humility. I'm becoming enlightened - but there's still much more to be learned before I can take a peek at the Codex.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Ultima IV: A Bit Partial

...well, that's the last time I decide to move twice over the holiday season. I didn't make a whole lot of game progress in my last session, which means I don't have many screenshots, either, but I followed up on a few threads and managed to make my way a little further along. Let's dust off my notes and see what I've got here, shall we?

The last time I scribbled down a bit of these adventures, I mentioned that I was ready to gain partial Avatarhood in Honor, Justice, and Humility, and that my plan was to head off to garner the two partials I could gain on the mainland before heading for Magincia to find out what I needed to do the same for Humility. Which I was all excited about, because I absolutely adore Magincia in Ultima IV, but... alas, I'll have to wait for another day to gush about what I like about the ruined city, because as it is with nearly all plans, they were derailed somewhat, and I still haven't made my way there yet. I had a couple threads to follow up on in Paws, so I figured I'd walk to Trinsic and make a pit stop to do so. I asked Zair the Wise for help with the word of passage I'd need at the last gate of the Abyss, as I'd been told in Skara Brae, and he told me I'd also need a three part key, which was alluded to back in Jhelom in connection with the stones. As for the word, I was told I'd have to ask his brother, who lived in a village beyond Lock Lake.

I am officially an honorable man now.
Thanking him for his time and his help, I continued on to Trinsic, where I followed up on another lead before making for the shrine. I'd been told to ask about the whereabouts of the white stone at the pub there, since it was no longer in Hythloth. The barkeep had heard some gossip that Sloven, again near Lock Lake, could tell me where it currently was. I'm going to have to make it a point to visit that village as soon as I'm able, that's two important clues and one lead on a spell (a mage named Mentorian there is supposed to know of the gate travel spell) that's awaiting me there! While in town, I picked up a bow for my old friend Shamino, now in my party, then headed over to the shrine of Honor, picking my way over the treacherous swamps. There I sat, contemplating the nature of Honor and what I had learned over the course of my journeys thus far, and when I came to myself again, I was given a vision, a fragment of what lay before me.

Wisdom thus gained, I made my way back to the castle of Lord British, where I tasked myself with my now-standard process of healing up, donating blood at the healer's, and checking in with Hawkwind. To my surprise, he informed me that I was ready to achieve enlightenment proper in the virtue of Sacrifice as well! That modified my plans for Magincia slightly, since Minoc was a bit more easily accessible via moongate. Before I did that, though, I had another partial to gain. So I ducked through the moongate to Yew, and blundered around the forest for a while trying to find the shrine in the darkness. Many battles were fought in the process, and by the time I found the shrine and received another vision, Shamino was ready for a level gain and when I dropped by the castle to do so I also found out Valor was ready for advancement! All this adventuring is doing me some good, it seems.

That was about all the game progress that I managed to accomplish in this session - the battles came fast and often, and with my party getting fairly large, it can take some time to plow through all the enemies. It does give me opportunity to talk about one aspect of the game I'd nearly forgotten about through my numerous replays, though, because of how I'm going about it this time.

See, since I've played it so often, I know where everything is in Ultima IV. I snag the black stone on my first to Moonglow because it's right there in the moongate. I pick up the rune of Spirituality on my first visit to Lord British's Castle, I Blink into the space in Serpent's Spine where the white stone sits at my first opportunity, that sort of thing. But I'm not doing that this time around. I'm acting as if I'm not aware of the clues the game has to offer, so I can chase them all down, scribble down my notes and follow up on the all the leads the game has to offer. It gives me reason to explore the game more fully than I usually do, remind myself of conversations that I pretty much have no reason to go through in my normal playthroughs because they're not telling me something I don't already know.

In doing so, though, I've also reminded myself of one aspect of the game that I don't see as much in more modern games - and that's making the player act on their own initiative. Plying the townsfolk for information, going from place to place to follow up on leads, having to remember what leads I've got and how things were worded and getting directions and getting lost trying to follow them properly - this is what helps make the world feel lived in for me. It feels more organic, not simply having everything laid out for me point-blank. Some of these hints I can blink and miss - I know I didn't see a lot of them my first time through the game, and it was years before I realized Lord British actually has dialogue if you ask him for 'help.'

It's reminding me of some ways that more recent games do things differently, and some of the potential side-effects that can have. Journals and quest logs, for one. Personally I've got nothing against them, per se - they're handy things to have in a large, sprawling game where it's hard to keep track of details and plot threads because there's just so dang many of them. It's nice to have a place to keep all of that organized, and also a very convenient perk that you don't have to halt the action to scribble them down yourself. At the same time, though, it's making me wonder if it doesn't oversimplify things sometimes. Quest logs make it very clear what's important to a certain story thread and what isn't, and that can lead to losing a bit of nuance. It also means one doesn't really have to pay much attention when a quest is given, either, because what's needed is all right there in the quest log anyway. It can even lead the writing to suffer a bit, because what does it matter if the quest-giving dialogue is unclear or not? It's all there in the quest log. I know this sort of thing doesn't matter to everyone, some people just want to move things along and don't pay much attention to story or motivation for doing things, but it's easier to gloss over that sort of thing when one has a quest log to lay it all down for you. And I wish more games would allow a player to add their own notes as well - Baldur's Gate had an option for doing so, if I recall right, and I like it. Scribbling my own for the Ultimas I've played - IV in particular, since the importance of doing so ramps up - has been very satisfying, leafing through what I've done and yet to do, wondering if something I wrote down will turn out to be important or not, making those decisions for myself. With what games can do these days, I kind of wish more gave a player more freedom as to how go about the in-game method of keeping track of everything. Is it really so bad to let us have the option of doing that ourselves?

To the Shrine of Justice!
And then there's quest markers. While there's a fair few reasons for it, this is probably the single biggest reason I favor Morrowind over Oblivion and even Skyrim. Quest markers have their usefulness, yes, especially in particular types of games. It's helpful to have something pointing out which way you need to go in order to accomplish what you've set out to do, and helps mitigate the time running around lost and frustrated. But at the same time - you lose so much that way, and once again, you run the risk of letting your writing suffer because of it. Again it's a matter of eliminating the need for clarity and understanding in the quest dialogue, and it also has the effect of no longer needing a lot of little details that are, ultimately, what help bring a game world to life. A quest in Oblivion or Skyrim will tell me "Go to these ruins, I think what you're looking for is in there," and there it will be on my map, along with a helpful arrow on my game screen pointing me to the location in question. And this is all well and good and expedient. But a Morrowind quest will tell me, "I think what you're looking for are in these ruins - they're out of town to the west, follow the foyada until you see two stone pillars and it should be on your left. If you hit the lake you've gone too far. What's a foyada? Oh, that's what we call those big canyons left by lava flows." And not only am I told where I'm going, I'm told how to get there, how it fits in relation to where I am, gives me a bit of world-building detail, and makes me think on my own when I'm heading out that way. Sure, it gets frustrating sometimes when directions are unclear or you miss a landmark or whatever. But it makes me lean on my own wits more, necessitates more nuanced writing, and gives me a better sense that these characters I'm interacting with exist in a world, not just a setting.

And this is what all I'm getting in Ultima IV - the series as a whole, really, and it's awesome to see how that develops as the series goes on. Plot threads that make me search for their continuations on my own merit. A map to chart my course with and a way to figure out which way I'm going when I'm told where things are. Little details to the world that I'm running about in. All because I as a player am trusted to poke about on my own and figure things out for myself - I'm not being lead. I don't mind a little hand-holding, goodness knows I need it every now and again, but that sense of discovery, that 'aha!' moment when a puzzle finally clicks, finding something new even a dozen playthroughs later, the little additions to a story that make it come alive - that's what I thrive on. That's the type of storytelling that I go to games for. And that's what Ultima is absolutely full of.

Is it any wonder I love the series as much as I do?

...well, that was a bit of a tangent, I'll admit, but hey, that's half my reason for doing this, I guess. Gives myself reason to really examine these games I've come to love and figure out why I appreciate them, and what all contributes to the Tale of Ultima. I think my game plan for my next session will be to follow up on a lead about Mondain's Skull in Buccaneer's Den, then head for Minoc and gain a Sacrifice partial while I stock up on guild items in Vesper. Gives me opportunity to become more honest (by stocking up on reagents), compassionate (lot of beggars in Minoc!) and spiritual, which are the three virtues Hawkwind tells me still needs some work. So we'll see how far I get next time!