What’s the Point of an RPG Without a Main Villain? How Ultima IV Changed the Game Published at Tor.com


One of the most important and compelling games I ever played was about you being a good person. In Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, you helped the poor, sacrificed blood, defended the weak. There was no main villain, no prince or princess to rescue. You had to become a a good person. Period. It was an inspiration growing up and an honor to write about it for Tor.com. It’s funny as I think about the game, all the hours poured into it. Bits and pieces from the essay which I explored in the format of the eight virtues which comprise the avatar, like compassion:

The homeless and the sick exist in most of the towns of Britannia. One of them is dying of bubonic plague and looks so pitiful as he begs for money. No matter how much money you give him, he’s still there every day. I know playing it in retrospect, the mechanic seems simple, but back then as a kid, the chance to give to the poor was my naive way of feeling like I was actually helping people. QOTA made me wonder how, with all this prosperity in the land, there were still so many who had so little. It was a dark reflection on a reality that’s still apparent today, beyond our front doors.

And Sacrifice:

I always thought it funny that it was not enough of a sacrifice to save the world, fight off monsters, and help the weak. You needed to donate blood at the donor bank, too. Once you sacrifice enough blood and fulfill all your other duties, you achieve avatarhood and descend down into the Stygian Abyss. There, you’ll fight against some of the toughest enemies in the game, including the final battle pitting you against pixelated reflections of you and your companions. Being a messiah meant you had to destroy the eight embodiments of your 8-bit soul. It wasn’t a tough battle (especially with the Tremor spell), but a poetic one that culminated in sacrifice. You would never be the same again.

Big thanks to my editor at Tor, Bridget, as I had so much fun writing it. Writing the essay had me thinking about how much the game affected my approach to story-telling and protagonists in general. Richard Garriott instilled players with a sense that there was a nobler approach to life. As I conclude the piece:

In the end sequence, Lord British challenges you by stating, “The quest of the avatar is forever.”

All these years later, I’m still striving, still hoping to live up to its ideals.


(Some screengrabs from my recent playthrough below)

ultimaquest01 ultimaquest02 ultimaquest03 ultimaquest04 ultimaquest05 ultimaquest06 ultimaquest07 ultimaquest08 ultimaquest09 ultimaquest10 ultimaquest11 ultimaquest12 ultimaquest13 ultimaquest14 ultimaquest15 ultimaquest16 ultimaquest17 ultimaquest18 ultimaquest19 ultimaquest20 ultimaquest21 ultimaquest22 ultimaquest23 ultimaquest24 ultimaquest25 ultimaquest26 ultimaquest27 ultimaquest28 ultimaquest29 ultimaquest30 ultimaquest31 ultimaquest32 ultimaquest33 ultimaquest34 ultimaquest35 ultimaquest36 ultimaquest37 ultimaquest38 ultimaquest39 ultimaquest40 ultimaquest41 ultimaquest42 ultimaquest43 ultimaquest44 ultimaquest45 ultimaquest46 ultimaquest47 ultimaquest48 ultimaquest49 ultimaquest50


3 thoughts on “What’s the Point of an RPG Without a Main Villain? How Ultima IV Changed the Game Published at Tor.com

  1. Becoming a hero is never about being a villain, at least maybe not necessarily one with form. Defending the weak implies there is someone who is threatening them, for there to be poor there must be those who are better off who MAY just be very snooty about it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s