Yes, it’s still my #1 RPG, though it wasn’t perfect; I’ve talked about some of the minor flaws before. The one real problem with the game, though, is that it had no legs.

In most RPGs, you replay to find stuff you missed, to try out a different character or party mix, and/or experience a different path through the game. None of that mattered in Ultima IV.

There was only one path, and it had to be followed down into the Codex Room; that was the only way to win. You needed a full party of eight, and it was always the same party, pretty much. It would be slightly different, depending on your class, but that was trivial.

The real meat of the game was gathering information: learning the mantras, the locations of the virtue stones, the three-part keyword, where the shrines were, and which NPCs would join, among other things. You had to talk to a lot of people, often several times, to find out everything important.

But once you knew all that, replaying the game was mechanical. You’d learned the mantras last time, so no need to track them down. Ditto for pretty much everything (and everyone) else. You just bounced around the map, picking up who or what you needed, as soon as you were able. Talking to people almost (not quite) dropped out of your activities.

It’s a sad thought that what I consider still the best RPG is really a one-time experience. Of course, I did play it a second time, to ensure all my notes were correct (which meant talking to everyone again, urgg). But that was all.

When the game was released to the public domain, I downloaded it and tried it once more. But I didn’t get very far. I knew it too well, even after all that time, and there didn’t seem any sense in continuing. So I didn’t. Sigh.

But hey, it was great the first time around, and that’s what counts. I’m glad there was that first time. Ah yes, the good old days…