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SummaryAmiga's RPG king
The GoodAmberstar defined Thalion's RPG design concept, and its sequel Ambermoon further developed and perfected it. The two games are very similar - Ambermoon is hardly the quality leap Amberstar was to its own predecessor Dragonflight. But that is not to say that Ambermoon simply repeats everything the previous game did. It is one of those sequels that may not be innovative, but rather refine and deepen whatever was achieved beforehand.
I won't dwell on Thalion's masterful execution of a "middle ground" role-playing concept that successfully merges the high principles of Ultima with the old-fashioned joys of Might and Magic - you'll find the appropriate passage in my review of Amberstar. Here, I'll just focus on what the sequel does better.
Possibly the most noticeable change is in the atmosphere. Amberstar looked great, but Ambermoon is much heavier on the graphical front. This is particularly evident in the 3D segments. While the top-down 2D rooms and overworld are vividly drawn and convey a cozy warmth reminding us of contemporary Ultimas, the dungeons steal the show. Ambermoon was one of the first RPGs to jump on Ultima Underworld's bandwagon: its dungeons use textured 3D, not just a "fake" view still featured in most role-playing games of its period. It is not yet the full-screen revolution of Arena and King's Field, but nevertheless an impressive piece of work. Don't expect as much detail and atmosphere as in Underworld games, but be ready for some moody maze exploration that certainly beats the step-by-step movement of pseudo-3D.
Otherwise, Ambermoon is just a "bigger and badder" version of its predecessor. More detailed, diverse towns; lovingly crafted overworld with even more sense of coherence and personality than in Amberstar; wider variety of conversation topics and "special" NPCs; stronger sense of a combined party; more focus on the plot and generally better side quests; a huge amount of items, including unique story-related ones that give the game a delicious flavor of an adventure; cool transportation options including a witch's broom and an eagle; clever combat, delightful little secrets and pretty much everything that made the previous game great preserved intact, designed with love and care, imbued with the same charm and deep understanding of role-playing.
The BadLike Amberstar (and most other German RPGs, for that matter), Ambermoon can be seen as too methodical, too strict in its relentless challenge, and perhaps a bit too slow-paced for those who want to jump right in for hack and slash. This applies specifically to combat, which can be a serious turn-off if you insist on your dungeon exploration being uninterrupted by long-winded exchanges of blows between weak combatants, where inflicting six points of damage in five rounds is all you can initially hope for. Don't get me wrong - I loved the smart, tactical battles of Ambermoon, but it cannot be denied that the game rarely communicates a sense of power treasured by some fans of the genre: every victory is hard-earned, and you'll be struggling pretty much throughout the entire game.
More hardcore RPG acolytes may bemoan the lack of character creation and the somewhat streamlined (though by no means linear) plot advancement with relatively fixed choices of companions and perhaps less room for experimentation in party-building than in Amberstar. Also, the island setting makes it clear right in the beginning that you can't access other areas but the initial one for a while. I preferred the more open-ended approach of Amberstar, where most of the continent was available for a perilous on-foot journey right from the onset.