Written by  :  Great Hierophant (319)
Written on  :  Sep 23, 2011
Platform  :  Apple II
Rating  :  3.75 Stars3.75 Stars3.75 Stars3.75 Stars3.75 Stars

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A Better Game for its Time

The Good

A lot of reviewers tend to look down on Ultima II as the black sheep of the series. But when you consider what was available at the time, its actually a pretty good advancement over the previous game. Improvements from the previous Ultima include :

Gigantic World - The game world is huge, the towns and dungeons are huge, and there are several time zones and planets to explore. Getting to those planets and some places in the time zones is a real challenge.

Faster Gameplay - Akalabeth and Ultima used Applesoft BASIC and Atari BASIC (for Ultima's 8-bit port to the Atari computers) for most, if not all of the games. Travel in Ultima was ridiculously slow, as you can literally see the screen refresh itself with every step. Dungeoneering is an exercise in frustration as the slow refresh rate leads to lost keystrokes and extra hits from the monsters. Everything feels faster.

More Detailed Graphics - While many of the tiles in this game were reused from the last one, the graphical level of quality has improved. Water is now animated, each character class has a unique icon, and overworld enemies have real shapes. Dungeon enemies now are shown in color instead of wireframe. The towns no longer are in a smaller perspective than the overworld.

A Sense of Direction - In the original Ultima, the player practically figure out what to do by spending hard earned gold at the taverns and figuring out to do quests from the Kings. The manual was very sparse, it did not even inform the player that there were multiple continents that needed to be explored. Nor did it identify that the object of the game was to defeat a bad guy. Ultima II gives the player a backstory and a cloth map with the time gates delineated.

More Lively World - In Ultima, you could only transact with Kings and Merchants. In Ultima II, you can actually talk to townspeople. While most can only spout a canned line, there are some in each town which can provide you a clue or some amusement. They also move around, except for guards (unless you kill someone in town).

Lack of Disk Swapping - In this game, you will not need to swap disks often. After the initial Program / Player swap, you will not swap again until you lift off from Earth.

Packaging - This is the first Ultima game to come in a box and a cloth map. The previous Ultima had come in a ziplock bag without a map. Unlike today's games which may include a cloth map, Ultima's maps are actually useful and necessary for gameplay.

The Bad

Bugs - This game has two very nasty bugs. One of which is that, in the original release versions for the Apple II, Atari 8-bit and IBM PC, it is impossible to raise your strength level. The second one is that your stats, like HP, Food and Gold, can "roll-over" if you earn more than 9999 in a stat. So if you have 9950 food and buy 50 more, you are dead.

Unforgiving Death - If you die in this game, the game will force you to restart. It writes your death to your player disk, forcing you to make another. You can die from lack of food, bad luck or failing to land your ship properly.

Lucky Items and Thieves - You can buy weapons and armor in this game, but all items, including useful ones, are randomly acquired upon defeating enemies in the overland. For example, one special item is a Blue Tassel, which you can use to board any pirate ship. You need to board pirate ships in this game. But if a thief randomly steals your Tassel, you cannot board another pirate ship unless you find one again.

Combat Inequality - It seems like, no matter what kind of weapons and armor you acquire, you can never really carve your way through even the weaker monsters like Orcs and Thieves.

Inability to Reset the Player Disk - On the Apple, Atari 8-bit and IBM versions, you had to create a new Player Disk each time you began a new game. There was no utility to reset the maps or the character, so if you mistakenly used your original Player Disk, you were out of luck if you saved to disk. The C64 version does include a reset utility.

The Bottom Line

Ultima II is quite an improvement over its predecessor, and it is only fair to judge the game against what else was available in 1982-1983 and its predecessor. To judge it against the Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness 1986 remake is not appropriate. It had little competition, as the second Wizardry scenario did not drastically improve on the first and the rest were Rogue-like games.