More like Time Bandit fanfiction than Ultima
This game is… interesting, to say the least. The whole concept behind it is unique to this very day, and given this game came out in 1982, that’s saying a lot. Time travel combined with a villainess unleashing a horde of mythical monsters on the real world and throwing all the timelines of the world out of whack sounds like it has a lot of potential, and if this game were remade today it would probably kick ass.
On top of that, you’re not just restricted to our world, but can visit every single planet in our solar system, including the ex-planet Pluto and the mysterious planet X. Like I said, the concept behind this game is very imaginative, but that’s all that’s really good about it.
The bad… Ok, this going to be a two parter, the first part being the first time I actually played and completed it, and the second time after I saw the movie that inspired it and the whole moongate concept: Time Bandits.
The game is very large, but also very confusing. There’s very little in terms of direction for the player, when I first played it way back in the day (back in 1998 when I first got the Ultima Collection CD), I had not the faintest idea what to do. Even after reading the manual (which was very, very well written and definitely thought provoking) I still found it very hard to navigate my way through the world and just survive, let alone follow the plot to complete the game.
Speaking of which, there just didn’t seem to be much of a plot as there was an objective to defeat Minax. The clues are far and few between amid the mindless one-liners of the denizens of the world, and most everything is based on luck instead of skill, such as the only person who can increase your stats, and he does this when given a large amount of gold. Speaking of gold, it seems that a majority of the game is focused on just that, getting money. Even the walkthrough on the Ultima collection CD outright says that 80% of the game is just gathering gold, so you’re going to spending a lot of time just attacking monsters to get some gold, and to try to get those items that you need in the game, which brings me to another negative point about it.
There’s no indication as to what the many items in the game are! And there’s a lot of them, coins, tassels, brass buttons, ankhs. Hell, I still don’t know what some of them do, and the manual doesn’t tell anything about them. I was a complete loss as to what they did until I went through the walkthrough on the CD and the guides online, and by then I was basically fed up with the game and on the verge of quitting, but being an Ultima fan, I felt the need to complete this game at least once.
The other problem is the massive dead space found in the game. It’s a big game, with many maps and many dungeons and towers, but most of them are useless. The only reason why they’re there is to provide the player with yet another way of gathering money, which can also be obtained in the outside world. It would have helped if perhaps some of those towers contained items at the end of them, like blue tassels or brass buttons or keys, but no, they’re just for decoration and needless busy work. The planets are also equally useless, as you only need to go on one planet in the entire game.
That’s the first part of my criticism, the game on its own. Now comes part 2. I heard that many concepts of this game were taken from the movie Time Bandits, a 1981 sci-fi movie. I watched it recently and it was a good movie, and it completely changed my perspective on Ultima 2. The game was always the odd one out since it involved such bizarre concepts as taking place on earth, landing on planets in our solar systems, and time travel to as far back as the dinosaur era.
I didn’t understand why, I don’t think anyone really would understand until you watch Time Bandits (seriously you should, if not only to put this game into context), and realize that this game was basically Time Bandit fanfiction with the whole Ultima angle tossed in because Richard Garriott wanted it to be a part of his game series. The game takes not only the concept of the time portals (which work the same in the movie as they do the game. Little black gates that pop in and out of existence and take people to a different time and place) but also the of the solar system map (featured prominently in the movie and in the game’s manual), and even the Time of Legends (where you defeat the evil Minax) is explicitly mentioned both in the movie and in the game. The game wasn’t so much Ultima as it was Time Bandits with a twist… you’re a time bandit running from a supreme being, but a time traveler using those moongates to defeat Evil… oops, I mean Minax (watch the movie, you’ll understand). The only thing that makes it from being a complete Time Bandits remix is that Lord British is in the game, and the manual explicitly states that Minax is Mondain’s ex-lover.
The Bottom Line
This game is the odd one out, it isn't the worst Ultima game (that dubious honor goes to Ultima 9) largely because because in 1982, the Ultima series had yet to find its direction and purpose (don't forget that Richard Garriott made Ultima 1 to 3 almost completely single handed, with Akalabeth programmed on a computer in Richard's high school for Pete's sake! This was the stone age of computer gaming and there was plenty of space of experimentation and trial and error.
That being said, should people play Ultima 2? I would say only if you consider yourself an Ultima fan, because there really isn't that much else to it, or if you've watched Time Bandits and you want to see how it might have been if it was turned into a game.
In fact, if you want to play this game, I would strongly recommend watching Time Bandits anyway, at least you'll be in the mindset as to where this game came from and the concept of the moongates which play such a vital role in the remainder of the series.