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SummaryHas trouble keeping the player motivated
The GoodAfter Ultima became a big success for Richard Garriott, the logical thing to try was creating a sequel in which everything was bigger, better, and cooler. Ultima II achieved that. The improvements are many, and not just minor ones, too.
The game world is a couple of times the size of the original Ultima. You don't only travel through different kingdoms anymore, you also travel through time. Not only do you once more venture into outer space, but now you can even land on other planets of our solar system, and explore them. Towns are now themselves multi-screen environments, each with a unique structure. And there many other peaceful inhabitants wandering around, although they don't have much to say yet. Along with dungeons, there are also towers, and both of them have over a dozen uniquely designed levels each, with improved monster graphics.
The list goes on. The scope of the game is absolutely amazing, even more so when comparing it to that of other titles of the time.
The BadThe game's biggest problem is ultimately (pun intended) that it forgets about the players. While providing a great world to toy around in, it fails at giving players a lasting incentive to do so. This is not the fault of the story, which is basically a clone of the first Ultima - getting strong enough to battle an evil wizard. The whole journey to get there is just not gripping enough.
For a large part, this is due to obvious balancing issues. In the beginning, players have a hard time keeping their injuries and travels at a minimum, in order to not run out of food or hit points early on. A while later, difficulty gives way to dullness. The remaining part of the game now mostly consists of cruising around in a battleship and firing at enemies, over and over again. That in itself wouldn't have to be completely bad, Diablo for example was just as repetitive. What made Diablo entertaining, however, was that it always kept patting the players head. An interesting item after every dozen of enemies, increasing amounts of gold, and a change in scenery every few levels.
Ultima II does have nothing of the sort. The amounts of gold and experience the player gets from fights is increasing extremely slow, and there is a general lack of enemies. This means literally hours of cruising around the world with the hero, killing hundreds and hundreds of the same types of enemies. All for a slow progression in experience levels, and a small stack of gold to increase hit points and equipment to finally be ready for the endgame. It is no rewarding experience by any standard. At most times, Ultima II more resembles work than play. To make matters worse, increasing stats can only be done through bribing a hotel clerk, which then might increase a character value, and if he does, a randomly chosen one.
But what about all the nice features I mentioned? They don't really matter. The dungeons are nice, but there is no reason to visit them, as the enemies are much stronger than those on the surface, yet the rewards are just as puny. And in contrast to the first Ultima, there are no quests, so why care about the other inhabitants of the world?
The Bottom LineThe only reason why I played and completed Ultima II was because of my determination to finish every Ultima game in existence. If you don't feel that urge, there's no real reason to force yourself to finish it. And believe me, you will reach a point where you would have to force yourself. Apart from the background texts in the manual, you're not missing out on a great, surprising story.
It is an interesting fact that for later releases of the DOS version in compilations, files from all the game's disks were copied to one folder, overwriting several files with identical file names. This eventually got rid of all the outer-space game maps, rendering space travel useless and the game unwinnable without applying a fan patch. The real problem is however that the game itself is so demotivating that most players probably never even got far enough to notice.
It is fun to walk around in Ultima II for a while, experience the new features it has over the first part in the series, explore the worlds and time travelling. But it is not fun enough to work towards completing the game's objectives. In the end, you will find that all the game's interesting features and elements are pointless, while the necessary ones are boring. This is a fatal combination for a game, especially after its novelty has worn off.