Summary(Don't) Sing That Ole Blue Tassel Blues (Never Again)
The GoodHm... good question... Let me think...
Well one nice thing is that it's got a BIG game world. Not only have you got 15 large outdoor maps, you've also got about 30 indoor maps. Each map is 64x64, so you've got a lot to explore... and I usually like games which give the possibility to explore. However... well, see below.
Then, the timegates' concept and implementation is nice, and also nicely confusing, at first. It was fun to figure out all those connections between the different eras and where they lead to, and to explore the different cities in the different time zones is fun.
A third thing I liked was this silly, zany humor. Meeting the creators of Wizardry shouting "Copy protect! Copy protect!" is genuinely funny... However, after a while, it gets somewhat tiresome, and in the end, it kind of got on my nerves. Again, see the next section.
Finally, the playability is good, as with all Ultimas I've played. Lots of keyboard commands, which are pretty easy to remember, especially if you played other old Ultimas before.
Now let's see what's wrong with this game.
The BadWell, there mainly are two things:
1. BIG, EMPTY, UNINTERESTING GAME WORLD
I said the game world is BIG. And it is. In fact, it is even bigger (in pure map-cell-count terms) than Ultima 3. However, it is also quite BORING. Yes, boring. On most of the maps, nothing much happens. Overworld has monsters, towns have shops, but that's it. Of course, there's some NPCs walking around, but after a while, I realized that most of them really had nothing useful to say. Some chuckles here and there, of course, but it wasn't really enough to keep me motivated. In the end, I started hating running around these great big maps and had to force myself talking to each NPC, so that I wouldn't miss one of those rare hints. In fact, pretty much every important thing is in a single city.
In fact, many party of the game are completely uninteresting. For example, you don't EVER need to enter a single dungeon. So the whold 1st person 3D part of the game is unnecessary. I just hate this kind of waste. If it's not necessary, why is it there? It's superfluous. *sigh*
And it gets even worse in space. There are ten planets to explore, about half of them are completely empty, and all but one have nothing interesting whatsoever. No interesting locations, no hints, just silly NPCs telling silly jokes. And the worst thing is that you can not save in space, and that landing on some of the planets takes very good timing and luck.
2. LUCK INSTEAD OF GAME DESIGN
Oh yes, luck... That's the absolutely worst part of this game. Richard Garriott though he could do without game design and just rely on the bloody random number generator. Let me tell you...
When I started my first game, I ran around, bought some equipment and food, talked to NPCs, and began slaying monsters. (Actually, I didn't buy food, I stole about 6000 food in the second town I went to and NEVER had to care about this problem anymore. Call that game design? I don't!) I quickly realized that the rewards you get for fighting monsters (gold and XP) are totally random. You get the same XP for fighting a guard that does 200 hits and for fighting a measly orc. Call that game design? I don't.
Anyway, after about one hour of running around and fighting, I started to feel bored. Running from Afrika to South America and back for the n-th time isn't that much fun, and the "bash, get bashed, bash, get bashed"-style combat isn't exactly exiting neither. It doesn't help that monsters randomly spawn on islands which you cannot reach. However, you'll need LOTS of money for healing, then you need LOTS of money buying good equipment, and then you'll need even MORE money for improving your stats so that you can USE this equipment. This doesn't have to be bad, but really -- after an hour of running around and hitting monsters, I felt I hadn't advanced one bit. I started getting annoyed.
Then, a friendly bartender make me realize that I probably needed a "Blue Tassel" to get on board a ship, whose cannons make grinding more fun and less tiresome. So how do you get this thing? Well, you need to be lucky, punk! You need to kill a thief and hope that he drops a Blue Tassel! Of course, you may get it after the first battle. However, in my game, I took me about two bloody hours of running around until I had this bloody Tassel. Then, run around some more and start looking for a ship. After a mere hour, I found one. Try boarding it... WTF? They don't let me? What about my Blue... Huh? WHERE THE FUCK IS MY BLUE TASSEL?!!! Well, another thief must have stolen it from me in a later battle, without me noticing. Haha!
I stared blankly at the screen for a while. I cursed Garriott and his breed up to the fifth generation. Then I saved the game, exited, started my trusty hex editor, and played god. I hex'ed me loads of Blue Tassels, just to be sure. And then, I also hex'ed me a nice supply of gold. Because, frankly, I was PISSED of running around through the empty worlds of Ultima II, going nowhere for hours. I usually enjoy hard games (I've been playing Rogue for nearly 20 years now and have never won, see), but Ultima II isn't hard. It's just tiresome. In the end, it's a game of chance -- in fact, in another game I started later for checking stuff out, I had a pirate ship after 10 minutes.
I also read a walkthrough to make sure I didn't miss anything. No, it's pure luck.
If I hadn't cheated, I would have had to grind away for hours. It IS somewhat easier and more fun with the pirate ship, but it still takes HOURS of boring grinding to get the money needed to get good enough to finish this game.
Ah yes. One more thing I just remembered. There's one place in the game where you can increase your stats. And you need to do it, because otherwise, you won't be able to use this better equipment. So you go to that place, pay you're hard-earned 100 gold (the equivalent of 10 boring fights), and then... well, if you're lucky, a random attribute is raised, if not -- 10 minutes of your time wasted. And even if you're lucky, you may well have your wisdom raised which doesn't help you a single bit. You may spend 1000 gold and NEVER have your dexterity or strength increased. God, this game really PISSES me off! I like SOME randomness, I like SOME frustration, but Ultima II just isn't so rewarding that I can take this.
The Bottom LineEasy. It was an incredibly disappointment. Ultima II is by far the worst Ultima I've played yet (U1-4). It's MUCH worse than Ultima III, it's even much worse than Ultima I. It's probably the worst Ultima ever, and it also belongs to one of the worst role-playing games I've ever played. I'd even prefer Telengard or Dunjonquest to this. It's repetitive, tiresome, boring and frustrating, it replaces player skill and game design with pure chance, and it's big, big game world is essentially empty and boring, full of unhelpful and uninteresting NPCs that are just there to tell you silly jokes.
Garriott obviously was experimenting with his RPG formula developed in Akalabeth and Ultima I. He obviously wanted to make it epic -- but he primarily made it BIG, and forgot pretty much everything else. The game design is horrible, the atmosphere is pretty much non-existent, and the game soon begins to be just tiresome.
I really enjoyed both Ultima I and Ultima III, and Ultima II clearly is the missing link between both, having some of both games' elements, but the whole game feels so unfocused and patchy that I strongly suspect that Richard Garriott was on drugs when he created this game. The computer gaming world can be glad that Garriott obviously learned from his errors here, and pulled himself together for the wonderful Ultima III but one year later, not to mention the justly famous Ultima IV.
I really had to force myself to finish this game. In many respects, this game tortures the player. Right down to the big boss fight at the end. The Enchantress is not too hard to kill -- but you'll have to do it not once, not twice, no -- all in all it's six times. And every time, you'll have to run through her whole castle again. Then again, I didn't expect otherwise. I'm glad to be through with this game, and I'll never touch it ever again. Just thinking of it makes me angry. Blue Tassel. AARRRGH!!
After having played both U2 and U3, I'm really wondering why the hell does U2 get a score of 3.93 on Moby, while U3 which is MUCH closer to U4 than to U2 gets only 3.71?! At least the U2 reviews all say this game sucks, more or less.