Posted by: Ben | February 16, 2010

Man vs Genre: Ultima 2: The Revenge Of The Enchantress

The Facts

The sequel to Ultima, originally written by Richard Garriott for the Apple II and published in 1982, this time by Sierra On-Line. This is the DOS port in glorious CGA-o-vision, modified to run on Windows by John Alderson (the mod is available from here), because DOSBox was playing up today.

The Cover

A left-handed space adventurer is being attacked by a gargoyle thing in a swamp, yet half of the space adventurer’s body is missing, and has been replaced by what looks like a blue sheet of cardboard but is most probably an interdimensional portal. The gargoyle thing is of course attacking him from the wrong side of the portal. Also the gargoyle’s legs are obscured, making it look as if it is not so much emerging from the swamp as fighting a losing battle with an airbrush. What I’m basically trying to say is that the front cover of Ultima 2 is a horrible mess, but at least it’s done creatively.

The back cover is more promising, since it features a list of some of the cool stuff one can get up to in the game, including not only “Slay Vicious Creatures” and “Get Accosted In Dark Alleys” but also “Dine At Your Favourite Restaurant”, “Meet Prominent People Within The Computer Industry” and “Be Seduced In A Bar.”

The Lore

When the archevil Mondain was finally overcome by a gallant knight (was it you?), rumors abounded. The most fearful one was that, at the time of his demise, Mondain had been training an apprentice, a protegee with amazing powerful, natural, magical abilities. The rumor was squelched when colleagues of his conqueror entered his castle and found no sign of anyone.

Then someone went to see Time Bandits and the plot took a direction redolent of the hallucinogenic collages of Terry Gilliam. Suddenly time travel was discovered in several eras simultaneously, a wicked sorceress attempted to kill everyone in the multiverse and an orc was confused. Predictably, a brave adventurer is called in to sort the whole thing out.

Character Building

Not wishing to break with tradition, my character Keema X is a human female wizard, with stats as folllows:

Strength 20
Stamina 20
Wisdom 20
Agility 10
Charisma 20
Intelligence 25

The Game

Appearing out of nowhere on the plains of North America, I am chased across Canada and Eurasia by a group of ravenous monsters. Somehow I reach the pretty town of Linda (built on the site of present-day Rome) where I buy armour and weapons. Lots of weapons, because I start with the Ultima 1 strategy of buying the most expensive weapon I can afford, but the top three most expensive weapons turn out to be insufficiently weedy for my feeble and clumsy character to wield. I believe that’s called specialisation.

Unlike the single-screen towns of the original, these ones scroll. This means that you can nearly die of starvation while trying to work out whether or not each town has a food shop. Eventually, in a town on the approximate site of present-day Glasgow, I find a takeaway. Deep-fried Mars bars prove unavailable. I visit the castle of Lord British, which has about half a dozen jesters. How can I trust this man’s opinion of what is and isn’t entertaining?

Other games that look like this: Civilization; obscure Spectrum strategy game Gods, aka Olympus.

Fully armoured and ready for action, I head out to the wilderness, where I am rapidly besieged by an assortment of monsters and villains, and soon killed by a thief.

Total play time: 45 minutes

Verdict: This does everything you would expect of a sequel – it builds on the strengths of the original and increases the complexity. Possibly a little too much complexity for my feeble role-playing skills. My biggest gripe with the first game was the frequency and initial difficulty of wilderness encounters, and this has about twice as many.

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