Monday, June 16, 2014

Ultima II: Opening Thoughts

Oh, Ultima II.

I kind of view Ultima II as the series' equivalent of the book of Leviticus - the first major potential stumbling block for any well-intentioned individual attempting to take in the entirety of canon from the very beginning. (Of course, I happen to find Leviticus unironically fascinating, so the analogy kind of breaks down in my case, as any analogy does sooner or later.)

Ultima II was released in 1982, two years after the initial foray into the series. Following up on the Stranger's defeat of Mondain, it introduces his young apprentice (and possibly lover) Minax, the eponymous enchantress taking out her titular revenge upon the one who slew her former master. The sci-fi elements get ramped up in this game, making use of time travel (inspired by Time Bandits, which I've never actually seen) as well as space travel, and is notable for purportedly being set on the planet Earth - as well as the other planets of the solar system! It was also the first to feature the eventual series staple of a cloth map, and was published by Sierra On-Line because they were the only company willing to include it. I don't have any of the cloth maps myself, sadly, but I did get a chance to see one for Ultima IV at an exhibit near me a couple years back, and it's something I'm glad became one of Ultima's trademarks - it really adds to the whole sense of getting absorbed into the game.

The manual for Ultima II is fairly straightforward - it hasn't quite hit the stride of the old in-universe manuscript that the later manuals would exemplify, but it does a decent enough job of getting one in the proper mood for the game. I did notice, however, that it harps on orcs a fair amount for some reason or another. It paints a rather vast, sweeping picture of the game world to come, but for me, the manual hypes it up to the point where it's kind of disappointed when it comes to the game itself. I do enjoy the Tale of Minax that finishes out the manual, though - the story of Mondain's fall, the rise of Minax, and the inevitable forgetting of your deeds should you succeed, due to the nature of time travel. Only two pages of the manual, but it's very well executed.

In my opening post to this blog, I made mention of the five Ultima games I'd finished at that point, and Ultima II was not among them. In the time since, that's no longer true - during my long hiatus, I powered through the game as something of a mindless distraction. So I'll have to wait until I hit Exodus before I can start getting excited over the prospect of seeing the ending to an Ultima game I've never finished.

When I first was introduced to the Ultima series, I got my hands on the first four games entirely, but never played II much because my system ran so fast that I blinked and starved to death whenever I loaded the game. I also have very vague memories of an Apple II in my third or fourth grade classroom that ran Ultima II, but I never played it much then because I never could figure out what the heck I was supposed to be doing.

Barring the game I've just finished, Ultima II is the one I most recently played, and thus is the freshest in my memory, and... well, they're not quite as fond of memories as they are when it comes to, say, Ultima I or Ultima IV. I find it a little draggy, jumbled, and far too grindy for my liking, but hey, it's next in line and has its place in the Ultima series, so back unto the breach I go!

I mentioned back in the beginning that I intended to use graphical patches for this game, and the screenshots I've included here probably serve as good evidence that I'm following through on that. The original graphics were a four color scheme that just grated on my eyes and made it very confusing for me to figure out who all I'd already talked to, so I opted for an EGA update (courtesy of The Exodus Project via Pix's Ultima Patcher) to the graphics that made it less of a chore and allowed me to focus on the game rather than trying to fight the system itself. I played a thief in my first runthrough a couple months ago, but I'm leaning toward a cleric this time, once again an attempt to make use of spells more, and the cleric list intrigues me more (mostly because they allow me instant exit from dungeons). Wish me luck!

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