Saturday, March 6, 2010

Game 7: Ultima II (1982)

Ultima II is the story of a interplanetary thief, prison-breaker, and unrepentant mass murderer who slaughters villagers, fools, and police officers in a quest to help a money-grubbing tyrant rid a world that isn't even his own of a harmless young woman who lives millions of years before he was born.

Ultima II makes me wish I had spent more time on Telengard. I thought the first Ultima was a quaint little lark whose air cars and tie fighters and jestercide were, if occasionally silly, still part of its charm. Ultima II, on the other hand, is a senseless travesty of a game that improves nothing on its predecessor and in fact makes things a great deal worse. How is this only two steps away from the awesome Ultima IV? (Please, please don't tell me that Ultima IV isn't as awesome as I remember.)

Let's start with the basic premise. Mondain has been defeated, the game manual tells us, but he left behind an apprentice: Minax, a powerful enchantress whose vengeance brought, in 2111, a (presumably nuclear) apocalypse across the face of the Earth. Through time doors, fortunately, the inhabitants of that grisly future were able to escape back . . .

Wait. What? Earth? Yep. The game takes place mostly on Earth in five different time periods, each accessible to each other through a series of "time gates." The time zones are "Panagea," or two million years before the present, when all the Earth's continents were fused; the medieval ages, the year 1990, the post-apocalyptic year 2112, and the "Age of Legends," or the beginning of time, where Minax has her castle. The entire world is the game map. After you create your character, you are dumped unceremoniously into a washed-out and barren landscape with no goals and a limited quantity of food. I started exploring, and in far less time that makes any sense, I had hiked from Tierra del Fuego to the tip of Italy, crossing the Bering Land Bridge on the way. Right.

Look, I know it's early in the development of CRPGs. The existence of "experience points" that do absolutely nothing for you doesn't bother me. The limited character development doesn't bother me. The existence of only six spells doesn't bother me. But could the story at least make some modicum of sense? Could the manual not talk up Lord British as a benevolent sovereign and then introduce me to a man who requires that I give him money for hit points? Could the game not involve shuttle missions to Jupiter, which the game manual helpfully indicates is covered with "water and grass"?!

Not water and grass.

Creating a character in Ultima II is a process of building your attributes from a pool of points and then choosing your race, class, and name. The sex, race, and class choices affect your starting attributes and nothing else.

The gameplay is similar to Ultima I. Dungeons and towers are first-person, but outdoors and town areas are top-down. You control your character with keyboard commands--every letter of the alphabet seems to do something, from (A)ttack to (Z)tats. Many of the commands only work in certain circumstances, like (H)yper, (L)aunch, and (N)egate time.

The game manual spends a lot of time describing each monster in lurid detail, but when the monsters attack you in the game world, the game doesn't even bother to tell you what they are. Combat consists of pounding (A)ttack repeatedly until they die. A little disappointing after the complexity of Wizardry.

Our hero is attacked by orcs. Or bears.

Unlike Ultima I, in this game you can talk to all of the characters, and each gives you a couple of words of dialog. Most of them have nothing particularly interesting to say. All the clerics say, "Believe!" and fighters say, "Ugh. Me tough!" The merchants say, "Will you buy my apples?" while the guards say, "Pay your taxes!" Wizards are most annoying: "Hex-e-poo-hex-on-you!" When the game diverts from these stock responses, it's usually to introduce some kind of in-joke.

Helpful. Thanks.

I know many readers are looking forward to post after post on Ultima II, so I hate to disappoint you, but I went ahead and won it in a single day. This is a day in which I also played four hours of Telengard, wrote 12 pages for a report due at work next week, and read three chapters in a book about inferential statistics. Ultima II is not a demanding game, except perhaps on your tolerance for its idiocies.

I was unreasonably proud of my boat bridge from France to Greenland.

Winning the game requires the following:

1. Visiting towns in four of the five eras and speaking to everyone so that you get the few hints that you need from the few people who don't spout nonsense.

2. Acquiring a stock of items: brass buttons and skull keys to fly planes, blue tassels to commandeer ships, trilithiums to engage the hyperspace drives on rockets, and so on. Thieves carry these items, and so you have to kill a lot of thieves.

3. Building up massive amounts of gold so you can buy enough hit points to survive the final encounter, increase your statistics, and buy the weapons and armor you need. This by far is the longest part of the game. Fairly early, you can commandeer a frigate in each time period and you spend most of the game sailing around in your frigate and firing cannon volleys at hapless monsters that literally line up to be gunned down. You are in no danger of death during this process. If the game had consisted solely of the player typing the letter "F" 7,500 times in a Notepad file, it wouldn't be any more boring.

This screen shot didn't change for almost two hours.

4. Bribing the desk clerk at the Hotel California in New San Antonio (and yes, the desk clerk even "welcomes" you) in 1990 to raise your agility, strength, and other statistics so that, among other things, you can wield the Minax-slaying weapon and wear the space armor.

5. Bribing Lord British to get your max hit point total.

Tribute?! You arrogant bastard, you brought me here!

6. Slaying a couple of benighted guards to acquire their keys--the only items you can't get from thieves--so you can break into the prison in New San Antonio and bribe a prisoner to give you the Quicksword "Enilno," which you need to kill Minax. "Enilno" is, of course, "online" backwards. But what I want to know is what did "online" even mean in 1982?

7. Buying some "power armor" which lets you survive in space.

8. Journeying to Moscow in 2112--complete with "Da Red Skwere" and "Da KGB"--to steal first a bi-plane, which requires murdering the owner of the airfield. You then fly the bi-plane to another part of the same town to steal a rocketship to journey to Planet X, upon which there is a castle in which a guy named Father Antos gives you his blessing, allowing you to return to Earth to meet Brother Antos and get from him a ring that protects you from the magic barriers in Minax's castle. I really, really don't blame you if you stopped reading somewhere in there.

What significance that Earth's coordinates are 6-6-6?

9. Going to Minax's castle in the Time of Legends, avoiding her guards, and killing her with the Quicksword. This involves finding her throne room, enduring her magic missile blasts, and hitting her once, at which point she disappears and reappears in another room at the other end of the castle. You then have to journey there and hit her again, only to have her disappear again and return to the first room. Repeat six or seven times.

I like to imagine she was speaking German here.

If all that didn't sound stupid enough, here are some other points:

  • Spells only work in dungeons, and since there's absolutely no reason to go in the dungeons (you don't get hit points for it like you do in Ultima I), there's no reason to be a wizard or priest.
I only went in here to take this screen shot

  • As with Ultima I, you start the game starving and have to keep buying food. Unlike Ultima I, though, you don't amass gold quickly enough to keep up with your food use. So you basically have to steal it. Fortunately, there's a fish & chips place in what I guess is Namibia where you can steal food all day long and run away as soon as the guards come after you, then re-enter the town and repeat.
  • A druid in one town says, "Anol nathrac uth das bessod dien doch dientes." If you're going to pay homage to Excalibur, at least get it right: "An-al nathrach, urth vas bethud, doch-hiel dienve."
  • You can travel to each of the nine planets in our solar system (Pluto was still considered a planet in 1982), land your space shuttle, walk around, and encounter orcs and thieves and pirate ships. In fact, most of the planets re-use the same maps as Earth, including its towns and changes you've made to the physical world, such as acquiring frigates and bi-planes. The one and only difference is you can't save on them.
  • One of the planets--Uranus or Neptune--has a castle consisting only of jesters who surround you and force you to kill them to escape.
  • The game is full of really, really dumb inside jokes and pop-culture references.
You're making a pop culture reference to Warren Beatty? Really?

The thing that made Ultima I the most fun is how you encountered people and places that reoccur in later Ultimas: Montor, Paws, Shamino, the White Dragon's Castle. None of that for Ultima II. As far as I can tell (and I admit I didn't keep a careful log), the only recurring characters are Lord British, Iolo, and Gwenno. The latter two are encased in a grassy area in...I don't know. One of the towns. Remembering how I killed Gwenno for her key in Ultima I and having by now fully internalized my role as a serial killer, I landed a bi-plane in the grassy area and hacked them both to death.

One day, I shall return as the Avatar and we will be best friends. Today is not that day.

Even if you're an Ultima fan--hell, especially if you're an Ultima fan--I encourage you not to play this game. I've played many games with boring gameplay and many games with idiotic plots. It is a rare to find one that combines both.

Here are the end game screen shots so I can prove I really won. I wasn't inspired enough to screen record it.

 Does anyone know what the ]II[ - P is referring to?


  1. Fantastic blog, man. I was thinking about playing the entire "Ultima" series, but maybe I'll skip this one...

  2. Aaaw... what a heart breaker. I used to obsess over Ultima ][ in high school, this is really the game that got me completely addicted to CRPG's, and I remember never being able to finish it because Minax would keep teleporting and then forcing me to go through these beams that eventually killed me. Looks like I was missing an important item to survive this.

    Looking forward to your reviews of U3 ("EVOCARE!") and U4!

  3. I never played this one, but hoped it was a gem. Guess not! As I read, I kept wanting to disagree with your mild rants, disagreements, and humor, but you won me over with the Iolo/Gwen comment...thinking maybe you just hadn't put the game into perspective, given its age and so forth. Naw, this one is probably a dud.

    Love the blog. What's next?!

  4. A few disorganized comments:

    - (N)egate time was a command you could do if you had some magic powder (I believe). Basically, no monsters (or townspeople and guards, if you were in town) could make any moves for a period of time, although the player could still run around and rob them and attack them.

    - Regarding U2, something to keep in mind has much to do with a previous comment I made regarding U1 and its Star Wars mentality. U2 and its time travel were supposedly highly influenced by Time Bandits. It would appear that young Richard Garriott was a bit of a film buff, and tried (in some small way) to reproduce it in a game world.

    - Regarding "Enilno", I'm pretty sure that U2 was actually released by Sierra Online, so perhaps it's a reference to that? I'm dredging up some ancient memories here, though, so I could well be wrong.

    - Noooooo idea about ]II[-P!

    It's a pretty half-assed game, though. I rate it much worse than U1; at least with U1 there's a lot that you can explain away because of when it was made. U2 seems like a cheap cash-in.

  5. I hadn't heard that about "Time Bandits." I didn't see that film; maybe it would flesh out my understanding a little. You're also right about Sierra Online/Enilno. I'm glad there wasn't a sword called Elsi Kcalb in Baldur's Gate.

    The basic problem with Ultima II is it doesn't take itself seriously, yet isn't quite fun enough to get away with being campy.

  6. Must agree about Ultima II's boring gameplay; it seems like a big missed opportunity. I know many patches were made that fixed the obnoxious CGA color and annoying bugs (the planets actually DO have different maps, but a bug makes you land back on Earth)... but those are really just turd-polishing. I somehow felt obligated to play the thing to completion anyway... guess I'm an Ultima nerd.

    In any event, YOU MUST SEE TIME BANDITS. Directed by Terry Gilliam, it's got midgets, Sean Connery, Ian Holme, and a few of the Monty Python crew in there as well. Trust me, it should make up for the game. :)

  7. Good recommendation. The film is now in my Netflix queue.

  8. This explains why I never played the other Ultima Games...I played this one first. If anything, you were being kind.

  9. The others ARE worth the effort, though, Kevin.

  10. Ultima ][ is definitely the Dork Age of the series. Subsequent game manuals skim over it very quickly when discussing the history of Britannia; I get the sense that even its creator would like to pretend it never happened.

  11. It is/was also the hardest of the Ultimas to find a functioning copy of. I owned several Ultima collections in which this one just wouldn't start... Finally got it working in the U1-7 compilation.

    Definitely the weakest link in the series, although I didn't hate it with the vehemence you seemed to.

    So you know, the rationale for it taking place on Earth was that Garriott reckoned one needed a context within which to put time travel. He could, just as easily, have let you travel to a neanderthal filled Sosaria and a high tech, maybe Steampunk, version. But the official logic for Earth was to give a context to the time travel.

  12. This would make more sense if time travel actually played any functional role in the game. Aside from the re-use of the same game maps with different features, there's no particular NEED to have time travel in the game.

    I might have been a little too critical in my "review" (although that's not what my postings really are), but it reflects how I felt about the game at the time I was playing it.

  13. I never understand the hostility to Ultima II. I played the original version on a PC. I thought it had a great sense of wonder progressing through the different modes of transportation after figuring out how to travel through time and move around the continents(whatever cloth map came with the game did not make that aspect of the game at all clear, IIRC). Figuring out clever ways to get through the cities was fun and even a little bit scary when the guards were after you. Planetary travel didn't quite amount to much of great importance in the adventure, so it was a bit of a letdown, but the achievement of making it that far was amazing. By comparison, Ultima III was a dull slog. Of course, Ultima IV was a quantum leap in the series, but for its time Ultima II was great fun.

  14. You might find Computer Gaming World's original review of Ultima II amusing (it starts on page 23):

  15. Great find, Andy. I expected to be delighted by the review, but actually I found it rather poorly-written. Sort of a combination of the game manual and a tip sheet. The review of "Zork" is much better, and amusing to look back on nearly 30 years later.

    I think I'll try to look up the original reviews of all the games I play from now on. I appreciate the idea.

  16. I was not expecting the Lolo/Gwenno crack. That made me laugh harder than anything I've read in a while.

    I'm feeling stalker-y for all my posts on your old blogs but this is awesome stuff. I'm compelled to let you know how much I appreciate it.

    I keep taking breaks from DA2 to come read about where and how it all began.

  17. Re: the CGW review --



    I had no idea that these games cost SO much. People are complaining now about how the price point has risen to as much and that was almost 30 years ago! o.O

    1. Old comment but I still felt I had to respond. That's the list price, pretty much the only time you'd actually pay that much for games was if you ordered it directly from the publisher's own mail order. Almost all software retailers sold games for much less than the list price. This practice continued well into the 90's, with Origin's catalogs having similarly ridiculous prices for later Ultimas and Wing Commanders and whatever else they published, but if you walked into EB or Babbages and bought the games there, they were usually half the price from the catalogs, more or less.

  18. Yeah, it's pretty crazy. Especially when you consider not just inflation, but how many more people are involved in the making of a game these days. A lot of it has to do with the increased market for CRPGs. There just weren't that many of us buying these games back then, but those of us that did were very dedicated and didn't mind paying a lot of money!

  19. It's just so ironic that people are so upset at premium games debuting at 60 now, ie SC2 DA2, etc. What would this have been adjusted for inflation? 100?

    1. "What cost $59.95 in 1982 would cost $137.51 in 2011." Thanks, Inflation Calculator! Suddenly Steam seems like an even better deal for PC gaming than it did before. Jeeze, that is even more than I paid for the Amazon limited edition Fallout 3 with the PIP Boy sculpture ... I think I definitely enjoyed that more than I would have enjoyed owning Ultima II back in the day.

  20. I still have a vivid memory of seeing my mother's jaw drop when the clerk asked $39.95 for "Pool of Radiance."

    If I'd paid $60 for Ultima II in 1982, I'd still be angry.

  21. "It is/was also the hardest of the Ultimas to find a functioning copy of. I owned several Ultima collections in which this one just wouldn't start... Finally got it working in the U1-7 compilation."

    well the original Sierra Online copy i got off ebay (for some just some bucks.) worked nicely, but i tried it just once on my C64, so some do work.

  22. ]II[-P is most likely a reference to the fact that Ultima III supported 4 'players' - a 4-character party. The manuals encouraged you to get three friends together and each control a character.

  23. Most sensible explanation I've heard so far, ailurdragon. Thanks. I can't imagine anyone actually playing it like that, though.

  24. I played this on a 128k Mac, and loved it at the time. The mac version was speedy, had effective sound- but for the longest period its black and white graphics had me thrwarted as the difference between a town and a piece of forest was the number of black spots the tile had.

  25. I never played any of the Ultima games. I remember watching my cousin play one on his NES -- it consisted of him creating a party of fighters, selling all their gear, quitting, and repeating for about 72 consecutive hours (not kidding) before purchasing weapons and going out to win the game.

    He told me he'd beaten the game maybe 20 times. I believed him.

    That glimpse of the world of Ultima virtually guaranteed I'd never play any of the games. And up till today, I've stuck to my guns. This post makes me feel like I made the right choice.

    1. Well, that's your loss. Ultimas 4-7 are still amazing games.

    2. I somehow overlooked this comment when it was originally posted about a year and a half ago. I don't think George is thinking of an Ultima game, because I can't think of any in which this strategy would work. In all but one, you don't even create a party.

    3. Oh, no, I didn't overlook it. I replied below (threaded comments weren't available back then).

    4. Actually, this is perfectly possible in the NES version of Ultima 3 - you can make a party of four characters, have three of them sell everything and give their gold to the lead character (164 gold each, I believe), save at the inn, reset the console, go into the character create screen, delete the three characters and make three new characters to replace them. Then repeat.

  26. That's really the lamest kind of cheating.

    This game is not representative of the Ultima series. Keep reading before you make that decision.

  27. Sorry for the late post, I just wanted to say that I really rather enjoyed Ultima II. Of the first trilogy, I is probably my favorite, though. To be FAIR: I used a walkthrough for II because I'm spoiled and lame at this point. Anyway, just wanted to chip in with my 2 cents.

  28. No problem on late postings; I still read them. I might have just been in a bad mood the day I played Ultima II, but I think the issue is more that I don't like stupid plots, regardless of the gameplay.

  29. Oh, the plot is absolutely stupid. No argument here. Ha!

  30. Got all the Ultimas (the available ones, anyway) on just recently, and I've been playing through them. Ultima 1 is still a fun little diversion, and remarkably playable for a game 30 years old. Ultima 2 is like have teeth removed via the opposite end of the body, except not quite as enjoyable. 90% of the game involves building up ridiculous amounts of gold, spending it, then building up more gold, then spending it... now all of this might not be so bad if you weren't talking about approximately 5000 gp with every single monster, regardless of difficulty, giving between 1 and 20gp.

    I hate this game.

  31. Glad to hear a consenting opinion, breenwood! A lot of other people seemed to think I was too harsh on it.

    Do what I did: get to Minax's world (Panagea) and just sit there in your ship, blasting enemies that constantly respawn. Good thing you never run out of cannonballs!

  32. Ahh, at least some other posters have also recently commented; I don't feel bad about rehashing an old thread. This was one of the seminal games for me, but I realize it is simply because of my youth and how few choices I had available. It's interesting how nostalgia works - I have warm feelings for the game and was quite amused at the time by stealing food, building stats, and moving between the eras and seeing the continents change. Now I think I would see the games many flaws if I played it today. It was fun reading up on it. I won't subject my kids to it when looking to get them into retro CRPGs.

  33. Just to sort of keep hope alive (for this blog), I wanted to post. Just beat Ultima 2 today, and I didn't read your post until now. Your post is spot on... the most shocking thing for me is that what is presumably at least half the programming code is useless, i.e., the dungeons. Even the first level of a dungeon has orcs that do 10x to 50x the damage of their counterparts on the overland map. Also, you didn't mention how stats roll over from 99 to 00. That was a HUGE pain once I figured it out.

  34. I never played the Ultima games when i was a kid, I don't know why, but the Ultimas were always left on the shelf as I went through bards tale, wasteland, M&M, gold box games, etc. So I was thinking it was that lack of nostalgia that made me find Ultima 1 so terrible, and since this is by all accounts worse I won't be trying it either. But then again I never played the Wizardry series either and I enjoyed Wizardry 1 quite a bit. I'm hopin Ultima gets better at 3 or 4! Also I remember being a kid and games regularly going for 50 bucks then (I'm 32), its pretty amazing that theyre the same price if not cheaper these days.

    1. III and IV improve by light years. I consider the Ultima series really "starting" with III.

    2. That's a really good dividing line. 1 was a good game for its time, but had a lot of wackiness, 2 was... well, I'll just say it tried to achieve a lot.

      3 was the first real, solid game. It still included some humor, but it wasn't constantly in your face, a back story existed, and you felt like most of the game was at least plausible. It still boiled down to "kill a bunch of bad guys to gain levels so you're strong enough" (especially if you were on a 2nd playthrough), and it had issues (finding a boat was random and sometimes took too long), but it wasn't a constant fight with poor design decisions.

      Still, I'd mark the divider at Ultima IV, since that's the first time the series becomes really ABOUT something other than just killing stuff.

  35. Played this bad boy on my Apple ][+ back in the day and absolutely loved it. It's a crapheap, of course, but when there was a sum total of about five games to choose from in the entire genre, it was a lot easier to forgive baffling design decisions and stupid pop culture references. Unfortunately, I still occasionally hear "Hex-e-poo, hex-on-you!" in my head to this day.

    If anyone is inspired to give Ultima II a go, perhaps just to gawk at the twisted wreckage, beware of the original Apple ][ version. The game shipped with a bug that keeps the dude at the Hotel California from ever raising your strength. As I recall, you can't survive space travel without a strength of 30+, so this is a very a bad thing indeed.

    Later releases fixed this problem (and there's a simple fix you can apply with a hex editor as well), so look for one of these, lest you suffer the same heartbreak as ten-year old me.

    1. Wow. Imagine having one of only five games to choose from, and the one you chose had a bug that made it impossible to win. It makes Skyrim's bugs look tame by comparison.

  36. Gosh, that's a lot of comments. Here's mine.

    I totally agree with your review here, but you haven't mentioned the worst design flaw: You definitively need a blue tassle to get a pirate ship to level up in relatively decent speed; only, you get that bloody tassle (whatever that is) only by chance -- by killing a thief lucky enough to carry it.

    Now, in one game, I spent one hour running around through all available time zones, killing everything I could, and never ever getting one Blue Tassle. Hordes of monsters accumulated on distant islands, unable to ever leave, and reducing the number of monsters I could kill (there's a maximum number of monsters on any one map, I'm sure).

    So I guess there's a good chance that even on a bug-free version, you can't win this game.

    However, in a later game, I got the blue tassle after five minutes. Although I like the wacky humor, I just can't stand it if vital things are just random.

    Thanks for your wonderful blog, by the way! I don't always agree with your verdict, but I enjoy reading it immensely.

    1. I do remember that from my play-through. It was infuriating every time I killed a thief and DIDN'T get a tassel.

  37. Excellent review. Just replayed this off GOG as well. There are a bunch of patches, such as:


    that fix the nasty bugs, add more color, allow you to turn off auto-save, and added an ALT-R to "reload" option, so that you can save, run into a town, try something stupid, and reload harmlessly. It helps tons.

    A couple things that helped me a lot (that I haven't seen on any walkthroughs), so dumping them here:

    1. Go to Le Jester, kill the first person you see (who is a thief), and run. If you can't kill him in one shot, stand above him, so that the first hit makes him run down against the edge of the town. Since he's a thief, he gives all those happy items pretty frequently. I had 10 of every item pretty quickly.

    2. If you go to the hotel california guy and (O)ffer him 0 gold, he not only raises a stat, but he raises it directly to 99! Repeat 6 times and poof, insta-super-character.

    3. You can steal from Castle Britannia's vault, or the Russian post-apocalypse city's mid-lake area for armor and weapons. You can't get better than chain mail, but you can get a light-sword pretty early and for free.

    4. For gold, go to the time of legends to kill things. It helps to have suped-up first, and helps even more to bring your prop plane. Wait in the area near the portals and hold the "P" key to advance time and let enemies stack up, go out and kill about 50 in a row, make about 300-400 gold in about 2 minutes. Lather-rinse-repeat.

    U7/8/1/2 down, U3/4/5/6 to go...

    1. I'm not sure this game is worthy enough to develop hacks, but I appreciate your comprehensive list. I'm pretty sure I did #4.

  38. It's interesting to observe how these early CRPGs influenced the development of the main JPRG stables, despite the protests from some quarters that the two genre are philosophically chalk and cheese.

    If you accept the crude argument that Wizardry was the main inspiration for Shin Megami Tensei, Rogue was the main inspiration for Mystery Dungeon, and Ultima the main inspiration for Final Fantasy, it becomes tempting to speculate that the time travel mechanism of Ultima II was a direct inspiration for Chrono Trigger.

    It had a similar template of an overworld that differed in myriad subtle and unsubtle ways as you journeyed from era to era (the list of distinct ages seems very similar between the two games), although the impression I get from your piece is that CT was much more successful in making use of the conceit to provide the player with interesting puzzles and scenarios requiring a bit of the old space-time meddlery and casual manipulation. Though it couldn't quite deliver on the idea all the way through to the game's conclusion, which is a shame.

    1. Leonardo RodriguesJuly 15, 2013 at 5:59 PM

      In fact the entire jRPG genre is largely inspired in wizardry. Final Fantasy had starter and upgrade classes, Dragon Quest and Earthbound(maybe others) had first person battles, and all of them have command input before the start of turns.

  39. Ultima II was the first of the series that I played, and the second CRPG overall (the first being Questron), and I remember actually really enjoying the game. Far from turning me off of the series, I went on to go through and beat each game as they came out. Up until Ultima IX that is, which for me was the final proof that Origin really was dead.

  40. I have to agree on your views on both Ultima I and II. The first was way better and Ultima II seems to drop the ball. There's just too much seemingly random stuff added in to the game, the experience isn't coherent enough. In the first Ultima you kinda accept that there's this short space adventure in the middle of the game (Garriott's father was an astronaut so he was obviously interested in space himself too) but Ultima II is just too confused for it's own good.

    I actually played both of the games a while back for the first time ever. As a Ultima collector I acquired all of the games in their original physical boxes but didn't have the heart to open the still-sealed copy of Ultima II that I managed to get. Luckily there's to help. As to the price discussion above I'd say that nowadays you're lucky to find Ultima II under $100 in any condition, let alone in mint or sealed box. By the way both II and III have excellent fan-made patches that make even Ultima II look decent in 16-color EGA.

    Sorry for the quite late contribution but I just got introduced to your fantastic blog by an article I read in a gaming magazine. Good stuff, have to keep on reading. I'm planning on starting Ultima III very soon, should be interesting to compare views there too.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts. I agree that the space experience in U1 was somehow less offensive than the sprawling nonsense of U2.

      Did you read it in a Finnish gaming magazine? I've been trying to find a link.

    2. Yes, it was published in the latest number of Finnish gaming magazine Pelit (Games). Unfortunately the only version available online is a digital version of the magazine and it's only available to subscribers. It's written in Finnish only, but it's a very interesting read (2 pages) complete with pictures so I'd imagine that you have a lot more Finnish readers now.

      Perhaps you could ask the reporter who wrote the article if he could email it to you?

    3. I wanted to link to it for my readers, so thanks for confirming that's not possible.

      I have seen a big increase from Finland recently. I normally get about 1,200 hits a month from Finland, but I've already exceeded that in the first 15 days of September.

      Anyway, welcome! I'm glad you enjoy the blog. Keep commenting.

  41. Brutal review but I seem to recall from interviews that Garriott admitted he basically got in over his head with this one, and it made no sense.

    You can get it legally from GOG, bundled with Ultima 1 and 3, but I don't know if there's a ton of compelling reasons to play this one.

    The C64 version looks nicer, but that probably makes no difference to the game play at all.
    I don't think this game was ever ported to my beloved Amiga, though it did show up on most platforms at the time.

  42. The writer of this blog is a liar. You did not finish this game in 1 day, unless you used hints from the Internet. You also must be a kid because if you played this game when it came out it was mind blowing. You seem to forget (or never knew) the limitations of the day, so simply having any story at all was an accomplishment.

    Please stop writing about CRPG's.


    1. God . . . I . . . You're right. For more than four years, I've been afraid that someone was going to find out my secret. My whole CRPG blogging career has been a lie.

      I'm going to stop blogging immediately.

      I hate myself.

    2. "simply having any story at all was an accomplishment." -- can't... stop... laughing

    3. You know, I just re-read the post, and even though he's rude and doesn't bother addressing me by my actual name or title, nor has he read the sidebar or any other posts on the blog, there's a germ of validity in this commenter's overall complaint.

      I still maintain that Ultima II is the worst of the series, but it perhaps didn't deserve a review that was quite this harsh. This was early in my blogging career and I hadn't yet found a consistent tone. I had focused on mostly the positive aspects of the previous games, and I'm sure I had it in my mind that it would be fun, as a matter of contrast, to utterly rip a game apart.

      While I didn't lie anywhere in the post, neither did I mention that I'd played the game before, at least twice. I don't know why I would have left out such an important fact, but I did. That meant that I both went into the game knowing basically what I needed to do to win (partly accounting for my quick time) but also that I had a basic template in my mind of what I wanted to say before I'd even started the game.

      As for "simply having a story at all," there's a germ of truth there, too. If I look at the pre-1982 list of games, about half of them have decent back stories (e.g., Hellfire Warrior, Ultima, Wizardry) but the others don't (e.g., Fracas, Telengard). If you were a kid at the time, you could have easily been exposed to a series of games in which the story was "you're a warrior; go kill a wizard." Now, personally, I prefer that paucity of storytelling to a story like Ultima II, where nothing makes any sense, but to each his own.

      The issue of how things were at the time is a persistent issue in my blog. I TRY to consider that in most games I play, but the entire point of my blog is to play these games from the perspective of a modern player.

      In summary, even an obnoxious twit can raise points worth considering.

  43. Do you actually monitor old posts for comments?

    I just started playing Ultima 2 and have been stuck on it. Fifth character and the best I can do is slowly die of starvation. I've been trying to avoid hints and spoilers, but I've decided that the game isn't worth it and to at least get an idea what I am missing.

    So I need to steal food, be more aggressive about killing people to take their stuff, and even kill guards to get keys? (I have been assuming there's a Thieves Guild like U3.) Wow. I have no idea how I would have found that out based only on the hints in the game or the manual...

    Anyway. Onward!

    1. I do indeed.

      As you've discovered, thievery and murder is the only way to thrive in U2. You have to head to whatever city is in South America (or Africa?) and sells Fish & Chips, go to the far right end of the counter, and just STEAL until the guards take note of you. You should be able to escape to the east without much of a fight. Return to the city and repeat.

      Don't try to kill guards until you get a blue tassel and can commandeer a ship. Blasting them with cannons from a safe distance is the only way you'll survive.

      Enjoy marauding!

    2. Won! That wasn't nearly as terrible as I was led to believe. Parts of it were even fun. Once you figure out that you need to steal food, that you can get the (second) best weapons, and reasonable armor without paying for it, you can concentrate on exploring the world. I was playing the patched version, so my experience may not have been the same as others'.

      The beginning of the game up until you manage to get powerful enough to kill your first guard was touch and go, but once you get the first key to steal a ship, to kill more guards, it starts to get easier.

      I did have to grind to afford the power armor and get the full set of Oracle hints. But thorough exploration revealed most of the clues of what to do, including getting points at New San Antonio, etc. The Brother/Father Anton clues scattered about were mostly well done and well placed, though I did not get that "Brother Anton" and "Father Anton" were the same person without checking a walkthrough later. Some interesting depth, completely lost through poor dialog.

      Although you never need to go to a tower/cave, I found I could never get enough Tri-Lithium to explore all the planets without delving and following the hint to make it to the 16th floor. The dungeon in the North African tower was actually well done, with a multi-level gauntlet up and down to different parts of the same levels to get to a cache of 50+ Tri-Lithiums. I did not map it because I could not keep track of north.

      The biggest disappointment was the space portion. Even in the fan-patched version, which restores the broken planet maps (they worked in the floppy disk version for PC, but not the later releases, including, none of the planets had any clues that you actually need to complete the game. The towns were even more of a joke than usual, save for Planet X. It was a wasted opportunity to reward careful exploration, though the designs of the planets (especially Pluto) were well done.

      The joke of the seer sitting next to "ATREE" was a cool "aha!" moment, though I did have to consult a walkthrough (your post, I think) to realize you needed to bribe him. Needing to bribe the clerk in NSA was telegraphed, but not this. And I spoke to everyone in every town and kept careful notes, so I am fairly certain there was no hint of what to do, only who you needed to do it with. I suppose there weren't that many options...

      And I never did realize how to get the final sword, but apparently you can kill Minax without it. I found the guy, but did not realize you needed to bribe him until reading the walkthrough.

      The final boss level was quite fun with monster-filled sections opening up as you do more damage to Minax and chase her back and forth to her two thrones. I had to burn through all of my "Negate Time" items, with an ever-longer train of enemies nipping at my heels, to hack her down to size. I had only 300 HP at the end, so I cut it pretty close.

      I just can't help but feel they rushed through designing the mid-to-end part of the game once they had a cool idea for U3. The early exploration section up until you have a frigate in every time period was easily as fun as U1 and more fun than the limited exploration of U3. While the use of Earth maps is laughable knowing what they did with the rest of the series, on its own it made for an entertaining choice. Giving the player a frame of reference aided exploration, while also adding a tinge to the post-apocalypse world that wouldn't be there otherwise.

      (Very) long way to say I didn't hate it. :) But never again.

    3. You offer a good review. When I wrote this, it was early in my blogging career, and I was probably looking for an excuse to trash something. I might have made it sound more unforgivable than it actually is. Either way, as you say, never again.

    4. Don't worry, I have a blog where I am dissatisfied with my first posts as well. :) I thought of removing them, but there's no eureka moment when I start to get happy, only a realization that yes-- they get better. So I keep them and hope no one gets the brilliant idea to reread from the beginning...

    5. This happens to everyone. I actually purged my first blog effort because it was just too horrible. I'm glad this never made it to console in any case.

  44. As someone who grew up on computer games from the 80s and beyond I really feel a connection to your blog and follow it nearly every day. I think the reviews are spot on and the amount of work you sink into this is incredibly impressive.

    Until now I've been lurking, but I need to comment on your review about Ultima II. I'm sure it's accurate, and if I played it now I would feel the same way. However, when I was a 10-year who first played it in 1982 I was utterly blown away by the gameplay and graphics. It was my third game I ever owned for my IBM PC after Zork and Wizardry, so my computer gaming experience was limited, but I remember being utterly enthralled with the game world and spent hours and hours playing the game even after I beat it.

    I particularly remember the dungeons that I found terrifying for some reason. I use to have to psych myself out to play them, and only then for limited periods and never at night. I use to create whole continents with the pirate ships (there was a bug I exploited) and propped up my book on the keyboard to pass time quickly so I could respawn enemies to fight them over and over and over again.

    The only negative experience I ever had was after I convinced my mom to buy the game. When I tore open the box at home I found that one of the floppy disks had been bent and wouldn't load the game. I was devastated and had to mail in the disk for a replacement, which took over a month to receive. That's a lifetime for a 10-year old. The kids these days don't know how good they have it with Steam and the wider internet. We use to live like animals.

    1. I remember always being at the mercy of my C64 disk drives, which were prone to failing frequently and repeatedly. I must have owned 3 between 1985 and 1990, and for each one, I ultimately had to take it to some computer repair guy I found in New Hampshire who did something or other with a "pin" to get it working again; then, inevitably it would fail permanently. I am very grateful for the modern era.

      Thanks for your original recollections of the game. That's something I can rarely replicate in the blog.

    2. That's funny - the only part of my C64 that never broke was the disk drives. My dad bought our 64C (the one that was redesigned to look like a C128) in 1986 (the year before I was born), and the 1541II that came with it worked just fine when the mainboard died in '94. Fortunately I had an uncle that didn't want his anymore, so he gave me a first model 64 with a regular 1541 that he'd bought in '83 which worked until I was forced to donate it (because I needed my desk for homework, we also had an NES and SNES, and somehow the small number of boxes that the 64 occupied in storage would take up too much space on the normally empty closet shelf) in '99.

      I lost count of how many joysticks I broke, of course (until I figured out that Genesis controllers worked just fine, although there's supposedly a risk of damage that I never ran into), and I had to rebuild both power supplies when diodes burned out, but those 1541s just kept trucking.

  45. Bwahahaha, excellent. Ultima 2 is one of my favorite CRPGs of all time, mostly because it was my first, but also the story made so much sense to me. I realize I'm in the minority on this one, and even among die-hard Ultima-philes this is the black sheep of the franchise. Excellent thoughts. :)

  46. You mention that the other planets "look the same" as places on Earth, that's actually a bug in the PC version. When they replicated the disks long ago they accidentally over-wrote all of the maps on the galaxy disk with the same data from the earth disk. There are patches online to fix this. That said, you didn't miss anything; the other worlds have nothing of import.

    I played this in the computer lab when I was in junior high school, and was very frustrated at not knowing the controls.

    Here's a weird thing... My math teacher told me when he played it he came to a town and found it was in the middle of a festival and he had to smuggle himself out on a ship after getting a blue tassel. Uh... yeah, that SO does not happen in the game at all. I halfway think people just made up more content to fill in the gaps.

    Basically, Ultima II feels like it was written by a teenager who was more focused on getting his coding right than actually providing a detailed game and backstory. Which is spot-on accurate from what I've read about Richard Garriot's work on it.

  47. I played the C64 version, and I think I had a fair playing experience. First of all, you need something to do during the long loading times (my flat's never been so clean and tidy...). Then, the colors C64 are natural: instead of black grasslands and purple ocean, you get green grass and blue sea.

    - PLOT: the game got inspired by the movie "Time Bandits". This explains, for example, why Lord British is so annoying: he's inspired to a character in the movie.

    Right after the death of Mondain, 1000 years in the past, Minax used the time doors to travel to other ages and worlds. Such worlds include the "Time of Legends" and an alternate Earth. Eventually, Minax manages to open time doors in Sosaria. Instead of invading it straightaway, she lets Sosarians travel in space-time for a while first, just to mess up things a bit. When Minax's attack starts, Lord British asks the Stranger to find the sorceress.

    The hero starts traveling; she (I assume the Stranger is female, because the female gender is more powerful than male in this game) needs a magic ring to enter Minax's castle. In order to get the ring, she has to talk to Father Antos; in order to talk to Father Antos, she has to find where he is; unfortunately, Father Antos is one of the people who traveled in time and space. The quicksword is not mandatory to beat the game.

    - GOLD: because of the overwhelming need for gold, I elaborated a game strategy that optimizes gold. First: start with Int=20 and Cha=20 to get a 40% discount on everything since the beginning; no need to steal anything then; (2) travel by ship as much as possible, so to save money on food and use cannons, that are one of the strongest weapons in the game; (3) visit the first two floors of any one dungeon, and get good weapons for free; (4) raise HP to 5000 only, because after that Lord British gives you less HP for the same price. And so on...

    Here's one reason for going in dungeons: you can get good weapons for free, thus saving some money. The first two floors are sufficient.

    About the meaning of ]I[ and ]II[, I supposed the authors originally planned some expansion module of "Ultima ][", so that ]I[ and ]II[ could be read "2.1" and "2.2", as if the ][ brackets open up and get another number superimposed. Maybe they planned to make the nine planets useful. Apparently, they scrapped everything in favor of the party system of "Ultima 3: Exodus".

    --- by Abacos


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