I am happy to report that the Apple version of Ultima II runs nicely without any notable bugs. I chose to play that version when I discovered the graphics update for Ultima II on DOS is rather unlike the original, and also that DOSBox doesn't like it. Plus, I have finally gotten used to using the enter key and backslash instead of the up and down arrows. Ultima III may be a bit more annoying on the Apple, due to more disk swaps, but I'll live.
So the second game, as I mentioned last time, takes place on Earth. Not the Earth we know, of course, but some wacky Earth where everything is way, way smaller and the world issparsely populated by computer nerds and wizards. The basic story is that Minax is pissed at me because I killed Mondain and came to Earth to corrupt the timeline. Why didn't she just go back in time and kill me before I killed Mondain? :-O Anyway, I am given the quest to stop her, and in typical RPG fashion, absolutely no help whatsoever in doing this. Lord British can raise my hit points but demands tribute to do so, for example. The instruction manual is amusing, and appears to be written by someone who was unaffiliated with Garriott--sarcastically commenting, for example, on Garriott's choice to make being male give you extra strength, while being female gives you extra charisma.
The game has both steps forwards and steps backwards from Ultima I. The huge leap ahead is the change from one-screen towns with different names that signify nothing to towns full of people who sometimes say unique things (even if many of them are inane--Note Robert Woodhead in the screenshot), and with unique subplots within the town (insofar as stealing a plane is a subplot). Another step forward is the creative use of time gates to link several different overworld maps that reflect different eras of the Earth. The game has some serious balance issues, though, notably the fact that dungeons and towers are irrelevent to the game, and mages and clerics can only use their spells in dungeons, making them also irrelevent.
My experience in the first two or three hours over the past couple of days was much like my experience with Ultima I and Akalabeth--The game is very slow, until you randomly find something very powerful, and then it begins to speed towards its conclusion. In Ultima II, aquiring a boat in any of the eras is practically wins the game, because it enables you to kill anything and rapidly acquire gold and experience. It took two hours for me to go from level 0 to level 3, but once I had a boat, I was level 10 in less than an hour! One appealing aspect of the game, slthough it's a bit silly, is that killing enemies nets you huge numbers of random items whose value you must eventually figure out. For example, it wasn't until i got a "blue tassle" that I was able to take over pirate ships and thus rapidly improve my stats.
This game is awfully hard to solve without being dishonest. In the screenshot on the right you see me pilfering food from the ride-thru window of McDonalls, for example. In order to get keys to unlock doors, you must kill guards in the towns,, too. In fact, one of the fastest way to get gold and keys and experience is to use a ship to slaughter all the guards in one of the towns! I think Ultima II is the game which made the Avatar desire to redeem himself so much when Ultima IV rolled around...
My strategy for the moment is to improve my stats until I can take on all the guards in the KGB and steal a rocket, which I will use to explore the various planets. I know what I need to do, but not the exact order--it's been 10 years since I last played this game. I do recall that the other planets are pretty useless, besides the infamous Planet X, but I want to explore them anyway.
When I finish this game, I have no doubt that I will be wandering around my house saying, "HEX-E-POO, HEX-ON-YOU," "UGH, ME TOUGH," and so on.