Ophidian Dragon blogs his way through the entire Ultima series, from beginning to end.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


So in response to the anonymous comment, no, it's not over. Or yes, it is. It depends on your perspective. I will not be posting much, but I do want to finish my slow review of all the games at some point. Most likely I'll post a new one whenever someone adds a comment saying, "Hey, where'd you go!?"

So with that in mind, a few words about Ultima II. To my mind, of the official, canonical games, this one is clearly the worst. I explained a lot of reasons back when I wrote the original blogs about the game, but in summary I think it's just the unused potential. The game world in Ultima II is much bigger than Ultima I, at least in terms of what I would call "density of interest," eg, how much stuff on the map is interesting to see and how much is filler. In Ultima I, the towns, for example, are largely clones of one another, whereas here they are distinct, often have special features, and contain at least a few distinctive characters. However, many of the towns are nonetheless superfluous to the game, as is the entire exterior solar system, which was one of the game's more interesting features!

It's probably necessary to draw a distinction between the wide array of irrelevent side plots in, say, Ultima VII and the towns and planets of Ultima II which are simply devoid of interest. Since Ultima II does not take itself seriously, most of the excess towns are devoted to some pretty silly gags--whether it's the town of Le Jester, where you find it hard to get in and out because jesters crowd you to the point of being unable to move, or the town of Computer Camp, which is one big 1982 joke. I spent a couple of hours exploring all those places, but gained nothing of value from it--no special weapon or item or even any plot hints, as I recall. The dungeons were equally useless, and since magic was only used in dungeons, the whole magic system disappears from view! I'm not sure I even entered a dungeon. I know you could get fuel for your ship there, but why, just to visit the superfluous planets in the solar system?

Another issue which isn't the game's fault is that Ultima I got remade sometime in the latter 80's, and it looks and plays like a vastly superior game as a result. So today, most people who play these games at all will end up playing the remake of Ultima I, and then move to Ultima II and wonder, "what the hell happened!?" because, as you would expect, the remake is so much more playable than Ultima II. But just to blast those illusions away, I will say that after struggling through hacking the code to play Ultima I, Ultima II is a dream! Some additonal changes--Ultima I had only one or two monster types (although the get various names), whereas II has something like eight; Ultima II's dungeons are not just clones of those of Akalabeth; Ultima II has bigger towns, distinctive conversations, some animated graphics, and other advantages over the first game in its original form.

With Ultima I I talked about how the final fight with Mondain is a distinctive "moment" in the game, one which I found very interesting because all the hype is built up, but then we see an all-black room and a little man with his little gem causing all the world's havoc. Neat. In Ultima II, I think the only similar moment is when you arrive on Planet X and talk to Father Antos, and get his blessing; there is the sense that he's the only real character in the game, sticking out like a sore thumb from the insanity surrounding him out in space. Then there's that old man under the tree who gives (well, sells) you a ring. Pretty much inexplicable. I suppose I am projecting excessive significance on these figures, but I have to choose something! I also like the violent and abrupt endgame; "ALL HER WORKS SHALL DIE!"

What else needs to be said?

I can throw in a comment or two concerning Escape From Mount Drash, though it's not really worth the effort. It's just a bad, amateur maze game, almost unplayable, especially in the latter stages where you're not even allowed to see in front of you the keys you are looking for to escape the maze. Because of the time limit and the seemingly random nature of the combat, the game is just an exercise in repetition, hoping that with the next iteration chance will go you're way and you will succeed. It's worse than Akalabeth, because you can take advantage of that games silliness, whereas here, it just gets in the way and makes playing tedious.

That's all I have to say. I'll talk about III and why I enjoy it in a few weeks or months or years! :-D


Anonymous said...

I found a version of Ultima I for my Commodore 64 in the late 80s. Do you think that was a remake or the original?

I am not sure I understood why the original was less enjoyable than the remake.

Anonymous said...

Hey, where'd you go!?

Anonymous said...

"Hey, where'd you go!?

Anonymous said...

Ultima I released in the late 80's for the Commodore 64 is definitely the remake. I think the intro even says something along the lines of "a new version of the classic". As far as I know the only 2 systems which had the original version (monsters attack in groups, find quests are on the same island, etc.) are the Apple ii and the Atari 400 - and on Apple ii the remake is much easier to find than the original. The Atari 400 version also has the advantage of being playable without hacking.

Anonymous said...

?!og uoy d'erehw ,yeH

kalinara said...

I've really been enjoying these reviews. I hope you'll write the next one soon.

Felix said...

So..like.."Hey, where'd you go!?" :)
Seriously though, I appreciate this blog. I've never actually played one of the Ultima games from start to finish (though I've had a look at all of them), something I'd like to remedy this summer with my recent acquisition of the Complete Ultima Collection. As I don't actually see myself going back to Ultima I or even Akalabeth just yet, I might start out somewhere around Ultima VI, the game with the intriguing Midi music. Any thoughts on that as a starting point?

Anonymous said...

You could now play fan-made remakes, like Lazarus, and in the future, Redemption.

Clarco said...

Felix - I would start with Ultima IV, as it marks the dawn of the avatar.

Kalinara - he has beaten the series, so technically, there is no new review to be added, although I second the motion to play at least Lazarus.

Slashie said...

Did you try the Mount Drash remake? I turned it into an almost real Ultima :) google for "DrashRL"

Anonymous said...

I have loved this! It is probably the most fun I've ever had reading a blog.

IMPORTANTLY however, I hope Ophidian is still checking comments because the pages for the first day of Ultima 1 and the first day of Ultima 8 seem to have gone missing somehow. If Ophidian still has the original content, I hope he'll re-upload it.