Ecstatica II, as the name suggests, is a sequel to the first Ecstatica game, but only if you played the original as a male character. The option to play as a female is ignored in this game, but then it was also largely ignored in the first game as well with many incongruous references and responses confronting the female character. Ditching the option for a player to control a female character allows a more consistent story thread to develop in this sequel, albeit one that is well worn and rather predictable. Though female players may well wonder why they could not have been given the option to play as Ecstatica with the task of rescuing the nameless 'hero'. After all Ecstatica is the name of the game and she does nothing throughout!
Having rescued Ecstatica from the demons in Tirich you now return to your home with her as your intended bride, only to find that an evil Archmage has unleashed demonic forces on your castle in your absence. The introduction shows Ecstatica plucked from your horse by a winged demon and you must rescue her all over again and, at the same time, banish the evil that now plagues your world. To accomplish this you must recover the seven pieces of the Eldersign that once maintained peace and harmony in the land, but which has now been sundered by the Archmage. You are aided in your quest by a priestess who releases you from the stocks at the beginning of the game and provides vague hints on your next task after you successfully recover each piece of the Eldersign. This is about the only dialogue in the game, but no on-screen text is available.
It was with some reluctance that I installed Ecstatica II as I didn't really like the first game and I was rather scathing in my review, especially as it was widely promoted as an 'adult' game, and those of you who have read my article on this subject will be familiar with my reservations about this term. However, I must say that it didn't take long before I was thoroughly absorbed in the sequel and happily hacking and slashing at the hordes of monsters who were single-minded in their rabid pursuit of me. The monsters are varied and many are actually quite cute. They are also deadly, especially the ones that are capable of firing some sort of projectile at you from a distance.
The combat is relentless and the pace is frenetic as you explore the castle and its surrounds. No sanctuary provides more than a few moments respite and the monsters are constantly replaced after they are vanquished, so you can never completely clear an area and explore at leisure. Also, the shifting 'camera' angles are, at times, quite disorienting, particularly when a fight occurs at a transition point between 'views'. Despite this, and much to my own surprise, I quite enjoyed the game and was determined to play it through to the end.
I nearly didn't finish it, though, for two reasons. Firstly, there seems to be a 'glitch' in one sequence were you must defeat some Amazons in a clearing. I know I am not the only player to encounter this. A cave entrance is supposed to open up, but it only partially opened and I was unable to enter it. Only after numerous attempts over several hours did I finally get it to work. Hopefully, a patch will soon be available to correct this problem.
Secondly, the last portion of the game is an example of that cruel and unusual punishment that proves some game designers have a vicious and sadistic streak. I am talking here about timed puzzle sequences and this one is particularly nasty. You must negotiate not one or two, but six locations that are maze-like obstacle courses with traps that often deflect you from your chosen path. You must get through this frustrating sequence as fast as possible to ensure that you still have enough time left to find the final piece of the Eldersign and confront the Archmage.
The game is keyboard controlled with an, at first, bewildering array of keystroke combinations to move your character around and carry out various actions, but you will soon get used to it with practice. It has three difficulty settings and, needless to say, I chose the easy option. Even so it tested my skills and endurance, not to mention my patience.
There are a quite a few improvements in this sequel which I greatly appreciated. For example, your character runs automatically on pressing the forward arrow (in the first game you needed to press a function key at the same time) you can find a greater range of weapons and you can also use magic, and you can replenish your health and magic after defeating certain monsters. In addition to finding the pieces of the Eldersign there are numerous treasures to discover which soon swell your coffers. When you have sufficient treasure you can swap this for full health points. Other crucial artefacts can help you open previously locked doors and you do have an inventory of sorts where important items are automatically placed.
Ecstatica II has a significantly larger game world than the original and the gameplay is more extended and varied, but in the end the puzzles are still largely limited to finding ways to open doors. Mind you, with all the incessant combat that's about as much as you are able to handle. The elements borrowed from the role-playing genre significantly improved this game for me, but I couldn't help wishing that an RPG's auto-mapping feature had also been provided.
The graphics are excellent (you really must play it in high resolution, though a low resolution option is offered) and your ellipsoid character's movement is extremely fluid. The shifting perspective really adds to the atmosphere -- close up and claustrophobic in narrow stair wells and dizzying from the heights of the tall towers. Sound effects too play an enormous part here. From eerie moans to the neighing of frightened horses the background sounds rarely cease and the explosion of thunder as I reached the top of a tower nearly knocked me out of my seat.
This game sits firmly in the action adventure category and is sure to present a challenge even to those who revel in the cut and thrust of real-time combat action. I know that some players may disagree with my assessment, but I think that Ecstatica II is far more enjoyable than the original.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1997.
All rights reserved.
P60 (minimum) P133 (recommended) DOS 5.0/Windows 95, 16 MB RAM, 40 MB Hard disk space, 2x CD-ROM or faster, Sound card (SoundBlaster or compatible recommended)