Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds
This roleplayer was destined to be included in Quandary as one of our reflections, firstly, because I enjoyed it so much the first time around even though I struck a bug and didn't finish it and, secondly, because I wanted an excuse to play it again and, hopefully, see it through to the end.
So is the game any good despite having some serious bugs? My answer is a resounding YES. Just remember to look out for the patch. The game's about 5 years old now, somewhat pixilated in comparison with more recent games, but it still stands tall. The story is complex and involving and there are so many interesting mini quests to find essential items, as well as an assortment of side quests to gather information to help you out, it makes for a truly engrossing journey. Pen and paper is essential to keep track of necessary information, and the game has a crucial mapping facility where you can also make notes so that you can recall the locations of the numerous helpful non-playing characters.
It is the Festival of Rebuilding in Britannia to celebrate vanquishing the Guardian one year past. Lord British invites you, the Avatar, as his honoured guest, but the Guardian is out for revenge. Whilst all within the castle sleep he casts a spell that encases the entire structure in a massive blackrock gem, thus imprisoning everyone.
As the game begins your immediate task is to create your single character. First up you have a choice of gender, then you can choose to be left or right handed before you select one of eight occupations including Fighter, Mage, Druid, Tinker, etc. Specific skills are associated with each occupation, but a random dice roll allows you to allocate a few bonus skills before you select a portrait and name your character. You start out in your quarters where you can pick up a few goodies including your map and a note. The note summons you to a meeting with Lord British, so head for the Throne Room and you will be allocated the task of sorting out the mess.
The castle is populated with friendly souls (and some not so friendly as you will eventually find out), so you must talk to everyone (there are no voices, text appears on screen) and note carefully their advice to learn what is to be done. Once you begin your travels there are many, many more characters with favours to ask of you. As you progress you can feed your appetite for altruism and help everyone, indeed it's advisable to do so as every good deed deserves another and very likely your assistance will reap some reward.
Like its predecessor, Ultima Underworld I, this is a first person perspective game which allows the option of two playing modes, standard and easy. The ferocity of your foes is adjusted according to your choice. This makes the game eminently playable for anyone new to this genre although the different options don't change the complexity of the game itself so you must be prepared to step into the role of the character and pay close attention to the story. Unfortunately combat is in real time so you will need to get used to brandishing that sword or whatever, but the easy mode is easy and it doesn't take long to get the hang of it.
Movement is fluid with full 360 degree turning and you can also do such things as look up and down and jump. All movement and actions are executed via the mouse or keyboard and a small bank of icons allows you to arm your character, talk, look, and pick up items. One last icon allows you to access the options menu for saving and restoring, adjusting music and sound as well as the intensity of the graphics which is excellent for players with low powered machines.
There is a huge range of both defensive and offensive spells in this game. Spells are cast by selecting a combination of rune tiles from a bag which you collect early on. You begin with only a few tiles so your spells are limited until you find more tiles on your travels. The manual lists a range of spells but you can learn more from other characters as you proceed.
Of course, to cast spells you will need a good supply of mana which is replenished if you sleep. You might also find, or trade for, a mana potion to help you out here, or a health potion or numerous other concoctions to provide you with extra protection or with specific skills.
In this adventure it is very important to manage your skills. These statistics are easily accessed by a click of the mouse button. They include major categories such as strength, agility and intelligence together with many others ranging from weapon skills or specific abilities to search, pick locks, swim, repair armour or recognise the numerous items you will find on your journey. As you gain experience points you can craft your character in many directions by visiting various 'teachers' and building up your expertise.
My advice, don't miss this one if you are a roleplaying fan. It's totally absorbing with many 'treasures' to find, people to meet, places to visit and quests to fulfil. Added to this it has a story that leads you logically through the adventure and draws you into the gameworld.
Although you don't miss out on a good serving of hack and slash in this game there are also options to get some things via peaceful means (or, perhaps, to get someone else to do the dirty work for you), so you don't have to annihilate everything and everyone in sight. Thus this game's definitely worth a good many solid hours of adventuring. If you don't have it already look out for the single CD release that contains Ultima Underworld I and II ... it will be money well spent as the first game in the series is just a much fun ... and will we ever see an Underworld III?
Copyright © Rosemary Young 1997.
All rights reserved.
Required: 386SX, 386 or 100% compatible PC system, 2MB RAM, MS-DOS, 570,000 bytes conventional memory free, CD-ROM drive, hard drive, keyboard, Microsoft compatible mouse.
Recommended: sound card (supports SoundBlaster or 100% compatible sound board), double speed CD-ROM drive.
Previously available on floppy disk.