Ultima II is obviously the second episode in the Ultima series. It was released in 1982 by Sierra Online (as they were the only ones willing to produce the cloth map Richard Garriott wanted to ship the game with) and uses the basic of premise of Minax (Mondain’s lover and apprentice) taking revenge upon those responsible for the death of her beloved and conquering the universe through space and time.
Ultima II remains sort of an oddity in the Ultima series. It is pretty much an evolution of Ultima I in term of gameplay. It plays the same and the biggest evolution is that towns now use a view similar to the world map and that you can now talk with NPCs to learn tips and information about the plot (altough all those NPCs only have a single line of dialogue).
However it’s more in term of plot and context that it differs greatly from every other episodes. Indeed, because rather that using the backdrop of Sosaria the game actually takes place on Earth (with the manual going as far as to hint Ultima I was also set on Earth) with the player character travelling through time to different Earth era by the use of “Time Gates” in order to find the way to destroy Minax at the “Time of Legends.”
As such the game offer even more technology than Ultima I, such as lasers, power armors, airplane and of course space ships!
This aspect of the game has often been retconned out of the later game, which usually go and claim that the whole events happens solely on Sosaria, altough some of them (and specifically Ultima IX) aknowledge that Minax did attack Earth through time as well.
Personally I’ve never been that huge a fan of Ultima II, altough I’ve kind of grown fond of the context over time. The fact that I first discovered it on the Atari ST didn’t help. You see I had already played Ultima III to VI when I got my hand on the Atari ST version of the game, and I was expecting something similar to Ultima III. I did not expect to see one of the ugliest Atari ST game of all time (with overly white graphics) and I was more that puzzled by the Earth context of the game, wondering that this had to do with Ultima.
But the game breaker really was the interface: rather than using the traditionnal Ultima keyboard interface the designer choose to use a fully mouse driver UI based upon the Atari GEM interface from TOS (or Tramiel Operating System, think the equivalent of Windows at the time) with multiple windows and everything being based on mouse click (for instance you double clicked on monsters to attack them or in towns to enter).
This basically made the game nearly unplayable and made me regret the usual keyboard interface of the other games of the series.
I did played quite a bit of it though, but I never came to finish the game until 1999, when I played through the Commodore 64 version on an Emulator in anticipation of Ultima IX.
For this Ultima Adventures playthrough, I have actually decided to play through the little known FM-Towns version of the game. The FM-Towns was a Japanese computer which received some very unique ports of Ultima games over the years. Notably the computer had a specific release of the Ultima Trilogy I~III compilation which included remakes of the entire “Age of Darkness Trilogy” with a new tile engine and brand new music. The downside is that they use the same graphics and music for all three games, which is why I’ve decided to use this version for Ultima II since there are no better ports out there and that the original version really is awfully ugly.
So here we go: Ultima II awaits!