ED. - For such a hit as Underworld II, we expected more than one review for this game, and we weren't disappointed. We're pleased to be present three reviews for our Game Bytes readers.
- 386SX, 386, 486 PC or 100% compatible PC
- 2 Megs RAM
- 14 megs hard drive
- DOS Version 3.3 or higher
- Expanded memory manager
- 256 color VGA graphics
- Microsoft (R) 100% compatible mouse
- 386/20Mhz or better processor
- Sound board
- Ad Lib (R), Sound Blaster (R), Roland (R) MT-32/LAPC-1 or 100% compatible sound board
Digitized Speech Support:
- Sound Blaster (R) or 100% compatible sound board
Media in Package Reviewed:
- Four 3.5" 1.44M & one 3.5" 720K diskettes
System Configuration I Used:
486/33 Gateway 2000, ATI Ultra S-VGA, Pro Audio Spectrum 16
Almost a year ago, I had just finished playing EYE OF THE BEHOLDER II and picked up the February issue of Computer Game Review. Inside I found a review of ULTIMA UNDERWORLD: THE STYGIAN ABYSS - a first person dungeon exploration real-time hack and slash computer role playing game (CRPG). Most notable, of course, was the fact that movement was smooth and could be made in any angle through the varying sized and shaped rooms, halls, and caverns, while other games of this genre (like EYE OF THE BEHOLDER I & II and the WIZARDRY series) used ninety degree angles and steps of movement that jump the player five feet or so at each key press.
Two of the reviewers were quite excited about UNDERWORLD I while one claimed that the interface was just too difficult to use. Of course the game went on to be one of the most acclaimed first person dungeon CRPG to date. Players loved the ability to swim, fly, run and jump, as well as its depth of characters, story, puzzles, magic and combat. I personally dubbed it the best game I had ever played. Since then I went back and played ULTIMA I through VII as well as several other CRPGs, but nothing has quite measured up to my experience with UNDERWORLD... Until now.
The story of UNDERWORLD II, LABYRINTH OF WORLDS (UW2), picks up after ULTIMA VII, which followed UNDERWORLD I. In ULTIMA VII, the Avatar was summoned back to Britannia to help fight the Guardian, who is an extremely bad dude, bent on creating havoc in Britannia. In the end, the Avatar prevails of course, but only in foiling the Guardian's plan. UW2 opens with a celebration in Lord British's castle with many faces familiar to the Avatar including his friends Iolo, Geoffrey, Dupre and Julia, as well the likes of Mayor Patterson and Ferdiwyn.
During this celebration, the guardian strikes again and encases the castle inside a giant black rock gem, sealing all exits. As the Avatar, you must save Britannia. Isn't it always the case? You must explore the levels beneath the castle as well as eight new worlds - assuming you can find the entrance to them.
The installation went without a hitch. It required 14 megabytes of disk space. I had to run an included utility to get the game configured for my Sound Blaster IRQ - just like in UW1.
Firing up UW2 finds the interface almost wholly unchanged from UW1. Grabbing the mouse and starting to steer myself through the rooms of the castle, I found myself running into walls and oversteering turns for a while, but I was quickly re-acclimated and soon felt as though I had found that pair of long-lost most-comfortable slippers.
The UI is entirely mouse driven. Holding down on the right mouse button while moving the cursor allows you to move freely through rooms and corridors at any angle. Moving the mouse gradually higher in this manner increases walking speed until you are running. Pressing the left mouse button causes you to jump, unless you have your weapon drawn, in which case the left mouse button controls your weapon swing. Every thing is organized well and is easy to use.
It is amazing the amount of control you have over your weapon and body movement during battle - and its a good thing since your enemies rarely stand still. Be prepared to chase them down for the final kill since many monsters will run when hurt badly. You'll also have to look up and sometimes even jump to hit those flying creatures while other times it is necessary to look down to slash those creatures at shoe level. More acid slugs...Yuk!
This UI really adds tremendously to the realism. I only have a few minor gripes here. I would like to see the number of save file positions expanded beyond four. Perhaps they kept it limited since the save space required grew to about 500K per save in UW2. Also, looking into your rune bag or checking your character's stats always makes you wait though a minor bit of animation. It's cute, but you soon get to where you are hitting keys in hopes of cutting the 3 second sequence short.
Lastly, the only thing really keeping this UI from being perfect is the lack of a note taking feature. Now that I am freed from the drudgery of map-making, I am so close to being able to play without my pencil and note pad that I can almost taste it. I get so tired of writing down all of the conversation. Games like THE LOST FILES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES and CLOUDS OF XEEN have taken this step and so should others.
The graphics are very impressive. Many games easily top UW2 for beautiful still images, like those found in THE LEGEND OF KYRANDIA (just to mention one), but not many come close to being as completely mesmerizing as UW2 is when you are travelling through it. The walls, floor and ceiling smoothly scroll past you, while a slight bobbing up and down motion adds to the illusion of rhythmic steps. Swimming and flying are two of my very favorite modes of travel.
I love to cast a walk on water spell and stroll over to a lurker and fight him on my terms for once (was that a look of confusion in his eyes?). Running on top of the water and to jump up a low waterfall is truly a magical experience.
The viewing window is bigger than that of UW1 without any noticeable slowdown. Monsters and non-player characters are more detailed and have more frames of animation during combat. The new worlds showcase new surface textures like ice, snow and strange alien substances. I really can't find any gripes with the graphics or animation other than to say that objects are still a little blocky when seen up close, though this is much improved from UW1 and did not bother me while playing at all.
The sound is improved in many ways over UW1. Many new sound effects have been added for monsters, combat and movement. Stepping on snow really makes that snow compressing skrunch sound. Killing some monsters gets you a creepy screech. And while there is no digitized voice in the introduction, like there was in UW1, voice is used from time to time when the Guardian makes a surprise appearance to taunt and laugh at you. The effect is a little unnerving - a couple of times I almost jumped out of my chair.
The music soundtrack is pretty well done. It succeeds in adding mood to the game without becoming annoying. I never felt like turning it off and I often found myself thinking that it was a little eerie - just as I was beginning to have second thoughts about what might be around the next corner.
The players guide, containing instructions on how to play the game seems complete yet brief and well organized. Another larger manual containing a history of Britannia, while not required reading, is enjoyable to read and I recommend it. The installation guide also looked quite complete, though I had no problems and did not make much use of its trouble-shooting sections.
The only shortcoming was perhaps in the area of character generation. It is not completely clear how your choices here will help or hinder you through the duration of the game. This may very well been a purposeful omission, left to the player to discover.
Your character must be generated before game play may begin. Unfortunately, there is no provision for importing your character from Underworld I. Character generation is easy with only a few choices to be made. The documentation does fail to tell you a couple of important things that could help make wiser choices here.
Your character's strength attribute is important since it determines how much weight you can bear throughout the game. This strength stat never increases, so it is important to get one that you can live with throughout the game. Also it is not clear from the documentation that any profession can practice any skill during the game (e.g. you need not be a Mage to use magic).
UW2 enhances game play with an interesting story. They have taken the "You must save our world" plot and made it quite interesting through the addition of the mysterious Guardian who makes several appearances throughout the game. Also breaking the game world up into eight different worlds serves to break the story into chapters, each having subplots to play out inside new, unique, and sometimes alien settings. Many of these subplots produce quests which you must carry out within a single world or across several worlds. While some quests are optional to the game, most are critical. There is also a story playing back at the castle while you are exploring these worlds, so you must come back often to exchange information.
The story of the game slowly rolls out through your players interaction with many, many non-player characters (NPC). These non-player characters are quite well done, as is the interaction interface. Some of the characters and their deeds are quite interesting and at times, down right clever.
Magic is always an important part of a CRPG as it is in UW2. The magic system is basically unchanged from UW1, except for the addition of new spells. Rune stones must be found throughout the worlds in order to cast spells. As your character is awarded skill points for advancing levels, you must use some of them to train in the magic arts of casting and manna if you ever hope to cast those higher level spells. You should plan to use magic as much as possible since it makes winning easier and opens up one of the more interesting aspects of the game. There are also many magical potions and scrolls and spells to be found throughout the labyrinth. The lore skill is also important in identifying many magical weapons and armor items that you will find.
Fighting, whether weaponed or magical is real-time and depends greatly on both your characters skills and your mastery of the UI. The importance of you skill at wielding the mouse is perhaps the factor that most involves you in the game. You don't just issue commands to your character and then watch him/her carry out the orders - you instead slip into the character like a pair of gloves and guide all actions and movements through the battle. You may move in close and strike, then run over to a short platform and jump up for a better vantage, or just stand toe to toe and hack it out. The beauty here is that you can use your surroundings as well as your weapons and quite often, many strategies are available for use against a foe. Just remember that not all creatures are hostile and some possess very important information - so always try to talk before you draw blood.
Like any good CRPG worth its magnetic bits, UW2 has many puzzles to solve. While none of these puzzles are overly hard, they are all fun and some are set in surroundings that will visually awe and dazzle you.
This game has two difficulty settings to choose from, STANDARD and EASY. To the best of my knowledge this selection controls only the difficulty of battles. The game is just a little larger than UW1, but is spread out over eight different worlds instead of eight, tightly packed levels. You should expect from forty to seventy hours of play depending on how many roses you stop to smell along the way.
GAME PLAY Game play is the most important factor of any game - how good is the overall game play experience? UW2 is a package that is even greater than the mere sum of all of its strong components. For me, UW2 is one of the best CRPGs to come out in a long long time. While UW2 does not use any "virtual reality" hardware, it successfully created a virtual reality for me to get lost in for several hours each day. The only problem is that it stayed on my mind during the day and invaded my dreams at night. Perhaps the obsession I felt with the synthetic reality created by UW2 and the way it kept drawing me back is the best testament to its play value.
I heartily recommend this game for all players except perhaps those who hate this genre of game. Even if you don't rate it a highly as I do, it is certain to be one of the years best CRPGs and you are bound to get your moneys worth.
This review is Copyright (c) 1993 by Sam Bauer. All rights reserved.
CPU: 386sx or better
DOS: MS-DOS 3.3 or higher
Memory: 2 MB RAM, expanded memory manager [e.g. EMM386.EXE]
Hard Disk: 14 MB
Interface: Mouse [strongly recommended], Keyboard or Joystick
Graphics: 256-color 320x200 VGA
Sound: Adlib, Soundblaster, Roland LAPC-1/MT-32 or compatibles [supports simultaneous use of separate cards for music
and digitized speech & sound]
For people who played the first Ultima Underworld and want a quick summary: bigger and better graphics, better sound and music, much better plot and atmosphere, same old interface. For everyone else, read on!
When the original Ultima Underworld was released last April, it was revolutionary -- a true 3-D role-playing game, in which you could smoothly turn, walk, jump, swim and fly -- not to mention swing swords, cast spells and hold conversations with all manner of creatures. Its plot was a bit superficial, but its dramatic interface won it a bevy of awards.
ULTIMA UNDERWORLD II: LABYRINTH OF WORLDS substantially repairs most of its predecessor's weak points while improving on its strengths. It's not perfect, but it is very, very good. UW2 adds to the best first-person interface in current computer role-playing games one of the best-executed storylines as well.
UW2 begins with a feast at Castle Britannia, where the player, as the Avatar (Britannia's destined savior in times of danger), and the other notables of the kingdom are celebrating the defeat of the Guardian a year ago, as chronicled in Ultima VII. Suddenly, a huge gem of impregnable blackrock springs up around the castle -- the Guardian has unleashed a new attack on the kingdom, trapping its leadership within the castle while his invading forces conquer the realm outside.
The Avatar is called upon to investigate the castle, and the ancient tunnels below, for a way to break free of the mystic prison -- a quest that will in turn lead to other, stranger worlds with the secrets to the Guardian's undoing.
UW2's display and interface will be familiar to veterans of the original game. The game screen has an inventory display on the right, with command icons and an information window on the bottom, but the majority of the screen holds the view window, with the 3-D display of the player's current view. The view window is about 30% larger than in the original game, and the particular graphics in it are much more detailed.
Walls and beings still 'pixelize' when one gets too close, and faces in particular tend to look strange, but the animations and the backgrounds look very nice. People walk around, move their heads and arms, etc.; broad views of a throne room or an ice cave as one turns around can be quite dramatic. Motion was acceptably smooth on a 386DX/33, but users may find slower machines annoyingly jerky.
The interface, inherited from UW1, uses the left mouse button to move and turn, while the right button is clicked to look at, get, use or talk to things, and various mouse or keyboard controls allow one to jump, look up or down, etc. Spells are cast by invoking combinations of runes which you collect over the course of the game.
Most things work smoothly, although there is a persistent problem with the game not permitting you to drop things even when there's obvious empty space, and an occasional moment when the player appears to become stuck against a wall, requiring some fiddling before one can start moving again. The biggest interface problem is combat, which I find impossible without using the keyboard, and even then a frantic matter of wheeling, retreating and hacking -- it certainly gets the adrenalin pumping, but elegant it's not.
On the other hand, the plot design and execution have been completely overhauled, and dramatically improved, in Underworld 2. From the beginning, there is a serious and well-defined problem; but at the same time, the complete plot is slowly ferreted out by the player instead of being prophetically unveiled by the computer. The game does an excellent job of having characters and events develop and respond to the player's actions.
There are a number of subplots that are revealed (although the game does a poor job of sustaining them), and there are genuinely surprising twists in the situation in the castle. The endgame is tolerable, although leaving some gaping plot holes. Aside from occasional weak points, the plot presentation is much more sophisticated than the average for computer role-playing games.
The atmosphere of the game is another strong point. Digitized sound effects let the player hear his or her footsteps -- and others'. Water splashes, swords clank on armor, and dying monsters moan. The music lends appropriate moods to the situation (and is more varied and less grating than in UW1). At appropriate moments, the Guardian jumps in to taunt the player, as sudden and nasty as ever. (Unfortunately, digitized speech is only provided for about half his lines, an annoying inconsistency.) The designers have made good use of the alternate worlds to provide distinctly different settings -- ice caverns, a floating keep, a prison tower, a psychedelic place from somewhere out of Star Trek, and others.
There is no explicit copy protection; I encountered only one bug, an occasional tendency to start pausing every few seconds -- this only occurred during games when sound was enabled, and could be fixed by restarting the game. One hopes a patch is forthcoming, but it's hardly fatal.
ULTIMA UNDERWORLD II: LABYRINTH OF WORLDS still has some rough spots, but is by and large an excellent game. The scrolling 3-D display that was the centerpiece of its predecessor has been improved, while the storyline execution is far more sophisticated than that earlier game's -- indeed, better than most on the market today. Those who liked the original should certainly get this game; those who haven't tried either will probably also really enjoy this game, assuming they can put up with the occasional interface nuisance. Ultima Underworld II may not be quite as revolutionary a game now as the original Underworld was a year ago, but it's certainly hard to beat.
This review Copyright (C) 1993 by Daniel J. Starr. All rights reserved.
386DX/20, 2 Meg RAM, 13 Meg Disk space (from box)
386DX/33 (in my opinion)
486DX/33 (for full benefit of the 3D scrolling effect)
Overall rating: (on a scale from 1 - 10) 9!!! (-1 point for bugs)
The game takes place in Britannia, after the events of Ultima7. You are trapped in the castle of Lord British by the evil Guardian,.. along with several other folks. Diehard Ultima fans will know exactly who these folks all are,... who can be trusted, and who can't. The rest of us will just have to guess.
Your mission: Free yourself, and everyone else, from the Guardians' grasp. This is accomplished by visiting 8 other worlds (other than yours). Each of these worlds is very different, and very unique.
Contrast with Underworld 1: This new game has much improved graphics, more objects/items, and a bigger 3D viewing window. The amount of territory to explore is much larger than in the original. Several other enhancements have been made. The user interface is identical (which I consider to be a positive attribute), so that Underworld 1 players will immediately feel right at home.
GAME PLAY: Fabulous 3D scrolling effect. Just like being there! You can turn any direction, any angle, look up, look down, and fully interact with the environment. The environment itself is also 3D. There are pits, pedastals, elevated walkways, and other 3D landscapes to explore.
The user interface is very easy to use, once you get used to it. There are icons for talking, weapons, using items, etc,... but these are unnecessary once you get the hang of the interface. If you are just starting out, the icons make life easy. Once you have some experience, you can use all of the short-cut methods, and forget about the icons. This is a nice feature to have, as it makes life easy for the beginner, yet allows the more experienced users to really get the most out of the game.
Play consists of exploring new worlds, talking to folks, killing monsters, collecting neat stuff, and solving puzzles. The role you play is that of The Avatar from the Ultima series. You are a hero, as well as a pillar of virtue,... and this is important to understand while playing the game. Lying, cheating, and stealing are frowned upon (except when absolutly necessary). Also, attacking anything that is not trying to kill you is not always a good idea (you can actually talk to some of the monsters, and need to do so in some cases, to complete the game). So be polite !
SOUND/SPEECH: Support for Adlib, SoundBlaster, and SoundBlaster Pro. While speech is limited (takes lots of disk space), sound is abundant. The sounds really add a lot to the game, and can literally save your life! If there are any nasty critters about, you will probably hear them before you see them. You may also be ambushed from behind. With a sound card, you can save yourself from some nasty surprises (rest assured that there are more than enough _other_ nasty surprises in store).
With the lights turned off, and the sound turned up, the illusion of alternate reality can be really intense.
OVERALL: This is the best game that I have ever played (as of 1/1/93) If you are a fan of Might & Magic, Eye of the Beholder, and other such games, ... you have got to try this!
BUGS: Considering that this is an Origin product, there are surprisingly few bugs. The main problem seems to be in allocating the available memory for both graphics and sound, at the same time. After a while, the action halts for a moment (screen freezes), while the memory gets juggled around for the next event.
This seems to be a memory frag-mentation problem, and only gets worse. The frequency of this occurence increases as time goes by. This results in mangled sound, and a loss of fluid motion,... which goes from bad to worse. There are a couple of ways around this:
This review is Copyright (C) 1993 by Mitch Aigner. All rights reserved.
One year after the destruction of the black gate from Ultima 7, Lord British calls the heros of the land to his castle to have a celebration. While all the heroes are gathered in one place, the Guardian strikes. Using his powerful magic he encases the castle inside of a blackrock gem. While everyone is locked inside, the Guardian's force begin their attack on Britannia.
While locked away, a traitor begins to murder the heroes. It is up to the Avatar to descend into the dungeon beneath Lord British's castle to find away to escape. At the bottom of the castle a miniature version of the blackrock gem is found. The avatar soon discovers that this leads to other worlds. Unfortunately these worlds are all worlds previously conquered by the Guardian..
Amongst these worlds are a goblin tower, a haunted city, a mage's test, an underground prison, a floating castle and the ethereal plane. In each world the Guardian's source of power must be destroyed and a blackrock fragment must be found in order to open up a new world.
Eventually the Avatar discovers a way to break the blackrock gem just before the Guardian's forces have conquered everything.
Despite being a sequel to Origin's Ultima Underworld 1, story wise Ultima Underworld 2 is part of the Guardian saga and fits in between Ultima 7 and Ultima 7 part 2. This game is a first person point of view game. It uses an interface almost identical to Ultima Underworld 1. Incidently, the Ultima Underworld series was the first 3D scrolling game and was the only true 3D game until Decent came out.
Unlike the first Ultima Underworld, this game had a good story. Half way through the first Ultima Underworld I became so bored that I couldn't bring myself to continue playing. UW2 I played all the way to the end. I especially liked the idea of traveling to world already conquered by the Guardian. In a way this game is a preview of Ultima 8, which takes place entirely on a world conquered by the Guardian.
In all actuality, this game handled the theme of going to a world controlled by the Guardian better than Ultima 8 did. The Guardian's taunts were well placed and often drove me to play harder in hopes of seeing the Guardian defeated once again. My favorite was when I entered an underground city, that had been completely destroyed by the Guardian, for the first time The Guardian appears to you in a vision and says, "Perhaps a vision of Britannia's future, Avatar?"
I was also impressed that you could finally view Castle Britain from a first person point of view. The castle layout is very similar to the layout from Ultima 7. A little consistency like this really helps maintain the believability of the game world. UW2 really feels like an Ultima. I personally felt that UW2 carried on the story of the Guardian better then Ultima 7 part 2 did.
The graphics of the monsters were also quite improved over UW1. The view screen was a bit larger too.
While the story was greatly improved since UW1, the technology was not. This game has almost no improvements in the game engine itself. This was a bit disappointing as UW1 was such a ground breaking game, we expected no less of UW2.
Also, the game engine is limited to underground scenes, so don't expect to go romping around a 3D Britannia yet. (But just wait for Ultima 9, the final chapter of the Guardian Saga.)
Good story and good game play. If you enjoy 3D games, Ultima games, or just want to follow the entire Guardian saga, don't miss this game.