Releasing a game with a Part Two designation makes perfect sense at this point in the Ultima series since the action picks up almost immediately from the conclusion of the last game, Ultima VII: The Black Gate. You, as the Avatar, are hot on the heels of the evil Batlin who has gone to Serpent Isle in his effort to bring the Guardian to the world. Now the only logical choice is to grab your buddies Iolo, Dupre and Shamino and go after him.
The problem facing you in this quest is the prevailing atmosphere in Serpent Isle. While people in towns like Monitor, Fawn and Moonshade follow at least one of Lord British's primary virtues, they also hate him and don't take kindly to his associates. The job of Avatar is considerably more difficult when you have to nearly lie just to prevent being burned at the stake. Also, Batlin emerges as quite a slippery character and always seems to stay a step or two ahead of you -- until things take a major turn in the middle of the game.
Origin improves their already solid Ultima VII engine with a noticeable graphics upgrade as well as improved overall functionality of the paper doll system. Before, the character portrait always looked the same regardless of clothing with equipped items showing to the side. Now, items actually cover the character's body and invite player creativity to make the Avatar fashionable with mix and match outfits. Character portraits, previously borderline, now look extremely realistic with rendered pictures of people's faces but, while they look nice, also seem a bit out of place with the rest of the game's motif.
The sophisticated NPC scripting system, first seen in Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar and modified through each subsequent game, remains as good as ever in Ultima VII Part Two: Serpent Isle. Wandering through a town after dark does you little good unless you are specifically looking for evil ruffians, as all respectable folk will be retired for the night. Small touches like this give the game a kind of atmosphere few other CRPGs can reproduce -- that of a real, living world where people have lives beyond standing around and waiting for you to interact with them. Throughout the game, subtle nuances provide a real sense of immersion, ranging from realistic dialogue to various sudden and tragic events that have a real effect on your party cohesion.
Not everything is good, however. As a side effect of the myriad of scripted events and well-written story, a new sense of linearity is present unlike any seen before in the Ultima series. The task of getting out of the game's first town might initially seem like a training session of sorts but, once you finally leave, you find yourself in another linear journey ending in another town that you can't immediately leave. This aspect seems to mess with the entire spirit of the Ultima series as the go-anywhere, do-anything mentality gives way to pre-determined events.
Just as in Ultima VII: The Black Gate, the combat system is not very suitable for a CRPG -- it's incredibly fast and unpredictable. Fortunately, it's not too difficult so at least the frustration level is contained. There are plenty of weapons and armor to use in your fight against evil while in Serpent Isle and, with the improved paper doll system, the joy of finding and using these items is even greater than before.
In addition to the new and improved graphic design, the game's music keeps pace nicely as well. Several of the more memorable songs from Ultima VII: The Black Gate reappear along with many new Ad-Lib compatible MIDI compositions, often of high quality. The sound effects remain fairly good with Sound Blaster support.
The journey in Ultima VII Part Two: Serpent Isle is a strange one. Being an Avatar is never supposed to be easy and the game forces you to make really difficult decisions about morality. It only seems fitting that the end of the game foretells the Avatar's plunge into a bizarre new realm that almost seems like punishment for straying from the virtuous path. After all, not every game needs a happy ending.
Graphics: Ultima VII: The Black Gate was among the best looking games released in its day and this sequel continues the trend. The world looks fantastic from terrain and architecture to character portraits (although the scanned-face portraits seem a bit out of place with the rest of the game's atmosphere).
Sound: Just like its predecessor, the game showcases an exceptionally well done Ad-Lib MIDI soundtrack and great ambient Sound Blaster compatible sound effects.
Enjoyment: While it's generally as much fun as previous Ultima games, the linearity keeps the game from providing the kind of experience you might expect.
Replay Value: The sheer size of the world, consistent with previous Ultima games, with its countless places to hide things provides a great deal of replay value.
People who downloaded Ultima 7: Part Two - Serpent Isle have also downloaded:
Ultima 7: The Black Gate, Ultima 8: Pagan, Ultima 6: The False Prophet, Ultima 5: Warriors of Destiny, Ultima 9: Ascension, Ultima I: The First Age of Darkness, Ultima II: Revenge of the Enchantress, Ultima III: Exodus
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