Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss, a bona fide success story, was a case where branching off from a popular title with a completely different atmosphere and play style actually worked. This financial and critical success, of course, screamed for the inevitable sequel. Origin Systems and Looking Glass Studios jumped on the chance and have created a follow up title that's bigger, better, and faster. The first title was impressive due to its true 3D engine and solid action-based RPG gameplay and the sequel raises everything up a notch.
At the beginning of Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds, the Avatar is enjoying a grand feast celebrating the one year anniversary of the Guardian's defeat. As so often happens, the celebration quickly goes horribly wrong and the Guardian shows his very unwelcome face, amusing himself by imprisoning the entire castle in mystical Blackrock. Once again, Britannia is under attack and it's up to you, playing as the Avatar, to save the day! The only way to deal with the situation is to descend into the castle's sewer system and find another Blackrock gem, a passport of sorts that will allow transportation to other worlds where the means to reverse the spell can be found. All in all, it looks like just another day's work for the world's greatest hero.
The main difference between the sequel and its predecessor is depth. In Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds, the plot is far more developed with all the characters involved in the central imprisonment plot consisting of major characters from past Ultima games. There is a great deal more conversation and character interaction and the regions you visit are more varied and numerous. The enhancement of the threadbare story at the core of Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss is the sequel's true strength, presented in an exciting new atmosphere.
The game uses the same basic engine, but the 256-color VGA graphics are considerably better looking. While pixilation is still a problem up close, the artistry is more detailed and makes the world look more realistic, an aspect helped by the more diverse game world. Rather than a continuous series of caverns, the sequel takes the Avatar to places like ice caves, Lord British's castle and other fantastic worlds. The denizens are no less fantastic and bizarre than their environs and encounters range from mundane skirmishes with rats and skeletons to terrifying run-ins with brain devouring psychic creatures.
The interface is nearly identical to that in Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss with a mossy texture to emphasize the underworld. In fact, many elements between the two games are quite similar, including the reasonably intuitive and efficient combat system. After selecting an attack style, modified by a weapon of choice and specific defenses, the Avatar takes a stab at the enemy who then fights back. It's certainly more realistic than the old "Attack which direction? Hit!" combat style of older Ultima games. Sounds of combat, utilizing Sound Blaster compatibility, are a bit better than in the previous game and the combat music, as well as standard adventuring music, is designed for Ad-Lib cards and helps set the tone nicely.
From Lord British's castle to the darkest depths of mystical Guardian-controlled territory, the Avatar's journey is hardly an easy one. With the moral support of the Avatar's friends, the journey is at least a little less lonely than before but certainly no less difficult. Freeing the castle from the Guardian's control requires a great deal of skill and cunning and, fortunately, he possesses both in abundance. Britannia once again needs you!
Graphics: The vast expanses of Lord British's castle, underground caverns and various mystical regions are all presented with a great deal of detail and vibrant, appropriate colors. The visibility of pixels when up close to various objects, however, is rather unsightly at times.
Sound: The sound and music created via Sound Blaster and Ad-Lib respectively never detract from the action and quite often help set the tone for the game.
Enjoyment: If there is one thing more satisfying than a dungeon romp, it's a dungeon romp with an engrossing plot and interesting characters. Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds delivers.
Replay Value: As with any game of this extreme size and complexity, replaying is a virtual must since several side quests are completely non-essential to the overall story and easy to miss the first time through along with countless hidden chambers and missed items.
Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds takes place one year after the events of Ultima VII: The Black Gate. To celebrate the defeat of the Guardian, Lord British invites the Avatar and his companions to his castle. However, in the night of the feast the Guardian attacks again, encasing the castle in a giant gem of blackrock. Deep in the sewers of the castle, another blackrock gem is found, created as an aftereffect of the attack. This gem is a teleporter to other worlds controlled by the Guardian. Now you, the Avatar, must travel to these worlds in order to free the castle from the Guardian's spell.
This sequel to Ultima Underworld plays almost exactly as the original, with its 3D world, action-oriented combat, and magic and dialogue systems. The storyline is more connected to the main Ultima series and the game world is larger and has more variety: besides the usual castles and dungeons there are such diverse locations as an ice world, a totally alien place called Talorus and the enigmatic Ethereal Void. Graphics and sound have also been improved: the size of the viewing window has been increased, there are all-new monster graphics and the game now features digitized sound effects.
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