The 1983 Commodore 64 version of Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress is a bit of a mixed bag in my opinion. On the one hand it is a gigantic, innovative, involving, and highly challenging Role-Playing Game, and a worthy sequel to the first Ultima (which was a great game). And on the other hand it is a fiddly, visually insipid and annoyingly vague quest into who knows what kind of fantasy, time-travelling nonsense…
Some might argue that it lacks focus and is too open-ended for its own good. To the point where most people will probably give up well before they come anywhere close to completing it.
Revenge of the Enchantress is the kind of game that splits opinions. Some people love it (enough for Ultima II to have been a big enough hit for creator Richard Garriott to form his own company, Origin Systems, after its release), and some people really dislike it – even if they want to like it.
I found myself falling into a split camp with the C64 version of Ultima II. I wanted to like it, but it drove me nuts with its obscure clues and tricky movement timings. Not to mention the grinding that’s required to even get to the first dungeon.
After playing – and enjoying – the Apple II original, I felt that this C64 conversion ran a little too fast for my liking. Particularly as the game pauses, then continues, if you leave it running. Like the original Ultima (the 1981 version, not the 1986 remake) it’s an amalgamation of turn-based and real-time gameplay. Which works okay if it runs at the correct speed. That is: not too fast, and not too slow. And this version seems to run too fast for my tastes, so I slowed it down in an emulator – at least until I could get used to the rhythm of it – and that seemed to help.
It also pissed me off that the game uses ridiculous movement keys. It doesn’t use the C64 cursor keys, or a joystick, to move the main character around. Instead you’re stuck with “@” for north, “[” for west, “]” for east, and “?” for south… Which probably makes a nice diamond shape on a real C64 keyboard, but playing the game in an emulator with a PC is a bit of a bugger. Plus: it only works if you set the keyboard to positional (and not symbolic) in an emulator like VICE (which is what I was using). Why they didn’t allow joystick controls on the main character is beyond me. It would’ve made the game better on a number of fronts.
After the excellent Commodore 64 version of Ultima [one] I was expecting this to be vying for the best of the Ultima II pile too, but I don’t think that’s the case.
The graphics and colours in the original C64 version are weak too, but there is a 2018 homebrew “Black” version of Ultima II available, with tweaked colours, which is what I’m playing here. Actually, I’m showing both versions of the game: first the ‘Black’ version, then some screens from the original ‘grey’ version. Personally, I much prefer the black version, although it’s not without its faults.
Ultima II keyboard commands:
a = Attack with the weapon you’re holding
b = Board a plane, ship or other form of transportation, or mount a horse
c = Cast a spell. You must first prepare the spell, using Magic. Spells can only be cast in dungeons and towers
d = Descend a level in a dungeon or tower
e = Enter a town, castle, dungeon or other landmark, or read a sign
f = Fire your ship’s guns
g = Get an item
h = Hyperspace your spaceship to the coordinates you specify
i = Ignite a torch
j = Jump up and down
k = Climb up a level in a dungeon or tower
l = Launch or Land in a plane or rocket, but only on grass
m = Readies a magic spell you know for casting
n = Negate the passage of time for all things farther than one square from you – if you posses a specific magic item
o = Offer gold as payment or bribe
q = Quit and save your progress to disk. Available only while on Earth and on foot, in the countryside
r = Ready a specified weapon
s = Steal from a store without paying for it
t = Transact business, or just start a conversation. Must be followed by a direction command
u = Unlock doors if you possess the keys. You must indicate the direction of the door
v = View to toggle between normal view and bird’s-eye view of town or planet. You must possess a specific magic item
w = Wear a suit of armour that you own
x = Exit or dismount your current transportation
y = Yell anything you can type. Often used in combination with Jump
z = Stats to display your vital statistics, possessions and spells. Also pauses the game
Spacebar = Pass time and eat