Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds is the sequel to Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss.
Following the success of the first game, developer Blue Sky Productions (responsible for the development of the first Ultima Underworld) had merged with Lerner Research ( Chuck Yeager's Advanced Flight Trainer) in 1992 and had gone on to create the sequel. A variety of enhancements were made to improve the engine and its appeal to players. According to the Designer's Notes within the manual, the team had attempted to bridge traditional RPG elements with the sensibilities of a three-dimensional simulated world allowing for emergent gameplay.
One example of this that was offered up was that of a demon protecting a key and then giving the player the opportunity to explore option such as sneaking by it to steal the key, using a weapon to distract it, or simply engage it in combat. Or, simply attempt to pick the door the key was required for. A greater number of NPC interactions was also provided such as within Lord British's Castle to those met within those worlds under the Guardian's world. Character portraits had also undergone improvement as did the general graphics used throughout the game.
The game world had also expanded to encompass a playing area much larger than its predecessor as well as provide a story that was tied directly to the current Guardian arc of the series ( Ultima VII - Ultima IX). It was also made more non-linear by allowing the player the option to enter a number of worlds to satisfy their curiosity as well as sharpen their skills in several directions without tying them down to a particular challenge. Other enhancements included environmental ones such as the addition of sliding on ice, underground rivers, torches that eventually burn out, and lighting details.
The game also featured auto-mapping and the packaging included a large number of extras that expanded the fiction of the setting. A booklet entitled "A Safe Passage Through Britannia" written by a character from Ultima's world, Nystul, described the history of Britannia from the first Ultima to the the present game (Ultima Underworld II) as well as its creatures, classes, and important personages. The clue book, in particular, was also written in-character.
The story of Ultima Underworld 2 is wholly separate from the events of the first game, but ties directly into the Guardian arc of the then-current Ultima series. The Guardian is an otherworldy being who has set his powerful sights on the conquest of Britannia, adding that world to the others that he has already crushed beneath his seemingly limitless power.
The events of the game take place between the events of Ultima VII: The Black Gate and its expansions and those of Ultima VIII: Pagan. It is a year after the Avatar had saved the land from the Guardian in Ultima VII by thwarting the plans of his followers, the Brotherhood, and destroying the Black Gate that would have allowed him to enter Britannia. Lord British has declared a day of celebration, the Festival of Rebuilding, to commemorate the event and has invited his friends and allies to his castle including the Avatar.
However, after the revelry, powerful magic erupts from the ground during the next morning encasing the castle in a titanic blackrock dome trapping everyone within its walls. Blackrock is a mineral substance impervious to any physical force as well as being able to snuff out all magic in that which it contains. A meeting in the throne room is hastily called by Lord British.
He explains to the Avatar that he suspects the Guardian's hand in this treachery. By imprisoning the leaders of Britannia in this fashion, he would be free to invade the land once again without having to fear their interference. Only the Gargoyle king, Lord Draxinusom, lies outside the dome but there are doubts about whether the people will rally under a gargoyle banner to stop the Guardian.
His suspicions are answered when the Guardian makes an appearance in a vision with an offer to spare anyone that gives him their loyalty. The Avatar's task is clear: he must find a way to break the Dome and save everyone within from starving to death before the Guardian can renew his assault on Britannia with his forces.
The Avatar speaks with many of those within the castle and eventually descends into the sewers to investigate monsters that Dupre, one of the Avatar's companions, has told him of. As everyone begins to take stock of what is left of their supplies, the Avatar begins to explore the world below to secure the tunnels there. Eventually, the Avatar discovers a group of goblins who are friendly and have been trapped below when the Blackrock Dome had broken through the tunnels sealing them off. But the real prize lies deeper still when the Avatar discovers a massive gem with a glowing facet. Walking into it, the Avatar suddenly find themselves transported to another world.
The Avatar emerges within a Prison Tower on a world whose human civilizations are on the verge of extinction. Goblin armies whose shamans had made contact with the Guardian created a pact with the otherworldly power. In exchange for help in conquering their human rivals, the Guardian would allow them to rule the world in his name. The goblins have all but won their battle and it is into this place that the Avatar finds themselves.
By moving through the Tower, the Avatar frees many of its prisoners including Bishop, the leader of the resistance. The Avatar also discovers a tiny blackrock gem that appears to be a smaller version of the gem below the castle and that which covers it. After doing what is possible for the prisoners and in dealing with the goblins, the Avatar returns the same way that he had come to report the discovery.
The Avatar reports to Miranda. Nystul, the Court Magician, is also told of the discovery and everyone shares advice with the Avatar in an effort to prepare their friend for the journey to come. Nystul examines the blackrock gem the Avatar had brought back and performs a small ritual upon it which allows it to be used as a key between worlds. By touching it to the gem below the castle, it illuminates a facet along with two others that flicker. Stepping through the new facet, the Avatar find themselves at Killorn Keep.
The Keep is a floating castle that serves as an important base for the Guardian's domination of the world below. It is filled with many characters versed in the intrigues of court, but the Avatar manages to find an ally among them including mention of the Guardian's champion, Mors Gotha. Altara, the ally the Avatar has made, also informs them of the Guardian's habit to place a spy to observe enemies with and that one may be within Lord British's castle. After dealing with the imp and returning to the Keep, Altara asks the Avatar to perform certain tasks to help aid her efforts against the Guardian.
Returning to the castle, the Avatar then journeys to a world encased in ice. Once the home of a mighty city, it was frozen for its resistance leaving the ice caves and its ruins a testament to those that defy the Guardian. There, the Avatar braves many more dangers and discovers a gem that is brought back to Nystul for another ritual spell. But worse, there is a murderer loose within the castle itself when Lady Tory's corpse is discovered. Clues are sparse, but everyone has their own suspicions as to who is responsible.
Taking the gem, the Avatar once again touches it to the giant blackrock gem and enters another world. This time, it is world that is almost arranged as if it were a living computer. Called Talorus, the Avatar meets the Historian, Futurian, and many others. The Guardian has apparently taken control of Talorus and has redirected the efforts of its inhabitants to become more "efficient" in their work, thus helping the Guardian form plans against his enemies as well as manage his war machine. After many adventures in helping its strange and alien inhabitants, another blackrock gem is discovered along with an amethyst rod. The rod is brought back to Altara who then creates a powerful scepter. While in the keep, the Avatar also discovers another blackrock gem.
Back at the castle, Nystul enchants the gems and with them, the Avatar visits another world: the Scintillus Academy. The Sctintillus Academy of Magic was once a renowned place teaching young mages the ways of the arcane arts before its destruction at the hands of the Guardian. Its faculty killed and survivors few, the Avatar must negotiate its tests in order to recover what they can from its depths. Altara's scepter proves its usefulness and the Avatar is able to recover another blackrock gem.
Heading through another facet, the Avatar discovers the underground arenas of the Pits of Carnage. Here, on this world, the Guardian has twisted its once chivalric society into a cog for his war machine in providing soldiers to fight for his cause. This world is where the Guardian creates the armies that are used to assault others like Britannia. Within the Pits, the worst prisoners are thrown in and the only rule is that which can be written with a blade in the hopes of being selected to join the elite ranks of the Guardian's armies.
The Avatar was presented with several ways in which to approach his task within the Pits and after many adventures, recovered the blackrock gem held by the Pits' most renowned gladiator. The Avatar also uses Altara's wand to destroy the Guardian's seal on the entrance to the Pit before returning to the castle.
There, the Avatar meets with Nelson who says that he has something important to share with him. But before he can speak, Patterson stabs him with a dagger forcing the Avatar to defend themselves. The traitor has been found, but the knowledge Nelson would have shared had died with him. Returning to Nystul, the mage enchants the gems that the Avatar has returned with. The Avatar's task is also clear: they must return to those worlds where the Guardian still draws power from and break the bonds using Altara's scepter.
At the Prison Tower, the focus of the Guardian's link to that world is within Bishop's cell. At Killorn Keep through a secret door, the Avatar discovers the engine room that keeps the floating castle aloft and uses the want to break its connection to the Guardian, although slaying the brain creatures as well would cause the Keep to fall to the ground killing everyone else. Talorus and the Ice World are also freed in the same way.
After attaining a special plant to attain a specific vision, the Avatar enters the Ethereal Void...one of the last facets on the blackrock gem beneath the castle. There, the Avatar discovers a bizarre world divided into many colors and pathways. However, they overcome its many challenges and recovers a blackrock gem as well as the scepter of Deadly Seeker or a Djinn Bottle. With these in hand, the Avatar returns to the mage Zoranthus within the Pits of Carnage for the power to bind an air-daemon. Returning to the Ethereal Void to complete the ritual, the Avatar now embodies a powerful being that will prove useful later.
Upon returning to the castle, the Avatar suddenly discovers that it is under siege from invaders that have also come through the gemstone! Their uniform matches those found at Killorn Keep, so the Avatar journeys there to stop them at the source discovering that Mors Gotha is also present. She also possesses a powerful spellbook that will prove useful to Nystul. After facing off against her and watching her escape through a moongate, the Avatar returns with the book.
The Avatar visits the blackrock gem for the last time, journeying to the Tomb of Praecor Loth, a powerful king on a world that had long fallen to the Guardian's power which had also corrupted the necropolis. Within it the shade of the ancient king still believes that he is alive and only through the Avatar's words discovered the truth of his condition. The king yields to the Avatar's logic and grants him his Horn.
Returning to the castle, the Avatar meets with Nystul to outline the final plans on shattering the Blackrock Dome when Mors Gotha returns with an invasion force. In the battle that ensues, Mors Gotha falls and the Avatar uses the Horn of Praecor Loth. Its powerful magic reverberates through the air thanks to the air-daemon imprisoned within the Avatar, destroying the Blackrock Dome and freeing the castle thwarting the Guardian's plans.
Ultima Underworld 2 is a free-roaming first-person CRPG in which the player uses the mouse to interact with its world and manage their character. It utilizes the same technology that had formed the basis for its predecessor, Ultima Underworld, although several technical enhancements were made. The game has a larger viewing area for the main gameplay as well as full support for digital sound effects. It can also be played without using any of the icons present within the interface, relying completely on the mouse instead.
A large interface provides all of the information that the player will need onscreen such as a compass, health and mana (represented as flasks filled with liquid), and a visual representation of their character and the equipment it is outfitted with. The large menu bar from the first game that had basic actions on the left hand side of the screen was removed in order to give the player a greater visual range.
The environment is notable for the degree of detail given to creating a living dungeon with a "lived in" look to much of what is there in order to further deepen the sense that it is far more than what it seems to be. Many objects are useless but can be collected by the player and even food can be used as interactive objects with the environment.
The quest is non-linear and open ended allowing the player to explore each world at will and take on the many side-quests and tasks as they are discovered creating a sense of emergent gameplay dictated by their actions. The dungeon itself features sloping surfaces, staircases, underground rivers, fiery lava, icy surfaces, and deep pits creating a dangerous environment rife with challenges both from the monsters living within its depths to the natural terrors that await the explorer.
Weapons also wear down and reduce their effectiveness forcing the player either to find new weapons to replace older ones or invest time in learning the Repair skill which is available to certain classes. The skill system, while extensive, restricts many of its abilities to certain classes only. No one character can learn everything within the game.
The player sees Ultima Underworld 2 through a window set within a HUD. On the right hand side, a series of selectable options are listed below the flasks representing health and mana, a change from the original game. These icons allow the player to:
- Talk - Turns the cursor into a pair of lips allowing the player to talk to whoever they click on
- Get - Turns the cursor into a grasping hand to pick up whatever is clicked on
- Look - Turns the cursor into an eye allowing the player to take a closer look at a specific item or hotspot
- Fight - Turns the cursor into a targeting reticle allowing the player to attack whatever they click on
Integrated into the compass located below the world view screen is a "power gem" that shows how strong your physical attack is going to be when you hold down the attack button. It also shows how much weight the character is currently hauling around. To the right of the compass is a shelf where spellcasting runes are arranged to set up current spells.
Several slots are arranged around the Avatar indicating holders for armor, weapons, magical items, rings, and containers in which to store extra items (and which open up to display their contents). Below the character panel are two flasks that show how much health and mana (magic) the character currently has in reserve.
At the bottom of the HUD is a message scroll displaying actions, warnings, and other messages of note pertinent to the game.
Movement is handled via the mouse and the world screen. By pointing the mouse within the screen and towards its edges, forward or back, the arrow cursor will change indicating where the player will be turning or moving. Jumping is done with the right mouse button. Moving faster, such as running forward, is done by moving the arrow further to the top of the screen. In other words, movement speed is fully analog in nature.
Sliding on ice is a new danger for players in this game, although it can be easily stopped by simply jumping straight up into the air and then landing.
Utlima Underworld 2 also comes with an automapping feature that slowly fills in the surrounding area as it is explored. Notations by the player can also be added to the map.
The Avatar has to eat and sleep in order to survive just as in the first game. Finding and collecting food becomes as important as discovering new rune stones for magic or equipment in order to improve the Avatar's chances for survival. The Avatar will also require rest making it wise to sleep when the player feels that it is safe to do so. If the Avatar is hungry when sleeping, the rate of recovery for both health and mana reserves will be worse. Using a bedroll will also help recovery while sleeping.
Slaying monsters, exploring each world, and completing quests will award the Avatar with experience. As the Avatar gains levels, their Vitality (hit points) improve including their ability to cast more powerful spells. Increases are automatic.
The player is free to choose whatever sex they want to create their Avatar. It has no effect on the main quest or their character's statistics. They can also select what handedness they want their character to be (left or right handed), determining which will be their weapon hand and which will bear their shield.
A number of classes are available to pick from and each one determines what skills will be available to the player. No one character class can learn every skill available in the game.
- Fighter - A warrior trained in the military arts since youth
- Mage - One born with the ability to cast spells
- Bard - A traveling entertainer, perhaps a storyteller or a musician
- Tinker - A skilled craftsman particularly with weapons and armor
- Druid - A guardian of the woodlands able in both combat and magic
- Paladin - A warrior who also has some grasp of the art of spellcasting. Able to repair his own stuff like a Tinker.
- Ranger - A woodsman skilled at tracking, hunting, and fighting
- Shepherd - A resourceful sheep-tender, often a jack-of-all-trades
The next step in character creation requires the player to select a number of skills that will be added to those that are already given to them automatically as a part of their class. For example, you may wish for your Fighter to have the sword skill, or replace it with another skill such as axe, mace, or even the unarmed combat skill.
Afterwards, a portrait can be selected to represent your character along with a name.
The game's difficulty can be set to either Standard or Easy and cannot be changed unless a new game is started. In Easy mode, monsters are easier to defeat and less dangerous. Once done, the game will ask whether or not you want to keep the character you have created.
The list of skills the the player can pick from (and which are used to build each class) are shown in the list below. The attribute indicated in parenthesis is what most directly impacts that skill:
- Acrobat (DX) - The ability to move with grace. It reduces damage in case you fall from a great height or smash into something by accident. Somewhat useful in the Abyss, but useless if the player is particularly careful.
- Appraise (DX) - How to perceive the value of goods at a glance. Even in the Abyss, there are those that will barter with the Avatar in order to survive and knowing how to get the best deal will prove valuable to those wishing to save as much coin as possible.
- Attack (ST) - General fighting ability that is the most important skill for fighting classes.
- Axe (ST) - Expertise in axe use increasing a character's ability to defend and use it in combat.
- Casting (INT) - Improves the success of spellcasting. Particularly important to mage-type characters.
- Charm (DX) - Increases the character's chances of getting a good deal during bartering.
- Defense (ST) - The ability to defend one's self in combat by penalizing enemies that try to attack you.
- Lore (INT) - The ability to identify something by using the Look command.
- Mace (ST) - Training in the use of blunt weapons such as a mace or a cudgel.
- Mana (INT) - This increases the number of Mana (magic) points available to a character.
- Missile (ST) - Increases the damage done using missile weapons from crossbows to slings.
- Picklock (DX) - The ability to use lockpicks to get into locked chests or doors.
- Repair (DX) - The ability to fix weapons and armor using an anvil. A particularly valuable skill to have in the Abyss where such items are scarce.
- Search (DX) - Training which heightens your perceptions allowing you to find hidden doors and traps with better accuracy. Used whenever the player decides to use the Look command on a particular spot.
- Sneak (DX) - The ability to move quietly. Somewhat useless in the game, especially at the end.
- Swimming (DX) - Improves your chances of not drowning. Useful in the Abyss.
- Sword (ST) - Training with the sword and dagger improving your chances of both fighting and defending with each.
- Track (DX) - The ability to perceive animal tracks allowing you to know when creatures are near. Useless in the Abyss since trouble often finds you first.
- Traps (DX) - Allows you to disable a trap of which there are many in the Abyss.
- Unarmed (ST) - Training in unarmed combat.
The spell system is based on the collection of runic tiles called "rune stones" within the game. By combining certain tiles together on the spell shelf next to the compass, a spell could then be cast by clicking on them. Spells were also cast draining the Avatar's mana reserves which were restored with rest or with potions.
Attacking enemies in the game is handled with the mouse. By pointing the combat cursor on enemies (aiming) and then clicking the right mouse button, an appropriate attack will be executed. With weapons such as swords, the location of the cursor in the world screen when the attack is initiated will determine what kind of move is used.
- Starting the attack from the top of the screen will result in a bash attack.
- From the middle of the screen, it will result in a sideways slash.
- From the bottom part of the screen, it will be a thrusting move.
Unarmed attacks can only jab at the enemy. The color of the gargoyle's at the top of the screen will indicate the state of the enemy that you are attacking and how injured they are. If the eyes are green, the enemy is in good shape. Yellow means that they are hurt. Red means that they are near death.
Some inanimate objects can be smashed with attacks such as locked chests and doors. However, this will also increase the wear and tear on whatever the player has decided to bash them with.
Missile weapons have to be readied first before being fired and will also require ammunition. Some projectiles are destroyed on impact, but others can actually be recovered and used again.